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 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.
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