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Ownership and retention of ancestral lands continue to be under assault by covetous persons, government and enabled allies. This must be resisted and could only be done through occupancy and pursuing regularisation.
African Guyanese hold the unique distinction of being the only group, after hundreds of years of chattel slavery, strenuously resisting the forces of oppression, toiling long hours on the plantation without a penny, families torn apart, bodies violated, whips reigning mercilessly across their bodies, that in four of Amelioration were able to save enough to buy out plantations in the immediate post slavery period, creating the Village Movement and Village Economy. This is a pride of place the African community should never lose sight of and always guard zealously.
Africans’ earlier development stands out in the post slavery society as it remains unsurpassed in scale and self-determination unto this day. That resilience not only saw several plantations along the coast land converted to villages, but the development of an economy built on the cooperative spirit, which the name of this country pays homage to. Cooperative economics represents not only a unique sense of thrift and avenue to acquire but also trust. At the most basic is the box hand system.
The box hand sees a group of persons coming together and agreeing to throw (put) a fixed amount of money, at a fixed time for a fixed period, and each takes turns in drawing (collecting) that hand (money) until everyone receives the total of what they invested. This is a form of banking when there existed none for Africans and from which they were able to have a quantity of money to invest in some desired project/commodity.
It is difficult to think of the Village Movement without Cooperatives for they share a symbiotic relation and are integral to the economic development of an ethnic group. Where today Africans continue to face challenges getting loans from commercial banks there is need to re-examine the value of cooperatives. Villagers need to establish them under the Cooperative Societies Act. Reach out to the officers for technical support at the Department of Cooperative, Cornhill St. Georgetown.
In the African community there are too many painful stories of rejections from the commercial banks based on identity. This is debasing and dehumanising. There is also the issue of regularising ancestral lands which must be pursued and facilitated by all political and social forces in society. The absence of title (transport, lease, will, etc.) makes it difficult to borrow from commercial banks, a situation that is completely the reverse in other Caribbean countries such as Jamaica.
African Guyanese, singularly or collectively, must demand of Government the examination and possibility of replicating the Jamaican model because home ownership must not only rely on government selling state lands or purchasing from another. Home ownership must also be facilitated building on lands inherited based on lineage.
The plantations bought and converted to villages comprise the backlands which in some cases include areas where there are cane farming and rice cultivation. There are so many ancestral lands being left unattended, rented or underutilised, suggesting the approach to land ownership must be revisited. What is not used will be lost or coveted. Land is empowerment. Ownership not only means ownership of a piece of Guyana but allows for valuing those inherited.
Africans must return to their villages and occupy their lands. Choose whether it be for housing, farming, business, kitchen gardening, etc. If their ancestors had within them the resolve to succeed it is not outside the reach of their descendants. The feat in creating an economy for themselves, even when the plantoclass pursued exclusion and tried undermining efforts at self-development, can be repeated. The genetic makeup that perseveres still resides within and must be manifested, as a matter of necessity, once again.