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By Svetlana Marshall
Bought by eight ex-slaves in the year 1842 for the sum of $10,000, Ithaca remains a village rich in culture and agriculture. It is located on the West Bank of the Berbice River, approximately 65 miles from the country’s capital city – Georgetown.
In the olden days, residents of the predominantly Afro-Guyanese village, planted coffee, cocoa, citrus, coconuts and ground provisions in the fields and even in their backyards. Today, farming continues. Many residents have kitchen gardens but in addition to those, they engage in small and medium scale farming in Ithaca’s Backdam.
During a recent visit to the village, which was described by many “as peaceful and quiet,” Village Voice News caught up with Doreen Sinclair – an 84-year-old farmer. In her early years, Sinclair worked as a caretaker at the village’s health centre but found the time to farm. Today, she owns a plot of land in area assigned for farming, and with the help of the Ithaca Agriculture Land Development Co-op Society (IALDCS), Sinclair is now able to cultivate much more.
“I myself farming there too, you reaping a lot of things, plantains, papaya, cassava, eddoes, a lot of things,” the elderly woman told Village Voice News. According to her, the Co-op Society provides much needed guidance and assistance in the areas of drainage and irrigation and access to farms. “I see more young people getting involved. We have some residents working at the [neighbouring Blairmont] Sugar Estate, but people are still farming,” Sinclair said as she registered her satisfaction.
In the ancient days, Ithaca had six main buildings, five of which were churches – the Congregational, the Scots, the Adventist, the Elim and the New Apostolic Churches. The Congregational Church was built in 1852, as well as the school, in which it operated until the Government took control of it.
Sinclair said other churches could now be found in Ithaca but the Congregational Church remains vibrant, though the original building was dismantled and a new one built. The village also has a primary and secondary school and a health centre.
For the mother and grandmother, Ithaca is peaceful and united village. “I love Ithaca for the quietness, we co-op together, we always unite, no matter what happens, we always come together as one,“ she said.
When Sinclair is not in the farm or at home, she is usually with at Ithaca Culture and Craft 40 + Club. In the club, the members are taught various techniques in art and craft.
Sinclair is often joined by Thelma McDonald another member of the Culture and Craft 40+ Club.
McDonald told Village Voice News that Ithaca is the home of “Queh Queh” – a Guyanese African tradition that precedes a wedding ceremony. It entails the beating of drums, singing of folksongs such as – Goo’ night Ay, Ow Janie nah sell dis boy; Ah wanda whey me Telma gawn and Show me yuh science – and cultural dances.
McDonald, 81, said there is no wedding in Ithaca without a Queh Queh.
She recalled that in the olden days, the village would have “ring game” two weeks before a couple gets married, followed by the Queh Queh, the night before the wedding. McDonald said the “ring game” is no longer played but “Queh Queh” is a must.
In another part of the village, this newspaper caught up with 42-year-old Marlon Wayne – a welder and machinist by day and a DJ Selector at nights. “I born here but I grew up in New Amsterdam but music brought me back about six years ago. I came back to launch Thunderbolt,” Wayne shared.
According to him, Thunderbolt Sound System is one of the greatest sound systems to have existed in Berbice from 1980s to present. Known by his street name ‘Selector Elephant,’ Wayne said as a teen he learnt to weld at Henry Workshop in New Amsterdam in the year 1992.
“I was just coming out of 13 into 14, and my mother told me she didn’t want me to grow up being a bad boy, so she sent me to learn a trade,” he recalled. Today, he shares his skills with the people of Ithaca by attending to their welding and fabrication needs.
Like Sinclair and McDonald, Wayne described Ithaca as a peaceful village with trustworthy individuals. “The place is quiet and peaceful…It is a community that everyone live in love,” Wayne said.
Rawle Anthony Johnson known as Collin Moore, is 55-years-old welder, who hails from Ithaca but had migrated to St. Kitts and Nevis many years ago. Johnson would return to his home village every year, and in 2020 he returned days before the General and Regional Elections to vote but got stuck after the country went into lockdown, having recorded a number of Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) cases.
“After I got stuck in the country, I decided to ply my trade,” he said. Johnson is hoping to return to St. Kitts in May but made it known that “Ithaca is one of the best villages in the world.”