Uitvlugt- the `stumbler’ By Chamanlall Naipaul
Guyana Chronicle
March 31, 2002

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THE village of Uitvlugt on the West Coast Demerara, is located 12 miles (about 19 km) from Vreed-en-Hoop overlooking the Atlantic to the north and bordered by the sugar cane fields of the Uitvlugt/Leonora Estate to the south. It is sandwiched between villages Stewartville on the east and Zeeburg on the west.

The spelling and pronunciation of Uitvlugt has been a source of great discomfort and pain to many, even its own villagers. Many have admitted that it was one of the “stumblers” in class during their school days. So it was not uncommon to hear pronunciations like ``high fluk’ `I fluk’ and sometimes one that is unprintable! Its correct pronunciation is `I-flut.’

This `discomfort and pain’ was `inflicted’ by a Dutch planter, Ignatius Charles Bourda Uitvlugt, after whom the village was named. During the Dutch colonial period, he was the original owner of what was then a plantation.

Many of the older folks also used to refer to the village as `bodah’, which was really meant to be Bourda: they could not have pronounced it.

The historical evolution of Uitvlugt as a plantation is one originally linked with `king sugar’, which was what sugar was referred to in the old days because of its economic and strategic importance.

And so the village’s history is replete with tales of the logies and back-breaking work in the backdams for meagre wages. One will also hear of the deplorable social and health conditions that were common to all sugar estates.

However, after the recommendations of the Venn Commission established to investigate living conditions on the estates, life at Uitvlugt saw dramatic improvements.

The Venn Commission recommended that a fund - which became the Sugar Industry Labour Welfare Fund (SILWF) - be set up to provide decent housing and living conditions and recreational facilities for sugar workers among other proposals.

Workers at Uitvlugt Estate were among the first to benefit from the recommendations of the Venn Commission. Three housing schemes were established in the early 1950s - Uitvlugt Pasture, Casbah and Ocean View - and, in the 1960s, De-Groote-en-Klyne. In more recent times, a new housing scheme was built under the housing assistance agreement between the Guyana and Venezuelan Governments.

In addition, the first community centre of its kind in the Caribbean was established in May 1957 and was a hive of sports and educational activities until the mid-1970s when the sugar industry was nationalised.

Ever since its establishment, the centre has produced an illustrious list of sportsmen at the club level, many had the potential to represent Guyana and perhaps the West Indies in cricket and other sports. However, because of poverty and the traditional dominance of Georgetown in sports, many never had the opportunity for upward mobility.

Unfortunately, the community centre was neglected and allowed to deteriorate into a deplorable condition, until the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GUYSUCO) stepped in and restored it in 1995.

The community centre is a key part of Uitvlugt’s history after leading cricket, table tennis, volley-ball, weight-lifting, and debating teams up to the 1960s and being graced by many cricketing and other sporting greats like Sir Clyde Walcott, Lance Gibbs, Joe Solomon and Roy Fredericks, among others. Also, the two leading table tennis players in the world, Cho-Lin-Chin and Bergman once played an exhibition match at the centre during the 1960s.

Uitvlugt now has one of the more formidable football teams in the country, and Guyana and West Indies batting great, Rohan Kanhai, is conducting coaching exercises for young cricketers under the auspices of GUYSUCO. Unfortunately, the volley-ball club which once produced two national players, the late Frank Carew and Fazal Hassan, has been dormant and so too have the other clubs except the cricket and football clubs.

The cricket ground, which is among the largest in the country in recent times has become the venue for international cricket, hosting.

The community centre, which began under the administration of the late Baljeet Ramdin, has made an important contribution to the social upliftment and welfare of the community.

Uitvlugt which is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious community has several places of worship including churches of various denominations, mandirs and mosques reflecting the diversity of the community.

In the 1960s, the village was sometimes referred to as the `town’ of the West Demerara because, in addition to the estate, community centre and businesses, it boasted a cinema which was owned by the late cinema magnate, Robert Sookraj. At that time, the cinema was the biggest and most popular medium of entertainment, and only a few villages had cinemas. Unfortunately, the riots of the 1960s resulted in the closure of the cinema.

The community centre also used to host one of the largest four-night fairs in the country, attracting leading musicians and entertainers. One of Guyana’s leading and famous orchestras `Tom Charles and the Syncopators’ used to perform at the dance which accompanied the fairs. It also hosted one of the biggest Gymkhanas, which featured many of the leading grass-track motorcyclists at that time. The old timers have fond memories of those days.

So Uitvlugt, which had a few hundred residents in its early beginnings with the sugar estate being the centre of all activities, has now developed into an industrious community. Today, it has a population of almost 6,000.

The dependence on the estate for employment and sustenance has reduced considerably, but it is still a major hub of activity. More people are now self-employed or employed in various professions elsewhere, a significant number in Georgetown.

Mrs. Etwarie Persaud, 92, the oldest villager and mother of six children - four boys and two girls - told the Chronicle that she actually gave birth to 12 children, but only six survived.

She grew up in Anna Catherina another village about three miles east of Uitvlugt. She got married on March 24, 1926, to her husband Pooran Persaud, who died in 1996 at the age of 91. She recalled that after marriage, she did not live permanently with her husband at the beginning, returning to her mother and husband back and forth for 11 months.

