Denis Williams

Last updated

Denis Williams
Dennis Williams of Guyana.jpg
Denis Williams
BornDenis Joseph Ivan Williams
(1923-02-01)February 1, 1923
Georgetown, Guyana
Died28 June 1998(1998-06-28) (aged 75)
OccupationAuthor, painter, archeologist

Denis Williams (1 February 1923 – 28 June 1998) [1] was a Guyanese painter, author and archaeologist.



Dr. Denis Joseph Ivan Williams, C.C.H., Hon. D. Lit., M.A., called by his friends "Sonny" Williams, was born in Georgetown, Guyana, [2] where he received his early education; he was granted a Cambridge Junior School Certificate in 1940 and a Cambridge Senior School Certificate in 1941. His promise as a painter won him a two-year British Council Scholarship to the Camberwell School of Art in London in 1946. He lived in London for the next 10 years, during which he taught fine art and held several one-man shows of his work as well as producing the artwork for Bajan novelist George Lamming's first book In the Castle of my Skin .

In 1980 he began intensive archaeological and paleoclimatic investigations of the shell middens on the northwest coast of Guyana. From the beginning of his studies, he was aware of potential disturbance of stratigraphy, errors in radiocarbon dates, and other pitfalls, and some of his efforts to detect them were detailed in Early Pottery on the Amazon: A Correction. [3]

Evidence for a correlation between the declining productivity of mangrove resources and changes in artefacts and settlement behaviour was summarised in Some Subsistence Implications of Holocene Climatic Change in Northwestern Guyana. [4] His observation that the methods employed by the Warao for processing palm starch are preadapted for eliminating the poison from bitter manioc offers a reasonable explanation for the origin of this remarkable technology. [5] A monograph detailing his evidence and interpretations of the interaction between environmental change and Guyana prehistory was in press at the time of his death.

He recognised the importance of publication and in 1978 founded Archaeology and Anthropology, the journal of the Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology in Georgetown. Among other journals Williams edited were Odu (the University of Ife Journal of African studies) and Lagos Notes and Records, and he contributed numerous essays on art to several books and journals. His skill as a writer is documented not only in his scientific papers, but in numerous works of fiction.

In 1986 Williams and his assistant, Jennifer Wishart, initiated a programme for junior archaeologists in Guyanese secondary schools.


His accomplishments were recognised in several national awards, including the Golden Arrow of Achievement Award from the government of Guyana in 1973, and the Cacique Crown of Honour in 1989, the same year that he received an honorary doctorate from the University of the West Indies. [1]

Selected works

Other Leopards (1963; reprinted Peepal Tree Press, 2009)
Prehistoric Guyana (2003)
Pages in Guyanese Prehistory (1995)
Habitat and Culture in Ancient Guyana (1984)
Contemporary Art in Guyana (1976)
Guyana, Colonial Art to Revolutionary Art, 1966–1976
Icon and Image: A Study of Sacred and Secular Forms of African Classical Art (1974)
Giglioli in Guyana, 1922–1972 (1973)
Image and Idea in the Arts of Guyana (1969)
The Third Temptation (1968; Peepal Tree Press, 2010)

Further reading

Related Research Articles

Guyanese literature has been produced by a number of authors, most of whom write in the English language. Many Guyanese-born writers have emigrated abroad.

University of Guyana National university

The University of Guyana, in Georgetown, Guyana, is Guyana's national higher education institution. It was established in April 1963 with the following Mission: "To discover, generate, disseminate, and apply knowledge of the highest standard for the service of the community, the nation, and of all mankind within an atmosphere of academic freedom that allows for free and critical enquiry."

Ivan Van Sertima British Africanist

Ivan Gladstone Van Sertima was a Guyanese-born British associate professor of Africana Studies at Rutgers University in the United States.

The Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology is a museum of anthropology in Georgetown, Guyana and claims to be the oldest such museum in the English-speaking Caribbean region. It was established in 1974, but not opened to the public until 1982. It is located at 61 Main Street, North Cummingsburg, Georgetown.

Ian McDonald is a Caribbean-born poet and writer who describes himself as "Antiguan by ancestry, Trinidadian by birth, Guyanese by adoption, and West Indian by conviction." His ancestry on his father's side is Antiguan and Kittitian, and Trinidadian on his mother’s side. His only novel, The Hummingbird Tree, first published in 1969, is considered a classic of Caribbean literature.

David Dabydeen is a Guyanese-born broadcaster, novelist, poet and academic. He was formerly Guyana's Ambassador to UNESCO from 1997 to 2010 and the youngest Member of the UNESCO Executive Board (1993–1997), elected by the General Council of all Member States of UNESCO. He was appointed Guyana's Ambassador Plenipotentiary and Extraordinaire to China, from 2010 to 2015. He is one of the longest serving diplomats in the history of Guyana, most of his work done in a voluntary unpaid capacity.

Aishalton Amerindian Village in Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo, Guyana

Aishalton is an Amerindian village that is situated in the Rupununi savannah of southern Guyana, in the Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo Region of the country.

