Windsor Forest
Home Up Rice Production

 

            

Raymond T. Smith

Copyright 2002:   All Rights Reserved

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AN INDO-GUYANESE COMMUNITY

Windsor Forest Sanatan Dharma Temple 1956

INTRODUCTION

The circumstances of my first field research in Windsor Forest were quite different from the research I carried out in Hopetown, Dartmouth and Den Amstel some two and half a years earlier.  Apart from being older and more qualified (at least in the sense that I now had a doctorate and an appointment at the University of the West Indies), I established myself in a bigger house along with my wife and a two-month old son.  Although we had no electricity, running water or indoor plumbing, the fact that we constituted a family was important.

Long before choosing Windsor Forest as the site of my field research I had been in consultation with the Director of the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of the West Indies over the question of sponsorship of research in British Guiana by the business conglomerate Booker Brothers, McConnell and Co., Limited.  Mr. J.M. Campbell (later Lord Campbell) was a member of a committee of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Northern Ireland that had been established by its President, Sir Raymond Firth, to sponsor anthropological research in business.  Bookers, led by Campbell and a few dynamic young Booker management cadets including Anthony Haynes, Michael Caine and Ian McDonald, was anxious to sponsor basic social research in British Guiana by providing funds to the University of the West Indies through its Commonwealth Foundation.  As a full-time member of the staff of the Institute of Social and Economic Research I did not think it appropriate that my work should be funded by Bookers, but was prepared to recruit a fellow worker for a study of the East Indian population if Bookers provided the money for such an appointment.  After due correspondence with Sir Raymond Firth the post was advertised and I went to London to sit on the selection committee.  I also had a very amicable meeting with Mr. Campbell at the Travellers Club, and discussions with Anthony Haynes and Michael Caine who were in London.  The selection committee settled upon an excellent candidate, Dr. F.G. Bailey who had already carried out field research in India.  The understanding was that he would spend at least one year studying a sugar plantation community while I would concentrate upon a rice-growing area, and I returned to Jamaica to make plans to proceed to British Guiana.

Those arrangements collapsed quite suddenly when Dr. Kathleen Gough married Professor David Aberle, resigned her position at the School of Oriental and African Studies, and the post was offered to Dr. Bailey.  Naturally, we released him from his obligation to the Institute of Social and Economic Research, and Professor Firth suggested Chandra Jayawardena as a substitute.  Chandra Jayawardena was then a post-graduate student at the London School of Economics and it was agreed that he would use the British Guiana project as his dissertation research at LSE while also being appointed as a Research Fellow at the Institute of Social and Economic Research, such appointment to be financed by the grant from Bookers Commonwealth Foundation.  Bookers had absolutely no involvement or influence in the design and implementation of the project.

Theoretical Orientation

It is important to say at the very outset that I approached field research in Windsor Forest with a definite bias.  Even though I had read a good deal about India, and had spent some time in Jamaica working with the descendants of Indian immigrants, I was determined not to study the population of Windsor Forest as Indians, but as Guianese of Indian descent.  I deliberately avoided comparing local custom with some abstract image of "Indian culture" or "Indian social organization," and determined to record contemporary customs and beliefs in their social context.

WINDSOR FOREST PLANTATION

In January of 1956 I arrived in British Guiana and quickly decided upon Windsor Forest as the site of my own fieldwork.  Just a few miles from Vreed-en-Hoop, the terminus of the ferry across the Demerara River from Georgetown, Windsor Forest had been an important sugar plantation until the early part of the twentieth century.  Prior to 1908 Windsor Forest was owned by a British Company, with a resident population of East Indian immigrants, a few Chinese, most of whom had drifted into shopkeeping, some Africans—many of whom were descendants of Barbadian immigrants—and a few Europeans who managed the plantation.  The company failed to maintain an efficient sea defence or to pay taxes and eventually abandoned cultivation.  After selling a few house lots to the residents, the government finally stepped in, placed the estate up for sale at Execution and bought it in order to protect its financial interest in the outstanding tax debt.

For several years the residents were left to their own devices, eking out a living by reaping the rattoon canes and selling them to the neighbouring Plantation Versailles, or by planting a little rice, and it is interesting that during this period leadership came to be exercised by a man named Bhoodoo who was later to become a substantial merchant in Georgetown, the largest landowner in Windsor Forest, and the owner of the largest house in the village.  I shall have more to say about Bhoodoo later, but it is noteworthy that he was not a Brahmin but was in fact a lowly ranking Dusad.  His leadership was based on his position as a butler in the manager's house during the plantation period.  He was still alive when I moved into Windsor Forest, and still illiterate despite his prominence in many colony wide organisations and his successful operation of a large retail store in Georgetown.  

