From British Guiana to Guyana: The Forever Changing Times – by Francis Quamina Farrier

The Forever Changing Times – by Francis Quamina Farrier

As Guyana is about to make a quantum leap From Rags to Riches, let us take a glance in the rear view mirror of our country’s history and some of the things we no longer do, or do differently. Throughout history things have changed in every society in the world, and Guyana is no different. So let us juxtapose the past with the present. The young with the matured and also the present with the future.

As we proceed, let us make every effort not to be lamenting about “The Good old Days”, or about the way the older generation did things differently than the way of the present generation. Let us agree to look only at some of the things we did in British Guiana, if you were already around at that time, and which are no longer done in Guyana or done differently. So let us get things going.   

When last have you seen a Goat Race in Guyana? Just in case you are too young to recall, yes, there used to be many exciting goat racing events in Guyana. The last one I saw was at the Georgetown Cricket Club Ground in Georgetown. It was very entertaining and showed that even if the goats were fast on their four legs the human runners who guided them from behind with cords attached to the goats, had to be equally fast on their two legs. Cooperation – as in “The Cooperative Republic of Guyana”.

The People and the Government need to be equally fast together at whatever are the National Objectives. This example in no way suggests that one or the other are goats. The Big Deal right now is “Oil and GAS”; something which we had some knowledge of, way back in colonial times. Since I was a young fellow, there was talk that British Guiana has Oil, and that if we tapped into our oil wells, Venezuela will have much less since the Guiana basin is much lower and the oil will keep running down to us. It has taken over seventy years for us to begin exploration and extraction and find our Place in the Economic Sun.

Well, here we are with EXXONMOBIL about to commence extracting. Have you ever taken a quiet moment and wondered what Guyana would be like by the year 2045? I have already put out an open suggestion that there should be an official Essay Writing Competition for students of Primary and Secondary Schools. The topic should be, “In what way would you like to see the OIL and GAS revenue spent for the first five years”?”

Now, forward to the past; When last have you enjoyed a Dog Show? I mean a real dog show with Prizes up for grabs. Will Dog Shows, like Hat Shows, be held in Guyana again? At those shows, Dog Owners would bring their four legged companions to vie for the Top Prizes in keenly contested “Doggie Beauty Pageants”. If you are too young to have experienced such shows and how keen were the competitions, then just think of human Beauty Pageants and how keenly contested they are. Oh, for those “Doggie Competitions” of times gone by! My own favourite doggie was owned by Justice Horace Mitchell of the Guyana High Court. There he used to be, not judging, but having his beautiful dog judged.

And when last have you seen a cross-country race? Especially one in which marathon greats such as Moses Dwarka and Harry Prowell from the lower East Coast Demerara ran cross-country – bare-feet? The two champions were working-class young East Indian men who were celebrities from Backdam to Brickdam. Great Guyanese athletes who dominated the long-distance cross-country tracks as they brought joy into the lives of their admirers. So when last was there a dray cart race in Guyana, when the stakes were high and the popularity was even higher? The last draycart race I witnessed was many years ago. It was an illegal event on the Homestretch Avenue in Georgetown. The races were started at the western end of Homestretch Avenue, at the 1763 Monument and concluded at the National Cultural Centre – the entire length of Homestretch Avenue.

That last dray cart race which was on a Sunday morning, came to an abrupt end compliments of Law Enforcement. Still very vivid in my mind is one dray cart with about a dozen men and five boys going by, probably heading for Campbellville. All on board were looking very angry and dejected. There was something in the faces of those men; anger and humiliation combined. A few days after that never-forgotten Sunday morning, I took my observation to a powerful government official of the day, recommending that Dray Cart Racing should be considered as a National Sport and worthy of LEGAL Status. I had previously garnered the opinions of some dray cart operators who were on Lombard Street.

