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Village life in days of yore – Part 1

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by Oswald Fereira Tue, Jul 17. 2012

In this series, I will relate the relationships of village life in SVG as I experienced it growing up as a child in Park Hill. We were largely an agricultural society and village life therefore revolved around agriculture, each crop creating its own set of social and cultural relationships.{{more}}

I remember once hearing someone say that there can be no culture without Agriculture. We lived that phrase in our villages because Vincentian villages had a great part of their culture and societal relationships rooted in the agricultural practices of the day. While Kingstown and Georgetown had their commerce and the Leeward coast and the Grenadines had fishing, the villages on the Windward side of the island had only agriculture.

Most of our villagers were small farmers or they were labourers who worked on the nearby estates or with the small farmers in the villages. There were the large estates such as Colonarie, Gorse, Mt William, Grand Sable, Belle Vue, and Union. However, we were also lucky that through the Land Settlement schemes, the estates of Park Hill, South Rivers and Three Rivers were divided into small parcels and many of our villagers had purchased land and became peasant proprietors. Even if they worked off the land, they still had a small farm as the backbone of their home economy and subsistence. Even if they planted arrowroot, or sugarcane, a large part of their land holding was devoted to growing a multiplicity of crops that provided food for their families as well as income for the household.

A farmer would typically plant say a quarter acre in sweet potatoes. That same quarter acre would be over planted with bank peas and corn so that a pea and corn crop would be reaped before the sweet potatoes were ready to be harvested. Some of the corn would be allowed to dry and ground into corn meal, some sold and some left for home use. However, it was usual to have a corn boil on a moonlight night when other villagers would pass by to feast on boiled corn and the children will play ring games. In the days before radio and television, this was the way the village entertained itself and villagers socialized. Once the potato was harvested, the same quarter acre might be planted with cassava, which when harvested would be eaten or turned into farine to be sold and some kept for the home table. As the cassava crop matured, that same sweet potato field would yield a ratoon crop for the home, often with enough potatoes to do a ducana boil so that the moonlight festivities could go on again. I do have fond memories of wrapping the ducana mix in plantain leaves and tying them with string from the plantain tree and boiling them on a wood fire in a large tin pan. Pumpkin seeds would also be interpolated with the cassava, providing yet another crop for sale and for home consumption. As the cassava grew upwards, the pumpkin spread on the ground, no space was wasted.

A farmer’s plot would be a veritable cornucopia of crops. He would have breadfruit and breadnut trees, cocoa and coffee trees, nutmeg, oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, coconuts, perhaps a barfleau tree, so that pillows and bed mattresses could be stuffed, and other trees would be encouraged on the hillside or outer edges to provide firewood. He may even have a Mahogany or Trinidad Cedar that could be sawn for lumber for furniture. Pigeon peas would be planted around the perimeter to provide food and to have dried peas stored for consumption. There were always the staples of dasheens, eddoes, tannias and yams.

When wood was chopped and burnt in a coal pit, once the charcoal was harvested the coal pit was planted in cabbages and egg plant. There would be a chive bed and thyme which, once harvested, would be sold in the villages in small bundles. It was a constant cycling and recycling. The family would have a pig or two, some goats and sheep and a cow perhaps, all raised on the plot of land. And there was the ubiquitous donkey, to bring the produce from the farm to the home.

The family plot was often away from the village; so, while the village home was the centre of family life, much of the family plot was the centre of the economic activity of the family. We children would all help out with the goats and pigs, with picking peas and corn, digging yams and sweet potato, or fetching water from the nearby river or spring. Saturdays were generally spent at the plot and we were rewarded with a delicious meal. There is nothing tastier than fresh ingredients straight from the farm, made into callaloo soup or a coconut boileen, and eaten straight from a calabash!

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