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Re-Imagining the Guyanas

Lawrence Aje
Thomas Lacroix
Judith Misrahi-Barak


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1Sonja Boon

2Telling Stories with Gold

3As both natural resource and conceptual metaphor, gold has played a central role in the entangled histories of my family. Not only does it figure in stories of wealth creation, but it also appears in stories of migration, and in the complex and interwoven colonial intimacies that necessarily resulted from such migrations. In this autoethnographic essay, I draw on a range of sources, including historical newspapers, photographs, and other archival materials, family lore, memory work and scholarship on historical and contemporary gold mining in Suriname to consider the conceptual and imaginative relevance of gold in my family stories. In particular, I look at how gold has been mobilized in the service of loss and belonging, considering the intersections between place, environment, memory, and identity.

4Janette Bulkan

5Settling Indigenous Rights and Building a Social Contract in the circum-Caribbean territories of Belize, Guyana and Suriname

6Although Indigenous and Tribal Peoples (ITPs) in Belize, Guyana and Suriname are minorities in total populations, they are majorities in hinterlands and their customary lands are largely overlaid by State Forests administered by dominant coastlander non-ITP governments. The inherent pre-existing rights of ITPs to their lands, territories and resources are increasingly recognised in international law: justiciable UN Conventions and non-justiciable Declarations. In the three countries customary rights of ITPs are not or only weakly recognised. The authoritarian overlay of State Forests leads to frequent unresolved conflicts with ITPs. Two processes used elsewhere could reduce these conflicts: the Indian Forest Service’s Settlement Procedure and the Public Trust principle, as applied in the USA.

7Gabriel Cambraia Neiva

8A Journey to the Source of Imagination: A Reading of The Laughter of Wapishana by Wilson Harris

9This paper proposes a reading of the narrative ‘The Laughter of Wapishana’, by the Guyanese novelist Wilson Harris (The Age of the Rainmakers 1971). ‘The Laughter of Wapishana’ is a dream-journey of a young girl named Wapishana to the source of laughter, escaping from the plague of drought. The fictional narrative leads the girl inside Amerindian cosmologies and uses key philosophical concepts as pathways that, in the end, make her rediscover herself and her people. The interweaving of different logics and oppositions—e.g. Western and Amerindian, drought and flood—are tensions embodied in the narrative that challenge Wapishana, but also allow a recreation of her world, by entering the very cosmogonic moment which formed spaces and peoples.

10Creativity, as mentioned by the author in the introductory note, has a ‘political scale’, even more so for Amerindian peoples, whose territories are threatened by economic pressures. The girl, Wapishana, overcomes religious and commercial Western discourses in the antipode locus of creation, reflecting about human existence and also about Guyanese cultural diversity, in the backdrop of colonial processes. This reading is guided by the Wapishana ethnography As Flores da Fala (Farage 1997), a study on rhetorical practices of this people, in order to highlight fundamental aesthetical and ethical principles, with which Harris establishes a dialogue.

11Juanita Cox Westmaas

12Buried in the Landscape: Edgar Mittelholzer’s Creative Gene(sis)/Geni(us), and Revolting Subtexts

13Buried in the Landscape aims to demonstrate that Mittelholzer’s modernist concern with issues of identity, including that of race, are intimately tied to his religious beliefs: to his Christian upbringing, and later interest in Oriental Occultism. It asserts that Mittelholzer’s interest in the occult not only influenced his representations of landscape as source of mysterious secrets but more importantly his overall aesthetic practice. It reveals that Mittelholzer’s writing is complex and replete with esoteric meaning through close critical analysis of a short tale, The Jen, which appears in The Morning at the Office. It argues that the tale functions on a personal level as a coded reminder (through word play) of Mittelholzer’s early fear of ‘genetic’ taint; a fear that as the tale suggests, was faced, found to be baseless and and thus transcended. On another level, The Jen points more broadly to the various inner demons, or projected fears that Mittelholzer’s characters (perhaps readers) need to face. The Jen figure meanwhile stands in as metaphor for the ‘genuine’ divine Real Self (as spoken of by Oriental Occultists); and is conceived as a fire-spirit akin to the Arabic Jinn or Christian Holy Spirit. The ‘dreadful’ but ‘lonely’ Jen of Mittelholzer’s tale also represents the author, writer of controversial topics readers wish to avoid. The tale triggers a chain of signification, of Jens or fire spirits that people all of Mittelholzer’s novels via onomastic association and help ultimately to extend or subvert the meaning of the surface text.

