It’s A Fact - Page1


A little over a hundred years ago, in 1904, a young black man was brought to the United States from Africa and exhibited as a savage at the St. Louis World's Fair. Two years later, he was exhibited in the monkey house of the Bronx Zoo. This man’s name was Ota Benga.

Ota Benga was an African pygmy, a member of the Mbuti people - nomadic hunters and gatherers who live deep within rain forests in Zaire. Ota was born in 1881. He was 4 ft. 11in. in height, weighed 103 lbs and was 23 years old when he arrived in the United States.

 Ota had returned one day from a hunt in Zaire only to find that his wife and children had been murdered and their bodies mutilated. This was the work of the brutish Force Publique, enforcers working for Belgium in the then Belgian Congo. Ota himself was later captured and sold into slavery.

He was bought at a slave market by the explorer Samuel Verner (sometimes called a “missionary”), who was looking for pygmies to display at the Louisiana Purchase exposition. In the United States, Ota was displayed in the anthropology wing at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair with four other pygmies as "emblematic savages." The exhibit was under the direction of W J. McGee of the Anthropology Department of the Fair.

The organizers considered the exhibit a success. Thousands of whites attending the fair frantically pushed and grabbed Ota, sometimes nearly tearing him apart. The police had to be called on many occasions.

Scientists, with evolution on their minds, studied the pygmies. They concluded that, at best, the intelligence of pygmies was about the same as a mentally deficient white person.

After the fair, Verner took Ota and the other pygmies back to Africa. Ota almost immediately remarried, but his second wife soon died of snakebite.  He now had no family and no longer belonged to any clan. Others considered him tainted because of his association with whites. Verner decided to take Ota back to America. Ota asked to be taken back to Africa on Verner’s visit there.

 It was now1906. Back in America, Verner was selling his animals to zoos and artifacts to museums. Ota Benga was eventually presented to Director William T. Hornaday of the Bronx Zoological Gardens. Hornaday's intention was clearly to "display" Ota. Hornaday “apparently saw no difference between a wild beast and the little Black man"

At first Ota was allowed wander around the zoo, helping out with the care of the animals. Ota was next encouraged to spend as much time as he wanted inside the monkey house. He was given a bow and arrow and was encouraged to shoot it is part of "an exhibit." Then Ota was locked in the monkey house. He was now on display in the zoo together with a few chimpanzees, a gorilla named Dinah, and an orangutan called Dohung - as "ancient ancestors of man." For the first time in any American zoo, a human being on exhibit in a cage.

A September 9, New York Times headline announced, "Bushman shares a cage with the Bronx Park apes." The cage became wildly popular. One report said that on September 16, "40,000 visitors roamed the New York zoological Park ... the sudden surge of interest ... was entirely attributable to Ota Benga." He was given full-time police guard. The zoo said Ota was 'always in danger of being grabbed, yanked, poked, and pulled to pieces by the mob."

Some persons expressed concern. The African-American community came to realize that an attempt was being made to represent the pygmies as "defective specimens of mankind."  Several Black ministers therefore worked to stop it. One Reverend Gordon said:  "our race ... is depressed enough without exhibiting one of us with the apes. We think we are worthy of being considered human beings, with souls" (New York Times, Sept. 11, 1906, P. 2).

A Times article responded: “One reverend colored brother objects to the curious exhibition on the grounds that it is an impious effort to lend credibility to Darwin's dreadful theories ... the reverend colored brother should be told that evolution ... is now taught in the textbooks of all the schools, and that it is no more debatable than the multiplication table" (Sept. 12, 1906, p. 8).

Controversy raged on. The director eventually relented and “allowed the pygmy out of his cage."  Once freed, Ota Benga spent most of his time walking around the zoo grounds often with huge crowds of curious people and mean children following him. He fought back and struck a number of them. Eventually he was released into their care of the black clergy in New York.

He was sent to a "colored" orphanage in Brooklyn and was taught English. In January 1910 he was sent to a Black community in Lynchburg, VA. There, he taught the boys to hunt, fish, and gather wild honey.

He became a Christian, was baptized, attended classes at a Lynchburg seminary, and learned several sports. He later stopped attending classes and began working as a laborer.

