Preserving our literary heritage
The El Dorado of Guyana By Petamber Persaud
Guyana Chronicle
November 12, 2006

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RECENTLY, as in two weeks ago, and within two days, I was gifted, separately, two books on literature by my two children who visited Logos II.

These two books, `DESIGNS IN POETRY’ and `APPRECIATING LITERATURE’, both published by McGraw-Hill, deal with literature in a readily assimilated format.

What excited me was that the poem, ‘Eldorado’, written by Edgar Allan Poe was featured in both books. That poem was written in 1849 and is said to be the last poem written by that author. Poe has been labelled the originator of the modern detective story. He seemed to have clued in on reaching El Dorado; clues he would follow into the great beyond. Poe by that poem had taken the legend of El Dorado to another level, a celestial level. Here is part of that poem:

Gaily bedight,
A gallant knight,
In sunshine and in shadow,
Had journeyed long,
Singing a song,
In search of Eldorado’

But as the knight grew old and his strength failed him, he inquired of a pilgrim shadow ‘where can it be,/This land of Eldorado?’ He was directed, ‘Over the Mountains/Of the Moon’.

The phrase El Dorado caught my eye on two counts. Recently, continuing a series of articles published in the Sunday Chronicle on preserving our literary heritage, I started to trace the first writings (with an emphasis on the novel) on our literary landscape. Almost all of the earlier writings on Guyana were done by persons who were attracted directly or indirectly to the legend of El Dorado, many recording their own version of El Dorado as the Dutchman, Adriaan Van Berkel, did in his `TRAVELS IN SOUTH AMERICA’, 1695, as the Swiss-born, Everard Im Thurn did in `ASCENT OF MOUNT RORAIMA’, 1885, as Robert Schomburgh, the German-born who in 1837 discovered the Victoria Regia in the Berbice River, a lily which has become the national flower of Guyana, and as Charles Barrington Brown, the English geologist, who in 1870 rediscovered the Kaieteur Falls that is now a national symbol of Guyana.

Added to that is my editorial for the 2006-2007 issue of `THE GUYANA ANNUAL’, a magazine which was published on and off since its first appearance in December 1915 under the title `CHRONICLE CHRISTMAS ANNUAL’. The main thrust of that editorial which is titled, ‘The El Dorado of Guyana’, is to highlight value and importance of a Guyanese Literature. The greatest treasure of any country lies in its literature. From the first book on Guyana, `THE DISCOVERIE OF THE LARGE, RICH AND BEAUWTIFUL EMPYRE OF GUIANA’, written by Walter Raleigh, published in 1596, to present day, the illusive El Dorado can be found in our literature. According to my editorial, writers were the only ones to find El Dorado and each writer is portraying that image in newer arrangements with each new piece of writing on this country. The value enshrined in a good piece of literature in inexhaustible.

What is El Dorado? I present the version I like: Once upon a time, there lived a king who had an extremely beautiful wife whom he loved very much. And it came to pass, she did him a grave wrong. So great was this injury, the king found it difficult to forgive her and eventually began to ill-treat her. Unable to bear this situation, the woman decided to commit suicide. With her daughter in trail, they went to the top of a high mountain with a deep lake. Here the mother threw herself into the water, taking the little child with her. Much aggrieved, the king sought ways and means to get back his wife and daughter alive. One such ritual was to throw gifts of gold into the lake. Soon, this became a custom where the king would cover himself in gold dust, sail to the centre of the lake, in the early morning sunrise, to the sound of music and to the chant of prayers and then wash himself. This legend of untold wealth was so magnetic it attracted explorers, traders and settlers to British Guiana.

Poe was not the only writer to explore El Dorado; Shakespeare (1564 – 1616) did so in `OTHELLO’ with reference to the headless warriors, Milton (1608 - 1674) did so in `PARADISE LOST’, Voltaire (1694 – 1778) did so in `CANDIDE’ and so did Joseph Conrad in `HEART OF DARKNESS’. En passant, Milton was blind when he ‘wrote’ `PARADISE LOST’ and `PARADISE REGAINED’, Joseph Conrad (1857- 1924) when sixteen years of age, started a twenty-year sea career as a Pole that ended with him becoming a naturalised British subject with a new name, and Voltaire and his lover, Marquise du Chatelet, collected 21, 000 books over a period of fifteen years.

What is the El Dorado of Guyana? The El Dorado of Guyana is the literature of the country including invaluable gems written by Pinckard, Waterton, Bebe, Roth, Dance, Lady Clementi, Mrs. Helen Tee Van, McTurk, N. E. Cameron, Mittelholzer, Carter and others. That is only scratching the surface of the landscape of Guyanese literature. Duly induced, let’s continue to explore the El Dorado of Guyana.

Responses to this author telephone (592) 226-0065 or email:

Literary update * THE JOURNEY, an evening of literature, part VII, is slated for Wednesday November 29, 2006, at the National Art Gallery, Castellani House at 1700 hours (5pm) featuring the works of literary prize winners from around the world including Tagore, Toni Morrison, Naipaul, Pablo Neruda, Hemmingway, Gao Xingjian, David Dabydeen, Grace Nichols, Mark McWatt, Martin Carter, Ian McDonald