Celebrating our creative personalities
This is the twenty-seventh article in our series on famous Guyanese artistes mail at cambridg@ohio.
June 13, 2004
Wordsworth McAndrew was born in 1936 to Winslow Alexander McAndrew and Ivy McAndrew. His father was a school teacher, a musician, and catechist, who taught in rural Anglican schools.
McAndrew grew up in Cummings-burg and, from the age of 12, in Newtown, Kitty. He attended 'Teacher' Marshall Kindergarten School, Christ Church Primary School and Queen's College.
For almost five decades, Wordsworth McAndrew has been an unyielding advocate for the collection, preservation, and celebration of Guyanese folk life. He has used all media - the speech, the poem, the article, the book, the radio programme, the rum-shop lime and other interpersonal channels - to make his case and promote the project.
McAndrew has been consistent in the view that the collection, preservation, and celebration project must be systematic, sustainable and accessible.
For example, in September 1961, The Evening Post reported on a presentation McAndrew made to the Cultural Society of the British Guiana Fire Brigade. He argued for the creation of a society to preserve Guianese folklore. He also said that there were many eminent Guianese "who could form the nucleus of the society for the preservation of folklore in BG but would not for the fear of embarrassment."
In the early 1960s, many Guyanese felt ashamed of things that were clearly of African and East Indian origin. In some segments of the society, cook-up rice was considered 'improper' for polite circles. The embarrassment that McAndrew referred to was a function of Guyana's history. Not only was there embarrassment about cultural retentions and practices, but also widespread ignorance of the cultural practices of the racial and ethnic communities that made up Guyana. So, racial and ethnic stereotypes were nourished, reinforced, and used to fuel the divisive politics that have characterized Guyanese political life since the mid-1950s.
The tactic that McAndrew proposed to the Cultural Society of the British Guiana Fire Brigade was in harmony with progressive thought and practice of that time. It was part of a non-formal education project aimed at preparing the nation for the inevitability of political independence.
Starting in 1958, the People's Progressive Party launched National History and Culture Week, and in the spirit of national unity both Cheddi Jagan and Forbes Burnham offered gold medals to support excellence in the arts - Jagan for literature and Burnham for painting.
For National History and Culture Week 1960, the distinguished Guyanese historian Dr Elsa Gouveia, then Senior Lecturer in History at the University of the West Indies, reminded British Guianese that "the spreading of a critical knowledge of our history and of a critical appreciation of our culture is one effective way of helping BG transform itself from being a Colony to being an independent country."
During the early post-independence years, McAndrew worked with various branches of the civil service, including Guyana Information Services (GIS). He also worked at Guyana Graphic and The Daily Chronicle. After training at the BBC, he worked with the Guyana Broadcasting Service (GBS). He attracted national recognition for his dedication to Guyanese folk.
By 1970, McAndrew had written the powerful chapter 'Guyana - A Cultural Look' in the important publication Co-op Republic: Guyana 1970.
He stated, "In my view, the folklore of a people is at the root of their being, and to cast it aside is to set oneself adrift culturally - an act which one performs at one's peril."
He isolated six aspects of Guyanese folk life - language, ritual, music, folktales, ring play games, and folklore for special examination. This examination revealed the cultural fusion taking place in Guyana. Dutch, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Hindi and West African words have been part of the nation's language. For example, all Guyanese knew what 'typee' meant; its origins did not make it a peculiarly East Indian word. McAndrew developed a list of 40 stages of strong love, including totilotipo, chic-chi-ri, typhosius rikkitiks, ricie-chi-chee, and the final stage - zeggeh-heh-sa-ha.
McAndrew argued that Guyana's language styles included a number of creoles and was not simply "bad language." He argued passionately for the study of proverbs in the school system, so that the wisdom of the ancestors would not go to waste. For him, proverbs hold artistic and linguistic value. The research on Guyanese linguistics by Richard Allsopp, Ian Robertson, John Rickford, Walter Edwards, Kean Gibson, Desrey Fox, Sayadam Rampaul, Kuntie Ramdat, Satnarine Persaud and Daizal Samad have supported McAndrew's assertions.
McAndrew has also argued for a respect for Guyanese rituals and challenged all Guyanese to experience them. His poem Barriat reaffirmed his special love for "the colourful and symbolic weddings" of our Hindu ancestors.
McAndrew drew to the nation's attention the importance of folktales, and reminded us about the power and influence of 'Bill and Brer Nancy.' Ring games were not just activities that helped to develop motor skills and team work, they helped to educate and pass on cultural values. In this sense McAndrew was ahead of contemporary entertainment-education theorists.
McAndrew was also part of the team that developed the use of the term 'Mashramani' as the title for the nation's Republic celebrations (http://www.visitgt.com/mash/)
He has also developed an impressive body of poetry. In 1980, when A J Seymour edited A Treasury of Guyanese Poetry, McAndrew's poems were included in six categories - children's, historical, nature, people, protest, and religion. The poems in that important collection are Barriat, Blue Gaulding, Legend of the Carrion Crow Lines to a Cartman, Pushing, Independence and To A Civil Servant.
For many Guyanese at home or in the diaspora, McAndrew's most celebrated poem is Ol Higue with its onomatopoeic "Whaxen! Whaxen, Pladai, Plai."
