His Excellency Brigadier David Granger: Always expect the unexpected. Thank you, sister Penda. First of all, let me apologize for the apparent change in arrangements. I, as you know twenty-four hours ago I was in the Bahamas and I wasn’t sure I would be back in time, so I asked my office to tell Sister Penda regretfully, that I was unlikely to make it and I asked the Prime Minister to attend in my place which he did.
But having come back, I asked once again that contact be made that I will try to come here; there is another engagement that I have to go to so I will leave directly after my presentation but today is a very special day and I tried very hard to be here for several reasons- not only is it the celebration of Ghana Day but it is the 60th anniversary; the Diamond Jubilee of Ghana’s independence.
They became independent in March 1957, so this is special. It is also special for my own party; my own party was established in 1957 and this is our party’s 60th anniversary as well, so that is double reason for me to want to be here today and later on we have to go across the river because we have to observe the abolition of Indian indentureship and that ended in 1917.
So this is the centenary of the abolition and for the Indian Guyanese abolition is as important as emancipation is to African Guyanese.
I am happy to be here again, I was with the Ghana Day Organisation from its earliest days. I think Sister Penda will tell you when we started meeting at the television station HGPTV along Mandela Avenue and I’m very glad that it has grown into a major organisation and I would like to congratulate her and Rudy, Dr. Rudy Guyan for keeping this organisation going.
People have established many organisations in Guyana but the survival rate is very low so I think that both Sister Penda and Brother Rudy need to be congratulated for their effort in maintaining this vibrant organisation.
Let me say that Ghana holds a special place in my heart; in the heart of Guyanese, in the heart of many Africans and people all around the world. As I said in my earlier presentation when the GDO was established I have a very clear memory; I was twelve years old at the time I was born in 1945 I don’t hide my age and we had then an organisation called the League of Coloured People-LCP which had its headquarters in Third Street in Albertown and on that day there was a big celebration in Guyana and I think that Penda and Rudy tried to recapture the magic of that celebration.
Let me tell you what happened- it was the same year as I said, the PNC was established and on that day three women: Mrs. Burnham, the wife of the founder of our party; Mrs. Latchmansingh, the wife of JP Latchmansingh and that is the person you see by the doorway; Joseph Latchmansingh and Jessi Burnham- the sister Forbes Burnham had three flags and they planted three flags on Bourda Green now many of you don’t know what Bourda Green is because if you look at Bourda now there is nothing green there.
But let me tell you, that was a whole grassland; it was like a savannah and those three women Mrs. Burnham planted the flag of Ghana; Mrs. Latchmansingh planted the flag of India and Jessi Burnham had the union flag after that they walked from Bourda Green to Malteenoes so that is how we celebrated our first Ghana Day in Guyana before we actually became independent and I say that because it is significant for us to realise and to remember that this party, that I lead – the People’s National Congress was founded not as an African party but as a multi-ethnic party.
And we recognise the role that Joseph Latchmansingh played and his wife played and the role that Forbes Burnham played and his wife played in establishing this multi-ethnic party and today we celebrating not only Ghana Day but we are also celebrating the abolition of indentureship.
So I’m very, very proud to be here; I insisted on saying a few words not only to congratulate Sister Penda and Brother Rudy but also to mark the significant event in our history. Why is Ghana Day important? It is important for several reasons- number one) it celebrates the occasion on which the first British colony in Sub-Saharan Africa became free that is what used to be called the Gold Coast.
The Gold Coast was named so because it was the place for which Britain extracted gold more than anywhere else and after independence or at the time of independence the first leader- Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah changed the name from the Gold Coast to Ghana. Ghana was the name of an old African empire, not where Ghana is today, but it was an African empire in what you call the Saharan that is the area between the forested region and the desert.
So we know in Guyana that many people of African origin came from what is now known as Ghana. Many of our heroes had names which related to Ghanaian Day names and those names are important and I asked before and I’ll ask again, that we remember that the Akan people do not have a letter c- there is no letter C. So there is no name like Cuffy; it is Kofi and I think to be authentic we should realise that there are no c’s and there are no q’s.
So what we call Quamina- Qua is Kwa; they have a k- Kwa but in any event most of the Akan people adhere to what we call the day names and those born on Sunday that is today would be Kwesi/Kwasi.
Those born on Monday would be Kujo. Those born on Tuesday would be Kuamina. Those born on Wednesday would be Kwaku. Those born on Thursday would be Yao those born on Friday would be Kofi and those born on Saturday would be Kwame and that is why we know that Kwame Nkrumah was born on a Saturday. You don’t give people names after heroes; you give them names after the day on which they were born and the anecdote I want to tell you is this because my daughter’s name is Afuwa because she was born on a Friday and she went to Jamaica to study and during her studies she visited a Maroon settlement and the leader of that Maroon settlement was a woman and the woman’s name was Afuwa.
