Preserving our literary heritage
By Petamber Persaud
July 2, 2006
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The Bronze Woman Monument in Stockwell Memorial Gardens, England, is one such vision that has progressed from mind to matter. Approaching completion, it was birthed many, many years ago, way down in Demerara, in the womb of thought in a Guyanese woman. Then, in 1968, that thought became a poem titled, ‘Bronze Woman’, written by Cecile Nobrega and published in her first book of verses, SOLILOQUIES. ‘Bronze woman’, the first poem in the book, is about the ‘stalwart woman-man/strength in your heart/and love in your limbs’ who prevailed and continues to achieve against great odds.
The Bronze Woman Monument, a seven-foot statue of a woman holding a young child aloft, is the physical manifestation of that poem, paying tribute to women of Guyana and the Caribbean who suffered massa-day.
The effects of massa-day were still wreaking havoc when Cecile Nobrega was born in 1919 in Georgetown, British Guiana. Born to Imelda and Canon W. G. Burgan, they managed on a ‘limited stipend’. Her father used to write articles on life in the countryside for the Argosy newspaper under the pseudonym, Rusticious’. Her mother, who learnt her music while attending St. Rose’s, was a popular singer of her day and a hit at music festivals. The influence of music on the life of young Cecile goes a generation back to her maternal grandmother, Husbands, who used to import classical gramophone records through Pradasco Bros. in Hinck Street, Georgetown. Cecile remembers one of the records her grandmother brought for her because she was named after the singer - it was ‘Autumn’ by Cecile Chaminade.
Nobrega went on to write and compose songs, winning a few awards along the way. Her most popular song is ‘Twilight’ that opens in the following manner: ‘I dance upon the brink of day/And try to keep the night away’.
Nobrega has covered much ground leading to her twilight years, making a name for herself as a poet, playwright, composer, potter, social worker, textbook writer and educator.
She has covered much ground leading to her twilight years, formally educated at Bishops’ High School, British Guiana, Hockerill College of Education, UK, the Institute of Education, London University and informally through one of her hobbies which is travelling.
As a past member of the Women’s League of Social Service, she represented this country at the Conference of Caribbean Women’s Association held in Trinidad. Incidentally, she was married in Trinidad (1943) to Romeo Anthony Nobrega, a Guyanese who was attached to the Caribbean Forces during the Second World War. She is a member of the International Alliance of Women, UK, and a member the Guyana Women Artists Association, UK.
As a writer, Cecile Nobrega falls within that first wave of Guyanese women writers which included Sheila King, Syble Douglas, Rajkumari Singh, Celeste Dolphin, B. Zorina Ishmael, Jacqueline DeWeever, Joy Allsopp, Margaret E. Bayley, Edwina Melville, Evadne D’Oliveria and Doris Harper-Wills. Some of those women were active in the very robust Guyana Writers’ Group. Many of those women writers were talented in more than one genre of writing but importantly most of them produced children literature and quite a few were playwrights. The Guyana Writers’ Group produced VOICES OF GUYANA, a collection of poems edited by Donald Trotman, in commemoration of International Human Rights Year 1968. Nobrega was also featured in the first Guyanese anthology of stories, STORIES FROM GUYANA.
As a member of the Guyana Chapter of International PEN, Nobrega represented this country at the PEN Congress in Oslo, Norway.
She was also a good ambassador of Guyana on other occasions including representing the country at the International Children’s Theatre Conference held in London, 1964.
As one of the few women playwrights at the time, her play, STABROEK FANTASY, was quite an achievement. It would be useful to bear in mind that theatre was always struggling despite the exploits of the British Guiana Dramatic Society, the Georgetown Dramatic Club, and the feats of N. E. Cameron.
As an educator, she was President of the Kindergarten Section of the Guyana Teachers’ Union and editor of YOU magazine for the Parish of St. Sidwell’s in Lodge. She also taught Music and Language.
Apart from her first collection published in Guyana, Nobrega has published other books of poetry including, JAPAN, THE BUTTERFLY, an ode to that country with which she fell in love through one of her hobbies which was studying the history of Japan. Nobrega reveals that this was another of her visions: ‘in the light of what we know today of Japan, the Ode can be regarded as a prophesy, written, as it was, over 25 years ago’! Nobrega is a member of the Japan Society, London.
When she migrated to London in 1969, she took with her a solid foundation in various fields of endeavour on which to build. But it wasn’t easy, not that she ever had it easy. Her philosophy could be found in her poem, ‘Right to Life’, where she points out, ‘however great the hurricane/the smiling grass/bobs up its head again’.
At four score and seven, she’s still going strong, a Bronze Woman of inspiration, working on her autobiography - more of her life to give. A life of service in keeping with her poem, ‘Gift’, written in 1965: ‘what can I give to Him that gives so much to me? O let me give a helping hand to those in need’.
Sources: * Interview with Agnes Jones, June 2006, Subryanville, Guyana.
* Interview with Sheila King, June 2006, Georgetown, Guyana