History of Christmas In Guyana
The observation and celebration of Christmas in Guyana dates back to the 15th century. It began, circa 1627, among the Dutch immigrants who had established permanent settlements in Essequibo. The celebration later spread to Berbice in 1627 and then Demerara in 1746.
The counties of Essequibo, Demerara and Berbice, which subsequently became British as a result of European wars, were merged in 1831 and became British Guiana.
In the new British colony, the largest ethnic population were African slaves captured by British and Dutch slave ships and brought to Guyana to work on colonial sugar plantations.
Christmas was a popular season during the slavery era for most of the population except for the Amerindians who lived in scattered communities in the hinterland and observed and celebrated their own tribal festivals totally unrelated to Christianity.
It was peculiar at that time that while Christmas was about the birth of Christ, for a long while, little religious emphasis was placed on it. The few churches which were in Essequibo, Berbice and Demerara in the 17th century held no Christmas Services on December 25 or on Boxing Day, December 26.
The religious observation and celebration of Christmas may be linked to the coming of the Rev. John Wray. In 1810, the London Missionary Society, a Protestant body, sent him to Guyana. He set up a Mission for slaves at Plantation Le Ressouvenir, a large cotton estate on the East Coast of Demerara. A church building was constructed and was named Bethel Chapel. It had a congregation of some 600 people. The Rev. John Wray launched the religious observation of the Christian Festival of Christmas at his church. Church sermons featured the birth and life of Jesus Christ. An added feature was baptisms and marriages on Christmas Day or Boxing Day. The popularity of the Christmas Services and their added attractions gave the slaves forbearance to their miserable lives, remembering how Jesus Christ was beaten and crucified on the Cross. Christmas Celebrations quickly spread throughout the country and was popularly known as “the Season of Festivity.” From then to today, Guyanese extend to family, friends and anyone “Season’s Greetings” or “Happy Festive Season.”
Christmas and the Christmas Season were celebrated not only by the African slaves but by their white masters as well, each in their own way. The occasion expanded from just religious services to family parties and get-togethers on Christmas and Boxing Day. Special lunches and dinners for families and friends translated into feasting and drinking which remains the culture until this day. The whole country became a moving scene of feasting, drinking, dancing, gaiety. Cheerful groups traversed the lanes and paths in villages dressed in gaudy trappings, hair cut and fashioned in a variety of shapes, some decorated with beads, bits of ribbons and tinsel ornaments. They were accompanied by drumbeat and singing. Some wore wigs.
Christmas also became a time for gift giving. It perhaps was initiated by the white gentry who shared out clothing, food items and drinks, including alcohol, to their slaves and at the same time wishing them a Merry Christmas. The slaves accepted the gifts for what they were worth but never forgot the whip lashes they received or expected in the future from their masters. But inspired by the idea and the Christian charity of it all, slaves also began to give gifts of whatever they could afford to their immediate families. And so gift giving became consonant with the Christmas Season.
*** Acknowledgement To The Christian Property Magazine, December 2008.
Upper Demerara River Many Years Ago
by Peter Halder
Economic activities in the Upper Demerara River were mainly timber grants. The first grant, I believe, was at Kumaparo, about 60 miles south of Mallali but below Great Falls. The grant was owned and operated by Willems Timber and Trading Company. Jack Willems was the owner of the Company at that time. His Manager in Georgetown was a Mr McIntyre who flew to the site regularly on an Art Williams seaplane.
Another timber grant pioneer was Harry Lorrimer. His grant was at Kumaro about 18 miles south of Mallali. He travelled by speedboat and used tugs to transport his logs to Georgetown. He was among the first to use trucks to haul timber from the forest to the bank of the river for shipping.
Mr McDoom owned and operated a grant at Mallali Mission.
And Mr A.P. Fiedtkou also owned and operated a grant at Karakuya, above Mallali.
In those days, the main species of wood extracted from the forests were greenheart, purpleheart and kabakalli.
Some amount of alluvial gold mining was also done. Beyond Great Falls, Sigmund Croft, whose family lived at Kaka Kara Creek opposite Section C, Christianburg, did gold mining at Kanaimatu
There was no diamond mining as far as I was told.
Amerindians lived along both banks of the river, mainly as individual families in thatched troolie palm huts. They were from different tribes…Wapishiana, Macushi, Arawak and Carib.
There was a settlement above Great Falls. Great Falls is about 80 miles south of Mallali. Unlike Station, Kaikuchekabra and Anthony near Mallali, it was not flat. To go beyond it, you had to take your boat, canoe from the river and walk along a portage around the Fall, to where the river continued. The source of the Demerara River is Cannister Falls, near the Brazil border.
When the tide was at its highest during the rainy season, fishes swam from down to upriver to spawn but could not go go beyond Great Falls. The Amerindians who lived beyond the Falls harvested them, and dried or smoked them so they can be stored. Among the fishes were laulau, hymara, tiger fish, tibicuri and dara.
The Amerindian settlement was at Mabura about four miles below Great Falls. It was known as Mabura Mission. They held an annual festival which was called bimiti. It featured feasting, music and dancing. There was also another custom called mashramani in which the men would cut down trees, clear land and build huts. The women would cultivate farms and do all the cooking and house keeping. Men also did hunting and fishing.
A main crop for the Amerindians was bitter cassava. It was used to make cassava bread. There were two kinds…the round flat kind that is well known and also one that was very thick called aresuca. The crop was also used for making casareep and two popular drink called pywarri and cassiri. Of course casareep was used for making pepperpot in a huge iron pot. There were two kinds of pepperpot, one made with meat…deer, labba, accouri, wild cow (tapir) or wild hog. The other was with thick cleaned and filleted fish, especially laulau and very large hymara. Hot whole peppers were also an ingredient. Other potables included warrup, made from sugar cane juice. The juice was squeezed into large earthen jars, left in the sun to ferment with the help of a little yeast, and when ready, was placed in a nearby creek to chill. The most popular potable was Sleepy Tonic made with sugar, yeast and sometimes potato and sweet potato added.
Three superior forest experts in those days, were Amerindians who lived below Great Falls. They knew the forests in the Upper Demerara River like the back of their hands, did not need any maps and were never lost. The three were Wilford Wanama, Richard Williams and Sabia Daniels. The three were very good, for example, at locating greenheart sub-forests. They were able to smell from a distance the peculiar odour of greenheart leaves or know from the soil where greenheart or other commercial trees grew.
Animals that inhabited the forests in the Upper Demerara River included, wild cow (tapir), wild hog, deer ( a small, striped variety called wibishiri and a large brown variety), labba, accouri which thrived on eating the corio palm nuts when they fell to the ground, puma, jaguar (including the black jaguar) and the ewalla tiger. Snakes included the boa constrictor or camoudi, labaria, cunacura, lanara or bushmaster, rattlesnake.
There was a Water Gauge above the Falls that was set up by the Geological Survey Department in Georgetown. It was used to measure the depth of the water in the river.
NOSTALGIA….Wismar/Christianburg/Upper Demerara River
by Peter Halder
Christianburg was my home from 1957-1960. The time I spent there is still etched in my memory. It was an unenviable and unforgettable experience of what living in a mining area was like, especially when everybody knew everybody, and the males greatly outnumbered the females.
Christianburg was part and parcel of the Wismar-Christianburg- Silvertown- Silvercity- Wismar Hill area on the left bank of the Demerara River, opposite the then booming bauxite mining town of Mackenzie, now Linden. It was the District Administration centre for the Upper Demerara River District that extended from Kamuni Creek opposite and Princess Caroline adjacent to Atkinson Field, now Cheddi Jagan International Airport, southwards to Cannister Falls and the border with Brazil. An estimated 30,000 people lived in the Mackenzie -Wismar-Christianburg-Silvertown-Silvercity-Wismar Hill area.
The Upper Demerara River District was a sub-district of West Demerara Administrative District and was under the direction and control of the District Commissioner for West Demerara whose Office was located at Vreed-en-Hoop (really Pouderoyen) , West Bank Demerara, obliquely opposite the B.G. Match Factory. The District Commissioner in 1956 was Mr James Albert Sholto Douglas and he was replaced by Mr Ramsingh Rai.
Shortly after I joined the D.C.’s Office, Sproston’s Limited at Lombard and Broad Streets completed the construction of a steel motor-launch, the MV Rita C. The launch was named after the D.C.’s wife. I attended its launching. The Rita C was for use in the Upper Demerara River District.
I was elated and excited when, in 1957, District Commissioner Rai informed me that I was being transferred to the District Administration Office, Christianburg. I so wished to travel on the Rita C along the Demerara River and moreso to celebrate life and living in the lebensraum of Mackenzie of which I had heard so much when growing up. It was described as having an unfettered culture where entertainment and partying were the very essence of the local lifestyle. I had a taste of it just once. Alas, it was all too brief but it was indelible. To borrow a few words from Sparrow’s “The Congo Man”, I “wanted more.”
The taste came about in unexpected manner. I was at a sub-party in Campbellville one Saturday night and I had the pleasure of meeting the Hinds sisters, Claudette and Hyacinth, from Greenheart Street, Mackenzie. They were attending School in Georgetown and were leaving shortly for London, the eldest to get married and the younger to study nursing. The latter’s upcoming birthday was being celebrated at Mackenzie with a party and she invited me to it. I seized the opportunity with both hands. I accepted the invitation and also got permission to invite my gang from GT.
The Thursday ( Holy Thursday) before the Saturday night Birthday Party, with my suitcase containing my dark grey double-breasted grey suit,etc., in hand, I got a ride to Sproston’s Stelling, bought a return Ticket to Wismar and boarded the MV. R.H. Carr. I had never ventured on any long river trip before. I did travel on the MV Queriman daily to and from Vreed-en-Hoop. My gang proposed to travel on Saturday, arriving at about 5.30 p.m., celebrate through the night, and board the R.H. Carr next morning to return to GT.
I was fortunate. En route to Wismar, I discovered I had two friends worked on the steamer. One worked in the galley and the other was in charge of the Bar. Glory be! The Captain was called Benjie. The Purser was Mr Pires. The fare was $4.50 one way and $9.00 return.
The first stop on the nine-hour trip was Atkinson Field.
There I bought a cucumber, peeled it, threw a dash of salt on it and ate it for breakfast. I washed it down with a Banks Beer.
The next stop was Dora. Some passengers got off, while some boarded. The steamer also stopped at Clemwood, Dalgin and other settlements along the river. It remained in midstream while small boats came out to it.
I stood on the bow of the boat as we neared Wismar to get a good forward look at the scene unfolding before me. The Captain gave three short blasts on the horn of the vessel notifying all boats on the river of the arrival.
The R.H. Carr moored at Sproston’s Stelling, Wismar, at about 4.30 p.m. Hyacinth was there to meet me when I disembarked. She walked with me from the stelling to the District Administration Office where I had arranged to stay with my friend Carl Harewood who was District Administration Officer. He lived in the three-bedroom flat above the Office. After discharging my paraphanalia, I was taken by my friend to a boat landing. Many such landings dotted the river bank. Boats were used to take passengers from Wismar/Christanburg to Mackenzie and vice versa. She shouted out “Boat” and there came one powered by an outboard motor from Mackenzie to pick us up.
We walked along Powell Crescent to Greenheart Street where her family lived. I recall seeing a Singer Sewing Machine Sign on Arvida Road, a main thoroughfare.
After introductions to her parents, George and Venus Hinds, I had dinner and we talked about the Party on Saturday night. George worked at the DEMBA Machine Shop.
On Good Friday, I went over to Mackenzie for breakfast. I recall attending Christ the King Church with the family. I never found a Church pew so hard. Maybe it was because the service lasted for nearly three hours. Following Church and lunch, I met two guys, Teddy Allicock and Joe Blount who invited me to their Bachelors’ Quarters building north east of Greenheart Street and obliquely opposite the Mackenzie Sports Club. In the area at that time, you didn’t have to know anyone for some time before becoming friends. Everyone was everyone’s friend and “the more we were together is the merrier we would be.” I was invited for a drink of rum and coconut water. We had barely settled in Teddy’s room in the Quarters when he reached under his cot and pulled out a case of Russian Bear Black Label Rum. I endured the challenge. We imbibed until seven when I called a halt and advised I had an dinner appointment. By then, I was imbued with both the Holy Spirit and the Russian Bear spirit.
On return to Christianburg, my friend was entertaining three pals, K.K. Cheong and Rennie Chase, two Forestry Officers and the Government Dispenser. They were playing cards and keeping a close watch on the clock. Unlike me, they were Catholics and did not drink alcohol until lent was over…at one minute after midnight. When they launched their jollification, I retired to bed.
I was there to meet my gang when they arrived on the R.H. Carr from Georgetown, all dressed for the Party as there was to be no sleep.
We went to Poka Restaurant along the Christianburg Road and had dinner. The cheapest, which we had, was pork slops (slices) and rice. We couldn’t wait for the food service at the Party later on. We all took our bath by swimming in the river, pressed our clothes and were ready for the Party.
The family home where the Party was held was very narrow. A narrow passageway, adjacent to the one bedroom, was the living room. A small kitchen was at the back. The lavatories were bunched together in a line at the back of the house. There was no bath in the house. Most of the guests stood on the veranda in front of the house or on the roadside. One guest I recall was a Mr Cush who had a sizeable dent in his forehead like if someone hit him with the peen of a hammer.
We all danced, drank met new friends and enjoyed ourselves until it was time to stick the Birthday Cake. I was picked to do the honours and the episode was photographed by Demba photographer Jimmy Hamilton, who I knew when he worked at the Daily Chronicle at Main and Church Streets in Georgetown. At that time, I was a journalist with Guiana Graphic at Robb and King Streets. The photo was published in the monthly company newspaper, The Mackenzie Miner.
From the birthday party, our group trekked over to Determa Road and continued our celebrations at Senior Supervisors Club.
The gang and I boarded the R.H. Carr bright and early Sunday morning and we continued celebrating all the way down to Georgetown.
But to return to my posting to the District Administration Office, Christianburg.
Prior to my taking up my duties at Christianburg, the Office was upgraded and an Assistant District Commissioner was in charge. He took the residence above the Office.
My travel to Wismar on the R.H. Carr was uneventful and on arrival I was met by the Coxswain and crew of the Rita C. The coxswain at the time was Edwin Allicock and boathands were Vivian McCalman and Lyndon Allicock.
I was conveyed on the Rita C to the Rest House at Section C, Christianburg, where I was allocated a bedroom in which I lived for my my entire tenure. I was subsequently offered a newly built townhouse on Wismar Hill but I opted to remain at the Rest House. I unpacked my suitcase which contained, among other things, three work uniforms – khaki safari jackets; khaki short pants and long khaki socks that reached to the knees.
I was greeted by the Caretaker of the Rest House, Miss Phoebe Alstrom and the Assistant Caretaker Miss Albertina Allicock. Aunt Phoebe, as she was popularly called, lived in a flat on the first floor of the huge, imposing two-storeyed building. Miss Tina lived in a small cottage in the compound. The Rest House, had six bedrooms on the top floor, a large sitting/dining room area and a huge kitchen. There was a large bath and a modern flush toilet. On the second floor was the Caretaker’s quarters and next to it, the Magistrate’s Court. There was no electricity. Gas lamps were used for lighting at nights and kerosene fuelled the stove in the kitchen.
I ate breakfast, lunch and dinner at the Rest House.
The Caretaker walked to the Wismar Market some two miles away to shop two or three times a week.
All residents of the Wismar/Christianburg area used gas lamps, kerosene lamps or lanterns unlike their counterparts in Mackenzie who enjoyed electricity. Battery radios, mainly German-made, were in use.
Shortly thereafter, two teachers from the nearby Christianburg Scots School came to welcome me… a Miss Gwendoline Walton and Miss Iris Allicock. I knew Gwen’s brother. We both were journalists at the Guiana Graphic at one time. He resigned and migrated to the U.S.A. Iris lived with her Aunt Phoebe in the Caretaker’s flat. Her younger sister whom we called “Scottie” later joined the family.
The next day, which was a Sunday, I took some time to examine the compound. There was a wire fence around it. There were several coconut trees which were laden. On the south eastern side was a large, spreading jamoon tree adjacent to the Demarara River. It was a gift of nature to the cataback fish that lived in the river. They thrived on the ripe jamoons that fell into the river. The cataback was a large flat fish, similar to the sole, but bigger. Aunt Phoebe caught the fish from time to time using a line and the jamoon as bait.
There was a narrow pathway along the southern side of the Rest House that led to a gate and through the gate was a pier over the river that was about eight feet long and four feet wide. On the northern side of the pier was a stairway that led to the river’s edge. The pier accommodated large vessels like launches, while small boats and canoes used the steps.
Just inside of the gate, alongside the path, were two palm trees. There was a wide lawn on the eastern side of the Rest House.
