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Young people could not address their elders by their first names alone. One was required to put an honorific or a ‘handle’ to the names of neighbours, community members and the members of the wider society, whether or not one knew them socially. It was ‘Uncle John’, ‘Mister George’, ‘Auntie’, or ‘Miss Katie’. In this milieu, in which, as Mr Kampta Karran notes, there was respect shown to ‘The Other’, there was no room for negative and pejorative abuse between peoples of different ethnicities.
Yesterday’s mid-morning GBC (Guyana Broadcasting Corporation) programme ‘Let’s Gaff’ was wonderfully useful in the sense that it once again demonstrated that deep within the bosoms of most Guyanese is buried a passionate desire for the harmonious existence that once defined life in this society. The programme was ably moderated by veteran broadcaster Mr Franklyn Langhorne, who, it is evident, seeks every possible opportunity to promote instances of ethnic cooperation and solidarity. Among Langhorne’s guests yesterday were members of a Rastafarian cultural group, who are promoting a cassette featuring a production on the socioeconomic system, which the Dreads claim, has serious shortcomings, and Mr Kampta Karran, well-known sociologist, author, who now has a tenure in race relations at the University of Birmingham, England.
What was wryly ironic, early in the discussion, was the congruence of thinking between the Rasta brothers, several of whom are well-read but largely self-taught and Mr Karran, a noted intellectual. In explaining the lyric of his song, one Rastafarian posited that the system was deficient in that it did not adequately meet the needs of the lowly people, who, although they would toil hard and honestly for their livelihoods, were unlikely to achieve a fulfilling life. This is not an original line of thought even for the Rasta brethren since in the 1970s the renowned Dub poet Mutabaruka had articulated this pointlessness in his popular work, ‘The System’. Nevertheless, Mr Karran cited the thinking of Karl Marx and Gramsci, who at various points of their lives had enunciated in so many words that the prevailing systems in society were designed by the elites for the elites.
But this convergence of views of the GBC guests is not the main point of this column. It was the fact that both Karran and one of the Rastafarian brothers gave striking examples of what existed, and what (to some extent) still obtains in their respective communities. Karran recounted that he grew up in a West Demerara community. Individuals of various ethnicities dwelt together peacefully. On the whole, there were more incidents of violence within tribes than between one ethnic group and another. There was no truth in the sayings that East Indians were stingy and Black people could not save their money or operate businesses. His teachers were African Guyanese, and he remembered them lovingly since they encouraged him and his classmates to read and to note the books they had read. So much so, he said, he learnt the concept of a bibliography in Primary School. When he went on to higher education, he learnt the more complicated form of structuring a bibliography. For his part, the leading Rasta said that he could not recall any instance of racial conflict in New Amsterdam. Every young person learnt very early the importance of respecting elders, whatever the ethnicity of the adults.
While we are well aware that there are countless material and psychological influences that have wrought unimagined changes in the textures of life in our country, the older persons can be forgiven for harking back to that period of Guyana’s history, when almost every adult cared enough to scold or correct a child, and each householder kept an eye on her neighbour’s yard.