THE BERBICE CHAIR – By Dmitri Allicock

THE BERBICE CHAIR

By Dmitri Allicock – for Guyanese Online

 It seems that since humankind first stood up to see over the tall Savannah grasses, we’ve been looking for a place to sit back down and relax. The historical record is not quite so succinct, however—but when early migratory peoples first settled down into a domesticated lifestyle, it appears one mark of the civilized person was a seat that elevated the body “away from the cold, damp floor”. By the simple act of constructing an artificial place to sit, humans began the long tradition of distinguishing themselves from the animal world.

The earliest known form of Greek chair dates back to six or seven centuries BC. On the frieze of the Parthenon Zeus occupies a square seat with a bar-back and thick turned legs; it is ornamented with winged sphinxes and the feet of beasts. The characteristic Roman chairs were of marble, also adorned with sphinxes. The most famous of the very few chairs which have come down from a remote antiquity is the reputed chair of Saint Peter in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Read complete article: THE BERBICE CHAIR – by Dmitri Allicock

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Comments

  • Hubert Hintzen  On 07/02/2012 at 2:50 am

    Wonderful article Dmitri. I had completely forgotten about this great piece of Guyanese furniture. May I make an addition? As a child growing up and especially around Christmas pinewood kitchen floors were scrubbed with soap and water and a metal scraper. Drawing room floors were polished with Mansion Polish and this job usually assigned to the kids. We did not use lacquer for our furniture but something called French Polish. You used a large wad of cotton wool dampened in Methylated spirits (a purple liquid), the French polish was them poured on the wool and applied to the furniture and hand rubbed until the wood gleamed. Of course on Christmas Eve night while the pepperpot was slowly cooking ( and had been for at least two days) new linoleum was put down on the drawing and dining room floors, and new curtains were hung. The mixture of smells on Christmas morning was usually exciting and stimulating as one looked forward to gifts and Christmas morning breakfast. Ah such glorious memories of my Guyanese childhood. As an addendum, folks who lived in the “country” used the old linoleum to adorn the floor, half-way up the wall and the front of the seat of their “outdoor facilities” (toilets), procured and old Sears catalog, burned a hole through one corner and hung this in the toilet (with a large bottle of water to soften the paper of the catalog. Of course this was long before we became accustomed to rolls of toilet tissue. Even today here in the USA we older Guyanese still celebrate Christmas the old way — pepperpot, garlic pork, homemade bread, sorrel drink, black cake, coffee and a bottle or two of Eldorado 21 or Liqueur and homemade wine.
    Thanks for the memories and I enjoy your writings.

  • DMITRI ALLICOCK  On 07/02/2012 at 3:22 am

    Thanks Hubert, I was reading and “feeling you”. I could almost smell the polish and the atmosphere of Christmas my friend. Preservating Guyana’s history right here! God bless you and
    thanks again,
    Dmitri

  • Louis Bone  On 07/02/2012 at 3:47 am

    Excellent Article by dimitri, but Please, Please edit the presentation from “DEAD” to Read Complete Article. I hate to consider the implications thus implied! 🙂

  • Cyril Balkaran  On 07/05/2012 at 9:18 am

    Dmitri continue to enlighten the world with your glorious research works.I enjoy every ounce of it. God Bless!

  • DMITRI ALLICOCK  On 07/06/2012 at 1:41 pm

    Bless you too Cyril,
    I decided to showcase a little more of the Guyana’s Vintage in the recent article “From the Coal Pot to the Computer in Guyana.” I had a lot of fun doing it and thanks to you and other’s compliments and encouragement.
    I wanted to add something on the old Mortar and Pestle but needed a picture. I love plantation foo-foo with saltfish made by this method.
    Very best regards,
    Dmitri

  • Clyde Duncan  On 07/07/2012 at 6:27 am

    In Canada, one woman referred to the Berbice Chair as a Gynaecology Chair.

