Photo : Ravi Dev
With the PNC is back in power (under the fig leaf of “APNU”) and its leader Mr David Granger insisting he will fulfil the legacy of the Founder-Leader Forbes Burnham, we should familiarize ourselves with some of the elements of that legacy. We begin with the notion of nation.
The PNC, during its first twenty-eight year regime, accentuated the African element of Creole culture as the official culture even as it made some innocuous accommodations to other hybrids such as “Guyanese-Indian”. Many insist Burnham had a “multicultural” approach for the state since he introduced two Muslim and two Hindu festivals as national holidays.
Actually, that was a feint in Mr Burnham’s quest for total control over the state. Because the colonial state had privileged the Christian Church, it retained great influence and authority on state matters, which Burnham would not brook. In 1976 Burnham nationalised the schools of all the religious bodies. State recognition of Hinduism and Islam as ‘Guyanese’ religions simply served to dilute the old established Christian influence (which had external guidance) while Mr. Burnham quickly moved to control the Hindu Mahasabha and the Muslim Anjumaan so that the new kids on the bloc offered no challenge.
Mr. Burnham had a totally different position on “Culture”, which he saw as ‘secular” as opposed to “religious”. While the ambiguities of such a disjuncture are legion, Burnham accepted the homogenising premises of the European “nation-state” ideal. He fervently opposed “multiculturalism” and summed up his position as “One People, One Nation, One Destiny”, which of course he would “mould”. The question was what practices would be the cultural markers to define the “one nation” and to which all others would be assimilated. We can look at the record.
The symbols of a state signal its cultural orientation since these are expected to ensure that the people can identify with the state at an emotional level. The colours of our flag, chosen the National Arts Council, were the Garveyite Pan-African colours black, green and red (which was already the PNC’s colours) along with yellow from Ethiopia’s green, yellow and red, which most African countries had chosen as their pan-African colours.
The National Hero was Cuffy – the African slave who had fought the Dutch in Berbice almost seventy years before Berbice became part of a unified Guyana. The National Anthem has no hint of an Indian raga, much less any words. Mr. Burnham, like many non-Indians, also had a problem with the Indian cultural fare over the airwaves. He mandated that on the Indian radio-shows that played Indian songs (through private sponsorship) there were to be included an equal number of English-language songs. There was no T.V. under Burnham and we may now possibly surmise why. Mr. Burnham also demanded that “ethnic clubs” change their names – for instance the “East Indian Association Cricket Club” changed their to “Everest”.
However, Mr. Burnham accepted the African Society for Cultural Relations with Independent Africa (ASCRIA) as its de facto cultural arm – until 1973, when its head, Mr. Eusi Kwayana, declared that Mr. Burnham had sold out to Indian and Portuguese bourgeoise elements. The names of all organisations (excepting African ones) were changed and Indian programs had to be mixed with English music. Everybody was supposed to be “Guyanese” and to say that one was an “Indian” was somehow a betrayal of the thrust to modernity. In Guyana there is great resentment generated in the Indian community by the insistence of the other sections that they can only become “Guyanese” by discarding their culture. That culture was not officially sought to be preserved: for instance even though there is a “National” Museum, an African Museum and an Amerindian (WALTER ROTH) museum – there in none for Indians. The National School of Dance is bereft of an Indian repertoire.
Mr. Burnham went so far with his identification of African culture that he modified Marxist-Leninist theory, risking ridicule from orthodox quarters (“utopian”), to declare that Guyana’s economic model would be the co-operative - based on the Ujaama socialism of Tanzania. Mr. Burnham introduced Mashramani as the grand festival for Guyana, with its Creole Caribbean Carnival inspiration hardly masked by the allegation that it was about “cooperation” and taken from the Amerindians.
We should evaluate the present firestorm over the PPP’s PIO MP attendees against the foregoing background.