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After Indenture PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Tuesday, 25 July 2006

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 change

158th anniversary

BERYL WILLIAMSINGH

Jamaica 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 survived.

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 country.

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 (EIAJ)

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, president.

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 attention were:

* 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

* Employment.

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 retroactive.

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 recruitment.

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 and Westmoreland.

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 wider community.

Social/Recreational Activities

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.

Other activities

Many minor matters relating to the welfare of the community received attention and which helped to develop and establish the prestige of the community.

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

When Jamaica 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.

 

1.Cadbury’s Trinidad Connection

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 chocolate -
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 put below.
"

(Taken from Birmingham Historian by Fiona Tait).


 

Photograph of a Coolie Woman

 

Photograph of a 'Coolie' Woman from the Cadbury Collection  

 

 

 Two Coolie girls

Two Coolie girls

 

 

Cocoa house

 

 

Cocoa house

 

 

 

Photograph of Coolie group

Photograph of Coolie group

 

 

 

 

A Coolie woman

A Coolie woman

 

 

 

 

Coolie Couple

Coolie couple

 

 

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.

The Home of the Cacao.
(One of Messrs. Cadburys' Estates, Maracas, Trinidad)

The 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.

                              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 called.

GOULET AND WOODEN SPOON.

GOULET AND WOODEN SPOON.

CUTLASSES.CUTLASSES.

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 to circumstances.

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.

Cacao Drying in the Sun, Maracas, Trinidad.

Cacao 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.[11] 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.

Between crops 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.

Labourer's Cottage, Cacao Estate, Trinidad.

Labourer's 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.[12]

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 Valley.

 

3.Alistair Macmillan Visits

 

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 begaanaa

 

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 now expired.

Today you are here and tomorrow you are there, like a moving yogi.

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 something before

leaving.

 

 

Lloyd Harradan

10/09/2006

 

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 British.

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 brotherly relationship.

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 Hospital.

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 older men.

The story-tellers 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 estate.

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 Leonora.

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 people and

"from whence they came."

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.

The indentured 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.

Children, especially 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.

The "batu 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 "driver"(local supervisor).

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.

Strikes were 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 the hospital.

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 any one.

They suffered 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 earnest.

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 working.

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 murdered.

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 desires.

Has Leonora lost its Glamour? For me it is now GOLDEN MEMORIES AND SILVER TEARS.

 

 

Last Updated ( Thursday, 17 May 2007 )
 
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