Watooka was a residential area of MacKenzie Guyana, named after Watooka Creek (an Amerindian name). It was built to house the staff members of the Demerara Bauxite Company (Demba).
I have recently gained a contributing photographer (P Llyn-Jones). Or I really should say contributions from another family’s collection of photos from the same time and place.
Gwen has fired over a few photos, Ya Hoo
The more the merrier.
We now have an independent blog WatookaCoffeeShop for people that grew up in Watooka just like me.
I grew up in MacKenzie until at age seventeen I was off to university. At the same time Demba was nationalized and my family left for Hawaii. That said, there were two periods of absence. The first was a one year stint in Ewarton, Jamaica during 1961. This was followed by a three year excursion to Arvida, Quebec, Canada from 1963 to 1965.
Featured Comment: “Claude Ho providing some background on A. Choo Kang’s
Hi There Mr. Wong,
Your website on MacKenzie, Demerara River, Guyana, is certainly worth viewing by any and every true born Guyanese ( and even some expatriates!).
My connection with MacKenzie is kind of distant as I was not born in, or grew up in, MacKenzie.
I was born in Georgetown and that was where I grew up. However, my father, Benjamin HO, at some time in his very varied lifestyle, did live in MacKenzie, Wismar and Kwakwani at various times with his father, James HO.
One of my brothers and I used to take that long trip up the Demerara river on the R. H. Carr during the August school holidays to spend time with our father.
Just like many of your other readers we used to go exploring the area on our own and yes in our bare feet without any fear of getting hurt in any way.
Benjamin HO was closely associated with the Choo Kangs who owned and ran the A. (Alfred) Choo Kang grocery store (commissary).My father worked at that store for a number of years.
He also did the same at stores in Wismar and Kwakwani.
I would like to say “Hello” to two cousins of mine…Nigel and Robert HO. Their father, my uncle Lawrence (Laurie) HO was one of my father’s brothers. I am presently once again in touch with Robert & Nigel’s brother, Lennox, here in Toronto, Canada.
I am in the process of putting together a family tree (Ho/YIP) and am therefore appealing to all of your readers who might have known of my father in any of those places to get in touch with me. I therefore give you permission to pass my email address on to anyone in this matter.
Robert and Nigel please contact me if you are still in the habit of viewing this website.
On another topic I note that one of your readers spoke about the class society that was instituted by the expatriate Demba personnel.
This was undoubtedly exactly what it was in retrospect. But in our ignorance ( and ignorance was bliss) we youngsters growing up in those times managed to completely disregard that aspect of life and to develop our own identities. Should we forget about that? I think that this has to be resolved by each individual person. Should we blame Demba for what we are now?
And who should we blame for the ugly racial fighting that up to this day still exists in Guyana? Should we continue to live in the past or should we move on??? The decision is ours individually as well as collectively.
Thank you, and this was certainly a journey back into the past.
Featured Comment: “Lawrence A. Munroe (Salar) fills us in on who worked the Barber shop.
Thank you Gerry. Thank you for taking me back to the most memorable years of my life. I, like so many of you, can relate to the McKenzie, Wismar, Christianburg communities in association with Demba, as well as the gated community of Watooka; and thanks to you folks, those pictures created goose bumps as I travelled back in time to those memories of the Recreation Hall, my visits to Mr. Dennis at the Barber Shop. And swimming in the Demerara river as the bauxite ships passed, and so on and so forth.
Great pictures and commentary.”
Two different versions of the Royal Bank, I don’t know the dates.
Not sure if this is the Wismar or Mackenzie market.
Brother Scott attended MacKenzie High School for a short time.
Featured Comment: “Lincoln Perry gives us background on Mackenzie High School.
