As a young Guyanese who is interested in learning about the political and historical evolution of the country in which I live, it disheartens me to relay my dissatisfaction and struggle to unearth this treasure trove of information.
The first example that comes to mind is an experience a few years ago, when I was seeking a recording on the state funeral of the late president Dr Cheddi Jagan. Quite naturally, I visited the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre at Red House expecting to find what I was looking for. Unfortunately, it was not to be. I was told, much to my disappointment, that while such a recording surely existed in the archives at some point, the staff there were having difficulties locating it. Interestingly, and gratefully, I did manage to find a video record of the late Forbes Burnham’s funeral on YouTube, which precedes Jagan’s by some 12 years, mind you.
On the matter of YouTube, I further note that while I can find the speeches of prominent individuals of the sixties such as JFK or Dr King, there is a paucity of such records involving Guyanese leaders from the sixties to the eighties. Hasn’t anyone in administrations hitherto taken the initiative to digitise historic moments for the contemporary Guyanese audience? I wonder where in Guyana could I locate a satisfactory catalogue of Burnham’s speeches, and if such material exists, why isn’t it more readily available to the general public? The man’s oration was second to none, but the younger generation has been robbed of listening to him. This is a shame. The history of our immediate post-independence has taken on an esoteric quality, because only a select few seem able to access the said material.
I visited the Walter Rodney (National) Archives a few weeks ago. I begin by saying I enjoyed my visit and I was pleased that they possessed copies of the Guyana Chronicle from decades gone by. However, I was uncomfortable with the state in which I found the old Chronicle papers. Very fragile, decaying, and not in one piece. The documents could have been better preserved for posterity. I know there are special sleeves that old papers can be encased in for protection. I reiterate that digitising the material would be a good move for preservation. Digitising would remove the worry of decay and loss.
I do not think that our historical content is simply non-existent, rather, the problem lies in the scattered nature and inaccessibility of this material. You find yourself on a voyage when searching for our historical records, moving between locations, but never finding the complete picture. It is like trying to assemble the pieces of a puzzle, except that you do not know where all the pieces reside to begin with. I can look up the cherished chronicles of many nations with relative ease, but in Guyana it seems we have been poor custodians of our own past. I wonder, sometimes, when the baby boomer generation of Guyana passes on, how much of our history and the commensurate lessons would be lost permanently.
“This is the Dark Time my Love” may very well be the sole Martin Carter poem Guyanese children have ever been exposed to. It was certainly the only one given attention during my literature studies in secondary school. Whose fault that is I am not sure, but I expected that we would have taken some more pride in Carter and perhaps made his work more pervasive. The only copy of his works I ever held was found in a dusty corner of my father’s library, dating back to the eighties. If you were to search online for Carter, you would be lucky to discover a handful of his better known poems. Have we left him in the eighties? There seems to be a lack of promotion of Guyanese
literature, which is unfortunate because I think this country badly needs more readers.
The plight outlined above is significant in my humble opinion; I propound that we as a nation need to understand our history if we are to step sensibly into our future. I was often told by older Guyanese that we were a very literate nation in days gone by. I am not sure how literate we currently are but, if the current standard of political discourse is anything to go by, perhaps not very much. That is precisely why we need to make our historical information and literature more accessible to our citizens.
Gibran A. Azeez