Vergenoegen (ver-jee-new-jen) is the quintessential multi-ethnic, multi-religious vibrant Guyanese rural village. It is located in Region 3 (Essequibo islands/West Demerara) on the east bank of the mouth of the Essequibo river in Guyana, South America. The village is the third on the East Bank of Essequibo when traveling west after leaving the West Coast of Demerara boundary at Boerasirie. The first being Zeelugt and the second Tuschen. The village plays a lead role in the Vergenoegen/Greenwich Park Neighbourhood Democratic Council.
The village is bordered by the majestic Essequibo river to the north, Tuschen to the east, the backdams to the south and the village of Philadelphia to the west. Vergenoegen is accessed mainly by the JP Latchmansingh Highway which, starting at Vreed-en-Hoop on the west bank of the Demerara river cuts through villages on the West Coast Demerara and East Bank Essequibo and ends at Parika. Naturally the village can also be accessed by boat via the Essequibo river.
A Dutch word, Vergenoegen means to give pleasure to; to make happy or to satisfy. Contrary to popular belief and what young Vergenoegen women would like their suitors to think, it does not mean ‘land of the virgins’.
Owing to the heavy emphasis on rice cultivation Vergenoegen has been traditionally described as a farming village but over the past two decades it has undergone dramatic changes with many of its approximately 2000 residents seeking employment in various sectors in the capital city of Georgetown some 20 miles to the east and other villages on the East Bank Essequibo and West Coast Demerara. There is also a vibrant small scale commercial fishing enterprise in the village which serves communities as far as Linden. Several hundred persons are also involved in self-employed activities including grocery and dry goods shops, mechanic shops, furniture making establishments, snackettes, beer gardens etc.
A vital service hub
A popular and vital service hub on the East Bank Essequibo, Vergenoegen also accommodates two rice mills, a saw mill, a land development office, a health center, a village office, a gas station, a bakery and a water well while a multi-million dollar water treatment plant is being constructed on land which, up until the early 1990s, housed a Guyana Defence Force base. The village also had a community hall where dances, weddings and other social events used to take place. The building ran into ruin and has been demolished since the early 1990s. The Tuschen Post Office can only be accessed through Vergenoegen so residents have effectively claimed it to be a part of Vergenoegen. Many Vergenoegeners also use the services of a gym located in Tuschen.
Schools and places of religious worship
Vergenoegen is home to three schools – Vergenoegen Nursery School, Philadelphia Primary School and Vergenoegen Community High School. Most children from the village attend the nursery and primary schools but students who attain secondary schools have to travel to the West Coast Demerara or the city to attend such schools. The majority of high school students attend the Zeeburg and Stewartville secondary schools while a handful attend the more prominent secondary schools in the city. The literacy rate in Vergenoegen is said to be one of the highest among East Bank Essequibo villages.
The village is served by the Route 32 mini buses which ply the Georgetown/Parika route.
Housing scheme expansion
Up until the end of the 20th Century villagers lived mainly on the southern side of the highway but with the expansion of the village through two housing schemes hundreds of residents now live on the northern side of the highway. One of the new schemes is located in what was previously the primary school’s 10 acre rice field. The mosque used to be located on Old Road but with the development of the new scheme a new two story mosque with impressive minaret was built there.
Notable persons from Vergenoegen
Veggae (pronounced like ‘reggae’), as the village is also known, is the home village of former GDF Chief of Staff Brigadier Edward Collins, former Miss Guyana World and Miss Guyana Universe Odessa Phillips (she was also Miss University of Guyana), Minnet Mohamed Hafiz, a Supreme Court judge in Belize, former Editor-in-Chief of Guyana Chronicle Sharief Khan, Two Brothers conglomerate owner Shiraz Ali, former Guyana Under 19 cricketer Rafi Mohamed, former national karate champions Bruce and Jan Joseph and Andel Cameron, an able bodied national bodybuilding champion who is mute and deaf.
The village became temporarily notorious for being home to two of Guyana’s most notorious bandits – Linden ‘Blackie’ London and Trevor Brooks who were both shot and killed by police.
One of Guyana’s most popular music systems – Slingerz Family – originated from and is still based in Vergenoegen. The owners (principally Javed Ali, son of Shiraz Ali) promote the annual Vergenoegen Village Day on Christmas day which is the most popular event in Guyana on that day with persons travelling from all across the country to attend. In 2008 Jamaican dancehall stars Baby Cham and Macka Diamond performed at the event which is held on the old rice mill tarmac but which started out in 2000 as a street fair before being moved to the community playfield and then again to its current venue.
The Two Brothers conglomerate which is involved in rice cultivation and milling, farming, wholesale and retail fuel distribution and fisheries is the largest single employer in the village employing well over 100 persons both from within the village and other villages.
Cricket is easily the most popular sport in the village but football is also played and loved by many. The village has done well when competing in these sports against other villages in the area. Weight lifting, body building and karate are other sports which have avid followers and practitioners in Vergenoegen with karate classes being held at the Community High School. Softball cricket is religiously played on weekends at the old rice mill’s new tarmac.
Not unlike many large villages in Guyana, unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse and domestic violence are the main problems afflicting the community which is an otherwise harmonious one. The village has also experienced massive migration with most residents leaving for North American, Caribbean and other countries.
The beauty of Vergenoegen
From the riverside, even on a foggy day, one can clearly see the island of Leguan which rises idyllically from the Essequibo river and which is the third largest of the 365 islands in the river. The sunrises and sunsets, viewed from the riverside in the village rarely fail to be less than awe-inspiring. The sun can be viewed rising seemingly out of the Atlantic Ocean and appears to set into the Essequibo river. The sunsets in particular are, on a daily basis, a magnificent sight especially since the seawall is ideally located to enhance viewing.
Prepared by Imran Khan