1.Indians, Indo Jamaicans rooting for change by Beryl Williamson
2.The Jahajis of Maracas Valley (Trinidad)
3. Has Leonora lost its glamour?
Indians, Indo-Jamaicans rooting for
Observer Saturday, May 10, 2003
IN the history of any nation, community, organisation or
individual, there is a past, a present and a future. This is true of the history
of the Indian and Indo-Jamaican community in Jamaica.
Professor Verene A Shepherd in her book Transients to Settlers has helped to
trace the experiences of indentured labourers from India,
from their arrival in Jamaica
on May 10, 1845
and of their descendants up to the year 1950.
This and other historical works show that the agency of the
Indian/Indo- Jamaican was not irrelevant to the shaping of the past. For
example, but for the foresight of some leading members of the Indian community,
following the termination of the indentureship programme, to organise the
community to press for the implementation of recommendations of the Moyne
Commission in the aftermath of the 1938 labour rebellion, as they related to
the community, aspects of the vibrant Indian cultural heritage may not have
Now, Indian culture not only has legitimacy in Jamaica's
cultural mosaic but has had a significant impact on many areas of Jamaican
life. In addition, the contribution of Jamaicans of Indian descent is evident
in every profession, skill area and industry, and in the development of the
Towards the end of the indentureship programme, and
immediately after, four organisations emerged. They are:
The East Indian National Union (EINU)
The East Indian Association of Jamaica
The East Indian Progressive Society (EIPS)
The All Indian Cricket Club (later forming the nucleus of
the Indian Recreation Club).
Very little has been recorded of the first two, as their
existence was short-lived. But it is clear that their aims and objectives
related to the interest and well being of the community.
The East Indian Progressive Society (EIPS) was founded out
of the need for an organization to take up with Government and other
authorities the special conditions under which the Indian community lived, and
to seek amelioration. The EIPS came into being in April 1940.
The aims were primarily:
* To encourage, support and inculcate Indian culture and
elevating traditions, to arrange for celebration of national days and to
educate the Jamaican public with regard to Indian matters.
* To improve the moral, social, economic and cultural
conditions of the community;
* To look after the rights and interests of East Indians in Jamaica
and their descendants.
Meetings were first held at 42 Duke
Street, the residence and office of Dr JL Varma,
Initially, the work of the EIPS was centred in areas in Kingston
and St Andrew to which many ex-indentured labourers had immigrated. As time
went by, branches were established in some rural parishes, like Clarendon,
Westmoreland, St Mary, Portland, St
Thomas and St Catherine.
Several sub-committees were set up and matters listed for
* Indentured Immigrant Law (revision and repeal)
* Recruitment of Jamaicans of Indian origin as farm workers
to the USA.
* Food production.
* Land settlement and repatriation
* Poor relief and medical facilities
* Cremation and marriage
* Education and welfare
* Social/recreational facilities
* Affiliation with other organisations
Indentured Immigrant Law
This law placed on the Indian community, both those who
migrated and their descendants, certain statutory limitations as the law
described as "indentured labourers" all Indians, even those born
locally. Tied into this law was the discrimination against Hindu and Muslim
religions which denied marriages performed under these faiths the legal status
as marriages performed by other faiths in the island.
After many years of tenacious negotiations with the
government the above law was repealed in 1960, thereby giving everyone of
Indian blood, constitutional equality. In the same way it took many years of
advocacy by the EIPS to procure legal status for Hindu and Muslim marriages and
the appointment of marriage officers under the Hindu and Muslim faiths was
accordingly sanctioned. In addition rites performed in the past could be
registered and legal status to such marriage and subsequent offspring made
Recruitment of Jamaican Indians
In the early stages of World War II when the US government
requested the recruitment of farm labour from Jamaica, some Jamaicans of Indian
origin were among the first groups of farm workers sent. On their arrival in
the USA, the
immigration authorities were faced with difficulties admitting those
"Indians" because of an old regulation that debarred people of Indian
descent to be admitted to the USA.
Those people were detained for return to Jamaica.
