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On November, 2013, the then opposition leader Retired Brigadier David Arthur Granger moved a motion in the National Assembly proposing that November 7th be commemorated as National Villages Day. The significance of that day is that it was the day in 1839 when 83 men and women, manumitted descendants of Africa, acquired plantation Northbrook, now known as Victoria, thus establishing the first acclaimed village of a number of villages to be established on plantations acquired, by the manumitted descendants of Africa, by way of purchase after the 1838 emancipation.
This motion was passed by the National Assembly but was never assented to by President Ramotar nor did he return it to the National Assembly along with his reason for not assenting as is required by Article 170(3) of the Constitution. President Granger, subsequent to his ascension to office in 2015, declared November 7th as of 2017 National Villages Day. In making that declaration President Granger stated that “the village movement was made by the freed Africans who pooled their money to purchase plantations across Guyana that formed the first villages in the country. Some of those villages are Buxton, Friendship and Victoria on the East Coast of Demerara, while Litchfield, Golden Grove, St John and Providence were purchased in West Berbice. Queenstown and Williamstown were also formed in Essequibo.
The establishment of villages is recognized as one of the foundations upon which Guyana emerged as a nation. There are many important aspects to the establishment of villages. On one hand, the villages provided for the establishment of homesteads and the revitalization of the family. The family is the basic unit of any nation. On the plantations there was no provision for co-habitation as family. The establishment of villages also provided for economic engagement. Some villagers engaged in agriculture as a means of livelihood, while others provided services that are naturally required in any community.
The villages reduced the dependency on the plantation and provided the basis for sustainable existence outside of the plantations. The response to this was however devastating. The plantation owners and the State in the persons of the Governor and the Court of Policy enacted many measures that sought to inhibit the growth of the village economies and the self-reliance of the villages. They saw the villages as rivalling the plantation economy for labour and land. Between 1860 and 1880 taxation was used as a weapon to stymie village development. Licensing was introduced for the operation of carts and canoes and for vending. In fact, the plantocracy and the Government`s attempt to suppress the villages could be associated with four phases according to David Granger in his publication: The Village Movement.
From 1839 to 1898 over 15,000 acres of land was purchased and the population which was 15,906 in 1842 expanded to 44,447 by 1848. That growth was met by reactions from the planters and the Government, for example the Court of Policy passed ordinances restricting the joint purchase of more than 20 persons. The period 1849 – 1861 was seen as one of legislative encroachment, including the Village Movement bill in response to the villagers called for centralized financing of public works.
By 1862 – 1881 consequence upon the taxes introduced in the previous period, there was the introduction of draconian policies such as the ‘improvement rate’ and sale of properties for the recovery of those rates. While the prior periods saw the retention of locals in administration, in the 1881 – 1887 reform there was the introduction of centralization by virtue of the deployment of State approved commissioners to oversee local affairs. These and other occurrences affected village development. The villages were tasked with bearing the full cost of local public works, such as roads, dams, bridges, sea defense and drainage and irrigation. The villages were also ravished by diseases to the extent that there was population decline. While the Village Movement represented an attempt at liberation from control of the plantation owners, the response by the State represented the repression of that attempt and the resultant decay of one of the most momentous movements of the 19th century.
Those challenges are still with the villages to the extent that National Villages Day represents a re- visitation of the Village Movement and a call for policies and programmes aimed at the resuscitation of the villages and a return to the laudable ideals envisaged by the founders at the time of their establishment. For more Information on the International Decade for People of African Descent Assembly Guyana, check us out on Facebook @idpadag or call IDPADA-G Office on +592-223-8853 or email firstname.lastname@example.org