I grew up in Craig, a small village on the eastern bank of the Demerara River, where rice and sugar are an important part of many family stories. Rice provided for our village and then sugar came and changed the drainage and irrigation system in our village’s backlands. And when the land changed, so did the people and their village. Today, oil is the new plantation and it is already sweeping across the land and transforming us.
In the early to mid-90s, I remember walking along Craig Old Road in the evenings with my Nana (maternal grandfather) to hang lanterns which lit the way to our village shop. It’s been ten years since he died and I still walk this same path almost every morning but our village is not the same. And now I wonder if one day, Nana also looked around him and thought the same thing – Guyana is changing.
Nana was a farmer for most of his life. He threw paddy on acres of our family land behind the village and he was a top producer at the Diamond Sugar Estate (which is no more). Tonight, Nani (maternal grandmother) told me that the village looks and feels much different than it was when she and Nana were a young couple with nine children. I don’t know if Nani realizes that she is witnessing history writing itself across the land again.
Knottie and James Bacchus sold their land along Craig Public Road to the great grandfather of my family pandit (Gopi). He opened a rice mill where farmers brought their paddy every crop. There were also rice mills in Buzz-bee Dam and New Hope. These were closer than Bel Air where farmers had to take their produce before. But the Diamond Estate changed everything and the rice farmers became sugar-cane farmers. Now, the rice mills are only memories for old folks in these parts.
When sugar-cane started declining, many farmers including those in my family switched to planting ground provisions, cash crops, fruits or running poultry farms. In the 70s, my family moved to the Public Road (now Craig Old Road) and opened a village shop. Back then it was a vibrant place with pools tables where many a village wife came in search of her husband. By night my uncles gave life to the shop and at the crack of dawn they farmed our land.
The last of the farmers in my family died a few years ago. My mamoo (maternal uncle) Seepaul farmed until he died and Beebee (my younger mamoo) stopped farming when he got sick. Bee left land to his sons, but they sold it because farming does not provide the instant economic gratification that my generation seems to crave. The rich history of farming in my family is now ashes mixed into the soil feeding some other kind of life.
These days with all the in-fighting going on in our country I am not sure what will happen to us. Not knowing is very frightening. Are the changes brought by oil already turning us into ashes which will feed other kinds of life around the world?
Oil is changing us; it is no longer a choice. Our response to this change is the important thing now and for this we need united leadership. While I accept that leading a country this young and with our complex history is no easy task, it does not mean that we cannot shape our own transformation. We need a clear vision and leaders committed to serving and respecting the nation and freedom our ancestors delivered to us.
Featured Image: Ace Raima
This article contains the personal views of the author and is in no way connected with any institution or group with which she may be affiliated.
A note from the Author:
Given the custom by party loyalists to misrepresent and misuse any type of political commentary to support their own positions, I feel that it is necessary to borrow the following from Thomas Paine (an English-born American political activist, philosopher, political theorist, and revolutionary) with whose work I became acquainted as a student of History at the University of Guyana:
Who the Author of this Production is, is wholly unnecessary to the Public, as the Object for Attention is the Doctrine itself, not the Woman. Yet it may not be unnecessary to say, That she is unconnected with any Party, and under no sort of Influence public or private, but the influence of reason and principle.
Craig Village, East Bank Demerara, August 31, 2019
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