Easter Monday and sacrifice

Today is Easter Monday, a public holiday, and it would certainly not be out of place for all of Guyana – not just Christians – to reflect deeply on the central value of the occasion being commemorated – the death and resurrection of Jesus. It concerns the centrality of sacrifice in raising man above the brutish life and offering him one of peace and progress. Religion, in all its multifaceted approaches to address, ameliorate and eventually liberate the human condition, has been one of these values. In addition to the sacrifice of Jesus in the Christian Bible, there is that of Abraham, who helped to define not only Judaism and Islam, but Christianity itself. Hinduism, the second largest religion in Guyana, explicitly exhorts its adherents to see their entire life as a “yagna” or sacrifice.
Sacrifice in the religious sphere is related to the value of altruism in man’s social relations: that unselfish regard for the welfare of others that can, in extreme instances, even work against one’s own interest. Altruism might appear to be an unknown quality in our nation, founded as it was on the institutions of slavery and indentureship; the quintessence of exploitation of man’s inhumanity to man. But every action has its reaction and every act of selfishness on the part of the planters and the colonial powers was matched by acts of sacrifice and altruism by our ancestors, who struggled to overcome.
Sharing of food, scarce as it was, was the order of the day. The young were raised by all. Even the rack and the treadmill could not wring betrayal from those who were tortured to reveal the identities of those who had resisted. They taught each other to read and write in secret even though if discovered, the penalty was invariably more torture. We remember the sacrifice of those who rebelled to cast off their chains and those who were gunned down as they protested for better wages and living conditions. It would be remiss of us to forget the sacrifice of the Nonconformist clergy to improve the lot of the oppressed in the face of vindictive planter harassment.
We fast-forward to the modern era when, whatever their inevitable human shortcomings and weaknesses, the post-WWII generation struggled for our independence and the right to chart and craft our destiny. It cannot be gainsaid that after those heady days, we have faltered from our goals. And it is not coincidental that our collective spirit of sacrifice and altruism has declined commensurately in those years. No nation can survive, much less build and exalt itself when the guiding motto is “every man for himself and the Devil take the hindmost”. And very sadly, this is where we have delivered ourselves today.
We did not have to fight for our independence and consequently did not experience the collective sacrifice of those countries that did so and which fused them into more united and cohesive nations. In the late 18th century, the United States and France fought against their oppressive monarchies and against great odds, established the goals of “E Pluribus Unum – out of many, one” and “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity” for all others that followed them in the following centuries. In our case, unfortunately, we had a leader who divided the nation by cynically exploiting latent ethnic fears to obtain power on a platter from the colonial power. Today, some insist on talking about “us vs them” rather than One Guyana – “We, the Guyanese people”. We must with all haste return to the road of building this nation for which so much ancestral sacrifice has been expended.
Five decades after independence, we still have a long way to go before we can call ourselves a “developed” country. But fortuitously, we finally have the wherewithal to do so. We have to return to our roots and re-inculcate the spirit of sacrifice and altruism that our ancestors practised and of which the sacrifice of Jesus should remind us today.
Happy Easter Monday to all Guyana.

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