GUYANA UNDER SIEGE
Pepper Plant in Victoria
|by Sunn Lyvan|
Mr. Allan Major was born on February 13, 63 years ago, in Victoria, on the East Coast Demerara, and he proudly swears: “I wouldn’t change my village for the world!”
This is the village in which he saw his mother establish a fair-size coconut-oil business that eventually became the base of his own economic advancement in the name of Major’s condiments. Major has had a past of struggle, upheavals, sacrifice and social readjustments. It has also been one of much hard work and financial gratification. But that’s running the story ahead…(should be ‘getting ahead of the story….’)
In the early 60’s, Allan Major was a tally clerk at Sandbach Parker. From here, he seized the opportunity of filling a vacancy which existed at J.P. Santos and Company Limited as a porter/mechanic/refrigeration technician. He was working in this capacity when hate overflowed unto the streets of the then British Guiana in the form of the race riots and the now infamous `Black Friday’ of 1963. He was a daily commuter from Victoria to Georgetown. On one occasion, he was attacked by a gang of Indo-Guyanese armed with axe-handles, chains, cutlasses, and huge pieces of wood.
“I was just coming through Success, and there they were before me. They were on both sides of the street. Maybe they were just surprised at my presence there or maybe they had expected me to dismount and beg. I did no such thing. Instead, I just gripped the handles of my bicycle more firmly and powered my way through… I can’t say if their position on both sides of the street is what saved me that day, but I scraped through with just one lash on my shoulder from the person who was wielding the chain. I felt no pain at the time, just the adrenaline pumping through my veins. It was a close shave. The situation was tense then, and I never forgot the experience,” he told the Sunday Chronicle.
In fact, so indelibly was the situation etched upon his mind that he immediately resigned his position at J.P. Santos. He had concluded that it was not safe to travel along the Public Road to Georgetown at that time.He thought about becoming self-employed, establishing his own business right in Victoria, which would save him from having to journey into the City for financial reasons. So he turned to livestock rearing. He and his mother decided to focus their energies, wit too, on the coconut oil business which she had established.
He explained: “You see, the by-product of the coconut-oil was also feed for the animals. Besides, it was decided that I could do an expanded business, in that I could now start buying coconuts all along the upper reaches of the East Coast of Demerara. To complement the two aspects of our business now, I was boiling enough copra to give me exactly one drum of coconut oil per boil per day. That is 24 gallons. It was grueling work and the constant heat had me always with a cold. Eventually, for health reasons, I was forced to abandon the twin ventures.” By this time, Guyana was back to normal and Major now brought a van and ventured out into the then lucrative markets of `trading’.
He began trading earnestly in feeds and there were no boundaries now. He was prepared to sell to the highest bidder, anywhere, any time. Things were going apace when friends encouraged him to take his trade to the booming MacKenzie communities. He turned to pig rearing, again, supplying pork in wholesale and retail quantities. This time, he smiles pensively: “You know, I was getting almost as big as Lovell, who was the big sahib then.” In Wismar, he opened a butcher-shop but this was eventually closed down by the Council after some hitches were found in his terms of contract.
With his knack for turning adversity to his benefit, Major then bought a car, moving into the business of ferrying human cargo. He joined the many good drivers playing the newly opened Linden/Soesdyke Highway. You win some… you lose some. This is the motto of businesses everywhere. Major has won some good sets. And he has lost some bad ones. He later moved back to Victoria, and this time, he decided to establish a casareep business, introducing the finished product to some six entities with six different labels. Eventually, a choice was made and Major’s Condiments was on its way. This was in 1972. It has been a struggle all along the way, but there has also been lots of gratification because from a single product-manufacturing establishment in 1972, Major’s has grown into a six-product business, with an eye still on further additions.
The marketed labels read: Cassava Casareep, Green Seasoning, Cake Colouring, White Vinegar, Hot Sauce and Mango Achar. The firm also sells Candied Carambola, ideal for traditional black cake. This is marketed in ½-pound containers specifically for those outlets whose specialties are cake and ice cream. The business is labour intensive. Manufacturing is done on a daily basis and goods find their way to the local markets by a truck which plies many routes from Victoria. The salesman is Mr. Malcolm DeFreitas who is extremely proficient and meticulous at his trade.
“Every manufacturer worth his salt eventually eyes the possibility of export marketing,” Mr. Major pointed out, adding, “and we have managed to attract a few interested clients from overseas. But packaging in Guyana is very substandard in relation to the other CARICOM countries. This is one of the areas Guyana has to catch up with quickly or always see our manufacturers turn to Trinidad for printing of labels or designing, which is of such importance if the product is to have a fair chance of demanding a market share.
“Another problem which doesn’t do too well in affording manufacturers a fair break, especially with the advent of globalisation at out doorstep, is the consumption tax which imposes a 30 per cent hindrance to financial development. It is rough getting by financially. “All in all, I think I made a great contribution to my village - one I’ll always be eternally grateful to - by establishing business here. What I’ve also done is to provide employment for those persons who are with me. I hope they last the full course. It’s good getting older and seeing a few dedicated faces still around.
“The land upon which our factory is standing today, is the same land upon which my Mom founded her coconut oil business years ago. We’ve been here since 1948. Since I’ve got into condiments, I have had to put in a lot of hard work maintaining the high standard our label demands and it is rewarding when people approach you in the streets and compliment you on the standard of something they’ve bought which bears the brand. We intend to get better… add more products and so satisfy a wider cross-section of our population. Given a fair break by the tax boys, we feel certain we will make it into the next century, in one piece.”
|[This success story, titled, “ I wouldn’t change my village for the World,” was published in the Chronicle on 10/21/2001. All credits to the Chronicle.] Reprinted from|
© 2001 Guyanaundersiege.com