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One example of this heritage was the fleet of local ships belonging to the Transport and Harbours Department; tough legendary ships and ferries such as the Oranjestaad, Lady Northcote, Powis, Canje Pheasant, Pomeroon, Barima, Lady Berbice, Mazaruni, Makouria, Torani, Lukanani, etc. Apart from these ships being practical objects of local transportation, their names reflect historical figures, rivers, birds, and fishes of Guyana.
As a child, having these ships pointed out to me by adults during walks along Fort Groyne, also seeing photos of them in the newspapers, and seeing them docked side by side at Georgetown stellings, awakened in me curiosity about the meaning of their names. So, learning of their names, even without the use of schoolbooks, instilled in me an early sense of national pride.
The vital property of nations like Guyana with a fragmented history of successive colonial and post-colonial eras and Governments, often becomes susceptible to squander and loss of its total heritage due to various competing ideological points of view.
But a weak appreciation of one’s complete national history can lead to disregard and disrespect for one’s nation. For example, let us suppose that after receiving independence in 1966 we were to look back at the previous Dutch, French and British colonial eras and condemn many public works, or change historical names, simply because they were established during such times, how logical and realistic would that be. Similarly, if after taking possession of our three counties from the Dutch in 1814, the English colonial government decided to condemn many public achievements of the previous Dutch period, how beneficial would that be to Guyana’s future?
And yet, indeed, such acts were done by each successive regime in Guyana, both in colonial Guiana and independent Guyana. But the idea of Guyana as a distinct cooperative cosmopolitan society contributed to by various European immigrants such as Dutch/Flemish, French, English, Danish, Swedish, Spanish, German, Maltese, and later others of Syrian origin, was first introduced by Guyana’s famous Dutch Governor, Storm Van Gravesande, between the 1740’s and 1770’s.
Yet, in the 19th century, after Britain gained possession, one of its representatives, Governor Carmichael, ordained that to rule was to rule absolutely and declared no further encouragement of Dutch cultural contributions to BG. Clearly, he was thinking only of his idea of Guyana, not of anyone else’s input. Nevertheless, it is not necessary for us to erase his name from a street in Georgetown in retaliation, since his attitude is part of our heritage we need to know.
Similarly, in 1782, when the French Revolutionary representatives occupied Guyana as friends of the Dutch, after ousting the British Navy which had invaded the Dutch colony the previous year, 1781, the French Commander, the Comte De Kersaint, would lay the foundations for the city of Georgetown, brilliantly organising the resident plantation society into a civilised structure by introducing a Demerara ferry service, opening a post office, circulating currency, digging the two major canals of Hadfield Street, (now filled in) and South Road, setting official metric prices to local goods, constructing churches and commercial bonds, etc.
Yet, when De Kersaint and his energetic crew gave back Guyana to the Dutch and departed, the Dutch head of the resident plantocracy, Josephus Bourda, simply quashed what he could of De Kersaint’s creations, such as the post office, ferry, currency and price controls, mainly because such national progress demanded the support of the plantocracy’s profits.
These are some of the historical acts which have constructed and de-constructed Guyana’s vital national heritage. Obviously, there are also acts which have been replaced by better ones, but whenever the value of Guyana’s collective heritage fails to be respected by all governing parties and individual citizens, the nation and all Guyanese lose. It is also logical that if nations are to set a good and influential example for others, they should be of such an example to themselves first.
Because it is true that life changes and the new becomes old, and important national posts change individual hands, and such changes also change national policies etc., the very heritage of a nation may become the plaything of powerful whims. So how do nations preserve and prevent the self-destructive erosion of their heritage? Indeed, by looking back at their entire history, at once existed and can show us how to be constructive and productive once again.
For example, during the era of British Guiana, many national stamps were designed with depictions of sugar, rice, timber, bauxite, botanical gardens, distilleries, gold and diamond productions etc. Only a cynical and irrational Guyanese would say these productions were only for the benefit of colonial profits. Such stamps not only inform the world about what Guyana has to offer, but also fostered a sense of national pride in most citizens.
Another postage stamp with a turquoise background depicted seven hands representing Guyana’s racial types clasped together, and was a national favourite. Do today’s Guyanese stamps, mostly of birds and other animals, depict such vital national values to foreigners and Guyanese? It would be silly and arrogant to suggest that only surfing the net, or tourist brochures, can promote Guyana today and foster national pride.
Guyana has already lost much of its heritage which today would have interested foreign guests and which would also have benefitted us monetarily. The scrapping of our railways, like the Georgetown-Rosignol line, the first ever railway in South America, was one major loss, which despite today’s destructiveness might have been respected by all, and spared attacks.
Our famous large orange buses and helpful ships run by the T&HD are losses as well. The privatisation of public transportation certainly brought jobs and money to Guyanese. But it also introduced an era of disunity brought about by capitalist competition, a feeling of every man for himself, and even every race for itself, spreading a breakdown of national cohesion and mutual respect among Guyanese, whereas nationally owned public services with integrated staffs belong to a public made up of all citizens.
To damage or destroy such a heritage would be to damage or destroy ourselves as a nation. Guyanese people therefore need to have national creations, which they see, and respect and use collectively as their own.