Letters & Opinion

Vieux Fort – A View

By Eldridge Stephens

Our history is replete with anecdotal evidence, the sum total of which should be a constant reminder to us of that which may be upheld as an unsavoury disposition or the lackadaisical way of life of a Vieux Fort people. We are informed that the Dutch came but fled; the English fought hard to keep our forebears (Africans and Indians) enslaved, while the Americans made use of the southern plains, its peoples and its environs to protect their interests. But how can we forget the influence of the French and more so, the involvement of Martinique and Guadeloupe in the resistance? The Barbadians were here too, to assist in the social development and  undoubtedly, the role of the churches cannot be side-stepped. The aforementioned, though not an exhaustive list, have been highlighted to indicate the several influences which impacted on this community.

Many believe and have opined often, that we are still awaiting the return of the Americans, whom it is thought, brought greater influence to bear on our economic and social wellbeing. Others believe that we may be still mentally enslaved or exhausted from the innumerable struggles, past and present, to secure our pride and human dignity. History categorised us as a landless people who took to the marginal lands in the hilly terrains and coastal lands of the south, there engaging in subsistence farming and fishing.  But for the most parts, our people, former slaves and indentured servants, were forced to return to their masters to earn the pittance wages from the sugar estates and coal pits or with time, becoming the yard slave, shop potter and/or employed in the sweat shops or low-tech manufacturing industry.

Notwithstanding, we have come a long way. The policy espoused by a French Administrator that, “the economic growth of the Vieux Fort region should never be allowed to flourish, least it surpassed that of La Carenage (CASTRIES)”, remains a vexing issue to many of us. We continue to see the “start: stop: and start again” of the holistic development of the south and of Vieux Fort in particular. While I am convinced that that statement may have served as added incentive and motivation to a majority of our people in seeking their personal development, it is incomprehensible that selfishness and political expediency are allowed to be the guiding principles in the piece-mill approach to development of the southern area. Those plans have yet to produce the wholesome success of an area with promising potential for growth and development. For me, this remains a worrisome issue.

Regardless, our people have excelled over the years in the areas of Education, Commence, Medicine, Law and Order, Social Engineering, Fishing, Engineering, Agriculture, Sports and more. Many of the brightest and the best among us ventured to far-away lands and the region, seeking further self-improvement and economic advancement. We have also had our fair share of urban drift, while others remained in the struggle, only to depend on the limited and occasional jobs, manufacturing, construction, stevedoring, animal farming, fishing or remain dependant on the remittances from families overseas. Even so, we were always considered a people who believed in ourselves and proud of the society from whence we came.

I recall the time we would be constantly looking out for and supporting one another but I painstakingly wonder and ask, what has befallen us today? One cannot but admit that the Vieux-Fort area has evolved from the sugar cane plains and churning factories, of marshy grounds and rice paddy fields or coconut plantations, of idle lands and desolate infrastructure. Yes! Vieux-Fort has come a long way. But should we be satisfied with what exists today and so remain complacent? For despite our innumerable achievements in life, we have been found wanting in aspects of our social, economic and political development.  Hence, the cunning and unsuspecting predators continue to prey on and make hay of the chinks in the armour. In some instances, we have become our own harshest critics and enemies, oftentimes hell bent on discrediting, destroying and oppressing the efforts of each other.

Why can’t we be happy for the success of one of our own people? Instead of envy and move’- lanng or mal pale’, let us sing and celebrate the success of each other. I urge that the tribal-like political divisiveness displayed today, be replaced with collaboration, understanding and tolerance. After all, our Constitution guarantees us “freedom of association”. We must therefore understand, that while the forces, overtly or covertly, divide and compartmentalise us, the epic substances of our existential development are cunningly being gathered by the proverbial thieves in the night. Never again, like our fathers of old, should we be made to collect crumbs from the master’s table. We’ve come too far and tried too hard for too long. It would be of an un-holy nature for us to be infected by a dependency syndrome, particularly one of a political tone. Have the independence and pride fought for and taught to us by our forebears vanished? Have our history not taught us enough?

You may recollect the abundance of nurturing we got and the lessons taught, particularly in the subject – “CIVICS”. We were taught the love of self and of ones neighbour, being respectful of self and others, especially those in authority. The process, capped with Kindness, Cooperation, Gratitude, Understanding, Honesty, Empathy and more, formed the corner stones of our education and up-bringing. “Emotional Intelligence”, as it is called today, must continue to be front and centre, if we are to combat the many social ills and political savagery which threatens to erode the fabric of a good (people) society. Therefore, common-sense and sound judgement must regain common-place in the acquisition and use of knowledge and power, for the good of all.

We are now at an interesting juncture in the development of the southern region. Therefore, the mosaic composition of present day Vieux-Fort, as was in the past, presents a wonderful opportunity for us to harness the strength and tap available resources that can be had from the diverse social, cultural and economic me’lange, with a view to furthering our lot. Wealth creation and the filtering of any economic benefit, should never be returned to, neither should it remain the purview of the limited and favoured few. Our development must transcend political divisiveness and avarice, both of which are platforms for conflict and social instability.

I have penned this article because I believe there is need for a voice of reason to re-emerge. We do not desire one which is only critical of our people and processes, like that of a perennial complainant; neither should it be of a self-serving nature. It should not appear to be partisan in nature, for I know we have become so politically polarised. This missive is meant to further awaken the conscientiousness of and to evoke some form of positive reaction by all our people. It’s a call for us to re-group and invest in a meaningful way, in the future of our community. This is a sincere and earnest plea for dialogue and action. There is need for a genuine embrace to help organise and marry the recreational and formal aspects of community life, in order to engender the self-fulfilment of a people.

The onus therefore falls squarely in the lap of current political and social leaders and specifically the Parliamentary Representative and Prime Minister to create the environment, trust and confidence, necessary to propel the development of Vieux Fort and the Southern Quadrant in general. The present critical economic and social climate demand level-headedness, selflessness, collaboration and equity. It would not be demeaning or disadvantageous to engage the local people, the Private Sector and all other Social Partners in meaningful discussions, in order to identify the priority needs for the holistic development of the area. Indeed! This would be the olive branch to a southern people.

Vieux Fort flourished whenever there were major development works, coupled with the productive operations and functioning of Beane Field/Hewanorra Airport, the Vieux Fort Port, Beausejour Agriculture Station and the Community Pastures, Halcyon Days Hotel and a productive Banana Industry among others. We have seen the decline in most if not all of the above mentioned areas.  The Hewanorra Airport development, the St. Jude Hospital or the George Odlum National Stadium should not be prostituted to satisfy any political vendetta and I pray and hope that the government of the day will not be so engaged. Port Vieux Fort is desperately in need of improvement and greater usage. The south could do with another major hotel development. Oh! How we would like for greater involvement and dialogue in the likely disappearance of the Beausejour farm lands and the appendages thereof. For many of us, this area carries with it, an indescribable emotional attachment.

Our geographical position on island should in no way connote that we must be the recipients of the unwanted waste or excrement from the lower cavity of the human anatomy. OH NO! We must call them out NOW before it becomes too late again. For while the opportunists grew their paddocks of power grass, our creole horses were starving to death.

We therefore cannot seat on our hands or swear ourselves to silence, because it is not our time or our party. This piece of Fair Helen belongs to ALL of us and while we ponder and wait, we must be instinctively prepared to give back to it some of the gravitas we have accrued over time. I make this passionate plea to ALL concerned with the social and economical mobility of a people. The future of our people are at stake.

Written: September 2012.  Reviewed/Updated: September 2016

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