Guyana through the eyes of Henry Blofeld in the 1980’s
Guyana through the eyes of Henry Blofeld in the 1980s – I found Guyana the most fascinating of all the countries which form the cricketing West Indies. It is the West Indies at the same time as South America. In Georgetown, a Dutch colonial city, the atmosphere of the islands is strong, but just a mile outside, it becomes a big country.
The Demerara River, nearly a mile across more than twenty miles from the mouth, glistens through the trees on the left of the road on the drive from the airport, Atkinson Field, to Georgetown. In the mouth of the Essequibo which is twenty miles across there is an island as big as Barbados.
The Kaieteur falls in the interior have a sheer drop of 743 feet and are the tallest in the world. The cathedral in Georgetown is the tallest wooden building in the world and the sea is a dirty brown color. At first, Georgetown is like so many old colonial cities. The outskirts seem over-populated, the living conditions squalid and there are other obvious signs of poverty, but nearer the middle, it gets better.
The most noticeable difference between Georgetown and the other West Indian cities I saw was the Dutch influence. It was obvious in the architecture even down to the recently built wooden houses in the poor areas, and also in the layout of the city.
In the more prosperous parts, the houses were set back further from the road, there was plenty of vegetation and several of the roads still have their contemporary canals running down the middle. Some of them have been filled in so that there is a tarmac path in between wide grass verges between the two carriageways. They help give parts of Georgetown a peaceful almost stately atmosphere.
But Georgetown is a difficult city to stay in. The comforts are few and what hotels there are, are bad. There is only one restaurant worth going to, the Palm Court, but after a while: the staple diet of prawn cocktail and steak washed down by Mateus Rose, at a high price, and black coffee becomes Guyana has a reputation for riots and internal disorders, but fifteen days in and around Georgetown I found this surprising.
The color question was not more sharply etched than anywhere else and the people were volatile and in a European sense immature, but no more so than in the islands, The trouble is caused by racialism inside the community.
The political parties align themselves, one with the Africans and one with the Indians and at election time clever orators can stir up in one race hatred of the other. They are not doing this deliberately, but like all politicians, they are trying to win votes and in those circumstances, almost anything can be said and this is dangerous when the audience consists of highly excitable people.
The “riots” in Guyana usually take the form of continual reprisals by one side against the other after the first atrocity had been committed. I talked one evening to the assistant police commissioner who was saying in what a hopeless situation this sort of trouble left the police.
They never knew where the next murders or arson were coming from and it could just as easily be the murder of children as of adults. When the riots begin the feelings become intensely bitter, but from walking around Georgetown and talking to anyone and everyone, I never came across any sign of fierce racial hatred.
But after his declaration at Port of Spain, Garry Sobers was given a police guard outside his hotel which again showed the narrow division between disappointment and resentment with excitable people, and in the West Indies, this is a fact of life.
All nationalities have their own innate characteristics, have to live with them, and ultimately learn to overcome them. Guyana is both the West Indies and South America. In Georgetown, the population is largely African mainly because they are still very aware of the slave days and they have therefore a natural antipathy towards working on the land with the memories this invokes. Henry Blofeld played 17 first-class matches from 1958 to 1960 and scored 758 runs with the help of one hundred and two fifties.