Nestled amid the lush forests where a thick canopy conceals flourishing marijuana plantations, lies the scenic community of Biche.
With a population of over 4,000, residents say the area is one of the most peaceful. The news that the Government is considering the decriminalisation of marijuana this year, some residents believe the fertile lands in Biche will now attract outsiders to their community and possibly disrupt their easy-going way of life.
President of the Biche Sports Club Lewis Tom, 77, said Biche was not always recognised as a peaceful place.
“People see Biche as a backward place but it is not so. We are very modernised. We have an abundance of citrus and fruits, the varieties of which is lost to many parts of T&T,” Tom said.
The Beast of Biche
In years gone by, the story of Mano Benjamin evoked terror among children. Benjamin was an outsider whom Biche children called the Greenfaced man but to the rest of the country, he was known as the Beast of Biche.
Today, not many young people know the story of Benjamin who held two sisters Lucieann and Dulcie Ramirez captive inside a house at the Biche quarry where he raped, tortured and abused them in the 1960s. He served 20 years in prison for his crimes. One of the sisters was blinded with acid while the other was sexually mutilated. Both women have since died and their descendants up to this day do not know the extent of torture they endured.
Villager Albert Mc Kenzie, 80, recalled the days when Benjamin evoked terror in the community. Describing Benjamin as a boastful man, Mc Kenzie said he used to lime at a bar in Biche and always had a knife at hand. He prided himself on being an excellent knife thrower, Mc Kenzie said.
On the day Benjamin was arrested, Mc Kenzie said he happened to be in Biche.
“I was in Teacher’s College back then. When Mano get arrested all the women were cursing him for what he did to those girls. He was not human looking. It was the most heinous crime. After he served his prison time he went to Cedros. He never returned to Biche and he is dead now,” Mc Kenzie said.
Today the Quarry Road where Benjamin lived and worked is hardly frequented by residents. It is now an overgrown, bumpy gravel track, with a worn out sign. Cocoa trees overgrown and unkempt line either side of the track. The house where he lived is no longer there and people have used the land to plant bananas and other crops.
During the days of colonialism, Tom said Biche had no electricity or running water. The forests were thick and the houses were far from each other.
The two main estates were the Newlands and Robinson Estates but Tom said since 1987, the estates were sold and demolished to develop a poultry industry.
“Those estates used to employ almost everyone in Biche. When the estates were closed down, people could not find work. Today employment remains a problem in the area,” Tom said. He added that the stigma of marijuana remains.
“They think all we do here is grow marijuana but this is not true. When I was in Teacher’s College people used to ask me why I didn’t bring them some marijuana from Biche and I used to get real vex,” Tom recalled.
Talented calypsonians, sportsmen come from Biche
He said Biche has developed over the years producing excellent sportsmen and women.
Under the Biche Sports Club, the area produced Navin Bidaisee, who represents T&T in the Under 19 team.
Over the years, other sportsmen like Raymond Ramcharan, a top long-distance cyclist came from Biche, along with journalists Chester Sambrano of CNC3 and Cindy Raghubar-Teekersingh of TV6.
Mc Kenzie, a former school teacher said residents have never allowed the stigma of their community to affect their performance.
“Biche is a very talented place. We have calypsonians, musicians, sportsmen and women,” Mc Kenzie said. However, he said the area was often affected by water shortages.
Agricultural estates have been abandoned because of the water crisis.
Mc Kenzie said the marijuana plantations which grow around the Biche community are not on private lands but on State lands.
He added that Biche residents have enjoyed a peaceful and happy life despite the stigma.
Saying Biche was one of the best and safest places to live, Mc Kenzie said everyone looked out for each other.
He said a proper bus service and total rehabilitation of the 30 kilometres Cunapo Southern Main Road which links Rio Claro to Sangre Grande was urgently needed.
Still holding on to tradition.
Frank Samuel, a panman from Biche, said music, sports and agriculture pursuits have made the people of Biche productive.
He said the Biche Survivors Steel Orchestra has been defunct for six years but this year, they were already getting ready to participate in Carnival 2019.
Calypsonian Matthew George, whose wife, Ethelin Ross, is a niece to the Rameraz’s sisters, said Biche has not lost its cultural roots.
He said the youths in T&T were killing their culture but in Biche, they were still holding on to cultural norms and traditions. George, who goes by the sobriquet General George, said he wanted citizens to remain true to their culture by supporting calypso and steelpan.
He said the history of Biche must be preserved and its values retained.
Chairman of Mayaro/Rio Claro Regional Corporation and Councillor for Biche Glen Ram said the community has benefited from infrastructural development over the years.
“We have good recreational grounds, good lighting, an ATM, a health centre that opens up to 9 pm.
All the secondary roads are paved but there are two landslips that have developed along the road which we are looking at,” Ram said.
However, Anthony Mootoo, of McKenzie Trace, said the water shortages in Biche needed to be addressed immediately.
Using a pot to scoop up water from an uncovered barrel in front of his house, Mootoo said he often has to walk to a standpipe to get clean drinking water.
Despite the challenges in Biche, the residents say it was still one of the best communities to live in.
Ross said even though her aunts Lucieann and Dulcie suffered the most horrific torture 50 years ago, the story of Mano Benjamin has never defined the quality of life enjoyed by residents of Biche.
“Peace and love remain in this community,” she said. She noted that in the last days of her aunt’s lives, they still never spoke of the torment they endured.
“It was something we knew we never should ask about,” Ross revealed. With Benjamin and the sisters long dead, Biche villagers are hopeful that the rest of T&T will judge them by their own successes and not by the actions of outsiders.
Reporter: Radhica De Silva