Has Leonora Lost its Glamour?
by M. Z. Ali Page 2 of  2



                                 [Once] Leonora estate            
s we continue on our journey to Leonora today, it might be useful to give more insights into the population make-up. This is important because to know Leonora is to know the people and ‘from whence they came.’ Of course, with the passage of time the population mix of Leonora has changed considerably from what could be termed the perfect rainbow mix to just one race today.
In 1821 there were 395 slaves on the sugar plantation. This number rose to 430 in 1832. After the slaves, came the indentured and non-indentured immigrants from Calcutta, Madras, China, Africa and Madeira. The indentured immigrants were the East Indians and Chinese, who at that time numbered about 717. The non-indentured immigrants from Calcutta, Madras, China, Africa and Madeira amounted to 450. This was the population at that time that formed the core of the labour force, with the exception of the Chinese who took to business.

These were the days when the entire plantation was a single unit, for everyone lived as one big family. But as time passed, everyone became the creature of the age in which he lived, and the population, that beautiful mix that was beyond reproach, gradually drifted to other neighbouring districts and left the area which has since become a predominantly Indo-Guyanese one.

The labour force at the factory, however, remained multi-racial until its closure. Since the estate’s closure in 1986, most of the factory workers have gained employment at Uitvlugt estate and elsewhere, while the field workers were retained to continue with the harvesting of sugar cane and other fieldwork. In the 1940’s and 1950’s, Leonora Estate was a classic example of unity in diversity, especially in the sugar factory and other key areas of operation including the garage (workshop), the pure water supply system, the electrical and the maintenance sections among others.

Indeed, it might be fair to point out that it was during those two decades that the people of Leonora propelled themselves to the top of the local map with their prowess in various sport events, politics and their ingenuity in keeping all sections of the estate’s operations functioning at full capacity. The people were so glued to the estate and their tasks, that several initiatives to have them divorced from the job met with equal resentment, and only death could have parted them from their “empire.”

Yes, this was the mettle from which the people were made. This was their demonstration of love and pride for their job that meant everything to them. The sugar estate was their final bastion. These were the people, who, from their homes could tell whether something was going wrong at the factory only by hearing the fluctuating sounds of the machines instead of the “soothing rhythm” they were so accustomed hearing day and night

These were the men, among whom were Messrs. Nain Singh, Karmalie, Merchant, Bisnauth, Beharry, Leander and Hyman. There were also Parker and the other sea punt men who braved the Atlantic transporting sugar from Leonora to Georgetown by sea in wooden punts, driven only by sail, until they became captains of the motor driven barges which later replaced the wooden punts, and many, many others whose toil and sweat were reflected in the millions of tons of sugar that were manufactured during their time on the estate.

I will be amiss if I do not recognize the contribution made by other sections of the work force, both factory and field and others. They also played important roles, for in the manufacture of sugar, each operation complements the other. Each had a common goal foisted upon them by the white man’s ego, and with servile alacrity, they worked towards realizing that goal.

Children, especially boys, started working at a very tender age in order to help improve the economic situation of their parents. They took to what was called the “creole gang,” which was a gang of mainly boys, who fetched earth for building ‘stop offs,’ bail cane punts and those who served as ‘battu boys’ to white overseers and managers. The ‘batu boys’ were like male servants to their bosses, and their job entailed cleaning boots, running errands, groom the mules for their bosses and lead and follow the mules as the case may be, while the bosses ride.

The adult labour force in the fields were divided into gangs, of which there were many including the shovel gang, weeding gang, cane cutting gang and jobbing gang, each headed by a ‘driver’ (local supervisor). Apart from the cane cutters, these categories of field workers worked from 6 am to 5 pm daily, with the most highly paid female worker receiving about $1.50 per week.

Strikes were prohibited, and agitators were restricted from crossing estate boundary. In addition no one was allowed to be absent from duty, unless he or she was sick in hospital or was in prison. All functions were held on Sundays which were usually non working days. As times went by, conditions both in the fields and the logies progressively worsened and field workers had to drink impure water from the middle walk (canals) in the backdam. In order to prevent epidemics, workers frequented the hospital at weekends to swallow their dose of cascara and salts, a mixture that was always plentiful at the hospital.

So the people toiled for hours unending, only to come home to their logies, and latrines that were built across trenches for both men and women. There was no decency in logie life, but for those people survival was very important, for they knew that no one has ever deceived the whole world, nor has the whole world ever deceived any one. They suffered silently, they cried silently and they endured silently, but with cautious optimism, they stuck to their routine day in and day out. The swelling of the logie population was beginning to pose a serious problem for the estate’s authorities, and conditions were getting worse and logie life was, with each passing day becoming a nightmare. Trade union and political leaders, including late President, Dr. Cheddi Jagan soon took up the workers’ fight, and together with local leaders, the struggle had begun in earnest.

By this time, several changes had taken place, and workers had won the right to strike for better wages and conditions of work or for any grievance they may encounter while working. As the struggle for better working and living conditions intensified, so was the struggle for trade union recognition, that is, a union of the workers’ choice. But the struggles over the years were not without their toll.

Indeed it was during the struggle for trade union recognition, that Kowsilla (Alice) was ran over and killed by an estate tractor in March of 1964. She was among scores of other stalwarts engaged in a squatting exercise by the factory bridge for recognition of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU) when she was murdered. Others, mainly women, jumped into the middle walk and elsewhere to avoid being driven over by the tractor. Many sustained injuries, but the death and injuries were not in vain, for today the majority of sugar workers are represented by the GAWU., the union of their choice.

As living conditions in the logies became increasingly unacceptable, strong representations were made to the authorities, and after some time, the first housing scheme was established at Seafield in the 1950’s and the workers were granted loans from the Sugar Industry Labour Welfare Fund (SILWF), and for the first time the dismantling of the logies started at Leonora. Housing schemes were also established at Para Field and Pasture, all in Leonora, and also in neighbouring Stewartville to accommodate some of the logie people from Leonora. While most of the older people who have built these houses have already died, the houses are now taken over by their children and in some cases their grand children.

For them, it is just getting it on the “silver platter.” But they are proud to be the offsprings of those fighters who gave their entire lives to satisify the while man’s desires. Has Leonora lost its Glamour? For me it is now GOLDEN MEMORIES AND SILVER TEARS.       

[Reproduced herein from Stabroek News, 9/23/2001.]       
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