The way in which a society responds to the requirements that are necessary to drive it to achieve that which causes it to survive is in itself, a phenomenon. There was a time when the emphasis was on the acquisition of subjects that have been classified as the “Arts.” In those days, the three “R’s” – “Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic – were the basic things that were necessary to initiate the upward movement in society.
To engage in anything agricultural was deemed to be infra dig. The exception being the owner of large tracts of land that were called an estate. On this estate, the owner exercised suzerainty. He hired and fired workers and lived at the buff, or bluff. The underlings lived in the Nearga House or Nearga Houses. The owner, who was invariably white, was called the master or Massa.
If he had a son, the servants were taught to refer to him as Young Master So and So, or simply as Master So and So. Having been acculturated to accept the distinctions in rank, those at the top of the pyramid made liberal use of the female under-dogs who predominated as labourers and created a light-skinned class who aspired to be like or to emulate their white forbears, thus creating a new class.
It matters not whether they were called mulatto, octoroon, quadroon, half-caste, pass-foo-white, butter-skin or brown-skin, the females were gorgeous to behold, but male or female, gender differentiation notwithstanding, they all adopted European values and nurtured the locally-held prejudices. To work in the fields or in Agriculture meant being at the lowest rung of society.
Thus being a fork-man, or engaging in the fertilising of fields by the use of cattle manure which was referred to, as dropping dung, was the lowest form of agricultural labour in which a worker could indulge. The engaging in agricultural pursuits was therefore taught by the labour union to be degrading work.
Thus, when the Labour Government bought the lands of the Antigua Syndicate Estates and bought the Antigua Sugar Factory, labour was thought to have become management and a certain comrade (whose name for the prevention of acute embarrassment to the surviving members of his family, I have deliberately omitted) went around St John’s, stopped at every other corner, threw down a collection of hoes, forks, pick-axes, cane-bills and other implements pertaining to agriculture, and said, “Massa days done.”
The Comrades shouted themselves hoarse. At that time, the Peasant Development Office (PDO) was producing slightly over 50 per cent of the sugar canes sold to the Antigua Sugar Factory. The PDO was also responsible for approximately 80 per cent of the total of Sea Island Cotton produced.
The government of Antigua was granting scholarships, to such an extent, that Denfield Hurst told me that only scholarships in science were being granted, for at the rate at which things were going, “soon we will have BA’s sweeping the streets.”
To engage in agricultural production of any foodstuff was frowned upon. It took the PLM Government with the Ministry of Agriculture under Robert Hall, with the assistance of Vincent “Tubby” Derrick as junior minister to put agriculture on a very firm pedestal. The number of small farmers was substantially multiplied and the government initiative gave Antigua the coveted international fame of winning several titles and gold ribbons on the West Indian scene.
The loss of the 1976 general elections was a heavy blow to the cause of agriculture and even though tourism was on an increase, the exclusivity of supplying either the tourist industry or the local market, was nullified by the granting of licences to import onions, carrots and other items that could easily have been our own exclusive domain.
We probably have to revert to our original premise of catering to the three R’s, but the increase in population and the increasing differentiation in our society gave room to an unprecedented expansion in demand. The PLM attempted to meet the perceived demand by creating the Ottos Comprehensive School, and even though the school was comprehensive in name only, the broadening of the curriculum under the aegis of the CXC gave rise to the introduction of new subjects under new names. Agricultural Science was one of the new names.
It is no accident that Antiguan carrots, Antiguan onions, Antiguan pineapples and other fruits have gradually crept to the top of the preference scale. The scarcity of rainfall and its unique distribution has given our fruits and vegetables a specific concentration of juices with a marked absence of a water-laden component that makes them different.
The teaching of Agricultural Science has created a cadre of young energetic school-leavers who are equipped to dominate the market. Agriculture is now a specific entity that earns for its entrepreneurs more money than being employed in an office and pursuing an eight to four predetermined routine.
These young enterprising people ought to be complimented. They are fulfilling a need. The reverse is now the norm. It is not the three R’s and it is not the public throwing away of agricultural implements, but rather the individual embracing of what has been taught in our secondary schools.
Massa days may well have been done and numbered, but the rise of a new proletariat based on the lucrative spoils of engaging in chicken, fruits and vegetables and other agricultural products, beckons.