April 25th, 2018 marks the 10th year since Guyana’s indisputably brilliant folklorist crossed over to another world. When I last saw Mac alive, on April 23rd, 2008, he was lying on a hospital bed in Newark, New Jersey, wrestling against the Grim Reaper, and I was able to help him cross over. When I saw how weak and emaciated Guyana’s shortest, spunkiest, thunder-voiced giant had become and realized that his final curtain was about to be drawn, I burst out singing, “Ah goin ova Canjie waata, see maan o day, ova Canjie waata…” Mac recognized my voice and for a brief moment, strength returned to his body, and he tried to rise and sing along. But alas! Nevertheless, I was pleased that he had transitioned with some joy.
While growing up in Dartmouth Village, Essequibo Coast, I heard about Wordsworth McAndrew, but I never imagined meeting him. As destiny would have it, we met in 1973 after I submitted short stories to the Guyana Marketing Corporation’s series, which he, as the editor, read on the Guyana Broadcasting Service. After the GMC Short Story series ended, Mac suggested that the writers should form a group, and we did. Stanley Greaves the artist, Allan Fenty and the late Ronald Waddell were members of that group which, unfortunately, did not last very long.
As our friendship grew, I met Mac often at his home on David Street in Kitty, or he telephoned me at my home in Festival City, and once he and Stanley came by for us to drink ‘phazac’, which is a Dartmouth name for rice wine. Speaking of ‘phazac’, most times when I met Mac, or he called, he wanted to know all he could about the culture of Dartmouth. Upon his death, a portion of his archives was handed over to me, and his notes on Dartmouth were amongst what I received.
Wordsworth Albert McAndrew was to Guyana what Homer, the Grimm brothers and Louise Bennett were to Greece, Germany, Jamaica and the world, respectively. As a good student (QC being his last high school), he could have pursued a high-paying career, but he loved folklore and made it his altruistic life’s passion for very close to fifty years.
In 1970, Mac wrote a long article titled ‘Guyana – A Cultural Look’, and that article is divided into sub-headings. Under the sub-heading ‘Need For A Decision As to The Place Of Folklore’, he writes: “…In my view, the folklore of a people is at the root of their being, and to cast it aside is to set oneself adrift culturally – an act which one performs at one’s own peril. I would therefore advocate that the Republican (Guyanese) society do a lot of rethinking, take a second look at the indigenous Guyanese culture which the mad rush towards ‘progress’ is causing it to jettison in its flight.”
The above quote summarizes Mac’s inseparable marriage to Guyana’s folklore and his lack of concern with the materialistic aspect of life.
Mac has left Guyana a tremendous amount of folklore, with his best known being his classic poem ‘Ol Higue’. Another work that is known to many Guyanese is his folklore manual Oooiy! published on January 23rd, 1979. Oooiy! contains his inimitable Guyana Typee List – The Forty Stages of Love. All members of the public interested in Wordsworth McAndrew’s folklore, reading of short stories, etc, should be able to find his work at NCN. Before Mac left for the United States in 1980, I sat with him many evenings in the old GBS on Hadfield Street, Lodge as he recorded copies of his work onto spool tapes, leaving the originals at the radio station.
About a year before Mac died, he dictated a brief bio to me in New York by telephone from New Jersey. In it, he expressed regret that he had not been able to compile one giant volume of all his work. I have written a two-volume book Mih Buddybo Mac (My Brother Mac) to honour a very good friend whose work I greatly admire. The two volumes attempt to say as much as possible about Mac the man and to present quite a large pile of his unknown poems, newspaper writings and folklore, of course.
In 2014, I signed a contract to have both volumes published by Caribbean Press. Volume I was published in 2014, and Volume II would have been, had the PPP not lost power in 2015. I did unsuccessfully reach out to the relevant authority within the current government. However, some day Volume II will be published by some other publisher. Today, let us rejoice knowing that Wordsworth McAndrew has left Guyana a golden collection of folklore.