Slike stranica

is spread on a tobacco leaf and the leaf put between the legs and bandaged into position. The dead is then dressed in clean clothes. The water used in bathing the body is sometimes shared among those who have done the bathing, for it has a magical property and can be used in the preparation of obeah powders. Meanwhile a carpenter is at work on a coffin 'under the house'. He does his work for nothing but is given food and rum. Some of the rum-a drink which has a recognized mystical quality for Negroes-is rubbed on to the coffin wood to propitiate the spirits of the dead.

When the clothed dead has been placed in the coffin, it lies in the bedroom with an oil lamp burning at its side, and the children of the house are brought to sleep in the same room as the coffin. A few old women will guard the dead all night, while in the main room of the house the wake takes place. All pictures are taken down and chairs are placed round the walls. Here the women sit drinking ginger tea or coffee and singing hymns. The men sit drinking rum and talking under the house. Sometimes they cease discussing politics or their work to talk about the dead, remembering anecdotes about him and deciding various points about his character. The wake is never a solemn affair but it rarely develops into a Shakers.

On the afternoon of the next day the open coffin is placed on trestles outside the house and everybody-women in white, men in black—files past the dead, who is now embowered in flowers. The church-bell tolls, the coffin is hoisted on a cart and the procession moves off to the churchyard, the two or three women who were closest relatives to the dead weeping and wailing as they go. Jimmy Chapman brilliantly acted for me the scene at the grave as the coffin is lowered and the women become hysterical, throwing themselves on the coffin and crying, 'No more Johnny, Johnny gone, Johnny gone, 0-0-0-W, 0-0-0-W, Oh Lord, Johnny go-o-ne'—and then one final long cry of anguish as the earth goes over the coffin. The ordinary rural Negro thinks that any less extreme form of grief is an act of snobbery, a middle-class attempt to 'play white people'.

[blocks in formation]

Almost as soon as one leaves New Amsterdam one senses that the coastland here has a different atmosphere from the wan

lands between the Demerara and the Berbice. The African villages differ little from African villages west of the Berbice, but the largely Indian villages round the sugar estates suggest some prosperity; gaily-dressed women sit in the markets guarding their piles of fruit and vegetables, shops and stores sell comparatively luxurious goods and some villages have two or three well-built cinemas. There is, clearly, far more money to be spent in this area than in other country districts of the Colony. The front-lands are better cultivated, the road—for part of its way—is better surfaced, and constantly my motor-car would meet small red tractors being driven to the rice-fields by peasant-proprietors, who had hired them for a few days from the Government agency. There are two main reasons for this prosperity; the coast here has always been known as the 'health resort' of the Colony and, although it was malarial, its people have had the strength and energy to make the most of the land. When malaria was conquered the most spectacular increase in population took place along this coast. In 1951 only 33,000 people lived here; at the end of 1954 the figure was 65,000 and rising. Agriculturally the county of Berbice is the most important area in the country; half the rice produced in British Guiana comes from here, and its sugar estates produce 44,000 tons of sugar a year, or one-fifth of the total production of the Colony. The Government recognized the importance of Berbice and the absolute necessity here for land reclamation. Politically the area is vociferous in its demands, and the people of Port Mourant are the most solid supporters of the P.P.P., in spite of or because of-the fact that Port Mourant has been, on the whole, prosperous.

To provide more land the 'Courantyne Scheme' was begun some years ago at an area known as 'Blocks I, II and III', which lie not far from Port Mourant. Block III was completed in 1952, but work on the other two Blocks has run into difficulties. The Torani Canal was built, which would supply irrigation and drainage for 35,164 acres, but when the water from the Canje River was released into the canal it was found that, by a miscalculation, the flow of the water was in the wrong direction.' It is hoped that Blocks I and II will be finished within the next few years, and then will come the headache of settling

1 This has now been remedied.

them with peasant-farmers. It is a serious aspect of the problem of reclaiming new areas that although there is land-hunger people who have been born and brought up on a particular part of the coast do not wish, quite humanly, to uproot themselves. Whenever I brought up that point in a village I would be told that there was plenty of unused land round the village-why wasn't the Government reclaiming that instead of reclaiming large areas where nobody lived? It was difficult, I found, to make anyone see that these schemes cannot be done piecemeal. Land resettlement has become so important in British Guiana that a special department was set up some years ago to deal with it. The policy of the Department is aimed at discouraging individual small farmers from applying for small holdings in scattered areas and, instead, at grouping the holdings in blocks which would each be laid out as a proper settlement with amenities. It is suggested that settlers might be given a subsistence allowance to cover the time of land preparation and the growing of the first crops. The Department would like to have statutory powers to control the development of the new farms and to enforce a minimum standard of farming efficiency -but this would be difficult until the Department of Agriculture convinces peasant-farmers that many of their traditional methods are wasteful and inefficient. The difficulties of even the simplest form of land-settlement are suggested in this quotation from the Department's report for 1954:

'Development of the various land settlements calls for skilled technical and field staff, suitable machinery, supplies of planting material as well as livestock. Clearing and development of land is a costly and prolonged process, and the selection of suitable settlers calls for great care and tact. The initial stages of development of a land settlement cannot therefore be completed overnight. Surveys have to be carried out, access provided and reasonable accommodation and amenities made available, and adequate field and technical staff, mechanical equipment and means of land and water transport provided.'

