NATIONAL DAY OF VILLAGES
Minister of Public Works [Mr. Benn]: First off I would like to commend the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. Member Brigadier (Ret’d) Granger, for bringing this motion which is stimulating the kind of discussion and introspection and the question of recognising, overall and general, the contribution of the villages, the stimulation of the village movement on the coast, the role it has played in the development of our country and to pay some attention as to how we bring some recognition in relation to the part villages in Guyana have played in developing social, political and cultural life.
I am a descendant of persons in Victoria who were involved in the purchase of the village. I believe that there is still a street in Victoria that is named after Benn – Benn Street. As little children, my father took us, we were taken to an ole mama, almost blinded, and she took out an old chest and showed us the transport in which the property was still written in the name of Benn and was later inherited by the Jacksons, the famous policeman - well famous to some - Stonewall Jackson being a relative of hers and whose family inherited that property. His son Gustav Jackson also became a geologist later, as I did, and worked in Guyana.
I just heard the Hon. Member Mr. Basil Williams referred to Victoria as the mother of all villages as the title of the book written by the Hon. Member David Granger. I have to say that it is conflicting to some extent for me, this question about Victoria being the mother of all villages. The Hon. Member and the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport did speak to the presence of other villages before Victoria, particularly African villages in context. I also have, in my vein, some Amerindian blood. While we make the necessary emotional and other issues in respect of slavery and indentureship, too, I want us never to forget that before we came here to Guyana there were a people who were almost exterminated in Guyana - an Amerindian people who were driven off of the coast; who were taken as slaves; who were hunted to extermination and who had villages; who lived in villages. The Hon. Member spoke about they mounted for thousands of years along the coast. In the interior, we know from the reports of Schomburg and the drawings, and so on, that they made, which are in the museum and other places, of their heritage, their practices, their experiences which they had; a culture which was driven almost to extinction. That is a history of our America, both North and South, it is that the people before us were almost exterminated. I have to pay recognition to that part of blood that is in me which is also Amerindian. It comes from up the Demerara River.
I have, really, to say - I may also say to some of those who are laughing too - that I have some Portuguese in me. My mother reminds me that if my father had not married to her my name would have been Dos Santos. I am telling you. The Robertson Commission in its examination, speaking of the Guyanese people, speaks about a congeries of races, and so I am a representative basically, of that congeries, even though Members might see me first and foremost as an African Guyanese or mostly as African Guyanese.
For someone who has lived and worked in the country, for someone who has understanding of the various people who make up our people, I think that it is important that we recognise, even while we recognise and we want to exalt those who came after, the contributions of Victoria and the other villages, while we do the stamp and the commemorative coin, and so on, that it may be more appropriate to find a mechanism which celebrates village life at centres in Guyana, including all of the races and persons in a way, similarly, as it is done in Trinidad.
In Trinidad there is a week, just before carnival time, where people from the various villages, including the Spanish-Amerindian mixed villages, including the French mixed villages, including the African villages, including the Indian villages, come by the savannah and they display and they compete and they mingle and show each other about their culture. It has that experience. I believe that is the way we ought to do it. I am not denigrating and I could not cast down the contributions of Victoria or the spectacular rise of villages on the coast as result of the African village movement, which went in later to the Indian and others, but I am saying that I believe that is the best way that we ought to deal with this problem.
I say again, we cannot take a position in this House to approach an issue, such as this, where we continue to treat and give an appearance as though our Amerindian people are an invisible people.
I am glad when I heard the Hon. Member Mr. Hamilton spoke to certain particular issues with respect to the cultural and social life of the villages - why we need to have a new emancipation, new stimulus, a new renaissance perhaps. I think a good off take may be an examination of this book, in particular, in relation to, as he suggested, the respect of the African villages. We have a good basis in the descriptions directly of Mr. Raymond Smith, The Negro Family in British Guiana. I think our historians here in the House, and otherwise, are familiar with this book, and maybe a rereading of this book... Also I have another book here by W.E.B Dubois, the Philadelphian Negro, a social study in relation to the problematic of the post slavery societies in America, in Guyana and there are also studies in Trinidad and Jamaica which will help us to deal with the particular problematic that he spoke to.
I want to repeat that it is not useful, I believe, for us to approach this matter, which may turn out to be divisive in a backhanded way, not intentionally, of course.
It may be useful, as heard Mr. Nagamootoo said that perhaps a Special Select Committee may be - we have the time - an area where we can examine the matter in some detail have, a frank discussion about it, find the best approach in respect of stimulating the kind of interaction, perhaps like there is in Trinidad and Tobago, to find the best way to celebrate all Guyanese villages, all together, and to celebrate the Guyanese humanity which encapsulates all the people who we found here, who we come and met here, who have come together to make up the races, this congeries of races, as it is said in the Robertson Commission Report, that makes up the Guyanese people. I think that is the best way we need to approach this matter. I am happy with the other ways that we are exploring and understanding better this problematic… and this issue of how we have come to be, and how we have come together, and how we have come to live in the villages, as Hon. Member Nagamootoo also wonderfully expressed.
With that, again, I think that we need to examine the matter in a Special Select Committee, but we need, of course, to celebrate the particular elements, the particular areas, the particular activities and experience, the stamps we could have, the coins we could have, and so on, but we need to have a holistic approach to dealing with this problem with this activity, with this celebration which we need to have.
I thank you Mr. Speaker. [Applause]