A brick pathway led from the bottom of the front staircase of the Rest House to the entrance of the compound and the Christianburg public road.
There was only one main road at the time, running from the northern end of Christianburg. joined further down by the Wismar main road and going to Wismar Hill. And the long roadway was adjacent to the river bank.
There were no road lamps. When it grew dark, it was pitch dark along the road. There were no cars and only a few bicycles. Walking was the going thing and was healthy as well.
Across the Rest House compound was a large Pit Toilet for the use of persons who attended Court which was held once monthly from Wednesday to Friday. The Magistrate and the lawyers travelled from Georgetown. The Magistrate during my time was Mr Eddie Gunraj.
Near to the Pit Toilet or “Cess Pit” as it was called, was a huge Ubudi or Wild Cashew Tree. I loved eating the ripe yellow fruit.
The Rest House was adjacent to the river and I enjoyed watching the ebb and flow of the water, the travel of canoes, boats and launches along it, and the ripples of fish doing their thing, flotsam and jetsam, through the Rest House window, in the afternoon and at nights. Sometimes, I would take a chair and sit on the pier. Eventually, instead of using the shower, I would swim in the river in the mornings and afternoon, when the tide was in.
On the western side of the Rest House, across the road, was a wide open space followed by a forest. Birds of many plumes, colours and kinds flew there in the afternoons to spend the night in trees.
On the northern side was the remains of a huge waterwheel. It was above the narrow Catabuli Creek. It was built, so the story goes, by the original owner of the Rest House building and compound, a Mr John Paterson from Scotland who used it for sawmilling purposes. It was a pleasure to sit on a log atop of it some nights and enjoy the exquisite view of the river, across the river and the beauty of the night.
Christianburg began at the large Section C Cemetery on the northern end and joined Wismar a couple of miles south.
In the Christianburg Cemetery were three graves which stood out. They were weeded, kept clean and white-washed regularly. In them were buried British soldiers of World War II. They were called War Graves. It was a function of the District Administration Office to maintain them in proper condition in cooperation with the International War Graves Commission.
In the huge Rest House compound, there were two graves. side by side. Mr Paterson and his wife were buried there. An iron railing surrounded the graves. The graves were not upkept, were gray and black in colour from age and the weather and cracked in some places. I never took the time to approach the graves and read the names but I was told that the man’s name was John Dalgleish Paterson.
Having only spent about three years in the area, I was not familiar with all the houses and most of the people.
Coxswain Edwin Allicock and his family, I however recall, lived in a cottage not far from the Christianburg Cemetery.
The Charter family lived in a beautiful cottage, going further south. The girls Pearl, Joan and Chrissie, and only brother Ruell, and I were very good friends. Joan and Chris went to England to study nursing. Joan, who was at a hospital in Oxford, visited my friend Fanso Fiedtkou and I in Finsbury Park, North London, from time to time. Joan now lives in Canada and Chris in Australia. Fanso and Ruell were speedboat fanatics.
Further down lived the Spence family. I recall one of the boys was Sydney.
The Hetherington family also lived in Section C Christianburg. Joyce was, in the opinion of many, the cream of the crop.
Closer to the Rest House was a grocery and parlour owned and operated by Yhap. And not far from the Rest House was a smaller business owned by Beatrice Noel. I enjoyed visiting her place of business to issue her her shop Licence since when she laughed, it started from the tip of her toes and lasted for at least five minutes. I laughed at her laugh. She knew the history of the area and about ghosts and spirits that haunted it.
In an area west of the Rest House, where the Catabuli Creek was at its widest, was an Amerindian Reserve called Bucktown. It was a popular picnic spot but permission had to be obtained from the Administration Office.
Across the narrow continuation the Creek was a semi-circular road that ran past the Rest House to a kind of Government housing area. The first house, an aluminium one, was occupied by boathand Lyndon Allicock and his family. Next to it, in a similar cottage lived the other boathand, later Coxswain, Vivian Roderick McCalman and his family. Next was a wooden cottage in which lived the Schoolmaster of Christianburg School, Mr Clive Roland Bancroft and his family. Forestry Officer Kenneth K. Cheong and his family lived in the next wooden cottage. After that was the School and Church. A tiny creek separated that compound from the District Administration Office.
The District Administration Office was a two-storeyed building. Above was the home of the Assistant District Commissioner and below the District Office. The staff of the office at the time was the Assistant District Commissioner Mr William Beekie, myself, the Coxswain and two boathands, two Forestry Officers and a Secretary. Mr Beekie was later replaced by Mr Phillips, then Mr George Jackman and then Mr Paul Mittelholzer who was in situ when I was transferred to the Licence Revenue Office on Brickdam, Georgetown, in 1960.
The Forestry Officers also had a launch of their own for up and down river travels and employed a Pilot, Narine.
The Secretary when I took up my post was Miss Celina Celestina Wong. Her father lived on Powell Crescent near the Crescent Cinema. She got married to the former District Administration Officer and my friend Carl Harewood. She was replaced by a young lady from Georgetown Norma Elsa Shearer Webster. When she returned to GT, Miss Joan Charter was recruited. She was eventually replaced by Rita Olita Agnes Douglas.
In front of the office was a Flagpole on which the Union Jack flew. It was raised at six every morning and lowered at six.
Next to it was a large cannon that looked like a relic from World War l. It was kept in top condition. The Office compound was fenced and there was a gate at the front.
There was a small room at the back where our weighing and gauging instruments were located. The instruments were used to measure the accuracy of scales and weights. From time to time, We visited shops in the district which used scales and weights and checked them for accuracy. If we came across any that were not, they were adjusted by us. This, of course, did not apply to shops in Mackenzie. Near to the room was a Pit Toilet for use by members of the public.
Across the road, on the eastern side was the river. There was a bridge/pier extending about 8 feet over the river and next to it was a large boathouse in which the Rita C and an aluminium dinghy were kept. ADC Beekie built a speedboat during his leisure time and put it into official use. There was a large storeroom on land, near the bridge. In it were an Johnson 35HP outboard engine for the speedboat and outside a barrel of gasolene.
Some afternoons, I would take the dinghy and its two oars and row along the river, cross over to Kara Kara creek and row several miles down the creek and back. It was good exercise.
Kara Kara Creek was special for me. I was good friends with the Croft sisters who lived in a cottage about 10 yards from the mouth. Their father, I believe his name was Sigmund Croft, was a gold and diamond seeker.
At the bend, on the other side of the Creek lived Sam Allicock and his family. There was a large, flat area in front of his house that had a thatched roof over it. It was called Renee Park. There were frequent sub-parties there and I was a patron, along with Derek Moseley and Clarence Bourne. Clarence was engaged to Sam’s daughter Renee. There was a younger sister and two brothers. Since the Park was across the river and up the Creek, I used the aluminium dinghy to cross over and return. Parties usually lasted unti 5.00 a.m. In those days, nobody complained about the loudness of the music and how late the party went. It was difficult dancing on the earthen surface since it was bumpy.
The speedboat was used instead of the Rita C when an emergency upriver or down river occurred. Like for example, there was a time when a huge boa constrictor swallowed a wild cow (tapir) and lay across the channel through the Station Rapids at Mallali. It affected tugs transporting lumber and children paddling canoes to the Mallali School. A team was sent to Mallali using the speedboat and taking our Springfield rifle. At the locus , the huge, thick bodied, 20 ft snake was easily spotted. It was shot in the body and when it raised its head, it was shot three times in the head. The carcass was soon removed from the Channel.
The speedboat was also used once to take a group of four of us to Soesdyke. It was tied up at Manassa Landing Boat House and we took the bus to Georgetown where I had an appointment.
Fully dressed in my striped dark suit, shirt and tie, we returned to Soesdyke Sunday afternoon for the return journey. On the way, the speeboat hit a high wave in the wash of a passing passenger launch and it flipped over. Clarence Bourne and Derek Moseley swam to the western bank of the river where there was the Princess Caroline School. I plummeted downwards towards the bottom and quickly realizing what happening, I halted my descent and streamed upwards. Luckily for me, the speedboat was near to me with the bow above water. I swam to it and held on tight. With my feet, I had discarded my shoes, I paddled to where the two guys were. We spent the night at the schoolmaster’s home. The next morning, the boys cleaned and dried out the engine and we were on our way to Christianburg. Sadly, we ran out of fuel and had to paddle until we reached a timber grant. We borrowed a jerrycan of fuel, had some pepperpot labba with eddoe and cassava for lunch, and headed back to Christianburg.
The speedboat came to a sorry end. The Wismar police borrowed it to travel downriver on official business. The boat turned over during the journey and Policeman Fernandes was drowned. The boat and engine were never found.
Administrative functions included overseeing the administration of the Christianburg/Wismar Village by the Village Council and its revenue collection, including rates and taxes and market stall fees. The Village Overseer was a Bajan, Mr Allan King. I saw him every fortnight when I audited his revenue and expenditure accounts.
The office issued Shop Licences, Ball and Dance Licences required for parties held for gain and other licences. Unlike Georgetown, licences were not required for bicycles and there were no cars. Cars and bicycles at Mackenzie were not required to have Registration, Fitness, Insurance or Vehicle licences as in Georgetown. In fact, our Office had no authority over Mackenzie.
Pilots were required to have Pilot Licences for ferry boats. They were issued by the Harbour Master, then Bruce La Borde, after an oral exam on Harbour Regulations.
Our staff investigated applications for Old Age Pension and Public Assistance and I paid both monthly at the Office and along upriver and down river. We handled land matters, matters affecting Amerindians and complaints of all varieties.
Concerned over the plight of passengers travelling on the small boat ferries, especially overcrowding on them, I called a meeting and read the River Navigation Regulations. I found that many of the ferryboat owners were not in compliance . I subsequently went from landing to landing, ensuring that each driver had a Pilot’s Licence, that there was a powerful lamp on top the boat at nights and there were enough lifejackets on board for the amount of passengers the boat was allowed to carry. The Harbour Master also came up to hold talks with the owners and pilots about safety standards.
As a District Administration Officer, I was appointed and performed duties of Justice of the Peace, Commissioner of Oaths to Affidavits, Marriage Officer, Sub-Protector of Amerindian Rights and Sub-Warden for the Mining District. I required special dispensation for some since I was not yet 21.
I never had to perform a wedding although I came near to having to doing so once. On a trip upriver, at Muritaro, a young Amerindian man and an old, gray-haired woman came to see me. He wanted to get married. I asked him how old he was and he said 24. I asked him where his intended bride was. He pointed to the old woman. I asked her her age. She said 56. I spoke to him seriously and he told me that the truth was she was the only woman in the area. I eventually managed to dissuade him from marriage… nothing else.
I also prosecuted revenue and land matters at Christianburg Court on behalf of the Government.
Behind the Administration Office and the Government houses, a cricket ground was cleared and prepared and we played there from time to time on Sundays. On one weekday afternoon, we invited Magistrate Gunraj and some of the visiting lawyers to play…and they did.
The Sanitary Inspector’s house was next to our Office. It was two-storeyed building of colonial architecture with servants’ quarters below. It was obviously not built for a Sanitary Inspector but was eventually used by him. There was a large vat in the yard, the same as in our office compound. It turned out that the SI was one Telford who was a schoolmate at Enterprise High School in Georgetown.
Following the SI compound was the Christianburg Community Centre. There was an office below which housed the Village Overseer. The Chairman of the Council at that time was Mr Adams. I believe his son later opened the Adams/Crescent Hotel at Powell Crescent, Mackenzie. I attended many sub-parties at the Centre on Saturday nights. The cream of the girls from the area and from Mackenzie came to them.
On the other side of the road, opposite the Centre was the Government Dispensary and home of the Government Dispenser. The first I recall was “Doc” Maclean and he was followed by “Doc’ Deo Narine. Next to the Dispensary, at the river’s edge was a boathouse in which was the Dispenser’s launch which he used to travel upriver and downriver once a month, each way. The dates of travel were circulated and people wishing medical attention would put up a white flag. The Dispenser would stop and render medical assistance. The boat’s coxswain was Butters. I visited the Docs from time to time to chat and share a bite and a drink.
The exits from the Christianburg and Wismar main road were not called roads or streets but Alleys and Paths, for some unknown reason. They began after the Government area, going south.
The first was Stewart Path followed by Alstrom Alley and there followed, not in any consecutive order, by Maxwell Alley where there was a Pilgrim Holiness Church, Bruce Alley where there was a Seventh Day Adventist Church, D’Anjou Alley, Cholmondeley Alley, Yhap Alley, Yaws Yard, Poka Alley – named after the cookshop owner Poka who cooked the best Chinese food.
I think the Bremner family, including son Theo and daughter June, lived at the junction of Alstrom Alley and the main road.
Eytle’s Food and Beer restaurant near Silvercity was top class, She made the best cook-up rice.
Wismar took over where Christianburg ended. and there was Third Alley, Second Alley, First Alley, Gateway Alley also known as Becca Downer Alley and D’Aguiar Street. Along Christianburg/Wismar main road, I can recall a parlour/cake shop, Lieu Ken Pen Grocery, Chin Poi Kee, Harris Drug Store, Choo Kang and Sue Tang and Sue Wo, near Wismar Stelling.
The manager of Sproston’s Wismar Stelling was a Mr Hopkinson.
There was a cloth and dry goods store near First Alley, owned, I was made to believe, by a Mrs Parris who lived above it.
There was also Branford Bar and Billiards saloon on First Alley, Wismar.
And of course, I cannot forget the Diamond Orchid Beer Garden. I spent may afternoons there with friends sipping Banks Beer and shooting the breeze.
And then there was the Wismar Police Station and compound along the way. A good friend of mine Corporal Haniff was a member of the force at that time. He was a regular customer of Eytle’s restaurant. He and his family migrated to Canada and lived in Ottawa. I met him there when I was posted to the High Commission there.
The Wismar Market was the only of its kind in the area. Fruits , vegetables, meat, fish and other foodstuff, grocery and cloth were sold there daily. People from Mackenzie also patronized it. It was almost directly across the river from Choo Kang’s Ration Store at Mackenzie. Walter Choo Kang managed the Ration Store. I bought a few sports shirts there, my alcohol and my tins of Churchman’s No.l cigarettes.
Past the Sproston’s stelling were Silvercity followed by and Silvertown. The road to the right led to, the first turn on the left, Hakkim’s Hotel called “The Ship”. Continuing straight along the road led to Wismar Hill and the Government Housing Scheme. The Scheme was managed by Mr Arnold Godette of the Housing Department. He was an officer in the Volunteer Force of the area.
Along the Christianburg and Wismar foreshore, a number of boatowners plied their ferry service across the river, day and night. Some people took their bikes on the crossing. The largest were Dutchy boat service opposite First Alley and Quamina boat service.
There was also the West Indian Hall on the main road. People from the Caribbean Islands made up a significant proportion of the people at Wismar/Christianburg and the work force at Mackenzie and they were very progressive. I attended many parties at the spacious Hall.
Many residents of Wismar/Christianburg took their baths on the sandy bank of the river. Some swam while non-swimmers and children used buckets of water. Women also washed their clothes there.
The river bank along the Christianburg/Wismar foreshore was covered with wide stretches of light brown sand which matched the dark brown waters of the river.
Apart from the Christianburg Scots Church; there was a Seventh Day Adventist Church, the Pilgrim Holiness Church and the St. Aidan’s Anglican Church. And besides Christianburg Scots School, there was St Aidan’s Anglican School at Wismar. A multilateral school was later built on Wismar Hill.
Wismar Hill, with its new concrete townhouses was a hive of activity at night. One night, a friend and I visited the home of a Croft sister from Kara Kara creek. We partied until midnight, then I arranged for the purchase of a live rooster. She and my friend cooked curried chicken and rice. We left at about one in the morning to join a party in full swing at a friend’s home. I met there Avery King who was a brother of my GT friend Colin King. I finally got back to the Rest House at 6.30 a.m.
I did not spend a lot of time at Mackenzie since it was not under our administrative jurisdiction. I paid calls on the Officer-in-Charge of the Mackenzie Police on official business from time to time. He was then Dick La Borde, brother of the Harbour Master Dick La Borde.
I was also a patient at Mackenzie Hospital at one time. I took the speed boat and a Springfield rifle to do some hunting at Zion Hill, upriver. I was thirsty when I arrived so I told the Seventh Adventist Sister I would climb the coconut tree and get some coconuts. Alas, I was not in good physical shape as I thought. When I reached near the top, I couldn’t continue any more. I slid down the tree, scraping skin off both of my hands and chest. I was rushed to the Mackenzie Hospital for medical attention. One of the doctors at the Hospital at that time was Charlie Rosza. There was no Hospital at Wismar/ Christianburg.
