Man lives 40 years in forest
By AZARD ALI
DEEP in the Catshill Mayaro forest, 72-year-old Sylvester Binda was "rescued" from living 40 years alone. But Binda, nicknamed "Dogo," refuses to give up a lifestyle of eating cassava and fruits, and drinking water from rivers and ponds with his only companions — the forest animals.
After 40 years, Binda had visitors last Friday morning — foresters of the Forestry Division of the Ministry of Agriculture. Employees planting cedar trees under a ministry-sponsored reforestation project stumbled upon Binda's shack. They brush-cut his entire garden of cassava, yam and sweet potatoes. They told him they would return this morning to demolish his shack because he is illegally occupying State lands.
Grenadian by birth, Binda came to Trinidad at age seven and worked as a charcoal burner with his parents on the fringes of the Mayaro forest. They died when he was 25. When gas replaced charcoal as fuel, Binda had no work. Poverty made him flee into the forest where, he told Newsday, he always had something to eat.
He said he has no use for money and sometimes hunters give him clothes. He claims to commune with the birds in the forest. Some hunters refer to him as Papa Bois and the forest scientist. Last year some UWI students studying agriculture stayed overnight near his shack, he said, to study plants and animals.
More than five miles in the remote Catshill territory on the Southern Range, a Newsday team found Binda asleep inside his shack Saturday morning. His shack is surrounded by trees 100 feet tall — so remote is the area, branches and vines hang thick from treetops to the forest floor.
Binda, who said his staple diet is cassava dumplings boiled in coconut milk with fruits as dessert, told Newsday that he would not leave "Kumbasha Hill" — the name he gave to the elevated one-acre forest clearing he has made his home. Binda said that after 40 years in the forest, he has fears of returning to a civilised world, if the foresters return today and demolish his home.
Following Friday's visit by the forest officials, Binda told Newsday, "When ah hear the cutting, ah rush outside.
"They cut down everything. The only thing enter meh mind was to kill, kill, kill." Binda said he began to quarrel with the foresters. The foresters, Binda told Newsday, asked him to produce a deed by today for the land he occupies.
Reiterating that Kumbasha Hill has been his home for 40 years, Binda said he never had any form of identification, including a birthpaper. "I from Grenada; no birthpaper. I not even a citizen here, but is 37 years now I here. Where to go? I don't know anybody and nobody know me here," Binda, a frail-looking man, sobbed as he sat in his mud-plastered shack.
Complaining that the confrontation with the foresters had left him sleepless, Binda said he is fearful of a world beyond the forest.
He could not recall the last time he used money and professed his inability to read or write.
Binda said he has never been to a doctor during his 40 years as a forest dweller, except when he was bitten by a snake.
But his biggest fear of leaving the forest lies in the fact that he has nowhere else to live and at age 72, he cannot work.
Binda could not recall the last time he ate bread and expressed fear that his body would reject food, other than what he has grown accustomed to.
Binda said he never bought groceries since he sought refuge in the forest, but lived on sweet-water catfish and drank water from ponds, river and "water vines."
Binda said he spent Friday night lying awake with a cutlass next to him, on a bed made from Mora wood, but with no sponge or mattress.
"I'm not leaving the forest, they'll have to kill me," Binda said.
Mohan Bholasingh, a public health officer and president of the South-Eastern Hunters Association said hunters came upon Binda in the forest several years ago and had taken up the plight of Binda. In condemning the foresters' intrusion into Binda's home, Bholasingh said he intends to file documents for Binda to be granted Trinidad and Tobago citizenship.
"Then, I hope, the authorities understand that this man is protected under the law for the 40 years he has been living there."
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