Guyana collage

 

Guyana (Guiana) Tour

 

Guyana Cultural Tour: Pomeroo River, Wakapoa

 

 

Charity stalling (dock), Guyana Wakapoa Creek, GuyanaBoats packed in at Charity stalling (dock).  As Charity is the end of the road, a lot of produce that comes to the market and "urban goods" that leave the market go by boat.  We parked the bikes here and continued our tour by boat.
backwater marine gas station This is a gas station in the rivers, creeks and estuaries of western Guyana.  The more interesting story is how it gets here.  Gas from Georgetown is expensive so the cheaper gas (in part because it is not taxed) is that which comes from the neighboring oil exporting giant, Venezuela -- of course it has to be smuggled in, which is where the stories come in.  If the perpetrators are caught, the penalties for smuggling are severe.
Wakapoa, Guyana Our base camp west of  Charity was in Wakapoa Community.  It is not as much of a central location as a cluster of islands separated by meandering waterways and inhabited by several dozen associated Arawak families.  Travel between the islands is by canoe and motor boat.house, Wakapoa, Guyana

It might as well have been a resort -- the cabins looked out over white sand, the hospitality was suburb, crowds and commercialism were non-existent and all-in-all it was next to paradise.

forest, Wakapoa, Guyana bird, Wakapoa, Guyana woven fish trap, Wakapoa, Guyana bird, Wakapoa, Guyana
boats, Wakapoa, Guyana house, Wakapoa, Guyanaboats, Wakapoa, GuyanaWakapoa, GuyanaThe upland parts of the islands are farms and forests. A stroll around can bring you to a variety of birds, boats, beans (coffee), fish nets, homesteads and curiosities.  One walk came upon a sloth and another could hear howler monkeys in the distance.
student paddle canoe to school, Wakapoa, Guyana student paddle canoe to school, Wakapoa, GuyanaThese are the "school buses," or more accurately "school canoes."  At least when the weather is nice, it seems like an idyllic way to start the day -- though after the fifth day of school it may not seem so idyllic to the students.  I am sure it is not so nice when the clouds open up, the winds blow and you need to keep yourself and your school books dry, and paddle at the same time.
Doing errands by canoe, Wakapoa, Guyana Doing errands by canoe, Wakapoa, GuyanaDoing errands by canoe, Wakapoa, GuyanaTraditionally errands were done by canoe. Increasingly the canoe is being replaced by motor boat and the motor boat are getting bigger and bigger engines.  The is some concern that the motor boat might be connected to declining fish stock: Perhaps the boats scare the fish or as they erode wider and cleaner channels they are destroy the habitats used for spawning.
paddling canoe, Wakapoa, Guyana Like the traditionalist: To minimize our environmental impact, get some exercise and see the details of the environment better (mostly birds), we toured the community by canoe.
old tree, Wakapoa, Guyana old tree, Wakapoa, GuyanaThis giant tree is at St. Lucian Mission Island.  It dates back to the Dutch presence in the area and is hundreds of years old.  The story is that the Dutch planted similar trees as they established settlements Guyana.
clinic, Wakapoa, Guyana clinic, Wakapoa, GuyanaThe primary care clinic at the Mission handles basic health assessments, treatment of routine illness, prenatal care, preventative medicine, health education and normal deliveries.  Any condition with complication or requiring advanced medicine has to be evacuated, which requires procuring a boat and an hour of travel.
Mission School, Wakapoa, Guyana High School building,  Wakapoa, GuyanaIn Wakapao there are elementary schools on Mora Island, St. Lucian Mission (left) and Yarashirima Island.  At the Mission there is also a high school (right) and dormitories.  In St. Lucian Mission elementary school there are more grades than classrooms so several levels and their teachers need to share the rooms.  In the yard of the school is a play structure.
students, Wakapoa, Guyana  students, Wakapoa, Guyana    school play equipment, Wakapoa, Guyana
  One of the staples of the Amerindians is cassava bread.
Peeling bitter casava in preparation for making casava bread Grinding bitter casava in preparation for making casava bread Loading matapi with ground casava in preparation for making casava bread. Squeezing casava in a matapi in preparation for making casava bread. The liquid is used to make casreep. Squeezing casava in a matapi in preparation for making casava bread. The liquid is used to make casreep.
dumping cassava cake from matapi, for making cassava bread

