President David Granger: Thank you, thank you madam chairperson, please be seated. Madam Chairperson; Honourable Ministers of the Government; Minister of Communities, Ronald Bulkan; Minister of Public Telecommunications, Catherine Hughes; Minister within the Ministry of Health, Karen Cummings; Chairman of the Demerara-Mahaica Region, Ms. Genevieve Allen; Reverend Raphael Messiah; Chairman of the Guyana Post Office Cooperation – and you may not have heard, but when he was about to speak I asked him to speak about the second exodus because his profession would have led him to speak about the first exodus; His Worship, Mr. Gifford Marshall, Mayor of Bartica; Justice Jo-Ann Barlow, Judge of the High Court of Guyana and distinguished and eminent citizen and resident of Victoria village; Mr. Desmond Saul, Chairman of the Indaba Planning Committee; Mr. Abraham Poole and other members of the Indaba Planning Committee; special invitees; elders; residents of Victoria village; other villagers from nearby; students; members of the media.
I am grateful for this warm welcome in Victoria today; if it were any warmer we would all be scorched. But I am conscious of the fact that I am the last speaker before lunch, also that the sun is at its hottest for the morning and that you are the hungriest since breakfast this morning. So I would ask you to be tolerant. Yes, I agree with you; take a laugh. You know we Guyanese are children of villages- two out of every three Guyanese today actually lives in a village and many more have come from villages.
So we are really a village people, whether we live on the coastland or whether we are from the hinterland. We are really a village people, a village nation, and today we have come together to celebrate the places from which we’ve come – villages – and we celebrate particularly an event which occurred one hundred seventy-seven years ago, when a single Plantation Northbrook was bought and that Northbrook was like the incubation of the nation. It’s like if our nation was born when Northbrook was purchased. And that is why I called Victoria the mother of all villages.
It is the first village to be bought on the coastland and it is a landmark; it is a monument to human freedom which our forefathers fought for. But let me tell you, when you go to Litchfield they will say it is the first village; when you go to Bagotsville they will say it is the first village, when you go to Queenstown they will say it is the first village but I regard Victoria as the first of the first, because although the other villages were purchased and they received their titles it is what happened right here in Victoria that created what I call- the village movement.
The others took accord, yes, but the real movement started here and this is the movement that we see on these stamps. People actually walking off of the plantations; in fact, they were driven off because they were the subject of provocation and their lives became more intolerable. So it is not as though they didn’t like agriculture, but the life that they lived on the plantations became intolerable and what you all started here, what your forefathers started here, transformed this entire coast. Before Victoria this entire coast was a string of plantations and after Victoria it became a string of human habitation, a stream of settlements and that is the achievement of Victoria from Corentyne to the Pomeroon River.
And what you did here, what your forefathers did here wasn’t isolated; it encouraged people in other English-speaking countries of the Caribbean to do the same, but we were the first and this was not something that the academics invented. This is not something that the governor decided on; this is something that your forefathers’, illiterate people, decided on their own that this was their pathway to freedom and the movement started on the 7th of November, 1839- a little more than a year after the Emancipation. And, as you know from your history books, and I’m committed to support the reprinting of a history book written by William Nicholas Arnold – fifty years ago it published in 1966.
The story of Victoria – and I will work with the Victoria Reconstruction Trust and the Indaba Committee to ensure that that book is reprinted, even though it is out of date. Every family in his village should have a copy because Mr. Arnold tells the story of how eighty-three men and women from five plantations – not all from Victoria, some came from Ann’s Grove, some came from Dochfour, some came from Enmore, some from Hope, some from Paradise – and they agreed to pay thirty thousand guilders (well we don’t use guilders anymore) to buy what was then an abandoned cotton plantation. And some people believe that Victoria people are more pleasant because they bought a cotton plantation and people who bought the sugar plantation are more ruction. So whenever people are creating disturbance all over the place Victoria people are quite cool; maybe because there is a difference between cotton and sugar, but that’s another story. When I think of GuySuCo, I wish it was a cotton plantation. [Laughter.]