WINDSOR FOREST & LA JALOUSIE LAND SETTLEMENT

Eventually the government acquired the neighbouring estate of La Jalousie that had also been abandoned, and converted both of them into a Government Land Settlement, surveying the land and dividing it into lots that were offered to the residents for purchase or lease.  Almost unanimously the residents bought their house lots and leased the agricultural land—a very astute move since the government leased them on 99 year leases at a fixed rent of G$6.00 per acre per annum; this low rent included the provision of drainage, irrigation and sea defence.  In 1956 and even in 1975 when I restudied the community, they were still paying this nominal rent and the government was losing huge sums of money.  A lively secondary market had developed with people buying and selling rights in land for about $250 to $400 per acre, depending on its location.  

Rice had been grown on the Guyana coastland even during slavery, having been introduced from South Carolina in the eighteenth century, and the Bush Negroes cultivated rice in their runaway settlements.  However, it was the immigrants from India who turned it from a supplemental crop to a considerable export industry.  Furthermore, this is an industry created, controlled and developed wholly by Guyanese, including its export sector.  Attempts were made by Europeans as early as the eighteenth century, and again in the late nineteenth, to develop rice as a commercial crop on a plantation basis, but none of them succeeded, failing even to supply the home market.  In 1888 only about 2,500 acres were cultivated in rice, mostly on small plots worked by estate labourers, but by 1903 that had expanded to 15,020 acres.  By the end of the nineteenth century East Indian farmers, particularly in the Mahaica and Abary regions were producing about 45,000 bags of rice per annum, an amount that compared with the annual imports of some 230,000 bags.  By 1908 Guyana was exporting 7 million pounds of rice and importing only 2 million, and the increased demand from the West Indian islands during World War I led to a vast increase both in acres cultivated and in exports.  By 1917 more than 32 million pounds (14,367 tons) of rice was exported and the number of mills in the country had increased to 86.  After the ending of the war, the islands started importing rice from India again so that Guyana's exports declined until the Department of Agriculture began to make determined efforts to develop the West Indian market and improve the quality of Guyana rice by distributing better seed.  This was the beginning of a gradual expansion of government regulation and control as well as development of the industry.  In 1933 a Marketing Board was established and this was followed by a Grading Board to monitor the quality of exported rice.  Such developments were often opposed by Indian producers, and there has been a constant struggle between them and the various Marketing Boards that have been developed since.  In the 1950s the stringent regulations prohibiting the independent marketing of rice during World War II remained in effect, and all rice had to be sold to the central Rice Marketing Board that acted as sole marketing agent.  Farmers’ dissatisfaction usually centred on the grading of their rice, because rice produced by primitive (though highly productive) methods was understandably of low quality, with a high proportion of bad or broken grains.

In 1954 British Guiana exported 36,609 tons of rice and another 52,791 tons was produced for local consumption, practically all of it produced by East Indian small farmers.  Rice was second only to sugar in export value and was the second largest employer of labour: in 1954 the sugar industry employed an average of 22,054 field workers while rice certainly employed a greater number than that on 22,200 farms.  Of course the term "farm" has to be taken very broadly since many rice farm operators spend at least as much time doing other things, and a "farm" may consist of a number of widely scattered plots.  The average size of a Guyana rice farm in 1954 was about 6 acres, but some farms were quite large—running into hundreds of acres—so that this has to be balanced by a very large number of very small holdings.

The Community in 1956

In 1956, Windsor Forest,  West Coast Demerara, was one of the most important rice producing villages in Guyana.  However, this was not the only, or even the main, reason for choosing it.  The quite large population of Windsor Forest, plus its companion community, La Jalousie, had one of the largest Muslim communities in the country, and the various sects of both Hinduism and Islam were well represented.  Because of the proximity to Georgetown, local people were influential in national organisations and Windsor Forest individuals frequently worked on the nearby sugar estates of Uitvlugt and Leonora.  This was a complex community where a great many social and economic factors converged.  I quickly found a house to rent; its location was not quite in the centre of the village but close to the mosque and directly opposite a grocery and liquor store that announced its opening hours by playing Indian film music at full volume from a loudspeaker mounted outside the building.  The Muslim landlady was a widow; her son and his wife lived in the bottom flat.  We had neither electricity nor running water which made it quite difficult to care for the infant son that we had brought.  Nonetheless he flourished and spent his first birthday in Windsor Forest.