Great recap of the “good ole days”. It brought goose bumps to remember the early stuff. I won a Guyana Mine Workers Union Scholarship along with Ronald Hodgson, to attend MHS (free books and tuition), crossed the Demerara River at Dutchie Boat Landing every school day, because we lived at Wismar back then. At MHS Don Hymer taught me soccer, Mr Ogle was the principal, Mr Critchlow was vice principal. My class of 1966 soared with Bruce Ward breaking the GCE “O” Level with 9 subjects; sorry “famous” Blair, “Bottoms” and Joe Bakker. Thank you “Big John” Cummings et al. How can we give back? Keep up the dialog and history of the rise and fall of Bauxite. The saga continues…………
During my youth MacKenzie was a company town, everything existed to service Demba. The town itself had a population of nearly 30,000 and was divided into distinct sections:
Starting Downstream and working upstream on the Demerara river.
MacKenzie proper and on the other side of the river Wismar and Christianburg
In this next one you can just make out the all important MacKenzie market.
Watooka was were I grew up and it was a very different place compared with the rest of the world or with the rest of Guyana.
It was a self contained and isolated residential area for Demba families who were classed as staff employees. At that time this really meant expatriate employees most of whom were engineers. My dad was Demba’s first Guyanese engineer. The total number of families hovered around one hundred. Everything in Watooka was company owned and provided to the “Staff” as part of their remuneration.
Watooka was entirely different from the rest of residential MacKenzie and Wizmar. It was built with facilities that would attract foreign engineers. While MacKenzie proper and Wismar were almost typical Guyanese towns.
Culturally Watooka was mostly a mixture of Colonial Britain and Canada with a smattering of Guyanese.
An example of the British colonial tradition was that there was no money. To pay for an item or service you wrote a “chit” (Signed your name on the bill as you would do in a modern hotel dining room if you were a guest). Of course you could only write a chit if you were known as a staff employee or family there of. As an adult looking back on Watooka it seems the “chit” system was a way of enforcing a class system. No one was prevented from entering Watooka but all they could do was look, as they were excluded from the chit system. As a youth it was just a very civilized way to live. It also meant that I grew up with no experience with money. I could go anywhere in Watooka and just sign for things. At the end of the month when the bills came in my parents would make sure that we children weren’t getting out of hand but since that was the way of life no one that I knew of behaved irresponsibly with the chits. As kids we didn’t get an allowance and we didn’t get paid for doing jobs. I frequently caddied for my father on the golf course and things that I needed or wanted would just show up one day but there was no expectation or obligation on either side of the transaction.
As a kid there were very few jobs to be done. Each Watooka family employed several “domestics” that the mothers supervised. Our family usually had a nanny, cooking lady, cleaning lady, washing lady and a male gardener. Each Watooka house had live in quarters for at least two domestics. Each family dealt with their domestics in their own manner. In our house we kids could not issue orders or threats of any kind and in fact were often subjected to disciplinary action by our domestics when we got out of hand. This included getting slapped around. In our house there was no messing around. That was not the case for all Watooka families. My father was raised in a similar manner, while my mother grew up as a homesteaders daughter on the plains of Saskatchewan Canada. Mother had some adapting to do. As a kid about the only job we had to do was clean up any messes that we made. As a kid in Watooka there was no work and all play except for school of course. Watooka had their own primary school run by Canadians on the Canadian curriculum.
Watooka had it’s own farm so there were only infrequent visits to Mackenzie proper to spend real money buying produce that wasn’t available from the Watooka farm. The money thing in MacKenzie had nothing to do with me as a kid, but sometimes I would tag along with my mother and observe the goings on down at the markets. Shopping was not men’s work. I don’t recall my father ever bringing home any kind of food that he hadn’t killed himself. When he did bring home game he always just left it for the women to take care of. My mother having grown up on a farm seemed to rather enjoy dealing with the game herself rather than assigning one of the domestics to the work.
Watooka had it’s own school reserved for members of the “Demba Staff”. It used the Quebec curriculum and most of the teachers were from Canada. I do remember one exception to the Canadian teacher rule and that was a young Guyanese gym teacher.
