Guyana Then And Now

Beryl Joseph

Original Link Note: I am copying the original text here rather than just linking as I fear the link may disappear.

By Jeff Trotman
Guyana Journal, August 2007

Through her dynamic personality, a trait that has been inherited by her children, Mrs. Beryl Joseph has become a household name amongst “Mackenzie people” at home and abroad. She is, indeed, an unsung heroine of Linden.

Born on 5 December 1918, Mrs. Joseph departed this life on 11 February 2007. She has gone to the Great Beyond at the ripe old age of 88, and even though we have missed the chance of giving her the flowers she deserved whilst she was on this mortal plain, we can still and must seize every opportunity of etching her name into immortality.

She belongs to the age of pioneers of a unique community that was forged sixty-five miles up the Demerara River; she represents our mothers to whom we, the children of “Mackstraat”, must forever pay homage! She represents a memory of the halcyon days that may never be retrieved in the annals of Guyana’s history.

Beryl Joseph arrived at Mackenzie on 30 January 1938 – a shy, skinny girl, just past her nineteenth birthday. She had traveled from Hope Town, West Coast Berbice, to join her husband with whom she had tied the nuptial knot, a few weeks earlier on 24 November 1937.

Little did she know, at that time, that she would forever be etched in the annals of the history and folklore of this riverine town, sixty five miles up the Demerara River. The maternal instinct of this simple country girl has impacted the lives of generations of children who have passed through Echols/Mackenzie High School to become politicians, achieve academic excellence and make worthwhile contributions in societies around the world.

Echols High School
She was a founder member of Echols High School which later became Mackenzie High School. She was among those who approached the managing director of the Demerara Bauxite Company, Mr. Vance Echols, to start a secondary school at Mackenzie. The others were Mr. William Grant, Mr. Sam Blackett, Mr. Cambridge and Mr. Carr.

According to her, the school was the brainchild of Mr. Cambridge whose children attended secondary school in Georgetown, and they were not satisfied with the treatment they received from relatives with whom they stayed. Mr. Cambridge felt that it would be less expensive and much more convenient to school his children where he lived and worked.

Naturally proud of the role she played in the establishment of the first secondary school in the remote bauxite community, Mrs. Joseph said, “I was the only person to go around, asking parents if they would send their children to a high school if we have a high school. Some people rejected it.” She said many parents were indecisive about having the secondary school because they did not have job security at the time. “Any how,” she recalled, “I went up to the manager and told him that we don’t have a building and we want to have a high school. He said that he was reluctant to have a high school because he don’t know if parents would agree. He said if I could get fifty names to present to him on 1 September 1946, he would loan us the building that was given to the clinic. “That building was given to the clinic in the war days. Nurse Wade was in charge there and she used to give vaccine to incoming and outgoing soldiers. “I presented 101 [signatures]. He decided to give us the school and the school opened on 1 September. It was a Sunday. And the children assembled on the Monday, and after I get this same boy that bring you here [Douglas “Bugs” Joseph] he born on 19 October, which was the next month.”

Known for her outspoken nature, Mrs. Joseph said: “Anyhow, I ain’t get nothing yet; they haven’t honored me yet – up to now. They haven’t done anything for me. Sometimes they would invite me to their Speech Night. They invited me year before the last to the Speech Night. It was my birthday and my son came up; I hadn’t seen him for years. So, I couldn’t go. They said they had some token for me but up to now I haven’t received it. So, I don’t know what it is. I’m still here hanging on.”

(This son, George Brent Joseph, called ‘Bat’ has served as a warrant officer in the Guyana Defense Force. He worked on the construction of the Melanie Damashana Housing Scheme. He also served in the Rupununi Uprising. He worked with the Devon and Dorset Regiment, the Queen’s Own Buff; the Royal Fusiliers and the Black Watch during the national civil disturbances in 1964 before joining the GDF and working his way up to a Class 1 Warrant Officer.)

Early days
When Mrs. Joseph arrived at Mackenzie, she joined her husband in one of the bachelor quarters. “I lived in Arvida Road, 300,” she disclosed. “It was a box house. And then in 1941, we moved over to 302, which was a four-room range. I lived there for twenty-three years – in front there – and I come in here (the Retrieve residence) in 1962. All my children born at the Mackenzie Hospital between Dr. Roza, Dr. Jardim time, and Dr. Cromwell and his wife – those times, right – and our matron was nurse Pearson, and then we had nurse Lambert. We had Pat Mitchell as dispenser, Richard Nelson as the head dispenser; we had Teekah Singh; we had nurse Northcote; we had nurse Nordy; and we had nurse Rogers from Mercy Hospital. We had Basil French, a male nurse. We had nurse Thomas. We had two Collymores – one was a dispenser, and we had a Collymore who lived where we have the car park now. He was from Kitty. We had nurse Cort. Those nurses mostly came from Mercy Hospital.”

