By RON FANFAIR
Two prominent Guyanese personalities passed away in the last week.
Author, literary critic, anthropologist and linguist, Dr. Ivan Van Sertima and renowned calypsonian, Monica Chopperfield (Lady Guymine), died in New York and Guyana respectively.
Van Sertima, 74, completed undergraduate studies in African languages and literature at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies where he graduated with honours in 1969. He produced an array of creative writing while in university and also became fluent in Swahili and Hungarian.
He worked for several years as a journalist in England and compiled a dictionary of Swahili terms before relocating to the United States where he accepted an offer to serve as a professor in the African Studies department at Rutgers University.
Van Sertima wrote a number of literary books including the bestseller, They Came Before Columbus, which received widespread acclaim for his theory of prehistoric African influences in Central and South America.
He founded the Journal of African Civilizations in 1979 through which he published numerous anthologies that celebrate the contributions of African people to the civilizations of the world.
In June 1987, he appeared before a United States Congressional committee to challenge the myth that Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas, and he defended his thesis in an address to the Smithsonian Institute four years later.
Van Sertima lectured several times in Canada, including here in Toronto, and was inducted into the Rutgers African-American Alumni Alliance Hall of Fame in 2004.
Lady Guymine made her entertainment debut as “Baby Monica” on a Zelda Martindale-produced show at the Olympic Cinema. After Martindale retired from show business, Lady Guymine joined the Sam Chase & Jack Mellow Company, establishing herself as a ballad singer.
The 76-year-old was also a member of the Syncopaters band before taking up calypso in 1966.
She has been recognized as one of the eminent calypsonians of the 20th century in the Caribbean.