“My Story” Chapter 06

“My Story” – by Randall Butisingh.

(Reminiscences during my life beginning 1913

CHAPTER SIX

In 1927 at the age of fourteen, I passed the Primary School Certificate Examination and was appointed as a Pupil Teacher at St. Augustine’s Anglican School. The head teacher then was Mr. C. F. La Rose who hailed from Berbice. He was a good teacher and a strict disciplinarian, but he was not liked by his teaching staff  and by the children. He was certified as a First Class teacher with an A.C.P.Teacher’s Diploma. The pupils nicknamed him Assistant Coconut Peeler.

As a Pupil Teacher my monthly salary was six dollars, but that was good money in those days if I did not have to hand it over to my mother to help her and my other siblings. Also appointed as Pupil Teacher that year was Henry Cromwell, an African colleague. We were close friends and that relationship lasted until his premature demise as head teacher at the age of fifty. His brothers also were my friends and a sister, Mary taught with me at Lusignan Government School when I was acting there as Head Master after 1962.

My race consciousness began at an early age in school. We were dubbed “coolie” and teased about the kind of food we ate – wata rice – the Indians used to strain their rice, and sometimes would use that same water, with a little salt in place of stew or curry, while the Africans used to boil their rice dry with salt added, so that it could be eaten even without stew or sometimes they boil it in coconut milk with salted pork , which they could get for a cent at the  shop. Those who could have afforded it would use a little pickled mixed meat for three cents, or pigtail. Vegetables and fish, at the time, were not easily affordable; the blacks would sometimes use a hook with earthworm as a bait to catch a few small fishes in the drainage canals and the Indians would scrounge in the ponds and trenches for small fishes and shrimps.  As a boy, I too would go with a small seine (a small basket-shaped net) and scrounge in the trenches along the rice fields for small fry.

The whole of my primary education was fashioned in an environment that was wholly African. My teachers were all Africans and they did not discriminate. They even, at times, showed some bias in favour of the Indians, who by their cultural upbringing were quiet and more amenable to discipline. I was a favourite of one – teacher Myra Moses – who took me to her home.  Teacher Albert Gordon and Charles Gardner were also my favourites. Both teacher Gordon and Gardner left school to try their fortunes in the diamond fields. Gardner was fairly successful and he acquired some wealth and was a vestryman and sang in the choir at St. Augustine’s.   Gordon was not so fortunate; he was forced to work as a shovel man in the estate. I visited him a few times when he was old and he used to remind me of some of the happenings when he was a boy at school, e.g. when head teacher Solomon was dismissed by Rev. Gregory, the manager and when Felix Stephenson was employed.  For instance, Solomon was advised by his lawyer that his dismissal was illegal and he must return to school. He did – and there were two school masters in the same school. There followed a tug-of-war between the two masters: one giving a command and the other giving another command and beating the children if they disobey. Solomon, however, had to eventually resign.

Therefore in 1927, I was among the first of the Indian teachers who taught in Guyana. The other two I knew were Richard Ganesdeen and teacher Doon (Blackie). The children used to call us “culli teachers”. At this age, 15 years, a young teenager, naïve and inarticulate, I was put in charge of beginners, the ABC Class to teach the alphabet, word building, counting and nursery rhymes. At this time my language skill was poor; English was my second language and my speech was not always correct. The majority of the pupils were Africans, and in those days most Africans showed scant respect for Indians.   Those were the days when the Indians used to wear their national garb, the men used to carry whatever cash they had tied in their dhotis (loin cloths) and the water which they drank in lotas (brass cups) and also ithe same one to the bush where they will defecate and make ablutions.

Teaching those brats, in their formative years, who demanded an experienced, preferably female teacher, was beyond my capacity.   Though corporal punishment was allowed in school, a pupil teacher could not administer it. It was reported that there were cases where pupil teachers were sometimes flogged in the presence of the children by some headmasters, although that never happened in our school.   However, you could imagine in a class, which exceeded twenty, what a task it was for a teacher who was a child himself.   And, being an Indian aggravated my frustration; my colleague Henry Cromwell had not that disadvantage.

Needless to say, at the start of my teaching career, I hated teaching and I took any chance I got to dawdle or malinger. Though I was unhappy most of the time, I kept on. All my friends and associates at this time were mostly African, teachers from the other three schools in the village. We met to play cricket, to attend meetings for our club and the Literary Institute where the stalwart and role model for teachers was G.H.A. Bunyan, a head teacher and president of The British Guiana Teachers Association.    We teachers also attended picnics and dances, and usually I was the only Indian among them.   We never drank or smoked and were never in our shirtsleeves in public. Sometimes we would meet near the railway station where there were cake shops and we would pool our money, three cents each, to refresh ourselves with baked buns and a concoction of lemonade and mauby –  a drink made from the bark of a tree.

I liked my African friends.   Jay Jeffrey, who was very dark, used to brag about his colour. He would say: “black mahogany, mo you rub am mo e shine”.   Ivor Seaforth, I liked him best.   He respected the opposite sex; he was chivalrous and pious to some extent. We liked each other so much that we would stand by the roadside and chat far into the night, even when we were out of words, we would just stand there, enjoying the quiet interval, unwilling to leave each other.

Another good friend of mine was Albert Ogle.   My head teacher used to say we were like David and Jonathan.We were interested in the same things – philosophy and agriculture.   We saw eye to eye.  Every month end he would buy a good book and shared it with me. I had friendly relations with the Holders, the Melbournes, the Ogles, all African people who were well educated and of good standing    I used to visit their homes and spend time in wholesome conversation.    I learnt needlework and embroidery from a Melbourne sister who was one of my colleagues,  and which craft I was able to teach to the girls in school.   These friendships lasted throughout their lives and influenced me for good

When I was married and had children, I sent my children to kindergarten run by a McKinnon sister; to piano lessons taught by another McKinnon sister.    Their Sunday school teachers were Africans.   They were very much identified with the Africans and African culture. Their political party was the PNC. They, like me, had very little communication with the Indians until the 1964 disturbances when we, like all the Indians in Buxton, relocated to the neighbouring Indian village, where, though strangers, we were received with open arms because of our ethnicity.

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1 Comment »

  1. Vi said,

    I am familar with many of the family names you mentioned. The Ogle sisters were my role models. Your writing tells of a story of friendships that cross racial lines. It is interesting that while Afro and Indo Guyanese were conscious of their cultural differences they lived in peace and formed enduring friendships.

    What is your insight about the 1964 disturbances?


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