When I talked to the Director of the Department, Mr. W. T. Lord, I learnt more of these difficulties. Behind all is the lack of money which holds up so many of the schemes for developing the Colony. With money, the power to clean up the chaos of land ownership, and the co-operation of landlords (who now buy speculatively and hold the land for ransom-prices) much




more could be done. It was absurd, said Mr. Lord, that only 71 per cent of the coastlands should be cultivated. The system of land tenure in the Colony undoubtedly ensures that land which could be more efficiently used often lies idle. Although English Common-Law replaced Dutch-Roman law in 1917 no changes were made in the laws referring to land tenure. These ws are simple and efficient, but the trouble lies in the tradi

Cena habits of land inheritance. It is traditional that a father's Feuerfional

land should be divided equally among his children, male and female. Thus fragmentation of small farms has taken place until two narrow strips of land lying adjacent are likely to have different owners; one may irrigate and drain his land efficiently, while the other doesn't care. Often, Mr. Lord told me, Government has wished to take over an area of privately owned land but has found the ownership so obscure and fragmented that without special powers of requisition it was forced to abandon a scheme. Another difficulty came from the buying of African land by East Indian landlords. Sometimes they buy land speculatively at a very low price and, when Government wishes to acquire it for a resettlement scheme, the price demanded has become fantastic. If strong efforts are made to get the land for a reasonable price the landlord will litigate and litigate until Government offers a compromise. Almost as if to illustrate this point an Indian landlord telephoned Mr. Lord while I was talking to him and gave him his price for an area of bushcovered land which Government wished to buy and reclaim. The polite argument which ensued made it clear that Mr. Lord considered the landlord was profiteering from the land-hunger of his fellow-Guianese.

[blocks in formation]

I spent the night at Plantation Rose Hall, guest of the young manager, Mr. John Smith, and his wife. Mr. Smith, an Englishman born in the Colony, is unique as a manager in that he is a sugar-chemist who has not been through the hard routine of field-work, and thus sees the task of estate-managing rather differently from many managers. As we wandered together round the estate he told me about his job. He employs an average of 4,000 workers-6,000 at peak periods, so he feels that problems of labour relations, housing, welfare, etc. are an

integral part of his work. 'Unless', he said, 'you have your labour with you, unless you're sympathetic to the hopes and fears and the personal problems of your workers and know them as people rather than units, you can't manage an estate— it won't work out.' And I noticed that he knew the names of many of the men we met at the factory, the workers' recreation hall, the cricket club and in the field. He described a typical working day for me. 'It's a decent climate here', he said, 'and I always feel fresh when I get up at a quarter to six. Then tea-that's breakfast to you—at six-thirty. The Field Manager and the Field Staff get up earlier-they have a meeting at a quarter to six and the work for the day's discussed and given out, and ideas suggested for getting round any special trouble there may be. I meet them at about a quarter to seven and get put in the picture. Three days a week I go "aback" into the fields, so I get a good idea of what's going on on the spot. We've got 14,000 acres here-7,000 under cane--and they're laid out roughly in a fan shape with the farthest point about seven miles from the factory. Then there's drainage and irrigation—that's as vital here as on any estate. We've got 220 miles of canals and I have to keep an eagle eye to see they're working all right. Sometimes I go up in Bookers' Auster to have a look at the crop from the air, but the back of a mule gives you a good height to see how the cane's standing. I like going aback and getting the workers' grouses first-hand and I think if you can settle something out of hand, on the spot, it has twice the impact of something settled next day. I spend a part of every day in the factory with the factory manager and his chemists and engineers. Then I like to know what's going on in the offices. There's a lot to do there with a payroll of 4,000, and dealing with pension schemes, housing loans, working out who's worked hard enough to qualify for the week's paid holiday a year, and all the estate insurances. We're a long way from Georgetown here so of course we're a self-sufficient little community, looking after ourselves. I'm a kind of mayor as well as a manager. I think our housing position at Rose Hall is good. What we do is to house essential workers in the nuclear compound-I didn't invent the name—while the rest of the workers, if they like, or can be persuaded to, take interest-free loans and build their own. houses on the extra-nuclear estate, and we charge 8s. 4d. a year

« PrethodnaNastavi »