In accordance with the theoretical orientation mentioned above, and assuming nothing about the customary way of life of the population,  I began by making a careful study of the economic aspects of village life, and especially of rice cultivation.  The first publication dealing with Windsor Forest was a paper published at the end of 1957 entitled "Economic Aspects of Rice Production in an East Indian Community in British Guiana,"  Social and Economic Studies, Volume 6, No. 4, December 1957.  It is doubtful that I would have written this paper in quite the form it assumed had it not been for the encouragement of Dr. David Edwards, an agricultural economist on the staff of the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of the West Indies.  However, it and the data on which it was based, are useful historical documents since they recorded a way of life and a mode of production that was to undergo radical change within a very few years.  By the time Eric Hanley, an anthropologist from Edinburgh University made a restudy of Windsor Forest rice production in 1970, the industry was highly mechanised and in 1975 I was able to document the effect of changes in the mode of production upon a whole series of social factors.  I shall, therefore, refer a good deal to that paper, most of which is posted elsewhere on this site, since it is now difficult to obtain the original article.

My interest in religion and what might broadly be called "culture" focussed heavily upon its organisational and political aspects, since these were salient in the highly charged atmosphere of Guianese sectional politics in the mid-1950s.  My colleague Chandra Jayawardena, mainly because of his greater knowledge of Hinduism, paid much more attention to the content of doctrine and practice, and our joint publications on marriage rituals and on Indo-Guyanese family structure, owe a great deal to that attention.  Here I begin with a discussion of the economic life of the community and of its physical aspects.

The Village Economy in 1956

Housing and Village Amenities

In 1956 Windsor Forest was, comparatively speaking, a prosperous rural community.  The streets were well laid out and houses well maintained.  However, there was plenty of physical evidence of the bad old days of slavery and indentured labour in the form of several "ranges" of the kind used to house immigrant families, and slaves before them.  

Old plantation "logies" used to house multiple families and still in use in 1956

One particularly notorious two-storey range housed a number of Afro-Guyanese families in 1956.  Many of the inhabitants were the actual descendants of immigrants from Barbados who had been recruited for work on the sugar plantation during the nineteenth century.  Disparagingly known as "Noah's Ark," or simply The Ark, by East Indian villagers, it was destroyed by fire during the racial conflicts of the 1960s.

These remnants from the past were not typical.  Most people lived in good, if modest, houses which were kept in good repair and generally painted.  Only a few people were able to build large and impressive houses, the most notable being the Bhudoo family home.  The community was well provided with grocery and general goods stores as well as numerous small shops dealing in a limited range of things such as soft drinks and cakes.  A couple of rum shops did a brisk trade in spite of religious prohibitions on the use of alcohol.

Agriculture

Although a few farmers cultivated sugar cane for sale to neighbouring estates, and almost everyone grew some vegetables for domestic use or for sale, rice was the undoubted focus of attention.  In 1956 almost all rice grown by small farmers used labour intensive methods on small acreages of land.  Windsor Forest had a total population of about 2,350 of which approximately 250 were African Guyanese, 60 Chinese, and 2,040 East Indians.  Only a few Negroes cultivated rice lands, but probably about 100 were employed during the harvesting season as casual labourers.  The majority of the Chinese were either businessmen or farm managers, only one or two of the younger men actually working on the land.  Amongst the East Indians 928[i] farmers cultivated lands in the area under consideration, operating between them some 1,470 acres for the 1956 autumn crop.  The typical “farm” was about 6 acres, though that farm may consist of a number of widely separated plots.  Only 3 farms totaled more than 20 acres.

Almost all the farm land in Windsor Forest and La Jalousie was, and is, cultivated in rice.  Two crops are planted each year and it is indicative of the high fertility of the soil that yields remained reasonably high despite the absence of manuring.  Cattle were often turned loose in the fields after the harvest, but this could not result in adequate natural manuring.

Women hand-planting rice seedlings: Windsor Forest 1956

Most farmers kept one or two milch cows as well as working oxen, and these were grazed on the communal pasture, or hand-fed with cut grass.  The pasture facilities were inadequate for the combined Windsor Forest-La Jalousie cattle population of approximately 1,500 head, there being only about 470 acres of poor quality grass-lands available between the two estates.  A suggestion that some of this communal pasture should be divided up into individual plots for intensive cultivation of fodder, was vigorously resisted on the grounds that any resident should have the opportunity to keep a cow and have access to grazing facilities.  Farmers were also sceptical of the possibility of finding time to cultivate and cut grass for stock feeding.

