I was not one bit pleased with the way the driver was cavorting recklessly along the East Bank Highway, darting in and out of traffic like a maniac. His constant squeal of tires and raucous, filthy conversation was also doing a number on my nerves to such an extent that when I disembarked at my destination, I was swearing under my breath at the callousness and reckless demeanour of this man.
And to think that he had the gall to just laugh off my muffled protests with an exclamation of “Bass man, speed can’t kill yuh!. We gaffa deh pon we medie pon dis road because times hard and we always looking fuh it…”
I could scarcely refrain from giving this driver a ‘royal cuss out’ when I disembarked at Goed Fortuin Village, but I held my composure.
The chatter of school children as they paraded along the roadside, had a certain harmonious ring to it.
As they waited on transportation to their various schools, young girls were observed giggling and chatting in hushed tones. I was close enough to hear them discuss how they made it extremely hard for young school boys who were always ready to unleash their masculine courting tactics.
Every so often peals of laughter rent the air as the sassy little ladies revealed their disdain over what they described as soft approaches of many schoolboys.
I stood their reminiscing on my days as a school boy and how we couldn’t dare have such conversations, much less even attempt to get intimate with school girls.
I was in the village of Goed Fortuin (West Bank Demerara), a little community named after Goed Fortuin of old Sipora, one of the Mentawai islands in Indonesia. This village, named ‘Goed Fortuin’ by the Dutch during colonial days, is located on the left bank of the Demerara River.
It is three km or two miles south of Vreed-en-Hoop.
The village was an old Dutch sugar plantation that started in the early 1800s when 380 sugar estates operated on the coast of the three colonies that would eventually unite to form British Guiana in 1831.
I was instantly arrested by the very alluring ‘yester-year aura’ that oozed from the village, amazingly spewing from the attractive arrangement of country-styled cottages, twisting walkways, abundant fruit trees, and gurgling waterways.
Coconut palms waved luxuriously in the wind, making quite a nice contrast against the background of blue skies. The grunt of pigs mingled with the squawking of ducks, occasionally torn asunder by the sudden shrill cackling of excited mother hens, who would have just laid large Creole eggs in their nests made from rice straws and dried grass.
The heckling and gleeful laughter of youths chasing after each other in yards and along sandy pathways, took me back to years ago when I was a little boy chasing after butterflies and dragonflies in the wide, open pastures of Eastern Mahaicony.
With its sandy streets and churning canals, the village exuded a certain breathtaking ‘Old World’ allure that seemed to blend quite nicely with the budding signs of economic development that were highly noticeable in the village.
The rich camaraderie amongst villagers just seemed to ooze out of every nook and cranny as mothers hanging halfway out of bedroom windows, got busy with catching up on their morning gossip. In some areas men were chatting merrily under the shade of fruit trees, and hanging over yard fences, boasting loudly of their exploits at sports, or their prowess at fishing.
Barebacked little boys were chasing up and down the streets on bicycles in the broiling midday sun, and I was certainly appalled at the number of youths who were smoking cigarettes and what smelt like marijuana quite openly in public places.
There were housewives darting in and out of shops, collecting their groceries, while a few were dashing barefooted through the alleyways, screaming to others that they had left their pots on the fire.
The Goed Fortuin in times gone by
Village elder, Juliette Sampson, was eager to shed light on the village in olden times, making quite a fuss to fix her hair and face before settling down.
“The words Goed Fortuin are Dutch words that mean ‘good’ and ‘fortune’ or ‘luck.’, and this village was named by the Dutch people many, many years ago. The former teacher sorted out many files before coming up with historical information on the village which she readily provided.
“With the end of slavery in 1834, an apprenticeship programme was introduced to fill the labour issues at that time. However, many apprentices abandoned the sugar estate life after their apprenticeship stint was over.
“This labour shortage, coupled with factors that impacted the price for sugar, caused many sugar estates to be sold at ridiculously low prices, as the owners simply wanted to get out of the business.”
Between 1838 and 1846, nineteen sugar estates were sold at such low prices. In 1846 in particular, Plantations Haarlem (on the West Coast) and Goed Fortuin were sold for £3,500 and £1,700 respectively.
The values of these two sugar estates during slavery were £50,000 and £35,000. Thus, Plantation Goed Fortuin was sold for less than 5% of its value when slavery was in full swing.
