Song of the Republic Preserving our literary heritage
by Petamber Persaud

Guyana Chronicle
February 18, 2007

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Words - Cleveland Hamilton
Music - Frank Daniels

From Pakaraima’s peaks of pow’r
To Corentyne’s lush sands,
Her children pledge each faithful hour
To guard Guyana’s lands
To foil the shock of rude invaders
Who’d violate her earth
To cherish and defend forever
The state that gave them birth

What sentiments, what a flow of patriotism, what a call to action, what a charge, what rhyme and rhythm, what rhyme and reason, what craft and technique and yet the “Song of the Republic” almost never was.

Almost four decades ago – sometime in late 1969, a competition was set in train to select an appropriate anthem to celebrate Guyana’s attainment of Republic status.

The story was that the writer of those words was at the time in the “black book” of the government of the day because a civil issue from which the writer was to benefit was determined politically against him.

It is said the man’s outspokenness landed him many times in the ants’ nest and true to form, he wrote about this slight in his newspaper column. Afraid his entry may be treated with political discharge, he submitted the words to the competition using a nom de plume, Thomas Theophilus Halley, his father’s name.

That entry won from 135 submissions. The judges were A. J. Seymour, Mrs. Stella Merriman and Milton Drepaul. The judges made certain amendments to the entry so as to accord it greater suitability and make it eminently sing able.

It was long after the announcement that his entry had won that he went forward to accept the glory. That writer, Cleveland Hamilton, was also a sedate yet busy legal practitioner that ever so often escaped the straightjacket to don the mantle of a poet, letting his imagination go as he immortalised people, places and events. Some of his popular pieces include Requiem for Walter Rodney, Requiem for Father Bernard Darke, For Soweto, For Steve Biko, To Nazism, and Leningrad.

It is useful to note that Hamilton came into contact and under the influence other writers whose poetry was also put to music. Some of those writers include J. W. Chinapen, R. C. G. Potter (who wrote the music for the National Anthem) and A. J. Seymour, all patriotic kindred spirits.

The writers of the time were imbrued with a patriotic spirit and it was manifested in their work; it was a new theme, new impulse in which to dabble, it was post-colonial writing but still influenced by colonial form and structure.

Cleveland Hamilton died on February 22, 1991, on the eve of another republic celebration, to be marked by the Song of the Republic of Guyana which he wrote.

Of course those words are still relevant today as we prepare to mark the 37th anniversary of the Republic of Guyana.

We’ll forge a nation’s mighty soul
Construct a nation’s frame
Freedom our everlasting goal
Courage and truth our aim
Unyielding in our quest for peace
Like ancient heroes brave
With strength beyond the slave

That second stanza building on the opening gambit – after paying homage to the land that gave us birth, now it’s time to build, to build on the sweat of our ancestors. We still have a far to go in our quest for peace but systems are slowly evolving to make the situation more tolerable. We still have much to do in order forge a nation’s mighty soul but there is no doubt this young nation is positive in its intent like ancient heroes brave.

Guyana climb that glorious perch
To fame prosperity
Join in the universal search
For world wide comity
Your people whatsoe’er their breed
Their hue or quality
With one firm never changing creed
The nation’s unity

National unity is the theme of the poem held together in measured metres and rhymes.

The celebration of Guyana’s Republic status on February 23 is associated with one of the first recorded struggles in our history for independence. That event was labelled “The Berbice Slave Rebellion” and it said to have started on February 23, 1763.

As the norm, slaves were continued to be mistreated but on that occasion things came to a head. A slaves name Cuffy and his lieutenants took up arms against their brutal masters.

The reciprocating violence was ugly but the slaves made good headway so much so they were in a position to bargain with the authority. The upshot however was distasteful – the slaves lost in the end because of discord and disunity in the ranks. But that strike was the first strike for freedom that came many years later on August 1st 1838.

So when we perform the “Song of the Republic” this year, we should be mindful of the sacrifices made by those who paved the way for us to have a better life and we should rededicate ourselves to the cause of nation building.

The Sunday Chronicle November 16, 1969

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