COMMENTARY: Saluting rural women of not so long ago

 Young people praying with La Plaine centerian Ms. Belldrina Euzebe (Ma Toupee) in April at her home as part of a Catholic youth event

Young people praying with La Plaine centenarian Belldrina Euzebe (Ma Toupee) in April at her home as part of a Catholic youth event

Growing up in the Au Vent region of Dominica (south eastern Atlantic windward coast), I knew many women who were what I would now call ‘strong women’.

As a child I saw them as merely women who because of their circumstances had no choice but to do what they did. Take for instance, Ma. Christina who worked at the Agricultural station at the other end of La Plaine. She went out to the field from 5:00 o’clock with a large basket on her head in the mornings and came back just before dusk laden with a few dasheens or a few breadfruits and some firewood. Others made similar journeys to the ‘bush,‘ cutlass in hand, always a few steps ahead of their husbands.

These ladies are examples of rural women who were heads of households, homemakers and women of the soil all at once. Grand holidays like Christmas, New Years, Easter and Boxing Day were especially busy, as they had to gather as much produce and meat as possible to ensure that everyone will be fed and also have clean ironed clothes.

They went to Roseau to do their small shopping by truck. They retuned to La Plaine bearing shoes, books, pencils and snacks for the children.

Before Premier Leblanc cut roads deep into the countryside in the mid- 60s, they made the two-day round trip on foot via the Morne Trois Pitons rain forest and Laudat (Chimen Letang) carrying their baskets on their heads. Often times they arrived in Roseau in the early morning hours while the town was still asleep drench from the heavy rains they encountered in the interior.

On Sunday mornings, they would be the first ones at church cleaning the benches and the churchyard and getting things in order before the rest of the congregation came in. As I reflect on this I can now fully appreciate how ‘hard’ it must have been; they must have been tired. Yet they carried on. I did not realize just how phenomenal they were, and what it must have taken to do what they did. Note too that they were women well over 50 years old.

These were the matriarchs on whose backs our once small close-knit communities were built. They raised children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces, some who went on to become very successful. They succeeded at their mission of keeping the house and family together. They were active in the Social League, Credit union, other Civic organizations and the Catholic Church.

They were also the ones who went to the houses of the sick and indigent to wash, cook and clean. Interestingly enough, they were also at the fore of orchestrating the process of selecting the Village Council candidates who were mostly men. At the same time they accommodated, worked and were friends with each other despite their political differences. They carried the weight of the community on their shoulders- yet some were always off to the fields before the sun emerged.

Their stories are stories of inspiration and hope- in the face of adversity they never gave up. In the face of poverty (‘Malaway’) they kept their dignity and knew that against all odds their children had to be educated. In their own way they were women who defied what was expected of them. They were the true pioneers of the women’s movement in Dominica and examples for young women to emulate. They were women of character and strength and in their own way, they were empowered. They were ‘rebel’ women who led by example and went about their business in the old fashion way.

Theirs is the story of many women in Dominica and other parts of the developing world. I am sure we all know a Ma Mary, Ma Joe or Ma Sonnyboy. I hope you have realized how amazing they truly were and got a chance to tell them this.

The majority of these women were probably never validated or had their work lauded. Now I pause to do so, though most of them have passed-on. I thank them for being excellent examples of strong women- women of spirit and heart, physical and emotional strength, selfless and caring. These women were the backbone of their families and communities all across our island home.

A belated hearty Mothers Day greeting to these heroines who have gone to their eternal rest and the few who are still with us.

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  1. Ed
    May 13, 2014

    …That was a great piece of commentary.. :arrow:

  2. by the school
    May 13, 2014

    An excellent piece, and well written too! The blogger captures the essence of what really is a phenomenal woman. I am not from Au Vente, but she speaks to/of every phenomenal woman of Dominica, and I tip my hat/heart to them all. May God lift their souls…those who are alive and those who have passed on. Great work, blogger.

  3. dominican in miami
    May 13, 2014

    man that is heart feeling and thats realy true .and some of them were never recognized make me feel like going back in time lol

  4. Anonymous
    May 13, 2014

    Good article. Those were the times and that was how life was. Today, people have moved out of agriculture and a lot of people have education and so office jobs. So quite silly about the comments on the lazy women today. We are all hard working individuals, using our brains rather than it being physical. That is work and tiring too! What women like me are fed up off though is the lazy men who want to depend on us, who are greedy, and who are just looking for caretakers for their mother in a woman.

  5. Mcdoe
    May 13, 2014

    I recall meeting many such community stalwarts who in addition to their “reproductve” funtions were also members of village councils and village improvement committees thereby making enormous contributions to the develpoment of their villages and our beautiful country. Great piece, “King”.

  6. A Higher Calling
    May 12, 2014

    This is very insightful and touching. Kudos to those matriarchs.

  7. westindianfriend
    May 12, 2014

    Those women were the ones that made Dominica what it is nowadays. Too bad the young females these days are afraid of sweating, getting dirty and making fig to bring home a little bit of money to buy school uniform for the children.

  8. opinionated
    May 12, 2014

    I find this article was well thought out and reflects the sort of writing that is needed in the field. good job :-D

  9. grell
    May 12, 2014

    Great piece,remember the elders always,esp the women.

  10. May 12, 2014

    Yes these women really work had to ensure their children were fed and educated. I can also mention . On the Laronde side I remember people like ma Banque,ma Mozart, ma Tom, Janet, ma Camille, ma Fred, ma Thomas and many more ma Edward. Those women worked hard ma Cornelia. And their children carried the mantle. But sad to say something happen and time has changed our thinking which has caused us to be selfish, thinking the world is our nothing for others we will not go old and never die. We greedy always vex.hate to see our friend prosper. If those folks were to come back I believe they would say that’s the land of milk and honey that the bible is talking about. And they would ask Why the people of this age cannot enjoy that sweet time they have. They prefer to kill than to live.

  11. Sylvester Cadette
    May 12, 2014

    I usually comment sparingly on the blogs, venturing to do so only to edify, support or to extol a noble position. But I must again commend you for this insightful assessment and summation of the true position of our rural women, their contribution and the indelible imprints they have made on our lives, community, values & principles, village government and organization and the success of the community on a whole.

    Their never-ending tenacity and perseverance and honesty and caring, Koudmen, their Belle & Quadrille (kwadrill) are real virtues to pursue.

    Like you, I still marvel at how they did all that work and still had time for others and community. WOW. And they always had extra cooked dasheen or yam to offer if you happen to just pass by their homes in the afternoon on your way to an errand – Just phenomenal loving people. I remember Ma Toupee. Another great La Plaine community lady is approaching a century in July – Ma CeCe !! Good health to her!!

    Thanks DNO for letting me say a mouthful. I’ll be shorter on my comments next time. Thanks

    And THANKS AGAIN Dr. Finn.

    • Sylvester Cadette
      May 12, 2014

      I realized I used tenacity & perseverance (same meaning) in sequence when in fact I wanted to say tenacity and phenomenal selflessness

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