PORK-KNOCKERS: A DYING BREED By Francis Quamina Farrier

PORK-KNOCKERS: A DYING BREED   By Francis Quamina Farrier

Porknocker

Dick Manning, Pork-Knocker

The days of the Pork-knockers are just about over. That is the opinion of one who prefers to be described as  a “Small Miner”. In an interview with veteran Pork-knocker, Dick Manning, he advanced the view that what has traditionally been referred to as “pork-knocking” no longer occurs. Small groups of men who use pick axes, shovels, and sheer mussel power to dig for gold and diamonds, is all but extinct in this the second decade of the 21st. century.

“We are no longer Pork-knockers”, Manning told me with a practical expression on his weather-beaten, yet handsome face, which is adorned with an extremely long white beard, separated into eight lengthy plaits.  

For over a century, pork-knockers have been popular figures whose activities, were the source of songs, poems, short stories and plays. Larger than life Guyanese pork-knockers such as Sultan and Tengar, were the principal characters in the play “Pork-Knockers” by Sheik M. Sadeek. Many years ago, I directed a stage production of that play at the Theatre Guild Playhouse in Georgetown, in which the celebrated Folklorist, poet and actor, Wordsworth McAndrew, played the leading role of Sultan.

The song, “The Sons of the Pork-Knockers” was composed by singer/songwriter, Hilton Hemerding. And we all know of that life-size mannequin “Pork-knocker” at the National Museum in down-town Georgetown. A painting of the legendary pork-knocker, Ocean Shark, adorns the inner dome of the Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry, on Water Street, Georgetown.

In more recent years, the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission, has been honouring our Pork-knockers with an annual “Pork-Knockers Day” celebration. It is held at the mining town of Bartica at the junction of the Essequibo and Mazaruni rivers in Region Number Seven. Bartica, where many retired pork-knockers reside, is a treasure trove of information and stories about pork-knocking for over a century. Many of the old-timers, such as Dick Manning, attend the annual Pork-knockers Day Celebrations at Bartica. Most are willing to share their stories and experiences ‘running’ the rapids and water falls, and sometimes seeing their colleagues drown right before their very eyes, as boats capsized in the rough and turbulent rivers.

“Now is a new generation” Dick Manning told me. “It’s a new mining industry, not like in the old days”. He referred to the big mining companies which have all the modern equipment to extract the gold, even from solid rocks. OMAI being one such company. When I asked him about the influx of the many Brazilian miners into Guyana, his response was, “They’re doing something good, because they open our eyes to modern mining”. In concluding the interview, I asked Dick Manning how he feels whenever he hears Guyana referred to as a poor country, bearing in mind all the gold and diamonds and other minerals which were extracted from the bowels of Guyana, for well over a century; his response was short and firm, “Guyana is not a poor country”. He then expressed the hope that the government would give more land to small miners. “Land”, he told me, “is the main thing small miners need at this time.”

As we parted company, I felt that Dick Manning, although mature in years, will still work the land whenever given the legal permission to do so, since he is still enjoying excellent health. I suspect that I will meet him again, probably at next year’s “Pork-knockers Day” celebrations at Bartica. My feeling, too, is that he will have some more encouraging things to tell me about “pork-knocking”…sorry…”small mining”, in the past and in the present.

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Comments

  • de Castro compton  On September 9, 2014 at 5:02 am

    Francis
    You nailed it !
    A positive…
    Minister of mining to donate (from his own wages) the funding
    of each ‘Small mining‘ individual a metal detector so that they may continue this tradibenevolence….also guarantee them the best price for any gold they extract…..minister will then show his benevolence as a ‘public servant’…..isn’t that why he was voted in….and elected to do..’serve ‘….
    Just love your style of reporting /exposing my brother
    Write on….

    Wonderful read with a ‘political message . !

    Kamtan 10.02.59.09.09.2014uk

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