Brief History of the formation of the

El Dorado Consumers’ Co-operative Society Limited

 

It is important for us to document our history as it serves to place on record the contributions made by those of yesteryear who gave us the guidance to create a new vision for tomorrow.

The history of the institutions of El Dorado started after indentureship where many of our ancestors, those Jahagie bhais (indentured brothers) and bahen (sisters), who worked under adverse conditions mainly in the Trinidad Sugar Estate (later called Orange Grove Sugar Estate) plantation.  Examining the history of these former indentured labourers, they had an inherent thrift for savings and investments which later lay the foundation for certain legacy institutions in our village.

These includes to name a few the El Dorado Consumers Co-operative Society Limited, the El Dorado Shiv Mandir, the El Dorado South and North Hindu Schools.  

Let us look at the El Dorado Consumers Co-operative Society and the role it played in the development of this community.

In the pre-1940’s many of the settlers in El Dorado and the environs were the descendants of indentured immigrants who came mainly from India during the period 1845 to 1917. They were housed in Barracks at the Trinidad Sugar Estate. At the end of their term of indentureship there was confusion as to who should pay their return passage to India, the plantation owners, or the Government.  To resolve this conflict an offer was made to allocate lands to the immigrants in lieu of the return passage. The allocated lands were unattractive and prone to flooding.

These former indentured immigrants who settled in El Dorado knew how to cultivate the wetlands, having learnt from their forefathers.

The early settlers cultivated sugar cane on the paraphilias of their settlement in El Dorado, while many continued to work on the Sugar Plantations of the estate.
A few took up employment in the Sugar factory while others continued cultivating the estate land.  These settlers experienced hard-times in working the estate lands, planting sugar canes and selling same to the Sugar Factory at a reduced cost. They transported their sugar cane to the factory using animal drawn carts. They subsequently began cultivating food crops.

The Second World War lasted from 1939 to 1945 and brought further hardships to the people of El Dorado. There was food scarcity within the community. Ration cards were issued to residents based on the size of their households. This system continued even after the world war. The main food distribution center was Port of Spain as Tunapuna was considered to be a rural ‘Country Area.’ The distribution system did not facilitate food reaching the residents of El Dorado.


El Dorado at this time was heavily populated with the former indentured settlers. They practiced many of the customs brought from India, including the panchayat system, which was like a local governing council for disputes and other village matters.

These Panchayat took place below the Peepar tree at the El Dorado Shiv Mandir under the leadership of Mahant Ramdass, also known as Kutia Baba, the Pujarie of the Mandir. The Panchayat met and deliberated over the food shortage situation, searching for a solution to this pressing issue. The colonial laws allowed for the formation of Co-operative societies, which would have facilitated preferential treatment in getting food stuff to the villagers. In 1947 during a Panchayat meeting, six persons in the village came up with the idea of forming a co-operative for the residents of El Dorado. These were:
  1. Ramroop Neebar
  2. Ramlagan Ramdhanie aka Lookoor
  3. Kungal Singh
  4. Ramjit Ramdhanie
  5. Cassira
  6. Mahant Ramdass

Mahant Ramdass also assisted by providing guidance, however he stayed away from the operational aspects of the Society.

Kutia Baba was born in 1880 and originated from Madras India. He journeyed as a Jahagie, to this country on the SS Jura and landed on Nelson Island on December 17, 1889, at the age of 9. He was of the Nau caste and was assigned to Bellevue Estate in St. James.

He later moved to the El Dorado Shiv Mandir and engaged in spiritual work with wider community. The early meetings (Panchayat) that give birth to the El Dorado Consumers Cooperative Society were held at the Shiv Mandir under his patronage and spiritual guidance. 

The idea of the co-operative was shared among villagers and an initial contribution of $5.00 per person was taken as start-up capital.  We have no records of how many persons joined to form the co-operative. A building next to Supreme Plaza, (next to the Moosai family home) Eastern Main Road was rented and housed the Cooperative.  Volunteers went to Port of Spain and made purchases of basic food items.

They used the Trinidad Government Railway to transport the goods to Tunapuna/Tacarigua, then villagers used their carts to transport the goods to the Co-operative at El Dorado. Initially basic food items were purchased and rationed among villagers. The first shopkeepers were Sonny Rampersad, Kungal Singh and Seeberan.

