THIS weekend, Victoria village observed its 180th anniversary as an organised community. The significance of the anniversary should not be lost on the rest of Guyana. As is well known, Victoria was the first village set up by the formerly enslaved Africans who only the year before had walked off the dreaded plantations as free people. In a historic leap, they went from bondage to pioneers of the greatest restorative movement in the so-called New World. The 18 decades since the birth of Victoria spans the life of modern Guyana as we know it.
As we celebrate with the people of Victoria their special moment, it is worth reflecting on the meaning of the movement that was spawned by their fore parents. The Village Movement was an active blow for humanity. Here were people whose humanity was stifled and officially denied for centuries, looking the world in its face and proclaiming their worth not by slogans, but by putting their minds and bodies to building free spaces. The village was conceived as a free space where the sons and daughters of chattel slavery could live as full human beings.
Adolfo Ledo Nass
The Village Movement led by Victoria, therefore, humanised the formerly Wild Coast where the trade in bodies as beasts of burden was the basis of the political economy of that time. These victims of captivity saved their meagre monies earned during that misnamed period of “Apprenticeship” between 1834 and 1838 and bought lands from their tormentors and turned them into free spaces. They did that without the benefit of university degrees. What they had was something which no university degree could buy—a humanist freedom instinct
That’s why the village also meant freedom. With freedom on their minds, the Victorians and the other pioneers turned their real estate into livable spaces. They created religious and educational institutions as symbols of freedom. Denied education on the plantation, they nevertheless understood the linkage between formal and informal learning and freedom. They also understood the linkage between education and spirituality. That is why they constructed their schools next to their churches—linking the intellectual with the spiritual. They then created their political economy. With the genius engendered in the belly of bondage and resistance to bondage, they allocated lands for economic activity. Man and woman shall not live only by ideals, but by the sweat of thy brow. For two centuries and more their labour was exploited for the enrichment of others, but now the means of production shall be put to work for their own enrichment. What we now know as Guyana’s modern economy has its roots in the genius of Victorians and the village pioneers of the most formidable movement spawned by Guyanese
And the Village Councils were meant to be institutions of self-governance—democratic self-governance. As we look back 18 decades, we must take comfort that our fore parents were people with vision for the future. They knew self-governance was an important tool of freedom—there could be no freedom without the right to determine the rules by which the citizens live
The village was also an affirmation of identity—what identifies the survivors of enslavement from their enslavers. There is something unique about being a Victorian or Buxtonian or a native of Belladrum that cannot and should not be erased from the consciousness. Those who exist outside of that experience will always be bereft of that consciousness. A Victorian is the product of that village experience that is unique in its history and evolution
Today, Guyana must not only remember the past, but we must honour it in the most active and concrete manner. We cannot be happy with the state of our villages. As we embark on a new phase of the freedom envisaged by the villagers in 1839, there must be a desire to renew the villages in ways that free them from institutional crisis. Let us take a leaf from the book of the courageous Victorians and think about the collective village and not the individual villager. The ancestors are watching as we mingle with the Victorians on their special day. In the end, it is about what the human spirit can do