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The obituary to an intellectual tradition

Stabroek News
January 8, 2002


Dear Editor,

As a Guyanese, there is obviously a profound sense of vicarious pride, on reading the news, some time ago, of the appointment of Dr.Charles. E. Denbow, as a Professor of Medicine, at the U.W.I. Dr.Denbow, is the most academically decorated medical doctor, ever, in the history of Guyana. Like many of the all greats before him, he has come from a tradition of intellectual, and moral leadership, that has since been irrevocably lost. The Denbows were like no intellectual family Guyana had ever seen. The Denbows repeated, and then went on to eclipse, what the Luckhoos, the Ram-sahoyes, and the Hano-mans had done. And that was, the achievement of academic excellence, at its most sublime, thereby culminating into the realisation of intellectual uniqueness.

As a teenager during the early period of the 1970s, in Guyana, one of my most enduring images is that of a newspaper photograph, punctuated with biographical details, of Dr.Charles Denbow immaculately dressed in his academic regalia, and being congratulated by the then Chancellor of the U.W.I, Hugh Wooding. My generation, of the 1970s was largely influenced by the epoch making feats, and the intellectual achievements of Charles Denbow, Walter Rodney, and Halvard White, among others. More than any other Guyanese scholars, these three scholars, had set the intellectual template for my generation. Their overarching influence, for over a period of three decades, secured their position, as quintessentially positive role models for thousands of Guyanese, and standard bearers par excellence of an intellectual tradition, and an ethos of excellence, that has since been lost. The intellectual tradition of the 1930s- 1970s, spawned by British colonialism, and principally cradled by the greatest secondary school in the English speaking Carib-bean, as Queens College was then, replicated a self renewing cycle of academic excellence, for over a period of forty five years - until the P.N.C took their wrecking ball to it, thus sacrificing it at the altar of some political shibboleth. Many of the social, and structural problems of today`s Guyana are intrinsically linked to the destruction of this intellectual tradition, and the values that underpinned it. Today, as we try to salvage what is left from the debris of over two decades of crippling, woeful ineptitude, and wretched mediocrity in our education system, we must invoke the inspirational memories of this most successful period, ever, in our intellectual history.

To understand Charles Denbow, Walter Rodney, and Halvard White, we must contextualise them within the operations of this tradition. A tradition, that had nurtured them for their record breaking performances. This tradition instilled in its charges, a sense of self worth, positive self esteem, a sense of responsibility to society, virtues of honesty, and integrity, and paramountcy of scholarship, whose obvious inverse is a loathing for mediocrity. During this period,(1930s -1970s), in Guyana, the values of the

home, school, and much of wider society were positively symmetrical. It is not surprising, that out of this tradition, have emerged some of the most integrated, and consistent personalities, on, and off, Guyanese soil. This intellectual tradition remains an epitaph to our glorious intellectual past, and a great monument to our future. It has provided an illimitable, and immeasurable talent pool, from which most of us have drunk. We must all salute its fecundity. The unique configuration of values, during the halcyon days of this intellectual tradition, cultivated the Walter Rod-ney who gave the performance of his life, during the period, 1974-1980.

During the social, and political turmoil of this period, when facing unemployment, daily persecution, and the threat of death, in that landscape of fear, he produced his finest ever, historical work. In the example of Charles Denbow, breaking new grounds in medicine, and the prodigiously talented Mathe-matician, Halvard White, consolidating his position, as the best Mathematician, Guyana has ever produced.

Denbow, Rodney, and White are the three greatest Guyanese scholars. These men are also emblematic of the most successful period in our intellectual history. At best,we must celebrate the brilliance, and inspiration provided by them. They are an indispensable part of our intellectual iconography, and also enduring symbols of national pride. Remember them we must. Both for the impact that they have had on intellectual discourse, for over a period of three decades, and moreso for posterity.

Yours faithfully,

Joseph B.Collins,



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