Cooperative Republic of Guyana

Presentation of motion to commemorate a NATIONAL DAY OF VILLAGES – by Brigadier (Ret’d) David Granger (Leader of the Opposition) November 2014


Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for that delay. Today, the 7th November, the village of Victoria celebrates the 174th Anniversary of its purchase. It was purchased on the 7th November, 1839. I rise to speak on this motion because next year, on the 7th November, the village of Victoria will be celebrating its 175th Anniversary.

Victoria is our first village and the purchase is significant in our folklore, literature and history. As you know William Pilgrim had created the musical, “The Purchase” and several writers, including Brian Moore, Rawle Farley and Alan Adamson, had written about the importance of the event which took place on the 7th November, 1839.

On that day, 83 men and women collected their moneys in coins and in a wheel barrow brought bags of coins 30 kilometres from what was then Plantation Northbrook to Georgetown. But that move by the 83 pioneers was significant for several reasons: For them it marked a break from the period of enslavement; the world system of bondage it modern human history. Many of them were illiterate, but one thing they knew was that they wanted their liberty and that liberty was not found on the plantations.

They knew also they had to be economically independent and they could never have economic independence on the plantations. It was they who transformed the landscape of Guyana from a string of plantations, from Skeldon to Charity into a series of human habitations.

They also wanted to be able to worship and they were not free to worship their God on the plantations. They wanted to restore their families because under the enslavement system they were not allowed to marry; they were not allowed to stay with their wives and children, who may have been separated by sail.

The move that took place from November, 1839 was perhaps only second in significance to emancipation itself. The move that took place in November, 1839 opened the doors to real freedom – economic freedom, political freedom and social freedom, in that it created human settlements away from the sterile cultural life of the plantations. It paved the way for the Indian villages which were to be established later on in that century – villages like Whim, Huis t’ Dieren, and Nooten Zuil. It paved the way for the Chinese settlements up the Demerara River at Hopetown. It paved the way for the Local Government system in which the villages were administered by the purchasers themselves – persons who made the rules; persons who regulated their own lives.

The lesson for us today was not simply that a small band of pioneers broke away from the plantation system and humanised the landscape. The lesson for us is that this was the real crucible in which the Guyanese nation was born. It was out of these plantations that the villages were born, but it was not easy. The villages had to struggle and in that struggle we see the character of the villagers and the character of the Guyanese nation being moulded. And what happened? In the period of little over a decade, ordinary, many of them illiterate peasants were able to subscribe over $1 million – I think the economists present here can tell you what the value of $1 million in 1839 would be in 2014. They were able to buy over six thousand hectares of land to set up their communities.

We see that out of this so-called village movement we had almost half of the population of Guyana. Try to convert it into what it would mean if half of the population of Guyana today, within a decade, moved their habitation. In that short period between 1839 and 1848, about half of the population moved out of the plantations into the free villages.

That was the first significant change, but at every stage along the line, the new emerging peasantry was resisted by the Government of British Guiana and the planter class, the plantocracy. They tried every device to prevent the free peasants from developing villages which could rival the plantation economy for labour and land.

We saw after the first phase of enthusiastic acquisitions of the lands, a period of resistance by the Government itself and by the planters who starter to lose labour. While a peasant economic was growing up, we saw that the planter economic had started to wobble. The planters at that time were under serious stress because of the collapse of the London Sugar Market; because of the revival of beet sugar production; and because of the shortage of labour. They did everything possible to try to destroy the village movements. That is one of the important factors in the village movements; that the peasants themselves had to fight against the planter class and had to fight against a vindictive Government, which tried to destroy the villages; something that we are not unfamiliar with today – Governments trying to control and destroy the villages.

After that first burst of enthusiasm, we saw that between the 1860s and the 1880s the Governments striving to prevent the villages from expanding. We saw that the villages were burden with taxation. To operate a canoe a person had to get a licence; to operate a cart a person had to get a licence; to become a vendor a person had to get a licence. In this way the Government tried to strangle to early village movements. That is why there are legends up to now and places like the East Coast and West Bank Berbice, at Buxton and at Ithaca where the peasant had to resist the Government. There is the famous story of the Buxton people stopping the train – the Buxton women stopping the train. When the Governor was trying to go in the train to the East Coast, the women stopped him from travelling because of taxation; because of the oppressive nature of the Government.

Nevertheless, the villages survived against the odds. Over the next period between the 1880s and 1890s the Government was forced to introduce reforms in the village movement in order to alleviate the disease, the flooding and the suffering that the villagers were undergoing.

