By Alex Wayne
As the minibus rolled into the Victoria, Guyoil Gas Station, I experienced a sense of joyous anticipation. Visiting Victoria Village, East Coast Demerara, was always something to relish.
This village holds a certain refreshing yesteryear aura. Villagers remain glued to traditions.
This village, located on the Atlantic coast of Guyana, some 18 miles east of Georgetown, is sandwiched between the villages of Cove and John to the west and Belfield on the east.
In this village, one can still savour pepperpot, cassava bread, black pudding and other Creole dishes at almost any time of the day. And one can still can hear the beckoning sounds of African or Masquerade drums as stalwarts stick to their roots and uphold them.
There is still the fresh smell of cassareep emitting from at least two factories, and one can occasionally hear the loud slapping sounds of mothers kneeling by trenches beating their laundry with large wooden paddles.
There is still the mirthful spectacle of young men gawking at the women’s ample bosoms, or staring at their thighs as their wet skirts ride higher with movement.
Young girls still play hop-scotch on the railway dams, and noisy lads pitch marbles under the houses. Mothers fuss over stew pots in the kitchen.
Just as in olden days, the mango and genip trees still sway lazily, all laden with fruits, and young men still gather in groups, smoking cigarettes, playing dominoes, or simply bellowing at each other as they tease and taunt their colleagues mercilessly.
Farmers still make their way into the backlands on bicycles, while food vendors wear bright smiles as they trade their tasty Creole items from small stalls in front of their homes, or by the roadside.
Victoria Village is almost just as it was when I visited about six years ago…It still sports small cottages and many kitchen gardens, but one has to admit that in some places new businesses and more modern homes, have emerged.
My first stop was at the Guyoil Gas Station. On learning that I was a journalist, the female pump attendants all became excited. The supervisor rushed off to powder her nose and soon returned with the male security guard hot in t
ow, demanding that he shares a moment in any photos that were to be taken.
I almost burst out laughing as a few of them forgot they had vehicles to attend to. They posed for photos. Their moments of excitement were soon short-lived as impatient drivers bellowed (using profanities) and enquired whether they were working or were on a fashion show.
Roadside food vendor, Rose Moses, who was no stranger to me screamed out in delight and hugged me so tightly I thought she was going to squeeze me to death.
After plastering affectionate kisses on my cheeks, she demanded that I sit down and sample one of her large cheese rolls. And my, oh my! Her fruit punch was certainly the most delicious I ever tasted.
She called it the ‘Victoria Fantasy’, and it was made with a combination of ginger, cherry, watermelon and papaw pulp to which a little essence was added.
The ‘magic trick’ (an ingredient she would not disclose) gave it the “come to me, stay to me flava”, as s
he would put it over.
Rose has been trading her food items on the parapets of the Victoria Public Road, and large crowd always gather to savour the countryside delicacies she offered.
TREKS AROUND THE VILLAGE
I first went in search of the popular Joker is Wild Masquerade Band in Victoria. I found them now under the leadership of Raphael Waldron. When they first came into being many, many years ago, it was first under the guidance of his talented brother, Tony Waldron who has migrated to greener pastures in Barbados.
I had a great time with the Joker is Wild Band members. They were very elated at the fact that the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport and Ministry of Social Cohesion was finally taking strides to ensure that the masquerade art form be preserved.
Soon after, I was on my way to the famous Major’s Cassareep Factory, located a bit deeper in the village. There I was received by the cheerful manager, Mrs. Denise Major-Worrell, who was all excited to become the focus of our newspaper.
Quickly, she called out to her employees to bring her best wig, a clean apron and headwear. She had me doubling over with laughter as she practised which pose was best suited for the Kaieteur cameras.
She said that the cassareep factory came into being some 70 years ago. It was founded by her mother, Edna Major, who started operating from underneath her home in Victoria.
She explained that the factory over time has offered jobs to almost every able resident.
“This place has a lot of history. My mother started the cassareep factory, and almost every villager worked right here.
“My mother and my dad, Allan Major, kept the workers all happy. They tried to pay them the best salaries and wages.
“At first, we sold just cassareep to villagers and outsiders, but soon after with expansion, we were supplying supermarkets in and around the city.
“Today, we are not only doing cassareep, but many other items as well, perfectly suited to spice up your meats and your meals.
“Just recently, we introduced our new Coconut Chutney, Miracle Season and our Garlic Sauce, which are very hot items in the kitchen.”
Hoping to get her products on the international market, Denise and her husband Allan, are now building a spanking new factory within the village. That will see them readying for the export trade.
The sun was at its highest, and my shirt was clinging to my body. I regretted I had not worn suitable apparel for the weather, as Victoria was all about cheery people and scorching sunshine on that particular day.
Braving the heat and the dust on the railway line, I soon arrived at the Moses Cassava bread factory.