But he also became increasingly despondent. He had lost contact with Verner. He checked on the price of steamship tickets to Africa and realized he would never earn enough money to buy one. Concluding that he would never be able to return to his native land, he went alone into the woods on March 20, 1916 and shot himself in the heart with a revolver.

See also the story of Sarah Baartman


Black-headed carrion crows are well known to the people of Guyana, as it is not uncommon to see them in the country. In many ways they resemble the turkey buzzards of other countries.  

The carrion crow was once more abundant in most parts of the coastlands but the numbers have been significantly reduced. Many observers believe that the reduction in numbers has something to do with the use the previously widespread use of DDT which may have poisoned the bird.  

It is generally regarded as an ugly, even loathsome, bird at close quarters. The feathers of the carrion crow have a dull black color. Its head and neck are also black and have no feathers. Only its legs are different, being silver gray. The bird often looks dirty and bespattered - no wonder, since it is constantly sticking its neck into the carcass of some dead animal. And it is associated with death and stench.  

On the other hand, it is an impressive artist in the air. The young carrion crown takes a long time before it could fly, but when it does master the art it is a beauty to behold. After rising from the ground in a single spring, it flaps its long and ample wings only a very few times and sails away. High up against the blue sky, sometimes barely visible, it performs impressive aeronautic feats as it gracefully rises and falls and makes wide curves on motionless wings.  

While up there, it is scanning the terrain for food. Soon, the carrion crow with its keen sight spots something of interest and drops to earth to investigate it. Another carrion crow may do likewise, and if there is really something there, the birds remain. In a short time, a number of birds collect, scrambling and quarreling over the feast.  

Carrion crows are gregarious but are also often seen alone. On the ground, a lone carrion crow may be seen perched on a fence post or some elevated place, watching. It locates its food both by scent and by sight. Or it may be together with others, feeding on some carcass.  

The carrion crow is grouped among the birds of prey. But although it is a true vulture, neither its beak nor claws are suitable for seizing living animals. Therefore, its food consists principally of the flesh of dead animals.  

Carrion crows will feed on just about any dead carcass, even one that is rotting. They would keep a close eye on dying cattle or other animals and start devouring them as soon as they die, or even before, if the victim seems helpless. They also eat other carrion crows when they find them dead. They can often be observed along roadways where animals have been hit by cars. Sometimes they are even seen investigating smelly garbage.  

 In periods of shortage, however, they will feed on other substances, such as drying coconut in the course of its preparation as copra, and will even pick the remaining nut from discarded coconut shells.  

In spite of their unattractiveness, their scavenging ways undeniably make them very useful birds in the country, and this is especially so over the areas of wide pastureland and savannahs.  

The carrion crow makes very little attempt to build a nest. Its half-hearted attempt is most frequently found flat on the ground or in a low tree hollow, often in the buttresses of a large silk-cotton tree. A nest may also be found in cane fields or open pastures. In the nest, the female lays two large dirty white eggs, measuring about three inches long by two inches broad.  

Those eggs are a stage in the continuation of a species that represent useful ugliness on the ground and breathtaking artistry in the air. 



Have you ever heard of  “expectant fathers” who gained weight along with their pregnant wives, had appetite changes, vomited, and experienced morning sickness? It is called sympathetic pregnancy, the medical term for it being “couvade” or “couvade syndrome.” 

According those who have researched the matter, it is a condition found all over the world. Reports suggest that not only husbands, but fathers and other relatives are occasionally involved.  

Sir Everard Im Thurn, who with Harry Perkins first scaled Roraima in December, 1884, left an account of the couvade among the Macusis of Guyana, then British Guiana. Im Thurn, who began his stay in British Guiana as a magistrate in the Pomeroon district, wrote extensively on the Amerindians with whom he had contact, and also about the flora and fauna of the country. One of his books is “Among the Indians of Guiana.”  