So from that moment Afuwa Granger and Afuwa the Jamaican Maroon became friends because they said, we are sisters, we are one; we were born on the same day. That was the first story, the second story is that many people living in Ghana thought the English were named Kwesi because on your day, the day you were born you were supposed to worship God because it was your day- that day links you to earth; it links you to the cosmos.
You don’t just give a person a name because it sound nice; you have to give a person a name because it links you to mother earth and when the Akan people saw the English going to worship on Sunday they say, oh it’s their day of worship- they name Kwesi. So it shows you how important the name is that people don’t fool around with their name because that name links you to earth and if you lose your bond with the earth, well you done for.
So when we look around Guyana today we see many of the retentions that came with us from ancient Gold Coast and what we now know as the Ashanti Empire was established by a great leader called Osei Kofi Tutu over three hundred years ago and he it was who was the Priest Komfo and it think we get that name from the name of that priest called Okomfo and the two of them represented you can call it- the spiritual and temple church and state and those two were responsible for founding the Ashanti Empire which of course resisted the British.
But we have been able to retain many of those traditions of the Gold Coast and that is why it is so important that we celebrate the Ghana Day because in a way we are celebrating our own heritage. Now, what have we kept? We have kept our names. The name of our national hero is Kofi which people misspell as Cuffy. We still have beliefs in Komfo; as I said, Komfo comes from the name of the priest who is the co-founder of the Ashanti Empire Okomfo. We still have various rites of passage that we recognize when a child is born- the ritual concerning his or her navel string.
We still have markets and the markets are very prominent in West Africa to this time. We still have many of the foods that our forefathers used and if you go to Ghana and you ask for konki you will get something that you recognise wrapped in a banana leaf made with corn meal. If you ask for fufu you will get pounded plantain and if you ask for met-em-gee you will get met-em-gee: vegetables cooked together with meat.
These are authentic names- not met-a-gee: met-em-gee. So these are not names we invented; we didn’t invent the fufu. So sometimes we speak about birds, fowls- Sensei fowl, speak about old people having cocobaet: cocobaet is leprosy, leprosy is when you lose the control of your fingers and its cocobaet and there is a large number of names that we have retained unchanged over three hundred years.
Many of the herbal medicines that we use are taken from Ghana; what is now Ghana. Our music, our famous drummers, played music on their drums similar to that- they use to call them the corybantic drums, but when we became better educated we realized that there was no such nation as corybantic, the actual nation is the Akan nation- they speak a language called Twi, but corybantic was the station on the coast where people who were captured were brought to the new world and of course much more important is our love of mothers and that’s why I’m so glad to see so many women here today and I hope that each one of you have got a little button. No buttons? Oh, okay.
Now the thing about women, the thing about women which is very, very important- because among the Akan people lineage is not traced through the father, it is traced through the mother. So in fact your mother’s brother is more important to you than your father because your mother’s brother has your mother’s genes. Your father doesn’t have your mother genes, he is outside, he belongs to a different clan and that is why matrifocality is so important that your mother is sacred.
And a week ago when I was at the AME Church- the African Methodist Episcopal Church I told them women are sacred. Do not abuse women, do not disrespect women and that is something that you will understand from David Granger; from the first time, for the first time in Guyanese history I have created the first three female Senior Councils and last week I created two acting appointments- they are not permanent appointments; they are just acting appointments.
We now have for the first time in our history an acting chancellor who is a woman and acting Chief Justice who is a woman for the first time and last year among the persons who got the Golden Arrow of Achievement fifty percent were women. When we talk about equality, I mean equality.
So the matrifocality is important and this is something we need to reinject in Guyanese society that motherhood is not something to play around with- some sweet ‘lil’ boy coming to ‘mek’ some ‘lil’ girl pregnant. No, motherhood is sacred because that mother transmits her education and her love and her values, her care, her affection and her compassion to her sons and daughters and if we abuse women, we abuse generations to come and that is why the Akan concept- the concept that is still valued in Ghana of matrifocality; respect for the mother tracing your lineage through your mother is so important.
And there are many other things we can speak about like Anansi. Many people don’t understand Anansi and I was surprised to go to a certain village a little while ago and people talking about ‘Nansi Story’ they believe ‘Nansi Story’ is a falsehood. They believe ‘Nansi Story’ is something that you make up but ‘Nansi Story’ came all the way from Ghana and it told the story of the weakest insect that was the smartest. It told the story of how a small, weak creature could be more powerful than snakes, eagles or lions.