Through prompt action by the EIPS, including a march to the colonial
secretary's office, the matter had the sympathetic hearing of the
Anglo-American Caribbean Commission; and with the assistance of the RLM
Kirkwood, a member of the commission representing British interest on that
body, the ban was lifted and Jamaicans of Indian descent became eligible for
As an expression of gratitude for his services, Mr Kirkwood
(later Sir Robert Kirkwood) was invited and accepted the first honorary
membership of the EIPS.
Increased food production in World War II
The nation faced a serious crisis as food supplies were cut
off from overseas, one of the items being rice. This commodity was one of the
largest consumed items of food. It is the achievement of the EIPS that through
its efforts the first two rice growers associations were formed in St Catherine
Education and welfare
With emphasis on the education and welfare of the community,
members of the EIPS visited primary schools in the Corporate Area to
investigate the ability and conditions of children of Indian descent. As a
consequence, many scholarships were granted by the EIPS to children in such
schools to post-primary and vocational institutions. With the acquisition of
its own premises at 3 Bethune Avenue
around 1944, an infant school was established at this centre and existed for
almost 10 years (from 1945 to 1954). Children leaving this school were
transferred to primary schools in their nearby localities.
In the early years when it was considered necessary to
educate the members of the community in regard to their rights and
responsibilities and the work being done on their behalf, the EIPS published a
monthly magazine called The Indian. While the response at the outset was
encouraging, it was not found necessary or convenient to carry this on.
The EIPS was nonetheless involved in arranging academic
discourses and debates on a variety of topics which were well patronised by the
The EIPS took the leading role in arranging celebrations for
Indian holidays and meeting and entertaining prominent Indian personalities, be
they Statesmen or Philosophers, lecturers, religious leaders.
Affiliation with other organisations
To broaden its activities and to establish links with the
wider community, the EIPS became affiliated with several welfare organisations
including the Jamaica Save the Children Fund, the Women's Federation, and the
Council for Voluntary Social Services. Members of the Society offered and gave
service to those organisations. The society was also a contributor to the
Jaycees' Nuggets for the Needy project.
Many minor matters relating to the welfare of the community
received attention and which helped to develop and establish the prestige of
The premises of the EIPS were put at the disposal of the
younger members of the community for recreational and sporting activities and
became the headquarters for the All Indian Cricket Club (later Indian
Recreation Club) which was dominant in the field of cricket.
The EIPS was a player in the founding of Club India,
a Members' club, which still serves the community. It also fostered the
founding of the Hindu Samaj of Jamaica, a religious group, and the Mahilya
Samaja, a girls' group, accommodating their activities at its premises.
There was intervention by the EIPS to assist Indian peasants
in the Corporate Area who were involved with vegetable farming at the time of
the introduction of the metering system in the supply of water. Efforts were
made through the East Indian Syndicate, a business venture established for the
purpose, to acquire lands to settle those people and to provide an adequate
supply of water for irrigation from wells, at a lower cost.
Instances of discrimination against the employment of people
of Indian descent were taken up by the EIPS with the employers concerned and
were successful in the removal of discriminatory treatment.
Non-quota immigration of Jamaicans to the USA
gained Independence in 1962, the
matter of Jamaicans being permitted to enter the USA
on a non-quota basis was taken up by the government. People of Indian descent,
up to that time, were placed under the Immigration quota given to India,
and this number being small, might have excluded them from non-quota status.
The matter was taken up with our government asking that the descendants of all
races forming part of the Jamaican population who originated from the area
called the "Asia Pacific Triangle" (ie, from Pakistan
in the West to Japan
in the East) should be included in the non-quota immigration of all Jamaicans.
This was subsequently approved.
The EIPS was regarded by Government agencies and the wider
society as the main "voice" for the Indian/Indo- Jamaican community.
There were also Hindu priests (Pandits) who performed the
rites of marriages and funerals, prayers and rituals for other auspicious
occasions. The following were among the first to be appointed Hindu marriages
officers when the relevant law was passed.
