It was such a luxury to lay back in the seat of the minibus as it churned its way around twists and bends in the road, the fresh crisp country breeze hitting my cheeks, and drawing tears from my eyes with its intensity.
With eyes half closed and with a contented smile, I mused in my fancy as lush, green fields glided by on both sides. As I gulped in the unpolluted air, for some strange reason, I remained glued to the sight of healthy-looking cattle munching heartily on mouthfuls of grass and shrubs, some even wading shoulder deep in roadside trenches, ensuring they had their fill of juicy water weeds, shrubs and tender plant species.
I was on my way to Lichfield Village located in Mahaica-Berbice, in Guyana, about 41 miles (or 66 km) south-east of the capital city of Georgetown. Lichfield is sandwiched between the slightly larger villages of Cottage to the south, and Belle Vue to the north.
As the journey continued, I was jerked out of my musing by the sight of bare back young men, their bodies glistening in the sun as they stood by the roadside trenches, just waiting for a fish to somersault, indicating its location; a perfect chance for them to swing cass-nets, most times hauling in patwah, hurri, or sunfish, their scales glinting as they struggled for their freedom.
Fattened dogs yelped in seeming delight at each catch, and if not watched carefully will pounce on any fish trying to escape back to water, running off in the bushes to enjoy the meal.
Shedding some light on the history of this quiet little village was centenarian, and oldest resident there, Layne Lewis, who incidentally was celebrating his 103rd birth on the day I visited.
He told me that 12 former slaves purchased the land in 1840. The land was said to be initially used for the cultivation of many crops including coffee, cotton and tobacco. With returns from the crops, villagers built schools, railway stations, churches, etc.
He explained that villagers are independent and contented.
“Persons visiting can never understand how we live so simple. But we are independent people, and we exist in peace and comfort. We are contented to plant our rice, vegetables and grow our own stuff in our kitchen garden. We rear poultry and cattle to co-exist and we are quite okay with what we are doing.
“Outsiders can never seem to understand how we are such a peaceful people. But our parents all came from humble beginnings, and they taught us to make the best of life and to be always contented.”
Lewis explained that it was the custom for villagers to open small groceries and snackettes. Others are employed in the city and outlying locations as teachers, nurses, dentists and clerks.
With not much scope for various forms of employment, the younger males would normally take up positions in the gold mines, while some are into the construction business.
Lewis who claimed that he was a vibrant cricketer, noted that though he was popular, he was not as celebrated as sports enthusiasts, Ian Archibald and Grewon Grant.
He spoke briefly also of what he called ‘important people’ Wolsey Semple who was a renowned engineer in Washington, DC in the USA. Semple was the founder of the very popular Semple Family Reunion,
which is held in the village every two years.
This village is also known for producing quite a few talented doctors, among them Dr. Edward Belle, a/ka Nedd, who was a professor of medicine at Mc Masters University in Canada.
The origin of the village
The history books and other sources report that immediately after Emancipation, the European planters and the colonial government took a decision not to sell land to the freed Africans.
The general aim was to ensure Africans continued to be a source of labour on the plantations.
But economic circumstances forced the planters to soon change their position. Many cotton plantations, in particular, became unprofitable by 1838, because Britain began to purchase cheaper cotton from the United States, where ther
e were very large cotton plantations, which used African slave labour.
The smaller cotton plantations in Guyana could not survive in such a situation, and some of them were abandoned. The owner of Plantation Northbrook, a cotton plantation on the East Coast D
emerara, decided to sell it to a group of 83 Africans for 30,000 guilders, equivalent to 2,000 British pounds or $10,000.
Those Africans, like many others, had saved money that they had earned over time from work done during the years of apprenticeship, between the abolition of slavery in 1834 and the time when indentureship began in 1838.
They were mainly headmen and mechanics from Grove, Paradise, Hope and Enmore; and since much of the money they had saved was in the form of coins, they had to transport the payment in wheelbarrows to the seller.
Shortly after, Queen Victoria agreed to a request from the new owners to rename the plantation Victoria, in her honour.