14Tim Cribb

15Re-writing Man in the Guyanas

16The three Guyanas share a common geology, the Guyana Shield. This determined that colonial settlement was on the alluvial littoral and especially at the mouths of the rivers that enable expeditions to the interior to exploit the natural resources. As a hydrographic surveyor leading such expeditions Wilson Harris was uniquely placed to observe the reciprocal relations of nature and human nature under extreme conditions, and later, as a novelist in London, to explore and assess the reciprocal relations between colony and metropolis, similarly extreme. He calls attention to these relations, and their violence, by publishing two novels together in a single volume, Da Silva da Silva’s Cultivated Wilderness and Genesis of the Clowns (1977), the one set mainly in London, the other mainly in Guyana. Although fundamentally concerned with the land and waters of the Guyanas, his writing is not “landscape” writing, nor derived from the Romantic tradition of Nature writing. His understanding of the interactions between man and environment is derived from his scientific methodology as a surveyor, founded on physics. He thus articulates a dynamics of unconscious motivation quite different from the Freudian and more akin to the explicitly Caribbean version of Surrealism seen in Wifredo Lam’s paintings. It is through this unconscious that Harris enables the land of the Guyanas to write through his characters. This amounts to a revision of the idea of human nature, along the lines indicated by the epigraph to the novels from the scientific philosopher Stuart Hampshire.

17Charles Forsdick

18‘Bagne pas mort’: exploring penal heritage in French Guiana

19The chapter explores, through the case of French Guiana, the contested status the bagne in the postcolonial French-speaking world. Despite the recent efforts to elaborate a more transnational and even global history of penal transportation, the institution remains marginalized in discussions of postcolonial memoryscapes. Drawing on a range of literary accounts (including works by Londres, Damas and Charrière, and a variety of travelogues) as well as discussions of contemporary heritage practice, the study offers a coherent account of representations of the penal colony and its afterlives. This material is located in the context of penal heritage across the Guyanas, especially in the context of Guyana, and also in relation to the more entangled, transcolonial narratives of penal transportation that have emerged from recent representations of the bagne in Francophone narratives by authors such as Mouloud Akkouche. The chapter concludes with a study of the work of Patrick Chamoiseau and Rodolphe Hammadi on postcolonial ruination and on the traces-mémoires du bagne’ with which this is associated. It detects—in a recent convergence of literary and heritage practices—a challenge to conventional accounts of the bagne and an openness to histories previously obscured.

20Lisa Katharina Grund

21Making Oneself at Home: the Grammar of Travelling among the Makushi in the Pakaraima Mountains, Guyanas

22For the Makushi, the most southern Pemon group of the Carib-speaking peoples of the Circum-Roraima region, movement is a key concept of making their worlds. This article is based on a journey Marcia and I undertook from Tipuru up North to Tusenen, the last mixed Makushi-Patamona community in the Pakaraima Mountains, Guyana. Travellers bring knowledge from outside back to the community, which is communicated via narratives about the surrounding worlds and thus transformed into a social experience. Our journey raised important aspects of knowledge and imagination when traversing human and non-human domains, social etiquettes when on the move, that will be unfolded in this article. It highlights how communication operates through the extension of kindred ties and commensality to tame the potential dangers of difference when facing the world outside.

23Kathleen Gyssels

24‘To an Unknown Soldier’: World War II in Guianese and Caribbean Poetry (Martin Carter, Leon Damas, Kamau Brathwaite)

25This article examines the wounds of World War II as expressed in the works of three West- Indian poets. Despite not having been on the frontline themselves, they speak on behalf of the soldiers of colour who fought, and often lost their lives, far away from their native lands. While the poetry of Léon Damas (French Guiana) and Martin Carter (Guiana) is relatively accessible, that of Kamau Brathwaite (Barbados) takes a more experimental approach. In Strange Fruit, for example, the latter places the traumas of the Second World War within the broader context of more recent man-made catastrophes (9/11). All three, however, are united in their desire to erect a monument in homage to the fallen African and Caribbean soldiers, something which was non-existent at the time of their publications.

