The long speak: The show of Scots as abolitionists and radical champions has hidden a long history of advantaging from bondage in the Caribbean. By Yvonne Singh
The mangrove-fringed coast of Guyana, at the north-eastern tip of South America, does not immediately bring to mind the Highlands of Scotland, in the northernmost part of Great Britain. Guyana’s mudflats and silty brown coastal ocean have little in common with the lush dark-green mountains and glens of the Highlands. If these sceneries share anything, it is their remoteness- one on the edge of a former empire burnished by the relentless equatorial sun and one on the leading edge of Europe whipped mercilessly by the Atlantic winds.
But look closer and the links are there: Alness, Ankerville, Belladrum, Borlum, Cromarty, Culcairn, Dingwall, Dunrobin, Fyrish, Glastullich, Inverness, Kintail, Kintyre, Rosehall, Tain, Tarlogie, a join-the-dots list of placenames( 30 in all) south of Guyana’s capital Georgetown that clue of a obscured association with the Scottish Highlands some 5,000 miles away.
As a child, I knew low levels of my mothers’ commonwealth Guyana. I knew that it was part of the British West Indies and the only English-speaking country in South America. I knew that my mothers, as part of the Windrush generation, had responded to the call for labour in postwar Britain. My father, aged 19, travelled by ship from Trinidad in 1960 and enjoyed a long career with the Royal Mail; my mother arrived by aircraft a couple of years later, to work as a harbour at Rushgreen hospital in Essex.
I had seen Guyana just once at nine years old( our simply plane holiday as children) when my mother’s youngest sister was getting married. My remembrances of that time are scrapped and rather strange: the singe hot; the propensity of parties to douse themselves with Limacol (” breeze in a bottle “); the glossy rubber leaves the size of dinner plates that were used to serve sticky balls of rice at the marry dinner; the constant nag of insects- mosquitoes, cockroaches, spiders, flies- magnified in size and more wicked than any I’d seen in the UK; the ache and humiliation of getting sunburnt for the first time (” wha’ happ’n wid de gal face “); and finally my aunt looking demure in a white lace wedding dress for the Christian wedding ceremony, then transforming into a Lakshmi-like vision in a red-and-gold sari for the Hindu nuptials.
For this was and is a country that celebrated all beliefs- Christian, Hindu, Muslim- all features of a colonial past that involved the forced movement of people across continents to a life of bondage and indenture. Those beings later resolved and formed Guyana their home, so it is known as the ground of six peoples, with people of African, Indian, Chinese and European swoop, as well as native Amerindians and a sizeable mixed-race radical, making up its population.
The story of why my own family came to be in the Caribbean had been blurred over period: it was something to do with the British, something to do with slavery, but that was all that was shared. Decades later the Guyanese-American journalist Gaiutra Bahadur wrote the seminal journal Coolie Woman, which fetched much insight, but there have been few other notable tasks. Guyana doesn’t feature in the history books or the curriculum in Britain.
This is astonishing when you think that the British had such a role to play in that nation’s birth and how central that colony was to the United Kingdom’s industrial resource and growth in the 19 th century. Unlike the Caribbean islands of Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad, it is possible that Guyana’s unique geography( being attached to the South American mainland) has made it and its history all but invisible from the collective British consciousness. Perhaps fittingly, it was the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World.
I am standing on a ridge cluttered with dehydrated grass and buds on the eastern bank of Loch Ness. Below me, shimmering like a membrane of burnished steel, is the fabled water. I watch as puffy glooms tow darkness across its surface. North of where I stand is Dochfour House and Gardens, a sprawling, sandy-coloured, Italianate mansion, the ancestral residence of the Baillie family , now owned by Alexander Baillie, after the death of his father- the eccentric Lord Burton– in 2013. The late lord was a hands-on estate owner and guarded his tracts intensely up until his death- one narration has him pressuring a gondola bonnet down on the mitt of a occur motorist who had the temerity to examine his auto locomotive near the entryway of the property.
Today the 11,000 -acre estate can be hired for” exclusive home parties” and corporate phenomena. Guests can spend time in the grand manor, or experience shooting, fishing and sailing in the extended grounds.
It’s an impressive bequest, even more so when you be understood that the Baillies of Dochfour were resulting” West Indian sellers” in the 1700 s and early 1800 s, active in the slave traffic and the ownership of orchards in the Caribbean. Friend Alexander and James, along with their cousin George, started trading in St Kitts and Grenada as Smith& Baillies in the 1760 s. Their substantial sakes spread to include plantations in Jamaica, Nevis, St Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago.
When the grunges of the neighbouring islands had been exploited, tours into Guyana portrayed more fertile territory. Consequently, the Baillies established a number of orchards there, with this colony yielding substantial earnings even after the obliteration of slavery.