THE EDITOR: Reference is made to “Woman warrior Andaiye” (Newsday, Wednesday) by Dr Gabrielle Jamela Hosein wherein the writer poured glowing tributes on the Guyanese political activist Sandra Williams, a pan Africanist who changed her name to “Andaiye” to reflect her African roots.
I knew Andaiye from my youthful student days as an activist against the Forbes Burnham dictatorship in Guyana since the 1970s. Gabrielle’s tribute brought back memories of that monumental struggle that continued till democracy was restored in late 1992 with the collapse of the Desmond Hoyte dictatorship.
Andaiye was indeed a feminist but she was also an African nationalist – proud of her roots. She spoke courageously of who she was and her African roots and African culture. She attended pan-Africanist meetings and praised the struggle of her people. She made no apology about her people. Andaiye removed the imperialist appellation Sandra Williams and renamed herself Andaiye (a Swahili name).
When Indians were targeted for violence, she spoke out against it. There is no equivalent in the Indian community anywhere in the Caribbean – no Gabrielle or other female or male activist writer can match this giant of a woman who robustly defended her African culture.
Andaiye was an African heroine and I called on the government of Guyana to honour her activism. Gabrielle and others should take a page from Andaiye’s book and display similar activism in their community and pride in their roots and speak out against injustice.
History would credit Andaiye for being among a few women who confronted local injustice after returning from her studies abroad. She faced off against Burnhamism at a time when those who dared to do so were brutally and savagely beaten. Activists lost limbs (like Dr Josh Ramsammy) and some (like Walter Rodney) their lives; some escaped to Trinidad where they have made their home.
I was also flogged by the Burnham police at a protest rally against Burnham’s curb in religious freedom. Andaiye courageously joined the Movement Against Oppression – the body established at the University of Guyana to challenge the dictatorship, and all were victimised.
Although her father was Burnham’s medical doctor, he was also a victim of Burnhamism for refusing to carry out Burnham’s dictates.
When Burnham banned the importation of food and religious paraphernalia that he described as anathema to his brand of socialism, Andaiye supported the fight against the food ban.
As an aside, if anyone was caught with bread, roti, channa, potatoes and so many other “imperialist” foods, it was straight to jail. (Burnham publicly called these white man food, forgetting that roti, channa, dhal, pholourie, bara are imports from India).
Banned goods including flour to make roti were smuggled from Venezuela, Suriname and Trinidad to prepare tasty “imperialist” dishes. Roadblocks were set up to check suitcases and trunks of vehicles. Some smugglers used creative methods to smuggle foods – in coffins that were not inspected.
Anyone caught with imperialist items were arrested, tried, fined, and jailed. The food police also raided wedding houses, temples, and homes where prayers were conducted looking for banned foods. On the sight of police, hosts would dump roti, pholourie, bara, potatoes, and other “imperialist” foods in latrines and/or rushed them over to neighbours for keeping until the police left.
Often the police would take a bribe or eat a hearty meal and leave with a carry bag (of banned foods) for their friends or families. At times, some unlucky hosts were taken into police custody to display to Burnham that his orders were carried out to eradicate the imperialist foods.
The best way to honour Andaiye is practise what she did – show pride in your roots and stand up against injustice.
DR VISHNU BISRAM via e-mail