Reminiscing that Retrieve was a residential area, Mrs. Joseph recalled that “the Local Authority had to clean our drains, cut the overhead branches and that sort of thing, but now they don’t do that. You have to do it yourself. We came here one year tax-free, and then we start to pay tax to the local authority”.

She also disclosed that her husband began working with the Demerara Bauxite Company in 1937 and retired in 1962, but he asked PMR Pearson to allow him to continue working so that he could have qualified to obtain pension from the company [in the pension scheme that was introduced in the decade of the 60s].

“He got his benefits from ALCAN because those days is in Canadian days,” the aged widow said. “He was a foreman on the dock. Mr. Arthur was the general foreman. There was Castor and others as foreman.”

She added: “I have thirty grands and twenty-eight great grands, and fifteen great-great grands. So, I’m just here. I’m 87 years old now. I born 1918. I’m just here waiting on time.”

The 64-day strike
Referring to the 64-day strike, which occurred in 1944, when the Guyana Mine Workers Union (GMWU) held industrial action to gain recognition on behalf of the workers of the Demerara Bauxite Company, and during which time ferry boat services mushroomed in the community, Mrs. Joseph said that the 64-day strike came about because the workers wanted increased pay. She said that during the strike she approached the late Roy Blair, who had a business, and Lalta Paul for assistance. She said that she and Mrs. Evans shared what they received to people. She added that the union would chip in with something, “two plantains, lil bit ah rice, lil bit ah sugar … I’ll tell you, some nights we had blackout. In the war days, you know, and the hospital closed after 4 o’clock.”

Mrs. Joseph also recalled that during the strike she saw grown men sharing one cigarette and eating green mango. “No school,” she expostulated. “No hospital. Everybody strike. Sixty-four days that strike went for. Then we had eighty-day strike again – that was the whole of Georgetown (the entire country).”

Referring to the early days when one had to present a pass to be allowed on the Mackenzie side of the river, Mrs. Joseph declared: “We hadn’t a boat landing; we had a border. Deh had a boat over there named King Kong… and Dudley. Dudley mashed his foot and we had to get a bottle and sap it. And so, they decided to get a boat landing and we had to get a pass so as to go across and come back here,” she said. “In those days, the boat was ten cents. But now, look how much you got to pay to cross over there. (At the time of the interview, the boat fare was $20. It has since moved to $40.)

First impression
Mrs. Joseph said that when she left Hope Town to go to Mackenzie for the first time, she cried all the way. “R.H. Carr left [Georgetown] in the morning and we reached here about six in the night,” she said. “I was quite thin, young and inexperienced. And my husband was twelve years older than me.”

Describing the early living condition, she said, “It was a little room, no dining room, no kitchen. It was for bachelors. But the men insisted that they had their families. Two children born there – Cecil, we call Patrick – and this one Douglas, he born in the range [the four-room range].”

The mother of nine touched on the death of two of her sons who died suddenly: “Colin and ‘Tall Joe’ [Compton] – he died sudden, too; just took in with pain and by the time he reached the hospital, he died. So, I’m left with seven children now.”

Recalling that the Canadian company received duty free concessions for goods it imported to Mackenzie, Mrs. Joseph said, “Things get lil tough, you know, because the cost of living get so high.” She also reflected on the days when people purchased goods cheaply at the company run ration store. “Things were very cheap. They took out your money fortnightly. If you buy this week, they’re not taking out the money till the next week. Things were very cheap: three and four cents a pint for rice. We had the shops across the river [Wismar/Christianburg]; we had Mr. Young; we had Mr. Bruce.” She disclosed that Mr. Moe, who was the manager of the ration store in those early days, was her husband’s uncle by his mother’s side. Mrs. Joseph also recalled that other workers at the ration store included Mr. Luther, Mr. Gomez and Mr. Orford.

She said that after a while, she started to “take in boarders”. Among them, she inadvertently boarded a convict. “Only when I knew he was a convict was when he left here and go and stab he child mother on Lombard Street and then drink poison. The papers tell how much convictions he had; how much stow-way, he stow-way. But he used to come to the steps, take his things.”

According to her, twenty-one ships collected bauxite from Mackenzie. She said that a girl in Canada named the ships and was rewarded with around the world tour.

“The sailors used to come by me – the Guyanese sailors and some from Trinidad. I used to cook the cook-up rice. [I used to call it ‘jam-kilar and session]. They liked the Guyanese food. They liked the cook-up rice. They liked the pepperpot and so. They used to come and eat. Food was very cheap.”

