Guest Lecture series. . .
“The Influence of America on Guyanese Culture”
Presented by Francis Farrier, Guyanese journalist, radio host, and playwright
March 29, 2006
"Everyone in Guyana knows all about America, but few in America know anything about Guyana." Thus, did Francis Farrier introduce a group of American students and faculty to the topic of America's influence on the culture of his country. After telling the audience, "They call me 'Uncle Francis'," he proceeded with charm and wit to describe Guyana, providing information that turned out to be at least as fascinating to the audience as their own country's impact there.
The relationship between the United States and Guyana goes back to the 18th century, but has become more dynamic in the past 80 years, especially in regard to religion and culture. Virtually every religion that exists in the U.S. is represented in Guyana. Missionaries and religiously affiliated humanitarian organizations have a large impact there. Guyana's pipeline to U.S. culture was radio until the advent of television. American music has always reached the country and has always had a huge following.
When the U.S. needed allies in the world, it reached out, and Guyana, which gained independence from British colonization in 1966, became an ally. Guyana is still, like all countries, evolving in its culture and in its style of democracy, and, said Farrier, it does not measure up to the true term. In addition, he pointed out an irony in the U.S. practice of democracy as being the way that immigration is such a huge issue here. Americans don't like for too many people from other countries, bringing in their cultures, to settle here, but have no compunction about exporting U.S. culture everywhere in the world.
Much of the U.S. culture in Guyana is of the evangelical type or of the hip-hop sort. Billy Graham and Oral Roberts, radio and TV evangelists, had a big influence in the past. Now the young are influenced by African American music and hip hop culture. Farrier asked, with concern, whether or not America has "oversold itself" because of the way it can override indigenous cultures.
He spoke of the Amerindians of Guyana, indigenous Guyanese who were there before the earliest colonialists, comparing them to American Indians in the States. The Guyanese Amerindians live in the forests of the country and, while occupying all strata of society, are particularly notable in the arts and religion. He compared the Amerind culture with that of Afro-Guyanese culture and described both as being more concerned with human spirituality and the soul than, perhaps, other cultures are.
In a playful moment of chauvinism, Farrier noted that Guyana abolished slavery in 1834, while the U.S. did not until 1865; Guyana had Scouting one year before the U.S. did; and Americans pronounce certain words wrong, such as saying "ad-ver-tise-ment" instead of "ad-vertis-ment."
The demographics of Guyana (which is located in South America, north of Brazil and nestled between Venezuela on the northwest and Suriname to the southeast) today break out as 50 percent (East) Indian, 33 percent Afro-Guyanese, a small percentage of Chinese and Portuguese heritage, and less than one percent of other European heritage. Many Guyanese have emigrated to the U.S. and to countries in the Caribbean. In the 1940s, there were more Afro-Guyanese and, in the 1980s, more Indian-Guyanese. Many Guyanese from all backgrounds go back and forth between Guyana and the U.S.
Such standard American restaurants as Pizza Hut and KFC are found in Guyana, but the food culture remains strongly Guyanese, which means a hodgepodge of ethnic foods, most of which is excellent. Pepper pot is a favorite dish, and Chinese restaurants are special favorites.
Guyana is a poor nation, where unemployment is extremely high. There is resistance to the imported culture and material goods of America, especially by the Rastafarians, not only because some feel there is just too much of it, but also because many of those goods could be made locally to help built up the Guyanese economy.
Farrier, who has been a notable and eloquent proponent of "true democracy," has criticized governments and cultural issues for many years. His has been a voice for a free and democratic Guyana on the radio in the past, on television today, and as a journalist and creative writer. He ended his talk by reading one of his poems, titled "Let Me Speak!" It was a fitting conclusion for one who has made a life's work of speaking to power "with due respect."