Celebrating the Afro-Guyanese Experience

September 16, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

by Ruel Johnson

They seized the opportunity of Emancipation to establish the foundations of a civilised life – the quest for education, employment, equality and the pursuit of happiness.” – David Granger

In the early 1600s, the Dutch West India Company brought the first set of African slaves to what is now known as Guyana. What followed was over 200 years of oppressive and exploitative cruelty under the plantation system with occasional, but significant instances of revolt or open rebellion. The most notable of the latter was the 1763 Rebellion led by the house slave Kofi or Cuffy, although later revolts like those led by Quamina (1823) and Damon (1834) would be recorded as significant mileposts in the movement towards Emancipation.
By 1838, when full Emancipation came about, the former slaves of what was by then British Guiana had survived systemic subjugation, brutality and economic disenfranchisement, and were ready with the establishment of a vibrant plan for sustainable self-development built upon the village system. It is notable that almost immediately after being freed, villagers from places like Buxton and Victoria were able to gather the resources to purchase from plantation owners the very land upon which they lived.
According to David Granger, in his article, ‘The material culture of African-Guyanese’ (Stabroek News – July 29, 2010): “These villages rested securely on four pillars – the home, church, farm and school – that were the wellspring of a distinctive culture. Creole culture, therefore, was engendered entirely through the African experience in Guyana. Certain values – cooperative work, love of the land, religious faith, self-reliance and thrift – came to typify their communities at an early stage of development.”
While this distinctive Creole culture would define the Afro-Guyanese ethos and experience, it was unfortunately at the expense of a connection to the ancestral cultures of the original slaves. The Afro-Caribbean poet, Derek Walcott wrote, in his poems Sea Canes, “out of what is lost grows something stronger that has the rational radiance of stone”.
This is emblematic of the history of Afro-Guyanese experience, the Afro-Guyanese experience of history, the creation of something radiant and substantial out of tragedy and loss. Despite the traumatic events of slavery and colonialism, the descendants of Africans have ascended to heights of achievement in every conceivable field of endeavour. Eddie Grant has achieved the sort of global stature in music as Wilson Harris has achieved in literature, and Walter Rodney in history and politics. In the epitomic Guyanese/Caribbean sport of cricket, Guyana has produced a gallery of Afro-Guyanese legends – Basil Butcher, Roger Harper, Lance Gibbs, Clive Lloyd and Roy Fredericks.
Afro-Guyanese have also excelled in political leadership in Guyana, dating from the time of Cuffy and Damon to the labour movements of the early parts of the 20th century, to the Independence era to contemporary Guyana.
Indeed, four out of Guyana’s five executive presidents have been Afro-Guyanese, beginning with Forbes Burnham, followed by Desmond Hoyte, Samuel Hinds and currently His Excellency David Granger. The latter, notably, has been one of Guyana’s primary historians in general and a publisher on African-Guyanese history, with his annual magazine ‘Emancipation’ enjoying a successful run from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s; interestingly enough, he has also become a significant part of that history.
The history of Afro-Guyanese in this society is a history that is constantly evolving, a history interwoven with and shaped by both conflict and cooperation with other ethnic experiences in Guyana, but one which, like those other experiences, retains at its core a distinct and luminous thread.

