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By Aubrey Norton, M.P.
In a captivating presentation at the Symposium organised by Buxton Restoration Committee, as part of this year’s Heritage Week (2011) observance, Mr. Aubrey Norton, PNCR Member of Parliament and former University of Guyana lecturer in Political Science, called on African-Guyanese to practise “Intergenerational Preparation” in order to achieve self-reliance and empowerment. He noted that much of the problem faced today by Guyanese of African descent is rooted in the group’s lack of power to achieve necessary objectives. He called on the community to develop bases for self-reliance and empowerment through sustained education, prudent economic management and prioritization of interests.
He defined empowerment as a means by which “individuals, communities and nations seek to ensure that they have at their disposal the required power to achieve the objectives they set for themselves.” He, however, cautioned: “If we are going to empower ourselves, we have to have a broad vision of what we set out to achieve.”
Mr. Norton emphasized that the attainment of self-reliance and empowerment rests on having a clear vision of what each person would like to achieve as an individual, and also as part of a family, a community and a nation. “What we want to do, where we want to go and how we intend to get there are some of the questions around which we must formulate a necessary plan,” he said.
In getting there, he suggested that parents first try to educate themselves then take steps to ensure that their children are also properly educated. He shared a response by the late President L.F.S. Burnham to a question on whether Guyana could afford free education, which was fully implemented in 1976. Mr. Burnham reportedly said: ‘We might not be able to afford free education, but I don’t know we can afford Ignorance.’ Mr. Norton expressed the view that when parents attend to their children’s education, they are preparing to take them out of ignorance and thus begin the first basis of empowerment. This, he said, must be done, and is based on a principle he described as “Intergenerational Preparation”.
In Explaining this principle, he said that, in African communities, parents must commit to preparing their children to experience a better life than they themselves enjoyed. They must also inculcate in their children a similar commitment whereby this principle would be passed on to succeeding generations. “In other words,” he summed, “you are preparing the next generation to be better than your generation.” He warned that failure to implement and maintain such a system could result in generational retrogression, which would lead to decay.
Speaking on the importance of Economics, Mr. Norton suggested that parents start teaching their children sound economic management from an early age. He seized the opportunity to censure those who engage in spending beyond their means, citing a popular old saying: “We like to hang our hats where our hands cannot reach.” This, he said, restrains our ability to build up a savings account. He further remarked that saving diligently should not be unfamiliar to African-Guyanese since their ancestors bought villages through this practice. “We have a history of saving; what we have done is to have lost our way,” he bemoaned. He implored the community to adhere to this discipline to achieve self-reliance and empowerment. This practice, he also advised, lends to the development of a history with a bank which helps in accessing loans from financial institutions.
Mr. Norton went on to state that he had observed that some persons, once they obtained a loan, decided that they were not going to repay their debt. “You do not develop like that,” he chided. “You develop when you develop credibility, and people [lenders] can be assured that you will repay over the long term. As you progress, you will do better.”
According to Norton, another important factor in the drive towards empowerment is the prioritization of interests. “We need to develop a sense of responsibility which seeks to determine what things are in our own best interests as well as those of our children. Our next step should be to pursue those interests in a structured way.”
Moving on to the subject of Self-Development, he warned that, unless the community developed an investment/economic culture, it would remain in serious trouble. This new culture, he stressed, was necessary in order to achieve empowerment and self-development.
Mr. Norton also urged individuals to embark on a culture where they aspire to work for themselves “It is time we got into Business,” he said. “Look around the world; most of those who achieve are people who work for themselves. We have got to focus on creating an African-Guyanese entrepreneurial class.” He then identified some successful Afro-Guyanese entrepreneurs. Continuing, he remarked, “Unless we develop an entrepreneurial class that has wealth independent of the State, we will be dependent.”
Norton next addressed the issue of property ownership by Afro-Guyanese. He noted that property-owners were not utilizing the equity in their homes to acquire capital for entrepreneurial investments, or for improvement in their own lives. He considered this an inefficient use of financial resources, and lamented that it was a serious misconception on the part of Afro-Guyanese property-owners. He challenged them to change this perception. “When we acquire property, we need to treat it as an investment that will serve as a basis of capital appreciation, which can increase empowerment and self-reliance.”