The main purpose for the founding of the EIPS having been
achieved, the organisation became somewhat non-functional around the late
1970s, but for its monthly food package programme. With the emergence of other
organisations which were addressing the current needs of the community and in
the face of decreasing membership, the life of the EIPS came to an end.
Special mention must be made of the All-Indian Cricket teams
of the era which were successful in a number of local competitions, including
the Hamilton Cup in 1947 and the Carib Cup in 1950.
Beryl Williamsingh is chairperson for the National
Council for Indian Culture in Jamaica.
The Jahajis of Maracas Valley, Trinidad.
In 1897 William Adlington Cadbury visited
the Cadbury cocoa estates in Trinidad and Tobago, and returned with some splendid photographs of the estates and
estate workers. In addition, reported back to his brother Barrow Cadbury, in
diary form, on a visit to the cocoa estate of Sir Charles Tennant, managed by
Mr Bain and his wife:
"Mr Bain has one interest: 'Cocoa' - that is outside
his own family of 6 boys and 3 girls - so was delighted
to show and explain everything and when we got home `we set and made some
The coolie woman in the kitchen roasted it most splendidly in
an open bowl over the fire, stirring it continually, and husked it, by throwing
it in an open grass tray, shaped like a malt shovel blade, then we ground it with sugar in the real old way on a flat stone, with a
long shaped smaller stone held in both hands, and made up with boiling milk and
water it was first rate - Mrs Bain (like all the Creoles)realised also the
virtues of cocoa butter for all kinds of wounds burns and strains...so the
following night we had great fun 'making cocoa butter' our only apparatus was
an ordinary office press, used for letter books, and a dripping tray which we
(Taken from Birmingham Historian by Fiona Tait).
Photograph of a 'Coolie' Woman
from the Cadbury Collection
Two Coolie girls
Photograph of Coolie group
A Coolie woman
The Tennant estate that Cadbury
visited is known as Ortinola, and is situated in the Maracas Valley. The Estate house has been restored and looks like this
2. Brandon Head’s Visit
A few years later Brandon Head visited the Maracas Valley, and in 1903 published Cocoa The Food of the Gods. Below is an extract, complete with
pictures from this book.
But upon the cocoa estate there is
lasting peace. From the railway on the plain we climb the long valley, our
strong-boned mule or lithe Spanish horse taking the long slopes at a pleasant
amble, standing to cool in the ford of the river we cross and re-cross, or
plucking the young shoots of the graceful bamboos so often fringing our path.
Villages and straggling cottages, with palm thatch and adobe walls, are passed, orange or
bread-fruit shading the little garden, and perhaps a mango towering over all.
The proprietor is still at work on the plantation, but his wife is preparing
the evening meal, while the children, almost naked, play in the sunshine.
Home of the Cacao.
(One of Messrs.
Cadburys' Estates, Maracas, Trinidad.)
The cacao-trees of neighbouring
planters come right down to the ditch by the roadside, and beneath dense
foliage, on the long rows of stems hang the bright glowing pods. Above all
towers the bois immortelle,
called by the Spaniards la madre del
cacao, "the mother of the
cacao." In January or February the immortelle
sheds its leaves and bursts into a crown of flame-coloured blossom. As we reach
the shoulder of the hill, and look down on the cacao-filled hollow, with the immortelle above all, it is a sea of
golden glory, an indescribably beautiful scene. Now we note at the roadside a
plant of dragon's blood, and if we peer among the trees there is another just
within sight; this, therefore, is the boundary of two estates. At an opening in
the trees a boy slides aside the long bamboos which form the gateway, and a
short canter along a grass track brings us to the open
savanna or pasture around the homestead.
Here are grazing donkeys, mules, and
cattle, while the chickens run under the shrubs for shelter, reminding one of
home. The house is surrounded with crotons and other brilliant plants, beyond
which is a rose garden, the special pride of the planter's wife. If the sun has
gone down behind the western hills, the boys will come out and play cricket in
the hour before sunset. These savannas are the beauty-spots of a country
clothed in woodland from sea-shore to mountain-top.
Ortinola, Maracas, Trinidad.
