This is a tribute of Eusi Kwayana to Andaiye, which captures her connection to the Rodney legacy, and the political and humanist traditions she shared with many others in Guyana and across the world, and her patent originality and uniqueness in the global struggle.
As we were preparing to observe the 39th anniversary of the dastardly killing of Walter Rodney of Guyana, Andaiye, a fighter in the struggle for social justice and full equality between toilers and oppressors and between women and men lost her long battle with cancer. It is fitting for us to dedicate space to memorialising Andaiye, as we mark this anniversary of Walter Rodney’s killing. Below we publish Eusi Kwayana’s tribute.
Tribute to Andaiye
“6:35 p.m. on 31 May 2019 is a moment that should remind us of a life that will remain vital to the all-round reconstruction of Guyana, the Caribbean, the hemisphere, and Africa. Silently, at that moment, Andaiye tek she bundle an’ go-way. She has left thousands in the spaces in which she worked, torn between a sense of relief at the end of her physical ordeal and the sudden realisation that her active engagement in the up-hill tasks before us is no longer possible. We are also, while celebrating her most remarkable and productive life, sorrowful at the loss of her friendship, her laughter, her love and above all, the sense of mothering that was ingrained in her being.
Here I must testify to the mutual love and respect that has prevailed for all time between her, her family, her close associates and our family. Andaiye’s multiple talents in human development have been recited in most of the tributes published. To save time and space, I wish to adopt and recommend, for the good of all concerned, the recommendation of one writer. It is the suggestion that the best honour we can pay to her departed mentor is to make a serious attempt to adopt, as far as we can, her principles and her conduct – her praxis.
Her praxis included certain interventions into public affairs in her own name and at her own risk, or in one case in an activity in which she was seen as a central figure.
When the official newspaper of the day thought fit to publish an uninformed and disrespectful attack on the Rastafarian community of Guyana, Andaiye took up her pen, broke with the known reflexes of wide sections of the society and rebuked the offending editorial.
Most Guyanese today are aware that our country lacks an overall national sense necessary for people aspiring to be a nation. Part of this comes from the fact that the political institution to which our people entrust their future are often lacking in moral courage. It will be necessary for serious people who have any hope left to continue this conversation outside of the atmosphere of a celebration such as this. We shall find that one courageous woman had often pointed the way towards cooperation. She did not call for the abolition of differences, but for “cooperation and unity across differences.” Andaiye has taught us therefore that we cannot make everything over to our own taste and preference, but that we have the power to create and secure a national community in which, regardless of race, gender, class and age, ability and disability, all are entitled to equal respect and equal security. This is a challenge in particular to the major political institutions and also to their supporters. It is a challenge on which the future, not of our beloved Andaiye, but of the present and future generations depends.
Andaiye tek she bundle an’ go-way. In the United States of America, the radio was playing today, Billie Holiday’s “I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places.” May the society embrace her example and be fair to her memory.”
Andaiye—Colleague of Walter Rodney
Andaiye was a social justice activist, and colleague of Walter Rodney, who fought the good fight in defence of the people against oppression. Andaiye was cremated after a rousing celebration of life in Guyana on Saturday 8 June 2019. Her earthly remains, her ashes will in due course be transported to Africa for internment. As a daughter of the enslaved, she never lost her connection to the continent. Even now at death ceremonies, choruses would chant, establishing connections with the ancestral origins:
Congo creolee, one b’ one
Awee a’ go-way, one b’ one.
These chants take the place of the well-known death songs and dirges that knowledge of the arts of the continent reveals.
We can think of Andaiye as an ordinary person of great achievement and distinction, or as a person of great achievement and distinction who was very ordinary. This is the measure of the woman as she went about her hourly, daily exertions of body and of intellect.
“It is not the consciousness of humans that determines their social being, but their social being that determines their consciousness.” (Karl Marx—Critique of Political Economy) If we think mechanically, it would seem that Andaiye’s life is an open contradiction to this maxim. However, if we bear in mind the complexities of class and of human possibilities, her life would seem to justify the maxim. When we say that Andaiye was of the middle class of the post-colonial society of Guyana and the Caribbean, we are talking not of a class that was broken off by wear and tear from some entrenched ruling class. We mean instead, a class that arose from the self-emancipated communities of African, Asian and Portuguese bondspeople enslaved in the case of Africans and indentured in the case of others as well as of late-arriving Africans after 1838. We also talk of self-emancipated members of the indigenous peoples who have breached historic obstacles to arrive in small numbers at some areas of national visibility.
