The Investiture Ceremony at the National Cultural Centre on Wednesday last was an uplifting event. Those fortunate to be present were able to witness the best of Guyanese, most of them unknown to the public but who have dedicated all or most of their lives to the service of Guyana.
For a brief moment at the ceremony, and later in media reports, Guyana is reminded of the numerous Guyanese who contribute daily, and for entire lifetimes, to the welfare of other Guyanese. It is hardly to be expected that such Guyanese set about their decades’ long service with the objective of eventually obtaining a national award. Most Guyanese who have been honoured are representative not only of their own achievements but also of the numerous other Guyanese who daily give of themselves but who are not nationally recognized. The objective of the awards is to demonstrate to Guyana what commitment, service and patriotism are about.
President Granger, Chancellor of the Orders of Guyana, and Chancellor Carl Singh, Chairman of the Advisory Council of the Orders of Guyana, spoke about the meaning of the event and captured the sentiments of the audience. President Granger said that national honours are the ultimate recognition of a grateful nation for the service of citizens, male or female, rich or poor, from the coastland or hinterland, servicemen or private citizens who have given and continue to give selfless service to our communities. The national awards, the President said, promotes a sense of national identity by proclaiming the values for which we stand and reflect our ambitions and aspirations to improve our quality of life and to encourage emulation.
Chancellor Singh said that the national awards are ‘mementoes of achievement’ for the men and women whose love, loyalty, patriotism, discipline and dedication have earned the recognition of Guyanese. The Chancellor urged that the qualities displayed by the awardees should inspire us to adopt those that would unify our nation and secure its peace, happiness and prosperity.
In the context and atmosphere of the Investiture Ceremony, these words coming at the end, after each awardee was lustily cheered by the audience, registered with the audience, moreso because they had never been heard since 2001, or at least with any inspirational effect, there being only two sets of awards during that period. President Granger alluded to it when he said that capricious conferral of national awards must never happen again and that the service Guyanese have rendered will not be ignored or disparaged. The President said that Guyana will continue to pay homage to its deserving citizens by respecting the institution of National Honours and by appointing persons to the Orders with regularity and consistency.
The refusal in the past to honour many deserving citizens, like the 86-year old Dr. Enid Denbow, is a shame and disgrace for which an apology is owed to the nation. Many like Dr. Denbow, had been consigned to ‘fossildom,’ an ageist state in which those over 65 are alleged to linger or dwell. Adopting the language of the era, the late, great, pioneer broadcaster, Rafiq Khan, referring to himself at the funeral of the late Terry Holder in January, 2014, said: “Fossils like me are long forgotten.”
But he was making another point. It was about the decline in standards, exemplified here by the crass abandonment of the institution of National Awards. Rafiq Khan asked: “How can a generation in the embrace of degraded values be made to recognize perennial excellence?” “Is anyone even noticing that the philistines are taking over our city and country?”
He was talking about some who have helped to set standards but who have or had already arrived in the state of ‘fossildom’ or are rapidly charging there, including the late Hugh Cholmondely, Vic Insanally, Ron Robinson, Rovin Deodat and Carlton James, all in Guyana. They spent lifetimes creating ‘perennial excellence’ for Guyana and their voices ring in the ears of us fossils whenever radio or broadcasting is mentioned. In only the broadcasting profession, one of hundreds, it is the failure to recognize the standards of these past and present broadcasters that is partially responsible for the state of radio today.
Not all Guyanese of excellence will receive national awards. It is not possible to honour all those who deserve to be. But providing that every area of Guyanese life is recognized and rewarded with national recognition, our consciousness will continue to embrace the sentiments mentioned by President Granger and Chancellor Carl Singh in their addresses and hopefully, the ‘degraded values’ of ‘philistinism’ will now begin to recede.