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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Arts Journal


Critical Perspectives on the contemporary Literature, History, Art and Culture of Guyana, the Caribbean and their Diasporas.

and Culture
of Guyana, the Caribbean and their Diasporas

Current Issue : Vol. 1. No. 2

Lloyd Searwar Feature Address
Verene Shepherd The Ranking Game in Jamaica During Slavery
Winston McGowan Demographic Change in nineteenth-century Guyana
Ron Sookram Grenada on the Eve of Indian Immigration, 1838-1857
Frank Birbalsingh Interview with Peter Kempadoo
Victor Ramraj Citation for David Dabydeen: 2004 Raja Rao Award Winner
Giselle Rampaul Beyond the Boundary: the Carnivalesque in Merle Hodge’s Crick Crack Monkey
Raymond Ramcharita Review of the 2004 edition of The West Indian Novel and its Background
Vibert C. Cambridge This History has to Respond to these Rhythms: Notes on Music and Guyanese History
Kumar Mahabir Hosay as Theatre: Transcending Time, Form, Space, Race and Religion
Sr. Mary Noel Menezes Amerindian Music in Guyana
William R. Pilgrim The Masquerade Band of Guyana
Robert Fernandes Photographic Identity

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Excerpts from Vol 1 No 2 of the The Arts Journal

Lloyd Searwar
Feature Address, Launching of The Arts Journal

I am enthusiastic about [The Arts Journal]… It is a remarkable forward step in the fostering of intellectual exchange in this society at a time when it is urgently needed.

I think that the editor has done a tremendous job. Getting contributors of high distinction together, getting them to actually send you a manuscript, getting it into type, proofreading it, and then producing a Journal of this quality, and selling it, remarkably enough, at a reasonable price, is almost unbelievable. This believe you me, is a major contribution to the cultural and intellectual life of Guyana and it comes at a time when serious intellectual debate has almost disappeared from the society.

Verene A. Shepherd
The Ranking Game in Jamaica During Slavery.

Ranking is understood historically within the colonial formation in terms of access to restricted status, as manifested primarily in signs and symbols that with social consensus offer respect and respectability. In this regard, in the specific case of Jamaica, neither emancipation in1838 nor independence in 1962 constitutes reliable markers of change; for people in this land still adhere to boundary-maintaining mechanisms, elevating English over Jamaican English or Nation Language, uptown residence over downtown residence, Brown over Black and both under White, urban culture over rural living; and among some sectors, wine over white rum, Bach over Buju Banton, the style of Luciano Pavarotti over Jamaica's indigenous Luciano (and vice versa) and so on.

Winston Mc Gowan
Demographic Change in Nineteenth-Century Guyana

The trend of declining population in Berbice and Demerara-Essequibo began to be reversed after the legal abolition of slavery in1834 and especially after the full emancipation of slaves in 1838, when they completed four years of a modified form of slavery euphemistically called apprenticeship. The planters rightly anticipated that there would be a mass exodus of apprentices from the estates after Emancipation, creating a serious labour crisis. To prepare for this unwelcome prospect, the planters began in1834 to make efforts to secure an alternative labour force by inviting immigrant s from the Caribbean and more remote areas of the world. Initially they secured Blacks from the British West Indian islands and Portuguese fro Madeira and later from India, West Africa and China. A total of about 55,000 immigrants arrived in British Guiana between 1834 and 1850. This immigration had an immense impact on the demographic and other aspects of the history of the country.

Ron Sookram
Grenada On the Eve of Indian Immigration, 1838-1857

The main conflict that surrounded the introduction of an indentured immigrations scheme in Grenada, as elsewhere in the British West Indies, was the fact that the Black workers were called upon to partially finance its cost, through taxation. For example, in Granada, one third, and later one quarter, of the revenue collected for the immigration scheme was on taxes imposed on the consumption of rum and other selected imports. This system of taxation was seen ass imprudent and as a reflection of the contemptuous attitude towards freed men in the judgement of the local plantocracy. The Grenadian worker was legally forced to assist in a labour system that eventually depressed his own wages. Under-Secretary in the Colonial Office, James Stephens, opposed this type of taxation as it directly imposed exceptional difficulties on the recently emancipated Black Creole population. Furthermore, underlining the fact that the indentured immigration scheme in Grenada at the time was an endeavour that the colony could not afford, it can be argued that the "disbursement of funds on immigration was a misallocation of scarce resources." This was a substantial argument given the fact that Grenada's Assembly's Committee of Public Accounts had reported that the colony's revenue had diminished continuously from146 to 1856.