Facts about Slavery that shaped the Guyanese society

September 16, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

The date of the first arrival of African slaves in Guyana is not known, but it is believed that the first group was brought by Dutch settlers who migrated from Tobago from as early as the mid-seventeenth century. As plantations expanded on the coast of Guyana, more slaves were brought from West Africa in ships owned by the West India Company. There were occasions, too, when planters bought slaves smuggled from the West Indies by English traders.
The Africans who came to Guyana and the Caribbean were taken from West Africa, especially from states between the Senegal and Congo rivers. Some of these states were The Congo, Gabon, Cameroon, Benin, Togo, Mali, Gambia, Guinea, and Guinea Bissau. It is to be noted that slavery existed in Africa before the Europeans started a slave trade. The slave trade was started because a large labour force was necessary for the sugar plantations in Guyana and the Caribbean. Europeans decided to plant sugar because there was a great demand for it in Europe. Sugar was needed for distilling, brewing and other household uses. Slaves, particularly African slaves, were the answer to the European problem of labour for their plantations.
In examining how these slaves were obtained, the Africans were sometimes captured by European raiding parties, lured into ships which sailed off with them, captured in tribal wars, or captured in raids by other Africans who were encouraged or bribed by Europeans to organise slave raiding parties. Slaves were also exchanged for goods since there was no common currency existing in West Africa. These goods depended on the area where the trading or bartering was done. Some of these included pieces of cloth, gold dust, copper bars, brass basins, knives, cutlasses, muskets, glass beads, ivory and liquor.
The journey from Africa to the Caribbean and Guyana was called the Middle Passage, a horrifying experience for the slaves, which lasted from six to ten weeks. They were packed in box-like trays about 150 centimetres long and 50 centimetres wide and high. The men were chained with iron shackles around their ankles and joined by chains looped to the shackles of their neighbours. Women and children were crowded below deck.
On the arrival of slave ships at different ports in Berbice, Essequibo, and Demerara, auctions were held and planters came from all over to find bargains. The slaves were exposed naked and were closely inspected by the prospective buyers to determine if they were healthy. They were made to jump, swing their arms and legs and were examined like farm animals.
Entire families were auctioned, but buyers showed no concern over family bonds by making purchases which separated husbands and wives, and children from parents. Friends and relatives were also separated from each other in the process.
On the plantation, the slaves were housed in buildings which were some distance away from the master’s house. Most of these slave houses had thatched roofs and walls of old boards or of wattle and mud. The floor was the earth itself and there was no furniture except some rudimentary pieces that the slaves managed to make over time.
While the slaves were provided with certain foodstuffs by the master, they raised their own subsistence crops of vegetables, plantain and root crops on small garden plots that the master allowed them to use. However, they could only do their personal farming on Sundays when they had no work on the plantation. They also took the opportunity to fish on Sundays in the nearby canals, the rivers or the ocean.
Each adult slave was given one pound of salted cod fish every Sunday by the plantation owner. The salted cod fish was imported from North America. A child slave was given a smaller allocation. On special Christian holidays, there was an additional allowance of about a pound of beef or pork, some sugar and a quantity of rum.
The slaves also obtained a clothing allowance roughly every year. The men received a coarse woollen jacket, a hat, about six yards of cotton, and a piece of canvas to make a pair or two of trousers. Women received the same allowance as the men, but children received none. The children remained naked until they were about nine years old, or were given cast-off clothing that their parents managed to find or were able to purchase.
The work day of the slaves began even before day-break. They were marched to the fields by slave drivers who controlled them with whips. Slave drivers were themselves slaves who were specially selected by the white plantation owner. A white overseer supervised the entire operation. With farm implements allocated to them, the slaves worked in the fields and were occasionally lashed by the slave drivers if they attempted to idle. Around midday they were given an hour’s break to refresh themselves. The work day ended at about eight in the evening. But the slaves who worked at the sugar mills during the grinding season were forced to work even longer hours.
Slaves were punished in various ways. A hand could be cut off for striking a white man. But whipping was the most common form of punishment and this was inflicted liberally and in the cruellest form. The whipping was done by a slave driver under the watchful eye of a white overseer, and it was not unusual for the victim to be beaten to death.

Methods of Control
The white plantation owners used various methods to maintain complete control over their slaves. Their principal method was that of “divide and rule”. Members of the same tribe were separated on different plantations to prevent communication between them. The aim behind this was to prevent any plans to rebel if they were together. However, this separation created communication problems, since the plantation would have different groups of slaves speaking different languages. Therefore, the planters had to find a way to communicate with their slaves. Soon, a new language known as Creole-Dutch developed, and this became a common tongue among the slaves. When the British took control of Guyana in the nineteenth century, English words were injected into the language and it became the basis of Guyana’s ‘Creolese’ language.
Slaves were also prevented from practicing their religions. Quite a few slaves were Muslims while many others had their own tribal beliefs. But since the Christian planters saw non-Christians as pagans, they made sure that the slaves could not gather to worship in the way they were accustomed when they lived in Africa.
Later, Christian missionaries were permitted on the plantations and they were allowed to preach to the slaves on Sundays. In time, many of them were converted to Christianity. It was the general feeling that the converted slaves became docile and was not willing to support rebellion on the plantations.
Another means of control was the creation of a class system among the slaves. Field slaves formed the lowest group, even though some of them had special skills. Then there were the factory slaves who worked in the sugar boiling process. Higher up were the artisan slaves such as blacksmiths, carpenters and masons, who were often hired out by the planters. These slaves also had opportunities to earn money for themselves on various occasions. Still higher up in this class system were the drivers who were specially selected by the white planters to control the other slaves. The domestic or house slave had a special place in this arrangement, and because they worked in the master’s house, sometimes receiving special favours from the master, they held other slaves in contempt. Usually, the slaves in the lowest rung of this social ladder were the ones who rebelled and often domestic slaves were the ones who betrayed them by reporting the plots to their master.
Then, there were divisions based on colour. In the early days, it was relatively easy for a pure African to rise to the level of a driver. Since the slaves were owned by the planters and had no rights of their own, the white planters would sometimes have sex with whichever slave(s) he fancied. Some planters even kept some slaves as their concubine. There are stories of white slave owners’ wives and/or daughters having sexual relations with African slaves. Mixtures occurred through the birth of children as a result of these unions (mulatto), white men and mulatto women (mestee) and mulatto men and black women (sambo). Some slaves of succeeding generations thus had lighter complexions, and the white planters discriminated in favour of them. These slaves with white fathers or white relatives were placed in positions above those of the field slaves. This was the beginning of colour discrimination in the Guyanese society. In all of this, the Europeans – the whites – occupied the highest ring of the social ladder and they found willing allies among the mixed or coloured population who occupied the intermediate levels. The pure Africans remained at the lowest level.
It was not uncommon for planters to “breed” their African slaves. If a planter had a particularly outstanding male African slave, he would put that slave to have sexual relations with a buxom female slave or several female slaves to impregnate them. This was done so that the good genes of the slave were passed on to their offspring. Sometimes, the slave owner would send their strongest males to impregnate female slaves on a different plantation. This practice became more common after the Atlantic slave trade was abolished in 1807.

