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Castellani House

Castellani House

The home of a self-styled African king, in South America. This is Castellani House, in Georgetown (Guyana). For many years, it was the presidential home of a man who called himself 'the kubaka' (a Bugandan term, denoting royal status). He was Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham.

The house is a huge wooden mansion the fringes of the zoo. For Burnham, it was perfect: a life spent amongst flamboyants and peacocks, trees that sprouted cannonballs, and reptiles that lived forever. In the photographs that have survived, he looks exotic and well-groomed, as if he himself had a tail full of plumes.

Everyone agreed he was charming and articulate. VS Naipaul said he was the best public speaker he’d ever heard. With his heady blend of Christianity, Marxism and liberal democracy, Burnham had soon emerged as the Afro-Guyanese champion. Only his sister was suspicious. On the eve of his election, she published a pamphlet called 'Beware of my Brother Forbes'.

Nowadays, his old house is used as the National Gallery. Here's Guyana depicted from every angle, slathered in colour, contorted, post-modernised, pre-Raphaelited, re-assembled from egg boxes, and draped in nudes. All that's missing is Burnham. Every trace of him has gone – from his cabinet rooms down to the last drop of Chivas Regal. It's a remarkable act of sanitation (which has all the hallmarks of Janet Jagan, who’d refurbished the gallery). The life of one of the world's most exuberant black politicians has simply been painted over.

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