But back to the couvade. Im Thurn says:  

"Even before the child is born, the father abstains for a time from certain kinds of animal food. The woman works as usual up to a few hours before the birth of the child. At last she retires alone, or accompanied only by some other women, to the forest, where she ties up her hammock; and then the child is born. Then in a few hours - often less than a day - the woman, who like all women living in a very unartificial condition, suffers but little, gets up and resumes her ordinary work. According to Schomburgk, the mother, at any rate among the Macusis, remains in her hammock for some time …….., and the father hangs his hammock, and lies in it, by her side; but in all cases where the matter came under my notice, the mother left her hammock almost at once. In any case, no sooner is the child born than the father takes to his hammock and, abstaining from every sort of work, from meat and all other food, except weak gruel of cassava meal, from smoking, from washing himself, and, above all, from touching weapons of any sort, is nursed and cared for by all the women of the place.  One other regulation, mentioned by Schomburgk, is certainly quaint; the interesting father may not scratch himself with his finger nails, but he may use for this purpose a splinter, specially provided, from the mid-rib of a cokerite palm. This continues for many days and sometimes even weeks."

Thinkers have been looking for explanations of the Amerindian custom. One, often cited, is that the idea that both parents of a newborn child need to avoid foods and activities that might be harmful to the child’s well-being. Another explanation is that the father simulates the wife’s activities to shield her from evil spirits by attracting them to himself. A third reasoning is that sharing in or assuming aspects of the delivery asserts fatherhood. A fourth  is that some Amerindians  believe that the supernatural bond between child and father is stronger than that with the mother and that the couvade reinforces this stronger bond.  

But how do we explain the reported cases of pregnancy symptoms among people who have no similar traditions? That’s something to think about.  

Research Papers on Couvade


A young man from Grenada named Tubal Uriah Butler went to Trinidad in January 1921 looking for a job in the oilfields. This young man had served in the West Indian Regiment during the First World War and on his return home had taken part in the Grenada Representative Government movement and had also founded the Grenada Union of Returned Soldiers. He changed jobs often, working at different times as a pipe fitter, a ringman, a pump-man and a production worker. In 1929 he injured his leg and this left him with a permanent limp.  

Butler soon found that oil workers everywhere were very discontented with their low pay and the tumbledown shacks in which they lived. The inequalities between the European employer, and the local workers were very glaring and Butler, a charismatic man with the unmistakable gift of oratory, began making demands for higher wages and better houses. By the time he was done, political life in Trinidad and Tobago had changed forever.  

He joined Cipriani's Labour Party, and first attracted attention to himself when he engineered a strike at Apex oilfields in 1935. Later he organized a hunger march to Port-of-Spain.  

The Labour Party, though in sympathy with his cause, did not agree with these militant activities of Butler and expelled him. Butler, therefore, formed his own political party: the British Empire and Citizens' Home Rule Party. Butler held many meetings in the oilfields and attracted large crowds. Each meeting began with hymn-singing and culminated in fierce attacks on the employer and a challenge to the workers to stand up and demand a fair wage. Women made fans out of palm branches to keep him cool as he made his vitriolic speeches. They also collected money for the cause.  

When certain workers heard it said that they were to be put out of their homes so that drilling for oil could take place in the area they lived, Butler immediately held a large meeting in Fyzabad, the central point of the oilfields. Following the meeting, oil workers all over the south of Trinidad went on strike in protest. The issue generated so much heat that oil derricks and buildings were set on fire and very considerable damage done. The authorities named Butler as leader of the rioters, and issued a warrant for his arrest. It was June 19, 1937.  

The police caught up with Butler as he was holding a meeting at his favorite Fyzabad corner. As they approached him, Butler appealed to his supporters who surged around the police, pelting them with stones and bottles.  

In the confusion Butler slipped away and went into hiding. The crowd continued fighting the police. Eight civilians were killed, a police inspector was shot dead, and many people were injured. One policeman, Charlie King, was chased, beaten and burnt by the angry mob. The Fyzabad corner where this happened became known as Charlie King Corner.  

The police were now determined to arrest Butler, and though he escaped to Venezuela he was eventually caught and brought to trial. He was found guilty, and sentenced to two years imprisonment for sedition. He appealed and won. Not long after his release, the Second World War began and Butler was interned at Nelson Island. The authorities considered him to be a dangerous person who should be kept in confinement.  

