Urgent need for biographies of our hidden heroes

Dear Editor, 

The  September 5 editorial in Stabroek News on Stanley E. Brock (1936-2018), who made an important contribution to the development of cattle ranching in the Rupununi when he was a Manager at the Dadanawa Ranch for 15 years (1953-1968) shows the need for someone or a team of persons to compile a “Biographical  Dictionary of Guyanese” to preserve and showcase the contributions made by significant figures, both living and deceased.  Such a publication will inspire and incentivize Guyanese from all walks of life to excel and make the world and specifically Guyana a better place.

It is astonishing how many Guyanese, both at home and abroad, have pioneered and made important contributions to knowledge in their chosen fields in both academic and professional disciplines.  Most are aware of luminaries in the education, political, diplomatic, legal, medical, literary, economics, and business areas.  Such key names like Cheddi Jagan,  Janet Jagan, Walter Rodney, SS Ramphal, Forbes Burnham. JOF Haynes, Roy Heath, John Agard, ER Braithwaite, AJ Seymour, Jan Carew, Martin Carter, Edgar Mittelholzer, etc., are all too familiar and readily come to mind. But what about those unsung heroes (both living and dead) who also made similar contributions to other subject areas through their pioneering and hard work?  For example, Guyanese Mohamed Jamal Deen, Professor and Senior Canada Research Chair in IT at McMaster University who recently received the Order of Canada and the late Dr. V Chis Lakhan, of the University of Windsor who added new knowledge to the field of earth and environmental sciences, are two good examples of the outstanding contributions by Guyanese abroad.

How many Guyanese know of the pioneering and important work done by Fr. Cuthbert Cary-Elwes,  Fr. Ignatius Scoles, Sir Robert Schomburgk, Rev. WH Brett, Rev. John Dorman, and Laurence Keymis? Pandit Ramsaroop Maraj established the Dharm Shala in 1921.  In the field of music Bert Rogers of the British Guiana Militia Band introduced the E-flat alto saxophone after his return from Wembley in 1924. As a further example, the Italian-born Dr George Giglioli, through his research in Georgetown in 1932. identified the “Anopheles” mosquito as the main malaria carrier in the country. Such heroes must be profiled for all to know, to be inspired, and on which to build.

Most countries now publish national biographies which provide information about the lives and contributions made by both living and deceased notables in their society. Such a publication can be both retrospective and current providing key information about the contributions made by these individuals.

In Guyana, the more serious attempt at such a compilation was done by the poet, essayist and memoirist AJ Seymour (1914-1989) whose “Dictionary of Guyanese Biography” came out in 1984. A decade later, Lewiz Alyan’s three-part series “Grass Roots of Guyana” became available in 1994 which profiled many key Guyanese in a range of disciplines.  Profiles of prominent Guyanese can also be found in other compilations like CA Wood’s “Biography of the West Indies”, UWI Professor Bridget Brereton’s “Dictionary of Caribbean Biography” (1998) and OUP’s “Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro-Latin American Biography” (2016), to name a few. Even Vidur Dindayal’s two books “Guyanese Achievers in the UK” (2007) and “Guyanese Achievers USA & Canada” (2011) stand out but are limited.

With technological advances, the internet (the world’s library at your fingertips), the National Archives, the Public Library and the UG Library, all it takes is someone with an open and objective mind; an interest to profile our hidden heroes, regardless of political stripe, religion, sexual orientation, race and colour; to step up to the plate, take the lead and start the ball rolling. I will be only willing to assist.

Yours faithfully, 

Lal Balkaran

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