“Free Time”
Except for earnings enjoyed by the artisan slaves, most of the slaves depended on obtaining money by selling surplus produce from their provision grounds and also the sale of livestock that they reared. On Sundays, village markets were held and the slaves seized the opportunity to barter or sell their produce to other slaves and even some whites. On these occasions the slaves made purchases of a few pieces of clothing and other items for their homes.
The Sunday markets were also occasions when slaves from different plantations were able to socialise and to exchange news and pieces of gossip.
There were also times of recreation. These were usually at the end of the “crop” and at Christmas and on public holidays when the slaves were allowed to hold dances which had to end by midnight.
Slaves were also allowed to purchase their freedom through the process of manumission. However, by the time slaves saved up enough money to buy their freedom, they would have already become old and feeble. In some cases, female slaves who bore the master’s children were manumitted while they were still relatively young.

Guyana’s Afro-Guyanese Presidents

September 16, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

As Guyana celebrates the 177th year of Emancipation, it is a befitting time to reflect on the Afro-Guyanese Presidents of the country, who have all contributed in their own way to the country’s development.

Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham
First to be mentioned is the first black President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, L. F. S. Burnham. Even though he passed away three decades ago, his name is still frequently mentioned when discussing Guyana’s politics. The qualified lawyer by profession was born on February 20, 1923 in Kitty, in the then British Guiana. He aided in leading the country to independence on May 26, 1966, after which, under the new Constitution, he became the first Prime Minister of Guyana. Four years later, on February 23, 1970 Guyana became a Republic.
When the people’s new Constitution was promulgated on October 6, 1980, Burnham became Guyana’s first black Executive President, a position he held until his death on August 6, 1985. He died at the Georgetown Hospital after leading the country for 21 years. Burnham maintained a farm, loved to ride on horseback, and was keenly interested in cricket and chess.

Hugh Desmond Hoyte
Hugh Desmond Hoyte was born March 9, 1929 in Georgetown, Guyana. He served as Prime Minister of Guyana from 1984 to 1985, and President of Guyana from 1985 (after the death of Burnham) until 1992. Soon after assuming the Office of President, he began dismantling Burnham’s socialist framework. He also began courting foreign investors and making peace with the International Monetary Fund in order to stanch rising poverty and the national debt. He was instrumental in helping to create the Iwokrama project, a conservation area in the Guyana forests.
After losing the 1992 general and regional elections, the first to be termed as fair since 1964, Hoyte remained a formidable force in the opposition. He was the People’s Nation Congress’ (PNC’s) presidential candidate in the elections of 1996 and 2001. Hoyte remained leader of the PNC until his death on December 22, 2002.

Samuel Archibald Hinds
Samuel Archibald Anthony Hinds born December 27, 1943, is Guyana’s longest serving Prime Minister. He served as President briefly in March 1997 after the passing of Dr. Cheddi Jagan.
In the December 1997 general elections, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic nominated Hinds as candidate for Prime Minister, while Janet Jagan was the candidate for the presidency. Following the PPP/C’s victory, he was re-appointed as Prime Minister.

David Arthur Granger
Though currently head of the nation, President David Arthur Granger cannot go unmentioned. Born on July 15, 1945, the retired brigadier has been serving as President of Guyana since May 16, 2015. He was declared the President after the May 2015 general election. Granger will serve as President for the next five years, until the country’s next general elections. The President is married to Sandra (née Chan-A-Sue) and has two daughters – Afuwa and Han.
Granger’s presidency has inspired a nationwide clean-up of the country by citizens from all parts of Guyana. He has pardoned 60 prisoners between the ages 18-25 who were sentenced for minor misdemeanours (non-violent crimes). Annually, he will grant presidential pardons to prisoners who were sentenced for such crimes.