They suggested that all the necessary safety measures could be put in place for professional dray cart racing. Homestretch Avenue could be closed off to regular traffic for a specific period to allow the racers to enjoy their simple lives as well as entertainment for citizens and visitors. It was even recommended that the competing horses be given medical checks before entering the races. “Dray cart Racing could be a Tourist attraction”, according to one of the men.

Another popular sport back in the day was Boxing, which seems to be a waning sport here in Guyana in more recent years. But back in the day, there were many great Guyanese Boxers such as Cliff Anderson who brought glory to British Guiana as he fought in his native country and foreign places. Cliff Anderson was adored by his thousands of fans. He was a gentleman boxer, and I say this from knowing him personally. The National Sports Hall on Homestretch Avenue in Georgetown bears his name. Now let us discuss River swims which were very popular in this the “Land of Many Waters”. A high percentage of citizens of British Guiana swam.

Almost everyone who lives at Bartica is a swimmer and swim where the waters of the Mazaruni and Essequibo rivers meet. In Georgetown there used to be those who swam across the Demerara river from Georgetown to Vreed-en-Hoop which is just about one mile wide. I once swam across the Demerara river – from Wismar to MacKenzie, which is just about 100 yards wide at that point. To add a little personal boast; Very few Guyanese have swam the Essequibo river as I have been fortunate to have done; from Suddie at the mouth of that mighty river, to Bartica fifty miles further south and as far south as Gunn’s Strip where the Wai Wai Nation of Indigenous Guyanese reside and which is hundreds of miles from the mouth of the Essequibo river.

There was a time when skating was very popular in Georgetown during my teen years. It was so popular that a skating rink was constructed on what was later known as Merriman Mall, named for Georgetown Mayor Claude Merriman who founded the Merriman Funeral Home. That Skating Rink was for the use by the young skaters of Georgetown, myself included, who skated on pavements all over the city. That (former) Skating Rink is located between Church Street and North Road, and Orange Walk and Cummings Street in Georgetown. In more recent years, that Skating Rink is being used as an extension of the Bourda Market where fruits and vegetables are sold. Some of the present-day skaters of Georgetown use the paved section of the Merriman Mall between Cummings and Light Streets.

By-the-Way, we no longer say, “By-the-Way”. We say “BTW”. Well, we type that on our Face Book messages. Remember, life is about CHANGE, such as the way we now ‘tow’ on a bicycle seated astride on the bar with each leg on the opposite side. When last have you seen someone riding a bicycle at night with a head light or a tail light as was the case during Colonial Times, when the need for such accessories on a bicycle was mandatory and the Law. Yes, there is Constant Change and no one has a light on their bicycles at night, for to do so one would be considered a nuisance.

Consider CLIMATE CHANGE too, for example. Elders here in Guyana can tell you that it NEVER rained in British Guiana during the month of August. NEVER, since it was the month for School Outings and Sunday School Picnics as well as Boat Excursions. Those elders can tell you that fifty three years ago, British Guiana became politically independent and changed to GUYANA. They may even go on to tell you how there was an extended discussion and debate about the CHANGE in the spelling of the word “Guiana” to “Guyana”. There was the change from Trains and Large wooden buses, to the swifter mini buses for general public transportation. One can now cross the Demerara and Berbice rivers by large bridges and not only by ferry boats. CHANGE.

There are hundreds of on-going changes in our Beautiful Guyana since Independence; some are welcomed while others are not.  However, there are those things which are as perennial as the grass and should never change. Good manners. Love and Respect for our Fellow Citizens. Being Patriotic, and to dedicate our energies towards the happiness and prosperity of our Beautiful Guyana; Our Motherland.

Public Transportation in British Guiana before the mini buses replaced them in Guyana.

Young skaters on the Merriman Mall in Georgetown in 2018. (Photo by Francis Q. Farrier)

Eighteen Year old Francis Q. Farrier skating on the Water Street pavement in Georgetown from Fogarty’s to Bookers (Guyana Stores)
(Photo from 1956)

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