But the residents, your fore parents, collected their coins and those coins were made of real silver, not the coins we have today. And in fact old people will tell you that when they get some of those silver coins they made them into chains; both Indian families when they had a wedding you’d see them in these huge chains with silver coins or gold coins around their neck. In fact, two weeks ago I met a very old lady from the Essequibo coast and she was wearing a sovereign around their neck. When people got those coins they were made of the real metal, they don’t go to the shop with them; they keep them to give their children and grandchildren.
But when your fore parents decided to buy the village, the plantation still was not much because they don’t have banks in those days. They used to bury the money under the coconut tree or under the tamarind tree (not the Silk-Cotton tree, it got Dutchman jumbie there); but they used to bury their money in the ground so they had to dig the money out of the ground and put them in the wheelbarrows and walk thirty kilometres to Georgetown. They signed a promise to pay two thirds of the money they paid; that is about two-thirds of the money, that’s about twenty thousand guilders, and they paid the last ten thousand guilders three weeks later.
This was a magnificent village- the village was made up of two hundred and two hectares, about five hundred acres. The village had a depth of eleven kilometres. That is the depth of the village that your fore parents purchased, eleven kilometres, and it had a width of four hundred and eighty-three metres, nearly half a kilometre. The transport was not passed until the 4th January, 1841 and that’s why some other villages believe that they were bought before you because they got their transporter earlier, but that is a lawyer’s problem and you know what Jesus Christ said about lawyers. [Laughter.] I wouldn’t tell you now but Reverend Messiah is here and he would tell you that Jesus could have picked from any profession but he picked the lawyers.
Ladies and gentlemen, students, I had the honour in the 10th Parliament and I’m glad that Minister Catherine Hughes is here because she gave me some support on the 7th November, believe it or not. God don’t make a mistake. It was on the 7th November that I brought a motion in the 10th Parliament calling for the 7th November to be designated as a National Day of Villages. The National Assembly the same night approved the motion, but it was never assented to. Why? Because they were waiting for another president to come and assent to it – Ah me motion, ah me sign um. [Laughter.]
So today, we have the National Day of Villages and it is not the National Day of African Villages. It’s not the National Day of Amerindian Villages; it’s not the National Day of the East Indian Villages. It is a National Day of the Villages- it is for all of Guyana; everybody who has come out of a village should celebrate 7th November. And let me quote from what one of the academics said about this great village movement and he said, “The most spectacular and aggressive land settlement movement in the history of the people of the British Caribbean and a movement which seemed to one, plant in British Guiana to be certainly without parallel in the history of the world”.
Those were not my words; those were the words of scholars and academics. What your forefathers achieved here was a landmark accomplishment in the history of the entire world. So when we speak of a National Day of Villages in Guyana we’re not just speaking of a hot Monday morning in Lady Sendall Park; we’re not speaking about a free lunch, we are speaking about an important event – perhaps one of the most important events after emancipation and before independence itself. That is the great village movement.
But this movement not about the past is not about history; it is not about long time story. It is about you and the future and that’s why I’m glad so many of you are skulking from school today because this is one of the best lessons you can learn – that this is all about the future and our fore parents weren’t thinking about themselves. They accumulated money, they didn’t go and drink it out, they didn’t go and party; they thought about their children and grandchildren and generations to come- one hundred and seventy-seven years ago they were thinking about the future.
So ladies and gentlemen, students, this village movement that was ignited on the 7th November here in Victoria was the cradle of our nation; the crib in which our nation was able to take comfort. It was the crucible of our nation’s development. It was the real manifestation of emancipation. Freedom was impossible at the old plantation. I don’t want to tell you why. But there was provocation. When people cultivated some plantain walk or some provision ground, the European planters would dig it up to force them to go and cut cane because they felt they would rely too much on their plantain and cassava and their yams.
So this exodus was forced on the people of the plantations and this village movement, as I said before, resulted in the transformation of this entire nation. Before the village movement you just had a string of plantations. The village was the word and as I said on this very park, when I first spoke here about fourteen years ago at the back of a truck with Mr. Desmond Saul, with a battery trying to make the loudspeaker work.
This village was founded like a house that is built on four pillars. You know you don’t see a house on three pillars, you see houses on four pillars like this very pavilion I have here – four pillars. The first pillar was the home because when they were on the plantation they didn’t have homes. They live in places called hovels. You had to make your own house, cut some bush-wood and of course during the period of enslavement, families were split up – children will go to Enmore, wife sent to Leguan. So the village movement encouraged our forefathers to build homes- H-O-M-E, that four letter word. One home you know, not two. I know some people have two homes- one home with wife and children inside the home. Brother Raphael just said, “Right.”
