President David Granger: What comes from above is a blessing, so as the Book of Psalms says, this is the day which the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it except at Gibraltar we will be wet in it too. Minister of Education, Nicolette Henry, a bona fide Berbician, Chairman of East Berbice-Corentyne, Mr David Armogan; Master of Ceremonies, Mr Murray, Regional Executive Officer; all the beautiful residents of East Berbice-Corentyne. All those from Gibraltar let me hear you, all those from Courtland, and Fyrish, and Ulverston, and Hogstye, and Lancaster, and Rose Hall, and Union, Corriverton, Kildonan, all right; New Amsterdam, Bush Lot, Adventure, all right.
It is a great day for East Berbice-Corentyne and let’s thank Region Five for sending the steel band too, but today, as you have heard, is Emancipation Day and it’s a day for celebration. It’s a day when a hundred and seventy-nine years ago our forefathers became freed from the plantations.
Today is like New Year’s Day for Guyana. It’s a day of deliverance, it’s a day of departure from the plantations but it’s also a day for determination when our fore parents decided to build better lives for their families, for themselves and for future generations. Today, really, I call the birthday of Guyana because it was because of the 1st August, 1838 that the East Indians came as indentured labourers, it was because of Emancipation that the Portuguese came and because of Emancipation that the Chinese came.
So we all celebrate the 1st August as the day when people from four continents came together – people from Europe, people from Africa, people from Asia and people from the Americas came together, so it’s a good thing that all of us should celebrate Emancipation Day. It is truly National Holiday but today I want to speak to you, particularly, about the religious aspect of this sacred day in our history.
You know you have been told already by the regional chairman and by other speakers about the importance that we all attach to the 1st August, but particularly here in Gibraltar, particularly in Courtland in Fyrish this should be a special year because it was a hundred and seventy-five years ago, about a hundred and seventy-five years ago that this village was bought. Gibraltar was one of the biggest villages in Guyana. When it was bought, it was five hundred acres of land. No other village was bigger than five hundred acres at that time; Gibraltar one of the biggest villages in this country. It was bought by twenty persons and they paid four thousand, three hundred and eighty-three dollars for Gibraltar.
Well, I brought five thousand dollars with me, I don’t know if I could buy back Gibraltar. A Granger, what you call it? Ah got a Granger in mah pocket, but your forefathers paid four thousand three hundred and eighty-three dollars for this village; twenty persons. I don’t think that twenty persons from Gibraltar now could buy five hundred acres of land. I don’t think twenty persons from Fyrish or Courtland or Union or Ulverston could buy five hundred acres. What was four thousand three hundred and eighty-three dollars a hundred and seventy-five years ago is probably more than four hundred and thirty-eight billion dollars today; so you can imagine the sacrifice those twenty men had to bear to buy Gibraltar.
Where did they get the money from? They had to save money. They didn’t go drinking and gambling and sporting. Only four years after emancipation these people were able to buy an abandoned plantation and start a process of transforming plantations into a nation.
In fact, over the years your fore parents were able to produce ground provision, the famous mangoes from Fyrish and Gibraltar, coconuts and they made these villages into the food bowl of the Corentyne and in fact when the Black Bush Polder was being opened in the 1960s they were able to get planting material from Gibraltar, from Leeds, from Kildonan.
So, in fact, I’m not speaking about dream land, I’m speaking about reality, that these villages were once the food bowl of the Corentyne. You heard also about the importance of emancipation, that emancipation enabled the free Africans to restore their family lives. This is what the minister reminded you of. These were people who came out of the worst crime against humanity: the crime of enslavement.
It was murderous. The Africans were treated like two legged animals; they had no rights, they couldn’t keep their families together, their wife could be sold to Demerara, their children could be sold to Essequibo but these people who had no academic education knew the value of emancipation because they went off of the plantations as a result of provocation and from 1839 they started what is called the Great Village Movement and Gibraltar was part of that movement.
You here in Leeds and Kildonan were a part of that movement. Victoria and Buxton and Bagotsville were a part of that movement, and that movement had a clear purpose and your fore parents had an idea in mind, an idea to give their children and grandchildren a better life than they had on the plantation. First of all, they wanted to bring their families into homes. The plantations did not have homes; Africans did not live in logies. They lived in very, very rough conditions; they lived in hovels. They had to build those hovels themselves. They had to cut bush wood, they had to cut thatch for the roof, and if they had a few poultry, the poultry live inside with them on the plain ground. It was bad and they wanted to get away from the plantations. So first of all, your fore parents wanted to get their families together. Some families which had been split up; from the time of emancipation the people started to walk back from Parika, they started to come from Essequibo back to Berbice, back to Demerara to find their wives and children. That was the type of persons your fore parents were. They wanted to build homes to bring their families together because they knew the importance of family, even though they were not allowed to marry under slavery.
The second thing they did was to build churches and if you go throughout the coastland you will see so many churches. Quite recently I was at Albion Chapel and I always tease my brothers and sisters in the Congregational church because their churches are from A to Z, from Albion Chapel to Zora Congregational Church in Plaisance. A-Z congregational. Is any Congregationalist here? Wave your hand. One. One, all right I see you, but that church helps to educate and helped to support the Africans before, during and after the period of enslavement.
