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A Brief Historical Review of Golden Grove and Nabaclis

History Today: A Brief Historical Review of Golden Grove and Nabaclis by Letroy Orwin Michael Cummings.

What is now Golden Grove and Nabaclis was Plantation Williamsburg in the colony of British Guiana in the parish of St. Paul. This Plantation was manned by a predominantly Black Labour force. They were the property of their white masters who held exclusive power over them.
In 1838, when the apprenticeship system came to an end, the bondage people began articulating a new vision and one superior to political freedom which was won in 1834. They articulated the vision of economic independence which they believed would be realized if they acquired property. Among the properties they sought to acquire was land. This sudden rush to become land owners gave rise to what become known as the village movement through which golden grove was established.
During the apprenticeship period the slaves with a mission in mind practiced the art of saving. This gave them the economic base upon which to launch off. Taking a cue from the establishment of Victoria and other communal villages, sixty ex-slaves met regularly under a tamarind tree at the eastern of Plantation Williamsburg. At the historic meeting place, which is now marked by a house in Sand Street, plans for acquiring Williamsburg plantation were discussed and finalized. In a co-operative effort these ex-employees pooled all their life savings to purchase plantation Williamsburg on the 5th January, 1848. No evidence has been found to explain how it got its name but golden grove was one of the premier villages along the East Coast of Demerara.

In 1850 a decision was taken to lay out the newly acquired village. To this extent it was lotted out with the aid of a survey conducted by the orders of the Commissioners appointed to do the partition of Golden Grove. The survey was done by a Senior Land Surveyor, Mr. F. Jackson. Each of the sixty purchasers was allocated a plot both at the back and front lands.
In the said parish of Saint Paul and adjacent to Golden Grove on the eastern side existed a vacant plot of land. Its close geographical proximity made it an ideal spot to satisfy the needs of the early residents of Golden Grove, to have a pasture for their cattle to graze. It was with this in mind that the vacant plot of land was acquired in 1852 and christened Nabaclis. Unlike golden Grove, two schools of thought exist to explain how the name Nabaclis was arrived at. One source suggested that the name was derived from an ex-slave whose name was Naba. The other explanation contends that during a name searching discussion an argument broke out over a list circulated by the colonial authorities and one person exclaimed Na-ba-ca-lis. However, amidst this uncertainty, Nabaclis was nicked named “Bucklish”.

Initially, Nabaclis was not used for residential purposes but as pasturage. Thus it came to be known as Golden Grove pasture where the residents took their cattle to graze. This did not continue for very long. In 1854, Nabaclis was surveyed and upgraded to residential status.

Both the 1852 and 1854 surveys divided the two villages into residential and non residential sections. The residential portion served mainly for housing purposes. There, families resided in houses built on stilts, clustered on both sides of the public road and along cross streets, the non residential section, used primarily for agricultural purposes, extended the villages deep into the backlands where farming was practiced as the primary economic activity.

Together, the two are usually referred to as the twin villages comprising a total area in excess of 3000 acres of land and can be found on the East Coast of Demerara approximately 17 miles from Georgetown.

Apart from being residential areas both Golden Grove and Nabaclis emerged as agricultural communities with farming being the primary economic activity. Farm lands at the back of the residential lots are of crucial importance to the substance of life for the village people. The early residents looked to the back dam as a constant and reliable source of food production where produce such as mangoes, coconuts, bananas, breadfruit, plantain and cassava were cultivated. The abundance of vegetables and ground provisions made the farm lands the food basket of the village.

The produce from the back dam led to the emergence of cottage industries and the village economy boomed as different small industries sprang up almost simultaneously. However, their development was hindered by word-wide economic difficulties, the lack of modernization, and neglect of the backlands in low soil fertility.

Apart from this, commercial business enterprises mushroomed over the years alongside the cottage industries and took their places as the industries declined. This did not change the free enterprise nature of the village economy underlined by self-employment.

