The Story of the National Anthem of Guyana
by Petamber Persaud
May 20, 2007
THE most familiar piece of Guyanese literature is the National Anthem of this country; it beats within the breast of hundreds of thousands of sons and daughters of this dear great land of Guyana, if not the words, the tune.
Straightway, it could be discerned that there are at least two aspects of the song – the words (lyrics) and the music (musical composition/setting).
In the late 1960s, the National History and Arts Council headed by Lynette Dolphin implemented a nation-wide competition inviting entries of suitable words to be used for the national anthem of Guyana, a country on the threshold of achieving independence.
The words were required to be “preferably short, it should have dignity, and should encourage a feeling of patriotism. It should be simple in conception so that a child might understand it immediately but should lend itself to occasions which may be splendid and glorious…should not make undue reference to matters of slavery, the conception of six races, matters of ideology, political slogans, names of personalities …and should avoid distinct religious references in denominational terms”.
A panel of five judges were appointed to adjudicate a competition of selecting, in the first instance, suitable words for a national anthem. Those five judges were Mrs. Norma Bacchus, Mrs. F. M. Kerry, Mrs. Ruby McGregor, the then acting Superintendent of Music, Guyana Police Force, “Barney” Small, and A. J. Seymour.
According to one source, there were 266 pieces submitted of which 12 were short-listed. The final of the competition was held at the Government Technical Institute where the selected pieces were rendered by the National Symphony Orchestra, a choir, a male soloist and a female soloist.
The winner was Rev. Archibald L. Luker who submitted the entry under his pen-name L. L. Archibald. The prize money was $500 which he donated towards and by intent initiated the A. J. Seymour Lyrical Prize. Rev. Luker was an Anglican priest in charge of the All Saints’ Church in New Amsterdam.
In fact, he contributed to the county of Berbice in many ways including rendering service to the Berbice Lions Club, the Berbice Drama Group, the Berbice Red Cross and Society of the Blind. He also was a lecturer for In-service Teachers’ Training Programme, Berbice. Although, it was reported, he gained Guyanese citizenship, he regarded himself a Berbician.
That was part one of the National Anthem – the words. Part two was setting music to the words which entailed another competition, a competition which gave rise to the inclusion of at least two other songs in the national repertoire of music. Those two songs are “Guyana the Free”, words by James and Valery Rodway, music by Valery Rodway, and “Salute to Guyana”, words and music by Bill Pilgrim.
The winning music for the National Anthem was submitted by R. C. G. Potter who was encouraged, other sources said, persuaded, to do the composition which carried a prize of $500.
Potter, a man that exuded confidence, a man who was slighted on many occasions, was reluctant to enter any competition. But he was experienced and qualified for such a task having come up with outstanding compositions in 1951, 1952 and 1956.
Potter learned to play the piano at home in a time when that instrument was the main part of home furnishing. He wrote the music to many other popular national songs, two of which were anthems in their own rights, “My Guiana Eldorado” by Walter MacArthur Lawrence and “Way down in Demerara” by J. R. Hutson. He also composed the music for P. Lawrence’s “Song of Hope”.
The man who composed the music of the national anthem to mark Guyana’s Independence Day, May 26, was born on May 3 in Graham’s Hall, died May 18, and was buried in Graham’s Hall, East Coast of Demerara.
And then the words and music of the National Anthem were taken to the House of Assembly for approval.
“The Guyana Star” of April 23, 1966, reported “The Chamber of the Legislative Council for the first time…was transformed into a concert hall” where the winning piece was rendered by the Police Band, the Woodside Ladies’ Choir, soprano Mrs. Evelyn John and baritone Stanley Ridley.
Let us continue the rich legacy left us by our ancestors, live with pride and sing with fervour:
Dear land of Guyana, of rivers and plains,
Made rich by the sunshine and lush by the rains,
Set gemlike and fair between mountains and sea,
Your children salute you, dear land of the free.
Green land of Guyana, our heroes of yore,
Both bondsmen and free, laid their bones on your shore;
This soil so they hallowed, and from them are we,
All sons of one mother, Guyana the free.
Great land of Guyana, diverse though our strains,
We are born of their sacrifice, heirs of their pains,
And ours is the glory their eyes did not see,
One land of six peoples, united and free.
Dear land of Guyana, to you will we give
Our homage, our service, each day that we live;
God guard you, great Mother, and make us to be
More worthy our heritage - land of the free.
Responses to this author telephone (592) 226-0065 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
* Books to be launched: Selected Poems by Egbert Martin edited by David Dabydeen, a Derek Walcott book, and An Anthology of Short Stories from Guyana’ edited by Petamber Persaud, published by Dido Press, UK.
* On the Wings of Words reading programme is back, see press for details.
* Youth Theatre Workshop contact GEMS Theatre Productions 225-3557, 624-8694 or email: GEMS@gol.net.gy
* Information needed on Edwina Melville, Rosetta Khalideen, C. E. J. Ramcharitat-Lalla, Quentin Richman, O. R. Dathorne