A parody of Beterverwagting
July 11, 2004
To some, the name ‘Beterverwagting’ signals just another troubled village on the eastern corridor of coastal Guyana but to Mrs. Susan Benjamin the village is not only home. It also holds a canister of treasured memories.
Susan did not grow up there but has been living there for the past 33 years. She is the ninth of 13 children including eight brothers and five sisters.
“I have so many memories as a country girl growing up like any other little girl. I can remember the various schools I attended and the church that we frequented,” she says.
Susan remarked that she was not the type to go out partying since her mother was a ‘strict churchgoer’. That did not prevent her from having fun though.
“Oh my mother was an entertainer and one of her hobbies was facing the fireside. She loved cooking and our home was never out of visitors and friends, among them my brother’s workmates.”
Susan’s brother was a former Minister of Foreign Affairs and later Guyana’s Ambassador to Cuba.
With an intense gaze as if bypassing a repulsive thought that bellowed sadness, Susan continued, “After my mother’s death I recalled some moments growing up with an Aunt Keturah Jones. We called her ‘Kate’.
“She was an expert at telling stories. Stories that haunted and scared us out of sleep. I will never forget that night when we were moving from one house to another. Aunt Kate came over,” Susan paused with a spark in her eyes.
That night the children’s Aunt came over and did one of her ‘jumbie performances’ complete with intonation and gesticulation.
“We were scared of those chilling and gruesome stories she told us. The night was dark and Aunt Kate wore a white, gathered waist dress and with every move she made this dress would sway from side to side then it will open like an umbrella then a twist and a twirl.”
Susan told of that night, after Aunt Kate left the house in fear and terror, one of her brothers had a terrible nightmare. “My elder brother was studying late that night for his exams. He was seated on the steps, which were on the inside of the house with a lamp on the stair post.
Another brother was having a nightmare and to add to it he came out of his bed, saw the lamp in the darkness and grabbed my big brother. He was screaming by then, ‘Jumbie holing de lamp, jumbie holing de lamp.’
“Both of them, and the lamp, fell head first down the stairs.” Susan’s father is a born ‘Baronian’ and she was always curious to find out more about the little village.
The village, she learnt, was called ‘Baron’ which some interpreted to mean “Little garden of bitter weeds”. She spoke of a man who lifted a bag of flour with his teeth, thieves who told you that they were coming to steal from you; a man called ‘Yank’ who was permitted to stand on the roadway and pray with his eyes open, staring up to the sun.
In those days it was fun. There was the Afro hairstyle and everything that made BV the little country village.
Susan said that the most unfortunate experience she had about the village still disturbs her to this day. Once there was a dead in the village there would be seven deaths after that, her father had told her.
She claimed she did not believe her father and set out to count for herself. Her research proved astounding.
“I saw it for myself when one of my relatives died. There were exactly seven deaths after that,” she recounted.
Then there was a Baronian woman who reminded Susan of Lord Nelson who sang a calypso about a man who said to show him a man coming around a corner and he could make a suit to measure but his opponent said just show him the corner and he would make a suit to measure.
This woman, Susan remembered, was so inquisitive that she could know your whole life history if you simply passed by her house.
This can explain why some villagers earned themselves nicknames such as ‘Satellite Dish’, ‘Typewriter mouth’ and ‘Peter Palaver’.
Speaking of which, the village Beterverwagting is known for its affinity with nicknames. Susan told me about persons called ‘Jumbie Bird’, ‘Koker Monkey’, ‘Quarter pound provision’, ‘Dah-boo-lick-a-dholl’ and ‘Fireside Rat’. She said there was one such Baronian who had so many nicknames that when provoked he would cause uproarious laughter.
Susan, who has qualified as a Baronian, told us about wedding seasons in the village. Queh, Queh night was presided over by a special chairman called ‘Cow’ from Annandale.
Songs like ‘Sancho lick he lover pun de dam’, ‘Satira Gal’, and others were accompanied by loud clapping.
As the bride and groom left the place of reception they were graced with the singing of ‘Ah, Nora darling nah wake me fore day morning’.
The ‘Conga’ wakes, she said, were categorised by the liberal partaking of spirits and kept you awake until fore-day morning. Right there in Baron too there were three classes of women, ‘Jessimingo’, ‘Fulimingo’ and ‘Bombastic’.
Though it is a little garden with bitter weeds, Susan says that you can always find the sweetness in it.
Little boys those days spoke of the ‘trench policewoman’ who would pass by the trench and pick up clothing that belonged to those who went swimming in the trenches. They would have to ensure that their clothes were well hidden or it would be lodged at the station.
The village with all its reputation still holds a great history. It is one of the largest villages found on the East Coast Demerara. According to Susan, the name Beterverwagting is among the many names the colony inherited from the Dutch. It means “Better Expectation”, which should be a welcome relief to this ‘Little garden of bitter weeds’.
The name Baron, Susan divulged, was given to the village because it was bought from Baron Von Gronigen - a Dutch colonial master.
The village is about 408 acres in area, and is situated about nine miles from Georgetown. It is bounded to the north by the Atlantic Ocean, to the South by the conservancy dam, on the East by Mon Repos and on the West by Plantation La Bonne Intention. “The village existed during the days of slavery. After emancipation in 1834 the slaves in that area decided to acquire the land so they purchased it from Baron Von Gronigen. The slaves all pooled their meager pittances and this was given to a man who stored it in a hole at the bottom of a tamarind tree.
“The money accumulated amounted to a little over $50,000 and in 1839 the land was bought,” Susan recalled.
A monument was later established in Beterverwagting in 1996. The BV/Triumph Development Association was founded in 1994 and was later renamed BV/Triumph Emancipation Movement.
The movement launched its first Emancipation Celebration in 2000 with a candle light parade, showing off Rising Star Majorette through the streets and the Guyana Police Band in tow. This cultural event has since been taking place annually on Emancipation Eve followed by other activities on Emancipation Day.
Susan says, “I would never trade my little garden for the world. Probably that’s why it’s better fuh walk in but bad fuh walk out.”