Senior Supervisors Club on Old Year’s Night was a must. We usually closed office around one in the afternoon. I would go over to Mackenzie and get into the spirit of things, so to speak, then back to the Rest House, eat and take a rest, then don my black and white formal wear. I picked up my female companion from Spinsters Quarters on Arvida Road and by ten thirty we were in the Club. Our friends had a table ready. We left the Party at around 3 a.m. and our group would walk to the nearby Mackenzie Swimming Pool singing Auld Lang Syne and jump into the pool fully dressed. We would then go our separate ways after seeing each other home. I recall one New year’s morning, after partying and pooling, I walked to the riverside and called a boat. I told the pilot to take me to the Rest House. I dozed as the boat travelled and I heard the pilot say something like we are there. I got up and stepped off the boat into the river. The pilot saved me from drowning and took me to my room.
I visited the Crescent Cinema twice a week to check attendance for the payment of entertainment tax. I was a good friend of the Manager, Mr Gomes, who moved around in a wheelchair and he and his wife lived in a nice concrete cottage on Arvida Road.
I travelled by hire car to Ituni once a month to check tax return documents. The staff cinema was owned and operated by DEMBA. On one such trip, the car accidentally hit and killed an armadillo. Boathand Clarence Bourne who was with me at the time, picked it up, put it in the car, and took it home. The other boathand, Moseley, cooked curry armadillo that night. It tasted very strange. Lots of curry this and that in those days. Quick and easy to cook.
Once in a while, I went to dances at the Mackenzie Recreation Hall, next to the YMCA at the south western corner of Arvida Road and Powell Crescent. Next door was a good friend, the former Miss Bumbury who was a dressmaker. She had a thriving business.
Across from the Cinema was the Mackenzie Recreation Ground. Next to it on the western side and next to the river was the Mackenzie Shopping Centre/Market. There was a grocery, a butcher shop and a parlour owned by a popular personality Mr Blair who later opened Blair’s Delight.
South of the Ground was the Mackenzie Public School. It was a top school.
Across Arvida Road, from the Ground, was the Mackenzie Library. I believe the Librarian was Mrs Alvarez.
There was a Royal Bank of Canada on Arvida Road near the Ration Store. A guy named Ellis was the first black person to work in it. He was popularly called Banker Ellis. I had to go to the Bank once weekly to deposit Government revenue and once a month to cash the office’s general salary cheque and a sizeable cheque to pay Old Age Pensions and Public Assistance. An Old Age Pension was then $5.00 and Public Assistance $3.00 per person.
I never got my hair cut at the Barber Shop on Arvida Road. I used one at Wismar.
I used to go to the Mackenzie Sports Club some nights to play table tennis and to watch some top billiard players with heavy bets involved. I recall two top players at the time were Raj and Garvan Fiedtkou.
On Powell Crescent, near the Catholic Church in a well-appointed cottage, lived the Evans family. One sister, whom I met, was Nola. Another sister, Gena, who now lives in Oklahoma, is married to my friend, Piercy Fiedtkou who worked in the Company’s Lab. Next to the Evans lived the Carr family.
On Henderson Road, lived the Fortune family. I was a friend of the two sisters. The eldest sister was married to Bertie Shannon but after splitting, lived in Spinsters Quarters.
I recall the Moseleys, father Jason D being a member of the Wismar Village Council. The family, including children Derek, Keith Gem and Star, lived on Parsons Road.
Then there was Rainbow City where persons who were displaced from their land by DEMBA’s expansion built houses. My friend Evan Allicock, who sold his land at Speightland to the Company moved there. He was building a huge hotel there but it was not completed when I left. I went to many Saturday night parties there. I recall one night meeting Stanley and Jeanette Gravesande there and after the party we went to their home to continue. When Stanley brought out a bottle of White Diamond Rum, and feeling hungry, I was able to persuade him to scout around and buy some frozen chicken to cook curry and rice. We ate at five in the morning. Evan Allicock was called “the Governor of Speightland”. His brother was Teddy and his niece Rita Allicock.
I met Rita at a dance at the Christianburg Community Centre some weeks later and was invited to dinner the next Saturday night. I had the gourmet delight of curry tortoise (land) and rice. It tasted good but there were too many bones.
I also knew the Couchmans who lived at Speightland. The father Felix captained a tug, cum passenger launch. I travelled on it on one occasion from Georgetown ( La Penitence Market wharf) and he invited me to meet his family. He had two beautiful daughters, Volda and Mickey.
Along the riverside was a popular shop, C.T. Lam. I visited it several times for licensing purposes.
I was still at the DAO, when the Alumina Plant was being constructed and the new houses at Retrieve being built. The walls of the houses were made of aluminium, like at Silvercity and Silvertown. I had several friends who live there, including Dundas whom I knew from Kitty, a Miss Brewster and my friend Jimmy Hamilton.
I remember several cross streets in Mackenzie, named after woods or trees. I went to friends who lived on each for a drink, to listen to music or attend a birthday party. The roads I remember which ran North/South were Arvida, Potaro, Berbice, Whittaker, Henderson and Parsons. Some of the East/West cross streets were Crabwood Street alonside Cockatara Creek and the DEMBA Fence, Wismar Street, Pine Street, Mora Street, Greenheart Street, Bulletwood Street, Silverballi Street and Determa Road.. I think there was one named Wismar Road.
As a Government Officer, I encountered no problems visiting Watooka or being at the Watooka Club. I was a visitor some Saturday nights at a place called Montreal or Servants’ Quarters where female maids who worked at homes in Watooka lived.
I recall there were frequent discussions at an official level that the expatriate staff of DEMBA appeared to be above the law and that many of the laws of the country did not apply to Mackenzie or the people who lived there.
There were times when the company’s boats the MV Polaris and the MV Kara Kara caused problems for other users of the river. The heavy wash of the boats, when travelling fast, created difficulties for small boats and canoes on the river and for people bathing or washing on the river bank. I held discussions with Company officials. They were sympathetic and agreed to give instructions for all their motor vessels to slow down when they neared settlements along the river or when they saw small boats.
I travelled upriver to Mallali once monthly, The trip took 3 days mainly due to the work that had to be done on the way up. We always spent the first night at Muritaro and the second at Mallali. I took with me a pistol, shotgun and Springfield rifle, in case I wanted to go hunting but also to protect documents and the cash with me to pay Old Age Pensions and Public Assistance.
Leaving Christianburg, we stopped at the Ration Store where we bought items to make breakfast, lunch and dinner. Derek Moseley was the galley chief. He was very good. I particularly enjoyed for breakfast a large, round, thick bake he cooked in oil in a large covered pot. He called it tikar and we ate it with Marshall’s canned Sardines in Tomato sauce done in red margerine sauce with onions, spring onions, blackpepper and fresh thyme leaves. Curry canned corned beef with potato and cabbage was another favourite and on one occasion he cooked curry canned Clams.
The Rita C crew was then McCalman, Coxswain; Lyndon Allicock and Derek Mosely. When McCalman left on posting to Vreed-en-Hoop, he was replaced by Clarence Bourne.
In the launch, there were two bunk beds in front and two at the back, where the diesel engine was. However, it was the custom for the ADC or myself to sleep alone in the front and the two senior crew at the back. We usually spent the night where a school was so that the junior boathand could sleep there.
There was a bath place with a manual water hose on board but one had to be an acrobat to use it. The river was the biggest and best bath tub. There was also no lavatory on board. Bushes alongside the bank of the river, were always there when nature called. Newspapers had other uses than containing news reports.
A tabletop two burner kerosene stove at the back was used for cooking.
It has been over 50 years and I cannot remember all the places upriver we stopped at to conduct Government business. I do remember however, Old England, Lucky Spot, Coomacka, Three Friends and Maria Elizabeth and Akaima where there were bauxite mines and a steel bridge across the Demerara River, high above the river so as to allow boats to pass easily under it. It was variously called Three Friends, Maria Elizabeth or Akaima Bridge. I also recall Aurora, Arcadia, Wainibisi, Butuba – a Seventh Day Adventist settlement with a lovely white sand beach, Muritaro, Seba Quarry, Crapaud Creek, Zion Hill, Grassfield, Tiger Hill and Mallali.
On my first trip, I met Peter Flemming and a Rebeiro who lived at Butuba; the Browns, bajans, who operated a shop at Zion Hill on the right bank of the river and the Sister who headed a Seventh Day Adventist settlement on the other side. I recall catching a hymara fish at Zion Hill. The fish had only one bone, a backbone and was very tasty.
At Grassfield, I met an Amerindian Mr Paul who gave me a smoked labba leg. Sliced and heated, it tasted like ham. I offered him money which he rejected.”Where are you going to spend it?”, he said. I brought for him on the next trip some enamel plates, cups, plates and spoons and fork which were cheap at that time.
At Muritaro where we spent the night, I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with the schoolmaster Mr McKinnon. I knew his brother in Georgetown.
That night, I heard the sound of a cat meowing in the school. After several hours, I became concerned and it prevented me from sleeping. I asked Coxswain Edwin if someone could go and collect the cat and take it to the schoolmaster. Edwin calmly replied, “Chief, the sound you are hearing is not from a cat.” I said nothing but took some cottonwool, plugged both ears and soon fell asleep.
The evening we arrived at Mallali on my first trip, I had the pleasure of meeting the Headmistress of the Mallali School, Miss Mentore. The school was on a hill of light brown sand. There were two cannons on the Hill, a relic probably from World War l. There was a large ubudi (wild cashew) tree near the school.
That night there was a party at the school. The girls, Amerindian or mixed, were beautiful and well dressed. One I danced with Una Allicock, wore the fashion of the time “can can”. She was a very good dancer. The men were inelegantly dressed, many wearing t-shirts that were stained. I asked her how come the girls danced with them and she replied, “We have dances only once a year so you have to go all out and enjoy yourself.”
I was also introduced to a local drink called Sleepy Tonic. It was, I am told, fermented from sweet potato or English potato. It was pink in colour. By 11.00 that night, the sand area around the school was laden with men fast asleep and snoring. It also induced fights and there were two such that night. I also had, on other occasions, other local brews like warrup (made from the juice of the sugar cane) and pywarri.
Pepper pot upriver contained labba, deer, wild cow and lots of hot pepper, hence the name. It was usually eaten with cassava bread. Both were tasty.
Other meats I ate on my trips were accouri and wild hog. I once had alliagator tail soup with eddoe and plantain. The flesh was flaky and had no taste to me. There was also a white worm acquired from the palm tree . The heart was taken from the tree and left outside to acquire the worms called tucuma. The white worm was fried in hot oil and expanded when thrown frying pan. I ate the crisp delicacy with toasted cassava bread for breakfast. I also ate perai(piranha) fried dry with black pepper.
I also met A.P. Fiedtkou who had a beautiful house at Massabuna above Anthony Rapids. He was in the timber business. His sons were Garvan, Fanso and Piercy (twins) and David. Piercy worked in the Demba Lab at one time.
I did a lot of fishing with the equipment I bought from the Ration Store but was unlucky. I did better at spear fishing.
I used to enjoy spear fishing along the bank of the river. At night, when it was dark, some fishes parked in the water at the edge of the bank to sleep. I would focus the light of my flashlight on the fish which became stunned when it opened its eyes and I would spear it and pull it on land. Sometimes, when there was moonlight, myself and the boathands would jump from rock to rock in the nearby Station Rapids at Mallali to spear fish. We caught some large-sized Lukunani from time to time. The Station Rapids, were followed by the Kaikuchekabra Rapids, then Anthony Rapids and then Great Falls. Cannister Falls was near the Brazil border.
The Station Rapids, according to A.P. Fiedtkou who had heard it from his father, was so named because at some time in the past there was a Police Station and Magistrate’s Court on the right back of the river, opposite the Mallali school and in close proximity to the first set of rapids. Maybe that explains as well the presence of the two cannons near the school on the other side of the river.
The Rita C, steel-heavy and with a very low draft would have had difficulty going through the channels of the three Rapids. It could only do that once a year when the tide was at its highest. It definitely could not go beyond Great Falls. During my tenure in the Upper Demerara River District, I never went past Mallali.
There were several rocky outcrops upriver. There was one set opposite Watooka, at Butuba where it was way above the water at low tide and near the river bend at Mallali going towards the school. Expert and knowledgeable pilots were needed to guide launches and tugs along the river, especially from Wismar/Christianburg to Mallali.
I also liked to go hunting on the trip with my rifle but never shot anything.
On the eastern side of the river at Mallali was the popular Seon Shop. I remember, shotgun across my shoulder, I walked about a half-mile to it to issue the shop’s licence. It was a pleasure meeting Mr Seon and sharing a cold Trappestein Beer with him. I also had a great surprise. My friend from St. Stephen School, Geoff Sampson, came into the shop for a beer. He was with a geological survey team in the area. He eventually obtained a PhD in Geology.
As we swam in the river, we had to be careful that there were no piranha around. To avoid them, it was the practice to beat the water loudly for about five minutes before swimming. That chased them away for a time.
I usually slept with the glass window pane in my cabin down. There were two windows. I recall one night, I was aroused from my sleep and awoke with my hands through the window, almost touching the river. It looked like if something in the river was pulling me into the water.
The down river trip was much shorter. It lasted only two days and we spent the night at Santa Mission in Kamuni Creek, opposite Atkinson Field.
Again, I cannot remember all the places in ascending or descending order but I can recall some of the names of the settlements where we stopped from time to time on official business or settlements near where we stopped.
I recall Gold Hill, Dalgin where there was a huge wood grant, Dunoon, Silver Hill, Huradaia, Tenaboo, Yaroni, Vryheid, Endeavour, Clemwood which was a large settlement, Liberty Hall, Susannah’s Rust, Staina, Dora, Lowwood, Sandhills and Princess Caroline.
There were two Amerindian Missions in Kamuni Creek… Aratak Mission was the first and then Santa Mission which was quite large. Santa was about 12 miles up the Creek. The Mission was located on an expansive, white sand area on which were thatched troolie huts where the families lived. Apart from paying Old Age Pensions and Public Assistance, it was my practice to engage in discussions with the Cacique there to find out how our Office could help him and his people. The Amerindians were a protected people and I was a Sub-Protector of Amerindian Rights in the district.
There was a school at Princess Caroline and I once had the pleasure of meeting the Schoolmaster and his charming wife after our speedboat accident.
Another school was at Dora and it had a sizeable population.
Clemwood with its timber operations was a central point with shops.
I did not make a lot of trips downriver. The ADC had the lion’s share of it since, after discharging his duties, he and his family would travel to Georgetown and return the next day.
The R.H. Carr stopped at many of the settlements listed above to discharge or embark passengers, deliver and collect mail and discharge or take on cargo. Captain Benjie would blow one loud blast on the boat’s horn to alert residents that the Carr was in the neighbourhood. The boat also slowed down when nearing settlements or when boats and canoes were on the river.
Land inspections up and down river were tiring experiences. The files never stated how far from the riverbank the land was. The applicant, when he came to take me on site, would tell me “Not to worry chief, it’s just down here.” That was about two to three miles away.
I was never in fear of my life. I never came across any tigers or jaguars. But there were a lot of flies called kaboura. It stung you and the stings remained under the skin. The spot turned to a large abscess in 48 hours and was accompanied by high fever. Having been warned, as soon as I got bitten, I went to an Amerindian who went out, got some leaves, crushed them and applied the paste to the spot/s. It cured the bite/s in 24 hours.
Mosquitoes were prevalent. Mosquito coils and using green branches to burn and create thick smoke kept them in check.
A frightful creature was the vampire bat. They lived in trees near the Government Rest House. Their principal blood donors were cows, sheep and goats in the area.
Living in the Upper Demerara River District was a lasting, memorable and wonderful experience. I was not yet 21. The experience influenced my future life. In my opinion, it was the best working experience in my life. My knowledge of people, responsibility, the law, the district and the beauty of friendship was a treasure beyond compare. Georgetown was tame when I returned to it from my tenure.
E & O E
NOSTALGIA: HENRY STREET, WERK-EN-RUST
by Peter Halder
Henry Street in Werk-en-Rust is a short street. It is only one block long. It extends from Princess Street on the south to Durban Street on the north. It is sandwiched between George Street on the east and Smyth Street on the west.
A denizen of Non Pareil Street, Albouystown ( vide my Nostalgia: The Street Where I lived: Non Pareil Street, Albouystown), I became familiar with Henry Street in the late 1940s when I met and became a close and lasting friend of Carl Agard. I joined him in Scholarship Class at St. Stephen’s Church of Scotland School at the junction of St.Stephen, Princess and Adelaide Streets, Charlestown. We would go swimming often at clay, the parloff or other parts of the Punt Trench or explore the mangrove area on the bank of Demerara River at Ruimveldt, next to Art Williams Transport offices.
Carl, who often referred to himself as Carl Nigel Stanislaus Yohann Divioli Agard, lived in a large, old house in a spacious “yard” near the southern end of the eastern side Henry Street. The bottom of the house was enclosed but there was no flat/apartment. The principal occupants of the bottom house at night were crapauds of the large, black, ugly variety with lumpy backs.