There were very few toys to be had because of our isolation. On the other hand my Dad had a complete set of tools. These tools combined with the jungle and a bit of imagination made for a different view on life for a kid. Of course as kids we were always leaving the tools laying about and getting them lost and what not. This irresponsibility would really annoy my Dad and he would get very cross with us. But he never took the tools away no matter how many we lost. Now that I have my own son loosing my tools, I know the frustration but I had learned my lesson from my Dad as he probably had from his.
There were four primary sources of entertainment in Watooka for an imaginative kid.
First was a graveyard of old heavy machinery left over from the mines. Things like real steam locomotives and ancient digging contraptions. This was a great place to play hide and seek and find all kinds of useful objects that could be turned into weapons and other toys.
Second were the mines themselves, particularly the exhausted mines. In this part of the world probably as everywhere else Bauxite was mined in open pits. This consisted of removing the overburden which in Mackenzie was sand and piling it up into huge white sand hills. Then the bauxite ore was extracted at the bottom of the hole using a combination of trucks and trains. This meant that there had to be constructed a roadway to the bottom that followed a very low slope. This meant that the typical used mine wasn’t just a hole in the ground but consisted of lots of varied terrain. Being in the Amazonia also means lots of rain and the used mines would quickly fill up with water forming the most amazing lakes and islands. One of the properties of rain water and bauxite is that it acts to create pure clean blue sterile water. The perfect place to swim and explore. Keep in mind that the natural rivers and creeks were infested with Caymen (Aligator), water snakes, electric eels and Pirai making them very spooky places to be swimming. The huge pure white gleaming sand hills were piled high above the jungle canopy making for great lookouts and places to go sand sliding. But the crystal blue lakes were the best, especially during the heat of the day. One useful feature of Bauxite is that it is a clay and it comes in many colors. We used to get as many boys together as we could, form teams, smear our bodies with different colored clays like a uniform and have clay wars among the islands of the blue lakes. Throwing soft clay at each other as we swam from one island to the other in mock invasions, was great fun.
Now a short pause for a rant.
British Guiana has been around in South America for pretty much as long as any other South American country. It is the only country in South America that speaks English. Naturally British Guiana has English names for all the local flora and fauna which is similar to that of the rest of Amazonia. Now, for some strange reason the rest of the English speaking world insists on using Spanish names. What gives? We already have perfectly good good English names. For Pete’s sake get with the program and learn the language, start using the proper English words.
That said it should be easy to guess the Spanish name for Pirai. It’s not what you see in Hollywood. The Pirai in Guyana are big (At least the ones In the Demerara River near our house), typically between four and five pounds and carrying a heavy bite. One of our favorite fishing techniques was to get the left over chicken heads from the Watooka farm, a hook the size of your hand and embed the business end of the hook into the chickens brain through the neck. A chicken head is about the size of your fist and just about as bony. You can guess what kind of powerful bite it takes to get hooked when the pointy part is surrounded completely by bone. After seeing one of these Pirai do their thing, respect comes easily.
Third was the jungle that surrounded us. We could have played endlessly in the jungle, there were creeks and swinging vines and more strange insects and plants every day. There were lots of dangerous things in the jungle and we rarely went alone or unarmed. Our biggest fears were Jaguars and Pumas but as it turned out we only ever saw paw prints. The things that caused the most damage were insects and plants. Snakes were high up on the list of things to worry about. One only had to yell “Snake” at the top of your lungs and everyone in ear shot would drop everything and come running to help kill it. All houses were built on stilts, many people seeing this often think that it’s to avoid floods and things. The real reason is snakes don’t like climbing stairs. For a couple of years we lived in a house on the ground and at least once a month a snake would get loose in the house causing much consternation and dead snakes.
Forth was the Demerara river. We didn’t like to do much swimming but fishing and boat building were big favorites. Despite being seventy five miles inland MacKenzie was only three feet above sea level. This meant that the river was tidal, it would reverse itself twice a day. This phenomena was great for boats and rafts and things all you had to do was wait for the right time and the current would change direction and you would get a free ride to wherever you wanted to go.
