Finding the answers for 'unity in diversity'

By Minister Gail Teixeira
Guyana Chronicle
May 21, 1999

TODAY May 21st has been declared World Culture Day by UNESCO.

How do we define culture? For some people, culture is defined by one's paintings, music and dance. For others, it is determined by the standard and quality of one's performing, visual, literary arts; yet others measure it in equation with European and American standards.

But culture is simply defined as "the ways of living of a society". In other words, it encompasses almost all facets of a society - its history, its customs and traditions, its norms, its language(s), its art and crafts, dance, music, etc.

This definition allows for a society to see culture as an integral and intrinsic part of its history, growth and development.

For nations such as ours, which have emerged from a colonial past, our own struggle to attain nationhood and an identity as Guyanese has been an extremely painful and traumatic one.

We have continued to measure our culture within a foreign framework even in the post-independence era. We have lost precious years in not reaching down to and into our roots to seek the creative genius of our people as survivors in the villages of our society. We have turned away from our heritage and created sanitised versions based on the political perquisites of given periods in our history.

These contradictions within our society and the demise of intellectual thought in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, due to self-censorship and being "politically correct", did not allow, as Martin Carter stated, for the "blossoming of our culture". With the assassination of one of our own brilliant thinkers, Dr Walter Rodney, the exodus of our artists, playwrights, poets, etc. continued unabated.

The emergence of a democratic state has brought its own catharsis; the analogy that might be applicable is the labour pains that a pregnant women goes through, but in this case, it requires the labour to take place in the mind and soul - long, painful, anguishing, but fraught with hope.

Democracy is creating new options which the old ways of thinking can no longer adjust to; democracy demands by its very nature, differences; it creates, fresh contradictions, but more importantly, its foundation by definition can only be based on tolerance and respect for these differences.

The rich diversity of Guyanese history, its cultural heritage; its folklore as expressed in music, dance, and storytelling, its hostile geography along the coast contrasted with its awesome beauty in interior, are fertile and awaiting discovery and creative expression by those who are gifted amongst us.

This 83,000 square miles within which we live is resplendent with anthropological sites, with traditional art forms waiting to be recognised as part of the Guyanese mosaic. History is waiting to be written.

Nationhood and pride cannot emerge without its inculcation through information which we acquire through our school textbooks, our media houses, our museums, our performing and visual arts to name a few.

My plea on World Culture Day is that we as Guyanese strive to find ourselves in our roots and in our environment; that we encourage the growth of an era of cultural enlightenment as took place in Guyana and the Caribbean in 1930s to 1960s. An enlightenment (through our differences) where we shall create spatial opportunities for all, simultaneously finding the answers for "unity in diversity".

A page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples