The spirit moves on
There are many who talk about the ‘spirit’ of man: Philip Moore lived out the meaning of that belief. Earlier this week, the spirit of Philip Moore moved on to other realms after his mortal body had spent nine decades on this earth. Guyana was indeed blessed to have produced such a man as Philip Moore and it is our hope that he will be given appropriate recognition at this time so that future generations would know that ‘to live with the spirit’ is not just a figure of speech.
Known by every Guyanese who has passed through at least primary school, as the creator of the monument to our national Hero, Cuffy, Philip Moore was born in 1921 in the village of Manchester on the Corentyne Coast. Even though he received his “school leaving certificate” in 1938, he could not make it as a policeman. Spiritually inclined from boyhood, he converted to Jordanite Christianity in 1940. This is very significant.
Throughout the hundreds of years of slavery, the planters had used the most extreme measures – including torture – to eradicate the culture of the African slaves. But aspects of the latter – especially its spiritual component – were stubbornly maintained. The Christianity imparted in the post-slavery era in many instances was blended with those African practices in all the ex-‘slave colonies’.
The practice of the baptism in water; shakings after being possessed by the Holy Ghost and speaking in ‘tongues’, were central elements to the Jordanite faith as with the Shaker Baptists in T&T, for instance. While overtly Christian, the practices in their performance were “Africanised” and earned much disdain from the wider, more orthodox Christians. In Guyana, the men and women wore white robes and turbans.
As Moore later recounted it, he was working in the cane fields as a cane cutter in 1955 when “A wind came and encircled me and then something inside me said ‘so long you wanted to carve a man’s head out of wood; get up and do it.” He took his cutlass cut a piece of wood from a nearby tree and carved a perfect head. From that point there was no turning back. He worked in all sorts of media – even from ‘scraps’ and odds and ends he found in his everyday life. While many assert that he was ‘self taught’, Moore would dispute that since he viewed his mind as being in communion with the world of the spirits that surround us all.
Very soon his talent had been recognised by the Georgetown establishment – perhaps at the mundane level of craftsmanship. He was hired to teach wood carving at the GTI. In 1970 his submission to create the 1763 Monument was accepted and after making the model in Guyana, it was sent to England where the 25-ft. statue that stands today in the Square of the Revolution was cast in bronze. This is now his most famous work.
The power of the figure and its symbolism has forced the Guyanese people to look beyond the hegemony constructed by our former slave masters and accept that there are different ways of looking at the world. And that the ‘world’ includes forces and spirits – including those of our ancestors – that we ignore to our loss, and possibly peril. In the 1970s, which was a time of re-appraisement by the African Diaspora, Moore was invited to Princeton University where he shared his insights with a wider audience.
There is something to be said for our country that the genius of Moore was recognised by his country in his lifetime. Almost one hundred and forty pieces of his work were acquired and are part of our national collection. Moore has always been fiercely patriotic: not in the jingoistic sense but in the concern for the country that produced him and for the new generations that have followed him. He was never too busy to share in vision or his talent.
As we proposed in the beginning, Philip Moore must be given the highest honours that befit a son and a father of this nation.