Next morning we are awaked by a blast
from a conch-shell. It is 6.30, and the mist still clings in the valley; the
sun will not be over the hills for another hour or more, so in the cool we join
the labourers on the mule-track to the higher land, and for a mile or more
follow a stream into the heart of the estate. If it is crop-time, the men will
carry a goulet—a hand of steel,
mounted on a long bamboo—by the sharp edges of which the pods are cut from the
higher branches without injury to the tree. Men and women
all carry cutlasses, the one instrument needful for all work on the estate,
serving not only for reaping the lower pods, but for pruning and weeding, or
"cutlassing," as the process of clearing away the weed and brush is
AND WOODEN SPOON.
Gathering the pods is heavy work,
always undertaken by men. The pods are collected from beneath the trees and
taken to a convenient heap, if possible near to a running
stream, where the workers can refill their drinking-cups for the mid-day meal.
Here women sit, with trays formed of the broad banana leaves, on which the
beans are placed as they extract them from the pod with wooden spoons. The
result of the day's work, placed in panniers on donkey-back, is
"crooked" down to the cocoa-house, and that night remains in box-like
bins, with perforated sides and bottom, covered in with banana leaves. Every
twenty-four hours these bins are emptied into others, so that the contents are
thoroughly mixed, the process being continued for four days or more, according
This is known as "sweating."
Day by day the pulp becomes darker, as fermentation sets in, and the
temperature is raised to about 140° F. During fermentation a dark sour liquid
runs away from the sweat-boxes, which is, in fact, a very dilute acetic acid,
but of no commercial value. During the process of "sweating" the
cotyledons of the cocoa-bean, which are at first a purple colour and very
compact in the skin, lose their brightness for a duller
brown, and expand the skin, giving the bean a fuller shape. When dry, a
properly cured bean should crush between the finger and thumb.
Drying in the Sun, Maracas, Trinidad.
Finally the beans are turned on to a
tray to dry in the sun. They are still sticky, but of a brown, mahogany colour.
Among them are pieces of fibre and other "trash," as well as small,
undersized beans, or "balloons," as the nearly empty shell of an
unformed bean is called. While a man shovels the beans into a heap, a group of
women, with skirts kilted high, tread round the sides of the heap, separating
the beans that still hold together. Then the beans are passed on to be spread
in layers on trays in the full heat of the tropical sun, the temperature being upwards
of 140° F. When thus spread, the women
can readily pick out the foreign matter and undersized beans. Two or three days
will suffice to dry them, after which they are put in bags for the markets of
the world, and will keep with but very slight loss of weight or aroma for a
year or more.
the labourers are employed in "cutlassing," pruning, and cleaning the
land and trees. Nearly all the work is in pleasant shade, and none of it harder
than the duties of a market gardener in our own country; indeed, the work is
less exacting, for daylight lasts at most but thirteen hours, limiting the time
that a man can see in the forest: ten hours per day, with rests for meals, is
the average time spent on the estate. Wages are paid once a month, and a whole
holiday follows pay-day, when the stores in town are visited for needful
supplies. Other holidays are not infrequent, and between crops the slacker days
give ample time for the cultivation of private gardens.
Labourers from India are largely imported by the Government
under contract with the planters, and the strictest regulations are observed in
the matter of housing, medical aid, etc. At the expiration of the term of
contract (about six years) a free pass is granted to return to India, if desired. Many, however, prefer to
remain in their adopted home, and become planters themselves, or continue to labour on the smaller estates, which are generally worked by
free labour, as the preparations for contracted labour are expensive, and can
only be undertaken on a large scale.
Cottage, Cacao Estate, Trinidad.
(Bread Fruit and Bananas.)
The natives of India work on very
friendly terms with the coloured people of the islands, the descendants of the
old African slaves, and the cocoa estate provides a healthy life for all, with
a home amid surroundings of the most congenial kind.
The frontispiece of Brandon Head’s book is a reproduction of
a painting done on a Santa Cruz
estate owned by a French-Creole. It is reproduced below.