African Spiritual Beliefs

September 16, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

[TABOOS / SIGNS / SUPERSTITIONS / CUSTOMS]: Excerpts from Al Creighton

On each anniversary of Emancipation, the African presence in the Caribbean is celebrated; whatever can be exhibited of the cultural traditions is highlighted, and the performing arts pay tribute to the African vestiges that they can claim. In Guyana, as celebrants pour libation in memory of ancestral spirits, two things become repeatedly evident as the years since freedom from slavery are commemorated – the very strong and ubiquitous presence of the spiritual, and the very weak and obvious element of knowledge, or the lack of it, where these spiritual traditions are concerned.
Although this is not the case in other parts of the Caribbean, there are huge lacunae in the available knowledge in Guyana about the African heritage, making the subject area a rich minefield for research. In this country, information and knowledge about the culture and religions of other ethnic groups are readily available and promoted, but this is not the case with the African.
There are very interesting factors that cut across the races. For instance, the term ‘Fulla Man’ is known in Guyana to refer to Muslims in the popular culture and many belonging to the Indian race are called ‘Fulla Man.’ But the Fulanis are Africans. The Fulani are a nation of people in West Africa whose dominant religion is Islam. One prominent Guyanese painter, Prof Doris Rogers, has produced Fulani art, which is identifiable by the use of slender, elegant figures, especially female forms, which are elongated in artistic reproduction. Members of the Fulani would have arrived in British Guiana as slaves or perhaps indentured labourers bringing their Islamic practice with them.
Students at the University of Guyana have started to research these, and their findings so far reveal how many of them transcend racial barriers. These include the pervasiveness of spiritual beliefs and practices, the strong influence of the supernatural and of religious rituals that cut across the folk beliefs and narratives. The students collected narratives and tales, prominent among them being what they classify as ‘Dutchman Tales.’ These were told by persons from different ethnic groups and are dominated by the supernatural, the same ghosts, spirits, spiritual beliefs and rituals reappear.
What is also remarkable in the findings so far in this investigation is the prevalence of mythical characters of folklore such as Ol Higue, Backoo, and the Fairmaid. Such creatures are popularly known in Guyana as belonging to African tales and lore. But the investigations show that they are as strong in the personal narratives of many villagers of Indian descent who claim to be giving testimonies of personal belief and experience. What is far more significant is the way these mythical creatures are tied by the informants to stories of sacrifice and soul-selling for the attainment of wealth and material things, as well as for protection.
However, the point being made here goes much deeper than any claim that belief in these supernatural beings is multi-ethnic. The point is that, while they do transcend race in Guyana, they exist very seriously in the African traditions and are more deeply affixed in spiritual practice than is widely known. People tell these stories for entertainment, for their humor; they are laughed at and brushed aside as superstitious nonsense and comic relief. But they have much deeper and more serious spiritual connections than are carried in the average Ol Higue or Backoo story. Like the Fairmaid, these beings are tied to ancient religious and spiritual beliefs in the African heritage.
There are some interesting details not common in the stories or even in the several things that people say should be done to ward off the Ol Higue, to prevent her sucking the baby’s blood, or to catch her once she visits, or to identify her in public. There is a real belief that Ol Higues exist as ordinary people. They have supernatural powers, and the blood-sucking practice is a curse. In order to exist they must pass the curse on to chosen persons through generations before they die. Among the beliefs is that the power is transmitted through silver objects, something as innocuous as a spoon.
Many things beyond normal mortal knowledge are passed on in this way, including wealth. In fact, the acquisition and keeping of wealth is behind many Backoo stories. The creature is either a source, procurer or protector of wealth. Rituals, properly kept, will allow persons to live a normal life of prosperity with no suspicion that a Backoo is secretly behind it. Rituals are known to be performed in contemporary Nigeria for the same purpose, sometimes involving sacrifices.
The theme here is also that these factors with their spiritual significance are largely unknown. They have always been there but not really unearthed by research and not brought to the surface in most of the popular stories. To go further, there is the great irony that these same spiritual factors that give laughable Backoo tales deeper meaning and others that truly reflect elements of the African psyche, cosmos and identity, are some of the very reasons that have caused them to fade away. Many of those things in the African heritage that help to define it and are worth knowing, play a great part in its disappearing from knowledge.
The contemporary descendants of the enslaved Africans are just as guilty of killing off the traditions that their ancestors brought to the Caribbean as the colonial governments. The colonials acted out of fear of the unknown, suspicion of plots and insurrection, and prejudice, which caused them to criminalise practices and condemn them as savagery. The contemporary descendants suppress knowledge of them out of self contempt, because they are ashamed of them and consider their own traditions to be backward superstition. The argument here, however, is that the self suppression came out of those, but they to a large extent were driven by fear of the unknown.
These very pervasive spiritual elements in the African traditions are feared by modern African descendants in Guyana who do not know enough about them and do not believe in their religious content. The spiritual elements gradually faded out of several traditions even though the people continued to practice the traditions. Furthermore, if they were aware that those spiritual components were there, they would stay away from them.

Fear and distancing oneself from obeah is well known. Then there are the other things that people think are obeah or associate with obeah, such as kumfa (cumfa), African feasts, spirit possession and dreams. Those do not belong to obeah, but people, particularly the uninitiated, know little about them, and shun them out of fear. The practitioners of these things however, although they do them, are ashamed of them and do not consider them as respectable as Christianity (or Islam). Moreover, knowledgeable practitioners will also refuse to impart knowledge of them to others because they feel they must guard them as ancestral secrets to be protected from outsiders. Some traditions are actually practiced by secret societies. These lead to them becoming moribund.
Another example might help. There is the matter of names. In many of these societies, persons are given names as infants, which are very meaningful and connected to their identity. Such names are not to be used by outsiders and must remain secret. If enemies or the wrong persons get hold of the secret name, they can use it to harm or destroy the individual. So, people have a real name (a ‘true-true name’), not commonly known, and a ‘call name’ or (as known in Jamaica) a ‘pet name,’ which is never the person’s official name. Names are used in obeah to harm the owners. The obeahman takes something with the person’s name on it and uses it in rituals. He takes possession of the name which represents the being, and therefore has possession of the person. This is known in obeah as ‘shadow catching.’
As simple a thing as a name, therefore, has spiritual connotations in the African ethos. It is just another example of the importance of the spiritual in the African heritage. Examples can be outlined from several other African derived traditions. These include notorious ones as well as normal everyday things. Obeah, of course is the most notorious and well known; but it is also misunderstood, discredited and wrongfully blamed for many ills. Then there are those such as the maskarade (masquerade) also known as Jonkunoo in Jamaica; the old tradition of flying back to Africa; the wake (nine night in Jamaica); and African drumming.
These are considered harmless. Their real meaning is mostly unknown; the spiritual component that they have or had is no longer practiced, or it is unknown. If it were known, though, these African Guyanese phenomena would be shunned or feared.