It told the story of how an intelligent being could be superior to a huge but unintelligent being and that is the story on Anansi and I hope the that Ghana Day Organisation-GDO would recapture the spirit of Anansi because the ‘Nansi Story’ is not farfetched and you know, tales and legends; it is the story of how small, weak creatures could overcome large ignorant animals and we need to recapture the authentic Anansi stories if we are to understand what we believe the significance of our culture is.
So all of these things rush to my mind as I come here; today many people do not understand the significance of this event and I am very happy that we should continue this tradition, many people do not understand what Akan society was about they feel by crossing the water all of those traditions were erased but they were never erased from the mind of their foreparents. For one, Akan society under the Ashanti Empire, the Ashanti right now is just about forty-seven or forty-eight percent of the Ghana population.
So the whole of Ghana is not made up of Akan people, they’re just about forty-seven, just under fifty percent of the population but more or less, every single year they had a festival called Good Year Festival and that was a major festival for all of the Akan and you had to, you were obliged to attend that festival if you were a chief.
Among the Akan you had to surrender the right to declare war on one another, something we still have to learn in Guyana. Sometimes as soon as a man becomes President you have to declare war on that President, he ain’t know what he doing! but among the Akan people you have to start by declaring that you are not going to make war on one another.
The third thing they had to do was when there was a war; every clan had to supply contingents to the Ashanti Army. That was another obligation- an obligation of military service. There was one capital and that capital was in Kumasi and of course there was a very strong economy and that economy was based first of all on gold mining and that is why up to now gold is so important, not only among the Akan people but their descendants here in Guyana and that is why I don’t know if it’s happening now but there was a tradition where if a child is born the child receives a gift of gold.
There was also a tradition of agriculture and I keep reminding people in Guyana that after emancipation, the villages which were established, the Bagotville and the Hope Town and the Victoria and Two Friends and Ann’s Grove and the Queenstown, they were based on agriculture, on farming, because after emancipation the Africans had to feed themselves. They couldn’t go to Mattai, they couldn’t go to Survival; they couldn’t go to Nigel’s.
They had to feed themselves and anyone who is my age can tell you that there was nothing in that village that you needed on a day to day basis that the village didn’t produce but many of those villages, I think there is one very famous village; I don’t want to make a mistake. It was seven kilometres deep, so every family had a farm because you had to feed yourself. So you didn’t just get a house lot, nowadays Guyanese are obsessed with house lot; every family got two portions- a farming portion and a living portion, where he produced his food and where he lived with his wife, one wife.
Ghanaian society was also based on craft, on pottery. It was based on trade, it was based on manufacturing. So these were vibrant societies with taxation. Don’t let VAT get you down. There was taxation, because taxation is there to sustain the state and to sustain the army. So it was under Osei Kofi Tutu the leader of the Asante Confederation and his Priest Okomfo Anokye that the Ashanti Kingdom was established and it started to expand.
So we have a lot to be proud of and I asked that The Ghana Day Organisation pay particular attention to the heroes of Ghana, the heroes and heroines of Ghana because it would help us to understand ourselves. It would help us to understand ourselves; it would help us to understand why we speak a certain way, why we have certain types of relationships and why we have this sort of inner strength and inner enlightenment that we enjoy.
Now, when we speak about Kwame Nkrumah, we speak of a leader who up to now is very controversial, very, very controversial but I want to say certain things about him. He was a visionary and although he only served for nine years from 1957-1966, he saw beyond the borders of the state that he had helped to create- Ghana. He saw Pan-African Unity and he reached out across the sea, even to what was then British Guiana.
In fact in 1964 when we had certain difficulties he actually sent an envoy, Alex Kwesi Saki To attempt to resolve the differences between some political parties we had here but he understood the need for freedom, not only in one country but in the countries that had been colonised by Britain and he, I would say, helped to make us free because he helped to inspire our own founding leader, Forbes Burnham to seek independence and to work within the community of the Caribbean and that is one of the reasons why I was in Bahamas a little while ago, furthering the work of Forbes Burnham who signed the agreement establishing the Caribbean Community forty- four years ago in Chaguaramas in Trinidad.
So Ghana Day is important to us. One, because many of us are descended from Akan people, what you call the Ashanti people. Many of the words we use, many of the cultural retentions we still practice are inherited from the Akan people; our love for our mothers again is retention from what we grew up with and what we learned from history.
Our desire for freedom and independence; the fact that when the Europeans attempted to enslave us. Some of the greatest fighters for freedom were people of Akan descent, Kofi was Akan, and Kwamina was Akan. I just told you their names are bonafide 100% Akan names.
So these are some of the reasons why we celebrate Ghana Day today, but I must ask that we do much more research into Guyanese history, we do much more research into Akan history and the history of modern Ghana and we look for the linkages between Guyana and Ghana and I think this educational experience will help us to understand ourselves better.
