Apr 14, 2019 News
It was quite a pleasure to be told by the Editors that I was being sent to Hopetown Village, West Coast Berbice, as I continued my weekly Village Focus treks around Guyana.
Actually I was born in this village and lived there until my early teens, before relocating to Mahaicony East Coast Demerara. So naturally this visit meant fun and frolic, and a reconnection with relatives I had not seen in gages.
Thank goodness there were no showdowns on the minibus this time around, but I had no idea I had another unpleasant experience waiting.
This somewhat arrogant bus conductor on the Berbice bus park insisted on putting more than three persons in a seat (in the bus) so naturally I began to protest.
In the end, I had no choice but to get into the back seat, which was occupied by a very fat elderly man and a skinny young lady.
The man soon excused himself to purchase a soda, and it was then that his overpowering body odour hit me.
“Man look this was what country people would normally referred to as lime tree…” By this time, the young lady had slid to the other side of the seat, forcing the man to sit right next to me when he returned with his soda and a large bag overflowing with egg balls and boiled and fried channa.
He returned, plumped himself down, and began to chump loudly on the meal, making annoying slurping sounds as he seemingly gobbled down everything.
When the bus drove off a short while later, his almost suffocating body odour engulfed me, forcing me to stick my nose out the window for almost the entire 97 kilometres ride to the countryside. I would not hesitate to declare that the drive was very uncomfortable, and I was seething in anger.
In times gone by at least three villages were referred to as Hopetown Village by residents, and these included # 22 Bel Air, St. John and Hopetown itself. Today with properly erected village signs, Hopetown now lies between the two other slightly larger villages of Fort Wellington to the north and St. John to the south.
The sun was scorching when the bus rolled into Hopetown with hot, sweaty passengers, still trying to catch a little nap here and there. I paid the conductor, and as the bus drove off, I instantly became the curiosity of girls on the roadside and a few street-side vegetable vendors who stared at my camera and notepad with expressions I just could not fathom.
“One young girl mouthed to another, loud enough for me to hear, “He look like a camera man or a reporta…He bettah nah cum hay, cause me ain’t got nutthing fuh tell he.”
This did not deter me at all so I marched over to a provision vendor and struck up a conversation. The vendor, Dexter Cummings, was quite willing to shed light on the livelihood and humble existence of Hopetown villagers.
According to Cummings, Hopetown is fairly quiet on a normal day. Some of the residents are engaged in livestock and small-scale cash crop farming.
He said rice farming has dwindled considerably, while some of the owners of rice land have rented to other farmers because of the high cost of production. However, he noted that most of the large farmlands in the back dam locations are no more.
Some villagers now have small kitchen gardens from which they reap produce for cooking or for sale at a few small stalls within the village.
A few of the residents operate shops and other small businesses or have jobs at schools, the Fort Wellington Hospital, the Regional Democratic Council (RDC) and other locations.
I received a tour of the village from villager Joanna Goodridge who was pretty excited to be in the company of a journalist.
She readily took me to all the resource persons who provided information on the village. She was so helpful that I treated her to ice-cream, fruit cake and some of the biggest cheese rolls I had ever seen from a roadside shop.
Of course, she followed up with some good traditional Golden Apple juice made to perfection.
She took me to my past favourite hideout, the Falcon Crest Disco, only to be told that this once popular hideout has been closed down. In times gone by this entertainment joint attracted villagers and residents from outside locations to its many traditional parties with the popular ‘One Man Bands’ from along the countryside.
It was always a sight to watch the very curvy and buxom women gyrating in wild abandon as they got high on Brown Rum, or the Banko Wine, which reddened their lips, and glazed their eyes.
According to Aerobics and Dance Instructor, Roger Duncan, villagers now would venture outside the village for recreational purposes, or wait patiently for the arrival of the much anticipated annual Soiree event, or the Miss Emancipation African Beauty & Intelligence Pageant.
At one time, this village was popular for producing some of the healthiest looking pigs, and the best pork chops around.
