May 7, 2004
Go almost anywhere in the UK and there will be some local historian, if not a local historical society, which can tell visitors about their area, or about some special feature of it, or about a well-known personality associated with it. Quite often there will be an actual office, perhaps selling local guide books, print-outs or whatever relating to the district. In a large city like London, there are several local historical societies, each covering a specific zone in the capital. Many of the suburbs of London were once villages which over the centuries were consumed by the ever-hungry metropolis, and which have independent histories dating back to the Middle Ages or earlier.
Britain, of course, has a relatively well-preserved material heritage, and an effective National Trust, which has taken over responsibility for a large amount of private property of historical significance. In many of the former private houses and gardens managed by the Trust there will be local volunteers - invariably retired persons with an interest in local history - who will monitor the rooms to ensure that visitors don't touch anything and generally abide by the rules, as well as provide information and answer tourists' questions.
In other words there is a small army of citizens in the UK, and no doubt in many other parts of the world as well, who feel a connectedness to their locale, its monuments and the generations which have gone before. While many of them are probably well informed about the events which go to make up the grand sweep of history, they have chosen to research their own little corner of the country, investing their village, town, suburb or county with historicity, thereby giving it importance for the people who live there and transforming it into a source of curiosity for those who don't.
Here in this country a local history movement has never really got off the ground; we are all too absorbed with the larger issues of our past. There have been, it is true, some excellent little booklets published at one time or another, more particularly on individual churches like St George's Cathedral or St Andrew's Kirk, and on one or two villages like Victoria, but in a general sense, we have hardly explored our local history at all.
While in the UK, the sources for local history are largely documentary in nature, the same is not necessarily true of Guyana - although interspersed in the records will certainly be information, sometimes quite considerable information, about villages, etc. Whatever the written word might provide, however, there will always be invaluable data to be had from oral sources, giving us an insight into the social life in particular, of those who have set out on life's journey before us.
Unfortunately in Guyana, the elders of our villages usually go to their graves without anyone bothering to ask them about what their lives were like in the old days, or how the settlement in which they spent their days has changed over the course of the decades.
They are given no opportunity, for the most part, to pass on the traditions of their community as these have been handed down to them, neither are they invited to the local school so children can hear from them about times gone by. And in this era of formal education, it is at the school level that an interest in the history of a local area is most likely to be generated.
A community - any community - consists of those who have gone before, those who are alive now, and those yet unborn. We have a duty to the generations past to find out about their world, and if possible, about individuals among them; and a duty to the generations to come, to pass on the information which we have gleaned. This is an act of respect, not only for our forebears, but also for ourselves; it locates us within a tradition, and gives our own local world meaning and significance.