There was also a small cottage at the back of the yard which was rented.
South of Carl’s habitat and towards the southern end of Henry Street was the Corinthian Lodge. The Lodge was a huge white building in the expansive grounds, both of which were always well kept. The caretaker of the Lodge lived in the cottage in Carl’s backyard. South of Corinthian Lodge and the end of street was a wide lawn which bordered the Princess Street trench. We played cricket or bat and ball on the lawn (as we called it) from time to time, using green starapples as balls and wood bats. We also played at St. Phillips playground from time to time.
In the front of the yard was a tall starapple tree. Apart from using the green fruit to play cricket, we would play Tarzan on it especially when we had seen a Tarzan movie at the Cinema.
I had never known Carl’s parents, and in keeping with my home training, never asked.
I was told by Carl that the property was owned by his Uncle, one Mr Hart who was a Chemist and Druggist at Croal’s Drug Store at Norton and John Streets. I can’t recall if he said that his uncle owned it but I know that in later years, the Drug Store was owned by Dr Joseph Prayag Lachhmansingh who also owned Drug Stores in Stabroek, Bourda and Kitty Markets and the Regent Pharmacy and Farmer’s Dairy on Regent Street. I believe that Mr R.B.O Hart, Principal of Enterprise High School, on Camp Street next to London Cinema, later Plaza, was a relative of the old Mr Hart. Enterprise later moved to Hadfield Street near Louisa Row.
Carl had one brother, the elder, John Leslie Agard, whom we all called Leslie or “Fishy”. They were taken care of by an Aunt whom we all called Auntie but I believe her name was Mrs Gilead.
Also living in the same house was Auntie’s daughter whom we called Sister. She got married to a Mr Roland Patterson who lived in a cottage further up on Henry Street. Sister was a teacher at the Trinity Methodist School at Durban and High Streets. She had one daughter whose name I believe was Ann.
In later years, the family was joined by the Small family comprising Auntie’s sister, her husband Bertie, and children Lynette, Elin and one other girl and the boys were Berkeley and Jocelyn (whom we called Governor Bassool). We called Jocelyn “Governor Bassool” because he always had an answer, whether or not it was relevant. I recall that one night, we had a discussion about sight. Leslie posited that you do not see with your eyes and it is your brain, memory section, that filters the image from the eyes and tells you what you see. Governor Bassool promptly replied: Well if you don’t see with your eyes, how come some people are cock-eyed? His response brought down the house, metaphorically. Lynette migrated to U.K. and became an SRN, SCM. Berkeley joined the Georgetown Town Council’s Buildings Division and Jocelyn later became the Head of the Records (Music) Library at Radio Demerara. Elin I was told migrated to the USA.
Carl moved from one job to another until he joined the Kitty Village Council whose offices were above the Kitty Market. He subsequently worked at the Demerara Bauxite Company. Mackenzie and them relocated to Lethem, got married and settled there.
Leslie was a senior officer in the Licence Revenue Department on Brickdam, obliquely opposite the Police Station. I joined him there after being transferred from the District Administration Office, Christianburg. We both resigned and went to England to pursue tertiary education. We stayed in close touch in London. Leslie improved the property on Henry Street on his return to Guyana.
On the northern side of Carl’s yard was a large, white house owned by a Portuguese family.
Next to that, proceeding north was a cottage and after that a two-storeyed house with a tower. It had an “unsavoury” reputation as I recall. I can’t recall what was at the north-eastern corner of Henry and Durban Streets at that time but it later became a cloth and dry goods store. South of it was a cottage which was modernized and became the popular El Globo Liquor Restaurant in later years. Carl, Leslie and I patronized the place from time to time.
On the western side of Henry Street, the first house next to Durban Street was a cottage. A former friend of mine from Christianburg, “Doc” Deo Narine , the Government Dispenser for the Upper Demerara River, upon retirement, bought the property and moved there with his family.
Next to the Narines, going south, was another well-appointed cottage which was owned by the Cunha family. The cottage was later acquired by the Walks family. Mrs Walks was the former Erma Alexander from Non Pareil and James Streets, Albouystown.
There was another cottage after that and it was where Sister’s husband Roland Patterson lived.
Next was a large tenement building in which lived many families. Earl, also called “Red Earl” because he was red-skinned, was a friend of Carl and I. He lived there with his family. We made it a habit of walking through St. Phillips Churchyard some nights to tease couples “making out” there. On one such night, we spied a couple in deep embrace against a mahogany tree. Earl shouted some advice and a female voice called out “Earl?” We ran like the wind from the locus in quo.
Further down was another large, two-storeyed building. In the top flat lived another close friend of ours Cyril Agostini. The Agostini family were from Golden Grove on the East Coast. Cyril joined our group.He pursued higher education in London and held top positions in Guyana and at the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington D.C.
In the bottom flat lived the Young family. I recall two Chinese-dougla (chigra) girls, one of whom was Mignon. She was a nurse.
At the end of the street was a cottage owned by a Chinese family.They lived a very close, private life and very little was known of them and they were rarely seen. Their yard was completely fenced and on the gate was a large sign “Beware of The Dogs.” I was told the couple owned and operated a Chinese Restaurant in downtown Georgetown.
Our group met outside Carl’s home regularly. The group included Carl, myself, Cyril, Geoff Sampson, Clairmont “Bandit” Moore, Colin King, Joe “Dubbie” Shields, Courtney Coltress, George Munroe, Mike Isaacs, Reggie Wilkinson, Ronnie “Skins” Gaskin, “Squeekie” Hinds, Neville Valz, G.C. Fraser, Clive “Rucca” Thomas, ‘Reds” Rodrigues, “Fatboy” Phillips, “Bull” Burnett (who later lived on Henry Street), Dudley Thomas and Stephen Choo Wing, among others.
I recall, immediately north of Henry Street, across Durban Street, in a small cottage, lived the outstanding Guyanese footballer, Victoria Football Club player and Guyanese centre-forward, Dillon Marks. And at the corner of Smyth and Durban Streets was a bakery and above it Haley’s Dance Hall. Opposite, on the southern side was a Cake Shop.
Henry Street to me was just like my home street. I spent many days and early evenings there. I came to know almost everyone that lived on the street. It is a pleasure to recall it.
ON THE STREET WHERE I LIVED
by Peter Halder, former Guyana Ambassador, Commonwealth Expert, Consultant to Fiji Government.
I was born, grew up and lived for many years on a virtually unknown street. It’s name is Non Pareil Street and it’s in Albouystown, Georgetown, Guyana. My family consisted of my father and mother, Earshad and Mary Halder , three brothers – Bonnie, Felix and Vernon, all of whom have passed away, and two sisters – Leila and Bernice. My niece, Olivia (Livy) Kissoon later came to live with us. She now lives in Toronto, Canada. Her Mom Leila had migrated to Trinidad, then England and now lives in Cyprus. Bernice now lives in Orlando, Florida.
Albouystown is the long, narrow southern suburb of Georgetown, often called a “slum area” due to its “long ranges” of one room homes, some thickly populated “yards”, latrines for the use of landlord and tenants and to a minor extent, crime. It is bounded on the north by Sussex Street and the Sussex Street trench, on the east by Callendar Street, on the south by Punt Trench Dam and the Punt Trench and on the west by La Penitence Public Road and Market. It’s north to south width is only two blocks and straddling the middle from east to west is James Street. Callendar Street, proceeding west, is followed by Garnett Street, Campbell Street, Curtis Street, Non Pareil Street, Cooper Street, Victoria Street, King Edward Street, Albert Street, Bel Air Street, La Penitence Street, Barr Street, Albouys Street, Hill Street, Hogg Street and La Penitence Public Road.
During the late 1930′s and the 1940s, Albouystown was sparsely populated and Non Pareil Street, moreso. The ‘”yards” were large so there were not many between Sussex Street and Punt Trench Dam.
My father came from India but my mother was born in Essequibo. In our “yard” were four tenants living in rooms below and four tenants living in single rooms in a “long range” at the back.
One tenant Miss Audrey worked with mason George building graves in the La Repentir cemetery. On one occasion, when a concrete grave was being reused, she couldn’t get the bones out and she asked me to help her. I did.
Another tenant, Miss Olga got married to Mr Felix. The reception was kept at the RAF Hall at James and Hunter Streets. I recall there was a death in her family and a “wake” was held in our yard. I read the words out loud as many joined in singing hymns popularly known as “sankies.” During the wake, there was a big commotion. A man started talking in a strange language, then threw himself on the ground, stood on his head and danced around on his head. My mother got a bucket of water and threw it on him. He spluttered and fell on his back. He got up in a few minutes and couldn’t remember a thing. My mother said that our noise probably disturbed an evil spirit from the nearby Le Repentir cemetery which came and took possession of him and that was why she had put some white lavender in the water.
There was one latrine which served my family and all the tenants. “Poe” and “slop can” were the vessels of choice at night. The latrine was also used for baths using a bucket of water and a calabash. “Salt soap” was the going thing and a dried nenwa was the wash sponge. There was a large common sink, standpipe, in the “yard” that served landlord and tenants, as well as the neighbours next door. It was used for drawing “pipe” water, washing wares, bathing small children and washing clothes… with beater, scrubbing board, Rickett’s Crown Blue and salt soap. My mother later had a wooden wash tub upstairs. She boiled starch for use when washing shirts. We had a coal pot and three “cold” irons. When our clothes were ironed on Sunday afternoons, coal was put in the iron coal pot and lit. The irons were placed on red hot coals. The dinner table was used at the ironing board. A blanket was placed over it, covered by a cotton cloth. The red hot iron was taken from the coal pot, using a thick fold of cloth to hold the handle. A piece of beef suet (fat) was necessary to grease the iron before use. The grease was then rubbed off. The use of grease made the ironing process smooth. There was a large enamel cup of water nearby. It was used to sprinkle water with your fingers on the clothes as your ironed them. When the iron got cold, it was replaced in the coal pot and another taken out. All of us, boys and girl, were taught to and did: scrubbing the front and back steps, floor in the house and wooden tables weekly; keeping our rooms and the house neat and tidy; cleaning and varnishing the furniture at Christmas time; washing the wares; washing clothes; ironing; buying groceries and cooking. The “paling” separated a few “yards” in Non Pareil Street. Apart from the large common sink, there was no other source of piped water. There was a huge wooden vat which collected rain water and the tenants and ourselves used its water for drinking only. When the dry season was on and the vat water was low, I had to walk to Sussex and Bel Air Streets where there was a huge iron tank which stored water, fill my galvanized bucket, cover it with a flour bag sheet, have it put on my head and take it home for drinking. We had a sink upstairs but no piped water. We fetched water from the standpipe downstairs to ‘wash wares’ and cook. We used salt soap with a coconut fibre to wash wares. The soap was kept in a large, flat sardine can.
In the first yard was Mrs Branch and her family. An always laden gooseberry tree was on the boundary between our two yards. The Branches were replaced by a tinsmith, Mr Henry and his family, and then the Abduls. Brother Adbul and his family were members of the Assemblies of God Church. He worked at the CDC Sawmill at Houston on the East Bank.
In the third yard was a family from Plaisance. Their run-down cottage was later torn down and a new two-bedroom cottage replaced it. Among its first tenants was a family from Still In Hope, Pomeroon, Mrs Elizabeth Brock (nee Van Sluytman) and her children Myrtle, Barry, Ingrid, Viveca and Ian. Myrtle was the most beautiful girl on Non Pareil Street and Viveca the only blonde. Their father, Benjie Brock was a boatbuilder. Myrtle now lives in New Zealand, Barry in England, Ian in Venezuela, Ingrid in Austria and Viveca in New York. Non Pareil Street has reached out to the four corners of the world. Also living in the same cottage was a Mrs Narine with her daughter, Aurelia Manson-Hing also called MUY, and also her two sons, Eddie and John “Barrel” Narine.
In the fourth lived Prison Warder Padmore and his family. His son Bunty later became Director of Prisons. He formed a Cricket Club named Wisden. Brother Neville migrated to the United States and became a Doctor of Medicine. Cynthie migrated to Canada. There were three other sisters. The Padmores had a large backyard and the neighbourhood kids played cricket there regularly using a balata ball and a bat made of greenheart wood. On our street we called it bat and ball. In the two bottom flat rooms lived a fisherman and the Plaisance family who moved there from the demolished house. The family consisted of the mother Miss Ivy,Bobby her eldest son, Ivelaw and daughter Sukie.
The folks organised a Masquerade Band every Christmas Season. I would go most nights to hear them tune up their kettle and bass drums, watch as they finished their multi-coloured costumes and repair their stilts. I would accompany them when they went masquerading. I was so impressed with their financial rewards that I organised a youth group of my own, using old sardine cans, palm tree butter cans, bottles and iron pieces and created our own music and dancing. We easily made $1 a night, not to mention slices of cake and soft drink… American Cream Soda, Two-Glass Quencha, Portello and Vimto.
We used to call the old fisherman Mr Francis. He had a castnet which he mended from time to time. He used the net to catch fish in the Sussex Street and Burial Ground trenches. His niece Yvonne also lived there and did the home chores. She now resides in New York.
The “Kali Mai Poojah” procession was an annual feature for the area. When it was in our street, my mother would call us all into the house and lock the doors and windows. The procession was led by a young man dressed in a dhoti and turban and wielding a sharp cutlass.
At the corner of James Street, was Ragnauth Grocery and Cake Shop and over the road was ‘Braina’ Grocery and Parlour, the latter run by her daughter Lucille. At the front of the huge yard was a unit with two one- roomed apartments. Next to it, near the concrete alley lived mason George who as I said before, built concrete tombs in the cemetery. There was a “long range” at the back. I recall the Alexander family, originally from Berbice, living in that range. Sons Paul, Melvin were my good friends and we all attended St. Stephen’s and Enterprise High School. The boys also had a beautiful sister named Erma. Some nights, Lucille’s husband who was in the parlour, and who was an avid cricketer, would arrange for racing competitions around the block and the winner got a “nutcake” or a “nuttin.”
In those days, nearly all sweets were made locally, except for toffee- Batgers- which was imported from England. Local sweets included sour stick, lollipop, peppermint on a stick, sweetie balls of all colours and the long, flat, brown butterscotch made by Mr Parker in his shop on Camp Street, near D’Urban Street.
The Ragnauth family owned a huge yard which had three “long ranges.” Two ran from east to west and the third from north to south. In an end room of the north to south one lived Channa Man and his family. He was so called because he sold channa and pholouri outside Empire Cinema for all three movie shows and at the morning show on Public Holidays. He rode a bicycle to the cinema with a carrier attached to the handle. A large basket was in the carrier and it contained his food items, a large bottle of “souree”, paper and paper bags. In the other end room lived the Mohammed family. The sons Yussuf and Hassan were schoolmates of mine. Their very young brother was called “Chooks.”
Next to the Ragnauth grocery and cakeshop, run by son Jimmy, was a small cottage and its tenant owned and operated a donkey cart. He cut grass every afternoon in the Burial Ground for his donkey.
Also in the “yard”, in the southernmost range, was an Orthodox Coptic Church. Miss Richards lived in a cottage next to it. She was always well dressed and rode a Raleigh’s ladies’ bicycle. Towards the end, near the Punt Trench was a cow pen. I was sent there to buy fresh milk from the owner from time to time. I was served by young man whom we called “Pea”. In the same yard, we played bat and ball with Pea’s brother Baba.
Next to that yard lived the Nantons in a beige-coloured cottage. I was a good friend of the son, Wilfred. Many years later, Nanton and Braina’s granddaughter came to see me at the District Administration Office, Christianburg, opposite McKenzie, to discuss their marriage plans.
In a cottage at the back of the yard lived the Brooks family. My mother visited Mrs Brooks from time to time.
On the other side of the road, next to Punt Trench Dam , was a cottage in which lived the Naraine family. We called Mr Naraine, Bunai. The land in front of the house was paved with cow dung and mud which gave it a nice look. In front of the yard were a few tall bamboo poles with red triangular flags (jandhi) at the top.
Next to it was a huge yard with the usual “long range” and a house. In the house lived the Mollyneaux family.
On the western side, the first yard next to the Sussex Street trench, was another tenement compound but with a two-storeyed house in front and a cottage at the back. The Delphs lived in the back cottage for many years. Mr Alfred Delph was a policeman and his daughter, Barbara, was in the first group of Women Police recruited, PW50. Other family members were Roslyn, Camille, Paula, Sandra, John, Bernard, Raymond and Clairmont. Mr Delph’s brother, Donald, who also a policeman, lived on Sussex Street near La Penitence Market. A cousin lived on Hunter Street. The Delphs now live in the United States but Roslyn and Paula live in the United Kingdom.