Frank Birbalsingh interviews Peter Kemapadoo

Here for example, is how I got into broadcasting: I used to write the Daily Argosy bulletin for the 9:00 pm news every night and take it into the radio station ZFY. One day I asked the newsreader if I could read the bulletin myself, and he let me do so although I hadn't any training. The next day, my editor, Colonel Freddie Seal Coon, an Englishman, pointed out my errors and mispronunciations, and I took it as a challenge to go to the library and get books on reading and pronunciation. Within a short time, I was reading the 9:00 pm news regularly, so that when I came to Britain, I was known as a broadcaster from Guyana, and could walk straight into the BBC.

Raymond Ramcharitar
The West Indian Novel in 2004:The Return of the Critic

It is worth mentioning that if a reader on this work might pass over a good deal of the analysis because it seems obvious, these issues were not obvious when the book was written - and this book is a significant part of the reason they are obvious now. Its value to undergraduates is incalculable especially in the present circumstances where criticism is considered valuable if it is steeped in political undertones.

Reflecting this politicisation of the academe, the 2004 introduction is pervaded by a noticeable languor that is not presenting the 1970 introduction. The tone and suggestiveness of the new introduction seem to prefigure another work: an authoritative survey along the lines of Erich Auerbach's Mimesis, Edward Said's The World The Text and The Critic or even Eagleton's After Theory. There are not many people in the West Indian academe with the prerequisites of intellectual depth and breadth, encyclopaedic knowledge of society and culture, and the general critical and scholarly equipment to even attempt such a work. Gordon Rohlehr, Rex Nettleford, and Ramchand are the only three that come to mind.

With that in mind, Professor Ramchand would be best advised to get top work before one out of the current crop of semi-literate welfare academics who have made their "reputations" feeding off first-world guilt, storms the ramparts and seizes the undefended and unwanted vestments, and uses them to write the requiem for West Indian culture and scholarship.

Vibert Cambridge
This History Has To Respond to these Rhythms: Some Notes on Music and Guyanese History

Some tentative conclusions can be drawn about the role of music in Guyana during the20Thcentury. In addition to being a vehicle for relaxation and leisure, music has served as a custodian and transmitter o f the nation's multicultural heritage and as a repository of its histories. Music has nurtured identity, granted social status, articulated ambition, and expressed frustration. During the20th Century, music has mobilised resistance to oppressive conditions and encouraged solidarities that transcended race and ethnicity. The Guyanese experience, especially the experiences of the working class, has provided inspiration for the Guyanese and international composers. British composer Alan Bush wrote the opera Cane Reapers to celebrate the "resistance of Guyanese workers to British imperialism during the early 1950's." In the post-independence era, music became an important resource in Guyana's diplomatic thrust.

Kumar Mahabir
Hosay as Theatre: Transcending Time, Form Space and Religion

In the West Indies, Hosay has a very long tradition as a folk ceremony and is as old as indentureship itself. Its history in Trinidad dates back to the 1850's in the Phillipine estate where the first tazia was made. In Guyana, the Sunni Muslim found the annual observance of Husain's death, in so public a manner, to be distasteful. They argued that it was an insult to the religion, and that, moreover, it had lead to riots and murders on several occasions; at best it was a foolish ceremony. They lobbied to have legislation passed to ban the procession there more that fifty years ago. In Jamaica, however, cultural continuity was strong and Hosay became on e of the great national events, with Clarendon often boasting the best organised and most elaborate procession. In all three territories, Hosay was characterised by a parade of taziyas, mock-fights of the battle at Karbala, songs, drum beating, dances, orations, role playing, and rituals even though nothing of the sort of Lewis Pelly's Miracle Play of Hasan and Husain has ever been rendered in the West Indies during Muharram. The dramatist, Shaw, points out that the absence of dialogue should not deter us from seeing Hosay as theatre, because to do that would be to ignore the poetic and dramatic value o f the spectacle. Indeed, playwrights have long been aware of the strong theatrical potentialities of the processional form with its moving symbolism playing a large part in such proceedings.