In 1829, there were 230 sugar plantations operating in the colony, owned by almost as many owners. In 1900, there were about 48 estates, and in 1958, just 18. Those estates (and there were many) that lacked efficiency and effectiveness of operations were forced into consolidation to meet strong competition and insecure markets.
The nearby Plantation Versailles stood out and grew by absorbing some of the smaller sugar estates, eventually amalgamating with Plantation Schoon Ord (south of Goed Fortuin) in the early 1950s, after which it came to be known as Pln. Versailles & Schoonord Estate Ltd.
Its major shareholder was Joseph (Joe) Vieira, one of the sons of the patriarch of Pln. Houston, Manoel Vieira (Buller), a pioneer of the sugar industry in Guyana, who was born in 1874 on the West Coast of Demerara.
Joe spent almost seven decades in the industry, and used his experience and skills to bring much improvement not only to Plantation Houston and Versailles & Schoonord (which his family owned), but to other estates as well throughout the country.
His son, Anthony Vieira, eventually took over as the Administrative Manager at Versailles until its closure in 1977.
Historic facts provided by this woman suggest that there was a strong influx of about 10,000 Portuguese in the year 1846-47 in the then British Guiana. Most settled in what is now Georgetown. The others settled on the sugar estates along the coast and banks of the Demerara River.
On the West Bank, they settled at Vreed-en-Hoop, Plantation Versailles, Pouderoyen, Goed Fortuin and a few other places along the river.
The emancipated slaves, shop owners, and others of Plantation Goed Fortuin settled along the main roadways, while the indentured immigrants from India settled behind the village in a nuclear housing scheme built by the owners of Plantation Versailles and Schoon Ord Estate in the early 1930s.
Later, in the 1940s, this was expanded to include the area up to the ‘A’ line, the canal that separates Plantation Versailles from Goed Fortuin.
Thus, Goed Fortuin Housing Scheme provided the major labour supply for Versailles estate until 1977, when Versailles was permanently closed.
Goed Fortuin, in its heyday, had a vibrant Community Centre and a Primary School (the latter is still there). However, long gone are two ‘logies’ that were situated at the very back and close to the sugar cane fields.
Dr. Jung Bahadur Singh, father of cultural icon, Rajkumarie Singh and Dr. Hardatt Singh, was born in Goed Fortuin. The elder Dr. Singh was elected in 1930 to the Legislature at national elections held that same year as well.
Interacting with residents
To be honest, folks, I was not expecting the warmth and welcoming smiles that engulfed me when I entered this village.
I was first greeted with smiles by an elderly gentleman who was seated under a small wooden shed, where he tried to best secure himself from the sun’s scorching rays.
In no time at all, we were engaged in merry conversation like good old friends, and it was this dude who enlightened me that the village was one where all the ethnic races lived as one happy family, sharing and indulging delightfully in their various customs and cultures.
The presence of rich and stirring camaraderie was evident in this village, judging from the manner in which folks of both African and East Indian descent were chatting in the streets, even giggling and heckling as they discussed the transcending times, current affairs, and simple little ‘country ways’ of maximizing their earnings.
The men were however certainly bashful and shied away from the camera or any media attention, but the housewives were on fire, and quite vocal about issues that bothered them in the village.
Brenda Todd was adamant that youths in the village were straying from their roots, and made suggestion on disciplinary methods that had me cracking up with laughter.
“The youths in this village have become quite lawless and reckless, and this is indeed a slap in the face of the mothers who wasted their energies to train them. The young men are smoking weed publicly and would give you a good cussing if yuh tell them anything.
“Dem smoking cigarettes and drinking rum all day, and some ah dem is some good thieves. It does really get me angry to see how dem boys walking with their pants way below their buttocks with no shame.
“And the young ladies of today are a good disgrace with the way they are dressing, exposing their private parts. No wonder we does get so much rapes and all kinds of crime. These girls should know that it is their immoral dressing that causes men to rape them in many cases.
“Our village is nothing like it was many years ago. We need more police presence in this village because we got a policing group heah, and it is ah total waste of time. Dem claim dem is a policing group, and yet dem young bhais deh all ovah de place smoking weed and cigarettes in broad daylight.”
I certainly did not regret visiting the home of the Tullarams, since their story would always motivate me to maintain my natural humble demeanour, work even harder, and set my dreams even higher on my goals.
