Guyana History: Johnny Carpenter and the Mekdeci family – By Freddie Kissoon

Johnny Carpenter and the Mekdeci family – By Freddie Kissoon

In my column of Sunday, May 20, 2018, captioned, “White fans didn’t know he was an East Indian boy” I wrote the following; “I remember when I was small there was a shoe store at Camp and Regent Streets named Shu-All. The owners passed as Portuguese but they were Syrians.”

Yesterday, the prominent, Portuguese-Guyanese businessman, Johnny Carpenter, came up to me in the National Park. I pass Mr. Carpenter daily in the park and the customary hello follows. But yesterday, while walking my dog, Mr. Carpenter asked for two minutes of my time. I told him he can get more than two minutes.
What Johnny Carpenter had to say to me was amusing. But there also wasn’t a funny side to it considering what I did to Carpenter.     

He said, “Freddie you made me into a Syrian.” He was referring to the May 20 column and what I mentioned about Shu-All store. Carpenter said his great grandfather, M.C. DaSilva was the owner of Shu-All Store and he wasn’t Syrians and none of his future offspring and their offspring was married to Syrians. What Mr. Carpenter was telling me is that there is no Syrian blood whatsoever in the family.

In fact, Carpenter said that he, Johhny, is not pure Portuguese. His father was an Englishman named Carpenter and his mother was part of that well-known Portuguese family – the Fitts. In fact, I know one of the descendents of the Fitts when she was a student of mine. She is married into to the family of perhaps the most famous Portuguese name in Guyana – the Fernandes.

Johnny Carpenter, in clearing up my misconception, had some interesting historical notes to pass on and I am passing them on to younger Guyanese now. The same man, M.C. DaSilva, also owned the entire village of Newtown which borders Campbellville to the east, Bel Air Park to the south, Kitty to the north, and Vlissengen Road to the west.
I now know who Da Silva Street in Newtown was named after and also D’Andrade Street in the same Newtown.
Mr. Carpenter added that his great grandfather was planning a huge extension of his Newtown land-holdings but for strategic reason the colonial administration bought out Newtown. Now here is an interesting dimension of Mr. Carpenter’s history that should intrigue readers.

There was a huge fire that engulfed Georgetown in 1945 and almost destroyed the entire inner city of the capital, meaning the entire commercial centre. It remains the largest fire in the history of the English-speaking. It took place on February 23. So each Mashramani Day as you gyrate in the bands in downtown Georgetown, remember those very streets that you are having fun on were completely engulfed by flames in 1945.

The Commission of Inquiry ordered by the Governor found Mr. Carpenter’s father as one of three persons responsible for the inferno. The fire started at Bookers’ Drugstore. The name is misleading. The place was in fact a manufacturing complex where the famous Limacol and products were mixed.

It appeared the initial explosion was due to a chemical mix-up for which the blame was put on Carpenter’s father. Mr. Carpenter’s father was the chief chemist and assistant manager at the time of the outbreak. Johnny Carpenter doesn’t feel his father was the main defaulter. If you want more details about that part of Guyanese, you can contact Johnny Carpenter.

This is a funny country. As you watch Johnny Carpenter jog in the National Park each day, you would not believe that the largest fire in a CARICOM country that almost burnt down the commercial city was blamed on his father.
Finally, Carpenter told me that he is still in possession of the business licence of his great grandfather and in fact carries on a business in its name at the junction of Lamaha and Irving Streets Street.

Finally, when I was writing that May column about how early in the 20th century we mistook Syrian-Guyanese for Portuguese, I wanted to mention the Mekdeci family as being categorized as Portuguese when they are in fact Syrians. But I didn’t have the time to research it so it was left out. For this column, I called Gerard Mekdeci to conform if the family is Portuguese or Syrian.

The Mekdeci family is definitely one of the more known names in Guyana and all this time I was sure they were Syrians. Gerard Mekdeci told me they are Lebanese. So there you have it. Johnny Carpenter is half Anglo-Saxon and half Portuguese. The famous Mekdecis are not Portuguese, are not Syrians but descendants from Lebanon.


ALSO READ:  Guyana History- The Great Fire of 1945

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  • Ian Wishart  On July 20, 2018 at 6:53 am

    Lebanon used to be part of the Greater Syria area when part of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire. Two separate countries were created under a French mandate after the defeat of Turkey (which made the mistake of joining Germany) at the end of WW1. Many “Syrians” as they are called throughout the Caribbean, are actually from what became Lebanon.

  • Sandra  On July 22, 2018 at 12:02 pm

    my family and i grew up with Johnny Carpenter as a close friend – it was so interesting and fascinating to read your story. Thanks for sharing. Johnny and my family remain close

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