The hidden treasures of Biche

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