This family now enjoys the luxuries of a comfortable life and quite a lavish and impressive home, but their fortunes were not fed to them on a golden spoon. Instead they were the well-deserved results of a hard, life, much suffering, and a relentless determination to work their way up a ladder of tumultuous success.
The family had begun by planting eschallot on a large scale. They would harvest the eschallot and sell in the village and on a wholesale basis in Georgetown.
The father, Gangadai Tularam, was proud to tell the stirring story and I was the happy and much stirred up listener.
“Eschallot made me what I am today. Many years ago, we used to plant the eschallot, and it was really hard work. The entire family would leave from our one-bedroom flat house early in the morning with just light snacks of roti and pumpkin, which we used to wash down with swank (drink made with lime juice).
“Whole day we ah wuk like donkey in de hot sun, and when we get hungry dem young bai would climb the water coconut tree. We would full we belly and then guh back in the sun and wuk till afternoon. We gon then water dem eschallot and lef de backdam, sometimes when night almost fall.
“Then we guh come home and cook dinnah. And if yuh see how dem pickney tired; dem can hardly eat dem food. When dem hit dah bed, is sleep and snoring till five o’clock next marning. Then is time fuh guh again!
“Selling de eschallot was anadda story. Because sometimes competition and suh much eschallot deh bout dat de price always ah drap. But we endure we struggles and save we money and build ah nice house fuh de family, as yuh see today.”
At some homes we were greeted by smiling ‘camera shy women’ in their hammocks, some enjoying hot spicy lunches, eating with their bare fingers.
The very saucy Tramattie Bridgemohan explained that she certainly enjoyed mashing her food around her plate and putting into her mouth with her fingers. She claimed it was a traditional practice that was enjoyed by person in every home in the village.
“Bai, me does really enjoy me food with me fingers. Is suh we does eat since we ah lil gals, and trust me, you does really enjoy de food more. De food does taste moh sweet. When yuh done, yuh can lie down and relax better.”
Good Fortuin is primarily an East Indian-populated community, but over the years, persons of many other races have moved there, contributing to a multi-mix ethnic location.
Some persons reared poultry which provided eggs and meat for consumption whilst a few strived on the rearing and sale of their very healthy cattle.
Although there are quite a few grocery stores in the village, residents mentioned that they would normally journey to the nearby Vreed-en-Hoop Village or travel five miles to the Stabroek Market to obtain their groceries and household supplies.
Of course several villagers are employed at stores, shops and schools in and outside the village. Others have taken up positions in schools and offices in the city also. To some extent, too, the breadwinners of many homes provide for their family through the cultivation, harvesting, and sale of rice and vegetables from their farms.
As information extracted from Google.com suggests, the culture in Goed Fortuin slightly resembles that of the Indian immigrants who came here more than 150 years ago. Even though well over 55% of the population remains Indo-Guyanese there is a small group of Chinese and Amerindian families.
The culture is very similar to that of the rest of the British Caribbean, but with, according to the locals, East Indian flair. The second biggest group of residents is the Negroes who reside in peace and harmony with their neighbours
As history dictates, in the beginning, the culture of this village resembled very much that of the Mother Country, India, but as African and Chinese came to the village a slight variety was added. The residents of Goed Fortuin brought their foods, traditions, religion and customs with them. This is very prevalent today in the food and language of the people.
It is said that over the years, the population of Indians has lost their mother tongue completely, and although Indian music remains very popular, the English language, with a Creole touch, has taken complete control.
Almost no one speaks Hindi anymore and in Goed Fortuin it is considered a dead language according to some residents. The colloquial English use is heavily influenced by the British. Being a colony for many years, Guyana is touched with a flair of British in almost everything
Even though the composition of the population has remained the same for over 45 years, the religious beliefs have changed dramatically. Regardless of religious conviction every holiday social or religious are celebrated and respected.
Many of the customs that are objective and foster public life are commonly organized by community leaders at home and abroad.
Many of the original religious customs and traditions that have not been lost were modified by the ages and vestiges of an East Indian heritage appear in a number of the festivities.
For example, few weddings are ever complete without the ceremonial rubbing of the dye; an old Indian wedding custom that is accepted among every religion. Holidays like Christmas and Diwali are examples of occasions where the entire community celebrates together in a congenial integration of faith.
Goed Fortuin Village is rapidly developing, but many are contented to remain nestled in their ‘yester-year world’ and grapple with the fluctuating tiding of life.
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