Social Studies texts Editorial
Stabroek News
September 26, 2003

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This column has before recommended the abolition of the Social Studies examination at the Secondary Schools Entrance Examination (SSEE) level, at least partly because of the inaccurate information being peddled to our primary school children, partly because it is very difficult for teachers - particularly those in hinterland and rural areas - to keep track of the governmental changes which are taking place, partly because any multiple choice exam in this area is totally misconceived, and partly because of the strain on our children to absorb such a volume of data for test purposes. One can only think that the Ministry of Education has decided that because the SSEE is being phased out in any case, they will not tamper with existing arrangements at this stage.

The immediate concern here, however, is the misinformation which is being taught in the classroom for examination purposes, particularly in the area of history. It must be said that the Ministry of Education’s own text for Social Studies would have been the better for some vetting by the University of Guyana historians; however, it is likely that the leading book for Social Studies at SSEE level is Guyana: Our Country; Our Home: Levels 5 & 6, which has an egregious error with national implications which is not reproduced in the Ministry’s publication.

On page 99 of Guyana: Our Country... under the heading ‘The Europeans,’ it is stated that, “The Europeans who came to British Guiana [sic] were the

*Dutch from The Netherlands

*Spanish from Spain

*French from France

*English from England...”

Just in case anyone should believe that this is just a matter of an oversight, the work then goes on to associate actual place names with the presence of the Spaniards. “The Europeans have given names to various places and areas in Guyana. Here are some; perhaps you can find others,” runs the text.

Under the sub-head of ‘Spanish,’ the names Santa Rosa, El Dorado, Anna Catherina and Anna Regina are then cited. The last two are both plantation names, and Anna Regina specifically, is in Essequibo, an area which is the subject of a spurious claim by Venezuela. What on earth is one of our primary-school text books doing peddling to our children, not merely information which is inaccurate, but information which by implication bolsters our neighbour’s claim?

For the record, so the teachers in Guyana’s classrooms will know: the Spanish had no permanent presence within the territory that is modern-day Guyana after the advent of the Dutch. Furthermore, there is no plantation name in this country, whether in Essequibo or elsewhere, which owes its origin to Spanish settlement. Anna Catherina is a Dutch name (‘Anna’ is a fairly common female name in both the Latin-based and the Germanic languages), while the ‘Regina’ in Anna Regina is the Latin word for ‘queen.’

The first two names - El Dorado and Santa Rosa - do have Spanish associations, although it has to be repeated, they are not indicative of Spanish settlement as such. Santa Rosa was founded in the early nineteenth century by what are known as the ‘Spanish Arawaks.’ These were Amerindians (not all of the Arawak nation) who took refuge in Guyana among the Arawaks of Moruka during the Venezuelan civil war after their missions had been destroyed. This was not official Spanish settlement, however; nowadays the Spanish Arawaks would have been accorded ‘refugee’ status.

And as for El Dorado, as everyone knows that is indeed a Spanish name, which was, however, popularized around Europe by none other than Sir Walter Ralegh, in his bestseller identifying the golden city of Manoa and its golden king with our Guyana. Written as a single word - Eldorado - it is the name of a village on the West Coast Berbice, which, one might be tempted to speculate, may have acquired the designation during the early days of mining in this country. However, that is something which the older residents of the village in question would have to confirm or otherwise. To repeat the point, however, the village of Eldorado too does not have any association with Spanish occupation and settlement.

Guyana: Our Country... was first published in 2000, and then according to the bibliographical data supplied on the back of the title page, was “reprinted” in 2001. Unfortunately, however, the authors and publishers did not look at the inaccuracies in the text, and in particular, the one outlined above. Where a matter relating to our territory is involved, the authors should take it upon themselves to have an erratum slip inserted in all the books which still remain in the stores, while the Ministry of Education should issue a circular to head teachers, advising them of the error.