International Women’s Day 2013: Remembering Kowsilla of Leonora

International Women’s Day 2013: Remembering Kowsilla of Leonora  by Rosaliene Bacchus

Three Worlds One Vision

Kowsilla - Leonora - British GuianaKowsilla of Leonora (1920-1964) – Guyana

Source: Article by Vanessa Narine (

I learned about Kowsilla, also known as Alice, while researching Guyana’s history (1950 to 1970) for my first novel, Under the Tamarind Tree. Her involvement in the sugar workers’ struggle for better working and living conditions and her final act of courage on 6 March 1964 at Plantation Leonora made an enduring impression on me.

Leonora, located on the West Coast Demerara, got its name from two Dutch children, Leo and Nora, during the days of Dutch occupation before the British took control of the colony in 1786.

On 6 March 1964 during a general sugar workers strike, Kowsilla was among the men and women who formed a human barricade by squatting on the bridge leading to Leonora’s factory gate. In so doing, they prevented African scabs, hired by the factory manager, from entering the factory to…

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  • N TEWARIE  On 03/05/2013 at 6:23 pm

    Our visitors to Guyana from other places
    Were all treated with respect in all cases
    This is a tradition engrained in our genes
    Not to bludgeon them with our peens
    Although some claim to be inventive
    Our visitors were so very insensitive
    Yet our slave masters treated us very harshly
    Although we were loyal with good husbandry
    Enslaved our men reducing them to mendicants
    Handing out pittances showing poor judgements
    Dehumanizing our women with sheer disrespect
    Callously neglecting complaints left unchecked
    A high percentage of them were educated peoples
    Yet they were all mal-treated worst than weevils
    And many also had a great deal of oral learning
    Despite their humbling and lead-hands’ bashing
    Many were also gifted with artistic and technical skills
    They left India to come to save the bakrahs’ sugar-mills
    A large number of Indian Sepoys (soldiers) among them
    Unlike the white comrades-in-arms they had no problem
    They were not drawn from the dregs of society
    But were members of a very respected army7
    Not taking the Queen’s shilling as a last resort
    But for the bakrahs to give adequate support
    Always well dressed in uniforms or in tunics
    Whether they were Hindus, Muslims or Sikhs
    They regarded their calling as warriors
    And served as the bakrahs’ protectors
    Sepoys (soldiers) of the British Indian Army
    Had faith in Hinduism, Islam and Christianity
    Several were also men of high learning
    Many were literate with good breeding
    Versed in Latin, Religious Studies and Astrology
    Also Mathematics, Commerce and Astronomy
    Lord Louis Mountbatten who once had visited Guyana
    Thought the coolies were magnificent men from India
    Their tall figures, deep broad chests, and molded limbs
    Showed as if they spent all their spare time in the gyms

    Interfere with a mother’s kid and see how would respond
    Interfere with a man’s wife you can’t even hide in a pond
    That’s what caused this whole morbid sordid affair
    For women living in the logies was like a nightmare
    The logies offered very little or no privacy
    Abduction of women was done very easily
    This was mostly done by overseers and managers
    And yes also from some community members
    Who would stoop to any level they can find
    And most times it was for cash or for kind
    Firstly, the Harry Garnett the Manager of the sugar estate
    Went to Gerad Van Nooten who raped Jamni as a bedmate
    Van Nooten and friends were habitual violators
    Of our immigrant women, girls and daughters
    Mr. Garnett should have placed Van Nooten on an anthill
    When he said he was keeping Jamni of her own free will
    Of course Van Nooten’s claim by Jamni was denied
    She struck him in his face then he started to backslide
    With heavy steel berwas (bangles) she wore on her wrist
    She scratched his face as he attempted she tried to resist
    Van Nooten released her and she ran towards her lojie
    A group of armed men including her husband, Jangli
    Demanded the manager brought to justice
    Only to be told their protest had no basis
    Despite all the lies told by managers to get their fill
    Few females lived with them on their own freewill
    To give themselves to the management officials
    Too scared of retaliation fighting their own battles
    They staunchly hold on to their cultural traditions
    And offered resistance to males with evil intentions
    Biased and headstrong Capt.De Rinzy went into action
    Disorder ensued, angry workers heedless of protection
    As he unwisely conspired not even to enquire
    Instead he ordered his militia squad to open fire
    After the shelling settled with the bullets and buck shot
    Jangli and one worker were shot and killed on the spot
    Three others died and 59 were injured with buck shot fire
    Because the manager wanted to fulfill his sexual desire

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