Waugh’s Writing Cited for Guyana Anniversary

The current issue of Caribbean Beat (the inflight journal of Caribbean Airlines) carries a story about the five areas of touristic interest in Guyana. This is part of a promotional effort in connection with this year’s 50th anniversary of Guyana’s independence. One of the regions described is the savannah (or Rupununi region) lying south of the coast. It was in this region (in what was then British Guiana) that Evelyn Waugh spent much of his time during a 1932-33 trip he later described in his book Ninety-Two Days. The author of this section of the article (Brendan de Caires) quotes from Waugh’s book to evoke the character of this remote area:

Outsiders aren’t always charmed. Trekking towards Brazil in 1933, the British writer Evelyn Waugh felt so disoriented by the landscape — “empty plain; sparse, colourless grass; anthills; sandpaper trees, an occasional clump of ragged palm” — that he sought refuge in the writings of Thomas Aquinas. Waugh’s diary, which would later be written up as Ninety-Two Days, finds him “sat among ants for an hour,” enduring “great heat and suffering from thirst,” cold and sleepless in his hammock, and with “feet full of jiggers.” Water offered no relief: “one does not do much swimming in these rivers because they are full of dangerous creatures — sting ray, electric eels, and carnivorous fish.” En route to Kurupukari, he endures the company of Mr Bain, a man whose “tiresome solicitude” and garrulity disprove the legend that “men who administer distant territories are ‘strong and silent’”:
“Listen,” said Mr Bain one day, “that is most interesting. It is what we call the ‘six o’clock beetle,’ because he always makes that noise at exactly six o’clock.”
“But it is now a quarter past four.”
“Yes, that is what is so interesting.”

Waugh returned to British Guiana in 1962 on a cruise with his daughter Margaret, then 19.  He wrote of this journey for the Daily Mail and the Sunday Times in articles reprinted in Essays, Articles and Reviews (“Here They Are, the English Lotus-Eaters,” p. 583 and “Eldorado Revisted,” p. 592). He found conditions in Guiana much changed since the 1930s, with horseback travel to the interior replaced by jeeps and airplanes in the wake of newly opened bauxite mines. He was appalled by the racial hatreds that had been revealed by introduction of a degree of self rule and concluded that “no collection of people could be less ‘ripe for democracy’ or even for one-party dictatorship” (EAR, p. 595). Waugh also discovered after his return to England that he had bored some of his British hosts during this visit, a revelation from which he never fully recovered.



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