Oct 22, 2021 Letters
Recently, one of Georgetown’s unsung heroines in the struggle for women’s emancipation and democracy with justice, Jennifer Sobers, passed away after a protracted series of ailments including twin surgical interventions within the space of a year, as well as COVID-19.
She was if nothing else, strong, clear sighted and perhaps even ‘ghetto- wise’ based on her lived experience in the location of Tiger Bay, South Cummingburg.
She was one of the Vieiras – A family of working class origins who lived at one time in the Fort/Barrack Street neighbourhood, Kingston, Georgetown.
In fact, after attending the Sacred Heart Primary in Main Street, Cummingsburg, she would have had some ‘affinities’ with charitable community interventions subjectively conceived for underprivileged sectors.
This was quite apart from other parish events that would coincide with Catholic as well as other secular observances at Lent – Yuletide.
To anyone who knew ‘Sister Jennifer’, there was always an aura of simplicity that at all times was tethered to a grass roots understanding of what is right for the community. Her expectations as a mother were largely determined by survival skills, which one had to acquire to be part of Tiger Bay, the Holmes Street/Rosemary Lane location with a reputation for seafarers licentious behaviour and dwellings that served as shabines, ‘short time’ rooming as well as rum and spirit outlets.
She had 15 children and an estimated 30+ grandchildren and 4 great grands. Her allegiance towards women’s emancipation was inseparable from her utter condemnation of the Burnham PNC dictatorship even though during the 1960s “troubles”, she would have chosen to align with the Silent Majority(SM).
It is highly probable that the political influence of the Working People’s Vanguard Party M/L (WPVP) led by former PPP Minister of Agriculture, the late Brindley Benn, had a significant impact on sections of the Tiger Bay people especially subsequent to the extra-judicial killing of a youth named Keith Caesar in the early 1970s.
WPVP statements on a weekly basis were distributed from the Dac Bang Fraternity Hotel and saloon in Holmes Street and the Sobers became anti PNC allies of Benn. With the installation of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) office in the area, she became a supporter.
However, there existed since the late 1940s and certainly throughout the 1950s, a ‘ micro’ colony of Vietnamese nationals (or overseas Indo-Chinese), who settled in the Tiger Bay community and it was the Dac Bang /Stella Bang PPP that more or less provided political sanctuary for these folks.
This micro Vietnamese Diaspora apparently established ‘networks’ including a cell entity in Smyth Street (near the old Central High School) as well as within Cayenne.
Dac Bang’s wife, or one of his spouses, Stella, was an activist of the WPO – the Women’s Progressive Organisation.
The early 1960s phase of Jagan’s PPP government catapulted progressive women into the very epicentre of national politics. It was people such as Philomena Sahoye-Shury, Shirley Edwards, Doris Awah and Mary Nunes as well as Stella Dac Bang who became heroines if not role models for Jennifer Vieira-Sobers.
At the level of critique, two perhaps three factors ought to be scrutinised in this most complex evolution of grassroots women activists.
The first is the pivotal role of Janet Jagan as a Marxist administrator and ideologist at the executive tier of political ‘hierachy’. The second relates to the underclass or sub-proletariat categorisation of female workers whether in estate, retail store processing/factory work or domestics.
Whilst the third centres on is the ethnic/racial contradiction that manifests itself in lower class or even other petit bourgeois communities where interracial families emerge from the biological union of Caucasian and Black, or Portuguese and African, or Afro and Chinese.
Superficially Afro-Indo or ‘Dougla’ families tend to be situated in a different context as does the Afro-Amerindian ‘Creolisation’. That dates from as early as the 15th and 16th centuries in the Americas (according to Van Sertima and Ralph Gonsalves).
So it is that specific historical dimension that must be unravelled as a condition to relating to the concrete feminist emancipation role of Stella Dac Bang as well as Jennifer Vieira-Sobers.
According to her husband, Victor, his partner was “a wife…a brother…a colleague and a mother to me”. And it is that existential trait, which all Guyanese women must come to terms with in contemporary. Perhaps were circumstances different in terms of access to overseas medical consultancies and surgeries, Sister Jennifer Sobers would have lived, would have survived into her 80s.
There is a tremendous degree of relevance, of mediation that can be attributed to this brave Guyanese. May her Soul “repose en Paix” (May her soul rest in peace).
Lawrence Eddi Rodney
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