After the war, Butler set about reorganizing his party. He called himself the Chief Servant and soon his meetings were attracting large crowds. In the general elections of 1950 and 1956 his party won seats in the Legislative Council, but in the elections of 1961 he was defeated and dropped out of politics.  

In 1970 Trinidadians recognized his role in helping to bring the working class onto the center stage of national life in Trinidad and honored him with their highest award - the National Trinity Cross.  

One of the major north-south highways in Trinidad and Tobago, formerly the Princess Margaret Highway was extended and renamed in the 1980s to honor Butler. Running from Champs Fleur to Chaguanas where it meets the Sir Solomon Hochoy Highway, and crossing the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway at Valsayn, it is now known as the The Uriah Butler Highway.

Butler died in 1977. 


In some ways, 1913 was a bad year for Guyana. Some would probably say that it had to be - the 13 in it you know.  

On March 7, 1913, a plumber was using a blow torch near the top of the great tower of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Brickdam when things went wrong and the Cathedral, generally well regarded for its structural beauty, went up in flames. There is another rendering of what happened. It says that, the workman, Frenchman Henri Bencher Cornelle, negligently left a coal pot burning in the tower while he was repairing it.  This fire was a great shock for Georgetown because a landmark, at that time described as the finest edifice in British Guiana, was replaced by ugly debris. The faithful felt the loss most. They had lost a place of worship.  

At Christmas time, however, people tend to forget tragedies and worries. In 1913 people were losing themselves in the magic of the Christmas season, when three days before the 25th December, fire struck again. It was Monday morning, 22nd December.  The time was 8.25 when an explosion erupted above Georgetown' s normal hum of activity. The sound deafened Georgetown and rip roared its way up the East Coast and the East and West Banks of Demerara.  

The explosion had taken place at Chin-A-Yong's shop on Lombard Street. There, fireworks were being manufactured in a vault. The little “bombs” that boys delighted in throwing on the pavements were intended for closer to Christmas - not for the 22nd. Nor were they intended to go off all at once. But they did - blowing Chin-A-Yong's place sky high, killing 20 people, severely injuring others on the premises, and almost destroying all of Lombard Street.  

For fire was added to the blood and the ruin, even before a stunned Georgetown could recover from the shock. Suddenly several buildings were ablaze. Then the devil began to grin in a stiff breeze from the northeast, and within an hour the Fire brigade, the Police, the Artillery, Militia and Volunteers were working with the poor water pressure there was.  

Bugle Sawmills went in that fire. Psaila's Store, Hope Sawmill, Bugle Building, Bettencourt's Sawmill (yes, they once operated a saw mill), and the Demerara Company's warehouse with 67,000 bags of sugar and 3000 bags of molascuit were all burnt down. Those were just some of the business places destroyed.  

When the police and fire brigade inspected what was left of Chin-A-Yong's place, they found an underground cellar the authorities never knew about before. They came to believe, at a time when opium smoking was a serious problem in British Guiana, that this hidden cellar was an opium den. 


There was a time in Guyana, more particularly when it was British Guiana, when most boys played marbles, or pitched marbles, or pitched taw. All those expressions mean the same thing.  

There were many varieties of taw, but the most popular in Guyana were one-hole and three-hole taw. The boys played for buttons – the type sewed on to clothes. Typically, each player would stake ten buttons, which were laid out on the ground. In three-hole taw, three holes would be dug in the yard, at home, at school, in the street or even in mud somewhere. The holes could be in a straight line and at some distance from each other. The challenge was to take your marble or taw, aim it at the first hole from one side, roll your taw into it; stand at the second hole and roll your taw into the third hole; turn around, stand at the third hole and going back roll the taw into the second hole, and then into the first hole. The player who could do that would be a champion and would take away all the buttons at stake. Problem is, that would be rare. Often, it is difficult to make the first hole.  

Many factors determined the course of the game. One is the kind of marble. Sometimes, but rarely, little glass marbles like those used in checkers were used. There were other glass marbles twice the size of the checkers marble or larger. These larger marbles are now collectors’ items. There were also the homegrown marbles such as the accouri seed, the kuru seed, and the awara seed – all of them seeds of a palm trees grown mostly in the interior of the country. Occasionally, there were also the iron marbles, ball bearings that dads got from the sugar estate foundry for their boys. These however could be dangerous.  

