By Abena Rockcliffe
History, in general, is remarkable; however it’s made even more remarkable when one can relate to, feel, embrace and be proud of it.
We often take for granted things that we consider as customary, but when really examined, these same things can be extremely profound.
I have been to Parliament Buildings on numerous occasions, more than I can count. But when I started doing deep research on this historical wonder then I came to the realization that I took for granted many privileges associated with the era I live in.
Almost every citizen over the age of 10 now has a good understanding of what goes on at Parliament Buildings, particularly in the Chambers where the National Assembly is held. But how many of us know what the building was used for before.
Last week I wrote about the Buildings, their features, and about the people who designed and built the structure. I noted in that piece that slave labour was used.
But little was mentioned on its turbulent past- the slavery that is associated with the Parliament Buildings.
Immediately after its construction, Parliament Buildings was put into use to provide for the various administrative services the Crown offered. These included the Eastern Wing (first floor) – Customs House; Eastern Wing (second floor) – The Court of Policy, with offices for the Government Secretary, Assistant and Clerks and the Hon. Attorney General. West Wing (first floor) – Offices of the Registrar General and staff; West Wing (second floor) – The Hall of the Supreme Courts of Civil and Criminal Justice; Central Portion (first floor) – the Administrator General, the Auditor General, the Receiver General, and other support personnel. Central Portion (second floor) – Apartments for the Governor, Barristers, the Administrator General, and Financial Officers.
Apart from the official functions described above, in its early days, the Buildings were used for Church services.
But then in 1834, blood was shed on the soil on the very ground where slaves toiled and erected the Buildings that now stand as an historic landmark and the home of local democracy.
1834 was the year when freedom-fighter, and national hero, Damon, was hanged for the crime of raising the white flag of freedom.
A point to be noted is that, in November 1839, five years after the infamous execution, 83 Africans who had just won their freedom, and displayed all the acumen required for good investments, purchased Plantation Northbrook on the East Coast of Demerara, for 30,000 Guilders, and renamed it “Victoria”. This transaction, and all others like it that quickly followed, were done at the Public Buildings; the place where Damon was hanged.
Current Speaker of the National Assembly, Raphael Trotman, who recently launched his book titled, “The Parliament of Guyana,” the first of its kind, wrote , “Mr. Frank A. Narain, C.C.H., A.A., former Clerk of the National Assembly, writes that: – when the British introduces a Crown Colony system of Government in British Guiana in 1928, with a legislative Council in the place of the Court of Policy, the Court of Policy Hall became the place for the meetings of the Legislative Council and was called the Council Chamber.”
With the passage of time, the Public Buildings’ use was transformed from its original functions to accommodate in later years, Colonial Secretary’s Office, Archives, Attorney-General’s Chambers, Financial Secretary’s Office, Treasury, Income tax Department, Audit Department, Currency Commissioners, Local Government Department, Widows and Orphans Fund, Office of the Legislature, Prime Minister’s Office, Offices of Speaker of the House of Assembly and President of the State Council, Secretariat of the National Congress of Local Democratic Organs (NCLDO), Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and Defence Secretariat
Since 1994, the Buildings are occupied and exclusively utilized for the functioning of the National Assembly. These include the Chamber, used for sittings of the National Assembly, rooms for Committees, and offices for administrative and support staff.
This, Trotman wrote in his book, is as a result of the tireless efforts of Mr. Frank A. Narine who in 1992 prevailed on His Excellency, President Dr. Cheddi Jagan, to have the Parliament Buildings exclusively dedicated to the service of the National Assembly. This request was honoured.
Also, once a year, on February 23, the compound facilitates the early morning Flag Raising Ceremony in observance of Guyana’s Republic Anniversary. On the more informal side, the Buildings serve as a favourite place of interest for school children to visit. During the tour, students are allowed to do some role-playing by playing the part of Members of Parliament.
The Prayer of the National Assembly
At Independence, it was agreed that prayers should continue to be said in the House of Assembly. However, given the ethnic, cultural and religious diversity of the country, it was felt that one religion should not appear pre-eminent and that a prayer that recognized the belief in a supreme being, God, should be adopted.
The result was an amalgam of different prayers and most noticeable is the presence of verses from the celebrated Indian poet Rabindranauth Tagore’s celebrated poem: – “Where the mind is without fear.” The Prayer is said by the Clerk at the commencement of each Sitting of the House. Previously it was said by the Speaker, and by the Anglican Bishop of the Diocese of Georgetown.
Below is the full Parliamentary Prayer
Almighty God, we, who are here gathered together, do most humbly beseech Thee to guide us in all our consultations so that we may together build a land where knowledge is free, where the mind is without fear and the head is held high, and where words come from the depth of truth.
Grant us, O God, Thine aid and guidance, so that we may deal justly, with the several causes that come before us, laying aside all private interests, prejudices and personal preferences, so that the result of our counsels may be to the glory of Thy Blessed Name, the maintenance of true religion, the preservation of justice, the safety, honour and happiness of the President and the peace and prosperity of Guyana.
Grant us, O God, the vision so to lead, that all the people of this fair land may enter into that state of brotherhood and unity, where the mind is led forward by Thee into ever-widening thought and action.
Ref: The Parliament of Guyana by Raphael Trotman, Wikipedia
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