Today, there are no more than three households rearing pigs. Poultry farming has also been greatly down played according to villagers.
Talking about the journey of the village was Norma Goodridge, a widow who has lived there for almost sixty years.
“Hopetown is different from what it was when I was much younger. We were accustomed to the muddy dams, and some were so sandy it almost blinded you when you tried to walk on them in the dry season.
“I could remember sometimes that the dry season was so intense that large pastures would just suddenly catch afire just like that. Villagers had to come together to throw water from the trenches and beat out the fires. The smoke would be suffocating and mothers sometimes had to grab their babies and run to safety.
“I used to enjoy the days when housewives would come out in numbers, and we would all line up alongside the trenches and ponds in the village, catching the bush fish.
“Dem patwah, hurri and sunfish used to be really big and taste suh good. But today everything got modernized and people ain’t really get time with dem things. De young men only concerned with wearing their pants way below their buttocks, and the little girls just piercing their navels, and their eyebrows like modern day Jezebels…Things have really changed.”
The village has moved from its somewhat rustic appearance. It now has several classy looking buildings. The old traditional Co-op Society building has now been converted into the spanking new J & S Supermarket from which villages obtain their supplies and groceries.
The Double ‘C’ and GT Graphics Internet Cafes are the locations students frequent for academic research and completion of SBAs.
For fun now, young men would gather in their yards, play loud music and their drunken guffaws and throaty bellows could be heard from quite afar.
One must compliment the teachers at the Hopetown Nursery and Primary Schools for the ‘tip top shape’ in which they are maintaining the school compound, and immediate surroundings.
Villagers now miss the times of hanging out at the ‘Dem ah Watch Me’ Grocery and Mini Hangout Bar, owned by Althea Goodridge.
That location offered a form of relaxation for villagers who preferred a more quiet form of entertainment. This hotspot has now been replaced by a provision stall owned by another villager.
Hopetown Village is an attractive settlement of very clean streets, well maintained trenches, good roads and schools in the best possible condition. The Community Centre ground is surprisingly well maintained.
There is of course the Hopetown Practical Instruction Centre to help youths develop talents in art and craft and other creative avenues.
Areas like McPherson Drive, Semple Street, and many more have now been spruced up to be quite presentable.
Straying from Traditions
Sherod Semple was particularly concerned about how villagers have strayed from traditions, and are changing their culture to suit that of trending times.
“Hopetown village was always a village that stuck to its roots, culture and traditions. I am not too pleased with the way things are today. The youths are changing everything to suit the modern times. This village has a rich history and residents need to get back to their roots and culture.
“These days the only traditional event we have remaining is the annual Soiree event during Emancipation to which thousands will attend. Soiree is about our African roots…Beating of drums, traditional dances, drama, etc.
“But today persons are changing this event to one that features big boom boxes, street parties, and an event that creates much traffic congestion. There is no longer any class to the event. Promoters just set up big music sets in open fields, or along the road, sell alcohol, and the young people get drunk and all manner of things happen.
“This is not what the traditional Soiree event was meant to be. Our forefathers must be turning in their graves. Big people can no longer attend this event, and now have to come together in small groups and hold their traditional Soiree events under their houses, to avoid the chaos outside. And the noise is always deafening.”
Semple explained that in years gone by one could, on weekends, hear the pulsating sound of African drummers in sections of the village as talented drummers kept the traditions alive through music. He said this has been replaced by the loud incessant sound of large stereo sets, blasting out songs, sometimes laced with unnerving profanities.
Years ago, the Hopetown Anglican Church had to form a Senior Citizens Club to ensure that older folks are properly entertained.
Humble existence and great contentment
That aside, villagers seemed to have maintained the rich camaraderie and great hospitality that has always attracted visitors to the location. What is more appealing is the manner in which residents exist in a peaceful atmosphere with a contentment that is evident in their conversations, demeanour, attitudes, and even their smiles that seem to always mirror happiness in their eyes.
