Like A Manís Hand

by Dale A. Bisnauth
Guyana Mirror
August 8, 1999

There was a severe drought in a certain country; famine followed on the heels of the drought. In times of crisis, people resort to all kinds of things in order to find relief, if not solutions, to their problems. That time in that particular country was no different. People indulged in superstitious practices in the effort to persuade rain to fall; some sought the intervention of divinity.

A prophet told the despairing king: "Cheer up, eat and drink; there is sound of an abundance of rain." Then he sent his servant to check if there was any sign of rain. Six times the servant went to look in the direction of the sea. There was not a cloud to be seen on the horizon. He was sent back a seventh time. He reported: "A little cloud is rising out of the sea like a manís hand."

Not much to go on really. But that cloud no bigger than a human fist was to grow. It grew in size, black with rain. Very soon the storm broke and there was indeed an abundance of rain; the drought was over and done and with it much of human misery and suffering.

I am no prophet. But I feel that the things that bother us most in this country cannot last forever. It is no easy thing to write optimistically, as I am doing, shortly after a black-out on a steamily hot and humid night with squadrons of mosquitoes like dive bombers zooming in on oneís arms and legs and half-naked body drenched with sweat. But if it is not easy to be optimistic; it is possible to be hopeful.

Optimism and hope are not the same thing; they are not synonymous. You grow optimistic when you do the analyses and the forecast for the future is favourable. If it is not, then, understandably, you become pessimistic.

Hope, however, is the capacity to remain buoyant and up-beat in spirit and outlook even if the forecast is unfavourable. This is not to hope against hope; it is to hope in the face of what makes many pessimistic. You hold on to the tested notion-verifiable by much historical evidence - that there is an eccentric thread that runs through the gamut of the human story that is not often catered for in analyses. Because of this, something surprising turns up when you least expect it. The hopeful person believes that something will be good and pleasing. So, you look for signs about you, in society, that may not be any more significant, at first sight, than a cloud the size of a manís hand against the backdrop of thousands of hectares of sea and sky.

There are signs, for example, that Guyanese are quite capable of transcending the divides of race and partisan politics, and of business and labour, in the search for solutions to national problems. The Constitution Reform Commission would not have been able to complete its task without that capacity for transcendence. The role of the private sector in helping to bring the recent public workersí strike to an end, is widely acknowledged. Clouds the size of a manís hand in the scheme of things, to be sure, but harbingers, nevertheless, of what is possible in this country.

Two events brought much cheer to me recently: the performance of the Chinese Children troupe and the celebration of Emancipation Day. The audience response to the innocent brilliance of the children from the Orient indicates that our Occidental sensibilities can resonate to the cadences of another culture. (Incidentally, you should be aware that many "non-Indian" Guyanese found "Kuch Kuch Hota Hai" quite enjoyable).

In Georgetown, the celebration of Emancipation Day was done with style and panache. It was really a prideful exercise, colourful, exuberant, energetic, restrainedly exotic and spontaneously dignified. Quite befitting of the event and the African Guyanese and African Caribbean architects of freedom.

After these things, how can we return to the demeaning and the shameful? I think that Mr Hoyteís emphasis on the need of African Guyanese to pay serious attention to their identity needed to be said. But I have this suspicion that the felt need for this emphasis on the part of Mr Hoyte, just like the felt need of other persons in our society to point other groups to their roots, betrays the recognition that something dynamic is happening at the interstices where the racial segments meet. It has been happening for a long time. It is called creolization: an unplanned, unregulated, unconscious melting and melding of cultures the pioneers of which are our young people. Can it possibly be that the way in which our politics has developed restrains this pro-cess?

For me, our young people is our surest "cloud the size of a manís fist" on the horizon. I suspect that they are not so much interested in roots in the past. (That is partly why those of us who are the older repositories of "our" culture want to re-socialize them). Like the boabab tree they seek roots elsewhere than below. Maybe in the future. They are different from us; that is partly why we experience them as difficult and rebellious.

I suspect, even as I sense that many older people are growing too tired emotionally to sustain racial/ethnic prejudice, that the time is not too distant when people will be quite comfortable with offering libations to Forbes Burnham without mentioning Cheddi Jagan without offence to anyone; just as they will be able to mention Cheddi Jagan without feeling the need to couple him with Forbes Burnham. Then they will talk about slavery without feeling compelled to mention indentureship in the next breath, and vice versa. When that time comes there will be no hyphenated Guyanese, just plain ones.

But that is a long way off. Our insecurities -- economic, racial, political, occupational - will continue to plague us. We will, for some time yet, view almost every decision made by the "others" in power or in authority, every project envisaged, every programme financed and implemented, through the lenses of our particular insecurity. The drought is still with us and the famine.

But just as sure, if you look carefully, you will see "a little cloud...rising out of the sea like a human hand." Peace!

A © page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples