May 14, 2009

An Interview with Randall Butisingh 1-3

Posted in Education, Guyana, Philosophy, Poetry, Politics, Uncategorized tagged , , , at 2:29 am by randallbutisingh


From: Kaieteur News -April 26, 2009 | By knews : The Arts Forum

THE ARTS FORUM offers an occasional page of critical perspectives on the literature, art, culture and social history of Guyana and the Caribbean. Our objective is to critically examine neglected issues and lives that call for greater attention.

We bring you a recent INTERVIEW (in three parts) with the poet, RANDALL BUTISINGH.
Butisingh, who is 96 years of age and now lives in Florida, shares his experiences with us of life and culture in twentieth century Guyana.


u stand
defiant of wind and weather
a monument
dwarfing the tall green trees around;
Innumerable bricks labouriously laid
fashioned your form so straight and strong.
Where is the being that gave you shape?
If you could answer, you would tell:
“His bones are hidden in the dust
and time has dulled the scroll of memory”
Yet, in your form and bearing there exudes
the spirit of your maker long deceased.

Once your hollow symmetry
like a giant sky-trained gun
belched forth munitions of black dust
that seemed to drown high heaven
and hide the sun;
But now, your sooty task, complete
You remain serene, majestic,
enveloped in earth and sky and air
a monument to your designer
gladdening eyes at sea.
So, like you,
when my brief task of rhyming is complete
and the dark dust of my musings to earth subsides,
May my soul’s song survive:
a time defying monument in VERSE.

Randall Butisingh

“In search of THE FINE THREAD OF TRUTH . . .
journeying to the same destination”

Ameena Gafoor (A.G.): It is remarkable that at 96, you are documenting your life story, playing the keyboard and learning Spanish to crown a very active life of dedication to society, particularly in the field of education, in post-colonial Guyana. You grew up in Buxton, a village noted for many outstanding thinkers and activists. Give us some highlights of your early years of growing up in Buxton.

Randall Butisingh (R.B.): My father was a Buxtonian, but my mother was born in the neighbouring estate, Annandale. For a while, my parents lived in Alexander Ville, Kitty, where I was born and baptised [in 1913]. We returned to Buxton while I was yet an infant.

At the age of twelve, in 1925, I was runner up in the first Buxton Scholarship Examination. The winner was Balbir Ballgreene Nehaul, son of a merchant at Buxton. He got a place at Queen’s College where he did exceeding well. He later became a doctor of Bacteriology and Pathology and worked for a while in Guyana before joining the WHO.
The second runner up was one Claude Holder who was the son of Head teacher C.T. Holder. He was the youngest at 11 years, and the villagers of Buxton subscribed to give him a special scholarship while I remained in school. In 1927, I passed the School Leaving Examination and was appointed Pupil Teacher.

A.G.: Around 1930, you became a member of the Buxton Literary Institute, one of many such Institutes along the East Coast of Demerara. What inspired you towards the Institute and who were some of your contemporaries attending?

R.B.: I was an avid reader and I had a penchant for oratory. I was fortunate to find the company of teachers of my age who were interested in discussions and debates and were all members of the Buxton Literary Institute, so I became one, too.
My colleagues were, first and foremost, Daniel Victor Seaforth, a chivalrous and pious African whom I loved . . . very articulate and a good impromptu speaker who later became a lay preacher for the Methodist Church.
Then there was Claude Easton Holder, Queen’s College trained and a Trained teacher.
Felix Austin, who later became Commissioner of Police, also attended, as well as Stanley Albert Truman, a head teacher who was brilliant.

A.G.: How long did this institute run? Was there a leader who held the group together or was it a loose group of persons who met and shared intellectual interests?

R.B.: My greatest inspiration at the Institute was the Chairman, G. H. A. Bunyan, headmaster and also chairman of the British Guiana Teachers’ Association . . . a great role model.
The Institute ran for a number of years under his chairmanship; we elected him over and over again, until he retired. I cannot now recall who took his place but I have a feeling it was one, Cyril Willis, who was the village Postmaster.
The group was held together for a long time by the enthusiasm and commitment of the members who always looked forward to the day of meeting.

A.G.: What were some of the burning issues of the day?

R.B.: There was the problem of prejudice and segregation. The Indians, after indentureship, came to the neighbouring village to live. They rented lands from the Africans and built their mud huts in the front of the village, bordering the sea. They and their children, boys and girls, continued to work in the adjoining sugar estate. Africans and Indians in the village tended not to mix with each other.
Indians wanted their children to work to augment their income, but after compulsory education was introduced, they were forced to send them to school or suffer a fine or imprisonment. Some, who couldn’t pay the fine, did go to prison, but Indian girls were taken out of school before they reached the age of puberty.
The Buxton Literary Institute was established at a time when Indians were beginning to see the value of education for their children. Papers were read on various topics of social interest.

A.G.: You also attended the Guianese Art Group led by Magistrate Gui Sharples at the Vigilance Courtroom. Who were some of your contemporaries?

R.B.: Two of my contemporaries I clearly remember were Mr. Burrowes and Aubrey Williams. There was a lady who posed for the group and I did a sketch in charcoal and was commended by Magistrate Sharples. It was somewhere in the [nineteen] forties.

A.G.: What do you think of a statement attributed to Denis Williams (c. 1972) that “Indians in Guyana have remained aloof of the mainstream” and had made no notable contribution to the visual arts up to the 1970s? Did you happen to know (or know of) Cyril Kanhai, David Singh and Rip Persaud (Indian Guyanese artists of your time who possibly attended the Guianese Art Group)? We know that Rip did attend and produced a few pieces that spoke to the social history of the colony.

R.B.: Denis Williams was not correct to say that Indians remained aloof of the mainstream in art. I heard of Cyril Kanhai. I cannot remember David Singh and Rip Persaud. I, however, know of a contemporary of mine, a head teacher, James Jeboud, who did excellent pencil sketching and painting. He painted the “Kissing Bridge” in the Botanic Gardens. Another contemporary, Pam Dinally who married a Taharally, did sceneries of Guyana. A friend in Florida has a few of her paintings – good ones.

This editor can be contacted on E-mail:


1 Comment »

  1. Nalini Mohabir said,

    Dear Teacher Butisingh,

    I’m so glad that you are able to document your life for the enrichment of all of us. I learn so much from your website. Thank you!


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