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By Michelle Ann Joseph – Nestled on the East Bank of Demerara, some may describe Agricola as the first village within the Georgetown Municipality when traveling along the East Bank carriageway heading north towards the capital city, Georgetown. Situated between Eccles and McDoom villages, Agricola boasts historical significance and charm. In this article, I will delve into its rich heritage, vibrant community life, and current conditions that make Agricola one of the most intriguing villages in Guyana. The very name “Agricola” finds its origins in Latin, signifying “farmer” or “agriculturist,” and also the namesake of a renowned Roman statesman.
Drawing on information from Emancipation Magazine, edited by David Granger (1997-98), and conducting interviews with residents, I provide a concise overview of the village’s unique history and its current character.
Agricola’s historical roots are intricately linked with Guyana’s past. As reported in Emancipation Magazine, the village was once home to enslaved men and women who played a pivotal role in shaping the community following emancipation in 1838. Originally an estate, Agricola was managed by three successive generations of the Jones family, who hailed from England. Notably, the Joneses also held ownership of the land stretching from Houston to the canal that separated Agricola and Eccles, a region still affectionately referred to as Rome by some residents.
Like many other villages, three freed men – Hercules, Chandler, and John Figaro – influenced other newly freed enslaved in 1842 to purchase a parcel of land with pooled resources, leading to the establishment of the village known as Agricola.
A 72-year-old resident, Cheryll Clarke, who was raised in Agricola, shared fond memories of her upbringing. She reminisced about the village’s amenities, such as the post office, St. Ann’s Anglican Church and school, the Methodist school (now housing a nursery school and part of Houston Secondary school), haberdashery stores, an ice cream parlor, Manning’s bakery, Bacchus’s drugstore, and various small grocery shops. She also mentioned Mr. Alan White’s marching band, which included Majorettes, girls, and boy brigades. Notably, Agricola once had an Animal Welfare officer, a sanitary inspector, and a tax collector until the village became part of the Georgetown Municipality in 1970. Cheryll fondly remembered standpipes on every street, a person responsible for turning on the streetlights in the evening and off in the morning, and the village’s victory in the first-ever Mashramani float parade.
In her view, when overseers and tax collectors were part of daily affairs, the village was clean, drains were regularly cleared, and orderliness prevailed. Those were days of strong community bonds and defining characteristics that shaped the people.
However, when speaking with a 28-year-old resident, Sonia David, her perspective on the village differed. She described some of the youths as lacking self-motivation, with tendencies towards idleness and substance abuse. She believed they could achieve more if they were driven and had positive role models. Unfortunately, she observed a lack of older, positive influences for them to emulate.
Concerning employment, many youths faced unemployment due to the stigma attached to the village. Some claimed that employers hesitated to hire them based on this stigma. On the other hand, there were also youths who were gainfully employed, dedicated to their education, and well-mannered. They refused to let the challenges of their environment define their future.
In the early 2000s, Agricola faced negative experiences such as the presence of drug lords, informants, police brutality, and numerous murders, which cast a shadow over the village. Even the law-abiding residents remained wary of those considered troublemakers.
Despite these challenges, many villagers held various jobs, primarily in the public and private sectors. Some managed their small businesses, including hair salons, grocery shops, a pharmacy, bread and food vendors, and snackettes. The village continued to thrive through commerce.
When asked about their concerns, women in the village lamented the struggles of single parenthood. Some pointed out that they were unemployed because they couldn’t afford childcare costs. Those who were employed still found it challenging to balance raising children with the high cost of living. They emphasized the lack of moral and financial support from their children’s fathers.
From enslavement to emancipation, from overseers to agriculture, from fetes to banquets, and from strong moral values to unfortunate events, Agricola has experienced it all. Despite the setbacks, its residents remain sociable, driven, and well-mannered. With the support of residents, relevant government agencies and NGOs, Agricola, with its ongoing resilience, has the potential to rise from the challenges it faces and return to its former glory as a unique and buoyant village.