Both she and her late husband toiled on the sugar plantation for meagre incomes, her husband working from early morning until night for 40 cents a day. He did not see his children for days; many times, whilst working, he would look around to get a glimpse of them if by chance they were playing. The logies were not far away from where he worked.

She recalled with laughter how, on her first day in the backdam, she could not remember the path back home.

“Dem days bin a too much punishment. Christmas time when everybody a sport, me and me husband gah fuh cut wood in de backdam fuh cook wid. Snake and centipede full pun dem tree, but wah abbe go do, abbe nah gat nutten fuh cook wid,” Mrs. Persaud recollected painfully. “Me cut eight and nine bundle grass, and next day, meh deliva baby,” recalling how hard she worked even during advanced stages of pregnancy.

Speaking on her heavy responsibility, she said she had to take care of her mother-in-law, father-in-law and her mother, in addition to her husband and six children.

To supplement the meagre income of her husband, she planted a small plot of rice and reared cattle. She did this for all of 64 years. A few years ago, she sold the cattle.

She recalled sadly, that after decades of toil and struggle, the house that they had acquired was destroyed by fire during the political turbulence in the 1960s. But she said her faith in Kristen Bhagwan (Hindu reference to god) eventually gave her family another home.

She attributed her longevity to her sincere prayer to Kristen Bhagwan and contentment with life. She said all she has ever prayed for is good health and strength, never for “dhan doulat” (material wealth).

Wilfred Brandt, father of 18 children - nine boys and nine girls - and popularly known as `Uncle Freddie’, celebrated his 90th birthday two Sundays ago. He is a jovial and lively character, even at this age. Unfortunately, diabetes has taken its toll on him causing him to become blind for some years now.

He was born and grew up in Zeeburg, a nearby village west of Uitvlugt, but settled down in Uitvlugt after marrying in the 1940s. He worked in the sugar factory since boyhood, retiring as a factory overseer after serving the estate for three decades.

He has some fond memories of life on the sugar estate. He recalled one of his early encounters in the 1920s where he caused the term `pan boilers’ to be replaced with the more relevant `sugar boilers’. He said he asked one of his colleagues who operated the evaporators if it is the pan or the sugar that is boiled. The colleague replied that it was the sugar that was boiled. He then immediately told him “well then you are a sugar boiler”! The authorities readily agreed with Uncle Freddie, and the term `pan boiler’ was dropped.

After doing various jobs at the factory, he enjoyed continuous mobility because of his skill as a sugar boiler, so much so that it resulted in envy on the part of some of his colleagues. This nearly caused him his life. Uncle Freddie related that one night when he was going home, a group of persons tried to ambush him, and as he was getting away, they attacked him and threw a spear at him, which barely missed his face. He was eventually escorted home safely by a group of friends.

There were two other close shaves with death, he recalled. As a boy, he nearly drowned while frolicking in a trench with friends. He could not swim. One of the friends went under and held on tightly to him, but they were fortunately rescued. The other incident was when he was hit by a van whilst riding his bicycle. The bicycle was flung a good distance and everyone presumed Brandt had died. But shortly after, he got up, miraculously unscathed. He remarked that it seems it was his destiny to live a long life.

He credits his long life to many things. He stopped drinking alcohol and eating red meat many years ago, living on a simple diet. He also says that he has never had a `grudgeful’ or ill feeling for anyone.

Brandt told the Chronicle that because of his skill and experience as a sugar boiler, Bookers McConnell Bros., which owned the estate, sent him to work in Kenya from 1973-1975. He was subsequently asked to return to Kenya because of his impressive performance, but this was aborted. With a broad smile, he said “buddy, me wife hide me passport, she didn’t want me to go back.”

Seosarran `Buddy’ Singh, 80, is another veteran of Uitvlugt. He looks more like 60, is still sharp and alert in intellect and is physically active. He is very philosophical and committed to his religious beliefs. He still cycles his way around to the market and around the nearby villages.

“My longevity has to do with living a life of purity - physical, mental and spiritual. Purity in thoughts and deeds,” he told the Chronicle.

Singh cautioned: “Progress is measured by the proportion of how much you do for others. Live not only for your self, but for others as well.”

Singh possesses an enviable variety of knowledge, including law, philosophy, religion, and personnel management, which he made his career.

He received his early education at a private secondary school at Met-en-Meer-Zorg, Surrey High School the first such school on the West Coast Demerara.

He recalled with humour that once he was travelling to Georgetown to write an examination - the Mitchell scholarship - but the bus he was travelling in ran off the road. Consequently, he could not write the exam.

After completing his high school studies at the Progressive High School in Georgetown, he worked as a civil servant for two years before joining Bookers Sugar Estates as a junior book-keeper, and eventually rising to a position of manager in the personnel department at Uitvlugt Estate. He retired in that position in 1980.

At intervals, he worked with a lawyer, L.M. F Cabral, and should have proceeded to do law studies had it not been for financial constraints.

He was also enlisted in the Royal Air Force in 1942, but his parents would have none of that because of the war. He also in 1968 emerged on top of a competition on philosophy open to entrants worldwide that was sponsored by an organisation in India. Participants were required to present a paper on philosophy and the winner received a scholarship to study in India. Regrettably, he could not take up the scholarship.

Asked about living in Uitvlugt he said, “I like living in a rural environment, because there is a better relationship among people, who are simple-minded and straightforward.”

He, however, observed one drawback - the excessive use of alcohol in rural villages.