A local member of the Rastafarian community is blasting an apparent Government move to bulldoze, without warning, the place he has called home for more than 30 years.
And the recent action has led the Rastafari community to call into question the administration’s stated commitment to honour the rights of the local Rastafari community.
Charles Ijuijah Lashley is challenging a decision from the Ministry of Transport and Works (MTW) to demolish dozens of trees and a small structure in the Pine Basin, where he has lived since the age of 19.
Sixty-four-year-old Ijuiajah told Barbados TODAY he has been living in a small house in the Pine Basin, behind the Ministry of Transport and Works with his son, Ijuijah Sifahne, daughter Isartes Ibrie Sirine and the children’s mother, Kim ‘Isartis Ibrie’ Jackman. In the basin was also a large area where there were 30 full grown cherry trees, 40 full grown coconut trees, two pear trees, three mango trees, five dunks trees and a handful of ackee trees.
The area is also home to a group of Rastafari living in a multi-storey house on the hill above the basin. Some live there temporarily and others are permanent. It is also a place where persons are allowed to access the fruits that are being cultivated.
He explained that after residing in the nearby Pine Housing area for a short period to be with his sick mother, he returned after her death to renovate the property and refurbish it.
This was brought to an abrupt halt when bulldozers and other heavy equipment recently came barrelling through, uprooting the crops and scattering what Ijuijah claims was $9000 in equipment.
“I was on the verge of rebuilding. I took down the place and I was rebuilding . . . because it was decaying and one day I came and saw that the bulldozer came and wiped out all of ‘I’ history. All of the fruit trees are all gone and what you see is what is left,” Ijuijah told Barbados TODAY as heavy equipment rumbled in the background.
“It is devastating because recently I was looking to harvest the cherries and bottle them and preserve them for the sake of drinking.
“All the wood that I had there to build a little something was pushed away too – galvanise, wood, windows and everything. It’s like a nightmare. I can’t even bring the van down here. I have pictures of what the place looked like before, the amount of work I started to do. I would have been glad for a little assistance, but instead of that, they went and ruined everything,” the frustrated resident added.
Unconfirmed reports suggest that the excavation is being done to clear a watercourse, but efforts to reach the Chief Technical Officer have been unsuccessful.
Minister of Transport, Works and Water Resources Ian Gooding-Edghill said he would look into the matter.
But Ijuijah, who acknowledged that he is a squatter, maintains that his family should have been treated in a dignified manner, especially given the relatively amicable relations between himself and MTW officials over the years. He complained that the way the excavation is being done would likely result in soil erosion from heavy rains and argued that the parties could have agreed to deepen an already existing gutter that he had dug.
“It seems like squatter’s rights mean nothing. I saw they went up and dealt in a more respectable way with the people up at the Airport [Rock Hall, St Philip], but I didn’t even know they were going to do this,” Ijuijah complained.
The developments are not sitting well with Prescod, who is the MP for the area. During a visit to the site on Wednesday, he demanded an explanation from the minister or public officer responsible along with some “satisfaction” for the family.
“I cannot dictate what the satisfaction will be, but the first thing that I believe is necessary is to extend an apology to them for the manner in which this thing… I give you the assurance that something positive will have to come out of this, even if it is in the form of redress to this Rastafari community,” Prescod declared.
“Nobody over the years indicated that they were offended by this family’s presence and now all of a sudden a government that has taken a direction on enfranchisement and reparations comes into the bottom, totally disrespect the Rasta family, never engaged in any conversation, but send in a bulldozer to push down all the trees in here and disrupt the entire group. You can’t expect Prescod to be silent on it and you can’t expect the Rastafari community [to be quiet]. Though they might be small, they represent a body of black Barbadians of a working-class nature,” he added.
Rastafari spokesperson I-Live accused the Government of abandoning basic rules of humanity.
“The Government has a programme where they pay farmers for mature trees. The government declared more than a year ago that they plan to plant one million trees in Barbados. So we as a community are querying why they just came and pushed down trees without consulting anyone,” I-live declared.
“They didn’t come with paperwork and say this is government land and there are a lot of laws there. There is the ‘squatter’s rights’, which state that as long as people are on land they have some form of rights. You can see mature trees and a family whose livelihood has been taken away by the destruction of these trees.
“Something must be done. Justice must be done on this part and we collectively as a community are actively mobilising ourselves to work together in unison against all injustices by anyone,” he announced.
Forty-three years ago, Ijuijah transformed the area from a ‘jungle’ to a liveable space and would even borrow equipment to clear the wooded surroundings.
Tearfully, he recalled leaving his mother’s house at the age of 19 when he was told that he could not stay because of his dreadlocks. He lived with other brethren in their homes and sometimes abandoned houses, before settling at the bus stop in front of MTW. Shortly after, he was told about a cave in a wooded area near the Pine Basin and set out to make it a home.
Over the years, Ijuijah housed dozens of ‘like-minded’ brethren and at his last count, there were approximately 12 people living there permanently and others who would reside intermittently. After a dispute with some of the other brethren, he opted to move out of the main building and built a small wooden structure at the bottom of the cliff for his two teenaged children and their mother.
He is also no stranger to adversity. In 1996, Ijuijah and four of his brethren were imprisoned for marijuana cultivation. Exactly 10 years later, criminal charges were brought against him and Isartis Ibrie for opting to homeschool their children instead of placing them in the traditional school system. After an almost five-year saga with the Ministry of Education, Magistrate Douglas Frederick dismissed the case.