The Unbroken Spirit

September 16, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

By  Barrington Braithwaite

Slavery has existed as long as there exists records of human history. But the slavery that birthed the New World and the advent of Europe as a world power is foremost in our imagination. Experiments with New world slavery did not begin with Africans. Amerindian and European bond slavery preceded Africans, but the climate killed the vitamin-deprived Europeans who had no defence to tropical hazards. European diseases had a fatal effect on the Amerindians.
The presence of the 800-year Moorish involvement in Europe had a tremendous self esteem effect on Christian Europe. This propelled the prime kingdoms of once Moorish Europe – Portugal and Spain – to undo the Moorish Islamic and older Khemetic presence. The Bible eventually became europeanised. God and his angels would define and separate the advent of Europe from the Black Moor, who was then characterised in Christian lore as the devil. The African slave trade echoed those sentiments when John Hawkins, the father of the African slave trade, carried on the Coat of Arms of his slave ship ‘Jesus’. With the establishment of the slave trade, emerged a twisting and adopting of the Hebrew writings that constituted the Bible to fit into the doctrine of justifying African slavery. This planted the seeds of Euro-Ethnic supremacy.
African kingdoms had long mastered food production and storage. Through observation, trial and error, they had control over many of the tropical diseases that killed off Europeans. Europe traded with African kingdoms for tribesmen captured in war or who had offended the hierarchy. These tribesmen were brought from various kingdoms into the state of slavery. Sometimes the Africans who came into slavery came from tribes that were hostile to each other in their homelands. Slavery took their tribal identity. It attempted to erase their historical memory and self-worth. It succeeded in some areas, while in other areas the archetype became dormant in the face of specific trials as a springboard for survival. Plantation existence was a constant conflict of the planter wardens and holy men against the humanity that were fettered to this ordeal. Several methods were applied to undermine and destroy the strong values of tribal-family structures, from rampant savagery to mental manipulation. Africans fled plantations, created their own colonies as maroons, burnt and murdered plantation owners. In some unusual situations, they were able to manage where humane owners were smart enough to establish subtle collaborations. To justify slavery an entire era of literature was composed to define Africans as savages, less than human and deserving of slavery. Africans endured and, in many cases, defied the myths.
The plantation system of Demerara was further developed after the final English acquisition of the three colonies – Demerara, Berbice and Essequibo – in 1812. The British had made the trade of slaves illegal by 1808. The English had subsequently employed African troops in the now established West India Regiment from its colonies. But slavery was still slavery and the imperial race ideology was still psychologically intact, controlling lives and monitoring progress.
Throughout the age of the African slave trade – 1500’s – 1800’s – Africans did not have rights under the law. To subsidise the cost of feeding slaves, enslaved peoples were allotted garden plots. They planted crops, implemented drainage systems, and planted rice. They also cultivated plantains, yams, and oranges, while they raised livestock, chickens, and pigs. They then took their produce to the township of Stabroek and sold at the slave market, which was located where the St. Andrews Church and Demico House stand. The Africans also capitalised on the eager market of ships that entered the town’s harbours. These ships required fresh food items, especially limes and other citrus to battle scurvy incurred due to long periods at sea without vitamin C. This enabled the Africans to earn, save and plan for a better day. The Africans were doing something innate to a heritage that spanned from East to North Africa and from North to West Africa.
Before emancipation, the Stabroek/Georgetown and other plantations were not only populated by enslaved Africans and white masters. There were free men and women of colour (Africans) and manumitted Africans (those who had purchased their freedom). There were free Africans and Mulatto hucksters who occupied the small adjoining town of Bridgetown. These hucksters owned slaves who would take certain items to the plantations and tempt their brethren to buy their goods. The hucksters obtained their goods from the ships. They also had to purchase a permit to enter the plantations.
Despite these glimpses into the tribal cultural forms that they were now separated from, the enslaved African still worked to death. By 40, his body was broken, his spirit smothered, and he or his loved ones sold on the whim of some spiteful Plantation Manager. He died slowly if he was unable to run away. On many occasions, he revolted, and with indifference he looked death in the eyes. This birthed the folk song, ‘Me nah dead yet fly ah bother meh’.
Emancipation came and new levels of struggle emerged. The Africans terrified the cocksure plantocracy when he stepped forward, negotiated with them and bought their plantations. The planters were now made economically challenged by the loss of free labour. The emancipated African was rooted in the thriftiness and boldness of his ancestral archetype. But he was a different man. He had become, as Eddy Grant (our local International Super Star) once told me, as steel. The enslaved Africans had evolved through the infernal holocaust of slavery and its demeaning doctrines and philosophies. Even though they were brought and enslaved as ore-prototype, they now had new memories, new dynamics and allegiances, along with the scars, internal and external, the man of steel would endure.
The post-emancipation era was an arena between the freed African – whether he lived in the village or town – and the colonial planter class. With the coming of indentured peoples, new mechanisms of divide and rule were encouraged. Challenges were thrown at him to test his temperament and creativity. The wily planter would cultivate a divide and rule labyrinth of competitiveness and social unfairness which he tipped here or there. This resulted in the riots of 1856, when Africans rose up in frustration against the Portuguese. Taxes were implemented against the African villages by the Colonial state. Though intended for village drainage and services, these taxes were used in part to finance indentureship. Because of the 1856 riots, taxes were increased against the African small holders and wage earners to compensate Portuguese losses. Demeaning caricatures were imported, pasted up and used against the African psyche. Take some time to read ‘Scars of Bondage’ by Eusi Kwayana and Tchaiko Kwayana. Religion persisted, with the borrowed twist of the concocted slave trade-sponsored European state religious order, to justify slavery through the additions of fictions enveloping the Noah Curse. This affected the African believers, except for those who sought spiritual guidance in sects like the Jordonites.
In the conclusion, the African lifted himself from the fetters, knowing and knowing not, falling, stumbling, traumatised, while unknowingly clinging to the archetypical voice within – the dormant ‘I AM’ that pierced the layers of physical, mental and spiritual falsifications to ‘know himself’. He sought and recognised the simple human truths that assure his dignified humanity.