Like her colleague Walter Rodney, the historian and perceptive analyst of post-colonial society, she did not seek to obscure her class identity. Unlike Rodney, whose father was a self-employed tailor within the authentic working class, Andaiye was the daughter of a Doctor of Medicine, a profession that had been traditionally accorded a measure of social privilege not open to other members of the non-European sectors of the population. Andaiye was very aware of this marginal privilege and used it as a constant reminder of her need and duty to help generate forces of liberation to overthrow race and class oppression and lay the foundations of a just and equal society. Walter Rodney who had entered this class through the gateway of scholarship, reconciled himself to it only on the condition that its members choose as their allies the broad sections of working people in their daily grind to sustain life and free themselves from the multiple oppressions that have proven to be so ruinous to small societies. Andaiye induced in her psyche a restless social conscience, which took on the nature of an affliction that infected a growing number of her contemporaries.
In the tribute copied above, is the story of one of her numerous interventions into a sensitive, but vital area of public life. She was one of the first to proclaim publicly in Guyana the merits of the Rastafari who later on were to contribute so much to the liberation culture of oppressed humanity.
Andaiye was vigilant and critical not only in regard to the State and powerful corporations and growing power centres. She was equally vigilant about the conduct and quality of organisations claiming to be revolutionary, or transformative. She had joined the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), as an individual at its pre-party stage and was one of the founders of the political party of the same name in 1979. At every stage she had remarked on the authority of women in the WPA, which even then stood among political parties in relation to the number of articulate women in its leading organs. Andaiye, with her penetrating vision, did not believe that women in the WPA had any greater authority than women in the other political parties of the country and the region. She pursued this critique until she and others took the initiative of establishing WPA women, an autonomous group within the WPA.
In the other political parties in the country, especially those of the West, there were these women’s organisations, but their role was one in support of the party leadership, subject to direction and instructions of the dominant gender. This was not to be the case with WPA women. It was to be, and developed, not without some resistance, into the authentic voice of womanhood in the prevailing conditions of Guyana. Perhaps it was this nucleus, undoubtedly with Andaiye as a main advocate, that joined with women outside of the party’s structure and discipline to establish Red Thread as a women’s development organisation.
So far as is known, Red Thread apart from its well-known activities in the lives of women and children, was the only women’s organisation of the social justice vintage to invite and obtain public support from well-wishers and established its own headquarters, its own physical space. It was to become a full-time organisation whose educational services and support for the livelihood of pockets of underprivileged-women and children became an ongoing process. Such was its range that it once owned and operated in a very discouraging environment the Red Thread press. It can be said after her passing without the threat of rebuke from her that in all this, Andaiye was central and fully engaged until illness imposed a reallocation of her time and presence.
Global women’s strike
Red Thread had various associates in and out of Guyana. An early one of these was the Jamaican organisation SISTREN, which had a lively and vigorous campaign for transformation through drama in which it used the common speech, or vernacular of the Jamaican people. Red Thread’s next link, which has endured was with the Global Women’s Strike, the creation of women based in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, inspired by the ideas of Selma James and others for whom payment for housework was the essential theme. The Global Women’s Strike promoted annual demonstrations on the 8th of March, International Women’s Day, in a growing number of countries, especially in the Western Hemisphere.
In 2002, Red Thread organised its part of this global demonstration in the Linden community of Guyana. It was a time of multiple oppressions falling on the poor and especially on working people including suffering grinding property oppression, and the hostilities of violence. The slogan for that year was “Stop the World—and Change It!” Andaiye led this march in Guyana’s mining town, Linden and a few male colleagues of the WPA were in the ranks. This march was the occasion for one of the great teaching moments of the post-colonial world in the people’s efforts to overcome the inter-communal conflict generated as a matter of domination by occupying colonial powers. This is no place for the discussion of Guyana’s experience of inter-communal conflict much of which has been given partisan interpretations elsewhere.
In 1964 in Linden, there had taken place as one of the incidents in a long episode of ethnic attack and ethnic retaliation an attack on the minority Indian community of Linden, a mining town. True, the party in government at that time whose constituents were mainly the victims, mounted an inquiry, which handed down its strictures and allocated blame. For Andaiye, who was 21 at the time and uninvolved in adversarial politics, something else was required. All the public knew was that the march in Guyana ended in a public rally at the band stand on the Mackenzie side of Linden.
At this rally, the Red Thread women of African descent, native to Linden, took the microphone and uttered a statement, which has turned out to be unique in the history of inter-ethnic conflict in Guyana, as no such statement had been made before or since that day, 8 March 2002. The Red Thread woman taking on the burden of history apologised to the victims of 48 years earlier when she herself, if at all yet born, was merely a toddler. It is perhaps a sufficient description of politics in Guyana ten years after the so called “Returned to Democracy” in 1992 that brought the People’s Progressive Party back in control of the government, to say that the government and non-government media outside of the WPA ignored this redemptive gesture made by Red Thread is an understatement.
Not in my name
One more example of Andaiye’s exemplary intervention into Guyana’s conflicted public affairs took place later in the same decade, like the previous one in the wake of the conflicted 2001 general elections, the country and Guyana had been overwhelmed by communal conflict, essentially between the two race-based and major electoral parties. In this case however, a contrivance evolved, which allowed the conflict essentially between these two forces to be fought by proxy. This accursed sophistication allowed the potential beneficiaries of this conflict to appear to be above it or detached from it. On one side a self-acting band of vigilantes armed with AK 47’s entrenched itself in an otherwise unarmed village from which it carried out its exploits. On the official side, the government, which had by then wreaked havoc among criminal suspects of African descent had assembled its own vigilantes armed not only with weapons, but also with a piece of sophisticated surveillance hardware sold only to governments.
One tense evening on private television there appeared a young male vigilante displaying his weapon and undertaking to liberate by these obvious means Guyana’s African population. The effect on viewers can better be imagined than described. This was clearly an insertion into the political system not of an instrument of transformation from injustice and inequality to reconciliation and redemption. This vigilante and his message did not initiate Guyana’s conflicts, but brought a message that was likely to aggravate them without any attempt at resolution. No doubt there were as many responses to this display as there were viewers and political factions.
However, it was the indomitable Andaiye unarmed and unprotected by guards who made the first rational and reassuring response to the message. Her letter was published in some print and electronic media under a caption drawn from her letter “Not in My Name.” This response was as electrifying as the message it answered. Whatever else was said in the rest of this episode had to take Andaiye’s declaration into account. On balance, her disclaimer gave the country new hope of some sane approach to the furies that assaulted it.
Challenge to major electoral parties—Guyana needs human and humane mode of ethnic conflict resolution
I have said elsewhere that in Andaiye’s departure we mourn Guyana’s conscience. The present comments are intended as a challenge to the major electoral parties in Guyana that enjoy, for the time being, social clout in the society, which whether they know it or not is experiencing the birth-pangs of change. Part of what Andaiye has done over the years is to point these political giants to a human and humane mode of conflict resolution, which has always been in their power and even at this stage lies in their power.
It is fitting to end this review and at the same time to reduce the tension it may unintentionally excite by quoting the words of an Anglican priest at Enmore, Guyana on Victory in Europe Day 1945 at a military church parade celebrating the allied victory. The churchmen reminded the world powers that “The races of human kind are remarkably alike.” He went on to warn that unless the races learned to live together in what he called from his world view Christian brotherhood, there would be a dim future for all as he put it, “The races of mankind will slide down the slopes of decadence finally and inexorably into the sombre silence of eternal oblivion.” (Rev. W. H. Sears)
In the tributes paid to Andaiye in the Guyana media were many regrets that she had not been suitably, or at all, recognised or honoured by governments. What has hurt the country is not the failure of governments serially to accord some spectacular honour to this wiry gift of the ancestors to our age. It is their failure as one commentator expressed it to attempt, to adopt her praxis. She not only stood forever with those of all races threatened with marginalisation. She set examples of a healthy and sincere respect for the Other of the spirit that can achieve the necessary reconciliation and of respect for difference and of cooperation across differences. She achieved the status of a global mentor of her time. May perpetual recognition attend her memory.
* Eusi Kwayana is a Guyanese writer and politician who has been an active member of Guyana’s cultural and political life since the 1940s. He was minister of the first People’s Progressive Party government in 1953 and one of the founders of the African Association for Racial Equality and later the African Society for Cultural Relations with Independent Africa. Eusi was also a colleague of Walter Rodney and a foundational member of the leadership of the WPA.
Tribute and remembrances of Andaiye can be uploaded to Website in her honour: http://andaiye1942-2019.com/
Andaiye was a patriot who fought alongside Walter Rodney.
13 June 2019 marks 39 years since Walter Rodney fell. The full copy of the Walter Rodney Commission of inquiry report can be accessed online: http://www.guyana.org/govt/Rodney_COI_Report-GNI_edition.pdf