|This article does not cite any references or sources. (December 2009)|
- For the grass "Guinea grass" see Panicum maximum
|District||Orange Walk District|
|guinea grass by creols,mestizos,english||year 1763|
|• Density||2/km2 (3.5/sq mi)|
|Time zone||Central (UTC-6)|
Guinea Grass is a village in the Orange Walk District of the nation of Belize. It is 38 metres (127 feet) above sea level. According to the 2000 census, Guinea Grass Town had a population of 2,510 people; the 2010 census gave the population as 3,500. The village has a community of Mennonites, Mestizo, Creoles, and East Indians (Hindu and Arabs). There are a number of Taiwanese and other Central American immigrants living near or immediately in the settlement.
Origin of Name
There are two stories which explain the origin of the village's name. The first is that East Indians settled in the area and began to plant and cultivate bananas. The locals knew banana in Spanish as "Guineo" and from there it morphed into "Guineal" and then because "Guinea Grass". The other version is that there was an Englishman by the name of "Chichiri Price" that lived in a farm on the northern outskirts of the village. He was an agent for the Belize Estate Company; raising livestock. In order to feed the livestock he had grass imported. The grass that he imported was Guinea Grass,(Megathyrsus maximus). The locals then began to call the community Guinea Grass after the imported grass.
The village is predominantly a Mestizo community and the preferred language of communication is Spanish. English is taught at the primary school and Creole is spoken by some. German is spoken by the neighbouring Mennonite community.
Today the village is modernizing quickly and political views are UDP Guinea Grass is known for its neat beautiful village module and river bank The early people used to work as chicleros,hunters,mahogany loggers for the British.This was the deaced hon George.C.Price home town when he was 8 yrs old stories say that elderly people buried their gold chains etc.,silver,jade, that their long ago ancestors left for them.Up to now nothing's been found.
Located on the western bank of a branch of the New River, Guinea Grass has always been used as an embarkation point. In recent times it has served as a busy gateway to an ancient Mayan stronghold-Lamanai. Visitors to Lamanai always embarked form this New River Park. One famous personality to pass through the village en route to Lamanai was Don Francisco, the animator in the television program “Sabado Gigante”.
In ancient times, it has been determined that Guinea Grass had as few as fifty persons making up its population. Settlements like Gallon Jug and Hill bank had more people living there than here in this village. The river served as the main center of activity as everything had to be shipped by boat. The village itself stretched for three blocks. North, it reached as far as where the Quetzal shops are now. South, it stretched to where this street leading out of the park meets with the main road going to shipyard. The main road itself served as the western border of the village. But the road itself was mere muddy track bordered by thick bush. A short distance on the northern outskirts of the village was a banana plantation. This was owned by an American, “Mr. Mason”. He shipped his bananas downstream to the mouth of the New River and onwards to Belize. Southwards form the village, about a half-mile from this place, an East Indian settlement was located. The native people called this settlement “Coolie bank”. These East Indians collected the cohune nuts then crushed them for the kernel. The kernel and extracted oil were shipped down the new River onwards to Belize. From there these products were exported. There was also an American who used to have a rubber plantation. This gentleman collected the latex. This also was exported after being shipped down the New River.
The villagers for their part had to find work for themselves. A few of them were involved in the cutting of logwood. These logwood pieces were about a yard long, thick in diameter and had to have all the bark chipped away leaving the hard core of the wood. Still, they needed food for survival so they had to cultivate their milpas. But I any aspect of their daily struggles the natives did not own a piece of land. Even the land where the village was located was owned by a private company. If they wanted to till the land, using the slash and burn of the milpa system, they had to get permission form the landowner. The landowner controlled the land and the people had to pay as much as 10 cents for each mecate of land. The landowner was an English company called the Belize Estate and Produce Company (BEC). Old villagers remember some of the agents who represented this company. Head agent stationed in Orange Walk town was a certain Mr. Gerald Smith. Agents in the village itself included a certain Mr. Majarez who was later replaced by Mr. Alfred Blair. Mr. Blair was then replaced by Mr. Austin Richards. This agent had a musical band which participated in local fiestas. Mr. Richards was then replaced by Mr. Albert Disus. He is considered the last BEC agent to serve in the village. The agent in place gave permission for renting of lots in the village. He also stipulated the amount to be paid for falling bush for milpa purposes. He also checked the milpas to find out what trees that should not have been cut were indeed cut and burned. He then used to forward his report to the head agent. The head agent then checked with the District Commissioner who imposed the penalties and most of the times the natives of the village were unable to pay. Money was very scarce in those days.
