In celebration of Albion: One may ask what is there to celebrate about the sugar plantation of Albion? Like Port Mourant, the neighbouring sugar plantation, so beautifully celebrated by Dr Sherlock Rawana, Albion estate too has its unique qualities in the history of its people, their culture and achievements.
Education: The Albion Canadian Mission School had the highest enrolment (1200+) of students in the fifties and sixties. It was perhaps the largest school in the country in terms of student population. It secured twenty four passes at the Primary School Certificate Examination in 1957 and eight passes at the Pupil Teachers’ Appointment Examination in 1958. These records were never ever surpassed! It also secured several passes at the Government County Scholarship Examinations – StanleyLachmansingh, Asad Ishoof, Keith Farrier, Bhoj Ramkumar. The school itself was a model for an integrative approach to academic learning and skills development. It had a dedicated Home Economics Centre as well as a Handicraft Centre both of which prepared students for certificate examinations. There were also classes for needlework and sewing, shirt making, hammock making, gardening and book binding.
From among its many students, there emerged medical doctors – Bhoj Ramkumar, David Lachmansingh and Damodar Panday. Its contribution to education and other professions is impressive. Those who made it to the top of their professions include Tribeni Mohabir, Indrajeet Lallbeharry, Deodat Jaimangal, Dr Ahmad Baksh, JW Chinapen, C.M Kanhai, Chunilall, Dr Satyanand Badripersaud, Manzur Baksh, Henry Buchan, Harold Chee, the Lachanas, Srinarines and Chatoorams (Puran and Dushan), just to name a few.
Politics and the Struggle – the eviction: The residents were always aware of their duty to safeguard their rights as workers on the plantations. It is no wonder that the MPCA, which was perceived to be in cahoots with the employers, was booted out by the workers and replaced by GAWU as their trade union. GAWU fought relentlessly on their behalf for better wages and working conditions. The GAWU had its teething days in Albion and Port Mourant from where it grew into the dominant working peoples’ trade union. In 1953, the Brits suspended the constitution, arrested the leaders of the PPP and drove fear into the hearts of the workers in Albion and elsewhere.
The workers protested bravely and several families were served eviction notices from their hovel-like abode in the logies. They had to leave the estate within twenty four hours or else they would be arrested and charged for trespassing. It was indeed a sad day, the events of which are etched in my memory. Imagine a sight of four or five trucks (or lorries as they were called then) all loaded with the evicted workers’ belongings with the workers and their families perched on the top. As the lorries drove off slowly on the rum shop street lined by their neighbours – the women and children cried in anguish while the men looked on in fear and anger. Armed policemen with 303 rifles in hand looked on menacingly at the poor unarmed residents who were in shock and disbelief. Suddenly, the men burst into song, an Indian song which grew louder and louder as the lorries passed by and more people joined in the singing, some with tears running down their worried grief stricken faces. Even the evicted persons were singing. It was truly a sight to behold as the sun was slowly setting behind our logie. As I stood with my parents out of fear and confusion, I grabbed hold of my mom’s hands tightly trying to make sense of what I was seeing. I understand the song was the freedom song of India “Vande Mataram”! Even today when I hear it, I relive that scene in Albion Estate so many years ago – a scene that was charged with emotions, fear and uncertainty.
The cultural landscape: Almost similar to Port Mourant, Greater Albion had three mandirs, one Kali Mai temple, two masjids and two churches. Not bad for a small community to have eight centres of worship! Then there is the Albion Sports complex where many cricket matches (described elsewhere) are played. The famous spin bowler Sunny Baijnauth (Suga Bai) lived in a house on the premises. Festivals such as Diwali and Holi are celebrated in grand style at this complex. It is also the venue for visiting international entertainers.
In the early years (1950’s), many Indian plays depicting stories from the Ramayan were staged, some at the market place at trench over or at the community centre when it was built. One of these plays was Ram Leela. They were well attended as there was no charge for admission.
Every year, India’s independence (Swaraj) was celebrated with pomp and style. The streets were decorated with palm fronds and flowers tied to poles at the side of the street. The men dressed up in Indian attire complete with the white topi would walk in groups singing chowtals and beating melodious tunes on their drums. We followed behind and feasted on the sweet meats offered at the mandir in the estate.
Eid, Holi or Phagwah, Diwali, Christmas and Easter were all celebrated and enjoyed by all. Each was a celebration that brought the community together and enriched their understanding of the different religious beliefs and practices.
This then, my friends, is my contribution in the celebration of our Albion – a place that holds a special place in my heart. The name of Albion evokes ripples of nostalgic memories laden with emotions engendered in the collective experience of those of us who were part of its landscape in the glorious years.
We are, indeed, immensely proud of this place that was once our home – a metaphorical “home” in which our hearts still breathe and dwell softly. By virtue of our diligence and dedication as worthy citizens wherever we may be, we are fiercely determined that we would not betray the pride that our Albion home holds for us.
Abraham Lincoln’s words are appropriate for our feelings: “I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him”.
Ahad Ishoop – Toronto, Canada