The operations in rice production in 1956 were relatively simple and had been unchanged for many years.  Oxen were the chief source of power for ploughing, short haulage, harrowing, and threshing, and the majority of farmers owned at least one pair.  A survey carried out in 1953 showed that there were 472 steers owned by residents of Windsor Forest.  There were seven tractors in Windsor Forest, most of them owned by the few farmers working more than twelve acres of land.  These tractors were available to a limited number of farmers for hire-ploughing after their owners had finished their own work, but the nature of the soil is such that after heavy rain the tractors were unable to work satisfactorily, and oxen had to be used.  This meant that the tractor owners took advantage of suitable weather conditions to do their own work, and even they may have had to fall back on oxen if the dry spell did not last long enough.  One farmer in Windsor Forest owned a combine harvester, but he used it on a block of 74 acres which he cultivated outside Windsor Forest itself.

 Cutlasses, forks and sickles were normal equipment in most households, the sickles being the only hand implement used in reaping.  A full discussion of the various tasks involved in rice production can be found in the paper referred to above; they include ploughing, harrowing, preparation of seed-beds and the transplanting of seedlings, weeding and the reaping of padi.  The padi was threshed, usually trodden out by cattle, then transported by flat-bottomed sleds or cattle-drawn carts, to one of the nine small mills in the village.  There the padi was soaked and steamed (or parboiled) before being spread on a large concrete area for sun-drying, after which it was milled in a small diesel driven huller.  The farmer kept a few bags of rice for domestic use and the miller shipped the rest by rail to the government Rice Marketing Board in Georgetown.  There the rice was weighed and graded and the Board sent the appropriate payments directly to the farmer and the miller.

 

The revolution in rice agronomy

By 1975 there had been a radical transformation in the methods of rice cultivation, but it remained the primary village occupation and it also remained predominantly a small farmer’s crop. The transformation consisted in the almost total mechanisation of cultivation and a consequent shift away from the use of family labour.  In the discussion that follows I rely upon materials from Eric Hanley’s study of Windsor Forest in 1972 as well as upon my own 1975 observations.  Hanley’s field study of the economics of rice cultivation was carried out between August 1971 and November 1972.  His data are especially rich concerning occupations but many of the results remain unpublished.

The number of tractors in the village increased from 7 in 1956 to 73 in 1972, displacing the ox-drawn ploughs that had been almost universal in the 1950s, and by 1975 practically all rice was reaped by combine harvester instead of by hand.  New varieties of high yielding hybrid strains were introduced to Guyana during the early 1970s and even without intensive hand cultivation Windsor Forest remained one of the most successful areas from the point of view of yields.  Despite these changes, the income of rice farmers had not risen dramatically.  Instead of being able to use family labour it was now necessary to invest large amounts of money in the purchase or rental of machinery and in fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides without which the new strains could not be induced to produce high yields.  Labour freed from rice work flowed into other occupations, mainly in the urban area of Georgetown.  Windsor Forest men were to be found in a wide range of labouring jobs in the capital, particularly with the Rice Marketing Board and with the Georgetown City Council Sanitation Department where they worked as garbage collectors.  Even more dramatically one found women working in urban occupations, particularly in clerical and sales jobs and in the garment factories.  It had long been customary for girls to receive training in sewing as a means of making them more attractive as brides, and that training could now help them in obtaining urban employment.  Some women, and men, made clothes at home for sale as ready made garments but a significant number of women were travelling to work each day by bus and ferry.

In spite of these radical, and undoubtedly progressive, changes in the lives of Windsor Forest residents, the prevailing atmosphere in 1975 was one of pessimism.  Whereas the population of African Guyanese villages was optimistic—for example August Town people spoke with pride of the improved housing, the cottage hospital and the new technical school in the community—the dominant sentiment in Windsor Forest was one of dissatisfaction.  Indo-Guyanese felt themselves to be discriminated against and disenfranchised by the then ruling party (see R.T. Smith 1976), and the village population was no exception.  One faction of prominent villagers had joined the governing People’s National Congress and been appointed to office in the reorganized Local Authority, but the ruling party was still regarded as the representative of Afro-Guyanese racial interests.  Living conditions had improved; even more so than in August Town.  Electricity, better piped water, paved streets and upgraded housing were the most obvious signs, but there were many other indicators.  Large numbers of young people had been or were going to secondary school, and many others were at university either in Guyana or abroad.  In spite of complaints about the shortages of traditional foods such as flour and split peas (key ingredients of the basic foods of rôti and dholl), people seemed healthier and children better nourished.

 

TABLE A

Occupations of Windsor Forest Males over 15 years of age

Occupation

1956

1975

  No.

