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…proud of village achievements setbacks
By Svetlana Marshall
For close to two centuries, Victoria – a village located on the Atlantic Coast of Guyana, 18 miles east of Georgetown – has been seen as a beacon of hope, a source of inspiration for Guyanese. For 28-year-old Anthony Samuels, the village – rich in history – is a daily reminder that there is strength in unity.
It was after the abolition of slavery that eighty-three (83) ex-slaves came together for a common good – to purchase Plantation Northbrook. Though they came from different estates – Douchfour, Ann’s Grove, Hope, Paradise and Enmore – the freed slaves, among them two women, pooled their resources together and brought Plantation Northbrook for 30,000 guilders – the first village purchased by ex-slaves in then British Guiana. It was later renamed Victoria.
“Victoria is significant in many ways. Not only did it spark the [village] movement…but it is also credited with the first form of Local Government in the year 1845,” Samuels said as he sat down for an interview with Village Voice News a stone throw away from the Emancipation Hut.
Behind him, Victoria’s rich history is detailed on a billboard erected at the entrance of the village. “In a true communal model, Victoria villagers were expected to clean and dig trenches to drain the land as well as to construct roads and dams and repair them as necessary…Commercially, Victoria launched a fishing industry, developed pig and poultry and other agriculture produce. It also became one of the leading exporters of products made from coconuts and cassava,” excerpts from the billboard read.
Today, still deep in agriculture, it remains the home of the Moses Cassava Bread Factory, which produces a wide range of cassava products such as quiches, cassareep, butter toast and cassava bread. It is also the home of Major Foods – a family-owned business which also produces cassareep, cake colouring, Chinese sauce, green seasoning, mango, tamarind and souree achar and pepper sauce.
Samuels, who once served as President of the Victoria Youth Development Organization – said Victoria maintains some of its transitional practices such as ‘box-hand’ and queh-queh, and cultural dishes. For the past 27 years, Hilda Barnwell has been helping to keep the tradition alive at the Emancipation Hut by providing the people of Victoria and farther afield with a wide array of Afro-Guyanese dishes from cook-up rice to metemgee to conkie.
Mrs Barnwell learnt her trade from her single parent mother of 14 children, who was both a seamstress and a ‘cook.’ “She did a lot of cooking, a lot of baking, and so, we looked on and she showed us how to do things, and so I was able to make a living early from that,” Barnwell told this newspaper.
Alland Austin – another born Victorian who is pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Theology at the University of Southern Caribbean, and an Associate Degree in Electrical Engineering at the University of Guyana – said Victoria remains a source of inspiration. “It has been a source of inspiration for me, and it is still a source of inspiration for me. I get to understand that life isn’t worth giving up,” he posited.
Austin said Victoria also remains a highly religious village with more than 10 churches within its borders. Notably, in 1845 the freed Africans had established the Wilberforce Congregational Church – named after one of the prominent abolitionists who worked for the liberation of the enslaved.
He added: “The village is still big on agriculture but not as big as it used to, in addition, the produce are sold in the village as well as out of the village.”
The residents have all agreed Victoria has undoubtedly developed over the years. The development, they posited, is evident – today, there are better houses, roads and utilities.
THE MOTHER OF ALL VILLAGES
During his time in office, former President David Granger dubbed Victoria – the mother of all villages. According to Samuels, the former president’s attribution is most fitting, as Victoria, since Emancipation, has been leading by example.
However, he posited that the village has not reached its full potential. “In my personal opinion, Victoria is not where it should be, it has grown significantly but it is not where it should be. Victoria should be, when it comes to visiting a village, a big tourist attraction but because of lack of basic infrastructure [it is not],” Samuels said, while expressing the need for a new building to house the primary school.
He submitted that with the incoming oil wealth, Victoria should be further developed into a model village. “Victoria as the first village should be a prime example as to how we can develop a community,” he posited.
Weighing in on the issue, Austin said in addition to infrastructure major emphasis should be placed on education. “First thing I would like to see develop is education, and the reason I said education is because we learn that education is the social upward mobility as it relates to success, and is not that you cannot succeed without an education but an education puts you in a better position to succeed or to achieve your goals,” he reasoned.
Austin believes that the young people of the village should be given a fair opportunity to advance their education, experience and skills.
Lack of unity
Twenty-nine (29) year-old 29-year-old Javon Charles did not hold back when he spoke to this newspaper. Charles said though Victoria has produced magistrates, lawyers, teachers, doctors, journalists and entrepreneurs among other notable professionals, it lacks the unity required to move it to the next stage of its development.
He said there is need for the village to unite.
“We should seek to develop each other regardless of which section of the village we’re from,” he said. Charles said during his time in the Victoria Youth Development Organisation, they worked to build social cohesion but organizing a range of activities, however, the village still has a far way to go.
“It’s difficult, it’s difficult but I think we can get there overtime,” Charles said.
That aside, Charles, like the other villagers, underscored the need for a market. “Years ago, we would have had a lovely market on the east sideline,” he recalled while noting that villagers went out in numbers to cash in on fresh produce.
“I think there is need for that to be rehabilitated. I think it is better for us to keep our funds circulating amongst ourselves, so we can grow as a village much better,” Charles added.
Further, he said growing up, Victoria lived up to the saying “it takes a village to raise a child,” but today some parents become angry when their children are corrected by the village elders.
“I could remember growing up in Victoria as a child, you could not have done anything wrong and then someone see you on the road. They would have cut your ass, and you can’t go home and tell your mother, things have changed, greatly not only in Victoria but in the world,” he explained.
It was on that note that Charles underscored the need for the community ground to be rehabilitated. He said in the past there was scheduling conflict, however, he believes that once rehabilitated the ground can be used to channel the energies of the young Victorians into the right direction.
In the past Victoria was known for its football team Victoria Kings, and it is Charles’ belief that the Village could not only have a football team but cricket and basketball teams as well, in addition to other sporting facilities. “Through sports so much things can be achieved, through sports we make friends, through sports, we do learn because you mightn’t know something, but now you coming out, we socializing, we interacting, you are going to learn. But if you keep doing one thing, you will only get one result.
Charles was among residents who also expressed concern that many of the youths within Victoria are turning to illicit drugs such as marijuana.
“Smoking weed becomes something that is cool, so you no longer enjoying your school days, everybody wants to be cool, everybody wants to fit in, and smoking weed is it. We dunce thugs or we bad boys. We should be able to enjoy our school days because our school days are out best days,” he reasoned.
He added: “We are losing our youths, and if we are losing our youths, we will lose our culture because who will teach our culture to, if we can’t educate the youths.”
In an effort to channel the energies of the Victorian youths into the right direction, two ranks of the Guyana Police Force have formed a Victoria Steel Orchestra Band.
The two officers – Anthony Niles and Daniel Daly – formed the steel band in July, 2020 during the pandemic, and have since attracted 33 young members.
“We have been working with the kids, trying to take the kids off of the street to teach them music, try to be involved, communicate with them, push the youths, in terms of discipline, we are trying to do so much for these youths and we are doing it from our heart and we want the public to know that whatsoever we are doing, we are not doing it for fame, we are doing it for love,” Daly told this newspaper.
In celebration of its one-year anniversary, the group will be hosting a concert at Unity Village on August 22, 2021 to showcase the talent of its members.