Sr. Mary Noel Menezes
Amerindian Music in Guyana

Drums were made from hollow trunks of trees, the bark having been removed, with the skins of the bush hog, jaguar, baboon or deer variously stretched across at the end. Columbus and his crew found drums in use among the Amerindians in the West Indian islands. They were used for signalling gin battle as well as at dances and feasts. In early times, drums were only one-skinned, that is, the skin was stretched across only over one end; later, two-skinned drums were made. Wooden drums were produced out of a hollow cylinder and beaten with rubber sticks. Vincent Roth, Surveyor and Warden Magistrate in the interior of British Guiana for over twenty-five years, gave an interesting description of Carib drums -they were about fourteen inches in diameter and of similar length, hollowed out of the red cedar tree. Accouri skin was stretched across and fastened with loops; it was similar to that of a western drum but the augmenting of the sound was caused by a cord to which a wooden splinter was attached with glass beads at the end. When the drum was beaten the skin vibrated against the beads producing "a high vibrating note".

W. R. A. Pilgrim
The Masquerade Band of Guyana

The main centre of attraction is the group of Flouncers that vary in number from one to five or even six persons of all ages, but chiefly young men with good muscular control and a fine sense of balance, some of them capable of acrobatic feats, including barrel rolling and glass eating. The dance steps of the Flouncers have fascinating names: the Stumble, the Donkey Parade, the lay going to Market, Robin Boy, Highland Fling (taken from the British regiments) Round they go in a sideways movement in a circle, then they break off, and each does his own thing, but one thing is common to all of them: thy wear a mournful expression, heads thrown back, eyes rolling heavenwards and palms held upwards. There are certain well-defined body actions for the picking-up of a coin: a designated Flouncer dances over to it and, after showing off the variety and skill of his steps, goes slowly down on one leg, the other stretched horizontally in front of him, as the crowd watches keenly. What is seldom realised is that the musicians give the signal for the picking up of the coin by a special beat on one or two of the drums.

Giselle A. Rampaul
Beyond the Binary: A Critique of Crick Crack Monkey as a Carnivalesque Novel

Again, the Creole language that is seen as "vibrant and richly spiced" is rich in double-entendre from the very first page of the novel. As Mr. Christopher sings, "Gimme piece o' yu dumpling Mae dou-dou," the children are pulled away from the window not only because Mr. Christopher is drunk but also because of the sexual innuendo of the calypso. It should be noted, therefore, that whereas Bakhtin's carnivalesque delights in the celebration of the lower bodily stratum, excessive drinking and references to sex, the adult authority figure in Hodge's novel functions largely to censor the morality of the Creole yard. When Tee is caught in Mr. Brathwaite's fruit tree, and curses him, her teacher punishes her. Ironically, although the children are forbidden to witness scenes with Mr. Christopher, they are exposed to Tantee's continuous tirades with explicit references to private body parts.

Robert Fernandes
Photographic Identity

It is not important if or why we leave Guyana, but in so doing we must still seek to acquire some knowledge of the heritage we have spurned. No matter which part of the world we choose to inhabit, only Guyana can provide us with a genuine identity. It is the only place that was set aside for us when the world was allocated and is the only place that will always truly belong to Guyanese.