%

No. %
         
Professional/Managerial 7 1.37 15 2.34
Own Account (non-agriculture) 43 8.40 39 6.08
Clerical and Sales 17 3.32 40 6.24
Skilled Worker 16 3.13 77 12.01
Farmer 294 57.42 222 34.63
Unskilled Labour 81 15.82 133 20.75
No Occupation 54 10.55 115 17.94
         
Totals 512 100.00

641

100.00

 

TABLE B

Occupations of Windsor Forest Females over 15 years of age

Occupation

1956

1975
  No. % No. %
         
Professional/Managerial 0 0.00 2 0.33
Own Account (non-agriculture) 7 1.61 8 1.31
Clerical and Sales 4 0.92 31 5.07
Skilled Worker 20 4.59 17 2.78
Farmer 38 8.72 10 1.64
Unskilled Labour 22 5.05 26 4.26
Housewife or None 345 79.13 517 84.62
         
Totals 436 100.00 611 100.00

Tables A and B above show the occupations of Windsor Forest inhabitants 16 years or older for the years 1956 and 1975.  The proportion of males engaged in agriculture has fallen from 57.4% in 1956 to 34.6% in 1975, while the proportion of clerical and sales, skilled work, and unskilled labour has increased.  There are more unemployed but the majority of those without work of any kind are under 21 years of age or over 65 (out of 115 men without any occupation 78 are under 21 years of age and 10 are over 65 years of age).  Figures such as this should be treated with caution since in economies of this kind most individuals have more than one “occupation.”  Prior to the mechanisation of the rice industry almost everyone in the village would be mobilised for work during the rice harvest and most women would be employed in transplanting seedlings.  By 1975 this was no longer the case, but many people were engaged in small scale buying and selling in local markets without thinking of this as an “occupation.”  Table 29 does not show as many women engaged in urban occupations as one would think from the prominence ascribed to this development by villagers themselves.  The principal increase is in the category I have designated “Clerical and sales”—a category which includes such occupations as schoolteacher and nurse as well as shop assistants and commercial office workers.

TABLE 30

1975 Occupations of Windsor Forest males who were resident in Windsor Forest in 1956

Occupation

Age in 1975

19-34

35-39

40-59

Over 59

No. % No. % No. % No. %

Professional/Managerial

15

3.59%

12

13.79%

6

3.13%

3

3.23%

Own Account (non-agriculture)

18

4.31%

5

5.75%

18

9.38%

3

3.23%

Clerical and Sales

42

10.05%

8

9.20%

5

2.60%

1

1.08%

Skilled Worker

89

21.29%

14

16.09%

11

5.73%

2

2.15%

Farmer

97

23.21%

22

25.29%

94

48.96%

52

55.91%

Unskilled Labour

101

24.16%

19

21.84%

49

25.52%

4

4.30%

No Occupation

56

13.40%

7

8.05%

9

4.69%

28

30.11%

Totals

418

100.00%

87

100.00%

192

100.00%

93

100.00%

 

The distribution of occupations among those who are actually living in the community in 1975 does not provide an adequate picture of the changes that have affected Windsor Forest families.  Table 30 shows the 1975 occupations of all the men who were living in Windsor Forest in 1956; many of these men have left the community.  The proportion of those still engaged in farming shows a steady decline over time; 55.9% of those over 59 years old in 1975 are still farmers, while the proportions fall to 49% for those 40 to 59 years, 25.3% of those 35 to 39 and only 23.2 of those aged 19 to 34 years.  The group that was between 16 and 20 years old in 1956 is particularly interesting.  These young men came to maturity during the initial period of expansion of both the government bureaucracy and the economy.  The Jagan faction of the People’s Progressive Party controlled the government from 1957 until the PNC assumed office in the middle 1960’s (see R.T. Smith 1971).  It is no accident therefore that Indians who were coming to maturity at that time show a very high percentage of members in professional and managerial positions (13.8% as opposed to about 3% for other age groups).  This group also shows the beginning of the shift from farming to skilled and unskilled labour.

The migration experience of Windsor Forest men is somewhat different from that of the men of August Town.  Whereas only about a third of the males who had been resident in August Town in the early 1950’s were still there in 1975, over half of the Windsor Forest males still lived in the community.  The proportion of females remaining in the community is also quite high considering that marriage is ideally exogamous; 44.6% of those who were resident in Windsor Forest in 1956 are still there in 1975.  Table 31 presents the overall picture, while Tables 32 and 33 provide a more detailed view of the differences in migration experience according to age.  In these latter tables the people who died or whose whereabouts is unknown have been excluded.