In the bottom flat of the two-storeyed house lived the Persaud family. Bobby, Derek and I used to play marbles. The ‘taw’ was set on one side of the street and we played to it from the other side. We played for buttons. A “butt”, hitting the opponent’s marble, and you collected 2 buttons, ‘butt’ and span was 3 buttons and a span, 1 button. Mr Persaud sold genips at the markets. He usually paid a landlord for the entire tree and for picking the fruit from it. I would join his sons in climbing the tree and placing bunches of fruit in a bucket which was sent to the ground using a rope.
That family was replaced by one from the North West District. I recall the beautiful sisters Yvette, Claudette, Bonita and Debbie and son Terry . They later migrated to Canada. Their mother was married to a Mr Khan who worked at Rahaman Soft Drink Factory on the East Bank Road. The family eventually moved next door to the Corrica house and the Corrica family moved to Leopold Street.
In the upstairs flat lived Mr and Mrs Barry Hall. Mr Hall worked at the Transport and Harbours Department. Another Da Silva family, from the Pomeroon, lived on Non Pareil Street in later years. One of the daughters, the beautiful Helena, was very friendly and consequently, well-known along the street. She attended St. Stephen’s School. She now lives in Australia.
In western end room in the “long range” abutting the Sussex Street trench, lived Mr Bacchus and his wife. They had a “cook” (food) shop in Big (Stabroek) Market. Mr Bacchus always told us to beware of spirits from the Burial Ground. He said he saw them at night.
At the eastern end room lived a stevedore we called Mr. Jackie. When he got drunk some Sundays, he would shout “I personally am the greatest.”
In the middle room lived a Mr Persaud and his wife Dulahin. They had three children, Winston, “Boyie” and “Girlie.” Winston became a policeman and now lives in New York.
The second yard was owned by a Mr Corrica who worked at the Train Station on Lamaha Street. His children Roy, Gloria, Pinky and I were good friends. There was weightlifting in his yard every afternoon which attracted many men of all races. In his yard was a “Buxton Spice” mango tree, dunks tree, genip tree, guava tree and calabash tree. When the mangoes were near to ripen, I would climb the tree and pick as many as I could. Mr Corrica shared them with the neighbours. Roy and I played bat and ball in the front of the yard from time to time. I used to climb and perch in the calabash tree to “gaff” with Barbara Delph. The Delphs organised a picnic to the Lamaha Canal once a year.
At the end of Sussex Street was the “backdam” along which was a very narrow path which led to the Lamaha Canal, about a mile and a half away. To save the long walk, John and Raymond Delph and myself managed to get some plantain suckers, staple them firmly together using stout, narrow wooden stakes and make a raft. We poled up the Sussex Street trench to the Canal. We were able to put the heavy items, like pots, on the raft. On another occasion we used a narrow, wooden boat, which capsized after a short distance. On occasions, I used to go with the Delphs grandma Lillian Taitt, up the backdam to pick jamoon and green mangoes. She made drink and wine from the jamoon fruit and achar was made from the mango. I liked, however, mango “chow chow.” The “turning” mango flesh was cut into pieces and sprinkled with salt and pepper sauce. It was a dish fit for a King.
The third yard had three “long ranges” and a cottage. A Portuguese family Rodrigues, lived in one of the rooms in the first “range”. Mr Rodrigues was always well dressed, tie and all.
Another Portuguese family, D’Oliveira, lived in the bottom flat of the cottage. They were related to the Delphs. I recall three sisters – Waveney, Joan and Pam.
Next to them, in a small cottage lived Mr Corrica’s mother. We called her “Nursee” since she wore a nurse’s uniform to work. Africans and Indians lived in the other rooms.
The fourth yard, next to James Street had one “long range”. Miss Ismay made mokra baskets and lived in the end room. She had two sons, Neville and Buster who were good friends of mine.
Next to her lived a fair-skinned lady who had a gentleman who was a sailor. When he returned from a trip, he used to bring chocolates. I would get one now and then and I ate it with relish. Arjune, the son of the landlady, Miss Alice, lived in the last room.
The Sussex Street trench in those days was a real trench, often dredged by the British Government. I used to fish in it for kassee , cuirass, hassar and catch prawns in a rice bag seine. My mother got an iron barrel hoop, sewed it along the top of the bag, put flour and rice, mixed with molasses along the sides and bottom and put leaves in it. We put a few rocks in it to make it sink and stay under water. We let it down with a stout cord to the bottom of the trench. When we pulled it up after an hour or so, we took out a quantity of “catchman” prawns that went into it, ate the mixture and remained in it. We set it back again. Since we had no “fridge”, the prawns were “peeled”, washed and limed that same night and then slightly fried with salt to keep them from spoiling. They made a delicious curry for dinner the next day. I also swam in the trench. The bridge over it was a “big bridge”, one that permitted cars to drive across. The bridges across the trench, eastwards, were all made of two long planks with side rails, except for Calendar Street, where it was a long, round log, which required skill and agility to walk across on.
On Curtis Street, the first yard belonged to Miss Corbin. She lived alone in the huge compound with many fruit trees… plum, almond, somatoo( passion fruit), genip, guava, jamoon, coconut and locust ( “stinking toe”). Ripe fruit from the plum and locust tree often fell into the Sussex Street trench. So I got an empty Ovaltine tin, used a nail to bore holes on its bottom and put holes on each side near the top to push a long, straight and narrow rod through. I would stand on the Big Bridge and use my can and rod to collect floating fruit. My own yard had a starapple tree in front and a guava tree and coconut tree at the back. The starapple tree was the source on many bites by white and brown, sometimes green, “hairy worms”. The coconut tree provided the staple for my mother making “chip sugarcake” and “grated sugarcake”. She made jam with the guavas. My father built a fowl pen in the back yard. I had to go most mornings to the parapet along Sussex Street and cut grass with a grassknife to throw in the pen. We also planted eddoe and cassava in the backyard.
Across Sussex Street was the Le Repentir trench and Burial Ground (Cemetery). I walked through the Burial Ground every school day, to and from school.
At the corner of James and Curtis Street was “putagee” Louis parlour and grocery. I used to enjoy his “sardine (Marshall’s Tomato Sauce) and bread (penny loaf)” and washed it down with a mauby or pine drink. He also sold the best “Custard Blocks” with raisin in them. I recall his two sons Herman and Buds. Opposite was Lil Boy’s “yard” and parlour/grocery.
At the northern end of Curtis Street was a Horse Stable and a Club House. Dances were held in the Club House from time to time.
After that was another “long range”. The Indian men who lived in the range played a card game called “trup chal” almost every Sunday morning. The game is similar to “Whist” and was popular in the colony at that time.
After that “yard” was a Soap Factory. We bought unused pieces from it at a very cheap price. Across the road was a tall house and behind it a small cow pen.
The Savory family lived in the first “yard” at Campbell and Sussex Streets. I didn’t visit that Street often until the Henrys opened a Baker Shop towards the end of it, near the punt trench.
At Garnett and James Street was Beharry’s shop. The building was the only one in the area to have a tower. His son Kunj and I attended Enterprise High School together. Kunj went to school each day with only one exercise book in his back pocket but he was an expert on opera. He invited me some Sundays to listen to his LPs of Beniaminio Gilli, Enrico Caruso and Richard Tauber.
At the Sussex Street corner, we bought parcels of sheep meat, mutton, from time to time, from an Indian family who lived in a cottage Calypsoes popular at that time were Hitler Bring Back The Saltfish , The More They Try To Do Me Bad Is The Better I live In Trinidad, Christmas In England and Ah Bernice.
The popular cigarette brands were Clipper and Four Aces.
The popular bath soaps, which we called “sweet soap” were White Rose and Cucumber, light green in colour; Palmolive, leafgreen in colour and Lifebuoy, dark red. The latter was often called carbolic soap. For body powder or ” sweet powder”, we used Mim’s Talcum Powder which came in a very large red tin. My mother bought for her own use from time to time Potter and Moore Mitchum’s Lavender Powder which came in a cream-coloured tin. The perfumes of the time were Mitchum’s Lavendar; Evening-in-Paris in a tiny dark blue bottle; and Attar of Rose (Phul Nana).
For bed-bugs, Keatings Powder was the popular choice, sprinkling it on the fibre-filled mattress and in creases in the walls. Head lice was treated by putting the evil-smelling crab oil on the scalp. It’s odour was so obnoxious that lice were obliged to quit their place of abode. Sometimes, the seed of the avocado pear was grated and rubbed on the scalp. That was also successful.
The popular wines were Key and Gunboat.
For rum it was ‘Cut and Drop’ sold in a small black lemonade bottle, called a “cuttie” or “cut down”. I used to be fascinated with the manner in which the men opened it. They shook it up and then slapped the bottom of the bottle with the palm of their hand and the cork eased out.
The beer of choice was Frontenac.
On the north-eastern side of James and Cooper, was a grocery and parlour owned by Mr Persaud. My mother bought her groceries there once a week on Fridays. I accompanied her so I could take the basket of groceries home on my head. The family lived above the business. There were two “long ranges” in the large yard. Mr Persaud had two sons, Conrad and Victor and two daughters. After Mr Persaud died, the family opened a grocery and cake shop on Sussex Street, near to La Penitence Market and moved there. They later bought the property on the western side of Non Pareil and Sussex Streets and renovated it.
On the southeastern side lived the Ferguson family who owned and operated a parlour and radio repair shop. Under a tall house, near the southwest corner of James and Cooper Streets, a shoemaker plied his trade. In a cottage further down Cooper Street lived the Shuffler family who I was told was from Barbados.
A lonely woman, with a bottle lamp and a small wooden tray on a bench, sold blackpudding from a blue enamel pot on the bridge of a cottage on James Street opposite Buntan’s Church on Saturday and Sunday nights. One slice, cut in two with “souree” between and lathered with some kind of oil applied with a feather, was sold for a penny. My mother was against eating blood but I enjoyed that blackpudding.
The Singh family lived in the cottage. Jeanette Singh attended Carmel R.C. School. She later became a teacher. Her brother was Pritipal Singh. At James and Victoria lived the Meerabux family. Vincent later became a lawyer and magistrate.
In the next yard lived the Eric Small family. On the other side was a cake shop and grocery owned by a son of the Ragnauth family.
And on the south-western corner was a cottage in which lived a fair-skinned Indian man who had several birds in cages, one of them was a yellow canary.
On the south-eastern side lived the Pariag family.
In a beautiful cottage on the southern side of James Street, between Victoria and King Edward Street, lived the Persaud family. Mr Persaud worked with Bookers and was one of the very few people in Albouystown to own a private motor car at that time. There were two daughters, “Palmy” and Lucille.
At the corner of James and King Edward Streets was a cottage in which lived “Black” Marie. She sold firewood. On the eastern side of her house was a vacant lot and once a year, cumfa dancing was held there. I was always fascinated by the beat of the drums, the dancing girls and the foreign language they spoke when they fell to the ground, foaming from the mouth.
At James and Bel Air Streets was Egbert Grocery and Parlour. Egbert sold a tasty mauby but used to ” ram” the glass with ice.
Next to Egbert’s on Bel Air Street, was a Woodworking Shop under a house. It was where I had my first wooden gun made, trigger and all. I next cut rubber bands from an old bicycle tube. The bands were stretched around the front of the gun and the trigger for tension. I picked buckbeads from weeds in the cemetery to use as “ammunition” for my “gun”.
On the southern side of James and Bel Air Streets, was a grocery and parlour, owned by an Indian family.
At the corner of Albert and James Streets, opposite Dictator Rum Shop, was a grocery and above it lived Lionel Lee who operated a taxi service using Morris 8 cars.
Between Bel Air and Albert Streets was a “green” where we played cricket and football from time to time. It was also used as a site where women worked breaking large blocks of white stone (marl), imported from Barbados I was told. The broken stones were used to build up James Street and other streets in Albouystown.
At the northern end of Callendar Street was the Ball Field. It was the popular place for cricket on Saturdays and Sundays, using a steel drum cover as the wicket, coconut branch bats and tennis(winpuss), sponge or balata balls. At Easter, a fair was held there and one of the features was trying to walk across “The Greasy Pole”, the round timber log across the Sussex Street Trench, laced with grease. The first across got a spanking new green Five Dollar Bill. It was also an ideal area for flying kites.
A good friend from St.Stephen’s School, Bridgelall lived on the eastern side of Callendar Street. He became a member of the Georgetown Fire Brigade.
The late Fred Wills was a product of Albouystown .
Hammy Green’s father had a Drug Store at Barr and James Street. I used to go there to buy for my mother, Polson’s Green Cough Syrup, Robert’s Cough Syrup or Haliborange- halibut oil and orange juice. There was a man whom the people said was “mad” that drew spaceships on the concrete near the Drug Store.
Walter ‘Afoo” Chin also lived on James Street.
And then there was Frank Alexander Chandra whose father, I believe, had a Radio Shop on Punt Trench Road. Frank, I was told, got Ten Distinction Firsts in the ten subjects he took for Senior Cambridge at Enterprise High School. It was never equalled though I was told that Fred Wills got nine Distinctions.
At five, my mother took me to Mr Ross’s private school at James and King Edward Street. The school was sponsored by the Ramsaroop Poor House – Dharam Shala – at Sussex Street corner. Next to the school was a Hindu temple. The British Governor of the colony visited the Poor House establishment once a year, during the Christmas Season and a function was held in the Temple. Patriotic songs were sung. One Governor described the roti he ate as “broadened bread” and the dhal as highly seasoned split peas soup.
I didn’t like Mr Ross’ school so the next year, my mother enrolled me in Lil ABC at St. Stephen Church of Scotland School at St. Stephen, Adelaide and Princess Streets. I recall, however, in later years, I went to Mr. Ross’s home on Cooper Street, near James Street, for extra school lessons in reading, writing and arithmetic. Those were the days of slate and pencil which were bought from Ramdeholl Shop on Cooper Street near the Punt Trench or Texeira’s Hardware Store on Louisa Row near Hadfield Street. My favourite was “chalkie slate” and “chalkie pencil.” I recall a young, beautiful Miss Margaret Ramdeholl who had long black hair.
The Prescott family also lived on Cooper Street. The boys also attended St. Stephen School. Teacher Bessie used a nail and a ruler to etch lines on the slate for ease of writing. Later came exercise books, some specially double- lined to practice cursive writing, drawing books, West Indian Reader and Royal Reader.
When I first learned to write, the letters were so crooked that the boy sitting next to me in Lil ABC would say that it looked like “crabfoot” and sang “crabfoot marching in the burial ground, tek a big stick and knock um down.” Two items about Lil ABC still remain in my memory. One is the large ABC picture-filled placard, that was tacked to a wall… A for Apple, B for Bat, C for Cat,etc.,etc. My favourite letter was Z (pronounced Zed) for Zebu Bull. The other was a large placard of “Do’s and Don’ts.” We had to learn them by heart each day.
Until I was seven, I walked about barefeet. At that age, my teacher insisted I wear “yachting” shoes. The teacher of Lil ABC was Teacher Bessie, Big ABC was Miss Fletcher, I can’t recall who taught First Standard, but Second Standard was Miss Leitch, Third was Miss Fox and Mr. Durant, fourth was Mr. Conrad Luke, Fifth was Mrs. Cooke and Sixth, Mr. Cooke. The Headmaster was Charles B. Giddings. From Third Standard, I was elevated to Scholarship Class run by Mr. Giddings. I recall the class included G.A.S. Sampson, now a Geologist in Canada, Carl Agard, Clarence Wilkinson, McKenzie, Chung, Eustace Forde, Edwin Jack, Kean MacClean and Gloria Newport.
A famous scholar of St.Stephens was the late Dr Walter Rodney. We began classes at St. Stephen’s each day by saying The Lord’s Prayer and ever so often, we all attended a service in the Church adjacent to the school. Being poor was not a crime nor was walking barefeet.
I recall for lunch, I would buy a ticket from school for 10cents for five daily lunches at the Children’s Breakfast Centre at Smyth and Princess Streets, next to St. Phillip’s School. At home, we ate from enamel plates, drank from enamel cups and ate with our fingers. Sometimes we were given spoons. There was no stove. My mother mixed cow and donkey dung with mud from the Punt Trench and made a “fireside” , chula, with two holes. It used wood so most afternoons we searched the nearby Burial Ground for dry branches. A large 5lb empty tin of Palm Tree Salt Butter was converted into a pot to boil water. The only other cooking utensils were a frying pan, a large iron skillet , a carrahee, a tawa for making roti, and a large blue enamel pot for cooking pepperpot.
My mother also, from time to time, bought catfish from the market, cut, cleaned and salted them and smoked them over the chula. The smoked catfish lasted many weeks and tasted good in metagee.