Fifth were all the man made facilities of Watooka. There were a great many, golf course, tennis courts, badminton courts, swimming pool, fishing lodges, cinema, guest houses, free Land Rovers and best of all the Watook Club House. The club had it’s own restaurant, bar, lounge games room, music room, party rooms, guest rooms and even its’ own barber along with a swimming pool. There were a great many activities organized around the club with at least something fairly major once a month. The cinema showed a new movie every second night and a special Saturday matinée with free pop corn for the kids provided graciously by one of the Mums.
Most of the kids in Watooka were from North American stock and showed more preference toward the man made facilities.
The Watooka House (a.k.a Watooka Club) was on the Demerara River and housed a collection of boats and docks necessary for transportation back to civilization. The most memorable of those boats was the Polaris. It had been acquired by Demba after World War II as part of Germany’s war reparations. I don’t think it had any thing to do with all that expensive digging to bury the expanded Bauxite plant hiding it from the Germans during the war, but you never know. The Polaris wasn’t real a torpedo boat but a torpedo recovery boat. In any event it was a cool boat in those days.
Demba had several other boats for different uses. There was the Suripanna a high speed boat and the Dorabeci a more luxurious motor launch.
There were several periods of time that British Guiana Airways ran an air service to Watooka from Georgetown. A flight on the Grumman was always a memorable experience in more ways than one. A landing ramp was built for the Grumman Goose on the Demerara River at the Watooka club.
They would also occasional land at the Mackenzie paved airstrip (A relic from World War II, built by the Americans to defend the Bauxite industry)
Another mode of public transport to Georgetown was the R.H. Carr. On the other hand anyone who was anyone had their own high speed motor boat.
For more on Bauxite shipping from Demba check out the Saguenay Terminals of the Merchant Marine.
I was lucky in having two brothers along with two sets of neighbors from Norway and Holland that could usually be counted upon to come out and help terrorize the land. Despite our fears of the natural dangers around, our biggest threat probably came from the guard dogs that every second family had. Followed closely by free roaming cattle. These cattle were not your Hollywood cows but rather the kind that could look out for them selves. We never went anywhere unless armed to the teeth. The best weapons seemed to be long spears because of their versatility. A spear can easily keep big nasty dogs at bay as well as probe delicately along the trails to make sure snakes weren’t up to no good. Of course we had to get into ranged weapons just because of their high tech nature not their usefulness. We spent months learning how to make decent bows and arrows. As soon as we had mastered the art, father would magically show up with real fiberglass bows that put our flimsy efforts to shame. Strangely enough though, he never brought a decent supply of arrows. I guess he figured we should make our own. We learned to gang up and maneuver around in the jungle with enough firepower to stay out of harms way. Like any arms race it wasn’t long before we went on the offensive and began hunting.
When going to school we had to wear shoes and dress properly. As soon as school was out, off came the shoes and shirts. Running around barefoot was the only way to go. Our jungle was not full off rocks but there were lots a wet things that shoes or boots just can’t deal with effectively. Once your feet are toughened up there are some real advantages over shoes when it comes to sneaking around. First; you can feel with your feet allowing you to walk much more quietly. Second; You also have a significant advantage when it comes to multi terrain activities in the jungle. It’s not just the wet parts, but the fact that the jungle is three dimensional. There are all kinds of things up in the trees and feet are great for climbing and fording jungle streams. Thirdly; It’s just more comfortable.
