“My Story” Chapter 09

“My Story” – by Randall Butisingh.

(Reminiscences during my life beginning 1913)


I was just one month short of two years when World War I began in 1914.  I have a vivid recollection of the day.  I was aware that prices of things went up steeply immediately that there was news of the war.  My mother used to send me to the nearby shop with two gills (four cents) tied in a cloth each day to buy bread. That day I came back with fewer loaves.   From that day we had to pay twice the sum for everything.

In the year 1918, when I was six years old, the war ended.  I also remember the day well.  Men and women marched through the streets waving flags and the green branches of trees, singing, shouting and dancing.  British Guiana, like all the other colonies had sent men to fight in the war.  Some of our men died in action; a few distinguished themselves and received medals.  At school we celebrated the victory.  Each child was given a little flag which we waved and sang “Rule Britania, Britania rule the waves.’  Great Britain had the largest navy in the world.  She was invincible on the seas and her naval superiority decided the outcome of the war.

Not long after the war, things returned to normal.  The price of commodities dropped considerably and the dollar had great value.  My father, whenever he got work received thirty-six or forty cents a day; my mother, whenever she worked in the rice fields, received twenty four cents for a day’s work. If work was regular, that would be enough to live on comfortably, but it was not.  In those days a single person could have fed himself with twelve cents daily – rice, the staple foodstuff was twelve cents a gallon, flour, two cents per pound, split peas, four cents a pint and salt fish four cents a pound.

Kerosene was four cents a pint, and a half pint or a quarter pint could be obtained.  This gave rise to the Creolese proverb; “cent ile na a full lamp, but ‘e a bu’n ‘hole night.”   Many poor people, in those days, used little bottle lamps with cotton wicks.  In hard times I used it for doing my home work for school.  It was not very safe. Once the flame caught my shirt sleeve, but it was quickly put out by my father.  I was burnt a little and had to be treated by the village dispenser.  That proverb has no relevance today because at the time of my first writing of this chapter – which was in the nineties, the cost of kerosene was fifteen dollars a pint; rice was three hundred dollars per a gallon, devaluation of the dollar being at the rate of 140 Guyana dollars to 1 U.S.

There will always be the poor in any society and British Guiana had its quota – mainly the unemployed, the underemployed and to some extent the lazy, but hardly any starved.  Rice was cheap, coconuts were inexpensive and fish was plentiful in the canals and trenches.  One could have taken a hook which could have been improvised by bending a small pin and baiting it with earthworm or boiled rice, and in a short time one could have enough fish to cook a meal for the day.  Then there were seasons when mangoes were plentiful.  Buxton had about four or five varieties and an abundance of trees.  Buxton Spice was considered the best of them all. There were trees all along the canals and dams where one could have gathered as much as one pleased.  I liked the spice mangoes and would eat them, rind and all.   Some of these mangoes were taken to Georgetown and sold, eleven long mangoes for one cent; enough for one meal. It was said, and this may not be true, that during the mango season some poor people would scour their pots and turn them down.

I can recall as late as 1939, before the beginning of World War II, the cost of living was very low.  Those who were able to get work, especially salaried government employment, the self employed and businessmen were able to maintain a decent standard of living.  Those who were thrifty could have put aside a little for the rainy day or take out a small Life Insurance policy.  These people made up the middle class, the most important segment in any society.  This state of affairs did not continue for long.  Shortly after Independence in 1966, there was a period of prosperity for some time, but things began to slowly deteriorate after 1972.  This eliminated the majority of the middle class.  With the loss of a vibrant middle class and the flight of many of the business investors, Guyana’s standard of living steadily declined where today it was ranked as the second poorest country in the region, after Haiti.


1 Comment »

  1. Vi said,

    It is so true, when I grew up there was always something to eat. My household had 11 children and yet my parents made sure to share whatever they had with the less fortunate, be it fatherless children or widows. After 1972 the ecomony deteriorated so much that I saw children roaming the streets of Georgetown with extended bellies — signs of starvation. What a tradegy?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: