Guyana: ” Small days is still on my mind; Small days is a good good time”- By Geoff Burrowes

Small Days: Guyanese Folk Song  

Video: Guyanese Artist Marlon Jardine ” The King of Folk ” sings Folk Songs of Guyana. Former Musical Director/Bass Guitarist of “The Yoruba Singers” M.S. (Band)

— By Geoff Burrowes

I was born 77 years ago in a quaint British colony on the Northern Atlantic coast of the South American continent. Since it was British we were the only English speaking country in South America. As a colony, all of the important decisions regarding our welfare and administration were made in London and dictated to us through a colonial administration, headed by a governor, who was therefore the big sahib in British Guiana (BG).

The houses in Georgetown, its capital, were mainly painted white with red galvanized roofs and often had lawns, fruit trees: mango, genip, star apple, breadfruit , whitey, sideum, papaw, pear, the avocados, bananas, sugar apple and Five Finger.  Fruit trees were an open invitation for wutless little boys to raid, and the fruit somehow tasted better, when liberated from a neighbor’s tree than when lawfully acquired!

The cars were almost all English – made by Austin, Morris, Ford and Hillman and available in any colour once it was black. They all tended to be rectangular in shape and were all protected by silver bumpers, front and back in the rare event of two of them colliding. Fenders covered the wheel wells and drivers signalled their intention to turn with orange trafficators on the door posts, which would stick out before the turn and and slip back into their wells once the turn was complete. Real high tech!

When I was still small the armistice with Japan was signed and the Town put on a parade to celebrate the end of the long war. This was before the days of floats but I still remember the shined up cars, with their little Union Jacks fluttering in the morning breeze turning from Bent Street into Brickdam, which was a Major Road and proceeding sedately up Brickdam at  15 to 20 miles per hour.

I also remember a wicked Trinidadian calypsonian making up a calypso that went “Chinee never had a VJ (victory over Japan) day!”

There was a strictly maintained hierarchy in the colony with the English administration at the head, English residents next, local white people on the next rung of the social ladder, Portuguese and Indians and Chinese next and the ex slaves, mostly black, on  the second-to-last rung and our indigenous people, scornfully referred to as bucks, on the bottom rung.

Unfortunately the levels of well-being and poverty often reflected this structure, although this had changed to some degree by the time I was a little boy. Many people of all races had, by diligence, imagination and plain hard work become wealthy and influential. British Guianese were a cheerful and generous people. I know of cases of Black kids being raised by Indian families and Indian kids being brought up in Black families. Our country was truly multicultural. Race was not ignored but referred to as a way of acknowledging a person’s heritage. It was not practiced as a dividing factor, as it apparently is today!

The situation was not as bad as it sounds.  It was worse, in some ways, as the hierarchy encouraged petty snobbery and small mindedness. But there were bright spots as the educational system was second to none and BG boasted a 98% literacy rate although a large part of Guiana’s interior consisted of jungle, mountains and savannahs. The country had an excellent agricultural structure and in fact was often referred to as the bread basket of the Caribbean. We had a well developed judicial system and well respected Police and a proud and well-trained Volunteer Force.

We were part of the West Indies cricket team and had some glorious batsmen, bowlers and feildsmen including Rohan Kanhai, Bruce Pairaudeau, the Christiani brothers, Glendon Gibbs and Peter Bailey. Although we were South Americans our history and British colonial heritage encouraged us to think of ourselves as West Indians, natives of the Caribbean basin, like Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica and the Windward and Leeward Islands. We exported sugar, rice and ground provisions to our brothers and sisters in the Caribbean. Bauxite had recently been discovered in marketable quantities and we had sizable deposits of gold and diamonds! The future looked really promising!

The climate in BG was pleasant and we were free of the ferocious hurricanes that plagued the rest of the Caribbean. No earthquakes, tornados or active volcanoes – we were blessed more than we knew!

We only had ourselves to fear! And our colonial overlords. And President John F.Kennedy and his henchmen. And the Russians and the other world powers!  Combined they were too much and many of us took part in the Diaspora which resulted in English Guyanese, American Guyanese, Canadian Guyanese and Australian Guyanese now enriching the soils of their adopted homelands!

That story is still being written today!

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Comments

  • kamtanblog  On December 14, 2019 at 3:05 am

    Wow wow …wat a read !
    Nostalgic history for many of us in the diaspora.
    If u know where you from you should know where yu ah guh ! (you going)
    Sad that today there are more guyanese living elsewhere than those in Guyana !
    The brain drain (haemorrhage) continues today.

    An interesting read of BG history.

    Kamtan 🇬🇧🇬🇾🇪🇸🇬🇧👽

  • wally n  On December 14, 2019 at 1:20 pm

    “Many people of all races had, by diligence, imagination and plain hard work become wealthy and influential. British Guianese were a cheerful and generous people. I know of cases of Black kids being raised by Indian families and Indian kids being brought up in Black families. Our country was truly multicultural. Race was not ignored but referred to as a way of acknowledging a person’s heritage. It was not practiced as a dividing factor, as it apparently is today!”

    THEN GUYANESE GAVE UP THE ABILITY TO HAVE INDEPENDENT THOUGHT?

  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On December 14, 2019 at 1:22 pm

    Enjoyed your article, Geoff 🙂

  • kamtanblog  On December 14, 2019 at 1:41 pm

    Maybe with the coming of oil wealth
    Guyana will move from a two class society
    Rich v Poor to a greater middle class one.

    We can but hope that the political jackasses
    make the right decisions and put it into law.
    Anti racial anti corruption legislation.
    Better paid poo poo and public servants

    Politicians are elected to serve
    not to rule !
    Power corrupts ultimate power corrupts ultimately.

    Politics divided guyanese
    Politics must unite Guyanese

    Kamtan UK

  • Trevor  On December 14, 2019 at 3:58 pm

    “and our indigenous people, scornfully referred to as b***s, on the bottom rung.”

    Only the APNU/AFC government have done something to end the marginalisation of the Amerindians. They are the forgotten peoples, and this is for the entire continent. No one cares for the Amerindians.

    It’s even worse in Brazil, Ecuador and Peru where Amerindian tribes are exterminated on a semi-mass scale to clear the land for the European “retirees”.

  • Bob Rowley  On April 19, 2020 at 1:36 am

    Hi Geoff,
    Fascinating read. I spent a very happy year and a bit in 1957 58 in BG, as it then was, as a young soldier. We still had National Service in those days which is how I came to be there. You mention the Glasford family who showed me incredible kindness and hospitality and I would love to know if you are still in touch with Ian and Marguerite.
    Very best wished

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