Documenting the world of the village

By Eusi Kwayana

Beryl Adams Haynes (ed. Laurence Clarke) Plaisance from Emancipation to Independence and Beyond  (Beryl Adams Haynes : [Guyana], 20210. – ISBN 978-976-8204-48-6)

The most recent addition to the history of the villages of Guyana comes from Plaisance, on the East Coast of Demerara. Its author is Beryl ‘Bobby’ Adams Haynes, a daughter of that village, and her work is the best-researched and best presented to date, of the village histories. The covers of Plaisance from Emancipation to Independence and Beyond are rich in colour contrasts and images, and between them are 144 pages relating to the community’s rich and episodic history and growth, and the achievements of its daughters and sons. Among others, the author expresses her appreciation to numerous villagers most of who have passed on into history. She is especially grateful to Dr Laurence Clarke, one of the very eminent Plaisance natives serving the world community.

It is perhaps, subject to correction, the first village history to be written by a woman. This is a happy feature, since women have played such a vital role in village development from the very first, with so little noted and so few of their names recorded.

There are nine chapters beginning with the early history of the village, and continuing on to matters of administration, religion, culture and social life, and economy, etc. The nine chapters fall into three sections, each with a theme and each brightened with photographs fitting the theme.  The book ends with numerous ‘Annexes’ of a variety of data. These attempt to record in one place the achievements on the national and international scene of Plaisance-Sparendaam sons and daughters and long-time residents, but does not pretend to be a full documentation.

bookshelfProduced at the height of the digital age, this book sets a new pace for the presentation of village histories.  Two maps show the “geographical context of Plaisance,” and on the last page is a layout plan compiled by the author assisted by Godwin Fernandes.

Plaisance shared the history of the collective or communal villages, led by Victoria, and took that new birth in1842. However, the author prefers to use a date in 1892 when tracing its origin as a village, because this is when Plaisance and some twelve other villages were accorded a certain status under an ordinance of that year. The effect was in part to officially unite a dozen or more twin villages, with separate councils, into a number of joint administrations. In this case the Plaisance -Sparendaam Village was created by ordinance. So too were Beterverwagting-Triumph, Buxton- Friendship and others. Nevertheless, the author advises that the name Plaisance is good usage for the village as a whole.

20130623bookPlaisance has a vigorous church history and other strong claims to fame. It was the first terminus of the great Demerara-Berbice Railway established by the Demerara Railway Company as the first railway on the South American continent. The inaugural passenger trip of that railway was a festive one, on September 19, 1848 from Georgetown to Plaisance, and was combined with the consecration of St Paul’s Anglican Church.

Coming soon after were the Zoar Congregational and then the Roman Catholic Church. Famous ministers of the Congregational Church who served at Zoar including Revs WS Holder, Pat Matthews, Caryle Miller, DWH Pollard and S Medas. Yet the congregation dwindled while numbers grew at St Paul’s. The author suggests that the greater prestige of the Anglican Church might have been a factor.

Professor Arnold Gibbons found that Plaisance was the first village to give birth to a newspaper, The Echo, which he, as well as Dr Walter Rodney, found to be a strong voice for the rising movement of restless agitation for change. In addition, Aaron Britton, a former Sanitary Inspector of Plaisance, was editing the militant Tribune up to the forties. So Plaisance was once a centre of the movement in the 19th century for the breaking up of the old sugar planters’ law-making system.

Plaisance from Emancipation… has directories of vocations and their practitioners, of scholars and their disciplines, of voluntary social workers, village rangers, taxi-drivers, overseers and councillors, with a generous spacing of vision-friendly photographs.  One of the lists of names, always the most important for history, is that on page 12 cataloguing the owners of the village; those who cut and contrived and saved and faced the old plantation owner to buy over their estate. On the same page is a photograph of their emancipation  monument, with the names of the founders engraved, as in Lichfield, and unveiled on August 1, 1966 by then Prime Minister Burnham. As the author herself notes, “an impressive list of all kinds of enterprises and activities, formal and informal, that drove the Plaisance economy through the years is attached in the Annexes.”  It is true that Plaisance managed to diversify its economy more than other villages, and also earlier. It was perhaps the East Coast village with a farming community most dependent on cane farming. Although CF Headley emerged as a strong local government resource at the level of the overseers, similar to George Younge in Buxton-Friendship at the level of elected councillors to be followed by Sultan Khan in the Mahaicony district and Bobby Adams the elected Mahaicony leader, men like S Vigilance and Victor Dias carried the struggle for the cane farmers for several years in the Plaisance-Sparendaam area and the East Demerara as a whole.

The strong, controversial leader in that period was Mr Ben Profitt, public health professional and musician, who long fought the battle for Sparendaam to remain a separate council from Plaisance. With an Indian Guyanese ally ‒ a baker, Mr Persaud ‒ Mr Profitt and the council saw Sparendaam with the best roads of all the East Coast villages.  It remains true that this administrative division did not seem to affect the popular mood of the two villagers as “Plaisance people.” The book reports that Mr Profitt became a leader of the amalgamation movement.

Next, being the nearest village to Georgetown, it could obtain electricity from the company many years before those farther away from the electricity supplier. This had fortunate consequences for the types of economic activity that were possible. It was in fact the most urbanised of the East Coast villages.
The book’s record is exemplary in its documentation of village figures regardless of race, religion or political attachment, a very positive feature in Guyanese writing. It is one of the few records this type that will mention positive activity in education and culture in its records.

Teacher Baby, Princess Edwina Andries Noble, stand at the head of the line of 20th century village servants. Any attempt to select from the numerous high achievers and community builders, national and international experts will expose the reviewer to charges of unfair selection. Plaisance is a post-Emancipation village and its notables, mainly African, are of every race ‒ men and women. It is an essential book.

The list of villagers recognised for their share in material governmental, educational and cultural development is numerous. Provided the book becomes widely available the country will have a good picture of the roles played by people in villages and it will be less possible easily to erase people and their roles, however lacking in splendour. As we read even the sample in this review a good reminder is that they all began with a Mother, a mother figure.  Plaisance: From Emancipation to Independence and Beyond is a welcome addition to the small number of books written on the history of particular villages. I believe the first was the history of Den Amstel. Then followed Mr Arno’s history of Victoria. My own Buxton-Friendship in Print and Memory had essays by Hector M Lee and Rampersaud Tiwari. An omission of any book is due to my ignorance and correction is invited. The latest on Plaisance is the best documented and illustrated and should please villagers. The author Bobby Adams Haynes, the Editor Laurence Clarke and their team deserve bouquets and our lasting gratitude.

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