Courtney Benn

September 16, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

– From Apprentice to a leading  Contractor, …no fabrication is impossible

When one hears the name Courtney Benn one thinks about ship building, road construction and sophisticated building construction. Indeed, Courtney Benn Contracting Services is all this and more.
Courtney Benn, a young Berbician, did not grow up in a household of contractors. Rather, the young man was close to his godfather, who happened to be a contractor, and inspired him to be one.
When he finished Berbice High School, he headed to Barry’s Workshop in New Amsterdam. There he pursued his apprenticeship programme. He learned everything that there was to learn, but he outgrew his community. The result is that Mr. Benn headed to the capital city, Georgetown.
His first job was with Bookers Shipping, now known as Guyana National Shipping Corporation. There was a service called Booker’s Garage. Vessels came to Guyana for sugar and sometimes required extensive repairs. The captains, knowing that time is money, expected the repairs to be completed within 24 hours.
Mr. Benn recalled that vessels would come into the docks around 4pm and by 6am the next morning they were ready to sail. Mr. Benn saw an opportunity, so he mustered a team of men who worked at Bookers Shipping with him to undertake the repairs.
Mr. Benn also worked at Sproston’s Shipping, which is now the Guyana National Industrial Company, for three years. At that time, the shipyard was a hive of activities. It had just constructed the MV Malali and MV Torani.
Then Mr. Benn left to start his own entity that has become a household name.
Courtney Benn had no formal training as a shipbuilder, but learned on the job. At Sproston’s he used to weld and burn, working alongside some of the most skilled tradesmen and learned from them. These were the people who helped him gain knowledge and experience when he began to construct vessels.
Later, Mr. Benn was called on to construct the Sandaka, Bonasika and Baramanni for Transport and Harbours Department. Years later, he built additional vessels, a floating police outpost for the Guyana Police Force and floating outposts for the Guyana Defence Force.
For his efforts he gained a national award: the Golden Arrowhead of Achievement, something he treasures.
When asked about the expansion of his company to include road construction and aspects of engineering, Mr. Benn said that he always thinks about people. The result was that he wanted to expand the company to create employment. So he ventured into road construction and continued into civil engineering.
The University of Guyana Tain Campus, the Leonora Synthetic Track, The Ministry of Agriculture’s Hydromet Radar Tower, Beterverwagting Primary, Wisburg Secondary Schools and the installation of reinforced concrete culverts on the East Bank Demerara roadway are few of the projects executed by the company.
Managing such a large company could have an impact on family life. Not so for Mr. Benn. As he put it, “My family life is not affected. My wife understands; she is part of the company. She picks up the phone and calls me any time. Sometimes I would be at a meeting all day but when I go home in the evening, we would sit and have dinner and talk.” When the company was formed, Mrs. Brenda Benn was and still is the Company Secretary.
Courtney Benn Contracting Services does not lag behind in the area of technology. One son, Darren Nurse, studied overseas and returned with a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Systems Engineering and is currently the Senior Manager.
The sky is the limit; no task is too large and where necessary Mr Benn hires the competent engineers. Courtney Contracting Services is here to stay.

Lennox Cush

September 16, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

– From Cricketer to successful businessman

Popular cricketer, Lennox Joseph Cush has not only made a name for himself in the world of sport. He is also exhibiting his commercial and management skills in the business arena and successfully at that.
But before divulging the extent of success he has been able to accomplish with his company, Star Party Rentals, on 21 Craig Street, Campbellville, Georgetown, he gave Guyana Inc. a front row seat into his career in cricket and his transition to being an entrepreneur.
Cush, who was born on December 12, 1974, attended the St. Winefride’s Primary School. From there, he progressed to Alleyene’s High. He also did some business courses in New York at Medgar Evers College.
The businessman said, “After I begun playing cricket in high school, I represented Guyana at the junior level in 1993/1994. In 1995, I went to England to play cricket for Guyana. Shortly after, I made my debut in first class cricket as a professional and continued to play up to 2005. I represented Guyana at the regional level and was a part the victorious Guyana Stanford 20/20 team in 2006.”
He added, “I took a break from Guyanese cricket and represented the US in 2008. I came back to represent Guyana in Standford’s 20/20 and was even selected to be in Stanford’s Superstar Team with Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan. In 2010 I played for Guyana and played a major part in winning the regional tournament. I then took to the Champion’s League in South Africa where I played my last game.”
The well-known cricketer said that he started Star Party Rentals in 2009 because he wanted to focus on business and planning a family. The company is a full events rental service, which supplies everything needed for events such as weddings, religious ceremonies, public meetings or live concerts.
He said that he decided on this business because it helps him to keep fit. Cush added, “I can be out there in the open. It’s something I can deal with and be a part of social activities.” However, he noted that he was encouraged by Mr. Looknauth Persaud to pursue the venture and noted that Persaud also played a role in the success of his business.
Cush noted that with his business, he has been able to generate small-scale employment. He said that he has in excess of 20 full-time employees and up to 40 part-time employees. Cush expressed that he is continuously making efforts to ensure that his service is of high standards as he is part and parcel of the operations and also micro-manages his business.
Speaking about his childhood, he said that he grew up in Campbellville/Kitty with his mother, four sisters and my cousin.
The businessman said, “Things were sometimes hard. But I began playing cricket in high school and loved it. I lost my mother in 1996 to kidney failure. From then, I was then left to stand up for my sisters. I now have a family of my own. I got married in 2009 and I have two daughters.”
With a family on board, Cush said that he intends to continue upgrading this business as he is always thinking about expanding.
His advice to young entrepreneurs is, “In order to be successful, you need to be committed, honest and fair in what you do. Remain focused. Try to be a leader. Associate with people who push you to be a better person. Also, be humble.”

