Jun 24, 2022 Letters
It was Professor Clem Seecharan in his well researched book titled ‘Sweetening Bitter Sugar’ who wrote as follows:
“Jagan’s own Party’s newspaper was not charitable either: When he agreed to the imposition, Mirror had asked caustically: ‘Why this admission of Guianese inferiority, and why the supine and humiliating acceptance of white supremacy, and acknowledgement of a master race?… We hope that all is not irretrievably lost. And that out of this ignominious moral capitulation may yet be carved splendid victory.” When the Sandys decision was delivered, the paper sought solace in philosophical reflections, which they commended to an innocent Jagan:
“In this hour of travail he must find the balm of consolation in the philosophical sayings and practical maxims which, through the centuries, have served to stimulate man’s interest for good… ‘Sweet are the uses of adversity’; ‘I am the master of my faith, I am the captain of my soul’; ‘A man’s reach must exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?’; and ‘The menace of the years finds, and shall find me unafraid’.”
The author was referring to when PPP leader Dr. Cheddi Jagan returned from the failed Lancaster House talks in London, in 1964, when his opposite number Forbes Burnham, won the case for Proportional Representation as the basis of voting for General Elections – upcoming later that year. It was reported that the decision resulted from Jagan offering the Colonial Secretary Duncan Sandys, to make the decision for the contesting parties.
The Party’s followers, in frustration, rampaged throughout the sugar industry with a prolonged strike and series of fires.
The strike was called as the first confrontation. Incidents followed, perhaps the most celebrated of which in the earliest days was the death of Kowsillia, a weeder – over-run (whether by accident or design was hotly debated), by a non-striking tractor driver at Leonora Estate. Her death was hailed as one of martyrdom.
As events escalated, the behaviour of sugar workers varied from estate to estate, to the extent that kindred non-strikers were besieged by their striking counterparts. Houses of dissenting union members on some locations were soon set on fire. But from as early as February that year, sugar estates had become vast nightly bonfires, and senior personnel, including me, were required to fight cane-fires which lit up the sky along the coast.
Releases from the British Guiana Sugar Producers’ Association, recorded the following destruction by ‘arson and sabotage’ on its sugar estates:
16th Feb. – $70,000 worth of sugar from the Berbice and Demerara Estates lost through arson
24th Feb. – Arson to three Sugar Estates (104 acres) total damage nearly $1m
26th Mar. – 190 acres of cane valued more than $200,000 burnt on Berbice Estates
6th April – 279 acres of cane on the East Coast burnt, valued $153,000
8th April – 92 acres of cane burnt on the East Coast – 2,000 acres approximately burnt since sugar dispute began 57 days ago, losses being $2.5m
17th July – Arsonists burnt $25m cane at Enterprise
26th July – GAWU called off strike
Realising the counter-productive nature of attacking their own, the ire and fire of the strikers turned onto the identifiable non-sympathisers in the communities – the Afro-Guianese sugar workers.
Blairmont Estate was the next significant cauldron of this explosive activity. There was such a spate of reciprocal arson that the perpetrators when found, charged and taken before the local Magistrate, the latter, quite sanely in the circumstances, only inflicted fines as penalty, realising the futility of a situation out of control.
The records would have shown that one physically large personality out of Ithaca, the village closest to Blairmont Estate, whose authentic name was Hosannah, was attacked one night by three Indo-Guyanese as, foolhardily, he traversed the exclusive Blairmont Extra Nuclear Housing Area, on his way to work as a fire-watchman. He fought fiercely for his life. In the mêléehe fell into the roadside ditch, but the fatal blow intended for him caught one of his very assailants, whom he pulled over him as protection. The two others fled.
Hosannah was rescued by the timely arrival of the Rosignol Police Patrol, who found him unconscious, the result of another blow to his head by an unsympathetic female neighbour, whom he had asked for help, as he staggered from the scene of his near death.
He recovered consciousness in the New Amsterdam Hospital, some seventy-two hours after. It was sometime later that I recorded his recount of the incident in the hospital. The deep gashes in his head gave evidence of the struggle. It was his sheer brute-strength that contributed to his surviving several weeks of hospitalisation.
In the meantime, the funeral of his unfortunate assailant became the second major incident of the continuing chain of deadly events, of which the destruction, later, of the launch Son Chapman in the upper Demerara River, with some forty-plus Afro-Guianese souls aboard, was the most climactic of tragedies of 1964.
Three months after, on assumption of duty at Enmore Estate, a group of Welsh Fasiliers were still to be found encamped, the reason being that the East Coast of Demerara was still a hotbed of racial conflict.
Shortly after my arrival at the location there occurred a horrifying example of this. An Afro-Guianese family resident in the neighbouring village of Golden Grove, having waited into the early evening for the father getting home shortly after finishing his 6am – 2pm factory shift, went anxiously in search, only to discover that strewn across the terrain between the estate location and the village were separated limbs of his body.
Naturally word spread quickly throughout the community, and aroused such passions that the retaliation by the dead man’s colleagues was when by the end of the factory’s 10:00pm – 6:00am shift, the incinerated remains of a fellow Indo-Guianese worker was discovered in the furnace. What was particularly traumatising about this incident was that the victim was one known to have socialised freely with his Afro-Guianese workmates up to that deadly point in time. The event certainly underscored how riven the society had become, and how the intensity of hostility between former neighbours had increased.
Unfortunately these two Enmore Martyrs remained nameless.
In all some 135 persons were killed along the coastal communities, while the (irrelevant) Son Chapman explosion accounted for some 42 lives into the Demerara River.
No decision was ever arrived at about the full range of martyrdom occasioned in 1964.
Retired Human Resources Director, GuySuCo
A Sugar Industry Historian
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