The legend of the village movement is an important part of our history. Today we celebrate not only Victoria and the pioneering initiative of the 83 persons who bought and built that community, but we also celebrate the struggle throughout the 19th century of the villagers against the plantocracy, against the Government and against nature – the floods which took place there, the economic oppression and of course, the disease and other elements which prevented them from expanding. That is what the village movement is about.

Out of those villages we have produced some of the greatest Guyanese. At least two Chancellors of the Judiciary have come out of those villages. Chancellor Massiah came out of Pourderoyen and Chancellor Desire Bernard came out of Plaisance. When we look around to see how the character of the Guyanese nation was formed, we normally have to go back to the villages because that was really the birth place of these great Guyanese leaders.

It is for these reasons that I feel that we should commemorate the founding of the Victoria Village. As I said on the 7th November, 2014 we will be celebrating the 175th Anniversary and that is why we are calling for the minting of a commemorative coin; we are calling for the printing of a commemorative stamp; and we are calling for the establishment of a National Day of Villages to commemorative this important event in our history.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. [Applause]

Brigadier (Ret’d) Granger (replying): I would like to thank all of the contributors to this discussion on this motion. In particular, I would like to thank Mr. Nagamootoo and Mr. Basil Williams who I think brought particular insights into this debate. It is not a debate about an African village movement. Nowhere in the text of the motion is there any reference made to African village movement, and certainly there was no attempt to exclude or disparage the indigenous villages. They were not a part of a movement; they were there from time immemorial and people have referred to that.

When we speak of a movement we speak of a deliberated and conscious effort to buy, acquire and settle into new areas. This is what we are speaking about. We did not disparage or disregard the Amerindian villages but they were there and they were strong communities and they are still there but they were not part of a movement. The movement really was an immigrant invention. It was something the Chinese did; it is something the Indians did; it is something the Africans did. The motion was meant to pay tribute to all of the villages in Guyana and that is why it is called the National Day of Villages. It is not the National Day of Indian Villages or the National Day of the African Villages; it is the National Day of Villages so that all the villages would be embraced.

Little learning is a dangerous thing and we have gone into some waters here which I think may drown some of us when we start to examine it more carefully. When we speak of De Winkle it is not really of the same character, it is not really cut from the same cloth, and I do not want to go into explaining what happened. With De Winkle, there were a particular group of people who were called crown slaves and it is a different type of settlement. When we speak of the dates we are heading into a quagmire here because if we go to Queenstown the people will tell us that it is the first village; if we go to Den Amstel they will tell us it is the first village; if we go to Buxton they will prove it is the first village. When we start talk about the first village, people will take us down a long path. We have selected one day which is provable that on the 7th of November, 1839 something specific happened. If we want to debate what happened in Den Amstel, or in Queenstown, or Bagotville or Bagotstown I think we will be going into a quagmire but let us not go there.

As I said, a little learning is a dangerous thing and we can spend another decade finding out which village was actually bought, which was settled, which was paid for, when the transport was passed, but I do not think it will help the debate that we are having here tonight. What we are looking at is what the Hon. Member Nagamootoo and what the Hon. Member Williams spoke about, at deliberate decisive action, we are looking at character; we are looking at contribution; we are looking at a group of people who struggled; a group of people who came together had an agreement; a group people who had a vision to where they wanted to take their community, not a passive settlement; a group of people who saved money, who purchased, who made rules and this is what we are talking about.

I think this has been a very important discussion. I would like to emphasise that it is not the denial of the rights of any particular group of people, certainly not the Amerindian people because the villages have been recognised as being there from time of immemorial, but we are speaking also about the movement of the immigrant people; we are speaking about the struggles. It is important to know that historically these villages had to struggle against not only nature but an oppressive government. Those people were the ones who brought about the local government system because it was formed as a crucible between government and people, between planters and peasants. I think that is the important character we have to understand about what took place on the coast land which is a different experience of what took place in the hinterland.

When we speak about the coins and stamps, I did not think that people would want to break a lance over it. We have had stamps on pork knocker;we have had stamps with our pilots. I really do not feel that it is necessary to debate whether we should have a stamp of our own villages, stamps about scouts. If we are to look back we have had stamps with Mickey Mouse in this country. I do not know who is responsible for the Guyana Post Office Corporation. We have had some of the most ridiculous stamps I could imagine. I mean, sometimes I am ashamed to be Guyanese when I see some of those stamps.

I think it is a very noble idea here.

With these remarks, I would like to thank the contributors again to the debate and I would like to commend this motion for acceptance by this honourable House. Thank you.