Cadbury’s later acquired an interest in Ortinola. I am not
clear as to which Trinidad estates belonged to Cadburys,
but they probably owned one in the Maracas
Alistair Macmillan, whom you will remember if you were
paying attention to your reading book in primary school, also published a book
on the West Indies around the turn of the century. Here
is a picture from his book.
4. John Morton Visits
John Morton the Presbyterian missionary also visited the
valley.In the diary of Sarah Morton, his wife we read that in the year 1897
Reverend Morton had travelled by horse carriage to Maracas
Valley and late that evening
visited Ortinola Estate " to give communion at the house of Mr J.P. Bain,
Manager of Messrs Cadbury, at Ortinola Estate".
So there was a lot of activity in the valley, and the
jahajis got their pictures taken. They are not faceless, but they remain
nameless. They were good-looking people weren’t they?
If you haven’t guessed by now, some of them were my
ancestors. On this occasion of Pitri Paksh, I pay homage to them
Chal ur jaa ray panchhee ki ab yea desh hua
Katam hu-eh din us
daalee kay, jis par teraa baseraa thaa
Aaj yahaa aur kal ho
wahaa, yea yogi waalaa pheraa thaa
Yea teree jageer hahee
thee, char gharee kaa daraa thaa
Sadaa rahay hai is
duniyaa may, kiskaa aabo daanaa
Too nay tinkaa tinkaa
chun kar nagaree ek basaa-ee
Barish may teree
bheegee paakhay, shoop may garmee khaa-ee
Gam na kar, jo teree
mehnat teray kaam na aa-ee
Acha hai kuch lay jane
say, dekar kuch hee jaanaa
O bird, fly away now, as this country has now become foreign
The time for this branch, which was your resting place, has
Today you are here and tomorrow you are there, like a moving
It was not a rent-free grant given to you, but only a
temporary dwelling place.
No one has ever lived here for ever.
You have secured straws bit by bit, and built a city. Your
shelter has been
soaked by rain and dried by the heat of the sun. Do not
grieve if your effort
was not of any use to you. For it is better that you give
Has Leonora lost its glamour?
Guyana Chronicle September
23rd. 2001 by M.Z Ali
SEVERAL villages in Guyana are of historical
significance in one-way or the other, some greater than some and others whose
very existence provides solace to those who may have had golden memories.
Leonora on the West
Coast Demerara is such a place, and no attempt to delve into its history would
go without reward even if it means personal satisfaction.
In the olden days, it
used to be referred to as Plantation Leonora, and is situated some nine miles
from Vreed-en-Hoop. The name Leonora is Dutch, having gotten it during the
Dutch occupation of the country. It was originated from the names of two Dutch
children, Nora, a girl and Leo, a boy.
Leonora encompasses an
area of some five square miles, and in the olden times was under the Parish of
St. Luke. It stretches from Edinburgh in the East to
Stewartville in the West. It goes north to as far as the Atlantic Ocean and South to as far
as the conservancy.
This once busy
plantation was the hive of economic activities mainly because of the presence
of a sugar estate where most people on the plantation and even from surrounding
villages used to be employed.
It was once graced
with a railway station until the railway was disbanded in the 1970's. Still
standing are the police station, a Mosque and a Temple, where the majority
of the population being Hindus and Muslims, offered their worship.
There is also a Post
Office, which serves the entire district and surrounding areas, while a cinema
was always there providing entertainment, prior to the coming of the
television. Leonora also has two schools, a secondary and a primary, which were
built during the 1960's. These schools cater now for children from the entire West Demerara area. There is also a
Cottage Hospital, which is today manned by a doctor and trained nurses.
There is also a very
large market which does very brisk business on Saturdays when people from far
off areas go and hawk their goods and do shopping.
While most of the
population of Leonora are young people and know nothing or very little about
the plantation in "logie" time, many of the older folks who are still
around today remember what life was in the days when the entire population,
most of whom lived in logies (long ranges which were built by the owners of the
sugar estate to house the indentured labourers who worked on the estate).
