Guyana Memories: Pomeroon Times – By Dave Martins

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Guyana is such a vast and multi-dimensional kind of country that one could a write a column about the different aspects of the place, every week for a year, and still not cover it all.  One such slant for me would definitely be the Pomeroon River, where I spent many August holidays when I was a student at Saint Stanislaus College on a scholarship, while the Martins family was living at Vreed-en-Hoop.

My father, Joseph Francis Martins, son of an immigrant family from Madeira, had two farms in the Pomeroon: one at Martindale, about 2 miles from Charity, and one, directly across the river from it, at Cozier.  JFM, a hard-working gentleman, also had a Government contract to clear vegetation from several of the small creeks draining into the big river, and I went with him as a teenager on some of those trips, including one, way upriver, near where the Pickersgill sawmill was located – I have written about that previously.     

Folks who know the river well – famed broadcaster Joseph “Reds” Perreira being one; his mother was Claudia, a daughter from my father’s first marriage – can attest to the often turbulent nature of the river, known for its angry spring tides and frequent flooding of agricultural lands, and also for being a repository of the Amerindian culture, producing the likes of political leader Stephen Campbell and his son, esteemed musician David Campbell, among many others.  Looking back on it, years after I had migrated to Canada, and later the Cayman Islands, Guyana has remained an anchor for me, with the Pomeroon and the Rupununi Savannahs, in particular, being special pieces of the puzzle.

From as early as I can remember there was some sort of mystical connection for me with this river, partly propelled, I assume, from the physical nature of the place, with no electricity and no roads, you went everywhere by boats, but also this very convoluted mix of different races, battling the combination of scorching hot days, shivering cold nights, hordes of mosquitoes, and frequent floods with sea-water destroying crops, bolstered by a powerful sense of family and brotherhood, with an array of boats on the river, exchanging greetings and spontaneous visits.

Known for its abundance of fruits – particularly coconuts, citrus and mangoes – the Pomeroon was heaven for a bare-foot country boy like me, from West Dem, both for the produce and for the metal shed area my father had at Martindale for drying the coffee beans for the prized Pomeroon coffee.  As a youngster, I caught hell from my mother for my blackened short pants, caused by sliding down the galvanized sheets of the shed’s roof on my backside – how I never got injured, God only knows.

For the people who lived there then, and I assume it’s this way still, there was a personal connection, a kind of family thing, between them and the mighty waterway. Travellers going by would wave hello to people on shore, and I distinctly remember, being in bed at night, and feeling this sense of comfort from the sound of boats passing in the dark; if they had a horn, they would blow it; a lovely connection in the dead still Pomeroon night in a sudden, sharp howdy. The river hub for us at Martindale, was Charity, with the colourful Khan wooden buses transporting us up the Essequibo Coast to Adventure to catch the steamer to Parika hooking up with buses headed for Vreed-en-Hoop.  I made that journey, time and again, sometimes with my family, sometimes solo, so much so that being on the stelling at Parika was always an interaction with old friends and familiar places.

The sense of community was strong and widespread.  It was always about, showing up powerfully at weddings or christenings or even birthdays.  We didn’t use the words among us, but this sense of family was always there; they didn’t declare it openly, but that “Pomeroon thing” was a powerful fact in the lives of the ones who lived there, sharing, exchanging, intermarrying, and generally forging a bond (I have heard Reds Perreira and Gerry Martins, son from my father’s first marriage, mention this) that we would carry with us wherever the times of our lives took us; it was something one could almost touch.

I don’t recall ever talking about it specifically with any one, but a big part of the experience I related above had to do with the river itself.  As rivers go, the Pomeroon is not what one would term big.  At Martindale, for instance, my father’s place, it was not even half a mile wide, and the water was generally not rough, although we would catch hell for swimming in it as youths because of the presence of perai and barracuda. I recall a couple youngsters from families working on my father’s farm – young boys with missing toes, bitten off by fish from youths dangling their bare feet in the various streams. It is a picturesque, meandering river, coming from the Atlantic Coast, winding more or less north-westerly and frequently joined by a variety of small creeks.  There is also the human touch.

The government steamers providing the regular transport service direct to Georgetown would stop at several of the private riverside stellings, like the one at Martindale, for cargo and passengers, and their arrival was truly a joyous time, with old friends and new ones coming together.  Years later, I would mention this aspect and point out that in all those bustling stelling exchanges I could not recall one angry altercation taking place in that crowded melee.  It was river folks connecting, sharing, combining in a kind of unofficial family exchange by the riverside. Hectic, energetic, trading, bubbling and, yes, noisy.

Looking back now, I recognize that Pomeroon experience, as I did with a later one at Atkinson Field when I went to work there for B. G. Airways, as putting me in touch with not just an area, but literally a way of life.  Those of us who took those Pomeroon travels, by bus or train, and then by boat from Charity, will know what I’m referring to, and why it remains so vivid all these many years later.  Pomeroon is much more than just the name of a place to me; it is a unique way of being and doing. It is both a river and a path for a people making their world, living their combined dreams, sleeping to the sound of a passing boat, and walking in the backdam with your Dad holding a banana leaf over your head, sheltering you from the rain. It’s more than a river; it’s a world.

What I became as a song-writer is a largely mysterious process with many inputs, not all known to me, but one of the principal ones I do recognize is my sojourn in those long ago Pomeroon Times. It was a grounding, as I know it was for Reds Perreira, part of my Pomeroon family, in a unique mix of many races, including Amerindians, living harmoniously together. I was not living there – I was truly an outsider, there for a couple weeks at a time because of my father – but I could recognize the glue it had become for me in those long remembered Pomeroon times. It is a bond that remains to this day; memories of a shared world, of days and nights very fondly known, apart from the mosquitoes, of course. If you want more detail, call up Reds Perreira – tell him Dave sent you.

Normally, my SO IT GO column would end there, but I must in this case also declare the emotion that came with writing this particular burst. It left me with a combination of wonder and an emotional surge for a truly wonderful time in a marvellous piece of God’s earth, and I was there, hand and foot, as we say in GT.  Singular, abiding memories, warming me still to this day. Pomeroon panorama.

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Comments

  • mudhead2  On 12/29/2020 at 10:43 am

    My Grand father came from Medera and worked hard also

  • Jo  On 12/29/2020 at 3:15 pm

    Timeless celebration of a blessed place and life. Thks..Dave.

  • mudhead2  On 12/30/2020 at 5:55 am

    While others had a good time with wild women and song. our people worked hard for what they had. Now some are saying how come they have so much and we don’t It’s very simple you have to work to get it. regards M Hawkins

  • wally n  On 12/30/2020 at 3:24 pm

    Nothing wrong with wild women and song, you forgot booze, at least you are left with some good memories.We reap what we sow. You are right.

  • Anthony Persaud  On 12/31/2020 at 11:36 am

    So many wonderful memories to share. Thank God for the rough and tough life in Guyana. Now we can enjoy all the things he has provided for us to enjoy. Of course you must put in the requisite labor to get the output you need.

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