Kerwin Bollers

September 16, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

– An entertainment tycoon in his own right

He has summoned almost every means of communication to propel the power of local entertainment. After 14 years of success, one can arguably say that Kerwin Randall Bollers has perhaps mastered the art of pleasing the masses.
Born October 14, 1978, Bollers, with all his accomplishments, still considers himself to be a “country boy at heart.”
The proud father of two boys recalled “sweet days” of growing up in Essequibo, where he climbed a lot of fruit trees and reaped the spoils, caught birds “on the back dam” and doing “bush-cooks.”
He actually came to Georgetown in his teens and attended City College. Given his love for children, he pursued a teaching career after graduating from the business school and got a stint as a junior teacher at South Road Nursery.
Bollers did this for a few years but soon left in pursuit of his first love — the world of Entertainment.
He started out as a DJ for a family sound system called “Deportee” for four to five years then went on to another called “Stone love” where he spent another three to four years. But this was not enough.

The birth of Hits & Jamz and Jamzone
Being the “go-getter” that he is, Bollers was “on to the next big thing,” something with his signature, his flavor, his style written all over it, a new level of entertainment.
In 2000, he made contact with an old school friend, Rawle Ferguson, Rawle’s brother Dwight Ferguson and Troy Mendonza. They concocted Guyana’s next big hit on the local entertainment scene — Hits and Jamz and Jamzone.
“The name actually came about because I used to do a radio show on 98.1 called Jamzone while Rawle did one called Hitsville. So when we got together, we called our company Hits and Jamz, because it represents a collaboration of the names of our own radio shows,” he explained.
Bollers said that at the time, the entertainment industry was flooded with the usual fairs and Bar-B-Ques. For him, the time had finally come to shake things up and with his team in place, they pursued two major events — Jamzone and the Car and Bike Show.
“We paid attention to a lot of American television and one of our favourite things was the Spring break (a vacation period in early spring at universities and schools mainly in the USA which includes a variety of parties). We thought doing something similar in Guyana would be successful because it has never been done before. But if we were going to use that idea as our template we wanted to put our twist to it by promoting tourism and so we incorporated a pageant aspect and that is how we got the Miss Jamzone pageant,” Bollers said.
He said that the Car and Bike Show was another huge event which lasted for probably five to six years.
Bollers emphasised that the mission of his Hits and Jamz team is to give Guyanese high quality entertainment and a taste of something different with every project they pursue.
Building his business with love and dedication has catapulted him to a position of prominence in Guyana. He has earned the respect of the masses by delivering on his promise to provide satisfying servings of fun and thrill.
But even with all this, he has the emerging competitors to deal with on a daily basis and he isn’t scared about it. In fact, he is happy.
He said, “I don’t look at what we do as a competition. For me it is about building an industry. It would be foolish of us to think we can build it alone. You need that support. You need different players because there is only so much you can do and the industry is not for one person or a few. Besides, more players keep everyone on their toes.”
He added, “But as I said, for us it is all about building an industry and we want to be part of the process of giving the industry structure. Thirty years from now we want to look back and be able to say that we were able to contribute to the foundation.”
The Hits and Jamz party promotion remains the most influential force in the local entertainment industry and has brought many international superstars to Guyana’s shores such as R. Kelly, Akon, John Legend and Rick Ross.
Bollers, however, said that his accomplishments will be complete when he brings Barbadian singer Rihanna to perform in Guyana.
Bollers and his team have secured positions in radio, pageantry, television, party promotion, award shows, and now a water park. Regardless of his responsibilities, he said that being a father will always be his most prized and important role.

