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Sunday, December 9, 2012
Eusi Kwayana on the Great Pan African Revolutionary Jan Carew of Guyana and the World
Mission Within the Mission
By Eusi Kwayana
The first 2002 edition of Race and Class, a "London Journal of Black and Third World Liberation" (Volume 43 Number 3) saw fit to devote itself wholly to the celebration of the activity and the being of Jan Carew, whose 80th. birthday, 24th. September 2000 is still being observed. He is so well known in so many countries of the world that some were late for the party.
Both the man himself and the special publication of Race and Class deserve all the attention possible. That is the aim of this article. After a review of Race and Class(Volume 43 Number 3), the article will leave aside its material, which readers may obtain from any worthwhile bookstore, and offer a unique perspective of this remarkable individual.
The special issue is fittingly titled "The Gentle Revolutionary: Essays in Honor of Jan Carew". It includes essays by notable scholars. Frank Birbalsingh, who explores 'Race, Colour and class in Black Midasan early Carew novel set in his homeland, Guyana. There is A. Sivanandan's "Jan Carew, Renaissance Man," which is closer to a definition of the person and his thought. My favourite essay is "Explorations into the 'Feminism' of Jan Carew" by Joy Gleason Carew, his present wife, who reveals not only his salutation of matriarchy, but the extent to which he has gone to create in his plays and other works women who, whether in interpersonal, private, domestic sphere or in social relations blazed the trail.
Clinton Cox reminds the failing memories of Carew's weighty contribution to the revelation of the true genocidal role of Cristobal Colon, for English speakers, Christopher Columbus; that Carew is far and away the outstanding Caribbean artist and activist to put Caribbean and western hemisphere history on its feet, shaking it roughly by the shoulders out of the drunken stupor of Euro-coated history, by his explanation of the critical and disastrous role of Columbus, a subject which easily raises the adrenalin of the gentle revolutionary.
Jan Carew's interest in cultures, as they have developed, is not enforced by decades-old state programs of multiculturalism. But his own inborn understanding of his origins and of the society which cradled him. He formally embraced, before it became the fashion, his country's and the world's marginalized cultures without discrimination, though distinguishing those ugly behaviors, seeking cover in the culture, from the culture itself. Race and Class (Volume 43 Number 3) also contains poetic tributes fromClaire Carew and Sterling Plumpp, and in prose from some of our most sensitive contemporaries in various climates.
I had declined the honour of writing for this issue on the ground that, living in Guyana as I do, I was not up to date with Dr. Carew's works over the years, only stumbling across one or two as the years rolled on. I felt unequal to the task. Now that I have read Race and Class (Volume 43 Number 3), "The Gentle Revolutionary," I am most excited by the excerpts of his plays and their whole amazing scheme, conception and setting. These plays broke the natural limits of human empathy and imagination. His resurrection of Thaddeus Stevens, another figure of my curiosity, and his spouse is fascinating and shows Carew's genuine closeness to all underdogs, regardless of breed.
I knew Jan Carew when we were both young, my year of birth being 1925, in another Guyana plantation. He was then an urban city dweller and he had the strange habit of cycling twelve lonely, uncomfortable miles on Friday nights to deliver a series of talks to the Buxton Discussion Circle. This was in the late forties, very likely in 1949 when, according to his odyssey, as given in "The Gentle Revolutionary." He was in his native Guyana.
His study of communities is holistic. That is why he must be credited with reviving knowledge of the magic of the grain amaranth and with launching a campaign inter-linked comfortably with his literary and historical productions which has brought amaranth to the notice of nutrition-conscious community. And a cross section of consumers. He really wanted to see amaranth cultivated by the indigenous and coastal populations of his native Guyana, as an economic crop.
His archeological curiosity of the life of Native Americans elsewhere in the hemisphere led him to the vital knowledge of a grain, which flourished during the ancient American civilizations. He wanted to see this grain officially promoted in Caribbean countries—Guyana and every country with under-developed, one-crop agriculture. I am sure that he still cherishes that dream which I also share. Jan has lived his own vision. He has served his visitors amaranth bread and given it to his friends. Amaranth for him was a factor in the cultural reconstruction of the Americas.
These are only some of his dimensions. A glance at his printed odyssey shows his after-school youth spent in a mood of expansion and motion, in teaching, serving in the military in the second world war, writing, working at the Customs as public servant in Trinidad and Tobago, and student at Howard University and then at Western University, like an artistic jack of all, but novice at none. He was active in a theatre group with Lawrence Olivier the British Shakespearean actor and has produced and acted in many countries.
