The long speak: The portraying of Scots as abolitionists and radical champions has secreted 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 liquid 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 leading edge of a former empire burnished by the relentless equatorial sun and one on the edge of Europe flogged 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 hint of a hidden association with the Scottish Highlands some 5,000 miles away.
As a child, I knew low levels of my parents’ nation 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 answered 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 nanny at Rushgreen hospital in Essex.
I had called Guyana just once at nine years old( our merely plane vacation as children) when my mother’s youngest sister was getting married. My recollections of that time are fragmented and rather strange: the scorch heat; the propensity of people to douse themselves with Limacol (” breeze in a bottle “); the glossy rubber leaves the size of dinner plates that were used to serve sticky dances of rice at the wedding dinner; the constant nag of bugs- mosquitoes, cockroaches, spiders, flies- enlarged in sizing and more ferocious than any I’d seen in the UK; the sting and shame of getting sunburnt for the first time (” wha’ happ’n wid de gal face “); and finally my aunt examining demure in a white-hot cord 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 feted 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 parties later resolved and reached Guyana their dwelling, so it is known as the territory of six folks, with parties of African, Indian, Chinese and European descent, as well as native Amerindians and a sizeable mixed-race radical, doing up its population.
The story of why my own family came to be in the Caribbean had been blurred over age: 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 drew much insight, but there have been few other notable drives. Guyana doesn’t feature in the history books or the school 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 property and rise 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 yielded it and its history all but invisible from the collective British consciousness. Perhaps fittingly, it was the muse for Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World.
I am standing on a bank cluttered with dried grass and needles on the eastern bank of Loch Ness. Below me, shimmering like a membrane of burnished steel, is the fabled liquid. I watch as puffy clouds tow shadows across its skin-deep. North of where I stand is Dochfour House and Gardens, a sprawling, sandy-coloured, Italianate mansion, the ancestral home 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 patrolled his countries intensely up until his death- one floor has him obliging a auto bonnet down on the mitt of a extend motorist “whos been” the temerity to examine his vehicle machine near the entryway of the property.
Today the 11,000 -acre estate can be hired for” exclusive house defendants” and corporate contests. Guests can spend time in the grand manor, or experience shooting, fishing and voyaging in the extended grounds.
It’s an impressive gift, even more so when you realise that the Baillies of Dochfour were resulting” West Indian merchants” in the 1700 s and early 1800 s, active in the slave trade and the ownership of plantations in the Caribbean. Brothers 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 soils of its neighboring islands had been exploited, jaunts into Guyana introduced more fertile territory. Consequently, the Baillies established a number of plantations there, with this colony yielding substantial gains even after the obliteration of slavery.