Joining a few men drinking High Wine by a roadside shop, I was amazed at the manner in which I was welcomed and even offered to indulge in the strong spirits. Of course, I declined.
I can’t remember of ever tasting High Wine in my entire life, because I never like the scent of it anyway.
Sharon Rockcliffe, who operated a roadside snackette, insisted that I taste her homemade tamarind balls.
When I did, I almost choked. She fell into fits of laughter, explaining about how it is made and why it tasted so sour.
“Mista, don’t mek up yuh face suh. Countryside tamarind balls are the best you can ever have. We ain’t like…dem a city people who does use a whole lot of black ugly looking sugar, and lil bit tamarind… We does use lots of tamarind and less sugar.
“And yuh got to make it sour; it good fuh the body. Besides, it will help to keep down yuh nature… suh yuh have no problems. Eat up and enjoy, and stap skinning up yuh damn face.”
I sat there and listened to conversations. The men explained how they were quite comfortable with their occasional water shortages, ‘electrical blackouts’, and everything else that city folks would customarily make a big fuss about.
Their somewhat dreamy smiles took me to a place of learning to accept many setbacks and disappointments in life, based on the fact that these very merry people still found the time and strength to offer great hospitality, and to showcase such high levels of contentment amidst life’s struggles.
History of the Village
As history would dictate, Hopetown is some 97 kilometres from Georgetown. It was bought by the Blair brothers, who pooled their money to purchase the village. It was said that the men loaded their pennies and other savings on to a wheelbarrow and pushed it all the way to Georgetown, a journey that took four days.
They named the village ‘Hopetown’ in pursuit of hope for a better life after slavery.
After the community was purchased, it was divided into Fybrace, St. John and Number 22 Village where farming and bartering to earn a living were done.
Additionally, roads and streets were allotted. The community already had in existence a church and school, and the occupants subsequently established a governance system to facilitate the smooth running of the village.
Today, Hopetown is known for the traditional annual soiree event, which is by far the biggest event of its kind held in Guyana. The soiree started many years ago, and had its inception with the newly freed slaves to eventually become an annual event.
Information extracted from Google.com suggests that before 1838, there were four cotton plantations or estates in the part of West Coast of Berbice now known as Hopetown. They were at that time known as plantation # 16, # 17, # 18 and # 19.
At the time, they were owned by a planter named James Blair. History suggests that in 1788 land that was used to plant cotton, by 1800, was devoted to cattle rearing. This was because cotton from the USA was superior and cheaper than that from Guiana.
Cattle were a less labour intensive form of agriculture, so if fewer slaves could be used to mind the cattle, then it would cost less to produce the cattle.
After Emancipation in 1834, groups of freed slaves from these four plantations bought two sections of these plantations from Mr. James Blair. The original 49 proprietors of the St Paul’s Section saved up the wages they were able to earn as apprentices to Mr. Blair between 1834 and 1838 until they had $2,000 in coins, which they took in a wheelbarrow to Mr. Blair to pay for these former cotton plantations.
`The estate they bought was divided up between the 49 proprietors who signed the transport document (deeds) with a cross by their names, since they could not write.
Pompey Joseph (Edwin’s 3 x Great grandfather) and Jacob Wilson were two of the former slaves listed as joint proprietors on the transport document they received on 12th October, 1840.
By this time, one of the plantations (no 17) was a sugar plantation and Jacob Wilson was a cane cutter by day, earning a wage from the planter while returning at nights to cultivate his provisions (plantains, cassava, sweet potatoes, eddoes and corn) at the back of the estate the slaves had bought.
Pompey Joseph was a carpenter who also kept cattle as well as cultivate his provisions on his portion of the land.
By 1841, they had built “neat cottages” according to the magistrates report to the British Governor at that time. The original transport document was passed by Judge Samuel Firebrace whose name was given to the remaining section of the village, which together with St. Paul’s Section is now called “Hopetown”.
Join us next Sunday, when we take you on an exciting journey in and around the Indo populated village of Champagne, East Coast Demerara.
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