From 1821 until its
was closed down in mid-December 1986, Leonora estate changed its proprietors,
attorneys and administrators several times. In that same year (1821), the
proprietor and attorney was George Rainey who served in that capacity until
1871 when the estate was taken over by Sandbach Parker and Company, a name we
are all familiar with because of their store in Georgetown, and William Russel
became the Manager
Sandbach Parker and
Company was the proprietor until 1969 when they sold out to Jessel, another
Prior to the Jessel
take over, the administration changed hands periodically, starting in 1905 with
the Administrative Manager being Mr. G. E. Anderson. He was assisted with the
running of the entire estate with the help of "white Overseer"; who
supervised works in the cane fields.
He was succeeded by
Mr. A. E. Bratt in 1920, who, 10 years later, in 1930, was succeeded by Mr. Mr.
R. E. Rodes, who gave way to Mr. Laiwood in 1934. After serving for 11 years,
he was succeeded by Mr. R. H. Barnwell in 1945.
Mr. W. O. B. Rhigden,
who took over in 1951, did not last long, and made way for Mr. Gregory, who,
also after one year at the helm, was superseded by Mr. E. H. Kingston.
Kingston was followed by Mr.
Mr. J. V. Ryder who took over in 1957 and served exactly 10 years before
handing over to Mr. Balford in 1967.
They were all
Administrative Managers of the estate until Mr. Jessel bought over and made
this post extinct, for the work of the Administrative Manager was taken over by
the Personnel Officer. The Overseers have also been relieved and their work was
taken over by locals, who were known as Field Clerks.
As mentioned before,
the labour force on the estate was supplied by indentured labourers who were
brought to the then British Guyana from India and other countries.
Upon arrival on the estate, they were housed in the logies, which were divided
into rooms and given to them. They all lived in one bloc or community on the
estate. Yes, they were estate people.
The accommodation was
so designed to have easy access to the labourers, the majority of whom worked
in the cane fields from dawn to dusk. Also, by having them together, it was
easy to have effective management and control over them.
This kind of
accommodation also offered the immigrants a special incentive in their being
able to see each other as much as it was possible and to solder a social and
To satisfy the
"white man";, whose ambition was to get as much as possible out of
the labourers, it was necessary to secure their health. For this purpose, a
hospital was built in 1868, just next to the sugar factory.
The two-flat building
which had a doctor and dispenser, had accommodated 23 beds for males and 18 for
females on the first floor, while on the upper floor, there was a male ward
with 57 beds.
All food, hospital
clothing and medicine were supplied free by the estate. The hospital was in
operation and maintained until 1968, when it was demolished and the materials
given for the construction of the Leonora Government School, now Leonora Primary School.
Workers now seek
medical attention from the estate's dispensary and the Government Cottage
Their dwelling was
sandwiched between the sugar factory which was to their west and the elaborate
official "white man" compound in which were housed the mansions of
the Administrative Manager, other managers and the overseers, with conditions
par excellence, perhaps missing only the snow they were accustomed to in England.
They were so
positioned to offer ready assistance if anything went wrong in the factory and
which warranted their immediate labour or presence.
And it was from under
the gargantuan saman trees of this "pond," this "garden,"
this "citadel" that the most earth-shaking, exciting and spine
chilling stories were told by the older folks who took turns in the nightly
event which drew larger gather every evening. Indeed it was from under these
trees, that `jumbie', `old hige', Anancy and other stories were being narrated.
It was a nightly
ritual to see the older folks, especially men with their `bottle lamps' and
black tobacco and in some cases jute bags on which they sat, heading under the
trees which were in proximity of their abode.
Children kept their
distance by staying home in the 'logie' seeking sanctuary. Apart from the fear
that would have been driven into them by the stories, it was the general rule
that in those days it was a taboo for children to be seen in the company of the
would even tell you stories about their day's encounter in the backdam. Whether
false or true, when these macabre tales are told, they were enough to drive
fear in the bravest of the brave among the audience.
They would tell
stories about how they confronted the alligator with the golden tooth and the
alligator with the golden crown, and how it was better if one wanted to live,
to stay clear of the canals in which they had been seen.
They would also tell
stories about the dangers of being under the silk cotton tree, especially at noon, because, as legend would have it, it was under those
trees that the Dutch, who once occupied Guyana, loved to roam after
death (Dutch jumbies). They also told gripping stories of `Dutch jumbies'
breaking the necks of children and even adults.