The second thing that the village did – the second pillar on which the village stood was the school; those days you didn’t have Ministry of Education; you didn’t have NCERD. The people built the schools because they wanted their children to learn- learn to read the Bible, learn to count and spell. So the schools were supported by the churches and the villagers.
And of course, the third pillar itself was the church and, as I always say when I come to Victoria, if you pelt a brick in the air it will land on a church roof. This [is] place full of churches. I hope you all go to church children; you all go to church? You all been to church yesterday? No? Alright, the Pastor is going to deal with you all just now -Pastor Raphael Messiah.
But the church was important because the church gave support and solace and consolation to people who have been provoked and harassed all their lives. And God was their refuge, God was their shield and defender and they flocked the church. Right over there, Wilberforce, yes Wilberforce Congregational; and the Congregational Churches were outstanding at that time because they stood with the ordinary people, the peasants.
And of course, lastly, we had the farm. Some people think that the villagers didn’t like farming; well they didn’t have Nigel’s Supermarket then, they didn’t have Mattai. They had to eat what they grew and if you were lazy and didn’t plant is dead you dead. So these villages produced a tremendous amount of goods and I’d like you all to read about what we were producing in these villages a hundred years ago. Schooners use to be leaving this country to take plantains and yam and cassava and pumpkin to Trinidad and Barbados every week; bateaux were coming out of the back dam, full with fruits and vegetables and ground provisions.
These villages were the real food bowls not only for the villages themselves but for other immigrants who were coming and were working on the plantations every day. So they didn’t have time to produce their own food, but the villagers fed the whole nation; that was important. The villagers also had to develop skills to build these buildings and the bridges and the roads and the churches and the schools, their own homes and therefore we had a class of skilled artisans.
So within a few years of Victoria’s purchase, we started to see real development, and let me tell you one of the reasons for that development – is that by 1845, just six years after the village was bought, they made an agreement among themselves and that agreement had a long title; it’s called: Agreement entered into by the following persons in the name and on behalf of themselves and other proprietors of Victoria Village for the good regulation and general benefit of the said estate.
You think it’s nowadays people like to talk long? That was the name of the agreement. Anyhow, let me tell you what the agreement said in Article 20; and listen carefully – I know you’re hungry and thirsty but listen: “Calling to mind our happy condition and comparing it with our past state of degradation, we have determined in gratitude to our Almighty Father to erect two buildings which shall be used and devoted to the purposes of religion as a schoolhouse and a church where our children may be taught to read their Bibles and learn their civil duties, and meet together and there offer up to Almighty God our humble prayers and thanks for the mercies we have received.”
This is six years after coming out of enslavement. This is what your fore parents were thinking about- praising God and educating their children, and there was an agreement and the agreement allowed for the elections of office bearers. No GECOM. Among themselves they elected their office bearers. The agreement imposed taxes. No GRA – they imposed taxes on themselves. They prohibited drunkenness, cursing, swearing, gambling; they prohibited trespassing; they ensured that the Sabbath was observed. They prohibited the sale of properties, the use of firearms – all that in 1845. It sound like a manifesto of the Ministry of Public Security and this is what our fore parents, illiterate people, were agreeing among themselves in the village in 1845.
So you can see that your fore parents, although they were illiterate, they weren’t stupidy, they were learned in the ways of God and the ways of man and they knew how it was that this village had to be administered. So they had a head start, and this head start gave Victoria a cultural advantage over other places. The churches, the schools produced a large class of educated people and many very important teaching families arose out of this village. I don’t want to call the name but the author of the book on Victoria’s history is one of those famous sons of the village.
But village life was not a cakewalk, as the Minister of Communities had said, because the more people got into the villages, the fewer people remained on the plantations. So the plantation owners tried every means to prevent the freed Africans from leaving the villages. Not that they didn’t want to work but they wanted to cultivate their own provision grounds as well. So they decided to share their time between the plantation and the village.
