By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)
This is the dark time, my love,
All round the land brown beetles crawl about
The shining sun is hidden in the sky
Red flowers bend their heads in awful sorrow
This is the dark time, my love,
It is the season of oppression, dark metal, and tears.
It is the festival of guns, the carnival of misery
Everywhere the faces of men are strained and anxious
Who comes walking in the dark night time?
Whose boot of steel tramps down the slender grass
It is the man of death, my love, the stranger invader
Watching you sleep and aiming at your dream.
From Poems of Resistance from British Guiana by Guyanese poet Martin Wylde Carter (7 June 1927 – 13 December 1997) published in 1954.
On July 18, the people of Linden, Guyana were plunged into a nightmarish situation, reminiscent of Martin Carter’s poem Three Guyanese men (Shemroy Bouyea 18, Allan Lewis 46 and Ron Somerset 18) taking part in a peaceful protest were killed and 20 men and women wounded by police. Carter’s words “It is the season of oppression, dark metal, and tears. It is the festival of guns, the carnival of misery. Everywhere the faces of men are strained and anxious” seem eerily apt in describing the situation that Lindeners face today in the 21st century in an independent Guyana.
When Carter penned those famous words he was describing a Guyana under the yoke of colonial Britain, pre-independence. Carter and other Guyanese urged/agitated for Guyana’s (then British Guiana) independence from Great Britain and he was imprisoned by the colonial government. During his incarceration in 1953 he wrote “Poems of Resistance” which was published in 1954 and included “This is the dark time, my love”.
In that poem Carter refers to “the man of death who comes walking in the dark night time, whose boot of steel tramps down the slender grass” and this “man of death” is a “stranger invader, watching you sleep and aiming at your dream”.
The “stranger invader” were the soldiers sent to Guyana by the British government to restore “law and order” while in reality they were there to silence the Guyanese who were demanding independence from the colonial British overlords.
The British government was really concerned that the descendants of enslaved Africans and indentured Asians were elected to form a government. Alarmed that their colony would be governed by racialized people, the British invaded the country and the rest is history.
In the case of Linden on July 18, almost three weeks ago the man of death was not a stranger invader but instead Guyanese police, and the government is not a colonial government but Guyanese men and women. During his incarceration in 1953, Carter also wrote “I Clench My Fist” describing the resistance to the “stranger invader”.
You come in warships terrible with death
I know your hands are red with Korean blood
I know your finger trembles on a trigger
And yet I curse you – Stranger khaki clad.
British soldier, man in khaki
careful how you walk
My dead ancestor Accabreh
is groaning in his grave
At night he wakes and watches
with fire in his eyes
Because you march upon his breast
and stamp upon his heart.
Although you come in thousands from the sea
Although you walk like locusts in the street
Although you point your gun straight at my heart
I clench my fist above my head; I sing my song of Freedom!
On July 18, the people of Linden did not have to fear an invasion of foreigners from across the sea, they were brutalized, traumatized and killed by fellow Guyanese armed with guns wearing the state police uniforms carrying out orders from people who are now refusing to take responsibility. Instead, the government, in a shameful effort to shirk responsibility which is ultimately theirs, has tried to shift blame to other political parties.
In an official statement, the government blamed the opposition parties for the situation in Linden.
Some members of the Linden community have been very vocal in expressing their opinion that the government is penalizing the community for overwhelmingly supporting the opposition, A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and Alliance For Change (AFC) during the 2011 November elections.
At a candle-light vigil at Queens Park in Toronto on Saturday July 28, Dr. Alissa Trotz, professor of Caribbean Studies and Women and Gender Studies at the University of Toronto, shed some light on the reason for the July 18 protest (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CaxT8RvKwf0). Professor Trotz informed the group of about 100 people that on 18 July police opened fire on unarmed Guyanese holding a peaceful protest in Linden (protesting 800 per cent increases in the cost of electricity to the community) killing three people and injuring 20. We also learned from Trotz that a Chinese multinational company has been given the right to set the electricity rate for Linden residents. Bosai Minerals Group (Guyana) Inc is a private company from China which has taken over the bauxite mining industry in Demerara, Guyana which was once the purview of the American bauxite giant, Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa) and the Demerara Bauxite Company (DEMBA) owned by ALCAN (of Canada), a subsidiary of ALCOA.
Trotz, who works closely with Red Thread Women’s Development Organisation in Guyana, is privy to information that many of us at the candle-light vigil were hearing for the first time and urged support for the beleaguered people of Linden who are suffering 70 per cent unemployment in the community. She reminded us that the last time Guyanese had been killed by police was at the Enmore sugar estate on June 16, 1948 and recognized that the Linden Martyrs were killed just one month after a commemoration of the Enmore Martyrs. As happened in 1948 after the colonial government sanctioned the killing of Guyanese workers by the police force, this government is attempting to rationalize the murders. The government and police are fudging the facts which include police use of live rounds and not rubber bullets as had been claimed.
At the funeral for the fallen Guyanese of Linden which was held on August 1 (Emancipation Day), prominent Guyanese lawyer Nigel Hughes (recently elected Chairman of AFC) reportedly said: “I will make one pledge; I pledge to you that this event will not pass unnoticed and I say to you, no justice no peace.”
Not to be outdone, the leader of the Guyana opposition party in government, David Granger, reportedly pledged: “We, the PNC/R, will build a monument (at the Wismar shore). This will be the mark where police brutality will stop. I was here and I saw the wounds on the bodies and I knew from my own military experience that it was deliberate and murder.
“We will continue until you get what you deserve. We will not relent; we will not give up. We are working with civil society and your leaders… those who will refine humanity and refine the dignity of Linden. The struggle of the martyrs will not be in vain.”
The people of Buxton got a jump start on that idea and have already built a monument to honour the more than 450 Guyanese (including the Linden Martyrs) who have been killed by police since 1992. On Friday, August 3, the monument was unveiled in Buxton and the dedication was attended by politicians including opposition leader Granger who reportedly promised: “The day for one party ruling, the day for murders without commissions of inquiry, without inquest, came to an end on November 28, 2011 and there will be a commission of inquiry into every single death on this East Coast.”
Dr. David Hinds of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) reportedly also condemned the government.
A monument to freedom fighters located in Buxton is very appropriate. Buxton, which is one of the earliest villages established by Africans who united after slavery was abolished, pooled their money and bought an abandoned plantation on the east coast of Demerara, is famous in Guyana’s history for the fearlessness of its people who stood up to the colonial British government in the 1840s.