Guyana- Fifty years later and we have dropped some good things – commentary

Fifty years later and we have dropped some good things

May 15, 2016 | By KNews | Filed Under Features / Columnists, My Column

Opinion - commentary -analysisThese past weeks I have been caught up with nostalgia. Like so many, I was here when Guyana became independent in 1966. I have seen the transformation that has occurred across the country. Last week I spoke about the Soesdyke/Linden Highway, but I did not even mention the Pegasus and the Bank of Guyana.

Fifty years ago where Pegasus now stands was a large pond. People fished there. After all, that was seafront property. Across the road was a playground; a bank stands there today.

There have been other changes. There was no Tucville or Guyhoc. There was no Festival City or South Ruimveldt. That area is testimony to the housing drive that has occurred over the years. Festival City was created to house the 1972 Carifesta delegation. Guyana had proposed the idea of a cultural festival for the region.   

It had to pull out the stops and in the process, set the standards for all the Carifesta events that were to follow. But that all came after May 26, 1966. I was a boy when there was a murder in the Camp Street jail. A trusting prison warden named Cantzalar was strangled by a prisoner with a towel. The dead prison warden had the keys so the prisoners, one was known as Sotie, took the keys and staged a prison break.

In the end the authorities found Sotie dead in the cane fields where South Ruimveldt Park now stands. The Guyana Trades Union Congress was to enter into talks with the Burnham government for a housing project soon after independence. The result is Tucville, which was declared open in 1968.

There were other developments. Mandela Avenue which is sometimes called Back Road was a road as far as Cross Street, Alexander Village. At the head of that road was an empty lot on which Russian Bear Rum dumped the fruit. There were many alcoholic cows.
Each day cows from Alexander Village and West Ruimveldt would leave home and head to that empty lot to feed on the dumped fruit. By noon, cows were lying around drunk to the world. The Industrial Site was not yet a reality.

On Thursday President David Granger reminded Parliament of what the education system was. To enter secondary schools, many of them private, one had to write the Common Entrance. Only 24 per cent of those who wrote the examination passed. The top performers entered Queen’s College, just as today.

Many people today are not aware of what pre-independence Guyana was. The top position in the Guyana Police Force was always held by an expatriate. Guyanese, if they reached the position of Sergeant, thought that they had scaled the pinnacle.

I saw these things and from my perspective today, I cannot help but conclude that independence was what Guyana needed if its people were to control their destiny. Black people, and I include people of East Indian ancestry in this grouping, could not enter certain places. Watooka House was one; Georgetown Club was another.

In those days England beckoned. When someone raised enough money to catch the British Overseas Airline Corporation (BOAC) or the Pan Am plane to fly to England, the community used to assemble at the home of the person. There was much crying but a few hours later, people spoke with pride that “So and So gone to England.” Many never came back.

The cost of the flight was $575 which in today’s terms is worth a couple hundred thousand dollars.

All the talk of migration today is nothing new. I heard the talk that people left this country because they were running from Burnham. People were running all the time, even now, although there is no need to run.

Last week, on May 8, Beterverwagting celebrated its 177th anniversary. Again people remembered what it was before independence. Of course, people were more unified because they kept their communities clean. They were also disciplinarians.

Sometimes people say that independence brings indiscipline but for many, it brought responsibility. Children were respectful. No child dared walk past an adult without extending a greeting; children couldn’t whistle and certainly, they could not walk with their hands in their pockets. If a boy or a man was wearing a hat, he had to tip it in the presence of a woman.

I suppose the discipline minimized the extent of crime that is so rampant today. Back then, if there was a murder people talked about it for days. Killing was a rarity. There was a 21-year-old man, Clement Cuffy, who reportedly stole a gun from someone and hid out in the West Demerara Backlands. The entire police force hunted him.

