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The Past, the Present, the Future: A captain of a sustainable trajectory

The Past, the Present, the Future:  A captain of a sustainable trajectory


by Vonnie Roudette Fri, Apr 13. 2012

On Saturday, March 31, I once again had the great pleasure of escorting Mr Lawrence ‘Captain’ Guy to NBC radio as our guest on ‘The Art Room’ program. His breadth of knowledge and expansive repertoire of stories, reflect 91 years of life experience, yet Mr Guy is still youthfully active in his garden, teaching youngsters and engaging creative ideas in culinary arts. His exuberant character aside, this creative man’s exceptional value lies within the context of national development.{{more}}

Among many other areas of expertise, Mr Guy commands detailed visual and technical recollection of his experience with sustainable agricultural practices; intercropping, crop rotation, natural (green) manures, alternative energy systems and sustainable land use. One of the few farmers of his time who shunned the use of chemical fertilisers and herbicides, Mr Guy has lived a life of creative problem solving. He has kept abreast of all the developments in farming in SVG. A caller to the program wisely suggested that the Ministry of Agriculture could make practical use of his vast knowledge. In response to what is often said of farming without artificial fertilisers as being “OK for small scale gardening, but not for export,” he said, “Well, there is no larger scale farming than [what took place on] on the estates!”

Adding yet another string to his bow, Mr Guy recently co-facilitated an elective course for Community College’s Fine Art, Design and Cultural Communications’ Associate Degree program. The course entitled ‘Island Heritage and the Environment: Community Enrichment through Cultural Practice’, focuses on creative solutions to environmental challenges within the context of local cultural reclamation. The course was conducted on his organic farmstead where students learned about cultivation and processing of indigenous root crops, herbs and spices, local culinary arts and recorded his oral stories whilst discovering their rich heritage of resourcefulness and creativity. Fascinated by the accounts of community culture that their grandparents enjoyed, the students discovered that ‘community practice’ literally translates into ‘enjoyment of working and learning together’. Their discoveries will be disseminated to the wider community through a publication of Mr Guy’s recipes and short stories and a community documentary film about their interactions with him.

Intergenerational exchange presents a model of experiential learning that holds meaning and purpose for future generations. Youths enthusiastically documenting their history, using modern technology, provide a liberating alternative to one written and researched elsewhere. By applying what they have learned in their own communities, Mr. Guy’s knowledge is preserved and passed on to its rightful owners to be developed and regenerated in new forms.

Captain Guy’s farming experience spans over 70 years; add to that the knowledge handed down from his father and grandmother, he embodies in excess of 100 years of locally accumulated knowledge. He remembers the lucrative export trade when carrots, ginger, yams, plantain, tannias, eddoes, tomatoes, peas and livestock were shipped in large quantities to other islands. This production had to meet constraints of time (the farmers also worked on the estates, thus only had one day per week to tend their own cultivation) and space (they were relegated to small provision plots in the mountain). Yet copious amounts were produced that saturated the domestic market and a surplus shipped all over the region. Mr. Guy’s intricate knowledge of how this was achieved would provide practical answers to the regeneration of the agricultural sector, the remnants of which is now heavily dependent on imported inputs. Indigenous knowledge provides new possibilities for food security/environmental challenges.

Our inculcation with instructions prescribed from second hand sources spans all subject areas, from our own history to the methodologies we use in agriculture, education, aesthetics and cultural forms, has ensured we maintain an unforgiving colonial stance towards local practices and ingenuity. The energy we direct towards implementing ideas from outside, has taken our focus away from looking within. In understanding where we are, what we have and what we can create (cultural reclamation), elders such as Captain Guy light up the path.

He is a living encyclopaedia who embodies a golden opportunity for us to open a door of alternatives that humbly wait in our own back yard. Mr Guy’s personal story of set backs, is really a fight of indigenousness against dominant colonial attitudes that controlled the masses by destruction of their history and a living culture. Ignored by his own community, exploited by others for personal gain, it is now time his knowledge be utilised for the greater good. He has retained for us a living culture based on direct experience.

As we compulsively gaze off our shores, (a minority in search for whence we came, but the vast majority for where we are going), not many are looking within to sense our collective belonging and a host of creative solutions to our socio-economic challenges.

Because our Elders toiled during the end of the colonial period, we confuse their community culture with colonialism. My research through interacting with villagers over the past 20 years, reveals that numerous cultural forms evolved independently among rural people, such as the trafficking market referred to above. Undoubtedly, many are more comfortable with a second hand culture: this may have been the stance of the students- until they met Mr. Guy and discovered a true identity of creative heritage.

Many will find it hard to accept that the accumulated experience of an elderly man of the soil holds the key to a viable practical model of agricultural development. But these are extraordinary times demanding that we honour the truths of direct experience encountered on our island pathways, where youthful elders and wise youngsters can join to hold hands, combine their energies and tread their community story together: a true story of pride and productivity.

Mr. Lawrence Guy will participate in NBC radio’s ‘The Art Room’ program on April 14 at 2:00 p.m., to discuss ‘a food secure future in SVG.’