290Stabroek News editorial on the National Archives of Guyana
- Jul 1 4:44 AMLink:
Friday, July 1st 2005
The season for renaming things has rolled around again it seems. First it
was the suggestion that the new National Archives building (presuming that
such a structure ever actually sees the light of day) should be called after
Dr Walter Rodney, and then it was that President's College should be renamed
after its founder, President Forbes Burnham.
In a very general sense the old adage 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' also
applies - suitably adapted - to the renaming of buildings, institutions,
thoroughfares, structures, settlements or whatever. In other words, unless a
name has unusually offensive connotations, it is better left alone; there
are always new streets, housing schemes, etc, mushrooming all over the place
which are in need of christening.
In a general sense too, the longer established a name, the more caution
should be exercised before that name is abandoned. Encapsulated within the
diverse nomenclature of our land is the history of this nation; it forms
part of our connection to what has gone before. We live in villages some of
which were named by our forefathers, and others of which take their names
from the estates where our forefathers worked. We traverse rivers, for
example, whose toponyms derive from the ancestors of one or another of the
Amerindian nations, and which provide us with a link to an indigenous past.
We should not dispense with such a heritage lightly.
Having said that, however, the arguments which are applicable both in the
case of President's College and the Guyana National Archives are not related
to connecting with the past as such. In fact, in the case of the first, the
issue of renaming probably would never have arisen at all if it had not been
for an initial mistake on the part of the board of the school which proposed
that the portraits of all Guyana's presidents should be hung in President's
College instead of that of President Forbes Burham alone. This followed a
report (which the board subsequently denied) that a suggestion had been made
to remove President Burnham's portrait altogether.
A flurry of letters to the newspapers accusing the board and the government
of attempting to erase Burnham's memory from the face of the land then
produced a release from GINA saying it was possible that President's College
could be renamed after its founder. And all this because the board chose to
see Burnham's picture in political terms, rather than historical ones; it
was there because he founded the school, not because of his presidential
While there probably are portraits of presidents (at least the present one)
in some of our schools, ideally no politician's image in his capacity as a
member of government should be hanging in our educational institutions;
these should as far as possible be free of politics. Interestingly, a recent
PNC statement explained that the appellation 'President's College' was
chosen in favour of one containing President Burnham's name partly because
of an argument advanced by the former Prime Minister, Dr Ptolemy Reid. He
thought that the institution should be spared from the vagaries of partisan
politics in the future, to allow the college to blossom as a truly national
institution. It was a wise piece of advice, and one which the current board
would do well to note. The last thing a school needs is to find itself at
the centre of political controversy. In short, leave the picture where it
is, and forget about the name change.
And then we come to the archives. Our premier repository for public records
does not have a name as such, or at least, it is a generic name so to speak.
But that is the case with nearly all national archives in almost every
country. It is simply not convention to give such archives a specific name,
because they are the primary records generated by government as well as a
variety of quasi-governmental and official sources. They do not belong to
one party or another, neither do they reflect the work of one individual or
another. They provide the raw data from which historians and others work,
but they are not created by historians. Belonging to the nation they collect
(or should collect) official records indiscriminately for the state, without
regard to partisan considerations.
The Cheddi Jagan Research Centre, in contrast, while containing some
extrememly valuable material from a researcher's point of view, is still not
a National Archives. Its inspiration derived from one party alone - the PPP
- and its bias in terms of its collection policy relates primarily to that
party and the man who led it. It is entirely proper, therefore, that it
should be named after Dr Jagan.
Dr Walter Rodney was an extremely modest man who would have been embarrassed
by the thought had he been alive that anything would have been named after
him. However, that fact notwithstanding, it is entirely proper now that he
is gone for this generation to cast around for ways to honour him. That is
not the issue. The issue is that whatever is chosen it cannot be the Guyana
As this country's most eminent historian Dr Rodney was a thorough
professional who worked in many archives around the world, including those
in England, and in various countries in Africa and the West Indies. His
inherent modesty aside, it is reasonable to suppose that he would have been
very uneasy about naming the National Archives after any individual, but
would have been especially uneasy if that individual were himself; it would
simply have run counter to his sense of professionalism, and his
understanding of how national archives are intended to operate.
In this year of the twenty-fifth anniversary of his death, it is good that
the administration has challenged people to ponder how Dr Rodney's name can
best be inscribed in the material heritage of this nation. There are no
doubt other possibilities apart from the Guyana National Archives out there,
and after a period of public debate and consultation with the late
historian's family, something appropriate will surely be found.
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