We didn’t have toothbrushes and toothpaste in our early years. We used blacksage sticks. My father cut my hair once a month. He sharpened his German razor on a special stone and then on a leather belt. He put a shallow calabash around my head and cut my hair with a pair of scissors, which he sharpened on stone,around the calabash. The style was called “round-the-world.” When that was over, he used the razor to remove the very short hairs around the side, back, neck and face. There were many nicks but cottonwool with surgical spirit was always ready to be applied, sometimes iodine.
At Easter, the boys on Non Pareil Street used exercise book leaves and dried coconut leaves spines to make kites. Our parents’ sewing thread was borrowed for the loop and the line and pieces of an old dress for the tail. The popular name for the kite was “caddy old punt” or conkawa. Needless to say, my brothers and sister had our monthly dose of either castor oil or senna pods or senna leaf or epsom salts or cascara to “clean us out.” And we had daily, when our parents could afford it, Seven Seas Cod Liver Oil and sometimes Wander Brand “Malt” or Ovaltine.
As babies, we were brought up on Cow and Gate Milk Powder or Lactogen. If we fell and got our hand or feet scraped, my mother would go in the yard, collect the leaves of an ant-bush, grind it, apply it to the wound and cover it with a cloth bandage. It was healed in 48 hours. For an abscess she would get a piece of conchineal, grate it, apply it around and bandage it. It would burst within 24 hours. For swellings, she would get a duckweed (water lily) leaf from the burial ground trench, heat it and continuously apply it to the area. The swelling usually disappeared in 24 hours. Soldier pursley and sweet broom from the yard was also used to make tea.
At the end of Callendar Street, adjacent to the Punt Trench was a High Bridge, another one being at Bel Air Street, which had only one plank and no handrail and, which connected Albouystown to La Penitence. At the side of the High Bridge was a popular swimming spot known as “The Parloff”. Opposite was a parlour which sold the best Coconut Biscuit ( record) in the area. And further east, about 50 yards was the most popular swimming spot, “Clay”. A piece of flesh on my right index finger was bitten off by a pirai, “pirahna” while swimming there one afternoon.
There was another bridge at Hunter Street. Some mornings, at about four o’clock, Carl Agard, Reggie Wilkinson and I used to go swimming in the Atlantic Ocean at the seawall. We made arrangements for the two to tie a string to their big toe and throw it through the bedroom window. It must be long enough to reach near the ground. Since I was the furthest away, I would run to Reggie’s home on Hunter Street first and pull the string. He would join me in a jiffy.
Next was Carl on Henry Street. We trotted to the seawall, did our swimming and trotted back home in time for breakfast and school.
Once a year, a picnic or excursion, with music and dancing was held in two or three punts drawn along the Punt Trench by two horses.
My mother baked bread once weekly on Saturdays. I would place each tin tray of the plaited bread dough, securely covered with a flour bag sheet, on my head and take it to the Bakery at the corner of Cooper Street ( Hell’s Kitchen) and James Street for baking. Later, when the Henrys opened a Baker Shop on Campbell Street, I would walk there to buy bread or walk to Dictator’s Bakery on James Street, between Hunter and Barr Streets. Collar, salara, butterflap, pennyloaf, cottage loaf, panbread and doughboy, were in fashion at that time. For cakes, there was “white-eye”, buns, aniseed biscuit, pine tart, coconut rolls and coconut biscuit.
Dictator Bakery was owned by the Perreira family who lived above it. Their son Jack and I became good friends.
In the second house on Albert Street, near to Sussex Street, lived the Burnhams. Charwin and Igris were High School chums of mine. Their famous Steelband, the Texacans, had its origin there. It attracted a large crowd during practice sessions.
At James and Hunter Street was the RAF Dance Hall. Under it was a cake shop and on the other side of the road another cake shop, later a liquor store, Joe Louis, where you could buy items 24 hours daily. At the south western corner was another cake shop.
At Sussex and Cooper Streets, next to the trench, was a cottage in which lived a fair-skinned lady and her son who later became a Calypso King of British Guiana, Lord Coffee.
In the same yard was a two – storeyed house. The top flat had multi-coloured windows. In it lived a Frenchman who made tourist souvenirs. I used to catch and sell him butterflies for a penny each. He prepared and used the butterflies to decorate wooden trays with a glass covered bottom.
In the bottom flat lived the Gonsalves. I recall Veronica, who was a good friend of Myrtle Brock, and her sister Olympia.
In the cottage to the south lived the Ishmaels. Annie was a good friend of the Delphs.
At Sussex and Victoria Streets lived the Austin family in a small cottage. Mrs Austin was a Jehovah’s Witness and my mother visited her regularly. She always took me with her and it was a delight for the kind lady always served biscuits(crackers) with homemade guava jelly and an enamel cup of “swank.”
Next to her yard was a two-storeyed house and in the top flat lived a goldsmith, a Mr. Kissoon. He once showed me how he melted gold and built moulds for making jewellry.
Further up the street lived the Brown family. Brothers Michael and Hubert were schoolmates of mine at St. Stephen.
At Sussex and King Edward Streets was Pandit Ramsaroop’s Dharam Shala. It was a huge building. In the top flat lived the Pandit and his family and below lived beggars.
Next to it was a cottage in which lived the Youngs. The beautiful and charming Olney Young sat next to me in the Fourth Form at Enterprise High School. I recall her two brothers, Joseph and Compton.
Across the road were two more buildings with top and bottom flats each where lived more beggars. My mother used to take me with her to the “Poor House” during the Christmas Season to share pennies to as many beggars as possible. In those days, a penny could buy a glass of pine drink or mauby for one cent and a “whiteye” or bun or aniseed biscuit for a cent. She and my Dad, a Moslem, also held a lunch one a year in the yard at our home as part of their religion of feeding the beggars. My mother would also give a beggar room and bed for the night if he/she had no where to sleep. I recall one such was Buddy Willie.
Near the Punt Trench on King Edward Street lived a Shuffler family. I recall Leroy and Lennie.
In a cottage at Sussex and Albert Streets lived the Khan family. One son, Mohammed, called “mamoo” was married to my Aunt Hilda. Another brother Aziz, lived in the small “range” in the back yard. They both ran a “butcher shop” in Bourda Market. Some Saturdays, I used to go there to help my Uncle Mamoo and my aunt. I used to cut up parts of the cow to sell as dog meat and at Christmastime, cut up cowheels which I sold in parcels at a shilling each. My kind uncle would give me a shilling, a princely sum, for my morning’s labour, and a fabulous lunch.
There was a large house at Sussex and La Penitence Street. I believe that the name of the family was Vigilance. Next to it was Paul’s (Chinese) Garage. And a little further down was a yard in which “lightwood” crates were made for Peter D’Aguiar’s soft drink business.
At Sussex and Hunter Streets was also a tenement yard with several cottages. In one lived the Wilkinsons. Reggie and Clarence attended St. Stephen’s school, as did I. A popular figure on Hunter Street was Herman Gomes, well known as “German” and another Portuguese guy known as ” Mannie Born Drunk.”
At the corner of Sussex and Barr Streets, on the eastern side, lived Mr. Ho-Yow and his family. Mr. Ho-Yow owned a Drug Store opposite the Fire Station between Lombard and High Streets, obliquely opposite the Olympic Cinema. His son Vernon, in later years, and I worked at the License Revenue Office on Brickdam.
On the western side of the road lived an Indian family who made vermicelli. It was a great sight to see rows and rows of strands of the product, cream, brown, white and some red, spread out on straw mats and placed outside of the house to dry in the sun. Later on, the family business was modernised and chow mein noodles and macaroni were also produced.
There was a cinema in Albouystown. It’s name was Capital, later Rio. It was located on La Penitence Street, just next to the Punt Trench. My parents took me there every Holy Thursday night to see the movie “Passion Play”. The wooden benches in Pit and seats in House and Balcony were more populated by bugs(Guyana kind) than by patrons.
Opposite the cinema was a parlour. My favourite snack there was a fishcake and bread and a small lemonade.
Next to the cinema, on the western wide, was a “long range”, and in it lived a Mr. Martin who was in the B.G. Volunteer Force. He also worked at Fogarty’s.
The cinema was not appreciated by my mother who was a devout Jehovah’s Witness, as mentioned before. My two brothers and I used to walk all the way to Kingdom Hall on Croal Street, above the law offices of C.V. Wight et al, on Sunday nights for church service. On the way back, we would take the long route and stop by the Rum Shop opposite La Penitence Market, to listen to a Jordanite preach. Brother Paddy was always entertaining.
There was a robbery/murder at the Rum Shop one night. The owner was robbed and murdered. Three men were arrested and one who gave evidence for the Crown is reported to have said that the owner was murdered because “dead men tell no tales.”
One Christmas, while attending a Children’s Christmas Party at Ramsaroop’s Poor House, in my bag of sweets was a complimentary cinema ticket. My mother permitted me to go to the Astor Cinema on Boxing Day morning to see two Westerns featuring Roy Rogers. I was not allowed to go in Dress Circle because I was barefeet. I was only six at the time.
What I remember distinctly at that time of World War II was the national siren blowing on several occasions. It was also a time when many rumours circulated about German spies in Georgetown and in Mackenzie. I never stopped going to the cinema after that but only on Public Holidays. Pit was three cents and if you sold an empty black lemonade bottle you got a penny or a large empty rum bottle (a “biggie”) to Dictator Rum Shop on James Street, you got a ‘half-a-bit’ or six cents. Growing up, the movie rule was relaxed just a little. The problem was when a good movie was on at night at the Empire Cinema on Middle Street. It was too tiresome to go all the way around St. Stephen or Adelaide Street. The quickest way was through the burial ground. It’s three gates were however shut tight and padlocked at six p.m. by the one constable, an Indian guy, who guarded the cemetery. We knew his as Peter and I was told he lived on Hogg Street. One night, when the serial Drums of Fu Manchu was on, I walked to the Sussex Street Burial Ground gate, climbed over it, walked to the Louisa Row Gate at Princess Street and climbed over that too. Reaching the cinema after that was a cake walk. I was prepared for the midnight journey back. As I climbed over the gate, I took out fegs of garlic which I had in my pocket, threw them one by one over my head and whispered ” Pity, pity poor boy, sorry for me”. No spirits/ghosts, bothered me. I never saw a spirit but my mother believed in them, especially when the dogs, looking into the Burial Ground, howled mournfully. My mother had a Hindu Priest write words in a strange language over the doors and windows.
We were never permitted to make friends or lime in Albouystown. I joined a group that limed at the concrete rail at Camp and Princess Streets. The group included “Squeeky” Hinds, Carl Agard, Geddes Stoll, “Cobo” Van Sluytman, Derek Spooner “Featherbob” Featherstone and ‘Carrie’ Carrington.
Each street in Albouystown had drainage ‘gutters’ on both sides. They were all shallow mud trenches, reeking of vile odour and teeming with green moss, ringworms and tiny fishes we called ‘cackabelly’. It was not until the late 1940s that the British Government replaced them with concrete drains. The mud ‘gutters’ was another reason Albouystown was called ‘slum’. Garbage in those days used to be collected from “yards” by enclosed horse-drawn carts. Each yard had a large steel tar or oil drum at its bridge in which garbage was put. The carts and horses were stabled and parked in the afternoons at a large Municipal Place on Water Street, next to the Demerara River, and obliquely west of where Bettencourt Department Store was located. There was no electricity. Homes were lit by kerosene lamps. They were about 12 inches high, with a round glass base containing the kerosene oil, a copper coloured attachment to it that contained the wick, with a wheel to turn the wick up and down, a round, silver coloured metal shield at the back to keep the heat away from the wooden wall and reflect the light to the front, and of course, a glass chimney. It was not easy reading and studying under such lights but I got accustomed to it.
My father had an old Victrola gramophone. The playing arm used tiny, silver Birdseye needles which were kept in a small tin. The only “78″ records we had were two of Christmas Carols and the other was an Indian one with songs sung by, if I recall, Lata Mungeshkar. You had to place a new needle in the arm, wind up the apparatus with a metal handle, push the turntable to get it going and quickly place the needle in the first groove of the record. We also had an ancient, funny-looking Philco radio that my father bought for $5 from a Portuguese radio repair person by the name of Mr Virgil. I recall that when the BBC world news was being broadcast, neighbours came into the yard and some sat on the steps to hear the news, especially about the progress of World War II. There was also a full house when the short-lived World Heavyweight Boxing match between American Joe Louis and German Max Schmelling was aired.
Our yard abounded with giant crapauds and scorpions, some black like sin, some brown and some some green. I was bitten several times by scorpions, “blown on” by crapauds and bitten by “hairy worms” and had to be rushed to the Number One Dispensary on George Street, Werk-en-Rust several times.
Biscuit (crackers) was a favourite breakfast item, eaten with New Zealand cheddar cheese or Dutchman Head cheese or reddish salt butter. My parents bought our stocks in large, square ‘drums’ from the biscuit factory on Harel Street, near High Street. A drum of broken biscuit was cheaper and contained both salt and sweet biscuits, ‘Edger Boy’ and ‘Edger Girl’. The factory was opposite “Count Orloff” Charles’ Wheelwright place. Charles built and repaired wheels for donkey and dray carts. In those days the wheels were made of wood with iron rims.
There were quite a few Drug Stores in the 1940s Albouystown. There was one on James Street next to the Dictator Rum Shop; Green’s Drug Store at James and Barr Streets; Jeeboo Drug Store at James and Hill Streets; Kailan’s Drug Store on Hogg Street; Kawall’s Drug Store on La Penitence Public Road and near to it, and Booker’s Drug Store near the Sussex Street trench. Twins Drug Store on James Street, near Hunter Street, and on La Penitence Public Road, adjacent to the Market, were set up a little later. Ragnauth also opened one next to their grocery on Upper James Street and Lil Boy sold some pharmaceutical items from his grocery on James Street near Curtis Street.
There were at that time, five religious places or churches in Albouystown. One was the Hindu Ashram on King Edward Street, Brother Buntan’s Church on James Street between Cooper and Victoria Streets, a church on Bel Air Street, near the water tank and one at Hunter Street and Punt Trench Dam. The fifth was the Coptic Church on Non Pareil Street.
There were three tailor shops, one at the south-eastern corner of James and Non Pareil Streets, another on James Street between Hunter and Barr Streets and the third on James Street near Albouys Street. A tailor who worked in the latter was my ex-brother-in-law whom we called Brother Kissoon. He was my niece Olivia’s father. His family lived next door. Three of his nieces were Patti, Finey and Bibi.
Next to Buntan’s church lived, as I vaguely recall, the Cozier family. Mr Cozier walked around Albouystown with a pushcart from which he sold ‘Shave Ice’ in the shape of a heart, diamond or a club, lathered with thick, red syrup. Sometimes he would put some Blue Cross condensed milk on top. He rang a bell constantly to let customers know he was around.
There were no Government schools. Residents of Albouystown had to send their children to schools in adjoining Werk-en-Rust and Charlestown. Such Schools included Freeburg on Norton Street; St. Stephen’s at St.Stephen’s and Princess Street; Broad Street Government; Carmel RC School at Charles and Sussex Streets and St. Philip’s on Smyth Street.
There was a YMCA , a two -storeyed building at Albouys Street and Sussex Street. It had a ping pong table and there was training in boxing. I attended Sunday School on the upper flat of the building. ‘Ice Fish’ , iced grey and red snapper, was sold from time to time at the Ice Depot at James and Hogg Street. Near to the shop was a “long range” and often, there were large fishing nets hanging out to dry in front.
On Hogg Street, next to James Street was a Rum Shop. Around the corner on James Street was a popular Barber Shop and across the road, adjacent to La Penitence Public Road and above a Chinese Grocery where I used to go to buy salted pigtail and salt beef for my Mom, was Dr J.P. Lachhmansingh’s Medical clinic.
There was a Bata Shoe Store on La Penitence Public Road. And next to it was a bicycle repair shop. At the Punt Trench Dam corner was a parlour where sweet cassava bread and cassava bread were sold. It later became a rumshop. Across the road was a Chinese Restaurant.
Behind La Penitence Market, adjacent to the Demerara River, was a large sawmill where my father bought cartloads of sawdust from time to time to cover our dirt yard. At the Market, fruits and vegetables were sold along the concrete parapet outside the iron-fenced rectangular structure. The vast array of fruits on sale included: whitey, cookerite, owara, corio, bananas (apple, fig and Cayenne), genip, jamoon, mango (buxton spice, long, foo foo, turpentine), sapodilla, gooseberry, starapple ( light green and purple), goldenapple, somatoo ( passion fruit), custard apple, sugar apple, soursop, monkeyapple, guava ( red and white lady), cherry (plump red and Suriname), grapes, psidium, mamee, cashew, avocado ( green and purple), tamarind, yellow plums, locust, pomegranite, pineapple, dunks, starfruit (five fingers), orange, tangerine, papaw, and grapefruit Inside the market were shops or stalls which sold food, grocery, hardware, cloth, meat, and many other items. At the western end was the seafood section where fishes of all kinds, including catfish, hardhead Thomas, kwakwarie, cuirass, kasee, bangamary, four-eye, queriman, gilbacker, basha, two-belly basha, butter fish, grouper, snapper, sea trout, silver fish (churi churi), sunfish, hassar, patwa, hoori, lukunani, hymara, luggalugga, dew fish, mullet, cuffum, snook, paccoo, salted morocut… and shrimps, prawns, crabs, sheriga, etc. etc. were sold.
