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Seven Amazing Days in the life of Eze Ogueri

Introduction

On a modern globe British Guiana occupies a modest place – a relatively small spot of color on the north east shore of South America – quite dwarfed by its neighbor Brazil to the south, and by its North American cousins, Mexico, the United States, and Canada to the north. But for all its size British Guiana has historically been a gem in the crown of European Empire, a land long noted for its natural beauties and its riches, for its lonely mystery.

And today in British Guiana a people who heritage has been toil are fumbling their way toward self-realization and toward the goal of membership in the society of nations. More than every nine out of every ten Guianese are people of color, most of them the grand children and the great grand children of the hard working and deeply religious laboring folk who were brought to the shores of South America to cut the cane and mine the diamonds and gold which sweetened, enriched and beautified much of the rest of the western world. These working people, many of them the descendants of former slaves or indentured laborers, have multiplied in numbers until today the original American Indian population upon whom the future of British Guiana, the land of six peoples, will depend. The principal population groupings are the African and the East Indian. It is difficult for any one to understand the feeling of national inferiority who has never experienced the status of a colonial, especially the status of a colonial in an imperial system where the non-white in an adopted land had not, until recently, played a significant role of leadership. But such has been the case with the large mass of people in British Guiana. Brought up in a world where British custom and European history and tradition were the molding influence, the colored peoples of British Guiana and especially the Africans have known little of their past. Must it be always thus? Like children who stir restively under the reigns of their parents, the peoples of British Guiana have watched elder brothers, like India, Indonesia, the Gold Coast and Nigeria, achieve or approach national identity and a dignity of their own. The concept of racial superiority or inferiority has been gradually demonstrated as a meaningless myth and this has led the Guianese, especially perhaps those of African background, to feel pride rather than shame in their common past and seek to know more about their heritage.

To this end the British Guiana League of Colored Peoples began devoting itself in the thirties. Its aims, modestly stated, have been in general the cultural encouragement and promotion of the peoples of African derivation in British Guiana, but by its very name it is designed to stimulate, encourage, and care for the welfare of all people of color in the country. Among the members are persons of Indian, Chinese, Portuguese, Malayan or indigenous American background. It has received encouragement from fair-minded and far- sighted members of the European white community, and it is generally regarded with respect because its activities have been almost entirely non-political and concerned with the intellectual and social welfare of its members.

For several years after the end of World War 2 the executive of the League had discussed the possibility of finding a representative young African of education and promise who might be invited to British Guiana as a guest of the Africa peoples, both to stimulate interest in the League and its work and to advertise to the country as a whole the significance of the African share in the nation's present and future. The Indian peoples had been notably successful in bring distinguished Indians to the capital and there seemed no good reason why the Africans could not do likewise.

It was not until the summer of 1950 that the young man was found who proved the ideal choice, and it is about him and his "Seven Amazing Days" in British Guiana that this book relates. Unfortunate delays and a campaign of misrepresentation marred the original plans for his coming, but his eventual appearance was received with increased warmth and appreciation for the difficulties, which had stood in his way. His welcome surpassed even the most fervent dreams of the League's executive. Everywhere he was greeted with rapture and uninhibited delight. One could not help but think of the enthusiasm lavished on national heroes like Charles A Lindbergh, of the United States, the Trans-Atlantic pioneer aviator, when one saw the crowds which constantly pressed in upon him, and yet Eze Ogueri 2 took it all calmly, considerately. Always he was alert, energetic, kind, utterly charming. His schedule was something, which would have undone a man less physically, fit, and yet he kept his quiet dignity and his unruffled calm while at the same time endearing himself to the people by his lively personality and his public presence. Where else in the world could one find a young man just out of college who could have done with such sensitivity what Eze did? There were few of the League's executive who did not feel completely awed and physically exhausted by the assignments of that week - and yet Eze went on and on.

It is a fitting tribute, on the fourth anniversary, to Eze Ogueri's mission and the message of goodwill he brought to Guiana that this volume should attempt to record some of the wonders of that week of December 1950 and January 1951. May things have happened since and it cannot tell everything, but let it stand as a testament to Eze's ideal. Everywhere he urged increased recognition among peoples of African descent of the meaning and the importance of African past. But, more important, he pleaded for brotherhood among the Six Peoples of British Guiana, believing that in their mutual diversity and unity lay something of that elusive goal of world peace. As such a statement, this book will serve, as does Eze Day which the Guianese now celebrate annually on December 27th, to mark the anniversary of Eze's coming and awaken among the peoples of African heritage a sense of their meaning and responsibilities. It is also a fitting reward for his humane accomplishments that Eze should be the first living African whose "Day" in spite of his early celebrated annually in a foreign country.

This book was largely written by the people who took part in those exciting days. Their names appear within its pages. It would be appropriate to add the League's thanks to various individuals at Harvard University who aided with editorial help and encouragement; chief among them was William Bentinck-Smith, former editor of the Harvard Alumni Bulletin. The League is grateful to the understanding interest of the publisher, Mr. Edward A. Yeran, of the House of Edinboro, Boston. And, finally, to the cooperation of Eze Ogueri 11 who provided an inspiration long to be remembered.

Claude H. Denbow.

Georgetown, British Guiana

September 1954

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