In concluding his presentation, Mr. Norton restated the key principles the community should embrace to attain self-reliance and empowerment. He reiterated the importance of education in self-development and that for the children. He also encouraged the development of an investment culture. These approaches must fit within the individual’s vision of where he wants to take himself, his children, his community, his country. “Anyone who does not have a clear vision of where he wants to go will go anywhere (even to the madhouse),” he warned.
“You should want a structured approach in which to empower yourself. When you become old, you must be satisfied that you did everything to prepare a basis for your children to get up in life.” He expressed concern that some parents view their children as assets. “In a sense they develop their children to mind them.” He admonished such parents to maintain their own independence and thus avoid being a source of burden to their children. He was however quick to add that an understanding must be developed whereby children are prepared to take over in case their parents were no longer able to function normally.
History This Week:Emancipation, the early Village Movement and Buxton
Posted By Cecilia McAlmont On July 29, 2010 @ 5:01 am In Daily,Features |
The Emancipation Act which was passed by the British Parliament in 1833 came after more than four decades of agitation and setbacks by the British Anti Slavery movement. It was launched by Thomas Clarkson, Granville Sharpe and other Quakers in 1788. It also came as a result of the activities of what Beckles, Hart, Williams and other Caribbean historians describe as the Caribbean Anti Slavery movement which manifested itself through the covert and overt actions of generations of the enslaved, specifically, the Berbice Slave Rebellion of 1763, San Domingue revolution of 1791 and the slave rebellions in three British colonies in the decade and a half preceding the passing of the Emancipation Act. The first significant blow was struck with the passing of the Abolition Act in 1807 not only after a long, hard campaign by the British abolitionists but because “Parliament was persuaded that the [British] national economy would be best served by the abolition.”
The abolitionists had hoped that self interest would force the planters to treat their slaves better, since it would no longer be possible to replace them as easily. Consequently, in some instances the emphasis shifted from “the slaver to the slave womb” that is, enslaved women, who in many colonies by the time of abolition were the majority of the all important field slaves, were now both producers and reproducers. This led to the introduction of several pronatalist policies by some planters. However, the brutalities and masochistic floggings of the enslaved, in general, but of women in particular continued unabated. Pressure from the humanitarians and a slave revolt in hitherto rebellion free Barbados in 1816 led to the introduction in 1823 of amelioration proposals which included, among other things, manumission by self purchase, acquisition of property and a minimization of the whipping of slaves, especially women. These proposals were observed more in the breach by the powerful planter dominated Assemblies even in the Guiana colonies and Trinidad where the governor had more decision making authority. The extent to which the proposals failed to achieve its goals was demonstrated by the imposition of a Slave Code in 1826 which included all the ameliorative measures it was hoped the planters would have implemented voluntarily. The situation of the enslaved did not improve because of the widespread evasion of the ameliorative measures by the Assemblies. Both abolitionists and government officials realized that outright emancipation of the slaves was the only answer. In 1831, a society for the abolition of the slavery was formed and in fact its terms of reference were being debated in the British Parliament when the slave revolt began in Jamaica in December 1831. This act of defiance by the enslaved which was preceded by that of the enslaved in Demarara in 1823 without a doubt played a role in the passing of the Emancipation Act of 1833, because, according to Eric Williams, emancipation either had to be granted from above by the enslavers or be wrested from below by the enslaved. Emancipation came from above, but freedom was delayed.
Freedom was delayed through the imposition of a period of Apprenticeship of between four and six years during which the apprentices were forced to work for their former masters to ensure them a continuous supply of labour while they made other arrangements. It was therefore not lost on the apprentices that while the apprenticeship system imposed continued forced labour on them for the plantations, they were granted no incentives to sweeten the imposition. On the other hand however, the slave owners were handsomely compensated for their lost property rights to the tune of a grant of twenty million pounds. Herein lay one of the several push factors that inspired the village movement not only in Guiana but in the other larger territories of Trinidad and Jamaica where the phenomenon mainly manifested itself.