I remember people barricading themselves in their homes at nights, very afraid of this ‘bad man’. It did not matter that they lived more than 20 miles from where the man was supposed to be. I still remember the police celebration when they caught Clement Cuffy.
They were in the Public Works trucks heading to the city that night chanting, “We ketch Cuffy”. That was the chant all along West Demerara. Cuffy died on the operating table of what was Dr Wills’s hospital at Leonora.

Those days are past. It is celebration time. Today, I happen to see the decorations going up in the city. I see the tall buildings putting up their decorations and the place is looking pretty much as it did in 1966. The colours are different in parts, because way back then the Union Jack was very present.

There have been other changes. Rum shops were meeting places; shops had these long, sloped bridges. Perhaps that was the building code.

On Sundays, every shop was closed. The radio played somber music almost throughout the day. There were people who did not allow the shop closure to affect them. They would go around the back and call to the owner who would sell them whatever they needed.
We have come a long way, but I insist that there were things back then that we should resurrect. The discipline is only one.

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  • tulsiedas402sqn@Gmail. com  On 05/21/2016 at 4:42 am

    Brought back fond memories well done, KUDOS

  • michael hawkins  On 05/21/2016 at 5:02 am

    I can remember 1966 as I was in Kenya serving with the British army, on that date I found my self thinking that I no longer owed the UK nothing as my country was no longer theirs. These thoughts cost me my rank and soon found myself facing what I always known was there proudest for any one that was not of the white race. I live in the UK and this underling way of thinking is still there and I have been spat on and called a Blake bastard many times.

    You may say why live there, but I must as my Family are here.

  • demerwater  On 05/21/2016 at 7:09 am

    The one single practice which I hope continues or will be restored, is the “Weekly Band Concert”.
    Those were the days of my father, his brother and – Major Hendy! My father and/or my uncle would take me on a bicycle to the sea wall bandstand, we would sit on the grass sloping away from the wall towards the bandstand. Those two role models would identify the individual pieces from a clipping of the daily newspaper which dutifully published the program beforehand. Very definitely a turning point occurred on the occasion they played “Peanut Vendor”. I finally knew a tune! It might have been the same night the cello player spun the instrument on its support, adding musical punctuation marks, if you will.
    The crowd gave an appreciative roar of approval each time.
    Later, at ‘Saints’ there was this story by Fr. Scannell. A past Governor declared, “Riot in Georgetown? Never! I would have the Militia Band in the streets, playing the hottest calypso; and all the rioters will be tramping behind it, straight into Eve Leary!” I have often wondered if that strategy could have averted the horrible events of Feb. 1962.
    Much later, after I had become addicted to TV and a fan of Andre Rieu, he described the outdoor concerts performed Johann Strauss in the old days.
    Quite similar to the public, massed on that grassy slope of the Georgetown sea wall, more than fifty years ago.

  • Compton Ramjohn  On 05/22/2016 at 10:59 am

    While the writer has written in the spirit of Independence celebrations, it would be amiss not to point out that:
    1. Guyanese, prior to and after Independence were not “running” from Guyana to England, the were simply seeking higher education which was not available in Guyana. Needs to be pointed out that some went to the US. Also, there intent was to return. As all know, the majority did not return. Instead, they chose to accept the better opportunities for the start of a new life while at the same time sending much needed money home to the their families.
    2. It is naive to believe that Guyanese were not “running” from LFSB after he became a Socialist Dictator. Only this time they were going to Canada and the more fortunate ones ( with visas) to the US, again, seeking higher education and a better life (from a corrupted Guyana) for their families. The writer should be made aware that many Guyanese were amply financially supported by their families living abroad.
    3. The British should be thanked instead of being ridiculed by many of the “New Modern Guyanese”. They gave us, amongst others,including a Legal Structure, great Churches, Schools, Etiquette and Cricket.
    Today’s Guyana is not the one where I lived for 24 years. It was broken when Communist CJ became Premier and when LFSB Dictated and financially raped Guyana, never to be mended, My perspective looking in from the outside.

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