  • Deen Ameerullah  On 07/08/2012 at 8:14 pm

    Dmitri, I relished reading both of your pieces, “The Berbice Chair” and “From the Coal Pot to the Computer in Guyana.” Both were fine work that evoked much nostalgia. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and your talent. Yes, in addition to the Mortar and Pistle (some old folks called it “mata pee”), there were other pieces of tools/utensils which could be added to complement the article, such as the coconut grater, which was a rectangular block of wood with a serrated piece of metal nailed to one edge. The old folks used to rub the kernel of the coconut to grate it. Hubert Hintzen’s recollections of ole time Christmas preparations and the use of catalog pages for toilet paper, brought back some rich and amusing memories.
    If you are open to suggestions, please consider writing a historical piece on handmade toys of yesteryear Guyana, such as spinning wheel, made from flattened bottle caps; tops made from awara seed, yoyo made from Guyanese wood, pop gun, made from bamboo, other toys made from cotton reels, etc. I guess the young folks of today in Guyana would not have a clue what I’m talking about.
    Please keep up the good work.
    And Cyril you are an architect……your work is a cornerstone in building a link to all Guyanese. Thank you.

    • DMITRI ALLICOCK  On 07/10/2012 at 8:39 pm

      Thank you most kindly Dean for your compliments and suggestions, the Matapee was used by many of my relatives for Cassava Bread making. The “Greater” which you mentioned created mouth watering cuisines like Cook up Rice and Metemgee.
      I love the suggestion of the homemade toys which we expertly crafted. The modern metal Scooter of today is a replica of our wooden scooter. I would say our scooter was even better and more stylish. The Go- Cart was another that was handsomely constructed and uniquely different.
      The Buck Top from the Corio seed was another. We would select the largest seeds and place it in an ant nest for a few weeks. The ants would clean out the nut of the seed and assisted in the preparation of this masterpiece. Candle or bee’s wax was used to seal the spindle. Our Top spun and sang such beautiful notes of childhood memories.
      Sling Shots fashioned out of a suitable guava fork and a bicycle inner tube. I remember the cotton reel well- {from the thread spindle} .My mother was a Seamstress and the piece on the sewing machine came directly from my personal experience.
      We made our own black powder {Gun Powder}. Charcoal, saltpeter and sulphur were cheap and readily available. We use this for “blasting our homemade rockets into the sky.” Due to the world we live in today, I guess that I should now add “Don’t try this at home”
      Two of my siblings are Mechanical Engineers and another two are building contractors. Our early schooling came directly from the great experiences gained from building our toys and the games which we played. So much more to say and an article would surely help.
      Best regards and thanks for your encouragement
      Dmitri

      • Deen Ameerullah  On 07/11/2012 at 3:20 am

        Dmitri, thanks for your response. Wow! You brought back a lot of boyhood memories with reference to all those now forgotten toys. Two other homemade toys I remembered are the tincup blaster and the tincup telephone.
        The tincup blaster was made by piercing a nail hole at the bottom of a tincup that had a lid. A piece of carbon was placed in the tincup, we’d spit on the carbon to make it fume and replace the lid tightly onto the tincup, then light a match and place it to the nail hole to create a loud blast.
        As you know, the tincup telephone was made by attaching a long string (twine) to the bottom of two tincups. One tincup was placed by the window of our home and the other to our neighbor’s window. We used to have a lot of fun communicating with our neighbors that way. It was certainly better than. shouting.
        OMG! don’t forget our little home movie theater that we used to build by making a wooden box (projector) to fit a magnifying glass at one side and a hole at the opposite side to fit piece of film. A small mirror was used to reflect sunlight on the film that was projected through the magnifying glass onto a white sheeted wall. Those who attended our movie shows paid with buttons or a cent for admission. Oh! nothing like the good ole days.
        Dmitri, I’ll be looking forward to reading your forthcoming articles.
        Thanks again for sharing your personal experiences.
        Deen

  • DMITRI ALLICOCK  On 07/11/2012 at 6:17 pm

    Hi Dean
    I remember the Tin Cup telephone and Milo can carbon blasters well, in addition I also thought of this.
    The generations of my childhood made their kites. Store bought kites were rare.
    It was very important to have a great looking kite that can fly the highest and sing the loudest. These attractive master pieces were proudly displayed by all kite makers as they competed to make the best kite. My brother Andrei Allicock still continues this tradition in the United States. He won the Los Angeles Guyanese Kite Flying Competition for four consecutive years including 2012.
    All Guyanese boys and even some girls played cricket. In the old days the cricket ball was fashioned out of the Balata rubber that was plentiful. Knocking ball as it is called, we lived for cricket. Young children played with the soft ball then moved on to the harder cork ball before the ultimate leather ball. We played cricket without any protective gear. A homemade bat and ball was the requirement and the game was on. Protective gear was provided by the High School later on. We would hurry and finish our chores on the weekend and hopefully be allowed to enjoy a game of cricket.
    At Christmas, the fearsome Wild Cow and Mother Sally were terrifying {in a good way} figures to many children as they flounced and danced to the sound of the kittle, flute and drum. As children, we emulated the Masquerade band by making our own. I made the Wild Cow out of bamboo and cloth.
    Best regards,
    Dmitri

