If nothing else, the tragic fire at the Mahdia Secondary School dorm — which snuffed out the lives of 18 young women and one even younger boy — has placed a spotlight on the “Town”. In 2018, David Granger, as President, decided to baptize the settlement of just 2600-odd (some would say “very odd”!) persons as a town!! As reported by Wiki, Mahdia has “four hotels; two guest houses and four brothels” – not to mention ELEVEN restaurants!!
As you can surmise, Mahdia’s a place for “sporting”!! Founded in the late 1880s when gold was discovered in the surrounding mountains, that activity has remained as the raison d’etre for the settlement. It always had a large, transient population of rough-and-ready, adventurous souls who’re willing to test the rigours of gold – and later diamond – mining in the mountains. Mahdia itself is some 1300 feet above sea level. In the beginning, the activity provided an outlet for the ex-slaves from the coast, who rejected the plantations where they’d been kept in subjugation for centuries. The additional freedom occasioned by the realities of the unpoliced interior was taken full advantage of!!
The stories of these early pork-knockers and their profligate ways when they returned to the coast are legend!! Wine, women and song it was!! With the Linden-Lethem road and an airstrip in the present, these revelries can be indulged right here in Mahdia. Hence the four brothels and the eleven restaurants!! Women from the coast, and later Brazil, always gravitated into Mahdia, which then earned its reputation of a Wild West town in the Guyanese wilderness!! Sadly, the Indigenous females were literally seen as fair game for male lechery, and have been exploited brutally since the 1890s gold rush. The incident that triggered the arson at the school was linked to the attentions of one of these lechers towards one young student.
Interestingly, small islanders – here from St Lucia and Dominica – also gravitated into the goldfields – as they’d done in the Bauxite town of Linden. Their descendants remain a feature of Mahdia’s colourful cultural life. Just outside of Mahdia is an Indigenous Peoples’ settlement, called “Campbell Town” after their pioneering leader Stephen Campbell — who secured the right to title over the lands they were living on from “time immemorial” at the Independence Talks in 1965!! So those who quibble about Indigenous Peoples “getting land” are full of you know what!!
Now, you may be wondering how come the town didn’t develop any local industries, like jewelry-making, to add value to its products. Sadly, those of us who inherited the mantle of colonial rule at independence retained the colonial attitude of seeing the locals as marks to be exploited.
All the gold and diamonds are shipped to the coast!!
…the Mahdia Monument