She said that when she arrived at Mackenzie there was no church on that side of the river. “We only had St. Aidan’s [Anglican] over there and Christianburg Church.” She said that when a church was subsequently started in Wismar Street, her children along with others including those of Sammy Waithe and George [Daddy George] Carroll attended.

“The priest was Father Hughes, then Father Pink – foreigners. Now, we get Canon Wagner for both churches – Christ the King and St. Aidan’s.” She also recalled that when the Anglican Church at Mackenzie – Christ the King – was finally built, Father Grey and Father Whitehead also served that church. She also noted that Father Cush also served as Canon of the Christ the King Anglican Church, but he has retired due to illness.

The glowing ball
In those early days, according to her, the Recreation Hall (which now houses the museum) was used as a venue for dances and as a cinema. At various times in the history of the community, the Recreation Hall served as a Pentecostal Church, Kindergarten School and a venue for dances, which featured bands such as Fitz Vaughn Bryan and Cyril Diaz.

A glowing ball preceded the evening movies. That glowing ball was reduced in size as the year wore on, indicating the approaching time of the annual retrenchment of workers, which usually occurred in November. Mrs. Joseph said her husband was never retrenched. She also spoke of the black and white dances at the Recreation Hall: “You couldn’t go with just your pants and shirt. You had to get your pomps and your suit and your tie. Nobody ain’t dancing with no yachting. We had good dancers like Harley Cameron, Richie Lovelight, Ian Beckles – them was the dancers. When you see a boy come and pick you up, you gliding on the floor. And ‘Coolie’ Kuyt – you know he dead now? Harley Cameron – he dead, too. His brother Frederick – he was in England; he come back and build a house in Republic Park; he was a good dancer too. He died too.”

Speighland and Robinson Park
She said that Robison Park was located on what is now part of the Mackenzie High School grounds. “Robinson used to run that thing. And every holiday, we used to get the children to go there and carry their baskets by Robinson Park.”

She said that Robinson was a short man – a pipe-fitter – who had a Dutch wife. She also said that the Robinsons had three daughters. One was married to an Allicock, another was a teacher, and one was not married.

“Speighland used to be by the big mango tree by the library. Then from Speighland, you get Retrieve. They move the people from Speighland and carry them to Rainbow City.” She said that the only person, who did not sell was Mrs. Binning, the mother of Mannie Binning. “She didn’t sell,” Mrs. Joseph said. “Her house is still there. She said she’s not selling. This is the lady that is now buried in the yard of the Mayor and Town Council. Her granddaughter still lives there, in the house.”

Mackenzie Sports Club Fair
She said that Eddie Herbert started the Mackenzie Sports Club Fair along with Sarah Lou Harris who was John Carter’s wife. She added that her cousin, Debbie Perreira, was also involved in starting the Mackenzie Sports Club Fair.

Recalling that she was an extremely shy person when she first arrived at Mackenzie, Mrs. Joseph said that becoming engrossed in the life in the community changed her personality. “I engaged in a lot of drinking and sporting and having a nice time. I throw a lot of dance, a lot of picnic, excursion and what have you.”

Recalling that she was even involved in burying someone she never knew, Mrs. Joseph said: “I bury dead. I ain’t know the person. A woman, Arlene Stout, came from Georgetown with two friends. She and them decided to go and see some picture at the cinema there. And when they coming down from Amelia’s Ward the corrial strike a submerged thing. This woman Arlene Stout was the only one drown. They report to the police who searched and couldn’t find her. And, in the evening, this woman float up from under the same log. I with me fastness now, coming down me steps in Arvida Road and I see these two women passing, crying, and I ask them ‘wuh happen to alyou’. And one tell me that this woman came up with them last night and they were going to the cinema and she drowned and they ain’t find the body. Shortly after, siren start fo blow. Deh find this woman – ambulance. I asked them what they going do about it. They say well, she got she family in Georgetown, and she got society. I said you going have to bury her right here. No sense – they won’t allow you all to take her down to town. Deh seh, ‘we can’t bury her here, wuh she niece going seh?’ I said, what we can do, the union office is right there. I went to the office and get three sheets. I tek one. I give them one and I leave one at the union office. I seh we got to collect money and bury her. And I collect $165 – it was a pay day. And I ask Lalta Paul to give me white sheet and powder. Other people give me coffee, biscuits and what have you. I had a wake, and wrap her in the sheet and bury her; about twelve o’clock the day we bury her. Whilst we were going, we stop by Sammy Bransford and buy three bottle of rum and when I meet the burial ground, I meet a fella name Yhap. He give me a ten dollar and that money, when I come back from the burial ground, I buy two pair of slippers at Mrs. Moe and two head ties fo dem girls and two panties. And that was it. The men came in at me and the bottle rum, we share it out with the policemen.”

