Rastas won’t budge
When Judy Phillips was told by her partner that he would put a roof over her head, she might have expected a dream home.
But when he took her to a wooded area where he had built a small shanty for them to live in, she found dream land.
“He showed me the land and ask me if I?like it and I told him ‘yes’,” said the soft-spoken herbalist who raised all of her 11 children on the land.
Today, the close-knit Rastafarian family of 23, including Phillips’ 11 children, 11 grandchildren and one great-grand, may well be Barbados’ richest poor family.
They still live in the woods occupying five shanties made out of old galvanized sheets and pieces of old wood, scattered on almost 8.38 acres of the land.
But the property has turned out to be prime real estate, forming the undeveloped portion of the affluent Fort George Heights neighbourhood in St Michael, where million-dollar homes are built and only the well-to-do can afford to live.
However, for Phillips and her family who have been squatting on the land for more than 30 years, it is not about the money or even the fact that they are sitting on some of the most sought-after land in Barbados.
They have refused to budge even though land owners – insurance conglomerate Sagicor Life Inc. – offered them over a million dollars at one point and also four acres with title deed to boot.
“We are not moving and we are not taking any bribes or offers,” said son Junior Phillips, 36. “We will stay here and fight for what is ours. We were on this land before there was a place called Fort George Heights.”
Their attorney David Comissiong has already stated that, by virtue of living on the land for so long, they have acquired certain legal entitlements through the Limitations And Prescription Act.
The family has no electricity and their running water was disconnected a while ago for non-payment of a huge bill.
Judy remembered living in the area when there were no houses, no amenities; just her family and canes.
She said the then owner of the land, a Caucasian plantation owner they knew as Mr Deane, gave them his blessings when he discovered that they were living there.
“He told us that we could live on the land for as long as we wanted as long as we did not give any trouble,” she explained. “I?remember when the white man use to be out there cutting canes, my children would see him and run but he use to call them and give them cane to suck and something to eat.”
Junior pointed out that over the years they had cut down some of the trees and started farming the ground, planting food and herbs.
They said it was only when Sagicor bought the land that their peaceful inhabitance changed.
“They have been trying to get us off the land for years. I don’t know what the fight is about because we don’t want to fight. All we want is a piece of the rock but it seems to us that people grudge us. This is a whole heap of jook-out-eye thing.”
Junior complained that everything had been done to make living for them uncomfortable, with access paths they once used being blocked off.
“We had trees planted to form a barrier and they brought a Bobcat and cut them down. My family kept a lot of noise and they had to replant them,” he said.
The family now uses an access road in Lower Burney, St George.
Judy remains undaunted by the struggle. Her only dream now is to keep her close-knit family intact on the land where many of them were born.
Junior dreams of better surroundings.
“Right now our family is tight,” he said. “We are just a little financially embarrassed but I would like to see the day when my brothers and sisters can rise up and build decent houses out here and continue to live on this land.”