|A Gifted Son - Gordon Rohlehr
Monday, October 8th 2007
BOTH in physical and in intellectual terms, the towering figure
of Guyanese-born literature professor Gordon Rohlehr retired
from active duty at the University of the West Indies. A fixture at
the St Augustine campus since the late 1960s, Prof Rohlehr
demonstrated from his earliest days what a true scholar was.
In paying tribute to the colossal contributions he has made to
West Indian scholarship, to the intellectual and cultural traditions
of the people of this region, it is important also to note a major
fact of the personality with which he was imbued.
Absolutely devoid of airs, of professorial perch or of any sense
of superiority, he presided over so many of the pursuits with which
he was associated, with consummate ease and with unusual humility.
This is one of the many attributes which endeared him to the
possibly thousands of students who encountered him over these years.
but he was not simply a cloistered academic. He lent his enormous
prestige to a wide variety of community and cultural causes, never
disdaining to address an audience on almost any subject handed him.
In halls and centres high and low, in gatherings large and small,
high-brow equally as low, he would enrich an audience's
understanding of issues related to West Indian society and politics,
art and culture, life and letters.
But it was perhaps his professional dedication to the
deconstruction and the greater understanding of calypso that the
people of Trinidad and Tobago most importantly owe him a debt of
gratitude that can never really be repaid. Prof Rohlehr pioneered
the academic and the intellectual study of calypso and the
calypsonian, tracing its history over several centuries, and
surveying the enormous material produced by generations of West
Indians from one territory to the other.
He made otherwise unknown connections between the calypsonians in
his native Guyana with those in Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada and
Jamaica, among others. He revealed in more than a few contexts, the
extent to which the calypsonian expressed the soul of the peoples
over the years. He documented the movements from one genre to
another, from one age to the other, from one part of the region to
And he kept making those crucial connections, refusing to
romanticise any particular era over another, putting the same
intellectual rigour and the intellectual's penetrating insights to
the soca and the ragga, as he would have done with what he had
described as the bhaji and the mento rhythms. For giving calypso
such a respected place in the world of academia and intellectual
understanding, and for placing it right alongside the other elements
of the West Indian literary traditions, Prof Rohlehr himself
deserves the region's highest accolades.
But for so much more than that, his place has already been
assured as one of the region's best and its brightest, as well as
one of its most human and humane of gifted sons.
Source: Trinidad Express
Posted: February 2008