Slike stranica
PDF
ePub

themselves rightly say that they are just as much West Indians as are the Africans. It was possible, apart from the prayer-flags and the little mosques, to distinguish between an African and an Indian area of the road. In an Indian community there were always a few neat little houses painted white, with glazed windows, the houses of those who had managed to do well for themselves. There were fewer such houses in the African villages. Again, it was only in the African areas that reeling figures

[graphic]

Village houses on stilts

approached us from the rum-parlours with smiling faces and Creolese loquacity which unfortunately I could not understand.

Night came with tropical suddenness, and the filtered moonlight fell on the quiet waters of the Demerara at our side, candles were lit in the shanties and rows of dim, unlabelled bottles reflected light from hurricane lamps in the rumparlours. Then suddenly a factory chimney loomed up and the sour-sweet smell of fresh molasses was in the air. We had come to Plantation Diamond, one of the largest sugar-estates in the Colony. It was like a small town, dominated by the factory; the road was full of people, walking or on bicycles, all more smartly dressed than the bedraggled peasants of the outlying districts. The car slowed down to negotiate a pot-hole and a young

African in a spotless white shirt cried to his girl, ‘Gal, me say wi'out fada pravacation me and you is for d' pictures dis rainy night', and they walked over the muddied verge towards the cinema. There were many hovels on the plantation, but there were nearly as many trim little white-washed houses set in their patches of lawn. Opposite them, just visible beyond a high privet hedge stood a large stilted house in colonial style, the house of the plantation manager, the human centre of the whole community. The little houses, I noticed, were new; they were, in fact, part of the extensive scheme of rehousing begun by the Government and the Sugar Producers' Association.

Soon we had entered the suburbs of Georgetown, where the streets were crowded with people buying vegetables and fruit from the street market, or standing, laughing and talking in the dim light as they ate slices of plantain straight from pans of sizzling coconut oil. And so across the whitewashed town to my hotel on Main Street.

Here it was another world. The residents of the hotel sat quietly on the great verandah, some drinking together at little tables, others crumpling their white suits as they lay in Berbice1 chairs, chairs whose arms project so far that you can put your feet up on them. Now and then a sharp clap would disturb the air and a small East Indian waiter would appear to 'take an order'. I learnt in time that the most efficient way to attract a waiter's attention was with a handclap, but until the end of my stay I would poise my hands for the clap and then relax and wait patiently to catch the waiter's eye. I dined that night at the far end of the large dining room, far, far from those who had clapped most as to the manner born. Daisies decorated the tables at my end, cattleyas those at the other end. As one remained at the hotel so one was promoted from daisies through roses to the elysium of orchids. Once, for three delirious days, I found myself among the roses.

The night air of Georgetown is cool and moves with the unceasing north-east trade winds which temper the humidity and keep the coastlands at a mean temperature of 82 degrees. To walk in the streets at night is to feel intensely the luxury, the unreality of the tropics. The singing tree-frogs 1 Berbice is one of the five main rivers of the Colony.

chorus a shrill note more like birdsong than the brekekekex of untropical varieties, and crickets wheeze in the intervals, great sounds that seem to come from the throats of animals. Main Street is wide and divided by a central path (a filled-in canal) edged with grass on which grow saman and flamboyante trees (Pithecellobium saman Benth and Poinciana regia Biz); when the saman is ancient it has a gnarled, writhing beauty, the forms of its almost leafless branches visible like those of English trees in winter. There is something wraith-like about its form and the word 'saman' is the Ashanti for a spectre or an apparition. When the flamboyante flowers in April it is hung with huge blooms of vibrant red; until I saw it in flower I had thought the jacaranda the most beautiful of all trees, but the flamboyante is incomparable. Only one thing mars a walk along the central path of Main Street; the thought that if you were to walk on the grass a bête rouge would be certain to begin its long travel up your leg, to settle comfortably at the waist, where the constriction of the trousers prevents its going further. It is a minute insect which lodges beneath the skin and causes great irritation but dies almost immediately if its access to air is sealed up with a little grease. Its greatest disadvantage is that it makes the fine lawns of Georgetown houses places of torture if one stays too long on the grass.

Main Street is quiet at night; a few couples walking hand in hand down towards the Sea Wall, or groups sitting on a bench talking quietly together. But if you walk the hundred yards from Main Street to Water Street, which is parallel to it on the sea-front, you are in another world. The shops and offices of the copra and balata traders, the shipping agents and the import merchants are closed, but the rum shops on the corners are open, where the wireless blazes rumbas and mambos from Brazil and the Negroes buy each other ‘snaps' of rum and down them at a gulp, move their bodies to the rhythm of the music, laugh, tell each other stories and argue for hours on boxers' chances or the best men for the West Indies Test team-for there is hardly a man in British Guiana who is not passionately concerned in cricket. Or, perhaps, one man will tell his friends the history and details of how so-and-so was rude to him and 'aboosed' him; Negroes will not suffer abuse gladly. ‘It gi'e me great ease', says one man, 'to tell dat gal d' trut' 'bout hersel'.

