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 on this value. In addition to the sacrifice of Jesus in the Christian Bible, there is that of Abraham that 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 power 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 that 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 that 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 own 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 cannot 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 have the shameful instances with several of those who have been elected to serve our country, have used their positions to enrich themselves from the public purse, even though they received a handsome 50 per cent increase in salary on assuming office, which was supposed to eliminate that particular temptation. We insist on talking about “us versus them” rather than “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 rather than pointing fingers and playing the blame game, we suggest that we reflect on the symbolism of whenever we point a finger at another, three are pointed at ourselves. Our country ultimately is not a piece of land: it is us, the people of Guyana – all of us. And has been said before: if we don’t hang together, we will certainly hang separately.
We have to return to our roots, re-inculcate the spirit of sacrifice and altruism that our ancestors practiced and of which the sacrifice of Jesus should remind us about today.
Happy Easter Monday to all Guyana.