“God is good,” She said philosophically. “I was a Wade but I married to Joseph. My family – the Waithes, the Mitchells and the Semples – they start to come. I meet some of them here and we move together.

“Not the same people you do for would do for you. Deh got one or two people in the States that I was kind to; they would send a small piece for me. All like Esme Hill, all like Nick Adams wife – she was a Light, would give me a lil two thousand; I would buy my lil milk and my lil fish. Sometimes it come just in time, you know. I don’t ask for it but they know ‘bout my kindness.”

On reflecting how things have gone for her, Mrs. Joseph expressed satisfaction with her life of which she is proud. Describing herself as “a queen” Mrs. Joseph said that when she first came to Mackenzie, her husband worked for $15.08 a fortnight. “Before he reach home, he send $3.00 for his mother in Berbice. He give me the ten. And then he get the two in his pocket. I seh I going tief a small piece from it and throw a box.”

She said that things were cheap in those days and their children were small.

She also did social work – helping people in need. She was even involved in an informal burial society.

Recalling that she was a chorister when she went to Mackenzie, Mrs. Joseph said: “Now, I can’t even sing.”

With respect to two midwives, who delivered generations of babies at Mackenzie – Nurse Parris and Nurse Joseph – she said that nurse Parris was a ward aide before she was sent to Georgetown to study. She said that nurse Jones’ husband, Cecil Jones, was the brain behind LICHAS.

In terms of sports, the names she readily recalled were footballers ‘Screw’ Richmond, Haydock Shervington, Rocky Nelson, Carlton Jordan, Albert Whitlarge, Staglon, and Salmon.

About concerts, she said, “We had Carlton Jordan used to sing. Cecil Spence. Then we had the two girls, Carol Brummel, who marry to Langevine.”

She also said that her daughter, Claudette Joseph, who attended St. Aidan’s Anglican School when Kilkenny was the headmaster, also sang at concerts.

Advice to young people
“Keep off of drugs,” she advises young people. “Keep off of mixing [sexual intercourse] with different persons. AIDS going around so much now – you don’t know who is who.”

“And some people condemn condoms but I believe you should use them because lots of people get lots of diseases and deformed children through not using these things. I know a woman got a child ‘crump-up’ with two fingers all de chile face sore.”

She also advises young people to be obedient to their parents, be respectful of elders, hospitable to strangers as well as join organizations that would assist them to uplift themselves and to mix in order to develop social graces. “When you mix, you get the way how to move around with other people. If you don’t mix, you don’t know how to move around. Children today do not hear to their parents and they are not respectful to their parents neither to their elders. They even laugh at you in the streets. Sometimes I remember in Echols High School I go through months and different things, rainy days – Wednesdays and Sundays. Wednesdays I meet the wife. Sundays I meet the husband home, and I had to go through Speighland in that bush and all them things.”

She recalled one day walking past the Mackenzie High School and some male students heckled her. “When I was coming back they said the same things and I go in the school. MacDonald was the principal then and I said MacDonald, so, so, so. He called them and they say not me, not me, is not me, is not me. “One boy said yes, is he. MacDonald asked him to read a plaque on the wall: Mr. Blackett, Mr. Carr, Mr. Cambridge, Mr. Grant – and who is the other name? That is the person, who caused you to be here.”

A firm believer in retribution, Mrs. Joseph said, “The Bible tell you whatever you sow you shall reap. I sow the seed and I get two from my children went there. Two from me daughter go there. Compton four go there. You understand, I wasn’t selfish, I couldah keep myself to myself. I did it because the community needed it. You had people from Essequibo, from Berbice.”

She acknowledged that some of the indigenous residents of the Upper Demerara region – families such as Charter, Blount and Spencer – tried over time to sue the Demerara Bauxite Company for usurping their lands. According to her, the Canadians did not act right in their acquisition of the lands, which they used to mine bauxite and set up their processing plants. “Then the Canadians had seven more years to work, and then [Burnham] seh leh we tek all. Then, now Omai got it.”

(Based on an interview with Mrs. Beryl Alberta Joseph at her home in Retrieve, Linden, Guyana on Saturday 30th April 2005. This privileged opportunity was made possible through her son Douglas “Bugs” Joseph.


1 Comment »

  1. oh yes… I know Cousin Beryl we the kids of Mackenzie called her all said and every word is the truth rest in God’s graces.

    Comment by joan hutson/joseph — May 15, 2013 @ 4:36 pm | Reply

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