In Guyana: The Primacy of Hope – By Dave Martins + Guyana Medley by The Tradewinds


In years past, hearing outside about my country’s difficulties, I would come home to Guyana with Tradewinds to play music, or just to visit, often very concerned that I would find a joyless, dispirited people. It would be in my mind often as I was setting up the tours. I recall particularly the reactions to the endless lines in the “shortages” days, when even toilet paper was on ration. Instead, I would come home and find Guyanese, certainly complaining, but also upbeat, showing exuberance, finding things to laugh at.       

It would always surprise me. I would be away for a year or so, hear about some other traumas – devaluation, items banned, shortages, etc. – and I would come home thinking, “Okay, this time I will see them down in the dumps”, and again I would be wrong. In all those years, on every trip, I never saw a downtrodden, hopeless people. Certainly grumbling, definitely, but persevering…not folding. In that context, when a letter writer, complaining about our various societal problems, recently made reference to “a paucity of hope” in Guyana, the phrase pulled me up short.  Paucity of hope?  In Guyana?

Although I had never thought about the subject before in those terms, that letter writer’s clear statement made me realise, almost as I read it, that I had the completely opposite view. Guyanese, it seems to me, are redolent with hope. They are hanging tough, not folding. And before you say it’s a kind of blindness to reality, let me disagree. Our ability to deal with our difficulties is predicated on understanding the realities, but also drawing on a large measure of hope; hope that things will change; hope that whatever the present condition is, it is not permanent (history shows that); hope that whatever bad apples we see generating wrong will not be there forever. Hope is the fuel that keeps the engine going, although obstacles abound.

I can see where someone trying to cope with the daily travails here might begin to embrace the “hopeless” description, but to interact with people in this society is to see example after example of people who haven’t given up hope at all.  People like the two policemen who stopped to help an old lady across the street; or the coconut vendor on Irving Street recently, laughing at two Guyanese arguing, and saying “I ain’t wan’ live nowhere else”; or the people investing in new infrastructure; or the young couple slaving over a backyard garden to make ends meet – I’ve seen all those things here. They spell HOPE!

I’m not formally religious, but I regard hope, in effect, as the presence of God in us. It is the abiding knowledge that “better will come”.  It may take time (look how long it took for Papa Doc to be sent packing; look how long before the Berlin Wall fell; look how long it took for a cure for polio) but it will come.  The strength to endure comes from hope. Think of the travail of black people in the United States, with dogs and fire hoses turned against them, powerless; think of Little Rock, in 1957, with 11 young children facing hundreds of rabid rednecks in order to go to school; those black people were fortified by the conviction of hope. It was the underpinning of the teachings of Mahatmas Ghandi in his struggles with the British. The phrase Barack Obama used is “the audacity of hope”; it is a relentless power. It eventually prevails.

The singular story of Nelson Mandela, of his lifetime in prison, is known around the world.  How could one keep facing a totalitarian, unrelenting regime, putting you behind bars, determined to deny you your rights, every day, year round, for 27 years? You’re locked up in a fortress, alone, kept there by people with guns. Mandela says he never gave up hope.

It is mankind’s nature to hope. We know from the Bible about faith, hope and charity, and I may get some arguments about this, but I think hope is the most powerful of the three because it is the fuel for the life force that keeps us going when everything is breaking loose around us.  History is replete with examples of it.

Consider the tangled history of Europe with entire nationalities being subjugated, displaced from their homelands, and even in the depths of those horrors, those people kept their vision of nationhood and persevered to see its revival.  Hope never deserted them.

Consider even the media voices in Guyana who are constantly regaling us with the litany of things going wrong; it could be argued they constitute an expression of hope. Yes, the constant diet of bad news can be draining, but by their very actions these people, if they are genuine, are operating also on the premise of a hope that change can come, that improvements can take place; that irregularities can be repaired, that what needs fixing can be fixed. By the very fact that they are still here – and not in New York, or Toronto, or Trinidad – these people are pressing for change because they believe it can occur.  Freddie and Adam and Fenty, et al, may not be inclined to say so publicly, but I expect if you press them they will tell you that they have not given up hope; on the contrary, it is their fuel.

When I was commissioned to write an emancipation musical by the Guyana Commemoration Commission in 1984 (what turned out to be ALL IN WAN) I spent many research hours in the Caribbean Reference Library at UG and I remember how surprised I was to find that the slaves, in the midst of that degrading existence, were somehow able to retain their dignity, their resolve and, amazingly, even their sense of humour; yes, the evidence is clear that they somehow continued to laugh.  It had to be hope operating there, not allowing them to fold up like a pack of cards in what appeared to be a dead end situation, but allowing them to find humour in that gloom. The people I talked about earlier – the ones in Guyana I would meet on my trips back here – are evidence of it.  The “hope springs eternal in the human breast” sentence is more than great writing; it is also great truth.

From the Crusades, to slavery, to the Holocaust, to Pol Pot, to pre-Castro Cuba, even early America itself, mankind, in infinitely worse conditions than Guyana, doesn’t give up hope.  In fact, all the people who choose to stay in this country, or the ones who return, are doing so precisely because they are full of hope for better days; the time line may be uncertain, but the hope is not.   Hope in a person dies only when they’re dead.

Guyana Medley – Dave Martins & The Tradewinds

Sweet Guyanese and Caribbean folk music from our childhood in Guyana.
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  • kamtanblog  On 11/25/2020 at 12:27 am

    Simple Simon Suggests

    “Better to live in hope than die in despair”
    my grandmother used to say !
    My home grown illiterate philosopher.
    Exited at 93 but lives on in the hearts and minds
    of next generations.
    Always enjoy the words beat of the Tradewins
    If music be food of love/life play on !

    Kamtan uk-ex-EU

  • Reggie Chee-A-Tow  On 11/25/2020 at 5:45 am

    Powerful article Dave.Guyanese are among the most resourceful people in the world, and they carry that feeling of hope wherever they go and settle.They never fold as you say, and they are always consumed with a sense of humor.

  • geoffburrowes  On 11/25/2020 at 11:16 am

    Dave I read your article on Guyanese and the hope that endures in Guyana -wonderful and so good to hear in these times, dominated by negative news!

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