As change continued to be manifested, an agricultural-based cottage industry economy premised on sole proprietorship, evolved into a commercial enterprise as another form of sole proprietorship. The commercial enterprises relied on imported goods for continuity. This is believed to have resulted in a movement away from the backlands that molded and shaped the village economy in early times. The consequence was the underdevelopment of rural-based industries. The large scale production of oil, cassava bread, casareep, sugar, rice and lemonade speaks of the industries that existed in the villages. Many operated as a family business under bottom houses and drew a ready supply of labor from among family members and other villagers. It is important to note that not all the villagers worked in the cottage industries as some migrated in search of work elsewhere, including the Gold and diamond fields.

The establishment of bottom-house industries depended, to a great extent, on the kind of crops produced in the back dam. It follows, therefore, that the activities in the bottom house factories were fundamentally an extension of what took place in the backlands where the village pioneers cultivated almost every possible square inch with ground provisions, fruits, greens, cane and other crops considered suitable for human consumption. This is indicative of the fact that a definite rhythm characterized the economy. Crops were sowed at a certain time, reaped at a certain time, and produced at a certain time and in a particular way.

Production took place almost at the point of cultivation and villagers ensure that nothing wasted. What was not considered safe for human consumption was indeed good for livestock.

It is interesting to point out that the variety of produce taken from the backlands led to persons engaging different productive activities. This was indicative of the specialization of the economy. Specific activities, the individuals involved, developed specific skills relevant to a particular industry whereby people did not lose sight of the simplicity of the productive process and found time to learn the entire operation. This made it possible for any one person to fit in anywhere and be able to complete the entire production process, all alone.

As early as 1872, canes, mainly bamboo and diamond were cultivated and sold to the estate at Enmore where they were processed into sugar for local and export consumption. The processing of sugar was not only found at Enmore estate, it was also in operation in the village. According to L. Sarrabo, writing in the Daily Argosy dated 20th July 1941, there were two sugar mills and one steam plant owned by L. Chase of Nabaclis and J. W. James and Isaac Evelyn of Golden Grove. These mills produced sugar on a relatively small scale, mainly to supplement the stock of grocery shops.

It is important to note that the two small scale sugar factories were not dependant on the canes that were planted in the back lands but on those planted outside of the village. This is probably one case where an existing industry had little linkage with the backlands. Another such situation existed with the milling of rice for human consumption. Two rice factories operated in golden grove sometime around the 1920’s with a small labour force made up essentially of villagers. Also popular were two lemonade factories owned by Williams and Martin respectively.

Sugar, rice and lemonade production were not integrally linked with and dependent on the backlands for raw materials. Coconut oil, cassava bread, quenches and casareep were sustained. These were economic activities that engaged the attention of almost every household precisely because of the simplistic technology and the easy access to the abundance of raw materials.

Coconut tree proliferated and decorated the two villages making it difficult to find a yard without a coconut tree or trees. This was the result of planting the fist coconut tree in Nabaclis, some time around the early 1860’s by Thomas Alleyne Adams who died in 1925 at the age of eighty-six. Around the early 1900s a number of coconut cultivations served several useful purposes. Residents responded positively and set up small factories mainly for making oil either under their homes or attached onto the house. In these factories, primitive technology based on manual labour was employed. The manufacturing of oil did not require a factory, because, like the production of casareep and cassava bread, it could be produced within the confines of the household kitchen.

Coconut farming did not only sustain the oil-making industry. It also contributed to the making of brooms as a spin-off activity. Production of brooms required no complex technology dozens were made with great ease.

In spite of the level of semi-industrial activities, the primary economic life of villagers centered on farming. Like their ancestors, the villagers earn their livelihood from rearing cattle and tilling the soil.

Each day they leave their homes and travel to the farm, in some cases covering several miles either on foot over the dams or by boat along the trenches to labour for a living.

Apart from agriculture, villagers also embarked on livestock farming, they rear among others, cows, pigs, sheep, ducks and chickens. It is evident, therefore, that livestock contributed meaningfully to the economic survival of residents. They provided a valuable source of income that supplemented the earnings derived from bottom-house industries. As a matter of fact, livestock farming along with crop farming and bottom house industrial activity complemented each other.

[Source: Cummings, Letroy Orwin Michael “A Brief Historical Review of Golden Grove and Nabaclis” Stabroek News Thursday, August 6th, 1998: Page 14.]