It will help us to band together, not to hate other people but it will give us strength in order to achieve the objectives of our society. So sometimes you see people running off the rails- it is because sometimes they have abandoned the practices of their ancestors.
When our ancestors came off the plantations a hundred and seventy-eight years ago, they established villages which were resting like houses on four pillars, just like this state rests on four pillars, just like this building rests on four pillars. And those four pillars I said before and I want to repeat, first of all, was the home. They did not have homes on the plantations; they lived in hovels, wretched places. They had to go in the bush and cut bush wood. They didn’t live in logis. When the indentured immigrants came they were given logis but the enslaved Africans didn’t live in logies and they didn’t have colourful petticoats and head ties.
It was rough going and they found it necessary as soon as they got their freedom to build homes for their families. Even persons who had been taken to plantations in Wakenaam and Parika and elsewhere once 1st of August came in 1838 they started to walk back from wherever they were to where they left their womenfolk and their children to bring their family together. That is what emancipation meant reestablishing the family home and that is why today Guyanese particularly Guyanese men must understand that the home is a sacred place: one man, one wife, one home. Somebody say amen; thank you- the home.
The second thing that they did was establish the churches, and in this regard I always pay tribute to the Congregational Church because the Congregational Church stood with the African people even before the time of emancipation. Kwamina was a member of what was called the Society of which the Congregational Church is part.
If you go to Light Street right now, go in Light Street, Albertown, the name of the headquarters of the Congregational Church is Kwamina House and the church is essential to the solidarity of the African Guyanese community, any community. The Hindu mandir is essential to the solidarity of the Hindus, and the masjid is essential in the solidarity of the Muslim Islamic community, and the church is vital to the solidarity of the African Guyanese community. This is not racism, this is spirituality.
The third pillar on which the villages were built was the school because the Africans recognized from the start that you had to go to school; children had to get ‘lil’ learning and it hurts my heart that even now, every single year- three, four thousand children are dropping out of primary and secondary school. We have to get children back in school regardless of the cost and you know my wife and I have started this program of providing boats in riverain areas, of providing buses, of providing bicycles. These are not decoration; these are to get children to go to school.
I know from my own campaign that many children don’t go to school because they can’t afford to go to school. Well, I am trying to beg for buses and beg for bicycles. Two nights ago I was in the Bahamas and I thanked the Bahamas diaspora and let me make it clear, I like the diaspora. People think I hate them and at war with the diaspora but how could I be at war with myself. Anyhow, these buses, these boats, these bicycles are for children to go to school and to stay in school, and if I have any surplus funds it will be for encouraging children to study science, study mathematics, study English.
So those are three pillars and the fourth pillar I mentioned before is the pillar of the family because our forefathers could only survive by that four letter word- W-o-r-k, work. Some people think they could survive without work. Some young men, you go up and ask them where do you work? Why aren’t you working? Now, working doesn’t mean getting a job in the army or the police force or in the public service. Work could mean going in the backdam, growing guavas, making guava jam and guava jelly and guava cheese. Work can mean going in the backdam and producing cassava.
Two weeks ago the Heads of Government of the Commonwealth Caribbean came here and what did I give them for lunch? Breadfruit, cassava, sweet potato, plantain; I don’t make joke. Don’t worry, it’s just potato topped off with cheese and not macaroni and cheese and all those types of things.
Breadfruit coming your way but what I did is to show present day Guyanese that this is what is taking place a hundred and sixty, a hundred and seventy years ago. We were eating what we produced and we were living longer. We were living longer.
So we need to go back to the land and even those who don’t go back to the land, let us get into manufacturing, let us get into packaging, let us get into bottling- let us get into exporting. If your village doesn’t sell something that village is going to perish sooner or later.
You have to sell stuff, that village has to become a marketplace. When you walk through a village you must hear factories whirring. You must see canter trucks bringing and carrying cargo but sometimes you go in a village and it’s just a dormitory- Six o’clock in the morning everybody gone to the public road catching minibus to come to town. You go by Parfait Harmonie and everybody, the bridge block up, everybody coming to town to do lil wuk and the villages are empty but the people who produce and sell will always be superior to the people consume and buy. Somebody say amen!
My brothers and sisters that is my Ghana Day message to you; that is what I have come here to tell you today, sixtieth anniversary of independence of Ghana, to tell you that there is a deep message in that country not what happened sixty years ago necessarily under Kwame Nkrumah but what is happening today and what we need to do in Guyana to ensure that those traditions of our forefathers are continued and those traditions help to give our children the good life that they struggled for and that they deserve.
Thank you very much and may God bless the Ghana Day Organisation.