The colonial condition

Stabroek News
November 20, 1999

In a famous article in the Guyana Independence Issue of New World entitled "A question of self-contempt" Martin Carter, referring to his membership of an organisation formed by Cheddi Jagan in the fifties and their weekly meetings wrote as follows:

"Among those who came on the Sunday nights of our desperation, was a talkative middle-aged black gentleman I knew as Bovell. Stoop of a tired tree. Face of a face. One of the best of us all. So strange and disheartening therefore to discover he came no longer to meet with us on Sunday. I could not understand. Ill? I would search him out and find him.

Until one afternoon, walking along Vlissengen Road, I saw him cutting grass for his donkey, arcing scythe flashing like dark silver beside the grey and asphalt carriageway.

And went up to him.

"Bovell". I saw the scythe sweep and tender blades of grass collapsed.

"Bovell" The scythe jerked in his hand, and a certain green leaf lived a little longer.

"I haven't seen you for a long time," I said, exaggerating.

"Why don't you come anymore?"

Turned his old head slowly. Recognised me. Smiled his recognition. And leaned on the smooth and brown handle of his scythe.

Then took a bundle of dirty cloth from his trouser back pocket and wiped his sweaty face very carefully. That way I wipe my eyes.

"Boy", and I heard something I do not want to hear again.

"Week after week I come to you meeting. I hear you talk about exploitation. I hear you talk about how poor people must rise up. About socialism. About revolution."

I stared at his hopeless hands as he spoke. Eyes and hands.

He leaned forward. A new intensity informed his very eye.

"Tell me," he said suddenly, and I responded to the fury in his voice and heart.

"Just tell me something," and I knew I had no answer. "You and your friends really believe you can fight white people? Rass!"

Spat, shook his head, turned his back to me, and the impartial grass was again victim.

By the side of the road his donkey stood yoked. The iron tyres of the two wheeled cart were shining in spots. No rust anywhere. And I looked at Bovell's skull and saw a bump.

I wondered whether an owner had turned homuncule and taken up residence. My own head I rubbed. He was wondering why. Incapable of explanation, I remained silent".

One of the debilitating things about slavery and colonialism was that they left the subjects with the owner's or master's view of themselves as inferior and third rate. As Carter so penetratingly observed it created a profound self-contempt where there was no belief in one's ability to do what had to be done, efficiently and effectively or at all.

The sickness remains to this day, a contempt not only for oneself but by a process of inversion for one's fellow citizens. It is this seeing ourselves negatively with other's eyes that undoubtedly contributes to some of the negative racial and other stereotypes that continue to oppress us and reinforce division.

What is required is a new vision of ourselves as capable of building a modern and progressive nation. The predominant feeling now tends to be one of impotence and despair. We need to create a viable plan that charts the broad outline of a better future and that gives us the conviction that with hard work and dedication we can get there. The revised National Development Strategy due to be published in a few weeks time could be just such a plan.

The dreams of our fathers and forefathers of a peaceful and prosperous country have not been fulfilled. But all is not lost. We are our own worst enemy. Our desperation, based on lack of achievement, is leading to wretched and contrived scenarios of hate in which we seek to find scapegoats for our failure. A transforming vision can change all of this, giving us the strength and the hope to persevere and succeed.

A © page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples