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May 26 marks another year of our Independence and I wish you and all Guyanese a Happy and Thoughtful Independence Day.
For those of us who yearn for a truly viable and united country, we still face the impediment of some folks wittingly or unwittingly distorting and rewriting our history. Unless as a people, we can learn the facts which inform the path we will remain the hobbling and wobbly nation and not realize the hopes, dreams and aspirations as contained in our Motto of One People, One Nation, One Destiny,
Recently I have heard the regurgitation of falsehoods about how May 26 was identified as a date for formal Independence in 1966.
Some of those contentions are unworthy of my repeating them. What follows cannot be challenged. As the final Independence Conference was winding down I recall at a luncheon hosted by a British official, some of us from the PNC Delegation suggested February 23 as the appropriate date for Independence. Peter D’Aguiar, the only other Leader of a political party present, urged August 1, the day that the British issued the proclamation for the Emancipation of African slaves.
The PNC Delegation felt our Independence date should not be the same as Emancipation date. The British official pointed out that February would not give sufficient time to settle the physical and other arrangements for the transition.
We therefore looked for a date between February and August 1 and one British official suggested May 24. Sharp as a tack, Burnham reminded him that that was the Queen’s official birthday. Again unacceptable.
May 26, therefore, was agreed. May 26 had a further significance as is pointed out in Dr. Mohamed Shahabuddeen’s Book Constitution Reform, See Page 37.
In his acceptance speech in the Parliament of Guyana, Premier Forbes Burnham in the presence of the representative of Our Gracious Majesty Queen Elizabeth II noted as follows “Today is historic primarily because we are indulging in an exercise, the first of its kind by the Parliament of Guyana. But there is another significance about today’s date, for in the Year of Our Lord 1787 on the 26th of May, there was established a Constitution by the Dutch, much more liberal than the Constitution which was substituted for it in 1928, and I have a feeling that today we are redressing the events of 1928 by opening our Parliament on the same date on which a relatively liberal Constitution, subsequently suspended was established.”
There could be and there was no other reason but the mis-informed and mischievous continue on their merry ways.
I give you one other example of the mischief or misinformation which some seemed to prevail and which some innocent folks have bought into as gospel. In a conversation with Rev. Dale Bisnauth, who was then Minister of Education, I asked him why it was that the PPP seemed to be throwing cold water on the day we celebrated the Republic. Without pausing, he said because that date was Burnham’s birth anniversary.
Burnham’s birthdate is February 20th, and identifying February 23 is only related to the slave uprising at Magdalenenburg in 1763. Dr. Bisnauth’s response points to the need for us to relay the whole truth on our past, so all of us can better understand our present conditions and therefore give us intellectual vigor to make our Independence meaningful and beneficial.
This is my plea to both sides of our political divide.
This Independence must allow us to heal not hurt, to mend and not rend.
Happy, Thoughtful Independence!
Hamilton Green is the only one alive and living in Guyana who was present at that final Independence Conference held at Lancaster House in November 1965.