CARIFESTA IX (marking time)

Preserving our literary heritage

By Petamber Persaud
Guyana Chronicle

October 15, 2006

YES, there were some goodish things coming out of CARIFESTA IX. And I was fortunate to get hold of a few of those goodies.

Those few gems I’m referring to came out of a hole that was the location for the Book Fest. Despite the ill-advised location for a book fair, despite lack of proper publicity and despite the subsequent (very, very) poor attendance, I was happy with my acquisition of a few significant Guyanese books. This cache included one of the first novels written on Guyana (also tagged as ‘the first novel of Trinidad and Tobago’) and the first Guyanese novel written by a resident Guyanese, both books written by men associated with Trinidad and Tobago.


The novel, THOSE THAT BE IN BONDAGE, A Tale of Indian Indentures and Sunlit Western Waters, written by A. R. F. Webber was released in 1917, the year that saw the official abolition of immigrant labour from India to British Guiana. This novel was in the same vein as Edward Jenkins’ ‘Lutchmee and Dilloo’ published in 1877 describing the bittersweet experiences of East Indians in the colony of British Guiana, exposing many of the attendant ills of that slavery by another name.

And it falls into a significant category of Guyanese first novels, numbering four between 1877 and 1917 including `IN GUIANA WILD’ by James Rodway, 1899, and `GREEN MANSIONS’ by W. H. Hudson, 1904.

Webber was born on the island of Tobago on January 1, 1879. Some twenty years later, he came to live in Guyana at a crucial and exciting period of its history. In his own words, he described that era as not being ‘jejune or insipid’. He was a witness to many changes and innovations like the introduction of the electric tram service, the 1905 and 1924 riots, the end to East Indian Immigration, the first issue of $1 and $2 paper money, educational reforms, the great rice embargo, glory days of sugar and its greatest decline, and the ‘abrogation of the 1891 Constitution’.

His other books include `AN INNOCENT ABROAD’, `LIFE IN NEW YORK’, `GLINTS FROM AN ANVIL’ and his magnum opus, `CENTENARY HISTORY AND HANDBOOK OF BRITISH GUIANA’, 1931, published just before he died in Guyana while on duty travelling on a steamer to Bartica on the Essequibo River.


(This title bears sentimental value for me; over 30 years ago I gifted a copy as a love token.)

Edgar Mittelholzer ushered in the Guyanese novel writing tradition with the publication in 1941 of his first novel, `CORENTYNE THUNDER’, going on to nurture and support that tradition into the 1950s and 1960s with the publication of his seven other Guyanese novels which included his best-known work, The Kaywana Trilogy. He also made sterling contribution to the Caribbean literature, writing novels on Trinidad and Barbados – places where he lived after migrating from his homeland.

He succeeded in becoming the first professional novelist, living off his writing, coming out of Guyana and the Anglophone-Caribbean because of his do or die attitude by which he lived and by which he died. A philosophy that was linked to his Swiss-German ancestry and nurtured by his admiration for Wagner music, Teutonic values and the perfection of German culture. Some of these autobiographically features – a psychic split or psychic integration - were exhibited in his fiction to such an extent that ‘Mittleholzer’s life and literary career are probably more closely interrelated than is the case with most other writers’.

‘In 1965, he re-enacted the suicidal self-immolation of the principal male character in ‘THE JILKINGTON DRAMA’ (1965), his final work of “fiction”, published posthumously’.

In 1941, he left Guyana to join the Navy but was discharged the following year because he was like a fish out of water. After his discharge from the Navy, he returned to the Caribbean, setting up home in Trinidad, furthering and enhancing his career as a novelist with the publication in 1950 of ? MORNING AT THE OFFICE’.


This collection of the first four novels written by Wilson Harris, namely, `PALACE OF THE PEACOCK’, 1960, `THE FAR JOURNEY OF OUDIN’, 1961, `THE WHOLE ARMOUR’, 1962, and `THE SECRET LADDER’, 1963, was published in 1985.

Wilson Harris is the recipient of five honorary doctorates. In 1968, he obtained an Arts Council Grant, and in 1971, he was a Commonwealth Fellow in Caribbean Literature at Leeds University, UK. He held the revered position of writer-in-residence at many universities around the world including places like Australia, New York, Texas, Toronto and Cuba. In 1987, he won the inaugural Guyana Prize for Literature in the fiction category and in 2002 he was awarded the Guyana Prize Special Award. In 2003, the University of Warwick staged a conference in honour of Harris.

In 1970, he was part of the Convention of Caribbean Writers and Artists held in Guyana planning for what turned out to be the Caribbean Festival of Arts (Carifesta).


In 1969, Beryl Gilroy, the author of BLACK TEACHER, created history by becoming London’s first Black head teacher.

Writer and educator, she was born in Guyana in 1924, migrating to Britain in 1951 where she extended her role as writer and educator, authoring educational books for children to counter ‘Eurocentric books foisted upon children in order to set their places in the slurry at the base of the pyramid of achievement’ and her adult books were the ‘rewriting wrongs imposed on the black man by correcting the ills of historical misrepresentation’.

(Gilroy, Harris and Mittelholzer were born in Berbice, Guyana; the men were born in the same town of New Amsterdam.)

THE ONE: The Story of how the people of Guyana avenge the murder of their Pasero with help from Brother Anancy and Sister Buxton.

This book is Andrew Salkey’s response to the death of Walter Rodney.


This is a recent novel by Guyana-born-Canada-based Raywat Deonandan who won the Guyana Prize for Literature for best first book of fiction in 2000 with `SWEET LIKE SALTWATER’, a book Deonandan read from at one of the few poorly attended readings at the National Library, Port of Spain.

CARIFESTA IX staged in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, September 22 to October 1, 2006, was a faint semblance of what the Caribbean Festival of Arts ought to become some 34 years after its initial staging in Guyana, 1972.