I was met by many smiling faces at this family-owned business, but the minute it was time to take photos, the place was almost empty as some of the camera shy family members scooted to various areas in the large yard.
With much coaxing, however, a few came forward mouthing, “Yuh betta mek me look good in dah paper. We nah want look stupid fuh dem Victoria people laugh me.”
This facility has been in existence for over ten years and the owner, Jennifer Moses, 60, said that it has been handed down from generation to generation.
While she enjoys what she does, she hopes to expand, and wants to secure more retail locations for their products. At this factory, they make cassava bread, ‘quinches’ (sweetened coconut pulp folded into cassava bread) and produce a small quantity of cassareep.
“I want my business to continue many years after I am gone. I hope my family will keep the tradition going. At present, we sell in the village and outside as well.
“Some stalls in the Stabroek Market take our products. Vendors from other locations do the same. But we are desperately searching for other locations to take our stuff, and we would really like to get on the international market.”
Mrs. Moses can be contacted on phone number 256-0592.
My next stop was to chat with the farmers, some of whom I found perched on a concrete culvert on the railway line.
A few shied away but the majority applauded the fact that finally the RDC was cleaning a major irrigation trench that fed water to their farms in the backlands.
The trench has become clogged with tall grass and weeds, which have greatly hampered the free flow of water to the farms. Persons cultivating vegetables on the reserves of the Backdam Road were also happy with the new development.
One can safely say that Victoria Village earned the reputation of being a most peaceful place in which to live.
And it had a right to be peaceful because enshrined in its articles of understanding were a host of do’s and don’ts which no doubt led to the enormous moral success of the village.
The committee of management, which was founded soon after the slavery days, did not only plan the development of the village, but also looked over the works carried out by residents who were the shareholders.
But today, things are a little bit different has villagers (especially the young at heart) have become caught up in the tentacles of modernization.
The sight of young men and women swearing in the streets, young boys dressing like thugs, and many verbal outbursts amongst youngsters is rapidly becoming a norm.
It’s the relentless drive by village elders and mature residents that keeps the traditional values, beliefs and practices of Victoria alive and bubbling.
HISTORY OF VICTORIA VILLAGE
The book, ‘History of Victoria Village’, written by William N. Arno, tells the inspiring story of how a group of recently emancipated Africans pooled their resources together in order to make an unprecedented purchase of a sizable village on East Coast Demerara.
The purchase was one aspect of that inspiring story; the other aspect was that those “intrepid” ex-slaves were able to draft rules and regulations to preserve their investment.
There were 20 Articles in that Agreement “for the good regulation and general benefit of said estate.” This tells us that the ex-slaves knew exactly what they wanted out of the investment; and two of the first things they wanted were a church and a school house, “which shall be used and devoted to the purposes of Religion as a School House and Church, where our children may be taught to read their Bibles and learn their several duties; and where we may offer up to Almighty God our humble prayers and thanks for the mercies we have received, and the benefits we are enjoying.”
In essence, education and church were accorded top priority in the grand scheme of things.
According to the book, in November 1839, eighty-three persons, including two women, bought what was then Plantation Northbrook for 30,000 Guilders ($10,284.63c).
But while it was mentioned both in the book and other documentation that just two women were involved in that transaction, the actual list of names has revealed that there were other women in on the deal.
In a petition (dated November 30, 1839) to the Queen through the Governor, Henry Light, the villagers wrote: “We would fain band down to posterity some token of our gratitude, and some memento of the emancipation, which we have witnessed, partaken of, and enjoyed; and we conceive that we cannot do so more effectually…than by being allowed to name our plantation after our good and gracious young Queen Victoria, entreating the governor to represent them in such a way as to “obtain her Royal consent.”
It is credited with one of the first codes of Local Government in Guyana, established in 1845. The village grew up to become one of the leading exporters of products made from coconuts and cassava.
In May 1845, six years after the village was purchased, the owners agreed to a number of regulations for the proper management of the estate, which is among the first attempts at a code of Local Government in Guyana.
The people in the village showed a great desire for church worship and used to travel as far as Le Ressouvenir, 11 miles to the west, to attend services conducted by the Reverend John Smith.
At the same time, some of them were also taught to read and write.
The keen desire for church worship resulted in the construction of church buildings. The first church was built by the Congregationalists in 1845 and named Wilberforce, after abolitionist who was prominent among those striving for the liberation of slaves.
Other churches followed suit and soon the Wesleyans, Plymouth Brethren, Lutheran, Catholic, Methodist and Anglicans were numbered among those functional.
The cultural standards of the village improved, chiefly influenced by the churches and the schools. Associations were formed with the aim of holding debates and suppressing indulgence in alcohol. The Cove and John sugar plantation and Belfield coconut estates boosted employment and thus, the economy at that time.
Join us next week when we take our village focus treks to Enmore on the East Coast of Demerara.
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