    • Deen Ameerullah  On 07/12/2012 at 1:18 am

      Dmitri,
      It appears we have a lot in common in relation to our past. Coincidentally, my elder brother and I were also good kite makers. We made both “broom kites” and “board kites” and sold them to get our “pocket piece” and build our savings in our “puzzling cups” (piggy banks). We were skillful at making colorful kites that were loud at singing. Also, we used to place razor blades on the tails of our kites to cut the strings of other kite flyers. Easter was one of our favorite times. Obviously, Andrei is a far superior kite maker. Maybe you could do a profile piece on him with reference to his art of kite making.
      Yes, I remembered boiling the balata and making balata balls. Also, we were very active in playing bumper ball at the beach. We had several teams and used to play competition every weekend. It was so much healthy fun.
      Ah! the joys of Christmas and the smell of cakes baking and it was the time for presents, especially toys……cowboy hats and cap gun. And yes, the festivities of Christmas, the carols, the masquerade with costumes dancing and rhyming, and ginger beer and cake, etc. There was no happier time.
      Thanks for sharing the nostalgia.
      Deen.

  • DMITRI ALLICOCK  On 07/12/2012 at 1:38 am

    Hi Dean, my good friend,
    Check out the video “Ecuador- Life at its purest” carried by Guyaneseonline
    An enchanting masterpiece that is guaranteed to stir deep thoughts, the hustle bustle and struggles of life are replaced with a pure breath of fresh air, the magic of the natural world and inspiring energy to benefit from.
    Our nostalgic memories and heritage are the riches which are truly meaningful.
    Bless you,
    Dmitri

    • Deen Ameerullah  On 07/12/2012 at 7:38 pm

      Hi! Dmitri,
      I did view the Ecuador video….it was spectacular. Thanks for highlighting it.
      I’ve joined the Guyanese Online Blog, so I’ll be keeping up with all the good stuff.
      Thanks for all your courteous responses and please do keep in touch. If you wish to contact me, my email address is aameerullah@hotmail.com. By the way, have you written a book? I’m always interested in reading material about the history, geography and cultures of Guyana.
      Take care.
      Deen

      • DMITRI ALLICOCK  On 07/12/2012 at 11:07 pm

        Hi Deen,
        What is amazing is the simple “Berbice Chair “brought out the very best in us and spawn meaningful friendship which I know will be long lasting.
        I am very involved with my family heritage research and am getting ready to publish a 300 page “not” for profit heritage book. No money or financial gain is part of the equation, just love for family and to pass something on to the next generation. I will let you know when it’s available.
        I like the Guyaneseonline site for this very reason.” A true labor of love,” not a penny is made and a great forum for diverse news and discussion by Guyanese of the things which uniquely matters.
        Thanks for everything and I will contact you by email. Stay in touch.
        Dmitri

  • Dana Elma Allie  On 06/11/2013 at 4:14 pm

    hi! this is fantastic! i wan to share with my 15 year old son!

  • Gigi  On 09/08/2013 at 9:11 pm

    We had a Berbice chair. It was designated as my mom’s chair but we( 4 siblings) used to fight over it when she was not sitting in it. We also had the Morris chairs. My dad was a car upholster at Booker’s and he not only taught my mom how to upholster furniture, but got her scraps of leatherite from work to do her upholstery.

    Fresh paint, newly upholstered furniture, new curtains, and new nightgowns on Christmas Eve were all part of our Christmas ritual. Good memories. Both my parents are no longer alive but their ‘making of memories’ live on. My kids always get new sleep clothes on Christmas eve and I clean house, thoroughly. Unlike my mom, I don’t wait until Christmas eve to put up my holiday tree, only because I want to enjoy it longer. I would love to one day have have an old fashion Guyanese Christmas tree – tree branches tied together, painted silver, adorned with cotton wool to look like snow on the branches, and then decorated with ornaments, lights, and tinsels. Still holding out for that…but it’s not going to happen this year…not practical trees around.

    Life in Guyana was so much more meaningful…a simpler life filled with old fashion memories…

    • Dmitri Allicock  On 09/09/2013 at 12:32 am

      Thanks Dana!

