Guyana in a Cup: A Story of Ancestral Caribbean Relics

A brass cup. One could say there’s not much to it. But to me, it’s a teleportation device to my ancestral grounds.

Growing up in Canada, we’ve always had Heritage Minutes on TV – BURNT TOAST – but to explain my own was complicated. You see, I’m racially mixed; my parents coming from Jamaica and Guyana with ancestors coming from Africa, China, Lebanon, and Scotland.

Being a lot lighter toned and with physical characteristics differing to what most people envision of West Indians, I was constantly balancing expectation with actuality. Add to the equation that I didn’t have an accent, I was denied a lot of my identity growing up.

My mom made sure that my Jamaican heritage was deeply preserved, having us go to elders’ homes quite regularly; just talking and swapping stories, and not an aggressive ear-lashing. This second-hand transferral of knowledge had a profound impact on me.

Peculiarly enough, on my dad’s side of the family, we didn’t talk much about Guyana, unless it was about food. Mind you, I loved being surrounded by Guyanese cuisine such as dhaal purri, potato ball, pholourie, [insert food item] curry, clap roti, pepper pot, and garlic pork – but something was missing.

It was as if one side of my history was being glossed over, only dating back 100 years with everything else becoming a blur after that point.

I didn’t act on uncovering this void of chronology for a number of years – mostly because I was trying to reckon with the face that stared back at me in the mirror – but a then-girlfriend encouraged me to spend more time with my Grandmother.

Those 2-3 hour weekly sessions changed my life. I really fell in love with spending time with my Grandmother. We would share stories about life: where I was going and where she came from.

I remember this one time I opened up about the intolerances I faced. She just kissed her teeth and retorted, “What kind of stupidness? Growing up, all kids – Black, Chiney, Puttugi*, Indian – would play together.”

I’m sure it wasn’t coincidental that around this time I found poetry; I decided that no matter what people thought about me, I would stay true to my identity and my ancestors. I wanted to speak narratives that were typically dismissed and not heard, in a progressive way.

When my grandmother passed, my aunt told us, the grandkids, that we could divvy up some of my Grandmother’s possessions. One of the items that I chose was this simple brass cup.

Something as unassuming as a cup reminds me daily of another time and place. Forged by those of Indian descent (name of manufacturer) during a time of colonialism (British Guiana) and transferred to peoples of all ancestries throughout the country, this cup has been sipped from and polished hundreds of times.

It serves as a reminder of my history – one that society tried to deny me.

I love and miss you, Grandma.

*Note: Chiney and Puttugi are Guyanese patois for Chinese and Portuguese.

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