Launching of THE ARTS JOURNAL VOL 1 NO 1
Georgetown Club, Georgetown, Guyana Ė 7th June 2004
Mr. Lloyd Searwar, Retired Career Diplomat, Guyana
I am a member, though not a very active one any more, of a group which was the first, I think I can confidently say, to promote the observance of the fifth of May and similar activities. That Committee was itself on offshoot of a wider Committee that had been established to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Arrival of Indians [to this country] and in the establishment of which my colleagues, Deryck Bernand, played an important part.
In that group, we attached the highest importance to publication and, as you might know, we reissued Ruhomonís History of East Indians in Guyana. We also published An Anthology of writings on the Indian theme that had been done in Guyana. IĎm telling you this because we had often discussed the possibility if producing a Journal. We didnít get that off the ground. So I was very interested to read in the Stabroek News about this Arts Journal. I am enthusiastic about it because this first issue deals with some of the concerns we have been discussing. I think it is remarkable forward step in the fostering on intellectual exchange in this society at a time when this is urgently needed.
I think that the editor has done a tremendous job. Getting contributors of high distinction together, getting them actually to send you a manuscript, getting it into type, proof-reading it, and then producing a Journal of this quality, and selling it, remarkably enough, at a reasonable price, is almost unbelievable. This, believe you me, is a heroic major contribution to the cultural and intellectual life of Guyana and it comes at a time when serious intellectual debate has almost disappeared from the society. Instead of debate we have denunciation; any different point view immediately leads to your identification with some partisan group. It was not like that long ago in the 1940s; we have a backward step, and let me say loudly and clearly, that we need to get back to a stage where can bring intellectual exchanges and debate into the centre of our lives as am important factor if we are really going to develop and move forward.
But let me try to put what the Editor of The Arts Journal has done in context. We had in Guyana a tradition of great Journals. I will deal with three: Timehri, Indian Opinion and Kyk-over-Al but I donít presume to suggest that these are only three great Journals that have influenced our society. Far from it Ė there are others; I think N.E. Cameron once produced a Journal but these are the three with which I am familiar though I cannot speak with authority on any of them. There are historians in this audience who know far more and can supply details.
Timehri was a Journal established by an expatriate group in Guyana. Its contributors were British administrators, planters, men of leisure, Anglican and Jesuit priests and scholarly people who came here to live. It was a kind of catch-all Journal Ėit covered a wide field including anthropology, sociology and history, everything, including even Jurisprudence. It went on for along time but it is a priceless document although it was contributed to mainly by this expatriate group and collapsed when the group began to recede and before a Guyanese professional scholarly elite began to emerge. It hasnít been possible to revive it although I think Vincent Roth tried, that great figure who should be honoured posthumously, and in recent times, a Mr. Hubbard from the University of Guyana tried. It has not been revived but it exists as a group of publications of the utmost importance in the intellectual history of Guyana. I donít know if there is a set in Guyana; I know there is a set in London. With modern technology it should be possible for the University to bring a complete set here so it could be available for research.
Now, the next one that I mentioned is Indian Opinion, and I must say straight off, I know let little about it; I was too young when this was emerging. I saw copies Ė I knew something of its contributors, the brothers Ruhomon were very important, and J.I. Ramphal wrote anonymously for it, but there is one person present here, Paul Persaud [famously known as Paul OíHara], who knows a great deal about it. Indian Opinion was an expression of the awakening of a certain section of the community in the 20s an 30s when it had achieved a certain measure of education and leisure and had begun to have aspirations. It was part of a wider social phenomenon, which included organizations such as The Young Menís Improvement Society and, very importantly, the B.G. Dramatic Society which produced a play annually. It was also a social institution where people met and exchanged ideas and tried to rediscover some of the Indian heritage which, at that stage, had been largely lost or forgotten. It is tragic that when I pass the J.B. Singh house I see it is very nearly falling to pieces and I hope that someday, something can be done about it; it is a heritage house. It was a source from which some of the main ideas that were to form an Indian renaissance began, and that itself is a task for the future.
The Journal I can speak of more confidently is Kyk-over-Al because I knew A.J. Seymour very well. Here was this young poet eking out an existence on a public servantí salary with an already large family, trying to establish Kyk-over-Al. It was an immense struggle for Seymour in which he was helped by very few people Ė he could get very little support from the business community or any other source, except for one person, Oscar Wight, who fancied himself as a Maecenas, a patron of the Arts, and was willing to print Kyk-over-Alwithout a deposit in the hope that Seymour would sell enough copies and, at some stage, could repay the Argosy Company. I donít need to belabour the point theKyk-over-Al was of major importance in our intellectual life.
The Arts Journal is a worthy successor in the traditional of these Journals that have played such important roles on shaping the Guyanese mind.