pounding cassava in preparation for making cassava bread

mortar for pounding cassava, Wakapoa, Guyana

cassava cake, ready for making cassava breadMaking it requires many steps and takes the better part of a day.  Here is the recipe:
  • Peel the bitter cassava
  • Grate the cassava
  • Load the moist cassava mash into a matapicooking cassava bread
  • Weight the matapi to press the liquid out.  The white liquid is poisonous, but it is collect to be prepared as cassareep, later.
  • Extract the pressed cassava from the matapi
  • Pound the cassava in a stone mortar
  • Cook the cassava bread on a flat pan.

Matapi are only made by men.  They work like Chinese finger traps:  The more you pull on them the tighter they get, but if you squish the ends towards each other they expand and whatever is inside can be released.  A matapi in regular use will last about six months.

The chemical which make the liquid poisonous is strychnine. In its natural forms strychnine is relatively unstable and breaks down even faster when heated (but produces toxic fumes.)  The Amerindians boil the liquid from the cassava until it reduces and caramelizes to form a black liquid called cassareep.  This is used as a flavoring in stews (Pepperpot), sauces, on meat and in other dishes.

children playing cricket, Guyana Kids swimming, Wakapoa, Guyana The big sport in Guyana is cricket.  It doesn't take an area much wider than a trail for a batter and pitch to try their skills against one another.  The youngest children in the community seem to get the job of racing pell-mell through the bush to get the ball when it is hit.

Anna HopeWhen it gets to hot you can just walk down to the "drive way" and take a swim.

Some afternoons members of our groups have participate in some of the cassava bread cooking tasks (pounding and toasting the cassava meal), played with the kids, gone swimming and shared in the life of the house/community.  These times are usually at or near the top of the list of prized memories of the tour.

store, Wakapoa, Guyana small shop, Wakapoa, GuyanaEach island seems to have a family that runs a small store.  The inventory in each seems pretty much the same; a short list packaged and canned food, soft drinks, candy, cleaning supplies
Double Adirondack Chair, Wakapoa Woodworking Workshop, Wakapoa, Guyana Barbie doll furniture, Wakapoa, GuyanaThe Double Adirondack Chair was built by the Wakapoa Woodworking Workshop, and is sale.  Doll furniture is also available and much easier to export. It is also possible to come to Wakapoa for workshops at the Woodworking center and make your own furniture..
Community leaders, Wakapoa, Guyana In the afternoon we met with a community council member, school and health center leaders and learned about life, politics and economics in the community.  At the end of the program we heard "My Identity", a poem, read by Satra (see below).  This was the poem she had read as a finalist in the Region 2 Amerindian pageant, of the Miss Guyana pageant, a few months earlier.
Stasha, Wakapoa, Guyana

My Identity

Written by C.Roy Fredericks ©2003
Read by Satra (click here for video clip (large file))

From the indigenous group I come
Leaping through the test of time
And the weakness of myself

It was me! Walking bare feet
Through the forest, savannah and trails
And discovered the beauty of this land

It was me! Who name most of the rivers, lakes, mountains and trees,
Which are our treasures for you to see,
And the waterfalls, including Kaieteur, Arnatuk and Waratuk.

It was me! Who paddled my canoe,
In the blistering sun and the stinging rain,
To accomplish my early education,

Now, it is me! Who has evidence of my identity,
Among the population of this country,
My cacique crown shows I am the indigenous race,
Sitting and watching with grace,
Upon the people of this human race,
My tibisiri skirt shows my ability,
To be involved in the textile industry,
And can sparkle the mari-mari.

My shoulder bag, purse and letter case,
Make me the true indigenous race,
These and more are my true identity,
That have brought you here to see.

Cell phone tower, Wakapoa, Guyana Cell phone tower and charging station, Wakapoa, Guyana The are several ways that the outside world is making its way into Wakapoa. Bigger, faster boats was mentioned above.  Almost every house has a solar voltaic panel.  The shops have more processed food for sale.  And, Massarie Island has a cell phone antenna (left).  The operation is powered by solar panels and has a stand out front where people can plug in their phones to keep them charged (right).
Lloyd

Rita Anna Hope Eileen

Many thanks to these special people who made our visiting so enriching.

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