And the third thing that they did was build farms, and every village the Africans opened had a farm because they had to feed themselves. Some people strangely believe the Africans didn’t like agriculture. They wanted to run to town and wear shirt and tie. How could that be true? How could ninety thousand people not feed themselves? That is why I want to emphasise not only did they feed themselves but they fed the whole country. They exported produce to Trinidad and Barbados. Even the Trinidadian calypsonian, the Mighty Sparrow, used to sing about the size of the BG plantain because we were producers of food and that food came from our farms, and you know that very well and the fourth thing that your fore parents wanted to do is to build schools.
Those days you didn’t have a Ministry of Education. You didn’t have Central Housing and Planning Authority. They had to build schools because they wanted their children to learn, they wanted their children to read the Bible and understand the word of God. They wanted their children to have better lives than they themselves had. My brothers and sisters these villages were purpose-built. These villages had a plan, had an aim – an aim to build homes, churches, farms and schools; an aim to create a settled population, a settled peasantry; an aim to seek economic freedom. So this is what the village movement was about and I would like to say that these villages were like a gift from God, because were it not for the intelligence of these uneducated and illiterate people I do not know what would have happened but in the whole western hemisphere there was no movement like the village movement of British Guiana at the time, in which thousands of people were able to move off from the plantations.
Fifteen thousand acres of land were purchased in the decade after emancipation. Fifteen thousand acres were bought, cash – c-a-s-h. They were bought cash to the value of one million dollars. I don’t know what that would translate to nowadays but it was probably about ten billion dollars. Where did they get the money from? They got the money from the soil, from farming, from selling their cattle, their livestock, from selling farm produce.
So this was a miracle. It was an economic miracle not because I say so but nowhere else, it didn’t happen in America, it didn’t happen in Brazil, it didn’t happen in Africa, it happened here in British Guiana and we today are the beneficiaries of the miraculous village movement. Fifteen thousand acres, a million dollars, a hundred and seventy-five years ago. What a people our forefathers were. How insightful they were. Were it not for them we all would have been renting land now, but they gave us the greatest legacy of all: land to build homes, churches, schools and farms.
My brothers and sisters, I know some of you are Christians so allow me to venture a little bit into what the Bible teaches us. I’m not a pastor but I believe that the lessons or the parables of Jesus are applicable now as they were two thousand years ago and in Matthew 25 Jesus told the parable, the parable of the talents, and he said:
For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants and delivered unto them his goods.
And unto one he gave five talents, to another he gave two, and to another one; to every man according to his ability.
You know what happens? I don’t have to tell you but the landlord, who was the lord? The lord was our ancestors, the people who scrimped, who scrounged, who saved to buy these villages, these fifteen thousand acres, the people who built our first farms, our first homes, our first schools and churches. These were the talents they bequeathed to us just as the Lord gave his servants talents so did our forefathers give us these talents and that is why we’re celebrating here today.
Who’re the servants? We are the servants. We are the heirs, we’re the people who inherited those talents. We are the beneficiaries of those sacrifices and the vision of our forefathers. Today we’ve inherited the kingdom but we must ask ourselves what have we done with the legacy. When you look around at these villages ask yourselves what have we done over the last hundred and seventy-five years and we must think about this. You know today we must be thankful for this legacy, the legacy of land, the legacy of liberty.
It is written in the Book of Psalms; again, forgive me for quoting so frequently from the Bible but I know many of you are Christians and when you go home you can check if I’m right. In the Book of Psalms, Psalm 100, it is written:
Know ye that the LORD, he is God: it is he that hath made us, not we ourselves; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him and bless his name.
For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and His truth endureth to all generations.
And I feel seriously about this day, the 1st of August because this indeed is a day of thanksgiving not only for the African people but also for the Indians, the Chinese and the Portuguese who came to join them and create this beautiful nation of ours today. So we are grateful, we are thankful for this inheritance and in particular, my brothers and sisters, we must be thankful for the gift of freedom, the gift of liberty and let me go once again to the good book. I hope you all don’t invite me to give any sermons you know because I’m quoting from the Bible but the good book is a source of wisdom and it is written in James 1:17:
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
With God there is no variableness, no shadow of turning, and this is what we recall today the 1st of August, that we have received the gift. We are the inheritors of this great legacy and we must not vary or turn away from the father who gave us these gifts. This, therefore, my brothers and sisters of Gibraltar, East-Berbice Corentyne, of Guyana, is my simple message to you: We have inherited a priceless gift of liberty from our fore parents. We have inherited a valuable gift of land from our fore parents. Let us use these gifts to ensure that our children and grandchildren will never again have to beg bread in the streets, that they could feed themselves, feed the nation, feed the Caribbean.
This is the emancipation message which I bring to you. It is a message of hope, it’s a message for the future and it’s a message for generations to come. Thank you very much for inviting us; thank you very much for this beautiful weather, Gibraltar.
Anytime you hear about El Nino in the Rupununi, I’ll send some people from Gibraltar to show them a little rain. So thank you very much and may God bless you all.