Critical Perspectives on the Literatures, History, Art and Culture of Guyana and the Caribbean





SEPTEMBER 2006 – Guest Editor: Professor Emeritus Kenneth Ramchand -EDUCATION ISSUES ACROSS THE CARIBBEAN


SEPTEMBER 2007 – Guest Editor: Dr. Desrey Fox: - AMERINDIAN ISSUE



The Arts Journal

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11. If the Article has been prepared jointly with other authors, you guarantee that you have been authorized by all co-authors to sign this Agreement on their behalf, and to agree on their behalf to the order of names appearing as authors.

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Editorial (from Vol.#1, No.1)

I am pleased to introduce the first issue of The Arts Journal. Within recent times, the absence of a critical tradition has become keenly felt in Guyana, a society long renowned for its outstanding literary and artistic output and scholarship. The need becomes even greater when we note that Visual Art Competitions and Exhibitions are regularly held in Guyana, that a Guyana Prize for Literature is awarded every two years, and that while artists, writers, and winners are publicized in journalistic efforts at the times of these events, critical attantion in the academic press is virtually non-existent.

The first International Conference to be held at the Tain Campus of the University of Guyana (May 2002) -- "The Indian Diaspora: The Global Village"--brought home this delemma forcefully. In addition to the scholarly presentations at that Conference, a Visual Arts Exhibition in keeping with the Conference theme was mounted. It was recognised that the subtle nuances of art and expressive writing coming from distinctive racial strands in the West Indian archipelago were either lost or neglected in what is broadly deemed "mainstream" criticism. Consequently, the subjective experiences of significant portions of our societies remain submerged. When the idea was mooted to a few persons at that Conference that the time was right for an Arts Journal to become a reality, the response was instantly encouraging. It was agreed that more permanent photographic records should be made of the visual arts exhibits and that the research papers should be made accessible to the university community and to the public. We felt that this could only lead to us becoming more conscious of each other and more compassionate and understanding towards each other as we stand at a rich meeting place of diverse cultures to negotiate the crucial questions of identity and belonging. We recognise that other islands of the West Indian archipelago share similar concerns and, also, that a significant portion of the populations of Guyana and the wider Caribbean continue to live, work and produce art in foreign countries; some of the finest works of art have sprung out of exile and displacement. We hope that this Journal would help to bridge the gap.

Readers would not be surprised to find that this first issue gathers at least two of its pieces from that Conference. The Call for Papers did not specify an Indian theme but several papers addressing pertinent issues surrounding Indian-Caribbean experience were received, hence the Indian-Caribbean theme in this first issue. What is of interest is that there would seem to be a dialogue taking place across the presentations, cutting across the disciplines, even though for convenience we attempted to group the papers into literary, history and art sections. Professor Kenneth Ramchand's article speaks to the emergence of a literary consciousness and the evolution of creative writing among Indians in Trinidad and Tobago. His paper foregrounds two seminal figures on the literary landscape - Seepersaud Naipaul, and his son, V.S. Naipaul, now Sir Vidia, and winner of the coveted Nobel Prize for Literature 2001 - who together embody the movement of the Indian from a poorly regarded "primitive pagan" who knew no English upon his arrival in the West Indies, to an acclaimed 'Master of the Novel' within the space of roughly one hundred years. In the 1940s, planter interests in Trinidad and Tobago sought to deprive the Indian population of the franchise on the ground of illiteracy, a move stoutly defended by the educated Indians of the twin island, but it was in this atmosphere that the elder Naipaul's Gurudeva and Other Indian Tales (perhaps defiantly) appeared in 1943 in Trinidad. Selvon was to publish three ground breaking novels within the next decade (A Brighter Sun, 1952; An Island is a World, 1955; and The Lonely Londoners, 1956) before Vidiahar S. Naipaul, fresh out of Oxford, burst on the scene with The Mystic Masseur (1957).

But it was V. S. Naipaul who fired the imagination of the next generation. In spite of the cultural uncertainties and psychic insecurities of V.S. Naipaul detected by Professor Clem Seecharan in his article, it is Naipaul who remains the single most profound influence on Seecharan, who stirred him to the power, beauty, and the truths contained in the arts. In his paper, Seecharan seeks correspondences between himself and Naipaul and admires the latter, above all, for "his intelligence and insight, and for the clarity and elegance of his style."