However, they did it,
these story-tellers also had the knack to grip their audience, and indeed
people used to believe.
The women folk, too,
took their turn in the mornings after preparing lunch and doing other chores.
They, however, were involved in a kind of `talk show', for everybody's business
was being discussed. Yes, it was from under those very trees that the private life
of others was being revealed. The women were the judge, jury and executioner,
all in one.
Apart from the estate
location in those days, Leonora was also made up of Groenveldt and pasture.
These two areas stretched mainly along the public road, and away from the sugar
The rest of land that
made up the area of Leonora was used as pastures, rice plots and limited
farmlands. As time went by, the estate allowed some of the labourers to
cultivate rice on the plots and to do limited farming.
But today, things have
changed, and all those rice plots and pastures have made way for housing
schemes which today house offsprings of those very labourers who gave their
lives for `king sugar'.
Today, Leonora is
divided into several areas where there are comfortable houses, streets, potable
water and electricity. Apart from Groenveldt and pasture, there are also Sea
Field, Para Field and Sea Spray, all gracing the beautiful landscape of
Bulging with a
population of mostly youth today, the people freely practise their religion and
cultural preferences without interference.
Unlike the days of
indentureship, today, most of the younger people are urged by their parents to
turn to education. The older people were not keen in those days to educate
their children because of the belief that they could have returned to their
motherland any time. Another important consideration was that they feared their
children would have been doctrinated into Christianity. Not so today. Education
is uppermost in the minds of most of the young people, and some have already
made great achievements.
Guyana Chronicle September
30th. 2001 by M.Z Ali
Bridges, roads and canals are still being maintained to permit
easy transport of canes to Uitvlugt Estate.
AS WE continue on our
journey to Leonora today, it might be useful to give more insights into the
population make-up. This is important because to know Leonora is to know the
"from whence they
Of course, with the
passage of time the population mix of Leonora has changed considerably from
what could be termed the perfect rainbow mix to just one race today.
In 1821 there were 395
slaves on the sugar plantation. This number rose to 430 in 1832. After the
slaves, came the indentured and non-indentured immigrants from Calcutta, Madras, China, Africa and Madeira.
immigrants were the East Indians and Chinese, who at that time numbered about
717. The non-indentured immigrants from Calcutta, Madras, China, Africa and Madeira amounted to 450.
This was the
population at that time that formed the core of the labour force, with the
exception of the Chinese who took to business.
These were the days when the entire plantation was a single unit,
for everyone lived as one big family. But as time passed, everyone became the
creature of the age in which he lived, and the population, that beautiful mix
that was beyond reproach, gradually drifted to other neighbouring districts and
left the area which has since become a predominantly Indo-Guyanese one.
The labour force at
the factory, however, remained multi-racial until its closure. Since the
estate"s closure in 1986, most of the factory workers have gained
employment at Uitvlugt estate and elsewhere, while the field workers were
retained to continue with the harvesting of sugar cane and other field work.
In the 1940"s and
1950"s, Leonora Estate was a classic example of unity in diversity,
especially in the sugar factory and other key areas of operation including the
garage (workshop), the pure water supply system, the electrical and the
maintenance sections among others.
Indeed, it might be
fair to point out that it was during those two decades that the people of
Leonora propelled themselves to the top of the local map with their prowess in
various sport events, politics and their ingenuity in keeping all sections of
the estate"s operations functioning at full capacity.
The people were so
glued to the estate and their tasks, that several initiatives to have them
divorced from the job met with equal resentment, and only death could have
parted them from their "empire."
Yes, this was the
mettle from which the people were made. This was their demonstration of love
and pride for their job that meant everything to them. The sugar estate was
their final bastion.
These were the people,
who, from their homes could tell whether something was going wrong at the
factory only by hearing the fluctuating sounds of the machines instead of the
"soothing rhythm" they were so accustomed hearing day and night.
