…her ancestor was source of name for Buxton village
Sathya Sai devotee Dana Gillipsie, who had adapted her singing of Blues to Bhajans after visiting Baba in India over thirty years ago, visited Guyana last week to perform at the local Sai centers in Georgetown, Berbice and other locales, made what to her was a very soulful discovery.
Her “great, great, great, great uncle”, was Thomas Foulis Buxton, the British MP and Member of the Society for the Abolition of Slavery. He was responsible for the Act that resulted in the Abolition of Slavery on August 1 1834 and had been honoured by some of those freed slaves in Guyana when they named their village “Buxton”.
In an interview with TVG, Gillipsie could not contain her excitement at her discovery. She remarked that the extended families that are descendants from Buxton meet annually and they always lamented a bit that William Wilberforce had been given the bulk of the recognition for the abolition of slavery.
But what Wilberforce actually did, Gillipsie pointed out, was to achieve the abolition of the British slave trade in 1807 and thereafter passed on the mantle to take abolition to its conclusion to Thomas Buxton, who was from a wealthy brewery family.
Buxton had become influenced by the Quaker position on slavery after the abolition of the slave trade and when he was elected to parliament in 1818 he took the struggle to that forum. In 1824, he succeeded Wilberforce as head of the anti-slavery party in Parliament, continuing the struggle until the Slavery Abolition Act, in 1833, freed all enslaved people in the British Empire.
Ravi Dev, who was on the panel with her to discuss the anomaly of a British blues singer becoming a Sathya Sai devotee, commented that the villagers of Buxton had done their benefactor proud, by becoming one of the premier villages in Guyana, especially noted for educational attainments and cultural retention. She was very pleased and promised she would mention these facts at the next family reunion.
Informed that a monument to Thomas Buxton in his original constituency of Weymouth was now complete and would be inaugurated in June, she accepted Dev’s request to ask the organisers to invite some villagers from Buxton to be part of the celebrations.
On her own evolution, Gillipsie revealed that many English rock stars like the Beatles and Rolling Stones were influenced by the Blues which originated in the American South from the experience of the descendants of American Slaves. She had acted in the massive hit play Jesus Christ Superstar in London and moved on to appear in several plays.
After her life unravelled somewhat in the 1970’s she turned to the Blues and became interested in Hindi music which would have been quite common in London. She adapted a Mohamed Rafi song to her style of Blues singing and produced an album influenced by the music of Pankaj Udhas. She says that since so many others copy western Music, she was merely returning the complement to India.
As an ardent devotee of Sathya Sai Baba, she has been travelling to many Sai Conferences, giving talks about her meetings with Him, as well as singing many of her spiritual songs. She sang for Sai Baba for eight of His birthdays since His 70th birthday. Her intense voice and energy captures the audience wherever she goes.
One pet peeve she took pains to explain was how oblivious some decisions in the west do not take into consideration of those who are from different traditions.
She was referring to England’s move to issue a new 5 pound note to replace the present one which had a painting of anti-slavery activists that included Thomas Buxton with one of Winston Churchill.
Her peeve wasn’t only the removal of her ancestor’s portrait but that in the note there was a substance that originated from beef. This was objectionable to Hindus and all vegans.
Devotees of Sai, of course, believe that all the various religious paths all lead to the same Divinity and it all comes down to showing love to all creation – especially one’s fellow human beings.
Gillipsie said that with music, one communicated directly with the divinity and with all humanity. Gillespie, having never visited Guyana before and having no knowledge of her ancestor’s connection with Guyana, said she felt at home when she landed.
“As my feet hit the soil, I said to one of the guys picking me up, I said I feel so at home here, so comfortable. It was dark; I had nothing to judge it by. Something happened to my soul, the moment my feet hit the soil,” she explained.
In her final parting comment, Dana Gillipsie promised she would have to return to Guyana. (Guyana Times)