At least three of the papers speak directly to Indian Caribbean female experience. While Alim Hosein explores sexual identity as it impinges on the struggle for independence and self-definition in two novels, Rooplall Monar's Janjhat and Oonya Kempadoo's Buxton Spice, both set in a society struggling to break out of the stranglehold of the "brutal paternalism of the estate culture" in Guyana, my own paper analyses the growth to awareness of the Indian adolescent female in Jan Shinebourne's The Last English Plantation. This work presents a heroine who openly rebels against colonialism and its "civilizing" agents and who struggles to reclaim the devalued cutural forms of the Indian. These two papers illuminate the symbiotic struggle the inner and outer turmoil taking place at the levels of the individual and society. Professor Verene Shepherd, whose paper, "Indian Indentured WOmen in the Caribbean: Ethnicity, Class and Gender", appears in the history section, marshals detailed documentary evidence to support her potent argument that of all the ethnicities imported from the three continents (Africa, China, India) to provide bonded labour for the region's sugar plantation, Indian women appear to have been the most exploited.

Dr. Brinsley Samaroo's article, "The 1862 'Mutiny' aboard the Guyana-bound Clasmerden", delves into a grey area of Indian experience; accounts of the voyage on board a ship transporting indentured workers from India to their workplace in the Caribbean. Very few of the ships' captains kept diaries, their reports mainly confined to the statistics of their "human cargo" whilst eye-witness accounts of these youages are very rare indeed. Dr Samaroo was no doubt encouraged to the research and reconstruction of events abord the Clasmerden following the publication of The Clipper Ship Sheila (1995), eds. Kenneth Ramchand and Brinsley Samaroo, which offers a poignant account of one such voyage to Trinidad in 1877. This paper enriches our knowledge and understanding of the nature and condition of Indian survival and existence since the exodus from India.

After the arrival of the Clasmerden, allegedly bearing sepoys from the 1857 Indian Mutiny, a marked increase of disturbances, strikes, and violence was felt and sustained on some plantations in the then British Guiana. Tota Mangar's monograph offers a fairly graphic account of the social evolution of Indian Guianese society two decades after the arrival of the militant men of the Clasmerden. Perhaps due to a combination of Indian militancy and the humane approach of Governor Henry Turner Irving (1882-1887), several reforms were introduced; among the chief victories were: an innovative land settlement scheme, a more reliable system of interpretation in the Courts, and registration of indentured marriages. Mangar explains: "The late 1880s and 1890s witnessed a gradual movement from the estates as immigrants began to buy, rent, or even squat on land along the coastal plain. These settlements became inextricably bound to the emerging rice industry as well as cash crops cultivation, cattle rearing and milk selling", all of which signaled the emergence of an Indian Guianese peasantry.

The Curatorial Statement to the May 2002 Visual Arts Exhibition entitled Under The Seventh Sun, and my own Overview of the Exhibition, make the case that during the last half-century there has been a general flowering of the arts in Guyana and the Indian strand has contributed a body of the most penetrating works, both literary and visual, that speak directly to its social and cultural reality. But, as often happens in plural societies, the creative efforts of some segments of society tend to be trivialized in the struggle for cultural dominance. Thus, the subtleties of the unique stream of art produced by Indians have been largely ignored or subsumed in the accounts of Guyana and the Caribbean.

Nonetheless, The Arts Journal is a journal of the literature, art and culture of Guyana and the English-speaking Caribbean. Papers describing the masquerade band tradition in Guyana and other forms of music in the Caribbean are at hand but, in the interest of thematic unity in this issue, those papers will appear in our next issue.

This Journal aims to encourage research and widen scholarship in respect of those works seemingly lost to us through the passage of time.

I hope you find this first issue of The Arts Journal both instructive and enjoyable.

Ameena Gafoor

(Courtesy of

*Please support this worthwhile effort to deepening our understanding of ourselves as products or inheritors of rich and diverse civilisations who share a complex history of struggle for selfhood and, above all, who share a common humanity.

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