For many years he and Dr. O. R. Dathorne and others provided the leadership for the Association of Caribbean Studies, which gathered annually somewhere in the Caribbean, assembling many from various places. In addition, to what the scholars have written there is more to be said about this enduring personification of thought and action. One of his deep concerns is his environmental intelligence.
He was an environmentalist long before it become fashionable. In the Guyana Law Books there is an Act with the following title, "An Act to provide for the sustainable management and utilisation of approximately 360,000 hectares of Guyana tropical Rain Forest dedicated by the government of Guyana as the Programme Site for the purposes of research by the Iwokrama International a Centre to develop, demonstrate, and make available to Guyana and the International Community systems, methods, and techniques for the sustainable management and utilisation of the multiple resources of the Tropical forest and the conservation of biological diversity and for matters incidental thereto."
Almost a million acres, offered by the Executive in Guyana from the people's endowments for the future of the planet! This law in the statue books of his native Guyana is witness to Jan Carew's aspirations for Guyana, his national spirit and the fact that he has had practical impact on the environmental policy.
He made this recommendation to the PNC President of Guyana, Mr. Desmond Hoyte recommending an international involvement for a million acres of forest and in Guyana. He was a supporter of the PPP, but gave the idea to the PNC which was in office. Mr. Hoyte at once made the offer to a Commonwealth conference, no doubt his first opportunity. The unique offer from a sovereign country was readily accepted. Carew was disappointed that it had been offered to the Commonwealth and not to the United Nations.
Jan Carew also has an unequalled curiosity about the world's peoples and especially of those of that world which endured and still endures centuries of suppression after the invasion of Columbus. For to him as well as to the historian Basil Davidson, it was Columbus who wielded the double-edged sword of medieval genocide on the two continents facing each other across the Atlantic, the Americas, and Africa, with extensions to Asia. Faced with the whole complex outcome of an accomplished, multi-faceted genocide, Carew seems early to have made the resolve to make his jihad the unearthing and revealing of the hidden strengths, hidden genius, and forgotten accomplishments of these magnificent peoples whom history had all but written off.
Carew lent his talents to the effort of the Nkrumah government to globalise the African revolution through communication with the literate world outside, absorbing the finest elements of the people's rich culture. His work on Malcolm and his dramatisation of the rape of enslaved Africans in the USA viewed through the windows of the civil war and its complexities drew him typically to Thaddeus Stevens, a white legislator whose empathy with the emancipated was remarkable.
Carew, I recall, earned early the reputation of an adventurer—here today, gone tomorrow, seeking out strange things among peoples he did not know and venturing into unkown seas. I learned from senior thesis (unpublished) by Iyabao Kwayana of the Trickster in Literature and how Carew's analysis of Tar Baby, along with Ivan Van Sertima's showed the continuity of Africa in the West, showing the force of mythology and the silent, elemental power of the folk in the composition and cultivation of a people's culture, in fact, in being the people's culture. She represents him as arguing, "Tar-Baby is an archetypal symbol of the oppressed black and indestructible, endowed with the strength and powers of resistance of both the male and the female. Its tormentors were themselves worn out raining blows on its head and in the end the aggressor becomes the victim."
Taking the road not trodden, his interest in Malcolm X and Carew's own family-bred matriarchy led him to a search for Malcolm's mother, Ms. Little, who, he was delighted to find, was a West Indian. This quest for the Mother always gives validity to the historical character. He seemed to have met Malcolm X in London in 1965 and then soon after to have gone to Ghana. Malcolm had visited Ghana not long before and had met Maya Angelo there along with Ras Makonen of Guyana, Nana Kobina Nketsia, a custodian of Akan culture, Kofi Badu of Ghanian Times, the late Nevlle Dawes of Jamaica and his Ghanaian wife, Cho Cho and Kofi Baacha of the Spark and others.
At the time Kofi Awoonor was a rather young man known as a poet and a film producer. The tension, some would say dialectic, between the USA and Africa is not easily understood from one shore. The civil rights movement in the USA and the African decolonisation movement mutually reinforced each other. No one visiting African countries then, any of them, could miss this interaction and interdependence. Every statement made by Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Stokely Carmichael and other leaders was headline news in the newspapers of that continent. The hard-pressed African leaders not only instinctively supported the struggle of the down-pressed in the USA, but they perhaps saw news of it as welcome diversion for the political energies of their own populations.