A great day for the folks of Albouystown was once a year when ‘Banding’, whatever that was, ‘opened’. When it did, the residue of sugarcane crushing, locally called ‘lease water’ , dark in colour and smelling of molasses, flowed into the Sussex Street trench and fishes of all kind, probably drunk from the odour or the water that reached their gills, floated on the surface. We filled our colorful mokra basket bought from Miss Ismay, with fresh fish that day. The biggest fish we got on one occasion was a ‘cuffum’.
There was very little excitement on Non Pareil Street except for two incidents in the late 1940s. The tenants in the flat above Jimmy Ragnauth’s Parlour and Grocery awoke one morning to find a sharp, shiny cutlass on a table in their home and some of their property stolen. The other incident occurred early one Sunday morning with the shouts of “Ole Higue, Ole Higue”. A fair-skinned, middle-aged, Indian woman, with blood trickling from both sides of her mouth, hands tied behind her back, was being whipped now and then with a manicole broom and being led by an angry mob to the Ruimveldt Police Station.
Conclusion: A man is not always defined by where he was born or the circumstances of his birth. I became a journalist, District Administration Officer, Licence Revenue Officer, Chief Information Officer, Ambassador, Commonwealth Expert, Consultant-Government of Fiji; Consultant to Fiji’s Mission to the United Nations, received the Order of The Nile (Third Class) from Egypt, travelled to over 60 countries and lived in quite a few. My family and I now live in Springfield, Virginia, U.S.A. I am retired.
Growing up in Guyana in my young days was paradise and Non Pareil Street and Albouystown, wonderland.
by Peter Halder
I was deeply engaged in studying a file on a timber matter which I was to prosecute in court the next few days when I was interrupted by a knock on the door of my room at the District Administration Office, Christianburg, Upper Demerara River.
Looking up angrily, I saw the Forest Ranger Berthold Baird open the door and push his head in.
“Father Kilkenny is here to see you on an urgent matter,” Baird said.
“Okay, offer him a seat and tell him I will see him in a few minutes,” I replied.
I couldn’t concentrate on the file contents any longer so I closed the file and gave some thought to Fr.Kilkenny.
I recalled that the goodly Father was with a Church on Arvida Road, Mackenzie, as it was then named. He was a constant and persistent smoker of the Yellow Peril, the brand name of which was Lighthouse Cigarette. It was called Yellow Peril because the colour of the box was yellow.
I was told that one Sunday morning, he walked inelegantly to the altar, bowed to the congregation and then fell flat on his face. Before he hit the floor, he shouted out, “Amen!” and made the sign of the cross.
“Poor man,” said a parishioner laughingly, “like the Devil who lost his tail, Father had to go to Sue Tang & Sue Wo at Wismar, the spirit shop where they retail spirits.”
So much for that. It was time to see Fr Kilkenny.
I walked to the door, opened it and invited the priest in.
I shook his clammy hands and offered him a seat.
“And what can I do for you this fine morning, Father?” I asked.
“Sir,” he replied with a solemn face, ” thanks for seeing me. I am here to complain about the pilots of the boats that ferry people to and fro across the river daily and one pilot in particular.” He stopped.
“Go ahead,” I said, “I am all ears.”
“Well, Sir, the pilots operate their boats in a manner that endangers the lives of their passengers, many of whom cannot swim. They show no care and attention even when there are women and children aboard. As the District Administration Officer, you should pull them up regularly. You are empowered under the Harbour Regulations to do so and even to charge them. What is more, you can even suspend or withdraw their boat licences,” said the Father.
“Please continue, Father. I believe you said you had a particular pilot in mind,” I replied.
“So I did my son, so I did,” he continued, “as I was on the boat travelling from Mackenzie to Wismar a short while ago, and there were two other men in the boat who can bear witness, the pilot deliberately steered his boat into the immediate wash of a passing launch. The boat hit the surging water hard and we had to grab the sides tightly to prevent us from falling into the river. We were rocked from side to side before the surge went away and the boat was stabilized. Instead of the pilot apologizing, he looked at us and laughed. I urge you to do something about it in your official capacity.”
Concern clouded my face. I slowly digested what I was told and made up my mind what to do.
“Father, he who hesitates is lost. Let us act immediately. Let us go to that same pilot right now. I will issue him a stern warning, in your presence, and advise him of consequences if he did it again,” I said.
Of course, while he was complaining he was smoking his Yellow Peril and was still smoking as we walked on Wismar Road alongside the river.
At First Alley, Wismar, we stopped and Fr Kilkenny pointed out the offending pilot whose boat had just touched the shore.
Standing on the wooden bridge that led to the sandy shore, I called the pilot.
He walked to us looking rather sheepishly, with his head down.
I gave him a severe scolding and a very stern warning.
“Qamina Bangaram,” I added, since I knew his name, “if I receive another complaint that you pilot your boat without due care and concern for the safety of your passengers, I will suspend your boat licence.”
Fr Kilkenny thanked me and he and the pilot walked down to the water’s edge while I stood on the bridge looking on.
When they reached the boat, the Father told Bangaram, “Now that the District Administration Officer is here, I would like you to demonstrate your skill as a pilot. Is that okay with you?”
Bangaram nodded in the affirmative.
“Take the boat backwards,” ordered the Father.
The pilot pull-started the Archimedes outboard engine on the boat, put it reverse and took the boat backwards towards the middle of the river.
“Now drive forward,” the Father shouted.
The pilot put the engine in the forward gear and drove forward, easily and safely.
“Now take it back into the channel and let it move sideways with the tide,” ordered Father.
Bangaram reversed, waited a little until a minor wash occurred , took the boat into the wash, slowed down, and the wash took it gently sideways for about ten yards.
“Very good,” shouted Father, “you did very well. Now return to shore and take me over to Mackenzie.”:
The pilot returned to shore, stepped from the boat and confronted Father.
“Since I obeyed your every wish, Father,” he said, “would you mind a small test yourself to prove that you are a good priest.”
“Not at all, my good man,” replied Father puffing on his Yellow Peril, “not at all.”
“Very well then,” said Bangaram, “would you be so kind enough as to say the Lord’s Prayer.”
Fr Kilkenny was in his mettle. He clasped his hands and said the Prayer in a strong but solemn tone of voice.
I was about to walk away when the pilot turned to the Father and said, ” You tested me by having me drive my boat forward and backward. Now please say the Lord’s Prayer backwards?”
I was going to lambaste the pilot for being so rude to Father for I didn’t believe he could say it backwards. I suddenly stopped.
Fr Kilkenny smiled and began “Amen. Ever and forever…” and continued without a pause until he finished with “…heaven in art who Father Our.” He bowed as he accomplished what appeared to be an impossible task.
I clapped my hands with delight.
The Father said to the pilot, “I am good at what I do.”
Bangaram emitted a broad grin, looked straight at Fr Kilkenny and said, ” IF YOU ARE THAT GOOD AT WHAT YOU DO, NOW SAY THE PRAYER SIDEWAYS FATHER!”
by Peter Halder
Fr Alfred MacTaggart was the Priest -in-charge of St.Aidan’s Anglican Church at Wismar, Upper Demerara River. The Church’s congregation was made up of persons from Wismar, Christianburg, Silvertown, Silver City, Wismar Hill and Mackenzie.
Fr. MacTaggart hailed from Scotland and his Scottish brogue oft intrigued his congregation when he delivered his sermon on Sundays. His elocution, for whatever reason, was often punctuated by thin streams of spit. The Father was also well- known for his strong tenor voice. It gave vibrancy and appeal to the Hymns sung in Church on Sundays. His Diocese was not limited to Christianburg-Wismar-Mackenzie and environs. Southward it extended as far as Mallali, some 45 miles away. He visited Mallali and delivered sermons at the Mallali School building on a Sunday once every six months.
On one such visit, he was persuaded by a friend Pancho Fiedtkou to lunch. Pancho, a timber dealer, lived in his beautiful home on the right bank of the Demerara River, above Kaikuchekabra Rapids. The Mallali School was on the left bank of the river.
After a gourmet meal of tortoise soup and smoked labba, with sweet potato, eddoe, yam and plantain, Pancho and the Father struck up a conversation about the situation in the area.
Their conversation was interrupted after a long while by a sudden outburst of thunder, lightning and heavy rainfall.
The tropical storm was also accompanied by heavy winds which felled several trees. The trees blocked the path over the hill that would have taken the Father to his launch, which, due to its size, could not, in any case, navigate the narrow channel through the rapids.
There was no other way for Fr MacTaggart to return but by river, which Pancho explained. With the Fr’s concurrence, Pancho arranged for a canoe and two oarsmen to take Father by river, through the narrow channel of Kaikuchekabra Rapids to the launch.
One oarsman sat at one end and one at the other. Father sat in the middle.
All went well until they reached the Rapids.
The narrow channel was a maelstrom from the heavy rain and heavy wind. The dark brown water of the channel dashed itself against the protruding rocks on both sides, sending white sprays across and above.
“Dat ting luk lika hell, Father,” observed one oarsman, “but we goh get ya thru, na foh worrie.”
“Praise the Lord,” said Father MacTaggart gratefully, “praise the Lord!”
The oarsmen whispered the 23rd Psalm and made the Sign of the Cross as the canoe entered the channel.
Fr MacTaggart raised in the air the Golden Cross on the chain around his neck and joined in saying the 23rd Psalm loudly.
The canoe was tossed from side to side along the narrow channel by the savage turbulence of the water.
Father finished the Psalm and began the Lord’s Prayer when they reached the middle of the channel.
The maelstrom was worse there and the boat began to take in water as it tossed from side to side.
The oarsmen encountered grave difficulty in controlling the canoe and keeping it from being dashed against the huge rocks.
Sweat ran from their heads, through their hair and down their forehead. Their eyes were rolling in their sockets.
Fear drove them into their tradition and custom.
The two, as one, began to sing a chantey as they desperately paddled forward.
” Dem ah tell lie pon me
Dem ah tell lie pon me
Dem ah tell lie pon me
Seh me gie gal belly.”
Their faces were grim but their hands never stopped. Their bodies were soaked with perspiration but they showed courage.
Fr MacTaggart, buoyed by his Prayer, was nevertheless shaking.
But what worried him most was the bawdiness and lewdness of the chantey.
He started to sing the Hymn “Onward Christian Soldier” to the dismay and anger of the oarsmen.
The rapidly churning water was pushing the canoe towards a great big, jagged rock with sharp edges.
The men shouted to the Father to stop singing his Hymn and join them in singing their chantey.
“I can’t do that,” shouted back the Father,” only God can save us.”
“Well in dat case,” shouted back the men in unison, ” we goh down we oars. Ef yoh doan sing we song we gon stop rowing and we all gon die right hey. Up to yoh, sing or die.”
Seeing he had no choice but to do as they asked. Father told them all right, and launched into the chantey singing:
” They are telling lies on me
They are telling lies on me
They are telling lies on me
Saying I gave a young lady abdomen. “
and he continued singing the same words.
The boat steadied. The oarsmen plied all their skill and paddled the canoe safely through the channel.
by Peter Halder
The Seventh Day Adventist Church was located along the Christianburg Main Road in the Christianburg/Wismar/Mackenzie District,Upper Demerara River. The Main Road, adjacent to the river, began at the northern end of Christianburg and ended a little past Sproston’s Stelling at Wismar.
The Pastor of the Church was Rev. Mordecai Bamboolah. He was the quintessence of quaintness. His head was as bald and smooth as the outside of a calabash. In fact, the top of his head resembled heaven – there is no parting in either place. He was tall and well-built, probably as a result of the quantity of food he consumed daily. Some in his flock nick-named him Pastor More. His forehead had as many furrows as bicycle tracks on the main road after a heavy rainfall. His eyebrows were thick and bushy and when asked about their unusual growth of hair, the Pastor said that it was neither here nor there.
The Pastor’s wife was Nita ( nee Twicky) from Dunoon, a village down river. She was the exact opposite of her husband. She was short and thin, so thin in fact that in the sunlight, she had to move twice to cast a shadow.
I first met Pastor Mordecai at a wedding reception. The cook at the Government Rest House at Section C, Christianburg, where I lived, was getting married at the Seventh Day Church and she asked me to be the Master of Ceremonies. Lutwena Allicock was 48.She had been married four times before and had two children with each husband. She was, as they used to say in those days “wide and thick” and when she rode her bicycle, you couldn’t see the saddle.
Her fifth husband was going to be Quimby Penkawr, also called Brother Q.
Pastor Mordecai also referred to him as Brother Q during the wedding ceremony. He asked, ” Brother Q, do you take Lutwena to be your lawful wedded wife, to have and to hold, till death do you part?”
Brother Q replied, “Yes, I will have her often but I don’t know about holding her until death since she left me four times before.”
When the passed-over bridegroom opened his mouth to speak, the inside was like the fabled City of El Dorado. His teeth were paved with gold.
The story was that Brother Q was Tweena’s first boyfriend but she left him and married someone else. Then she was divorced and they got together again. She did this four times until she finally decided to marry him.
I recall that, during Speech Time at the Wedding Reception, after all the speakers, and there were many, had had their say, I called on Brother Q to reply to the plethora of good wishes.
Brother Q stood up quickly, turned to his bride and said, “Ah gat yoh to mesself at lass!” and abruptly sat down.
I was introduced formally to Pastor Mordecai and his wife during the Reception and invited him to join my table. As we chatted, he told me that apart from his preaching, he rendered first aid to his flock since there was no hospital or clinic at Wismar/Christianburg, not even a doctor. There was a Government Dispenser, Babbooly Rangassamy, who was invariably ‘under the weather’. The rumour was that he treated himself daily to doses of surgical spirit mixed with tamarind syrup. The people called him “Surgi” behind his back. It was his custom to examine his patients using a magnifying glass.
As a District Administration Officer, I cautioned the Pastor about his first aid services since he had no formal training but I understood his penchant for wanting to help his congregation. I asked him to invite me over whenever he had to treat someone.
The first such occasion arose the following Monday morning.
A tall, singularly looking man with a bulbous nose, small staring eyes and some teeth in his mouth, all rotten, came to see me at my office. He said, in a sing-song manner, “Meh name Jumbee Jummer an de Pasta seh foh meh ta tell yoh to cum foh he wan foh see yoh.”
I got up and followed him to the church. There I saw the Pastor in his office and a man sitting in a chair in front of him.
“Please have a seat,” he said,”I have a church member here whose name is Ramroach but everyone calls him Cockroach.”
I took a seat and paid close attention to what was about to transpire.
“Now Mr Cockroach Ramroach,” said the Pastor, “tell me what is wrong with you.”
“Pastor”, replied Ramroach, “ah does some jobs at de Wisma Stellin. One day, ah stump meh big toe on the big ion ting dem does tie de boat to. Meh toe swell up rite away. Meh caan walk praperly. Till now meh caan walk praperly. Do fuh meh, Pasta, meh beg yoh.”
The Pastor pulled up the pants leg and examined the big toe. “Get up and try to walk,” he told Ramroach. The man hobbled around.
“I know for sure what’s wrong with your big toe,” observed the Pastor, “it is clear to me that after the accident you developed ‘toelio’. Just sit and wait here a minute and I will be back.”
I sat there aghast. I was astounded over the diagnosis of the Pastor. I had never heard of a disease named “toelio” but I thought it best to be silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt. Besides, there was such a thing in the country as faith healing. I waited with bated breath, the return of the Pastor who went outside in the yard.
He returned shortly with some washed leaves in his hand and put them on his desk. He took a hammer from the drawer in his desk, as well as a plastic sheet and a bandage.
He placed the leaves on the plastic sheet and pounded them with the hammer into a kind of paste. He put the paste on the man’s big toe and tied the bandage firmly around it.
“The leaves are from Ants Bush and Soldier Pursley growing in the yard. They have indescribable medicinal values. Now,Mr Ramroach, take your time and walk gingerly home. Stay in bed for the rest of the day. By tomorrow the ‘toelio’ will be cured,” advised the Pastor.
And so said, so it happened. The very next day, Mr Ramroach was able to walk normally. The toe problem was cured.
I was so glad I remained silent.
A few months passed and then Jumbee came to see me again to tell me the Pastor had another patient.
I hurried quickly over to the church brimming with anticipation and interest.