"I watched him with awe, as he performed his now classic Ole Higue, many years ago on the Theatre Guild stage, on Parade Street, Georgetown, Guyana," said Francis Quamina Farrier. "I believe that was the first time it was performed on stage... and it has been done hundreds of times since, by dozens of performers. I have performed it in Guyana, the Caribbean, North America, Europe and Australia over the years... it's one of my favourites."
Ol Higue was the centrepiece of The Release by Dennis Nichols which won the 2000 Commonwealth Short Story Competition.
Marc Matthews and Rudolph Shaw are among the Guyanese who have recorded Ol Higue. Chuck Gerrard has put it to music.
"One thing is sure: a few of his poems will always find a place in any Guyanese or West Indian anthology of poems," said Ian McDonald.
McAndrew has remained proud of his African heritage in the context of a multiracial and multicultural post-colonial society. His body of work can be categorized as a quest for unifying themes. For example, during his presentation 'Some Possible Africanisms in Guyanese Speech' to the important 1975 Festival of Guyanese Words, he made it clear that 'bambye' and 'bassybat' meant the same thing - food left over - "brought forwards." He also suggested that some words that may sound African could have other origins. He called upon the University of Guyana to study Guyanese language systematically.
McAndrew is also remembered as a radio personality. In addition to being the presenter of influential programmes of Guyanese folk, he was also an effective trainer. Parliamentarian Sheila Holder remembers him as the person "who taught me a great deal about writing and programme production for radio. He urged me to and made sure I did get exposed to the hard side of life on the city streets that was the lot of hustlers and people of all kinds engaged with the struggles of life."
In Gang Gang, Eusi Kwayana identified McAndrew as one of the Guyanese who helped to give Guyanese creolese respectability on the air. McAndrew's broadcasting life also had an international dimension. Malcolm Hall remembers McAndrew's producing programmes for 'Caribbean Link-Up' and 'African Heritage,' programmes supported by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung during the 1970s.
McAndrew has also been an avid collector. Several persons interviewed for this feature recall the overwhelming presence of his collection of documents at his Georgetown home.
Over the years, McAndrew has meant many things to many people.
"He is a fiercely independent, proud, absolutely brilliant man," said Muriel Glasgow.
He is also remembered as a fierce defender of Guyana's cuisine. Muriel Glasgow told the story of McAndrew giving her potato balls a passing grade when he said, "Boy, these potato balls here in New York ain't too far from the real thing."
A chef in London was not so lucky. Marc Matthews recalled a moment when McAndrew upbraided the chef for failing to prepare a curry that was not up to Guyana's proud standards.
When Guyanese meet in the diaspora we generate many ideas about how we should celebrate our heroes. There is no shortage of ideas about what to do for McAndrew.
"I would love to have him immortalized," said a fan. "What of the Wordsworth McAndrew Pavilion at cricket/football? Wordsworth McAndrew Library in the University of Guyana? Wordsworth McAndrew way (near Bourda or Big Market)? Wordsworth McAndrew Cultural Centre? Or Wordsworth McAndrew Auditorium in the Cultural Centre? We could also establish a website which would be an online tribute to the works of great men like Wordsworth, those before him, and those yet to be born."
At a more manageable level, in 2002, the Guyana Folk Festival Committee in New York established the Wordsworth McAndrew Awards to celebrate creative Guyanese talent, many of whom were unrecognized during their lifetimes. In 2004, thirty-eight will be recognized. It is a tribute to a national treasure, a man who for the past five decades has dedicated his life to collecting, preserving, and celebrating Guyanese folk life.
Telephone interview, Vibert Cambridge/Wordsworth McAndrew, June 9, 2004
Evening Post 'Society urged for preservation of Guyanese folklore.' (September 28, 1961, p 3)
Copy of article referring to letter from Dr Elsa Gouveia to British Guianese on National History and Arts Week, 1960. Copy made available by Cheddi Jagan Research Centre, 2002.
Wordsworth McAndrew 'Guyana - A Cultural Look.' Co-op Republic Guyana 1970: A Study of Aspects of Our way of Life ed L. Searwar (Georgetown : Ministry of Education, 1970)
Wordsworth McAndrew 'Some Possible Africanisms in Guyanese Speech' in A Festival of Guyanese Words, Second Edition ed John R. Rickford (Georgetown, Guyana : University of Guyana, 1978)
Wordsworth McAndrew Barriat, Blue Gaulding, Legend of the Carrion Crow, Line to a Cartman, Pushing, Independence, To a Civil Servant in A Treasury of Guyanese Poetry ed A J Seymour (Georgetown, 1980)
The Release by Dennis Nichols, Guyana - the 2000 Commonwealth Short Story Competition winner. For further details see (http://www.commonwealthfoundation.com/news/news185.html)
Ken Corsbie: E-mails listing the Stages of Strong Love, June 6, 2004.
Francis Quamina Farrier: E-mail to Vibert Cambridge, June 5, 2004.
Wrickford Dalgetty: E-mail to Vibert Cambridge, May 6, 2004
Muriel Glasgow: E-mail to Vibert Cambridge, June 5, 2004
Malcolm Hall: E-mail to Vibert Cambridge, June 5, 2004
Sheila Holder: E-mail to Vibert Cambridge, June 5, 2004
Dave Martin: E-mail to Vibert Cambridge, June 5, 2004
Ian McDonald: E-mail to Vibert Cambridge, June 7, 2004
Marc Matthews: E-mail to Vibert Cambridge, June 6, 2004
Rudolph Shaw: E-mail to Vibert Cambridge, June 7, 2004