Wha' fo' she come aboosin' me, me wi' me pappy dyin' and he soul to save, and me only sittin' tinkin' nutt'n. Misfo'tune mark out fo' all o' we, today me gi'e dat low colour gal her misfo'tune....' It is difficult to understand Creolese in full spate, but the occasional archaic beauty of language is plain enough. It is the language of the Bible, spoken without grammar but with a lyrical compression which makes each phrase tell. I was once stopped in the street in Georgetown by a fine old Negro, who held his head far back and said to me, 'Tell me sa', has yo' d'acquaintance o' d' lord Savage?'. I told him I had met the Governor once, and he went on, 'Sa', we has d' sweet and we has d' bitter in dis world, and dis day d' bitta he come, fo' me mind gi'e me to come to town wid news me village fo' d' lord Savage, but d' sojer at de gates him gi'e me no.' I asked him if I could give the Governor the news, and he looked at me piercingly and said, 'Is yo' den a lord, sa'?' I told him I was not and he drew himself up to his full height and said, 'What me has say must say to d' lord Savage hi'self.'

Creolese is called talkie-talkie by the Guianese, and among the younger generation it is a second language which is not used when talking to educated people. It began as a lingua franca for slaves, who normally had no common African language amongst themselves and so were forced to learn a primitive English. New slaves learnt talkie-talkie from the old ones and missionaries read them the Bible, whose cadences they remembered. The arrival of the East Indians introduced a new element, and in the country districts, where they predominate, you will hear a dialect quite different from that of Georgetown and (without practice) almost incomprehensible to the strange British ear. It is characterized by an abundance of vowel sounds. I was once asked to guess what the following vowel-laden sentence meant: 'Man, a kuma sittimba-mollebetta danna lalaway.' It was eventually translated for me as, 'Man, I come by steamer, more better than the railway.'

The Georgetown day begins early to catch the cooler morning air; shops and offices open at eight o'clock and by then the shopping streets are full. Breakfast, or 'tea' as it is called, is normally taken between six-thirty and seven o'clock with a leisurely reading of the three lively newspapers of the Colony, the Argosy, the Chronicle and the tabloid Graphic. By then

the singing of the tree-frogs has been replaced by the daylight song of Georgetown, the call of the kiskadee; there is not a moment of the day when one cannot hear the cry kis-ka-dee, kis-kis-ka-dee from the sulphur-yellow breasted shrike with its flat head and protuberant beak. It is about the size of a dove, its back a rich brown, its head black except for a band of white and a yellow crest which erects itself when the birds scramble for a piece of bread. It was given its name by early French settlers in the Colony, who called it the 'qu'est-ce que dit'. I have heard its cry even in the deepest Interior-but here it was long-drawn and dove-like, more haunting than the saucy cries of the town-bred birds. Less obtrusive is the little housewren or 'God-bird' as the local people call it, which hops onto window-sills, trilling cheerfully and without fear. Sometimes the owner of a jacket which has been hanging unused for some weeks will find a God-bird's nest in its pocket, and the wooden beams of Georgetown houses frequently provide a nesting place. But of all the town-birds of the Colony the most beautiful is the Blue Sacki, its body a silver-blue against the dark blue of its wings. Like all the coastal birds it is cheerful and friendly, but it doesn't join the gregarious meetings of the kiskadees, preferring to fly alone among the fruit trees of the gardens, nervously twitching as it pecks a ripe July-mango and makes its odd cry, which has been well described as like the sound of a cork being cut by a smooth knife. Some people in Georgetown keep Blue Sackis in cages, but in confinement the silver-blue fades and the dark blue becomes dull and lifeless.

When the sunlight is strong in Georgetown it is the most beautiful of towns, the brilliant whiteness of the wooden houses reflecting the sun and forming a dazzling background to the bougainvillea, morning-glory, the pink coraleta and, less commonly than one would wish, the superb poinsettia. Going south parallel to the river the Victorian colonial architecture, with its balconies in iron lace-work and decorated façades, ends where Main Street opens out into the Cathedral square. To the right are the excellent modern buildings of the museum, Bookers' Universal Store and the equally universal stores of Ferreira & Gomes. This modern area was built on the portion of the town which was burnt out in 1945 and it forms an odd contrast to the untouched Victorianism of the rest of George

« PrethodnaNastavi »