Life in the village at the dawn of this century was much unsophisticated. The houses were very primitive. The houses were usually thatched with palmetto leaves. The walls were enclosed with pimento stems. Locals called it “tasiste”. Around the 1930s, there were only three houses which looked better than the others. One of them was the police station. The other belonged to Mr. Castillo. This Castillo is said to be the grandfather of the present Santiago Castillo family in Belize. The third was the largest house. It served both as a shop and a storehouse. This store catered to practically all the needs of the people in the village. The owner himself is said to have been godfather to almost everyone. People depended on his shop for credit. There was no money so they paid with their corn harvest. At harvest time the store owner sent his mules to the designated milpa to collect his share. People also recall that Mr. Gregorio Ayuso, the storeowner, was the only person to then own a radio. Mr. Ayuso was practically the undisputed village chieftain. In those days, when word was sent to the village that the English governor would visit, it was great news. The teacher would prepare the children with their skits, poems, and songs. The villagers would line the main street with Pimenta trees. These would lead to the dock at the river side where the boat was supposed to dock. They would then wait excitedly for the awaited day. Early that morning the captain of Mr. Ayuso’s boat, along with the engineer Mr. Albert Disus, they would prepare the boat ‘the Lulu’ Mr. Ayuso would then arrive and board his boat. They would then be off. They would travel downstream to meet the government dignitaries somewhere between the river area called “Mampo Shoal” and “Jinny Creek”. Many were the times when business would be concluded here without the governor arriving at the village.
Recorded also, is in fact that Mr. Ayuso had strong ties with the Catholic Church. Visiting priests used to stay at his house. To prove his true devotion he bequeathed his village lot, where his store had been erected, to the Catholic Church. This was after he died. This land is where ht present-day Guinea Grass Stimulation center for young children is located. Yes, Mr. Ayuso was deeply religious. But so were the villagers who lived I this community. Many families had a special saint they used to venerate. One such person was a lady called Mrs. Maria medina. This lady actually travelled to Guatemala, and visited the sanctuary of the “Senor de Esquipulas.” When she came back she brought a statue of the Saint with her. His novena was then held in the month of January. It lasted nine days. On the last day of the novena a ‘mesitzada’ would be held. Young ladies form the community would be invited to participate. These were the ‘mestizas.’ The young men invited to participate were the ‘Bakeros’. The mestizas would be dressed in white, loose, ankle long ‘Ipils’. These dresses were gaily decorated with embroidery at the hem and at the neck. A blue ribbon would be pinned across the chest.
But what was more interesting, the night before the fiesta; the young ladies may be seen collecting fireflies. These insects would be tied with the thread unto the mesizas white ‘Ipil’. The glowing, flickering light emanating from these insects enabled the ‘Baqueros’ to find a partner for dancing. The ‘Bakeros’ had to ask permission as the mestizs’s chaperone’s would normally be sitting one bench behind the mestiza. A favorite dance was the zapateado. Other times they might dance the ‘Hoghead’ dance. Traditional music came from drums and wind instruments. Traditional foods would also be supplied by the family hosting the fiesta. There would be relleno. Tamales may also be prepared. But a favorite one was the “Pib”. For the “Pib” a wide enough pit had to be dug. It didn’t have to be very deep. Stones would then be placed inside. These stones were covered with firewood which would then be ignited and left for some time. After a while the wood was taken out and the meat in containers would be placed over the red hot stones and covered with leaves. Usually plantain leaves were used for this purpose. The pit was then loosely covered with dirt. Usually the meat was left overnight before the soil was removed to reopen the pit and remove the cooked meat. Pork was the main meat used. The villagers also celebrated novenas for other saints. A favorite saint was ‘El Nino de Atocha’. Another one was San Isidro. But their implorations to San Isidro were usually to ask for rain.
But although the community was highly religious; there were time when god showed he was very angry with them. They records show that early in the 1940s, just like in the times of Moses the people experienced very real hardships. In 1941, the people experienced a plague. At the start of it, the skies got dark as a great swarm of locusts shaded the sun as they invaded the land. As they advanced across the land, a loud sound, like a heavy roaring wind could be heard. And where these 4 to 6 inches long insects set down, they ate all manner of plant leaves. Some housed lost their roofing to these insects. That year, people lost their vital corn harvest as these pests were around for many days. It was a long hard year with people subsisting on ground foods like the coco. Coco was eaten morning noon and night.
But the people manage to survive to face 1942. This was the year of the hurricane. This storm knocked down trees. It knocked down the people’s milpa. It knocked down the houses. But the people were every hardy. They survived. The following year 1943, the people of Guinea Grass experienced on of the worst draughts. The skies refused to let the rains fall. In parts, the earth cracked. Fissures opened like parched mouths thirsting for water. Across the milpas, plants wilted. They dried up in the hot sun. It was so dry that it is reported that the Crooked tree lagoon went dry. But the people survived.
The village survived to present day where it is one of the largest in the district. It has come a long way. It has come from the dawn of this century, to the turn of the century. The history of this community has been written in the past of our ancestors, it is being written in the present of modern Belize and it shall continue to be written in the future for posterity.