I saw this picture of rice farming in Guyana, South America and I almost cried at its unmistakable beauty and the memories it evoked.
As a girl, I gazed at similar images many times throughout the years.
I could not appreciate its beauty then, I sure can now.
During active rice season, there would be magnificent flocks of redbreast robins (birds) singing and picking at the growing grains. It was beautiful to behold.
Guyana’s relationship with rice
Rice cultivation can be traced back about 10,000 and 14,000 years ago. Some evidence and artifacts found in China point to the Yangtze and Huai rivers as the earliest points of domestication of Oryza sativa (domesticated from a wild grass called Oryza rufipogon).
The wild grains later be known as rice would soon be cultivated throughout the civilized world and seek to establish its place as a hierarchy staple in many nations. Rice continues to hold steady its place even today.
Rice in Guyana
Rice was introduced by the early Dutch settlers during the early 18th century. In 1738, the Dutch Governor of Essequibo (Laurens Storm van Gravesande) introduced rice as a means of supplementing the diet of slaves working on the sugarcane estates.
East Indians were later imported for labor and some stayed behind and began cultivating their own rice plots. Blacks had earlier broken away from slavery and began farming and rearing their own foods.
This eventually led to an overabundance of rice and initiated its exportation to Trinidad as the first nation to purchase rice from Guyana.
Currently, rice is the second-largest agricultural product of Guyana. The cultivation and product of sugar remain in the top position.
Familial rice history
I was born into a family of rice farmers. My grandfather (mother’s dad) was a farmer. He and two of his brothers invested, bought land, and farmed rice together among other things.
I am a country girl, born and raised in the countryside. My grandpa died when I was almost seven years old. I have many vivid memories of him, what he wore. I can see his face if I concentrate hard enough.
A God’s man, an entrepreneur, a planner, farmer, tailor, and a man who loved his fellow man. He left a wonderful legacy of love and material assets behind.
My mom remembers her dad leaving very early in the morning to walk several miles to the ‘back dam’, where the planting was done. They owned many acres of land for planting rice.
She recalls that her brothers would be awakened early to make the trek to bring the fresh cows’ milk before school, along with vegetables, tubers, and any fish my grandpa caught and preserved.
The family would use some of the milk and the rest was sold.
My grandmother would also make the trek to help my grandpa if she was not pregnant or had a newborn child.
Back then you cut rice by hand with a scythe. Resembling the image below. Those were still around when I was a girl.
It was back-breaking work.
Not surprisingly, my grandpa died in his 59 th year of life (more on his life another time).
Though my family cultivated other crops, tubers for example. Yuca, eddoes, plantains, bananas, and many others. We grew vegetables, reared chickens, sheep, pigs, cows, and a fish pond in the backyard. My grandpa thought of everything. He was also a tailor.
I never developed a love for tubers, my preference has always been rice. To this day I eat rice almost daily.
It has been a struggle, as I love rice but must cut back as I am getting older.
Rice is anecdotally known as ‘swamp seed’ in that part of the world.
This is called paddy, where the rice is harvested and dried, then milled to remove the outer shell or husk, exposing the white finished product seen below.
My mother is the third child and the first girl, so she learned to cook and do household chores very early on. By the time she was nine years old, she would care for her siblings, clean the house, and cook.
She became a sort of pseudo mother to her younger siblings and they share an exceptional closeness to this day. An inherited closeness we, my mother’s children also share with our aunts and uncles.
The above image represents familiar sights from my childhood. Kids roamed freely and safely, playing, picking fruits, and climbing trees.
Though I did some ‘roaming’, I always had a love for reading and while my younger sister ran about playing and socializing, I indulged in my first love — reading.
Back then, it really took a village to raise kids and each other. Those were great times of sharing and love. I have wonderful memories of growing up in a community of people who took care of each other. We were safe, there were no locked doors. I felt like everyone was my family and indeed many are.
It was really a great place to grow up in.
I recall my childhood with great affection and, even if I could, I would change nothing! It was such fun and life was sooo good.
Now when I visit, I know I am in for a good time. I will settle in and be ready for the visits and the laughs. I will be gifted with fruits and foods and regaled with the tales I missed since my last visit.
I am always sad to leave and cannot wait for the next trip back.