TABLE 31

1975 Location of Persons who were residing in Windsor Forest in 1956

1975 Location Males Females
  No. % No. %
         
Windsor Forest 580 54.82% 448 44.58%
Urban Guyana 21 1.98% 38 3.78%
Other Guyana 182 17.20% 306 30.45%
West Indies 1 0.09% 1 0.10%
Canada or USA 74 6.99% 59 5.87%
Britain 33 3.12% 21 2.09%
Rest of the World 7 0.66% 6 0.60%
Dead or Location unknown 160 15.12% 126 12.54%
         
Totals 1058 100.00% 1005 100.00%

 Of the 1058 males who were living in Windsor Forest in 1956, 580 are still in the community, comprising a little over half; only 27.8% of August Town males remained in that community in 1975.  However, almost 11% of Windsor Forest males were out of the country in 1975 compared to about 8% of August Town males.  Far fewer men from Windsor Forest had moved into the urban areas—only 2% compared to 25% of August Town males.  No men from Windsor Forest were living in the bauxite towns, whereas movement to those mining areas accounted for nearly 16% of the migration to the urban centres from August Town.  Indians traditionally have not worked in the bauxite industry in significant numbers but the proportion of Indo-Guyanese in the population of Georgetown has been rising steadily in recent years.  One of the reasons that there is not more permanent migration to Georgetown from Windsor Forest is that it is close enough to permit of easy daily commuting, and therefore many Windsor Forest men have decided to stay in the community and upgrade their houses rather than move into an alien and sometimes hostile environment in the capital city.  By 1975 the migratory ambitions of Windsor Forest people were directed almost exclusively to north America.  Tables 32 and 33 show that it is mainly younger people who move to north America and Britain, and that trend will continue unless the possibility of migration is choked off.

TABLE 32

1975 Location of males who were resident in Windsor Forest in 1956: By Age Group

Where Living in 1975

Age in 1975

  19-34 35-39 40-59 Over 59 Total
  No. % No. % No. % No % No %
Windsor Forest 303 59.41 47 50.54 160 75.83 66 83.54 579 64.55
Nearby Communities 50 9.80 13 13.98 19 9.00 5 6.33 87 9.75
Essequibo 20 3.92 6 6.45 7 3.32 0 0.00 33 3.70
Georgetown 11 2.16 3 3.23 6 2.84 1 1.27 21 2.35
Other Guyana 41 8.04 6 6.45 8 3.79 6 7.59 61 6.82
USA 31 6.08 4 4.30 0 0.00 1 1.27 36 4.02
Canada 29 5.69 6 6.45 3 1.42 0 0.00 38 4.24
Britain 19 3.73 8 8.60 6 2.84 0 0.00 33 3.68
Rest of the World 6 1.18 0 0.00 2 0.95 0 0.00 8 0.89
                     
Totals

510

100.00 93 100.00 211 100.00 79 100.00 896 100.00

 

TABLE 33

1975 Location of females who were resident in Windsor Forest in 1956: By Age Group

Where Living in 1975

 
Age in 1975
19-34 35-39 40-59 Over 59 Total
No. % No. % No. % No % No %
Windsor Forest 182 35.27 39 46.99 158 80.61 66 82.50 445 50.86
Nearby Communities 117 22.67 16 19.28 13 6.63 3 3.75 149 17.03
Essequibo 29 5.62 4 4.82 6 3.06 1 1.25 40 4.57
Georgetown 24 4.65 6 7.23 5 2.55 2 2.50 37 4.23
Other Guyana 94 18.22 10 12.05 7 3.57 6 7.50 117 13.37
USA 19 3.68 4 4.82 1 0.51 0 0.00 24 2.74
Canada 30 5.81 2 2.41 2 1.02 1 1.25 35 4.00
Britain 16 3.10 1 1.20 3 1.53 1 1.25 21 2.40
Rest of the World 5 0.97 1 1.20 1 0.51 0 0.00 7 0.80
                     
Totals 516 100.00 83 100.00 196 100.00 80 100.00 875 100.00

The changes outlined above have not resulted in any marked modifications in family structure or domestic organisation.  There has been a steady rise in the age at which both men and women enter their first conjugal union.  For Indo-Guyanese that first union is almost always a formal wedding and these days it is generally legalised—a situation very different from that which obtained in the 1950’s.  Although marriages are still arranged by the parents it continues to be the case that the young people themselves often initiate the proceedings.  Much effort still goes into making a good and proper match, and although traditional caste considerations have some part in match-making the bridegroom’s economic prospects are far more important.  Few Windsor Forest families are so poor that the marriage of their daughters is not an occasion for careful consideration and lavish expenditure on the wedding ceremonies.  This contrasts with August Town, but as we have seen it is not alien to the August Town system of kinship and marriage to lay great stress upon the first marriage of virgin daughters, just as it is not alien to the Windsor Forest system that some young people enter visiting or consensual unions.  The difference lies in the relative rates of occurrence of these different types.

Tabulations show that there is little difference in such measures as sex of head of household, household composition and the religious affiliation of household heads.  Approximately 15% of the household heads were women in both 1956 and 1975, and about 56% of all households were nuclear family groups in both years.  The proportion of households containing a son’s wife or wife and children rose from 11% to 20% between 1956 and 1975 so that even by these crude measures there is certainly no weakening of the tendency to form three generation families.  Similarly there has been no diminution in the adherence of Windsor Forest villagers to Hinduism and Islam, and apparently little tendency to shift to reform versions of these religions.  In 1956 Orthodox Hindus constituted 43% of households, reform Hindus 15%, Muslims 31% and Christians 11%.  In 1975 these proportions were 49% Orthodox Hindus, 14% reform Hindus, 31% Muslims and 6% Christians.

A brief reference to an example from the case materials will illustrate the manner in which economic change has been absorbed into a persisting pattern of kinship relations.

Etwaru is a 67 year old farmer who lives alone with his wife in a small, but well-made, house.  The core of this house is built of wood with a corrugated iron roof but various extensions have been built on using wattle and daub, thatched roof construction.  A small Ferguson tractor is stored under the house.  As with most Windsor Forest house lots, all available outside space is used for animal pens and vegetable gardens, and the area under the house is cleared for domestic work such as washing clothes as well as for entertaining.  In 1956 Etwaru lived in the same house but then he had five of his children, ranging in age from 7 to 17, living with him.  Two daughters were already married and living outside the village.  Superficially this was a nuclear family household which, by 1975, had become denuded down to an aging married couple.

Etwaru was not born in Windsor Forest.  His mother was a Windsor Forest woman who had married into a family in a distant part of the country.  When her husband died she returned to her natal village with her infant son to live with her parents until she remarried.  Etwaru was left to be raised by his maternal grandmother as a poor relative with no rights of inheritance or of property in his mother’s village.  Indeed when his maternal grandfather died all the property went to the sons, but Etwaru remained in the house with his grandmother and he looked after her for 20 years before she died.  With no resources of his own he had to work for others, and particularly for a man who was not only prominent in village affairs but who also had cattle, rice lands and subsidiary interests in fishing.  Since Etwaru was a poor young man with no family in the village to arrange a marriage for him he was married off to one of the younger daughters of his employer, who thereby acquired a trusted helper as well as a son-in-law.  He continued to work for his father-in-law until the old man died, and although the man’s sons inherited all his land and other valuable property, Etwaru and his wife were given the small fishing boat and seines.  From this slender base he was able eventually to acquire land for rice farming and to buy one of the first tractors to operate in the village.

In 1975 a large farewell “function” was held one evening at Etwaru’s house.  He was about to leave to visit his sons in Canada and the USA.  One son lives in Ottawa with his wife and four children, while another unmarried son is studying medicine at Howard University in Washington, D.C..  The function was well attended by “prominent” villagers, partly because Etwaru is related by marriage to some of the most politically and religiously active men in the community.  As usual on these occasions there were a great many speeches interspersed with religious rituals.  Since Etwaru is a reform Hindu, the central ritual activities were modest but representatives of other religious groups in the community were all allowed to have their say.  It was interesting that speakers went out of their way in referring to Etwaru to use the Hindi kinship term for father’s brother, Chacha; this is a generalised term of respect for older men of one’s own community and it was used even though Etwaru is not strictly speaking a part of the patrilaterally related older generation.  The speeches all stressed Etwaru’s industry and humility as well as his illiteracy and other handicaps which he had overcome in order to provide his children with a better life.  He in turn, replied briefly and with self-deprecation, again emphasising his lack of education and ineptitude for public speaking, his misgivings about taking an airplane trip, and his thanks to everyone for coming out.

However, not all in Etwaru’s life was sweetness and light.  Originally it had been planned that both Etwaru and his wife would take this trip. She decided to stay behind this time because of problems with their eldest son whose house is on the adjacent lot.  This son has always lived with his parents and been his father’s helper both in fishing and in the rice cultivation.  Increasing conflict between his mother and his wife induced the father to provide a separate house for his son on the adjacent lot, and eventually the tension grew so great that it has interfered with their co-operative work.  However, there has been no formal division of the property.  Etwaru has relinquished active interest in the fishing boat and he still allows his son Chamu to use the tractor.  But Chamu drinks a great deal and this leads to frequent quarrels.  Etwaru’s wife feels that if both she and her husband stay away for a long time they will have difficulty regaining control of their house.  On the other hand the younger sons in north America want their parents to migrate permanently.