These were the men, among who were Messrs. Nain Singh, Karmalie,
Merchant, Bisnauth, Beharry, Leander and Hyman. There were also Parker and the
other sea punt men who braved the Atlantic transporting sugar from Leonora to
Georgetown by sea in wooden punts, driven only by sail, until they became
captains of the motor driven barges which later replaced the wooden punts, and
many, many others whose toil and sweat were reflected in the millions of tons
of sugar that were manufactured during their time on the estate.
I will be amiss if I
do not recognize the contribution made by other sections of the work force,
both factory and field and others. They also played important roles, for in the
manufacture of sugar, each operation complements the other. Each had a common
goal foisted upon them by the white man’s ego, and with servile alacrity, they
worked towards realizing that goal.
boys, started working at a very tender age in order to help improve the
economic situation of their parents. They took to what was called the
"creole gang," which was a gang of mainly boys, who fetched earth for
building "stop offs," bail cane punts and those who served as "battu
boys" to white overseers and managers.
boys" were like male servants to their bosses, and their job entailed
cleaning boots, running errands, groom the mules for their bosses and lead and
follow the mules as the case may be, while the bosses ride.
The adult labour force
in the fields were divided into gangs, of which there were many including the
shovel gang, weeding gang, cane cutting gang and jobbing gang, each headed by a
Apart from the cane
cutters, these categories of field workers worked from 6 am to 5 pm daily, with the most
highly paid female worker receiving about $1.50 per week.
prohibited, and agitators were restricted from crossing estate boundary. In
addition no one was allowed to be absent from duty, unless he or she was sick
in hospital or was in prison. All functions were held on Sundays which were
usually non working days.
As times went by,
conditions both in the fields and the logies progressively worsened and field
workers had to drink impure water from the middle walk (canals) in the backdam.
In order to prevent epidemics, workers frequented the hospital at weekends to
swallow their dose of cascara and salts, a mixture that was always plentiful at
So the people toiled
for hours unending, only to come home to their logies, and latrines that were
built across trenches for both men and women. There was no decency in logie
life, but for those people survival was very important, for they knew that no
one has ever deceived the whole world, nor has the whole world ever deceived
silently, they cried silently and they endured silently, but with cautious
optimism, they stuck to their routine day in and day out.
The swelling of the
logie population was beginning to pose a serious problem for the estate"s
authorities, and conditions were getting worse and logie life was, with each
passing day becoming a nightmare.
Trade union and
political leaders, including late President, Dr. Cheddi Jagan soon took up the
workers" fight, and together with local leaders, the struggle had begun in
By this time, several
changes had taken place, and workers had won the right to strike for better
wages and conditions of work or for any grievance they may encounter while
As the struggle for better
working and living conditions intensified, so was the struggle for trade union
recognition, that is, a union of the workers" choice. But the struggles
over the years were not without their toll.
Indeed it was during
the struggle for trade union recognition, that Kowsilla (Alice) was ran over
and killed by an estate tractor in March of 1964. She was among scores of other
stalwarts engaged in a squatting exercise by the factory bridge for recognition
of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers" Union (GAWU) when she was
Others, mainly women,
jumped into the middle walk and elsewhere to avoid being driven over by the
tractor. Many sustained injuries, but the death and injuries were not in vain,
for today the majority of sugar workers are represented by the GAWU, the union
of their choice.
As living conditions
in the logies became increasingly unacceptable, strong representations were
made to the authorities, and after some time, the first housing scheme was
established at Seafield in the 1950"s and the workers were granted loans
from the Sugar Industry Labour Welfare Fund (SILWF), and for the first time the
dismantling of the logies started at Leonora.
Housing schemes were
also established at Para Field and Pasture, all in Leonora, and also in
neighbouring Stewartville to accommodate some of the logie people from Leonora.
While most of the
older people who have built these houses have already died, the houses are now
taken over by their children and in some case their grand children.
For them, it is just
getting it on the "silver platter." But they are proud to be the
offsprings of those fighters who gave their entire lives to satisfy the while man’s
Has Leonora lost its
Glamour? For me it is now GOLDEN MEMORIES AND SILVER TEARS.