The remarkable thing about Jan Carew, however, is his ideological self reliance. He was perhaps the most eminent Caribbean activist of the left community of change to emancipate himself and his line of thought from the apron strings of an invasive state, the USSR. Thus he challenged the USSR's monopoly of revolutionary theory. And its tutelage of the so-called Third World.
As a young writer and dynamic theatre personality Carew would have had the promise of ready made promotion and prestige in the soviet half of the world and in a large part of the rest of the world. He paid the price and was the subject of vilification from the left in the Caribbean. The price was heavy but he preserved himself and his tradition as valuable resources for freedom of the down pressed. He had gone to the promising new civilization, which had him as guest of the Writers Union. Moscow was the spiritual home of millions outside of the USSR.
Like [George] Padmore before him, like C.L.R. James who had not visited USSR, Jan Carew found some dissonance and wrote critically of the directions, Moscow Is Not My Mecca. He had disappointed many uncritical admirers of the Soviet system, such as the PPP in Guyana, but he bore it heroically. Carew's difficulty with Moscow was not its official commitment to socialism, but rather its missing the mark. His problem to be sure was not that of deviation, of which he was accused.
This is what he said about it to Malcolm X in 1965. In an answer to Malcolm's question [Read Ghosts in Our Blood.], Carew explained his own socialism as "a humane and resilient socialism that is sensitive to the rhythms of life and to all human needs—material, social, psychological spiritual, collective, and individual. Above all it must be a patient and tolerant socialism. 'But that is more socialism as a religion than socialism as a political ideology', derisory voices shout at me, and I reply, 'If it is, then so let it be!' Dostoyevsky voicing one of his prophetic insights, once said that should the Russian masses embrace communism, it would succeed only if it turned into religion."
The Russian masses did embrace communism, for a moment in history, but when religion was brutally suppressed and a parasitic bureaucracy with a lamentable absence of imagination tried to foist its own gods, saints and devils; push its own gods saints and devils only to that society for three quarters of a century, it collapsed. This collapse brings another Dostoyevskian adage to mind: If God does not exist then it becomes a carnival of devils."
Perhaps his singular effectiveness as teacher, activist, revolutionary, political worker, adviser, dramatist, speaker, researcher, explainer, came from the deep respect he accorded every human culture in its sane manifestations. Perhaps this respect sprang of his central rooting in culture. He knew that when the culture of a movement is imperiled the movement is imperiled.
His story reads at this time like an enjoyable romance but Jan Carew has known the hardship of the money-less condition, of poverty and confinement, hunger. A free man, he did not free himself of obligations A modern mariner he had to tell his story. Like his story was one of the unity of life. He would carry out his obligation as cultural evangelist in a poem, or a play or a pamphlet on a bean or grain, a grain good for human nutrition.
His marriage with novelist and thinker, Sylvia Winter Carew of Jamaica, was in addition a marriage of literature and philosophy. They lived a productive union. In Ghosts in Our Blood, he wrote of his marriage to a European woman. His current marriage with Joy Gleason Carew, a linguist and Russian specialist, also had its intellectual ingredients, apart from the physical or emotional. They have a daughter Shantoba, and many joint and individual productions of the imagination. Like the late Andrew Salkey and the late Walter Rodney, historian and revolutionary, he felt a compulsion to speak to children and help them out of the Caribbean rat race of which Bob Marley so eloquently warns.
The work on Malcolm X is a "return to source." Again as in his earlier works he explores the strength and dignity of his own Caribbean people. He finds the genius of Malcolm X, the amazing phenomenon, in his mother's psyche and his mother's blood and he is delighted because that is as it should be. To me his most influential political works are Grenada: The Hour Will Strike Again and Fulcrums of Change. For the composite diaspora which is close to his work and relies on them for cultural revelations through history, this work which helped prepare this hemisphere for the self-redeeming assault on the cult of Columbus, as the fifth centenary of his invasion, 1992, loomed. By the time it came the hemisphere had acquired many of the psychological and scholarly antidotes to one of the most powerful myths of the world. ThusFulcrums of Changeopenswith a chapter, "Columbus and the origins of racism in the Caribbean."