There is little about this family that is unusual, except perhaps the facts of Etwaru’s upbringing and marriage.  Although it is normal for young men to grow in their father’s house and to marry a woman from another village, it is not uncommon for a man with wealth to bring a son-in-law into his home—as readers of Vidia Naipaul’s novel, A House for Mr. Biswas, will be aware.  The ideals of hard work, religious devotion, education and upward social mobility of children, and the recognition and support of fellow villagers are all widely shared; on occasions such as that described they are brought out and re-emphasised.  Family solidarity is expected and it is also expected that the members of one’s religious group will come to one’s support in times of sorrow and in times of celebration.  Individuals are enfolded in a many layered fabric of social relationships and they do not enjoy isolation from it.  It is for this reason that many successful people choose to stay in the village rather than acquire a better house in the city, and even those who live in the city often maintain a property and make frequent visits.

This case also demonstrates the importance of concepts of the individual person as opposed to concepts of familial social units.  Although nuclear families are not the fundamental units of this kinship system, and certainly the conjugal pair are not considered to be the core of the system, one does not find the stress upon units of solidarity comparable to those described for Bengal by Inden and Nicholas (see pp. ?? above).  Indo-Guyanese refer constantly to the opposition between Indian ways of doing things and ways which are Guyanese or English.  But the Indian customs are all expressed in terms of the actions of individual persons.  Thus Indians always marry Indians (so it is said); they respect their parents; they go to live with their husband’s family on marriage; they give money to their father when they start to work; they live modestly and accumulate resources; all these actions implicitly contrasted with the manner in which other Guyanese behave.  For every injunction to place family and community solidarity above self there is also a recognition of the absolute necessity to take into account the “needs,” “demands,” “feelings” and “rights” of the individual.  Attempts to subsume children and their wives into a generalised family solidarity founders upon the claims of the son for autonomy as a person and of the son’s wife for autonomy as mistress of her own home.  Once a division of the household group has been made, and once a son has been given a certain amount of economic independence then it is often possible to maintain solidarity within the wider, patriarchally dominated group. Whatever the census of households reveals about the frequency of “nuclear families” we should not be misled into supposing that this is the “basic unit” of the system.  More extensive groups are highly valued but they must at the same time accommodate ideas about the autonomy of individuals as the action unit of the system.  As with other Guyanese “my family” is a unit of indeterminate size and no fixed boundaries, but among Indo-Guyanese it does focus upon men in their status as fathers even if those men do not attain the salience of the Bengali svāmī or master.  There is a clear and well articulated ideological emphasis upon “Indian” custom, but it accommodates a stress upon the individual which is unmistakably creole.

In discussing August Town we saw that the attempt to separate out Afro-Guyanese from all others was, to say the least, misguided.  The same is true for Windsor Forest despite the religious and ritual markers of racial identity.  In 1956 it was possible to identify about 250 individuals as being “African” and another 60 as “Chinese.”  However, there were and still are a number of families and individuals who are of mixed racial origin and the precise racial classification is frequently a matter of some complexity.  Most of the Afro-Guyanese are now gone from the village following the violence of the 1960’s, but a few remain.  Some of the African inhabitants of the community were born there—descendants of immigrants who came from Barbados in the nineteenth century to work on the sugar estate, and who were left in possession of some of the older barracks type buildings when the estate was abandoned by the sugar owners.  Those barracks, long known in the village as “Noah’s Ark,” were burned down.  A few African families had become more prosperous and had acquired good houses and certainly in 1956 were on extremely good terms with their Indian neighbours.  However, few had intermarried and when the troubles erupted they tended to sell their properties and move out; some even exchanged properties with Indians from predominantly African communities.

Kenneth Stewart is an Afro-Guyanese of Barbadian ancestry who was born in Windsor Forest and who married an East Indian woman.  She had already been married at the age of 13 to an Indian but both he and their infant child died.  She went to live with Kenneth Stewart, became a Christian and eventually they married after living together for many years.  Their five sons and two daughters were all raised in Windsor Forest and most of them are now married.  Interestingly enough they have all married persons of mixed racial background—most of them mixed African and Indian like themselves, and none from Windsor Forest.  The parents still live in the community and were carefully protected by their neighbours during the period of racial violence in the 1960’s.

The experience of the Chinese has been very different.  Most of the Chinese families became involved in shopkeeping even when Windsor Forest was a sugar estate.  In 1956 one of the largest Chinese families owned a rum shop, a large grocery store and some of its members were heavily involved in rice cultivation.  Another family was already inter-married with East Indians, and two sons owned two of the main village shops.  By 1975 the number of intermarriages with Indians had increased considerably and the Chinese families had become internally differentiated in terms of the levels of prosperity of their various branches.  Their prominence in shopkeeping had declined to the point where only one part-Chinese man was still running a shop. Others of the families had migrated, and those left behind were tightly integrated into the village population.


[i] In arriving at this figure joint holdings operated by a group of kinsmen, usually brothers, have been counted as one holding operated by one “farmer.”

 

 

 

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