From the Diaspora… NEW AMSTERDAM TOWN HALL, GOVERNMENT AND NASHVILLE TENNESSEE
By Ralph Seeram
I am sure you are wondering what these three have in common. I did not know if they had anything in common until this week when I saw that iconic picture in Kaieteur News this week.
My heart sank and a feeling of sadness overwhelmed me when I saw that photograph. Many thoughts kept running through my mind, some going back to my boyhood days. Why is this happening? Why is this structure being dismantled instead of being preserved?
As I continued to read the article my sadness turned to anger and resentment. I was now mad and still mad at the PPP Government for allowing the New Amsterdam Town Hall tower to deteriorate to the point that it had to be dismantled.
By the time you read this article, that iconic tower erected around 1868 will have been pulled down, and so another part of New Amsterdam history has been torn to pieces and discarded.
It followed the path of the old New Amsterdam Hospital, that architectural masterpiece designed by Ceasar Castellani and built in 1878. The PPP Government has shamelessly allowed the old New Amsterdam Hospital do deteriorate, it grieved me when I saw that building a few years ago slowly being vandalized.
That building should have been preserved as a national treasure for future generations. Do you know how many people would have liked to visit the hospital ward to see where they were born?
It would seem to me that there is no sense of cultural awareness within the PPP Government; it just allows historic buildings to be destroyed except where it serves the political purposes. As I am writing this article I am reading that President Donald Ramotar cut the ribbon for the new Tipperary Hall in Buxton which reported costly $50M. Is there any doubt in anyone’s mind that there are political motives behind government’s effort to rebuild that historic structure?
Preserving National treasures, be they buildings, arts, photographs or literature should rise above politics, the government should remove the Culture part from its ministry, I see very little evidence of it functioning in the real sense of the word.
I would ask the Minister responsible for Culture if any effort has been made to identify and preserve historic buildings, artworks, literature, photographs, for past and future generations. Does anybody know the house at Port Mourant where Dr. Cheddi Jagan grew up? Where Mr. LFS Burnham was born or grew up? What about Dr Walter Rodney, or Hubert Critchlow, poet Martin Carter, folklorist Wordsworth Mc Andrew? And the list can go on.
Putting up a big party at the National Stadium is not culture. Let me give an idea of what preserving culture is. My late dear departed friend and cultural icon Wordsworth Mc Andrew taught me a great deal about culture. Many of the older Guyanese would recall that Mac had a cultural programme which was aired on the old Guyana Broadcasting Service.
Mac did not sit in Georgetown, he went out to the rural areas in the town villages recording their songs and stories, their village histories and so forth. Here was a person who understood the importance of capturing and preserving the moment.
I personally went about with Wordsworth to the most rural areas in Berbice. When he made these recordings, he would tell me, “Ralph every place has its own history and culture. We need to capture it before it’s gone”.
I would hope the successors to the old GBS still have those tapes, the former librarian Jean Singh may know of these tapes.
So what does all this have to do with Nashville Tennessee? I am writing this article from the Mecca of Country Music, Nashville, more known as Music City USA. I am sitting not far from the Grand Ole Opry. The first thing that greets you at the hotel is literature on historic places you can visit; yes they preserve their historic buildings here.
Naturally my first visit was to the Grand Ole Opry As expected they have preserved relics, clothes, photographs and instruments of country artistes, but the highlight was touring the grand stage where all the great country performers sang.
In the centre of the stage is a circle about eight feet where the singers stood. The tour guide explained that the circle of wood was part of the original stage of the old Grand Ole Opry which became too small so they preserved that stage and brought it to the new building. I cannot explain the feelings that overwhelmed me standing on that hallowed piece of stage that all the great country singers stood on going back to over 70yrs.
Why did they preserve that piece of stage? The owners knew exactly how others like myself would feel standing on that circle of wood; it was experiencing history. On the lighter side, the tour guide asked me if I wanted to sing, so I can claim I sang at the Grand Ole Opry. I declined.
In Nashville all the old Honky Tonks where most country stars got their start are still there, preserved. The buildings are old going back to hundreds of years, but the city leaders did not allow them to deteriorate into to derelicts as the government did to the New Amsterdam Town Hall and the New Amsterdam Hospital.
There are some historic structures still standing in New Amsterdam. Will they go the way of the hospital? I am talking about the present Mission Chapel church built in 1841 after the earlier one was torched by planters. Read up what that church and Rev John Wray had to do with emancipation of slavery.
We have the All Saints Presbyterian Church at the Corner of Main and Vryheid Streets constructed around 1838 and the Ituni Lodge on Ferry Street.
While I can only speak of New Amsterdam because I was born and grew up there I would invite my readers to list some of the buildings in their town and villages that they think need to be preserved. I will surely forward them to President Ramotar for his response.
Money should be the least of the Government concern. If they have the will they can do it as they did with Tipperary Hall in Buxton.
Ralph Seeram can be reached at email: firstname.lastname@example.org