A NEW AWARD – THE STALWARTS – By Dave Martins + video

Now and then, in the day-to-day, you will find yourself engrossed in something when an idea for something quite different comes to your mind like a light turning on.  Just this week, for example, I found myself caught up watching an absorbing online post from Maya Trotz of a speech by Brian Meeks in which he dealt with the intricacies of the Grenada Revolution in the time of Maurice Bishop.

For those who may not be familiar with his work, BrianMeeks is a Caribbean poet and academic from Jamaica.  He is Professor of Africana Studies and Chair of the Africana Studies/Rites and Reason Theatre Department at Brown University, and while I was aware of his reputation this was the first time I heard him speak, and I was entranced.   

Mr. Meeks was at ease with a very complex and very nuanced subject, moving fluidly from one aspect to another while still staying with the core of the topic with which he was clearly familiar. It was an engrossing presentation and his grasp of the complexities he was discussing was impressive.

Thinking about the experience afterward, the light that came on for me was how often it happens in the Caribbean that we see people achieving some distinction in their field and the contribution does not get the plaudits it deserves. It happens frequently in a variety of disciplines where the delivery from outstanding Caribbean persons in various fields will pass almost unnoticed in our communities and the bulb lit up for me in this case with the thought that with all the awards that exist in the region, we need a new award to be bestowed on these singular individuals; that is my suggestion today.

My thought is that it could be called The Stalwarts, because that is essentially what these persons are in their various cultures, but that is my initial reaction; the impetus here is for us to consider the idea of highlighting these unique contributors to our cultures; others may well suggest better titles.

            This approach of honouring our own, which we seem diffident about in the region, is a drum I began beating with the song WHERE ARE YOUR HEROES CARIBBEAN (see video below), recorded by the Tradewinds in Cayman in the late 1980s, and it has continued since in other ways, so the prelude above on Brian Meeks is new only with regard to him; the subject is an old one with me, and I also continue to be disappointed that our stalwarts come and go with little official recognition of them. Also while it applies to the region generally, I speak here today principally of the Guyanese ones in the hope that the idea will get some attention here where I was born and grew; that young Guyanese will come to know these examples of excellence, these stalwarts, in their own history.

            Indeed, although I have been known to rail about some aspects of the online communications, I have, over time, seen the various “I did not know that” responses they draw from us, so that is a motivation as well, and in that context, I immediately cite the name of theatre expert and director, Henry Muttoo, who is doing yeoman work in the region in the Cayman Islands, serving for over a decade as Artistic Director of that country’s National Cultural Foundation.  Henry, who came out of the History and Arts Council here, and studied theatre in Croydon, England, has become a linchpin in his work in Cayman, directing plays, designing sets, and adding stability and high standard to cultural activities there, including travelling with Cayman’s cultural presentations in the region, as in the recent Carifesta run in Trinidad. He would be an ideal recipient of the kind of stalwart award I am suggesting.

           The list of such contributors is long and varied.  Comedian Ken Corsbie, also living and working outside Guyana now, is another, as is journalist Francis Quamina Farrier, whose name is very familiar to Guyanese, but is also known in places as disparate as Barbados, Trinidad and Cayman, as a vigorous spokesperson for the arts in the region and for his continuous propagation of cultural matters, particularly in Guyana.  And we have also many examples in the UK, with two I know of intimately in the persons of actor Marc Matthews and poet John Agard.  Marc is known in the region for his performances in the All Ah We comedy team of Matthews, Henry Muttoo and Ken Corsbie, but I wonder how many Guyanese know that John Agard was selected in England for the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 2012.  Right there, four candidates for a special award highlighting their achievements.

          It’s interesting that a young Guyanese lady to whom I mentioned the idea of a new award for our stalwarts responded by saying “they would soon run out of names to honour”.  In fact, she had no idea who Bill Rogers was, and did not connect with the names of cycling greats Laddie Lewis or Maurice “Duck Eggs” Fernandes.  I suppose it’s understandable that over time young populations emerging will be unaware of much that went before, so that they may similarly not know who was Olga Lopes Seales or Billy Pilgrim or Lord Canary, and I suspect that many of the very young in Guyana today would be totally blank on the name Martin Carter or A. J. Seymour.  Similarly, I wonder how many are familiar with what Elsa Goveia and Robert Christiani are known for?

Indeed, mature persons reading this column would do well to conduct their own little survey among their acquaintances asking how many know these prominent people in our past; I would love to hear the results.  Young Guyanese today should surely know of Chanderpaul and Sarwan, but are they familiar with John Trim and Lance Gibbs?   I’m betting many don’t.  If you don’t know Bill Rogers, wow!  It shows the clear need to remember these stalwarts.  If you don’t like the award approach, fine; suggest some other mechanism or idea that ensures the information about them is about in the culture.

They are indeed our heroes, these people, like Henry Muttoo and Elsa Goveia and Olga Lopes Seales and Bill Rogers, Shiv and Lance Gibbs.  Other countries in the world elevate and remember their own as a matter of course, through schools, statues, plaques, events, etc.  We have the electronic media now making it easy to talk about our stalwarts. What is Guyana waiting for?

VIDEO: DAVE MARTINS and The TRADEWINDS –– Where Are Your Heroes

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  • Denise  On 10/13/2019 at 12:36 pm

    Great idea Dave. I’m sure there’s a govt department responsible for initiating awards so you need to have a conversation with the person in charge and make it happen.

  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On 10/13/2019 at 2:39 pm

    I agree with Dave Martins: the time has come for Guyana to recognize their past and present heroes.

  • kamtanblog  On 10/14/2019 at 5:50 am

    Interesting suggestion…
    Time for another rendition on the
    “Oil” wealth ( black gold) and what it
    means to guyanese rich and poor.
    All awee a millionaires !


    Ps yes recognition raises awareness culturally.

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