POMEROON CLOSENESS – by Dave Martins – Credits Stabroek news.
It’s the middle of the day on Alexander Street in Kitty; as I’m walking across the road a voice calls out from one of the parked cards I’ve just passed; “Dave.” I turn trying to identify which car it came from. The driver’s door opens on one of them: “Dave, hey. How you doin’? (Big wave) Pomeroon Man.” I shout a hello at him and continue on my mission, but I was reflecting later how that short episode is emblematic of a unique attitude that exists in Pomeroon people connected to the place they inhabit.
People all over Guyana have strong feelings about their home turf or their village, but to spend even a short while in the Pomeroon area is to see that the affiliation there is more pronounced, and it is striking that while the linkage is to the place it is even more strongly seen in the bond that has grown up among those people on the banks of the river. That shout from the man on Alexander Street yelling “Pomeroon man” at me is an expression of that view of themselves as a particular people.
Once you’ve lived in the Pomeroon you seem to acquire some sort of distinction to the people who live there, and even someone like me, who only spent the mid-year school breaks there on my father’s farm Martindale, somehow gets corralled into the Pomeroon family. Indeed, another Pomeroon man who introduced himself to me on the street a couple months earlier, had actually called me “Cos” and later pointed out, with a big grin, that it was a Pomeroon practice to address each other that way, as a cousin, or “Cos”.
I’ve delved into the why of this position among Pomeroonians (is there such a noun?) and I’ve heard various answers for this extreme closeness between the people. In a country where Guyanese are known to be a sharing and caring people, the Pomeroon folks have ramped up the whole process to create a uniquely close community; unique in the sense that many of these people live miles from each other.
As a youngster in Vreed-en-Hoop, with no phone nor electricity, my mother would send me to the Post Office with a telegram message for my father at his farm Martindale in the Pomeroon via the Post Office at Charity, once a month or so. It never occurred to me until years later to wonder how my father, two miles from Charity, also without phone or electricity, would know a telegram had arrived. Sports commentator Joseph “Reds” Perreira, who actually grew up in the place, said the alert would be passed, via the Charity police, through persons they knew travelling down the river past Martindale. The people had formed their own system of communication.
It intrigues me how this kind of unofficial family atmosphere developed among these people.
Part of it has to be the isolation; there are trails within the farms, but no roads linking them, and exchanges between people must have been limited and therefore came to be seen as valuable. Helping out others, even those living a long way from you, was likely a natural consequence of knowing you might need helping out one day. Reds points to the pattern of almost everybody involved in farming which meant long grinding hours every day, rain or shine, and in many cases a family in one house with the closest neighbor sometimes a mile or more away. The hard six-day work week was followed by jovial gatherings on the weekends, with even Sunday morning church at Charity being a social occasion to meet each other.
Reds stresses that “the population was small, so everybody knew everybody, and there was also the narrowness of the river which meant that people going by could easily hail out to those on shore or even stop to gaff.” Human exchange, because of its scarcity, became precious, and once something was going on socially it automatically took in those who called the river home.
Perhaps, over time, all of this led to people in the Pomeroon seeing themselves as part of a clan dealing with the special problems of river life (importance of boats; effects of flooding; dependency on Georgetown steamer) and the Pomeroon dwellers take this clan feeling with them like a badge, wherever they go, even shouting it out on occasion like the man in Alexander Street. It was clearly something that developed gradually over time, and I later saw it even as far away as North America where people would come up to you and introduce themselves mentioning their Pomeroon background
Even for someone like me – an occasional visitor as a school-boy – the casual camaraderie between the people was distinctly different from what I knew on the coast. Life in the Pomeroon was generally lonely, and I suspect that worked to pull people together. I particularly remember the arrival of the steamer from Georgetown – the Tarpon in my time – and the excitement that would create on the little dock at Martindale with plantains and coffee being loaded. On a wistful note, I recall a snatch of a song apparently sung by a river child whose mother was in Georgetown; it went, “Steamer Arapaima, tell me mai howdy, pooo.”
I’m truly an interloper in this; the real Pomeroon Man is like the fellow who called me “Cos” or more like “Reds” Perreira who is actually the son of one of my dad’s daughters, Claudia, from his first marriage to Alexandra De Silva. My connection to the place is really through the reputation of my father, Joseph Francis Martins, and his farm Martindale; the name was also attached to the first school in that area built on riverside land donated by my father adjacent to his farm. Strictly speaking, I’ve been inducted into the “cousin” club largely because of him, but whatever the propulsion I recognize it is a group like no other in Guyana. Pomeroon folks have developed a unique closeness built on isolation, respect for each other, generosity, and sacrifice. Fringes or not, I’m honoured to be part of that.
Dave Martins and the Tradewinds – Guyana is We Own
Guyana, Pomeroon River Life