Cullen on the Essequibo Coast is precisely 23.5 kilometres from Supenaam, between Bremen and Abrams Zuil. It is home to close to 100 persons. To get to Cullen from Georgetown, one must travel to Parika, by car or minibus, take the ferry or a speedboat to Good Hope/Supenaam and then another car or bus along the coast.
When I arrived, scores of passengers filed off the ferry at the Good Hope/Supenaam Stelling setting out for different villages along the coast; some were headed for the fresh water lakes.
Getting out of the car at Cullen, the first things that caught my eye were the flamboyant trees growing along the sides of the road and other flowers dotted in-between. Right away I could see that it was a well-kept little community.
The first home I stopped at was that of centenarian Lucretia Bradford, a beaming lady who looked like 100 years had not touched her. Though hard of hearing, she had a good recall of what it was like in years gone by.
Bradford was born and raised in Cullen to a mother who was also born in the village and a father who hailed from Bagotville, West Bank Demerara; however, she was raised by her grandmother.
The elderly woman recalled her first years at Abrams Zuil Primary, where, when she was in Standard Two, she helped with the Standard One class whenever the teacher was absent.
“This is a different time than long time,” she noted. “Long time when we was growing up and somebody send you to the shop in the late afternoon and a big man see you, he say, ‘Baby where you going?’ and you say, ‘Uncle I going to the shop.’ And he will cross you over the road and carry you to the shop. Whenever the adults see you on the road, they used to cross you over.
“Sometimes you going to school and a neighbour or somebody from the village see you and say, ‘Darling if ah send you fuh this thing, you gon late fuh school?’ and I gon say ‘Auntie I ain’t know but I gon go fuh you’ and I gone. When I reach to school headmaster will ask why I late and I will tell him I did something for somebody and he gon say ‘alright’ and send me to my class. That’s how we used to live and do things long ago. Long time was nice; it was lovely.”
Today things are vastly different. As an elderly person, Bradford has had the experience of asking someone to take her across the road, and having children “sucking their teeth” and walking away. She said she would rarely find youths who would want to oblige.
Bradford said long ago, people toiled in the rice fields, or cut wood at the “waterside,” others burnt the dirt to make what was called “burnt brick”’ to build the road. After her schooling she joined the women cutting rice in the fields by hand and fetching dirt for the men.
She is the oldest of three siblings. The youngest is also still alive at eighty. Bradford bore seven children, three of whom are still alive today.
Asked how she celebrated her birthday, the woman said she did with two reunions; one in Georgetown among her family and friends and another in Cullen last month on the eighth. “I feel happy to be 100; only, sometimes I feel lil sick but otherwise I’m happy,” she enthused. “I’m happy that my children and grandchildren are around to take care of me.”
She continuously praised her family, saying if they heard she was not feeling well, they would quickly get her to bed and find her medications. She said the care she receives is second to none, adding that if you’re nice to people, God is watching and will repay you double fold.
She is a member of Abrams Zuil Methodist Church, but no longer attends, instead, she is paid a visit once a month by one of the ministers. “I don’t go to church anymore but when I’m on my bed, I does call fuh He (God), call fuh He till I sleep way,” she said.
Chandroutie Peters better known as Norma moved from Bounty Hall to Cullen in 1974 after getting married to Peter Peters.
“Since I come here I meet very nice people in Cullen. They make me feel at home,” she said.
She recalled that when she first arrived in Cullen, there were no trees along the road. The trees were planted later by an overseas-based resident called Ramnauth.
Norma has eight children, all of whom attended Fisher’s Primary School. She said she was unable to send any of them to secondary school after their father died some years ago.
She owns two acres of rice field, which she plants sometimes, but prefers to rent, as it works out more profitable. Other persons within the community she said, are fishermen and would bring in shrimp to sell. Fish vendors from across the coast would show up at Cullen to purchase fish and shrimp whenever the boats come in.
At another house, I found Indranie Peters carefully hand stitching strips of red cloth to a rice bag to make a mat.
Her husband Frederick Peters is the brother of the now deceased Peter Peters, Norma’s late husband. Frederick was born in Cullen, but left when he was 14 for Bounty Hall and only returned 15 years ago.
“Cullen has always been a quiet place,” he said. “The only work here is planting lil rice and fishing.”
Life in the backdam for him started when he was eight years old. He recalled cleaning the land and going around with the bulls as they trampled the thrash beneath them. An ordinary day during crop time would have found him cutting the rice by hand in the mornings. After lunch, he would find himself with the bulls sometimes until midnight. Life wasn’t all work though; every morning and evening he and a group of his friends would find themselves at the koker in Abrams Zuil bathing in the black waters there.
Asked why he had left the village in the first place he explained that back then, the farmers in Cullen used the self-help method: “If I gave a day hand on your rice field, you coming back and gave one day hand to me so I left for Bounty Hall where we were paid.”
According to him, life in Cullen is comfortable though he wished there were some streetlights for the pitch dark nights.
While we spoke two little children played in the backyard. Indranie mentioned they belonged to a late friend of hers who died three years ago and since she did not know the whereabouts of their fathers, she took them in. She added that since then she applied for public assistance for them at the Welfare Department in Anna Regina but nothing has been done. Officials, she said, told her they needed to visit to see the children’s living conditions but never turned up.
Next door, in a yard swept so clean that the only thing seen was the broom pattern in the sand, lives a relative, Joyce Peters.
Joyce who was born at Suddie Hospital spent her earliest years here then lived in Good Hope from age five. Seventeen years later, in 1998, she returned to Cullen.
While we talked, vultures perched high up in the coconut trees in the nearby lot looked down.
“The place is very quiet. The people are reserved and the village is crime-free,” she said.
A look at Joyce’s yard reveals that she likes planting. There are potted flowers in her front yard and at the back in her kitchen garden are boulanger, pigeon peas, bora, carilla, lemon, banana, pepper and tomato. Whenever she has a surplus of tomatoes she walks through the village and sells them. They usually sell out, she said, as she sells cheaper than the vendors at the markets.
She shops for groceries at the supermarkets in Little Affiance and Suddie.
Being a woman who likes her surroundings clean, Joyce wants to see more cleaning of the drains around her area adding that the Neighbourhood Democratic Council cleans once a year. “I see this year they come and weed the roadside which is nice. Otherwise, before this year everybody here was responsible for their own gap. They even picked up the seeds that fall from the plants; probably to plant in the other villages. Every year we have a competition on the coast to see which the cleanest village. Cullen has been winning the competition for as long as I know; since I was a little girl growing up. That is the reason for the planting of the flamboyant trees and whitewashing at the bottom of it,” she revealed.
Joyce would like to see a recreational facility for the youths in her community as well as a ground. There is a beautiful beach where the youngsters play in the afternoon.
At the beach, different groups of children gathered playing games of cricket while adults looked on. Others could be seen walking, riding, even driving along the beach. Nearby between dead tree stumps and an ancient tree, a man and his three dogs played fetch, while in another section, some men painted a boat. The laid-back lifestyle seen endorsed what Cullen residents said: life in the country is sweeter by far.