A beautiful, thirtyish, fair-skinned dougla woman, was seated in front of the Pastor’s desk.
As I took a seat at the proceedings, the Pastor asked her, “What is your name, my good lady?”
“Meh name Ann Onymus,” she coyly replied.
“Well, Ann, what is the matter with you?”
“Nuffing is de mattah wid me Pastor. Me an meh husban bin togedda foh sum ten years an we livin gud. But sumting ah de mattah wid meh knee. A latta spats ah gadda roun it foh days now. Meh na kno why. Meh husban nah waan cum neer meh now cause ah dat. He ah beeleev meh gat coccobeah. So dat is wye meh cum to yoh. Meh waan yoh get rid ah de spats,” explained Ann.
“I got you,” replied the Pastor, ” just raise up your dress above your knee and let me have a look at it.”
Ann did as he asked but hesitatingly and cautiously.
The Pastor looked at the knee area and began to touch around it. The lady wiggled in the chair at his touch.
“Are you feeling well?” asked the Pastor.
“Yes, an soh are yu!” she replied with an alluring smile.
The Pastor rubbed his chin for a moment, thought long and hard and, with a wide smile on his face, said, “I know what the problem is. You are suffering from ‘kneesles’. Wait here a moment and I will be back to take care of it.”
He went outside and returned in about ten minutes. He had in his hand a broad waterlily leaf that grew in a trench nearby. He dried the leaf over a kerosene lamp. He then placed the warm leaf over the infected area and tied it around the knee with a bandage.
“The ‘kneesles’ will disappear in twenty-four hours,” he told Ann.
Gently overcoming my shock and amazement, I again said nothing.
Two days later, I sought out Ann at her fruit stand at Wismar Market. She gleefully told me her knee was completely cured and that she no longer had ‘kneesles’.
Several months passed before Jumbee came again. I told him I couldn’t go immediately because I was doing something urgent but that I will be at the Church in fifteen minutes.
I hurriedly finished what I was doing and walked quickly over to the church. As I neared it, I was utterly astonished to see a man clinging desperately and tightly to a lamp post at the side of the road, near the church. An awful, nauseating odour was emanating from him.
I quickly walked past him and as I did so, I looked back for a second and saw that the back of his pants was wet. I thought nothing of it at the time.
Pastor Mordecai shook my hands and offered me a seat.
“Well, Pastor,” I said, “sorry I am late but what is the problem? Where is the patient?”
“Nothing much happened,” explained the Pastor with a grin, “a man came to see me and he had s very serious cough. In fact, I saw specks of blood in the mucous he coughed up from time to time into a newspaper he held in his hand. He was wracked with coughing and he was weeping too. Coughing and weeping, weeping and coughing, what a combination. He was also bending low from, from his waist down, time to time.”
“And what did you diagnose was his ailment?” I asked.
“It was a simple and straightforward case of ‘weeping
cough’” he replied.
“And how did you treat his ‘weeping cough’?” I inquired.
“I gave him a large enamel cup filled with glauber salts and castor oil,” advised the Pastor.
“And how do you know that that mixture is a cure for what you said was ‘weeping cough’?” I asked again.
The Pastor looked at me smilingly and replied, “Did you see as you walked here, a man holding on to a lamp post for his dear life? Well that’s the man with the ‘weeping cough’. From the time the mixture entered his stomach, he stopped coughing. He stopped weeping. He stopped bending. He locked his legs together like they were welded and inched his way out of here. When he reached the lamp post, he grabbed on to it like a louse grabbing on to a hair. He don’t dare cough. If he only coughs or weeps, the walls of Jericho will come tumbling down behind him. So that’s the end of and cure for his cough and his weeping. “
I was at a loss for words. I got up slowly, said goodbye and walked quickly out of the church.
I returned quickly to my office, not even sparing a glance at the man clinging to the lamp post.
I saw the man a week later at Lieu Ken Pen Grocery. He was looking thin but healthy. He told me his coughing and weeping was completely cured. He never coughed nor wept from the moment he drank the medicine that Pastor Mordecai gave him, he said, adding that all medicines had side effects.
UNCLE BIG MAN
by Peter Halder
Uncle Big Man worked in the Machine Shop at the Demerara Bauxite Company, Mackenzie, Upper Demerara River.
Everyone knew him as Uncle Big Man and very few knew that his real name was Archibald Penassolein.
He was over six feet tall, with thin arms and thin legs. His tummy was more of a protuberance that a belly. His face was long and narrow with an angled, jutting jaw. The skin on his bald head was furrowed and his eyebrows were thick. His nose was long and flat, like that of a gorilla. His lips were long and pendulous. His eyes were like tiny pieces of coal. Several lines furrowed his high forehead, His skin was the same colour as Kiwi Black Shoe Polish.
The ghastly looking man wore the same shirt and pants almost every day, washing them overnight.
His good friend, Tippytoe Malbecki, said of Uncle Big Man that he was as ugly as sin. Almost everyone who saw Uncle Big Man also felt that way. The thing about it all was that the guy loved being called “The Ugliest Man in Mackenzie”. Women avoided him like the plague. He couldn’t even get a dance with a wabine at the Friday and Saturday night dances at the Mackenzie Recreation Hall.
However, like the old song went, “For Every Man There’s A Woman” or as they used to say at the time, “even vung vung cheese gat ee own tennis roll”.
Uncle Big Man had his own luck. He was told by his friend Tippytoe that there was a most beautiful girl of amergra ethnicity (half Amerindian and half negro) who lived at Hurudaia,near Dalgin, some twelve miles down river from Mackenzie. Her name was Rita Anita Agnes Dolliveira. Tippy, who attended Public School with her, said Rita was as beautiful as Uncle Big Man was ugly, a case of the beauty and the beast.
The house at Huradaia in which Rita lived with her brother and parents, was secluded. There were no other people around for miles, so she seldom had the opportunity to be met or wooed by young men.
Uncle Big Man was impressed with the description of the fair-skinned beauty of Huradaia, especially since Tippytoe also added that Rita had a figure that made an eight look like insignificant. Tippytoe gave him the information as gaffe, not believing that anything would result from it. Imagine his surprise when Uncle Big Man swore he would visit her and woo her.
The major problem that Uncle Big Man faced with his quest was that there was no road from Mackenzie to Hurudaia and the only mode of travelling there and back was the river. The Sproston’s steamer, the R.H. Carr. did not travel every day and never at night. Keeping his job and his room at Bachelors’ Quarters was like life itself to the Uncle Big Man, so he couldn’t further his desire to meet Rita by using the steamer or a launch. The troubled man, in a short space of time, had fallen in love with Rita and dreamt of her every night. He even wore his eye glasses while he slept at night so he could see her better in his dreams. He thought and he thought and he thought about the problem and bang, he hit upon a plan. He bought a canoe and a paddle from an old Amerindian woman, Amelia Allicock,who lived at Kara Kara Creek. His plan was to paddle to Huradaia and back. He figured that, bearing in mind the tides, he could paddle to Huradaia in five hours and then five hours back. That would give him very little time, if any, to be with Rita or to sleep, since he had to be at work at 7.00 a.m. and knocked off at 4.30 p.m., Monday to Friday.
The next day, when the siren shrieked at 4.30 p.m., Uncle Big Man rode home quickly on his big-frame Raleigh bicycle. He had a quick shower and changed into his only other pants and shirt. On the way to where his canoe was parked on the sandy shore near Powell Crescent, he stopped at Blair’s Delight restaurant and bought barbecue chicken, cassava chips, two bottles of I-Cee Tonic and two aniseed biscuits. He also bought two packs of Clipper cigarettes for father and son, and four beef patties for the mother. His presents all neatly wrapped in three sheets of the Graphic newspaper, the Mackenzie Romeo walked to his boat, carefully stowed away his goods,stepped into his canoe and pushed off into the dark waters of the Demerara River.
The tide was against him but love gave the love-sick man abundant energy to forge his way along the river, paddling with a calculated rhythm. He kept checking his Bulova night-dial watch from time to time.
After hours of strenuous paddling, Uncle Big Man breathed a sigh of relief when he saw Huradaia beckoning to him around the bend of the river. He checked his watch. It was just about ten o’clock at night.
Uncle Big Man parked his canoe on the sandy shore adjoining the house, collected his goods and walked along a narrow path to the house.
“Hallo! Hallo! Hallo!” he called out, “anybady deh home?”
Someone heard the shouting. A kerosene lamp was lit. “Ah who deh out deh?” a male voice from the house shouted back.
“Ah me Uncle Big Man from Mackenzie,” he shouted back, “ah bring sum tings for all-ya and patikula sumting foh Rita.”
The Mackenzie Romeo heard talking in the house. Then the front door opened and a man’s voice said loudly, “De dawg tie up so put yoh bodywait ah yoh foot an wahk up.”
A wide smile graced the tired face of the amorous suitor. He quickly ran forward, the invitation giving strength to his weary legs, cramped from sitting on the low, flat seat of the canoe for nearly five hours.
When he reached the opened door, he said, “Me ah Uncle Big Man. Ah cum hey foh mek frends with Rita. Ah bring she some barbecue chicken and cassava chips wid soff drink and sum addah tings foh de famly.”
The father of the home took the package of goodies. They shook hands.
Uncle Big Man peeked through the doorway and saw Rita wearing a dutty-powder cloth nightgown. His eyes lit up when he beheld the glory of her beauty. His knees wobbled. “Oh me Gawd. dah gal so nice meh feel lak me deh a haven,” he said to himself.
Nobody in the house was able to see Uncle Big Man as yet since he was on the landing, where the darkness of the night prevailed. In fact, Mr Dolliveira was very nervous since he didn’t see a face, only white teeth.
“Cum in, cum in, ” invited the Christian man, ” me ah Kennet but dem does call me Kakanet. Com in an meet meh famly.”
“Meh nah gat time Mr Kakanet,” said Uncle Big Man, “me gat foh paddle back to Mackenzie tonite rite away. It gon tek me five hours so meh nah goh get dere till three or four a’clack ah mahnin an meh gat foh go wok at seven. Meh goh see yoh all tamarraw nite.”
With that, Uncle Big Man, blew a kiss to his infatuation, Rita, and ran to his boat.
“Tank yoh,” Kakanet shouted out,” meh famly an me ah go wate foh yoh tamarraw nite.”
The return journey was long and the night was dark and dreary but not so Uncle Big Man. He was aglow and his thoughts were energetic. There was a gleam in his eyes and a new feeling in his heart, one he never felt before.
The sound of insects and bats along the river banks never bothered him a bit. He saw the red, glowing eyes of an alliagator in a swampy area near the shore. The gator took one look at the man and scrambled away in fear.
As the amorous man paddled he sang, ” Dem seh foh evry bahy and gal, dere’s juss wan luv in dis hole worl, and meh juss know me fine mine.”
Finished, he began whistling. He raised his head to the heaven above and said, “Ah tru wah dem seh. Gawd nah ware pajama.He ah tek care ah all, yung an old, nice an ugly. Praise Gawd!”
The first night launched the odyssey of Uncle Big Man. Every night after, he would buy things, take them to Huradaia but never entered the house because time was his mortal enemy. He only had time to get there and to get back. Not even a shake hand or a kiss from his dearly beloved. He thought he was doing great.
The Dolliveiras’ were non-plussed. It was strangest thing that ever happened. As strange as the extensive forest behind their property. But they thought highly of Uncle Big Man- his kindness, his generosity and his clearly proven interest and friendship.
During the first week of his visitations, Kakanet told Uncle Big Man that the family was Seventh Day Adventists and no visits were permitted on Saturdays and Sundays.
“Dah nah wan prablem,” replied the ugly duckling.
During the his daily visits to Huradaia, except for weekends, the Dolliveira family never really had a good look at the persistent paramour since he always remained in the Stygian darkness on the unlit landing and with his skin colour and that of the night, there was not much they could have seen anyhow.
After six months passed, Uncle Big Man decided that it was time he proposed to his Goddess of Beauty. First, however, he had to become engaged. At weekend, he travelled by steamer to Georgetown and at Humphrey’s on High Street, bought a three-stone diamond, gold and platinum engagement ring.
On his return to Mackenzie, he wrote a letter proposing marriage and enclosed the engagement ring as a token of his love and affection. The envelope was delivered with his bag of gifts that Monday night.
That same night, Rita put on the ring and was proud that it adorned her finger. She never had a boyfriend much less a fiance. The following night, when Uncle Big Man peeked through the doorway and saw the ring on her finger, he bounded away with delight. He laughed and laughed and laughed all the way to his canoe. Paddling along the river, he sang, “Wen a man loves ah woman.”
His nocturnal visits and brief stops on the landing continued for several more months. His happiness knew no bounds, for every night of his visit, Rita would hold up her hand to display to him his engagement ring on her finger.
And so, as the river ebbed and flowed, Uncle Big Man’s thoughts ebbed and flowed on setting a date to marry Rita. He decided he needed the advice of his friend Tippytoe since he had no clue of how to go about it.
The two hooked up at the Golden Orchid Beer Garden at Christianburg that Sunday afternoon. After both finished a round of Tennent’s Beer, the anxiety-ridden man told Tippytoe about his nocturnal visits to Rita, about their engagement and that they were going to get married.
“Wat! Wat is dat yoh seh. You and Rita ah gon get mahreed. Yoh joking rite?” said Tippytoe.
“Nah man. Meh nah joke. Meh sirius. Me and Rita ah goh get mahreed.”
“Look Uncle Big Man, ugly is ugly, but stupid ah wan adder ting. Yoh tink dat ah buutie lak ah Rita ah goh mahree ah man wid a face lak yurs! Wye is it dat yoh no gat no mirra ah wey yoh live. Cause yoh caan luk in de mirra. De ting wud crak fram agonee. An fram wat yoh seh, Rita nah see yoh face evah . Nun ah de famly evah see yoh face. Yoh always deh ah dark. Wen dem really see wat you luk like, dem ah goh drap dead an soh will yoh plan foh mahree. Me tell bout Rita as wan joke but now you ah de joke. I seh, call it aff now. That luvely gal Rita ah nevah gonna mahree you. Call it aff now and nevah goh back to dat house agin,” retorted Tippytoe in anger.
Uncle Big Man got angry. He ground his teeth. His eyes grew red. Tears flowed from them. He butted his head against the wooden table. He got up and kicked his chair and then fell on his knees weeping loudly. At last he calmed down.
“Tippy, ah tank yoh. Yoh tell meh lak it is. Lef me alone now. Me gat foh tink wah me gon do. Evry dawg gat he day but me gat de nights. Tamarra nite ah meh nite. Is den or nevah,” he told Tippy.
The next night, the wounded romantic had no parcel of gifts. He entered his canoe with a grim face and sang hymns. People along the river who heard him singing thought a relative of his had died. He neared the Dolliveira house singing the hymn, “Lead kindly light amidst the encircling gloom.”
He got out of the canoe and called out as usual.
The dog, which had had grown to know him, came to greet him. He kicked it viciously. It scampered away under the house.
He reached the landing and, without waiting for the door to be opened, kicked it in.
He stamped into the house and Rita shouted, “Who ah you? Wha happened to Uncle Big Man? Wheh he deh? Who ah you?”
“Me ah Uncle Big Man! Ah who yoh tek me fah?” said lover-boy.
“You ah Uncle Big Man! Ooh me mooma! Ooh me pappa! Ah big ugly crapow face, alligata mout, deeman devil lak ah yoh ah Uncle Big Man. Gimme ah break! Nevah de day canoe bore punt. You nah peeple. You ah wan rivah jumbee. Ooh meh mooma, ooh me pappa, me na wan foh see yoh. Get out de house. Gwan you devil,” shouted Rita.
“Me ah Uncle Big Man. Me cum foh tell yoh dat me knoh wen yoh did see meh face, yoh gon luv me so leh we bruk up the engagement and weddin rite now and goh pon the honeymoon rite away. Leh we tek mattee rite hey,” shouted Uncle Big Man.
No sooner had he said that, he took a menacing step towards Rita.
Kakanet Dolliveira pulled a shotgun from off the wall and aimed it at Uncle Big Man.
The romantic Romeo bounded from the house like Harrison ‘Bones’ Dillard and jumped from the landing to the ground, hearing the sound of the shotgun as it was fired, missing him by inches.
He reached his canoe in no time at all and paddled away like a legion of devils was after him. Behind him, he heard Kakanet Dolliveira shouting, ” Ah hope you die yoh rivah jumbee, ah hope yoh die.”
Uncle Big Man returned to Mackenzie and resigned the next day. He joined a group of porknockers and headed to the goldfields in the Mazaruni district.
Kakanet Dolliveira reported to the police that his home was invaded by a river jumbee that Monday night. He nor his family ever saw Uncle Big Man or the river devil again. Rita eventually went to live with relatives in Georgetown and migrated to Trinidad.