Grenada: The Hour Will Strike Again came two years after the Reagan invasion of Grenada in the wake of the implosion of the short lived evolution there. To heal the trauma of the masses of the people, Carew unearthed and revealed sources of independence in the country itself. It went back to and beyond the struggles of the rebellious African captives, but to the epic resistance of the island's indigenous population. A few impressions remain with me. One is the guerilla warfare waged by the African captives inspired by Fedon. Brightest is the Carib remnant which, following their versatile hero Kaierouanne, and rather than suffer defeat the hands the overwhelming force of Spaniards, leaped from a cliff into the more congenial ocean, the water the salty primordial matter.
Many Caribbean writers and in English thinkers have overcome the undignified foster mothering of their mother-deprived subjected populations and have sparked stream of thought and consciousness in the world's thinking. Carew stands out as the one who restlessly fought in the English language to restore the personality of ancient American civilisations and their descendants. Grenada also left a picture of the communications network which the indigenous people enjoyed even after Columbus, of their long boat journeys, their conferences, and federations in the interest of the sovereignty.
A tireless communicator, motivator, and teacher he has a long bill of indictment before the judgment seat of imperialism. Some charges will read: subverting innocent minds and immunising them against duping and self depreciation, preaching the damnable doctrine of human dignity and the entitlement of all. My senior of a few slight years pursues his mission. At eighteen he was precocious. At eighty he remains innovative.
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Jan Rynveld Carew, Emeritus Professor Northwestern University, was born in Agricola-Rome, Guyana, South America on September 24, 1920. Novelist, poet, playwright, educator, Carew describes himself as "an inveterate wanderer for whom travel is like the breath of life." In addition to his education at Howard and Western Reserve Universities in the United States, he also studied at the Charles University in Prague, Czechoslovakia and the Sorbonne in France.
He is a founder of the field of Pan- African Studies. Jan Carew has served as lecturer, professor or program director at Princeton, Rutgers, George Mason, Hampshire, Lincoln and London Universities.Writer, artist, and educator, Jan Carew moved to Louisville in Fall 2000 as a Visiting Scholar-in-Residence with the Pan-African Studies Department.
An authority on fields ranging from Third World studies to Caribbean literature to race relations, he has also served as an advisor to the heads of state of numerous nations on the African continent and in the Caribbean.
A founder of the field of Pan- African Studies, Carew entered academia after living for years in Britain as a writer, and in an Emeritus Professors of African-American and Third World Studies at Northwestern University. Among the many universities that. He is a permanent advisor to the University of Namibia in Windhoek, Namibia and to the St. Petersburg University of the Pedagodical Arts in St. Petersburg, Russia.
He has resided in Mexico, England, France, Spain, Ghana, Canada and United States. The men and women that he has interacted with include W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, Langston Hughes, Malcolm X, Kwame Nkrumah, Shirley Graham Du Bois, Maurice Bishop, Cheikh Anta Diop, Edward Scobie, John Henrik Clarke, Tsegaye Medhin Gabre, Sterling D. Plumpp and Ivan Van Sertima. They all form a veritable pantheon of illustrious African scholars and activists.
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Jan Rynveld Carew (born 24 September 1920 in Agricola, Guyana) is a novelist, playwright, poet and educator. His works, diverse in their forms and multifaceted, makes of Jan Carew an important intellectual of the Caribbean world. His poetry and his first two novels, Black Midas and The Wild Coast, were significant landmarks of the West Indian literature then attempting through writing to cope with its colonial past and assert its wish for autonomy. Carew also played an important part within the Black movement gaining strength in England and North America, publishing reviews and newspapers, producing programs and plays for the radio and the television. His scholarly research drove him to question traditional historiographies and firstly the prevailing historical models of the conquest of America. The way he reframed Christopher Columbus as an historical character outside his mythical hagiography became a necessary path in his mind to build anew the Caribbean world on sounder foundations.—Wikipedia
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The writer, Eusi Kwayana, 78, is a Guyanese who has lived in Guyana all his life except in the last year (2002-2003). He has been active in the political and cultural life of Guyana since the 1940s. He was once a government minister. That was in the first People's Progressive Party administration of 1953. He was a lifelong teacher . He was one of the founders of the African Society for Racal Equality (ASRE) and then of ASCRIA (African Society for Cultural Relations With Independent Africa ).
He spent four years as a member of the People's National Congress and in 1974 joined the Working People's Alliance. He and his wife; Tchaiko, of Georgia, are blessed with four offspring.