26Natalie Hopkinson

27Beyond ‘Cats and Dogs’: A Critical Cultural Analysis of Guyana’s Mashramani Independence Celebration

28More than 50 years since Independence, Guyana continues to struggle with a legacy of cultural strife between the descendants of competing ethnic groups of sugar workers vying for power in the former British colony. Since ‘Mashramani,’ Guyana’s annual Independence celebration, was founded in the early 1970s, the cultural festival and parade has been deployed as a tool of various post-Independence regimes striving to establish a new, post-colonial cultural order. This essay examines the history and evolution of Mashramani (commonly referred to as ‘Mash’), analyzes the cultural landscape and experiences of Guyanese students, cultural workers, and everyday participants in the 2015 Mashramani festivities, weeks before a historic shift in political power took place. This essay is based on historic and ethnographic field research as well perspectives gleaned from a series of small-group discussions about cultural policy sponsored by the Interactivity Foundation in Georgetown in 2015. Mashramani festivities engage culture as a medium to unearth the ghosts of past political struggles, mark a site of resistance and a pivot point to move society in a new direction.

29Ateeka Khan

30East Indians, Religion, and Politics in British Guiana

31In twentieth-century Guyana (formerly British Guiana), an Indo-Guyanese ethnic identity developed that subsumed differences between religious groups and allowed South Asian migrants to survive the harshness of the indentureship period collectively (1838-1917). Yet this identity was interlayered and influenced by a South Asian attachment, a variety of global and local religious connections, the colonial context, and everyday concerns of survival, cultural expression, and political representation. Although East Indians are typically associated with the religion of Hinduism, Christian and Muslim East Indians contributed to the formation of this Indo-Guyanese identity through churches, mosques, and assistance with political struggles. Drawing on records of ethnic associations and religious groups, this paper argues that ethnic organizations and religious groups offered counter-colonial spaces that greatly contributed to the processes of nationalism and decolonization in British Guiana. However, I will also show that an unfortunate by-product of this ethnic identity was that it compounded the racialized setting created through colonialism and made inter-racial collaboration more difficult in the process of decolonization. Nonetheless, examining politics and ethnicity through religious and cultural spaces reveals the many instances of collaboration within these spaces in the first half of the twentieth century, a collaboration that will become less and less frequent in the political turmoil of the 1950s and onward.

32Sinah Theres Kloß

33Giving to Mother Ganga: Gift Exchange, Social Hierarchy and the Notion of Pollution in Transnational Guyanese Hindu Communities

34When Guyanese Hindus conduct Ganga Puja, saris or five yards of cloth are offered to the deity and are placed in running water. While this religious practice of offering clothing and food is common in Guyana, it is conceived as problematic in diasporic communities. For example in New York, Hindu ‘shore rituals’ such as Ganga Puja have undergone transformation as they are defined as ‘pollution’ in this new environment. U.S. authorities have implemented legal restrictions that prohibit the ‘disposal’ of offerings in water, as these are said to cause environmental problems. Consequently, all offerings have to be re-collected before going home. Such restrictions prohibit Hindus to conduct pujas in their traditional way, a frequently lamented aspect among Guyanese Hindus. This chapter discusses how the practice of Ganga Puja reveals notions of pollution and recycling, both in Guyana and in the diaspora. It highlights how the ‘disposal’ of garments in water during puja is conceptualized as a mode of gift exchange that creates merit and blessings for the giver, while the deity Ganga, who is said to reside in the water, receives these garments. In this process, social hierarchy is contested and negotiated.

35Michael Mitchell

36Wilson Harris: Magus of the Interior

37The article addresses critiques of Wilson Harris’s fiction that thematize its apparent ‘difficulty’, and argues that this is a consequence of Harris’s search for a new type of fiction, linking descriptions of living landscapes and human actions with technological, social, political and economic issues. Using close textual analysis, the article investigates Harris’s narrative techniques in detail, showing how in the progression of his novels certain constants can be observed while the methods are refined and perfected. In particular, conventional ideas of time and unitary forms of personality, as well as apparent binaries, are revised in a quest to discover the true nature of justice. Two works of theory throw further light on what Harris manages to achieve. Firstly, notions of metaphor developed by Paul Ricœur are shown to elucidate the crucial importance of metaphor to Harris’s project. Secondly, a comparison is drawn between Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizomatic fiction and Harris’s quantum fiction. In the light of these, the article shows how the landscape of the interior of Guyana becomes of crucial relevance to the history and cultures of exploited peoples but also to flaws and biases within what have been seen as dominating societies. The fiction is also revealed to be a mapping of the journey into the interior of the mind, the province of the shaman or the Magus.

© Presses universitaires de la Méditerranée, 2019

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