First of all I would like to wish members of the global Guyanese family a Happy Republic Day for tomorrow. On 23 February 1970 the Forbes Burnham led government proclaimed Guyana, The Co-operative Republic of Guyana and ended Guyana’s constitutional tie to Britain. Guyana though remains a member of the Commonwealth.
The birth of Guyana as a republic is now also closely associated with the annual Mashramani festival or ‘Mash day’, derived from the Amerindian language which according to the Guyanese Ministry of Culture, Youth & Sport means ‘the celebration of a job well done’. The festival has a carnival atmosphere and is one of the most spectacular annual celebrations in Guyana.
As some people already know I am very proud to be of Guyanese descent. My father was born in Kitty, Georgetown and moved to the UK in the 1950s to join the RAF. He was a keen cricketer and some of his pictures were used in our Beyond the Boundary exhibition in 2010. We also have a "Cuffy Dollar" on display - a silver coin commemorating Guyana’s Republican status in 1970, which was kindly donated by my dad. The face of the coin shows Cuffy, a national hero, who on the 23 February 1763, led what become known as the Berbice Slave Rebellion, an uprising of enslaved Africans against their brutal and degrading living and working conditions under Dutch rule. So 2013 is 250 years since this momentous event.
Berbice was a Dutch colony until 1814 when it was ceded to the British and along with Essequibo and Demerara become British Guiana in 1831, governed from Georgetown, previously known as Stabroek. The Dutch influence is still very visible though, one of the main newspapers is the Stabroek news and New Amsterdam is one of the largest towns. There is also a clear Liverpool link as the family of William Gladstone, Liverpool born four times Prime Minister, owned sugar plantations in West Demerara such as Vreed-en-Hoop.
I have visited Guyana on several occasions, the last time in 2008 when I presented a paper at the Commonwealth Association of Museums conference, held at Umana Yana in the capital, Georgetown. As part of the conference delegates also spent two days in the Iwokrama rainforest reserve, located in one of the few pristine rainforests left in the world. It’s always good to see the family and not only because I get to eat roti and polouri!
Bye for now,