By 1839, Africans had purchased Plantations Lichfield, Golden Grove, St. John and Providence in West Berbice. Lichfield was bought by one person, Cudjoe Mc Pherson, for $3,000; and he later divided the plantation into 12 sections, which he sold to other Africans for a profit.
By this time, the planters had realised that many Africans had accumulated much savings, so they immediately raised land prices.
The moving away of Africans from the estates placed added pressure on sugar production, and the planters used devious means to force
them to return to work there. One of these means was to let loose water from the estate canals to flood the nearby African villages.
The planters, no doubt, felt that if the Africans’ farms were damaged; they would return to the estates to work.
The Lichfield Primary School was once controlled by the Anglicans before it became Government own and controlled. There are a few other churches in the village, as well as a health centre and a library, which was established in April 2004.
These facts are documented and were quoted extensively.
Real tasty countryside snacks
I was hungry by the time I arrived, and my stomach was grumbling like a volcano readying for eruption. It was then that I caught sight of Annette Hemerding’s roadside snacke
tte and was quite taken back by its bright, almost neon blue colour.
“De sight ah dem mouth watering fried rice, cook-up rice, chowmein and baked chicken, really set my stomach on fire. There was food in galore; you name it and she had it to give to you.
I looked longingly at the boiled and fried channa, egg balls, pholourie, the black and white pudding.
Finally, I settled for a box of chowmein and pot roasted chicken, and I washed it down with some ice-cold country brewed mauby.
Annette’s daughter was very polite and smiling, but almost sprinted a mile when I attempted to take her picture. I asked her why she was so camera shy and her response had me doubling over with laughter.
“Mista, nat me; me nah able mek paper. Me nah pretty and me nah want dem city people fuh seh, but ah wha she ah do in paper? She nah even ready. Not me mista. Yuh can tek out de snackette, but left me out ah it entirely.”
The little snackette has been the centre of attraction in the village for over 15 years now according to villagers.
Chatting with the residents
As I was trudging down a dusty dam to take some photos, villager Tyron Nicholson, suddenly appeared out of nowhere with a set of fierce looking dogs in tow. My childhood fright of dogs bubbled over, and I just froze there with my heart in my hands.
He was laughing and greeting me in merriment, but all I could think about was the moment when one of these animals will sink its teeth into a leg or ankle.
They sniffed me up and down and I must have died for a moment until Nicholson rescued my by shushing the dogs, with peals of laughter at my terror.
“Oh gosh budday,” he bellowed between first of laughter, you look like you about to die man. Dem dogs friendly; dem sniffing yuh because dem making friends. Relax maa
n, Yuh good. Relax budday.”
Nicholson directed me to my resource persons around the village, and Jaylon Benjamin, a rice and vegetable farmer was equally helpful. He informed of the way of living of villagers and how they would rise to the occasion in case of prolonged dry spells.
“Boss (our) way of living here is basically by planting rice, ground provision, and vegetables in the back dam. But just like it happening now,
we does get some serious dry season, which does really mess up things.
“When this happens, it does become really hard on the crops, and we would have to go to the extremes to get water to our crops. Those who can afford it can pump water from the canal, but if yuh ain’t get it like that, you got to fetch it in buckets from sometimes far distances.
Nevertheless, we accustomed to this so it become like nothing these days. We just mek do and improvise…”
Benjamin cultivates rice, and vegetables, which he sells around the village. Sometimes, he takes it to the Mahaicony Market Square, over 15 miles. Marliyn Lindo spoke of the lack of entertainment in the village. She made comparisons with the Lichfield of old.
“Lichfield is a quiet and nice village, but what is lacking these days is the entertainment for which the village was once famous. We used to promote the biggest Maypole Fairs and concerns, and things like that. But many persons have migrated taking with them their skills and talents, and no one has really bothered to take up the mantle.
“Yes we do the May Fair still, but there are really no village concerts like we used to have before. Old time stories are not told much in the homes now, and we can’t tell when last villagers lit any big bonfire and sit around it like we used to many years ago, especially at Emancipation.
“Persons have grown more modernized, and because many have relocated, our culture has dwindled somewhat. We need a reviving of our cultural roots in this village.
