Oliver Judaman Seecoomar 1932 – 2006
Preserving our literary heritage
By Petamber Persaud
September 3, 2006
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There are other remarkable features to the challenging life of Seecoomar. At 70, he published his first book, CONTRIBUTIONS TOWARDS THE RESOLUTION OF CONFLICT IN GUYANA, based on his Ph. D. thesis. So profound and universal was the central subject of the book, that it has secured a place on academic reading lists worldwide notwithstanding the fact that the country of its focus has made little progress towards conflict resolution
Days before he died, Seecoomar was expanding on the ideas he put forward in his second book, DEMOCRATIC ADVANCE AND CONFLICT RESOLUTION IN POST- COLONIAL GUYANA. Yes, he gave his final breath to the idea of conflict resolution. After a dignified and courageous battle with cancer, he died leaving his piece, his contribution to the making of a peaceful Guyana and a better world.
Conflict resolution was the theme of a man whose life was epitomised by challenges. His father, Augustus, a sugar worker, died when Judaman was three. Worse was to follow; when the child reached age twelve, his stepfather truncated the boy’s formal education. What anguish the mother, Agnes, must have suffered; a housewife who was passionate about education, living with a man (the Headmaster of the local school) who had reneged on his promise to educate her son. And children are perceptive; young Judaman must have empathised with his mother.
Although Seecoomar ‘spoke with deep affection about the Hindu myths told to him by his auntie’, he respected his mother’s Christianity but ‘he was unhappy about the way that some of the Christian clergy abused their power in Guyana, for example, by only offering extra lessons to those who converted to Christianity’.
Seecoomar grew up in difficult times both socially and politically. Frank Birbalsingh in reviewing CONTRIBUTIONS described that period when ‘the plantation was simply the be all and end all of everything and the role of British colonial administrators was to diplomatically manipulate the living conditions of the local population to suit the economic interest of British planters and businessmen… it was this manipulation that deliberately fostered ethnic conflict in an unsuspecting Guyanese population’.
The big picture of life in British Guiana was bleak and so was the small personal picture of Judaman Seecoomar’s story. But the young man rose to the challenge like stalks of sugar cane from ratoons. He studied on his own (with help from his best friend, who passed on what he had learned in school on a daily basis, to Judaman) and qualified as a pupil teacher. It is indeed remarkable for a man who had to struggle for an early education to prevail, to persevere to higher education and to then to dedicate forty years of his life to teaching both in the land of his birth and in the land of adoption.
In 1948, he began his teaching career at Canal Elementary School on the West Bank of Demerara. After graduating from the Government Teachers’ Training College in 1955, he taught at Ogle Government School on the East Coast of Demerara followed by a transfer to Essequibo (1956 – 1958) and back to Demerara where he taught for two more years at Enmore Government School. Between 1960 and 1962, he lectured at the Government Technical Institute.
Seecoomar’s flight to England in 1962 was due to increasing racial tension in Guyana. The blurb of CONTRIBUTIONS described that period of disharmony thus, ‘from 1955 onwards when the anti-colonial movement split into competing ethnic factions, conflict between African and Indian Guyanese has held Guyana in a deadlock which has undermined all attempts at social and economic development’.
His move to greener pasture dogged by tragedies and hardships was mitigated by the opportunity to teach and to further his education. In 1962, he started teaching at South Kilburn Community School (formerly Percy School) in the North West of London. At Kilburn where he served for sixteen years including two years as deputy head, he pioneered ‘the implementation of Access courses which enabled adults without formal education to benefit form higher learning’.
In 1973, Seecoomar gained his BA in International Relations and seven years later his MA in Urban Education. At the time of his death, he was a Visiting Fellow at the University of London School of Advanced Study.
In 1969, after thirteen years of marriage, he was separated from his wife, Dorothy. That marriage issued four children – Rohan, Agnes, Nadira and Nirmala. Rohan died in 1988 and Seecoomar’s second wife, Judith, to whom he was married to in 1974, died in 1991.
Judaman Seecoomar died in 2006 surmounting numerous challenges and resolving many conflicts in his life to leave behind a legacy for the making of a better Guyana and a better world.
His love for the game of cricket and its ethos of fair play played a not insignificant role in forming his later concepts for conflict resolution. As a fast bowler and batsman, he made optimum use of the pitch he had to play on and in whatever condition; only death put him into retirement. Judaman Seecoomar is gone but his work will live on through debates, scholarship and hopefully implementation.
Sources: * Interview with Agnes Seecoomar, August 10, 2006, Guyana.
* Obituary in Stabroek News, June 18, 2006.