Well, the plantation owners didn’t like that; so they started cutting down the fruit trees, flooding some of the villages and I think you all in Victoria know the story of Belinda; because she was one of the heroines of this village who saved the village from being flooded deliberately by the nearby plantation and, even when the central government tried to impose heavy duties and rates, the villagers protested and you know very well – well, of course people in Victoria don’t protest too much, they depend on the people from another village and I won’t call the name of the other village but when the government tried to pass the other village, the women, not the men, the women stopped the train. Victoria people too quiet to stop train- they are the cotton people.
In any event, Victoria was able to overcome its problems and together with Belfield, and you know in these big villages, they always like have a ‘mother village’. So when we talk about Haslington and Nabaclis and Golden Grove, all of them, sometimes when they travel overseas when you ask them where they come from they say, “I come from Golden Grove,” you come from Victoria. Because sometimes people don’t know where Haslington is; so you come from Victoria.
But even in the late 19th Century, people in this very village were able to form an agriculture society and that was copied in other villages like Den Amstel. So right here with Victoria at the centre, you all, or your fore parents were able to set up a thriving agro-processing economy and that economy was based on coconuts and the coconuts were used to make coconut oil and they were used to produce pig feed and poultry feed, materials for making mattresses. So last month when I heard Minister of Agriculture talking about ‘coconut festival’, I say “It nice, but you’re late, Victoria was here before you by about a hundred and twenty years”.
Cassava- you couldn’t come here without moving away without some cassava pone or cassava bread or cassareep. The fruit that came out of these backdams, for making beverages, for making guava jam and guava jelly, Victoria produced everything people needed to eat. [Applause.] It did it before and it has to do it again. Practically every household had a kitchen garden where it grew some pepper and some green vegetables and when your forefathers laid out these villages, every proprietor had two bits of land- at least, one in the front for the home and one in the back for the farm, and what you couldn’t grow in front you had a plot of land at the backdam and there you produced your ground provisions, your plantains and your pumpkins and your yams and your sweet potatoes and your dasheen and your eddo; and every weekend these bateaux would come out full of produce and some of it would be exported to the Caribbean.
Victoria was a hub of micro business – that is, you had bakeries, you had clothing stores and retail shops; you had parlours. Cottage industries proliferated. People used to make chocolate from cocoa. People used to make mauby, sugar cake, black pudding and souse. You had a range of artisans, tin smiths, blacksmiths, and those days you know when you got a tin, whether if it’s milk tin or whatever, that tin lasts forever because people would clean it out and put on a handle and use it to drink their coffee in the morning. They didn’t know about plastic, they know about tin-n-cup or as we say, tin cups.
So residents of Victoria, a hundred and twenty years ago you had a thriving economy. So today I haven’t come to tell you about history, I haven’t come to tell you about the past, I’ve come to tell you about tomorrow and the future and that is what National Day of Villages is about. It’s not about the past; it’s about your future. It’s not about long time story; it’s about where we have to go as a community and as a nation.
Your government and I know some of you, because I come and campaign here, I know some of you who supported a certain coalition during the last election. I’m speaking to the nation, so I don’t want to be partisan; but I think I know some faces when I was campaigning; but let me tell you this, your government will support and sustain any reasonable initiative for microenterprise development. We know that we have to pay attention to what the politicians call macroeconomic stability. They’re looking at Balance of Payments but we are looking at microeconomic stability, household development; everybody who runs a house knows they can’t spend more than they earn. So we have to cut down on buying canned and bottled stuff and use more stuff that is produced right here in Victoria. Not only is it more healthy but also it will help other villagers to make a living.
So rather than jumping into a canter truck or jumping into a minibus and bringing stuff back into the village, let us start to produce, let us start to grow, let us start to sell right here- the things that we produce. We have to promote the development of our own economies if we are to overcome the problems of poverty in our own communities; and we know there are lots of poor people, we know there’re lots of vulnerable people and that is why we need an economy which is based on an increased production of goods in these villages.
So, today is not only the National Day for Villages; today is the national day for village economies and we will work with the Ministry of Communities and the Ministry of Business to make sure that village economies flourish, particularly through micro and medium scale enterprises. It is these enterprises that will provide employment for children coming out of school; to provide services. These enterprises will make sure that village lands are not left idle but they will start to bloom again by being placed under cultivation; and sometimes you travel around the world, people make a lot of money, even by growing flowers; and these are some of the economic activities Victoria must pay attention to.