Paul Giddings – the man that helped resuscitate the Pawnshop Industry

September 16, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Paul Ulric Giddings, or “Sarge”, knows how to make his dreams a reality. He established Hotel Princess Raven on Smyth Street, and has started work that will see the construction of an apartment complex, complete with elevator and the works, in Charlestown. However, Giddings is more known for the resurgence of pawnshops in Guyana in the 1990’s.
At the age of 13, Giddings was already working full time bagging ice cream at a place called Nifty on North Road. He spent a few years doing different jobs until October 30, 1977, when his documents to migrate to the US came through.
After pursuing his high school diploma, Giddings joined the US Marine Corps as a small arms repairman. While he was stationed at a base in Kentucky, he heard about the payday loans. Persons could pledge valuables or other securities, acquire a loan, and then repay the monies at a later date or on payday. He recalled, “I said to myself ‘Guyana don’t have anything like this.’”
In November 1996, he returned to Guyana and launched his pawnshop.
“When I came to Guyana, I had nothing much.But my wife from Barbados and some friends helped out, like Dexter Luther from Luther Pawn Shop, White Castle Fish Shop, Roger Gilgeous from Stereosonic. They were all a part of the pawn shop when I launched it. Roger even sold one of his big motor bikes to help with funds,” Giddings said.
“Pawn shop business in the early days used to be controlled by the Portuguese,” He explained. “When I came, I resurrected the pawnshop business that was dead at the time. I was the first black person to resurrect the pawning business system in Guyana.”
Almost two decades later, Giddings still has the briefcase that he used to take the valuables. “The first shop I opened was located in 34 King Street. The pawnshop basically took care of itself. What happen is that people would bring their jewels and pawn it. I would give them money and they would repay with interest.”
According to Giddings, the pawnshop business has proven extremely profitable. “I am not ungrateful. Everything that I have managed to own is because of the pawn shop business. Giddings is a household name now. ”Today, there are more than 50 pawnshops around the country.
He also launched Giddings Kiddies Corner, the first exclusive children clothing store in Guyana according to him.
However, Giddings was casting his eyes elsewhere. He managed to acquire property on Smyth Street. On it was an old cottage. Eventually, after deep thought, research and consultations, he came up with the idea of a hotel.
Hotel Princess Raven, named after Giddings’s last daughter Raven, was opened just over a year ago. “We are hooked up with booking.com and they handle almost 75% of the guests from overseas.”
Across the street from Hotel Princess Raven, lies one of the city’s oldest buildings. Giddings has managed to acquire that property too and he has big plans for it.
“I am right now working on my apartment complex which will host 18 apartments. It will be Guyana’s first apartment complex with an elevator.”
Giddings has grown wise from his businesses. “I believe if you work hard, hold fast and strong to your dreams, anything is possible. It might not always work out picture perfect but hard work pays off.”

Clinton Williams – an illustration of hard work & devotion

September 16, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Clinton Williams is a prime example of what dedication, commitment, motivation and humility looks like. Despite a humble beginning, he has, and continues to occupy numerous prominent leadership positions in both the private and public sectors in Guyana.
Even though, he is now married and is the proud father of two – both of whom live and work outside of Guyana – it has not been an easy road for the country boy of a single parentage.
His mother was forced to double up as a sugar cane harvester at Albion and a subsistence farmer in the nearby village at Gibraltar/Courtland to feed her four sons and two daughters.
Williams secured a place at Berbice High School. Under the tutorship of the then Head Master, Basil Beharry, he encountered an overseas volunteer lecturer who was a Chemical Engineer from England. It was this relationship which propelled him to seek a future in the engineering profession.
After finishing high school, he found a job at the Ministry of Works’ Soil and Material Lab as a Laboratory Technician, before being accepted at the University of Guyana to read for engineering disciplines.
After graduation, Williams secured employment at the Guyana National Engineering Corporation (GNEC), which later became Guyana National Industrial Company Incorporated (GNIC), as a Technical Training Officer. He was in charge of moulding trainees, apprentices and cadets identified as future leaders of the company. He also served as a Senior Associate Lecturer at the University of Guyana’s Faculty of Technology.
Williams went on to become the Deputy Chief Executive Officer of GNIC and then the Chief Executive Officer in 2001. He has headed the Shipping Association of Guyana (SAG) and the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association Limited (GMSA).
He serves also as a Chairman for the Council for Technical Vocational Education and Training (CTVET) under the Ministry of Education. He has served as Chairman of the Board of the Guyana Forestry Commission and is currently Chairman of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission.
Williams obtained a scholarship to pursue a post-graduate degree in Industrial Engineering in Europe.
Following an invitation from the then Minister of Labour, Williams joined the Board of Industrial Training (BIT) in 2007. BIT has been tasked with the responsibility of not only ensuring quality assurance and certification of apprenticeship and trainee programmes, but implementation through novel training programmes, one being the National Training Programme for Youth Empowerment (NTYPE).
During the period 2012 to 2013, Williams held the position as Chairman for the Board of Directors for the Guyana Forestry Commission. The forestry sector is responsible for the sustainable management of the country’s forest reserves.
He is now Chairman of the Board of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission. Williams says this role is highly challenging because this sector contributes approximately 50% of our foreign exchange earnings and 14% of Gross Domestic Product.
His major contribution has been the crafting of pertinent industrial and business development strategies considered crucial for the national development and growth of the country. More specifically, is its application to the National Development Strategy, and later on, the evolving of National Competitiveness Strategy Policy initiatives.
Williams also serves as the current Chairman of the Guyana-China Business Council.
He says, “We have a beautiful country filled with promises. It is ready to take off, but we have to put our shoulders to the wheel together to make it happen. We will need all hands on to work… this is an ample opportunity for the younger generation to step up.”

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