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Village life and sugar cane

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Fri, Aug 3. 2012

by Oswald Fereira
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Sugar was also once a major crop on St Vincent. It started with several small mills all over the island. A mill was often associated with an estate or group of estates and was often powered by a windmill, a few of which remain in various states of ruin on the island. By the time I was growing up, there was a central sugar mill and rum distillery at Mt Bentinck and Georgetown was a bustling centre, unlike its sleepy self of today.{{more}}

Like arrowroot, sugar was a once a year crop and harvest. The men would cut the canes and the ladies would tie them in bundles and take them on their heads to a central point, where they could be loaded on trucks for transport to the factory. I remember, as a school kid in the country, running behind a “cane truck”, trying to pull a cane out and after no success, the men on to the truck would often throw us a few canes, which we would break over our knees and share.

Like arrowroot, the sugar cane supported our sustainability. At harvest time the dried cane leaves would be picked and bundled and used for the thatch roofs of our homes, kitchens, donkey pens and watch houses. Unlike arrowroot, sugar cane was not planted every year, as once harvested, new shoots would come up from the roots to provide the following year’s crop and it would be many years before the fields were replanted. Sugar cane was more of an estate crop, but many small farmers had fields of sugar cane as well. The main issue with sugar cane was that it did not lend itself to grow with other crops, so it was not as useful to the small farmer as arrowroot was.

The many benefits of sugar cane accrued at the factory level in Georgetown, hence the strength of Georgetown’s economy of the past. Of course, sugar and rum would be refined from the molasses. Often, we would go to Mt Bentinck and get a tin of molasses. Children would enjoy licking the molasses syrup off their fingers. Molasses would often be watered down and fed to pigs. People would ask at the factory for some of the “low wine” and “high wine” and these would be used as rubbing alcohol when one was ill, much as we would use Limacol today.

Sugar cane was an important crop for the island, not only for the export of sugar and molasses, but also for the rum industry that it fostered. Who could forget the men at the village rum shop, playing dominoes and drinking their “Poor George” or their Petit Quart” of strong rum. Which resident of Georgetown would not recall the economic benefits of the sugar cane factory at Mt Bentinck and the hustle and bustle it created on the streets of Georgetown? But alas, sugar is no more and Georgetown is still only a ghost of its vibrant past, built on sugar cane.

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