We are going to continue to support village democracy. As I told you before, as [the] Minister of Communities told you, when we were in the Opposition, he said, “Local Government Elections must be held every three years” and you are going to witness Local Government Elections again in 2018; and if the NDC doesn’t perform put another NDC, but they must know that they are responsible to you, the residents of these villages to improve the quality of life. So next time I come, I won’t see all those plastic bottles by the flagpole by the church just now. The place will be clean, clean villages; the canals and trenches will be clear. If you don’t clean up this place you’re going to get zika, you’re going to get dengue, you’re going to get chikungunya, you’re going to get big foot. You have to keep these canals clear; it’s healthy and this is one of the duties of the Neighbourhood Democratic Councils.
We want to see cultural life restarted, reignited, revived. I’m glad to see the drummers here but culture is more than singing and dancing, is more than drumming. It is also about the relations you have with one another; it’s also about happy homes; it’s about respect that men must show to their women or, to put it better, a man must show to his woman; because in this place people might misunderstand. It must start in the schools, where young boys must respect girls and girls must respect themselves. That’s what culture is about. Culture is about social cohesion.
You respect a person because he or she is African or Indian or Chinese or Portuguese or mixed. Respect a person because he or she is a Muslim, or a Hindu, or a Christian or a Baha’i or a Rasta. It is a question of respect. We want to see communities like this where we produced Usain Bolts, where we produce athletes who we can send into international competitions. That’s what community centres must be concerned with, the cultural life of the community.
We want to see trade fairs. If your grandparents and great grandparents could have done it in 1880 – why can’t you do it now? Bring villagers with their best sheep, their best cattle from all over the coast; let’s have competitions, let’s improve the quality of our ground provisions. All of these things used to happen right here in Victoria. So I’m not talking about the past, I’m talking about the future; I’m talking about what you need to do, if you are to be a rich and prosperous community.
So my brothers and sisters, National Day of Villages is all about the future; it’s all about where we want Guyana to go, household by household, village by village, neighbourhood by neighbourhood, region by region. Victoria, your forefathers have given you one of the most precious gifts any parent can give a child – land. Some of you wake up in the morning and you don’t have to worry because somebody a hundred and seventy-seven years ago thought that you should have land; and without land there’s no life and that land has been passed down from generation to generation for a hundred and seventy-seven years and you must make a vow not to throw away what your fore parents gave to you and continue to pass it on. You are only trustees. You don’t own anything. I’ve been to so many funerals in my life, so many cremations; I never see a house lot on the funeral pyre. You can’t take it with you, you have to leave it and you must understand that we are the trustees and we have to pass it on, hopefully in a better condition than we inherit it. It’s a rich legacy and with that legacy you’ll never be hungry.
I’d like to quote the words of a famous English Anglican Dean called Dean Inge, William Ralph Inge, and I quote him, and I quote him all the time; so if you were at Berbice High School you would have heard me. But let me say it again, “The proper time to influence the character of a child is about a hundred years before he’s born”. You know sometimes you’ll see a child misbehaving and teacher go home to complain about the child’s behaviour and, when he meet the mother and the father, then the teacher wake up; he realise where the problem coming from.
If we want to have a caring generation, a progressive generation, we have to put the planning here now and you’ll see the results, not next week or next month, but seventy-seven, a hundred and seventy-seven years from now. That is what Dean Inge was talking about. Our character was moulded by our fore parents a hundred and seventy seven years ago – a character that was moulded on the church, the school, on the farm and on the home. They moulded that character that we have inherited. So let us do the same for our children and grandchildren; let us set the standards; let us inculcate the values that will take them out of the jaws of poverty and lead them to the promised land of a good life.
My brothers and sisters, Guyana is fortunate that today we celebrate the National Day of Villages. We can celebrate our fore parents, people who did not go to UG, did not go to QC or PC, but people who had the intelligence and the foresight to provide for their children and their grandchildren by buying plantations as places to live, places to work and places to worship.
I pray God that we will have the same intelligence and commitment to our children; and I pray God that we preserve our patrimony for posterity and all these children here would have villages and homes to grow up in, schools to attend and churches to worship.
I pray that God may bless Victoria and that God may bless all of the villages of this beautiful country, Guyana.
I thank you.