Other articles from the Chronicle Christmas Annual 1966
From the Chronicle Christmas Annual 1966 -
GUYANA’S HISTORICAL TIES WITH THE WEST INDIES
By Vere T. Daly
Now that the question of Federation is once again agitating the minds of West Indians and Guyanese, and Guyana is taking the lead, it should be a useful exercise to examine the historical ties which bind us; for unless there is a common bond of cultural and economic ideals to unite us, the venture will again fail.
The first and strongest of the many common bonds which should unite us is the fact that both the West Indies and Guyana were singled out for European exploitation after their discovery. The accidents of history dictated that some were to be exploited by Spain, some by England, some by France, some by Holland, and some by a combination of two, three, or sometimes four European nations; but they were all ruthlessly colonized and made to serve the economic ends of metropolitan Europe.
The discovery of gold in Mexico and Peru had given the initial encouragement to Europeans to exploit the New World; followed the cultivation of tobacco crops; then when the cultivation of this crop became uneconomic on account of the competition from Virginia, the cultivation of sugar cane began.
It is perhaps not as well known as it should be that the "sugar revolution" which swept the West Indies from about the middle of the seventeenth century also made a tremendous impact on the history of Guyana. Tobacco-
We have been taught quite a lot about the exploits of Drake and Hawkins, yet their achievements were as nothing compared with Piet Heyn, a Dutch captain sailing for the West India Company, who captured a whole Spanish treasure fleet. For many years after this achievement Essequibo was almost completely abandoned, and it was only the interest of the Zeeland Chamber of the Company which saved it from extinction.
But Essequibo came to life with the turn over from tobacco to sugar-
Of the British West Indian islands at this time Barbados profited most from this change to sugar-
In the French island of Martinique, Dutch immigrants from Brazil tried to start sugar plantations, and failed. Perhaps political considerations were at the bottom of this failure, for they were more successful in Guadeloupe where they pursued the same pl,an they had pursued in the British islands.
The earliest settlements made on the Pomeroon struggled on without official recognition until the three towns of Middleburg, Vlissengen and Vere made a contract with the Zeeland Chamber to establish a settlement on the Essequibo Coast. A very ambitious plan was made, and one Cornelis Goliat was sent to lay out a colony. According to the plan the colony was to be called Nova Zeelandia and its capital New Middleburg; while Huis ter Hooge -
These plans were never fully realized; but Nova Zeelandia was built, and the colony devoted all its energies to sugar-
A Spanish manuscript, without date, but obviously referable to this period, also testifies to the existence and flourishing condition of this colony: "On the River Paumaron (Pomeroon) is the settlement of New Zeelandia, which is of considerable size, and rich in produce, and the best trading establishment which they (the Dutch) have on the whole coast; consequently they guard it very carefully, for it is very near the River Orinoco, where your Majesty’s garrison of Guyana is placed."
By 1660 the British, the French and the Dutch had colonized most of the smaller and middle-
The West Indian planters, who were all Europeans, reaped huge profits -
But perhaps the strongest ties that bind the West Indies and Guyana together are those of common blood and common suffering.
Had tobacco remained the staple crop of the West Indies and Guyana there might have been no need to import African slaves to this part of the world, for a few white indentured servants seemed to have been quite sufficient to meet the labour requirements for that crop. But sugar required a whole army of workers to clear the fields, plant the cane-
The need for additional labour was far more than Europe could have supplied, and additional labourers had to be obtained from somewhere, even if it was from the moon. But Africa was nearer than the moon, and as the Portuguese had already showed the way by using African labour in Portugal itself, it was easy for other Europeans to follow their example.
With the emancipation a new set of slaves, called indentured labourers, were imported into the country. They were the East Indians, and they inherited the awful conditions under which the slaves lived. They were brought mainly to Trinidad and Guyana, the two colonies which, in the days before the extensive use of manures, possessed the richest soils.
Both African slaves and indentured East Indian labourers have suffered physically, spiritually and economically at the hands of Europeans. Time and again West Indians and Guyanese have been told to forget this suffering. This is bad advice from many points of view.
In the first place, if we are ever to understand why our countries are so poor, why we are so much dependent on "foreign aid", why there is so much colour complex in our society, whey we are so much divided -
Then there is this question of economic exploitation. These colonies existed for the benefit of the metropolitan country and not for the benefit of our forefathers who laboured in the fields to enrich the white planters. If we should ever forget this, then we are in danger of being off-
It is against this historical background that we must view the proposed Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA) which will doubtless come into being next year (1967). Common exploitation and common suffering should be sufficient to encourage all the other islands to join.
In my book, "a Short History of the Guyanese People," I wrote as follows, and the advice I gave exclusively to Guyanese could well be taken to heart by West Indians:
In times past we have had many economic squeezes. When Britain lowered her duties to admit slave-