There were clear indications, at least in British Guiana, long before the end of apprenticeship that many of the newly freed would leave the estates as a means of asserting their independence. This was possible because of the availability of large tracts of unoccupied lands. The planters reasoned that if the newly freed could be kept landless then they would be forced to continue to work on the plantations to provide themselves and their families with the necessities that had been guaranteed by law during slavery and apprenticeship. With the connivance of the Colonial Office, laws were passed to prevent the legitimate and illegitimate use of Crown lands. Under an apprenticeship Order-in-Council, apprentices could be arrested if they were found more than five miles away from their plantations and they could be sent to prison for three months with hard labour if they occupied wasteland without permission. More importantly however, legitimate acquisition of Crown land was made almost prohibitive because a minimum of one hundred acres had to be purchased at one pound per acre.
While most of the planters followed these and other confrontational policies like cutting down the fruit trees on the plantations that the apprentices had planted to prevent them from picking the fruits, others reasoned that if the ex apprentices owned and lived on land on or near to the estates, they were more than likely to work on the nearby plantation when the need arose. By the end of 1839, according to Alan Young, labourers had constructed some 267 cottages on plots of land of varying sizes. This was the beginning of the Proprietary Villages the most famous of which was Queenstown which was made up of three adjoining estates on the Essequibo coast – Daagerad, Mocha and Westfield. They were purchased by a progressive planter who divided them into half acre lots and sold them for prices ranging from $100 to $220 depending on their location in the town. This practice soon spread to Demarara and Berbice.
However, the attitude of some planters caused the fear of the loss of labour to become a self fulfilling prophecy. While for the most part the male ex apprentices were prepared to continue to work on the estates, they wanted their wives to stay at home and take care of their families and their children to attend the schools which were being set up. Additionally, those who had acquired skills wanted to negotiate better wages. This led to confrontation with the planters who refused to accept their former slaves as citizens and free labourers with the rights and privileges which went with that status.
As a consequence, many of the ex slaves sought to underscore their status as freemen and their independence from the plantations on which they had encountered so much humiliation and suffered so many indignities. They demonstrated this by purchasing some of the over 50, mainly cotton estates, that had been abandoned. The first such purchase was made on November 2, 1839 when 83 labourers from five estates, Dochfour, Ann’s Grove, Hope, Paradise and Enmore together purchased Plantation Northbrook for $10,000. After an initial down payment of $6,000, the remainder was paid off within three weeks. This was the beginning of the communal villages that were to be set up. They were so called, because unlike the Proprietary Villages where each villager held title to his/her individual plot of land, there was one common title for all of the villagers. In the case of the first village which through a petition by the villagers to the Queen was named Victoria, the title was vested in the names of six of the most prominent of the purchasers with the understanding that each of the subscribers was entitled to one undivided eighty third share of the entire plantation. But this system which initially was the basic strength of the village movement ultimately turned out to be the greatest threat to its economic viability.
By 1840, four communal villages were established in West Coast Berbice through the purchase of Golden Grove, 500 acres for $1,716; St John, 252 acres for $5,000; East half of Perseverance, 250 acres for $2,000; and Lichfield, 500 acres for $3,000. However the effect of all the purchases that had been made, led to what would now be hyper inflation and was reflected in the prices now asked for abandoned estates. It was under these conditions that the same year, 128 ex apprentices from seven nearby plantations were asked to pay $50, 000 for New Orange Nassau, an abandoned cotton plantation of 500 acres. The price of the 500 acres represented nearly 450% of the price ($11,716) paid by 170 labourers for the above mentioned combined 1,505 acres a little more than three times the amount of land. It meant that each of the original purchasers of Buxton paid nearly $3,500 for their less than four acres of land.
It is indeed a significant achievement.
Article printed from Stabroek News: http://www.stabroeknews.com
URL to article: http://www.stabroeknews.com/2010/features/07/29/history-this-weekemancipation-the-early-village-movement-and-buxton/
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