Jan Rynveld Carew was a Guyana-born novelist, playwright, poet and educator, who lived at various times in The Netherlands, Mexico, England, France, Spain, Ghana, Jamaica, Canada and the United States. His works, diverse in form and multifaceted, make Jan Carew an important intellectual of the Caribbean world. His poetry and his first two novels, Black Midas and The Wild Coast, were significant landmarks of the West Indian literature then attempting to cope with its colonial past and assert its wish for autonomy. He worked with the late President Cheddi Jagan in the fight for Guianese independence. Carew also played an important part in the Black movement gaining strength in England and North America, publishing reviews and newspapers, producing programmes and plays for the radio and the television. His scholarly research drove him to question traditional historiographies and the prevailing historical models of the conquest of America. The way he reframed Christopher Columbus as an historical character outside his mythical hagiography became a necessary path in his mind to build anew the Caribbean world on sounder foundations.

Peter "Lauchmonen" Kempadoo was a writer and broadcaster from Guyana. He also worked as a development worker in the Caribbean, Africa and Asia. He moved in 1953 to the UK, where he built a career in print journalism as well as radio and television broadcasting, and published two novels, Guiana Boy in 1960 — the first novel by a Guyanese of Indian descent — and Old Thom's Harvest in 1965, before returning to Guyana in 1970. He died in London, aged 92.

Jan Lowe Shinebourne, also published as Janice Shinebourne, is a Guyanese novelist who now lives in England. In a unique position to be able to provide an insight into multicultural Caribbean culture, Shinebourne's is a rare and distinctive voice : She grew up on a colonial sugar plantation and was deeply affected by the dramatic changes her country went through in its transition from a colony to independence. She wrote her early novels to record this experience.

Michael Arthur Gilkes was a Caribbean literary critic, dramatist, poet, filmmaker and university lecturer. He was involved in theatre for more than 40 years, as a director, actor and playwright, winning the Guyana Prize for Drama in 1992 and 2006, as well as the Guyana Prize for Best Book of Poetry in 2002. He was also respected for his insight into and writings on the work of Wilson Harris.

Stanley Greaves is a Guyanese painter and writer who is one of the Caribbean's most distinguished artists. Writing in 1995 at the time of a retrospective exhibition to celebrate Greaves's 60th birthday, Rupert Roopnarine stated: "It may be that no major Caribbean artist of our time has been more fecund and versatile than Stanley Greaves of Guyana." Greaves himself has said of his own creativity:

I still don't talk about myself as making art! Other people do that. I am a maker of things. In the early days, I found empty matchboxes, cigarette boxes, bits of string, wire, empty boot-polish tins, whatever, and made things. Drawing was just another activity, and it still is. My favorite medium is still wood, of course. My hitherto secret preoccupation with writing poems, which has now come to light, is another form of making. Recently at the University of Birmingham, where I did a reading, I was asked if the paintings influenced the poetry, and I said, "No, they come from the same source."

Kampta Karran was a Guyanese sociologist and author. Karran had a distinguished record in the service of local publishing in Guyana, where he edited and published the journal Offerings and was active in working towards a resolution to Guyana's ethnic conflicts. He lectured at the University of Birmingham from 1999 to 2002, before joining the University of Warwick Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations as the Warwick Postgraduate Research Fellow in 2002. He also lectured at the University of Guyana.

Marc Matthews is a Guyanese writer, actor, broadcaster and producer.

Rupert Roopnaraine is a Guyanese cricketer, writer, and politician. Roopnaraine served as Minister of Education of Guyana between 2015 and 2017.

Aubrey Williams was a Guyanese artist. He was best known for his large, oil-on-canvas paintings, which combine elements of abstract expressionism with forms, images and symbols inspired by the pre-Columbian art of indigenous peoples of the Americas.

Roger Curtis Green

Roger Curtis Green was an American-born, New Zealand-based archaeologist, Professor Emeritus at The University of Auckland, and member of the National Academy of Sciences and Royal Society of New Zealand. He was awarded the Hector and Marsden Medals and was an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his contributions to the study of Pacific culture history.

George Simon (artist) Guyanese artist

George Simon was a Guyanese Lokono Arawak artist and archaeologist. He was the founder and mentor of the Lokono Artists Group, a group of Lokono artists from Guyana, based primarily in Simon's hometown of St. Cuthbert's Mission. Simon was widely regarded as one of the leading Guyanese artists of his generation, and his paintings are notable for their explorations of Amerindian culture and the Guyanese environment. He was also recognized for his achievements as an educator, his efforts to develop opportunities for Amerindian artists in Guyana, and for his work as an archaeologist.

Donald Locke

Donald Cuthbert Locke was a Guyanese artist who created drawings, paintings and sculptures in a variety of media. He studied in the United Kingdom, and worked in Guyana and the United Kingdom before moving to the United States in 1979. He spent his last twenty years, perhaps the most productive and innovative period of his life, in Atlanta, Georgia. His eldest son is British sculptor Hew Locke.

Edward Rupert Burrowes was a Guyanese artist and art teacher who founded the Working People's Art Class (WPAC), the first established art institution in Guyana. The E R Burrowes School of Art, an undergraduate institution accredited by the University of Guyana, is named after him.


  1. 1 2 Petamber Persaud, "The Life and Work of Denis Williams (1923–1998)| The Shaping of Guyanese Literature", Guyana Times International, 23 November 2012.
  2. Author information at Peepal Tree Press.
  3. 1997, American Antiquity 62: 342.
  4. 1982, Archaeology and Anthropology.
  5. 1992, "El Arcaico en el Noroeste de Guyana y los Comienzos de la Horticultura". In B. J. Meggers (ed.), Prehistoria Sudamericana, pp. 233–51.