In The Diaspora
By George Mentore
April 9, 2007
A little over a week ago the newspapers reported an attack outside a nightclub on Sheriff street, in which a family was robbed, beaten and where the women were sexually assaulted.
A vigil was held a few days later by a number of groups. There have been some reports that the family is Amerindian. Today's column, written by a Guyanese who has spent much of his life working with the Wai Wai community in Guyana, reflects on what those of us on the coast could learn from those communities in our midst that we do not, cannot, and tragically refuse to see.
George Mentore is a Guyanese anthropologist trained at the London School of Economics and Political Science, with a doctorate degree from the University of Sussex, and teaching experience at the University of Virginia, USA. He specializes in Antillean and Amerindian studies.
One gives the perfect gift when the receiver knows nothing of its receipt. This kind of gift, in its perfectibility, while providing some form of fulfilment for the giver and perhaps even satisfaction for the receiver, does not actually perform the social work expected of it. Without the shared conscious recognition between giver and receiver of some form of debt incurred, the gift cannot instigate its function of producing reciprocity. It cannot, that is, provide for the counter-gift and the building of social relations upon which human society depends. The one sure thing learnt from the vast scholarship on human societies is that exchange governs social interaction. My question then is when will our national society come to recognize the still perfect gift and its givers who continue to give without being acknowledged?
They have been providing the gift of alternative knowledge about different ways of being human in the world almost continuously from the moment Europeans forced themselves upon this continent. I am not talking about the gain of material objects, such as hammock, tobacco, chocolate; the list is too long. I am talking rather about the gift of knowing how to live completely full lives.
Imagine for a moment your life filled with pure and secure contentment by being in the care of those with whom you live. In return you provide custody for the souls and bodies of your family and neighbours. Think of such contentment as perhaps being the reason why so many of our silent gift givers do not go running off to New York City, Toronto, or London to seek in vain a never-ending fulfilment.
In this regard consider how the Europeans have been busy trying, through the E.U., to avoid murdering themselves once again by attempting to dismantle their national communities. Consider how the British in particular appear content with themselves by placing their brutalities in the so-called deep historical past. Distancing themselves in this way from what was so clearly wrong and immoral they continue to establish their current sense of advancement and superiority. The United States fares no better, hell-bent as it is on reducing just about every moral belief to the principles of the economic market. These are our heroes: the leaders of the world who want China, India, Japan and the rest of us to follow them into the future. Meanwhile, right here in Guyana, the gift of future betterment languishes unrequited.
All over the world today and at this very moment cruelty and suffering have become so prevalent they seem almost naturally common place. More frequently, however, we have come to understand that the perpetrators of violence rather than their victims should be viewed with a greater critical awareness. Compassion must still be extended to the victim. Yet, in order to pre-empt and eradicate the violence, witnesses have to take into account the initial motive for the act. Often times it can be found that the perpetrators of violence have been reduced to their actions because aggression and physical force remain their one unalienable attribute. While this may be tragic and cannot be condoned, note how modern polities all around the world absolutely support the truth of the effects of violence. It hurts. It humiliates. Yet it is the legitimate power of the state and the unalienable property of the individual body. What often angers us, the witnesses, is not the cruelty and pain violence inflicts, but who has the right to use it.
How often have you heard reports of a Guyanese woman visiting any hinterland community and being publicly scorned, privately raped, and generally treated as if she was worthless? How regularly do you hear of a Guyanese man being shamed, robbed, and beaten whilst a guest in any hinterland community? The further you travel away from the coast - further from its influences of modern immoralities - the less you will find the citizen so alienated from self esteem they have been reduced to the violence of their body. Let us stop squandering this gift on how to avoid humiliation and to achieve self respect.