  • Dmitri Allicock  On 09/09/2013 at 12:33 am

    Wonderful memories Gigi.

  • Dorthea  On 07/23/2014 at 2:32 am

    Useful info. Fortunate me I discovered your website accidentally, and I’m shhocked
    why this twist of fate did not take place earlier!

    I bookmarked it.

  • Dmitri Allicock  On 10/30/2014 at 6:47 am

    Thanks Dorthea

  • Donya Ekstrand  On 11/04/2014 at 12:25 pm

    Loved reading the article on the Berbice Chair and it made me want to have one with me here in Sweden! I don’t get to Guyana often and suppose I could buy one and have it shipped up. IF anyone would want to sell such a beautiful chair. However perhaps you know where and if I could have one made. I looked at Kissoons but they didn’t seem to be such nice quality. Or would you know where I could have a drawing that I could share with a good furniture maker.

    • Dmitri Allicock  On 11/04/2014 at 9:32 pm

      Thanks Donya, I am not in a position to assist you with information on purchasing a Berbice chair but I will look around the web

    • guyaneseonline  On 11/07/2014 at 10:37 pm

      Donya and Dmitri:

      Donya, I noted your request regarding the purchase of a Berbice Chair and Dmitri’s reply.
      The Guyanese Online October 2011 Newsletter had an advertisement on page 6 regarding the sale of Berbice Chairs. The vendor was Bernard Ramsay. His contact info then was bernerdramsay@hotmail.com. telephone numbers were 954-636-7527 and 954-260-3877.
      I have not verified if this info is still correct but you can check it out.

      October 2011 Newsletter: (see page 6)

      Click to access guyanese-online-october-2011-newsletter.pdf

      • Dmitri Allicock  On 11/08/2014 at 7:52 am

        Awesome! Thank Cyril

  • Fadia Doerr  On 05/11/2015 at 5:27 pm

    The Berbice sure brought back fond memories of my Das. As a small child my Dad would come home & relax after work in it most of the time he would fall asleep. That is such good memories since I lost my Dad at the tender age of 9 yrs old.

  • Fadia Doerr  On 05/11/2015 at 5:34 pm

    I would also like to add another comment, I saw this chair in the Local Los Angeles Times, Sunday paper at one time. The photograph, was well done & there was a story that; this chair (the Berbice Chair) that is really a Plantation Style Chair came from Indonesia.
    Anyhow, I was very lucky to find it in Melrose CA at a Design Import Export store. At that time the price was about $1500.00 US Dollars. This was about 14 yrs ago.

  • Wilfred Beresford  On 02/05/2016 at 10:30 am

    Your articles here were very memorable. Guyana today does not have any resemblance of the past. The politicians have totally destroyed that. I live in Canada and in one area of Toronto, Scarborough, many Guyanese who have left, have formed a community there. You can get Black pudding,Chana, lowemein, chowmein, butter flap, Salara, tennis roll etc. a whole bunch of Guyanese foods and the condiments to make them. People there still enjoy curry Hassa and mangoes of all types.
    What is a shame is that we have a country that can produce a lot of commodities and shipped them out to the rest of the world. There are so many people who have seen that Berbice chair and would like to get their hands on one.
    Keep up your good works on Guyana Memories.

    Yours truly,

    Wilfred.

    • Dmitri Allicock  On 02/05/2016 at 12:01 pm

      Thanks Wilfred

  • Dalin Persaud  On 02/05/2016 at 1:38 pm

    I truly enjoy your articles and videos shared about Guyana. You are truly a son of Guyana. Bringing Guyana history alive. I look forward to reading more about British Guiana (Indentured Workers). So thankful to have people like who truly make a difference. My hats off to you.

    • Dmitri Allicock  On 02/05/2016 at 3:23 pm

      Thanks Dalin

  • Gloria  On 08/07/2021 at 12:37 pm

    Wanted to know where I could buy this chair in Georgetown, Guyana
    Address or phone # please ?
    Gloria

  • Donya Ekstrand  On 08/09/2021 at 3:03 am

    Gloria, I have been looking for a Berbice Chair as well. I once heard that there was someone in Pomeroom area that made the chairs to order but I never got closer than that. If you hear of anyone doing it please post again. maybe if you spoke to someone at Kissoons Furniture they might be able to tell you who could make one.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 08/11/2021 at 1:01 am

    Gynecology Chair ….

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