I had taken a crack at hunting ever since I can first remember but with very limited success due to my primitive bows, spears and sling shots. Consequently I didn’t learn much. Then came the pellet gun. As was my fathers custom these just appeared out of now where and were left lying around for us to use. He gave us enough instruction so we wouldn’t hurt ourselves or do any damage. The first air gun that arrived was a very powerful .22 caliber pellet rifle. The spring was to strong for us little guys to cock the gun. Shortly there appear a much smaller and less powerful air gun checking at .177 caliber. With much effort this gun was usable, but it was some time before I ventured into hunting with it. By the time I laid aim on my first prey I had already become a good shot. The first kill was really an accident. I saw a bird land at the top of a tree about one hundred yards away, far beyond the effective range of my pellet gun. Just for the heck of it I took aim about three yards high of the bird and pulled the trigger. I watched the pellet fly in a graceful arc toward the bird and it seemed to pass very close. The bird jumped up and flew away but only to the next tree where it landed. Our German Shepard dog was with me and she sensing something wrong with the pry immediately took off in chase. How she could see what was happening was beyond me. A couple of seconds later the bird flew to another tree. The combination of the excited dog and the erratic behavior of the bird moved me to action and I took off at a run following the dog. As soon as I started running I lost sight of the bird. Every now and again I could see it flapping desperately as it neared the ground. Our German Shepard was right on track and getting very excited as it run through the bush in chase. I mostly followed the dog. By the time I was half way to the bird it was swooping very low to the ground and the dog was right on it grabbing it as soon as it touched down. I was now chasing after the dog and yelling at it as I experienced my first excitement of the hunt . With bird in mouth she ran away from me in a big circle eventually arriving back at the kitchen door to our house with me still in chase and out off breath but with the adrenaline pumping. The dog dropped the bird at the door just as if she had been a perfectly trained retriever. With me yelling and all everyone in the house soon arrived to view the spoils of the hunt. My father was among the spectators. He took me aside and gave some lecture about responsible hunting the upshot being that I had to clean and eat the bird. The eating part was fine but the cleaning part was much harder than expected. From that point forward I was much more discrete with my hunting and quickly learned not to bring the dog, not because of the retriever thing but because she just wasn’t a stalker. With that weak pellet gun you had to get close.
Pretty soon I was killing all kinds of stuff. My favorite target became lizards primarily because it was easy to get within effective range of the pellet gun. Soon it was too easy, so I started throwing a rock to get the lizard to start running and then try and shoot on the move. As I got better I stopped using the pellet gun as it just wasn’t sporting enough. I started using the bows and arrows and sling shots. I even tried my hand at blow guns, but without access to poison, the blow gun is completely ineffectual. My favorite sport with the blow guns was to hunt house flies. I’d make tiny darts out of pins and needles from my mothers sewing kit. Hunting flies was lots of fun. I even progressed to the point of trying to shoot them out of the air as they were buzzing around. I started getting good with the bow and arrow and progressed to the point where I was trying to shoot birds on the wing. I quickly learned that this was almost impossible not because I couldn’t shoot well enough but the birds could see the arrows coming and make evasive maneuvers.
My last store bought arrow, the only arrow that would fly true was stolen by a Parrot. Parrots were tough to shoot with the bow. They flew at high speed and would not let a hunter approach to within bow range. These characteristics just made it more fun. Sneaking up on the Parrots without getting caught was great fun even if I didn’t get a shot off. My last arrow I had was lost on a Parrot hunt. I snuck up to effective range from behind the Parrot and put the arrow right through the bird from the back. Only the arrow had just penetrated the underside of the skin and not the body. The Parrot flew off heading for the other side of the Demerara river. Half way across it ran out of gas and made a water landing. There was no way to retrieve the bird or arrow due to my fear of Pirai in the water.
After several years of this I developed a case of remorse and have not hunted since. I have killed the odd varmit but always as a last case resort.
So what is happening in modern day MacKenzie? Click image below to read on.
We’ve several updates to this page, so you might want to check often.
Just found a great collection of photo’s showing Modern MacKenzie/Linden. Click photo to go to the collection from GuyMine on Facebook. Now, if only they would give us full screen images.
The boys were making a video documentary, now lets see if anyone can find that video on the web.
More Stories – from other contributors, click image below.
Note: There is a huge collections of comments attached to this page containing all kinds of nifty pickings. The comments might also be a way of locating long lost buddies.