Women in Areas Built by Westindian Work Men

Image is from the Library of Congress.

So far, we have opened windows to the past, a past witch links us all as Panamanians to the experiences of workingmen who lived over a century ago. We have relived the times when Westindian laborers were introduced into those parts to be the sole work force, to be with them as they entered into hard, dangerous times and terrible working conditions. Those men would battle for labor reform, as we will see later on, and be trampled, battered, arrested and even assassinated in the darkness of the night.

Some ultimately would be branded as Communists, fired and even deported from the area where they made a living. They were tough men who found themselves far from home carving out a life in those new and far flung territories where other races of men just backed out or simply died.

I have reported a chance encounter with a pioneer woman of railway days as I wondered around Bocas Del Toro Province right after quitting secondary school in the years of 1955-1956. But my schooling was not to end as Old Bea would recognize a boy who had some schooling.Thereafter we would become fast friends while she gave me a veteran’s eyewitness account of how it was for women during the railroad building days. For me, she was giving us an account of how valuable womenfolk were for the survival of black Westindian men in those wilderness days.

How vital were those female personalities of the past and present to workmen, was definitely corroborated to me by Bea’s account. At the time, even though I’d always wanted to dedicate my life to writing, I didn’t know how or what I’d do with the story. Never the less, I was fascinated with what she was telling me and I soon began to think that my times and experiences up there were tame and even boring in comparison.Bea’s account, to a young man who had only worked for over a year of his life up until that time, was to him what might be considered a period of great advancements in labor relations and living conditions.

All my studies on the matter, however, indicate that history would focus its attention on the male workers and their struggle. Here again, as one who inherited the culture Westindian people have carved out for us of this new generation, I cannot forsake or forget the females who came and followed the men and their struggles. The women also were personalities who contributed to the development of those remote regions of Central America. It is here and now in these pages that I pay homage to all the women who were and still are to this day involved and continue to persevere in those remote agricultural regions. So that, what will follow will be a description of the type of pioneer women who worked tirelessly to make life palatable in those areas; areas where, during the times of Bea and up to my times, although the word of God had not reached human ears, even so, the men preserved good manners and good taste.

It was my experience, and I cautiously say my experience, because it had been my understanding from elderly men coworkers in the fields that life in those parts seldom changed much, that the things people did as far back as the 1850’s had not changed much in the way people thought and behaved and in their general attitude towards life. So, for the Westindian community in those parts customs and mores could have easily remained the same throughout the years.

So then, in my unique experience with those pioneering West Indian people, I noted that there were basically three kinds of women of those females who followed men out to those parts. Some may have been attracted to the area in their quest for work for themselves and some may have been in search of a husband.

This story continues.

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