GUYANA: Let’s go south of the Kanuku Mountains – by Francis Quamina Farrier

Let’s go south of the Kanuku Mountains – by Francis Quamina Farrier 

Here in Guyana, September is observed as “Amerindian Heritage Month”, or to be politically correct, “Indigenous Heritage Month“. And September is also a special month for Native Americans – the North American cousins of Guyana’s Indigenous Peoples. That was told to me by a Native American Elder when I interviewed him, while on one of my visits to the awesome Museum of the American Indian, located in Washington, DC, in the United States of America.

At this time in September 2018, I invite you to come with me south of the Kanuku Mountain range, which divides the North and South Rupununi Savannahs in Region 9 of the country. I know this area of our beautiful country reasonably well, having gone there on many occasions over a fifty year period and has decided to share a few of my own experiences with you.         

My very first trip south of the Kanuku Mountain range, the habitat of the gigantic Harpy Eagle, was with a tourist party organized by Ms. Marge Rockeliffe, a school teacher and Girls Guide Leader, who was very active in tourism, and organized many tours to Guyana’s hinterland back in the pre-independence years. Her tour parties always had foreigners from America, Britain, Canada and the Caribbean. That first visit of mine to the South Rupununi was back in 1964.

It was over the Easter week-end and the cost of the entire trip was One hundred and twenty British Guiana dollars (BG$120.00), which included ground travel, air flights, also Guest House accommodation and meals. Our travel from the coast to Lethem was by a Dakota airplane of the Guiana Airways Corporation (GAC). From Lethem we travelled in an open truck to Sandcreek, via Macushi Village and the sprawling Dadanawa Ranch. It was a memorable trip which I have documented in a short story entitled “You have left Something”. That was the parting statement by the priest; we had left “A good impression”.

Sandcreek is located at the southern side of the majestic Kanunu Mountain range which towers thousands of feet above sea level, and stretches across the Rupununi Savannahs from Suriname at the east to Brazil at the west. That first trip of mine to the South Rupununi, exposed me to the pristine Indigenous culture and what was Guyana’s Cattle Country. There were hundreds and thousands of cattle to be seen everywhere across the undulating savannahs.

On my most recent visit to the South Rupununi a few years ago, I was shocked to see some of the shops  selling corned beef from Argentina. Cattle were no longer to be seen by the thousands grazing in the savannah, but only by the hundreds. At that time of declining cattle population, Amerindian poet Sydney Allicock, now Vice President and Minister of Indigenous People’s Affairs, wrote a poem entitled “The Changing Scene”, which he performed at GUYFESTA and won a Certificate of Excellence. Cattle rustling is the principal reason for the reduction of the cattle population in the South Rupununi. Rustlers (thieves) are stealing cattle by the dozens from the open savannahs on a regular basis, and taking them over the border to Brazil, where they are sold.

Beyond Sandcreek to the east, is the village of Shea. In that community is the impressive Shea Rock, which is about the size of Queenstown in Georgetown and a little higher than the Bank of Guyana. Shea Rock can be easily climbed by the average healthy person, and encouraged by the School Master at the time, Basil Rodrigues, I made the exciting climb to the top of the rock along with him and a few of the students. For me, Shea rock should be promoted as one of Guyana’s tourist attractions in the South Rupununi; especially for those who love the open landscape and the challenge and thrill of climbing hills and mountains. From the village center, it will take about half an hour walk to get to the summit of the Rock. There one can view the beautiful sprawling savannah lands below, and gain a greater love for our “Beautiful Guyana”.

Much further south of Shea is the more populous village of Aishalton. The people are also extremely hospitable that it would be difficult not to love them. At Aishalton, there is a Police Station, a small hospital constructed with clay bricks, a church, a convent, schools and a number of shops among other institutions. Just outside the village are the Famous Rock Carvings which archeologist Dr. Denis Williams stated are many centuries old. These are also ideal tourist attractions.

It should be mentioned that the Rupununi Savannah lands are way above sea level, but as it is known, there are serious floods from time to time in the South Rupununi, especially during the rainy season. So one might wonder how is it that such highlands suffer flooding? The reason is simple. Imagine spilling your coffee on your table top while having breakfast. That will result in a mini table top ‘flood’, until the spilt liquid is wiped away. That is an example of the floods in the high Rupununi Savannahs during the rainy season. The water from the rail-fall being more than the Essequibo, Rupununi and Takatu rivers can cope with in a timely way, resulting with those rivers overflowing their banks and flooding the savannahs.

Last year, 2017, a Cultural Group from the South Rupununi was invited to New York as a special guest of the Guyana Cultural Association of New York, Inc., for their annual series of cultural events, and I have to say that they represented the Rupununi and Guyana with class and dignity. As a Guyanese witnessing them performing and interacting in that large metropolis, having come from a small village without any paved streets or even a single car, I was as proud of them as anyone else was who saw them.

Some years ago, there was the “Visit Guyana Year”, organized by the Ministry of Tourism which was aimed primarily at Guyanese in the Diaspora. What might be considered, is another “Visit Guyana Year”, this time with the focus on the exotic South Rupununi, and with part of the focus on the Guyanese at home. And may I add that there is GOLD in the Marudi Mountains in the South Rupununi.

​The Cultural Group from the South Rupununi in New York City in September 2017. (Photo by F.Q. Farrier)

Farrier with Headmaster Basil Rodrigues at the summit of Shea Rock, 1976

Dr. Denis Williams at left, with Farrier at the centuries old Indigenous Rock Carvings at Aishalton in the deep South Rupununi Savannah, 1978

Farrier about to make another visit to the Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC., USA, 2017.

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