THE RHYTHM OF SOCIETY AND LANDSCAPE (Mittelholzer, Carew, Williams, Dathorne)

Reading Time: 23 minutes

Marcus Garvcy had heard the independence of the colonies coming on the winds. Of the time of its com­ing he was not certain, but of its coming he was positive. And now indeed, after many years, indepen­dence has come to the Land of Guyana, a land which by its sweeping vastness and its wide expanses breeds freedom.  It is a holy land, purified by the blood of many peoples — Indian. Portuguese, Dutch and Negro and East Indian and Chinese — sanctified by a history of violence, as these peoples fought for possession of themselves and of the land. It is blessed with the power of vast rivers and waterfalls, of great savannahs and great forests, of landscape baked by the sun and cleansed by the winds.

 

Lands open
To sunshine and sky
And to the endless winds
Passing their eternal rounds.
Lands that hold in their bosom
Space like a benediction.
Lands smoky with their dreams
That drift across the world
Like memories of ancient beauty dimly recalled.
Lands full of the music of birds
Crying softly a vague and formless meditation.

[Wilson Harris, 1954. Kyk-Over-Al
Anthology of Guianese Poetry]

And indeed the land of Guyana, now gaining its independence after centuries of colonial domination, is wreathed in smoky dreams, but these dreams all spiral with hopes and fears, desires and deep responsi­bilities: the responsibilities of creating out of in­dependence a feeling of total freedom.  To all citizens go this responsibility, this task, but probably more so to the man of culture – the artist, the writer. He it is who must help to prepare the evolution to a good decolonization.

Notre devoir d’hommes de culture, notre double devoir est la il est de hater la decolonisation, et il est, au sein meme du present, de preparer la bonne decolonisa­tion sans sequelles [Cesaire, “L’homme de culture et ses rcsponsabilities” Presence Africaine, 1959]

Perhaps to allot the responsibility to the writer is to trespass on his individual creative genius. But the writers in the newly independent countries of the world are caught in the dynamic historical moment where the drama of freedom and independence, of societies and men, is being enacted. In this drama, the writer tries to unravel the enigma of paradox, stemming from the ambiguity of creative self and larger society. George Lamming gives the writer grave responsibility:

You’re a public victim. You’re articu­late not only for yourself, but thousands who will never see you in person, but who will know you because the printed page is public property. And if you betray your­self, you can betray thousands too. To be trivial, dishonest, or irresponsible is to be criminal. (George Lamming, 1956. The Emigrants: 101-102)

Those who seek freedom will be free, but in a post-colonial society, only by their own endeavours, for independence in the post-colonial world often seems but nominal. This is so because erstwhile metropolitan governments control so many facets of the economic life and have left so many residual elements in the social life and in men’s thinking.

It is by his own effort that Guyana’s most prolific writer, Edgar Mittelholzer. tended to free himself from the residual colonial order in which he grew up, for he depicted the foibles of the hierarchy of the colonial society, its follies and absurdities. By impres­sionistic word paintings, he captured too the landscape of Guyana, animating it, revealing its psychic shiverings and murmurings. He reconstructed, too. in vast novelistic sweeps, the historical panorama of Guyana; its settlement by Dutch and English, the violence of plantation life and servitude, the bankruptcy of morality of the early times of Guyana, where fire-blood was respected or feared, and weakness shunned. Jan Carew. another writer of Guyana, catches the secret rhythms of his land — the pull and resonance of its villages, of its coastlands. of its forests — as he does so, capturing many of the overtones of colonial times. The two most recent writers of Guyana, O. R. Dathorne and Denis Williams, range far afield from their land and seek to define the fundamental Guyanese-self by making their characters return in time to the continent of Africa. There, as they seek individual freedom, examining their ties with the continent of Africa, these characters — perhaps the writers themselves — under­go a “prise de conscience“, a “prise de soi“.