The Cooperative started experiencing problems at its initial location. On hearing of the problems, Mr. Chinchamie, who was cultivating these lands at the corner of Eastern Main Road and Caura Royal Road, volunteered to give up these lands to the Cooperative. The Cooperative held talks with Trinidad Sugar Estate Officials, and the parcel of land was given to the Society, which then constructed a building to house the Cooperative. The land was unsuitable for a building of any sort as there were riverine running through the land, which flooded during rainy times.

Eventually, the villagers got together and redirected the riverine by digging a new water course. This is the water course we now know at the back of the El Dorado North Hindu school. The dirt that was dug up, was used to fill the old water courses and backfilled the land to raise it to a height to construct a building. Villagers used their bull carts and carried the dirt to the location. They volunteered their time and labour for this project.
Persons like Manan, Lorit Ramdhanie, and Ragoonath among others give their time and labor to achieve this dream.
At the same time other landmarks were noted in El Dorado, such as the Caura Chest Hospital and Mars Cinema (now New Life Temple)

The new co-operative was open in 1952 and duly registered as a Co-operative Society according to the Cooperative Societies Ordinance. El Dorado Consumers Co-operative Society Limited, was the duly registered name, which is retained up to today. Mr. Siew Sookhan was the first manager. The business activities included a grocery/shop, rum shop and later a hardware. The workers during this time were Sonny Rampersad, Opraj Ramroop, Sonnylal Maharaj, Jagoo, Motie Rampaul, Manan and Moonsammy Moorgan aka Tangwell. Persons including Jowallah, Capil and Harry Ramoutar also made significant contributions to the Society. The management team included Siew Sookhan and Ram Goudan.

Siew Sookhan was sent by the Society to England for a course of co-operative studies. On his return the Society opened an unofficial (Co-operative) bank where members deposited their monies into a savings account. Eventually, the Society ran into administrative and financial problems and had to close down its operations in 1968. Many persons lost their cash investments. The building stayed closed until it was gutted by fire in 1971 by unknown sources.
Villagers and shareholders still held the passion of having a co-operative.

In 1971 they formed another group led by Mr. Heera Ramdhanie. The group met with the then Prime Minister, Dr. Eric Williams and assistance was sought to build a new structure. The Industrial Development Corporation (a State Enterprise (IDC) granted a loan of $343,000 to construct a steel and concrete structure on the said premises. On Holy Thursday April 19, 1973, the Society opened a new modern Grocery Store under the management of the Board of Directors headed by Mr. Heera Ramdhanie

The Society consolidated itself and later acquired the premises at #2 Caura Royal Road El Dorado and went on to open other businesses including a Bakery, and a Lounge. The drive to expand continued and other business ventures were entered into including a Cabana in Tobago. The Grocery and the Cooperative became a landmark in El Dorado drawing shoppers from the various new settlements in the communities. Many youths from the village had their first employment opportunity at the Cooperative. As the Boards continued its transition, the vision changed and in 2004, the building housing the Grocery was demolished, and the present two-level structure was constructed.

The Society continued operating the Grocery and invited other businesses to set up their establishments on the premises. The Society was not spared of the many acquisitions of nepotism and corruption. This led to much internal strife and campaigning among the members, removing members of one Board and replacing them with other Board members, but the internal strife and mistrust continued. This started having negative impact on the Governance and stability of the Society.

The Government had to step in on two occasions and suspend the Board and appoint its own members of Board. The last such Government appointed Board of 2008, inherited a bewildered Society with huge debts, and financial instability.

The new Board had to change the tenants of the Grocery, dispose of the Land in Tobago, in order to raise finance and manage the Society to avoid insolvency. An insolvent Society would have resulted in the members losing a valuable piece of asset that our Ancestors fought hard to establish just after the second world war.

The Society is still grappling with this huge debt and critically manages its financial situation. The Board have started to chart a new strategic direction and vision along with and astute financial management to place the Society into a strong position as the pride of El Dorado, fulfilling that vision of the founding fathers of the Society and creating a business enterprise that the future generations of El Dorado and its environment can be proud of.