“Even our famous Young Women’s Association Building is not open like before and this was the centre that brought out most of the hidden talents of our young women.”
The Young Christian Women Association building was the centre where young girls learnt the trade of dressmaking, bottled seasonings and peppers, art and craft and much mo
Their handiwork was once a topic of discussion in many villages. No one seemed to be able to shed light on the cause of such turn of events. The resource person was said to be out of the village at the time of my visit.
YWCA’s programmes are actually an IDCE/Ministry of Agriculture initiative geared at providing opportunities in the areas of catering, tailoring, floral decoration practices, making of pepper sauce and kitchen seasonings, achar and other items.
This institution was formed in 2003, according to residents, to mold young Christian women, create employment for them, and to inculcate in them better values and morals.
What began as a simple bottom house venture for group members became a more established venture through efforts of the European Union (EU) in 2005, and a stately concrete building was built to accommodate the members, increased over time.
Their products were marketed at entities all around Guyana. They are assisted in their efforts by the REID’S Organisation, which is being financed by the Ministry of Agriculture, according villagers.
Lichfield also has a well-established library, and this is used widely by youths in the village for leisure time reading and for assignment research.
Most locations around Guyana are today heating up with the topic of the ‘No Confidence Motion’ and of course, villagers countrywide all have their opinions on the subject.
Surprisingly, this was not the hot topic in Lichfield Village. Villagers seemed more concerned with tending to their kitchen garden, and attending to their small food stalls to r
ake in much needed dollars.
Stephanie Clarke, with a carefree toss of her shoulder length braids said, “I don’t why these people making such a big fuss about this No Confidence issue. I ain’t get the time to be tearing up myself about that at all, because I got to live, I have to eat and survive.
“Despite whichever Government is ruling, I still have to work and my husband still has to work feed our family. I am in support of any Government that has the interest of the Guyanese people at heart, and I am more than ready for a proper Government despite of race or creed.”
Alisha Drennon was a bit more fired up in her take on the No Confidence Issue.
“My opinion is that Government should not spend so much time deliberating on the No Confidence situation as they are doing. If the same time and energy is spent on focusing on issues actually affecting the nation, Guyana will be a better country.
“If the legislation decides that the No Confidence motion is valid, then so let it be, and let the consequences follow.
“I don’t know much about politics, but I am a Guyanese, so I have the right to an opinion, and my views that both political parties should let the decision on the No Confidence Motion be guided by the laws that have been made to determine its outcome, and there should be no undermining of the laws for whatever reasons.”
Richard Sharpe said that a Government should adhere to the laws of the constitution.
“People need to stop getting all worked up over this situation. In our village, the No Confidence Motion is not a big topic of discussion, but from watching the news and reading the newspapers, I can see all Guyana has taken up the mantle and is making this thing much bigger than it is.
“Government is faced with issues every day that requires constructive direction. I am not too sure that the two parties are entirely constructive with their approach. All they may end up doing is putting more wood to the fire to ignite circumstance, which we do not want.
“They need to stop these threats and comments that may infuriate people, or fuel disagreements. Instead, they should work as one body to resolve their disagreement’s in a manner that foster peace and security for the Guyanese people.”
Drainage seems to be okay in Lichfield Village, and villagers are particularly happy that the RDC has begun works on a mud dam used by farmers to access their farms in the backlands.
This dam in the rainy season would become almost impossible to tread on, and as such, villagers were elated that repair works were being carried out.
The sight of men on horses chasing cows down the Lichfield Dam brought a vivid reminder that this was a location where poultry farming and cattle rearing brought in vibrant incomes for many residents.
The main road is in perfect shape, and the canals are well maintained. Lichfield residents enjoy continuous electricity, a constant supply of potable water and they ensure their village is kept clean through self-help initiatives and burning of garbage and refuse.
Many youths have migrated and are working in foreign states, and are sending back large dividends for their relatives. This accounts for the many attractive buildings and a few businesses which are presently still in the making.
With its great hospitality, and arresting atmosphere, Lichfield can be best described as the perfect location for the nature hearted who loves the beauties of life and who also crave tranquility.
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