The playing area was also a factor. The more level the land was, the better one could direct the taw. Was the hole large or small? Was there a gradual slope towards the hole or was it abrupt? How far apart were the lines? These were all factors. The most important asset however was a straight and steady hand.  

During the game, as players tried to get from one hole to the other, the spectators cheered their favorites and jeered the others. The game allowed for a player to use his taw to hit an opponent’s taw as far as possible from the hole he is trying to reach. The player could also roll his marble near his opponent’s marble and if it comes within one hand-span of it, the opponent could be penalized.  

There were a few types of one-hole taw. In one of them, called “bouncing”, a hole was dug near to a tree trunk. The boys would then keep bouncing the taw against the tree trunk and catching it, unless they felt that the bounce would allow it to land perfectly in the hole, in which case, they would let it fall. If it fell into the hole they won.  

Jummin’ (pronounced “JOO-min”) was also done. This is hitting one taw with another. In one instance, one player’s marble was set up on a mound and the other player would then aim and, with the swing of the arm, hit it as hard as possible. Some taws were so hard they caused the other taws to crack of break apart. Players would therefore carefully choose the palm seeds they used and carefully and lovingly dressed them - smoothing the two ends into as near a perfect circle as possible.  

Gam is another game of taw, often played with the kuru seed.

In America, boys talked about “shootin' taw.” Numerous kinds of games were played using marbles, some of them quite different from the Guyanese games. It seems that in many parts of the world, boys love to play marbles.  

When did boys play taw? Whenever they could. Schoolwork was sometimes left undone and errands were interrupted or even forgotten because of taw. Many boys came to grief because they were so engrossed in the game that they didn’t do what they should have done. They were jummin’ instead.  

A pastor of a church in New Jersey tells that, as a boy, he got so caught up with pitching taw that he failed to get home from the store in time with an item his grandmother needed to prepare dinner. She taught him a lesson. At dinnertime, he uncovered his plate only to find nothing but two marbles sitting there. It was a painful reminder that taw time should be the right time. But boys have always found it hard to remember.   


When Kenrick Reginald Huymans Johnson was born in British Guiana on September 10 1914, his parents expected him to become a doctor like his father. But this was not to be. They sent him to Queens College in Georgetown then, at age 15, to England, where he continued his studies at The William Borlase School in Marlow, Buckinghamshire.

Ken was an active and versatile person. He did well in his studies, in cricket and in football. Music was in his blood and he loved to dance. He sought out Buddy Bradley, a famous American choreographer who coached big names in show business - Fred Astaire and Lucille Ball, for example - and who was in England in 1930 to work with Britain’s young actress and dance star, Jessie Matthews.  Bradley taught him to dance and he was a good student.

Ken Johnson’s 6 feet 4 inches in height, already imposing in games, made impressive as a dancer. His “fluid and flexible style” earned him the nickname “Snakehips.” He loved dressing in his immaculate white suits and would sometimes wear a flower in his lapel.

Johnson visited the United States in 1934. He did some film work in New York, and starred in cabaret in Hollywood. But it was listening to the orchestras of Cab Calloway and Fletcher Henderson in Harlem that led him in a new direction. He resolved to create his own orchestra.

In 1936, Ken was back in England, and accepted an offer from Lloyd Thompson to join his  "Emperors of Jazz" band. When this band folded, Thompson assembled what would become 'Ken Johnson and his Rhythm Swingers'. It was later to become “The West Indian Orchestra.” Many of the players came from the Thompson band. In July 1938, Johnson’s orchestra was broadcasting over the BBC, and the Band was also seen in the 1938 British film 'Traitor Spy'. By 1940, the band had become one of the top Swing bands in the U.K.

In 1941, at the height of WW2, 'The West Indian Orchestra' was resident at The Café de Paris club on Coventry Street in London's West End. Its broadcasts on the BBC were very popular and gave Johnson a huge audience.  

The Café de Paris club was far down a long steep staircase, where patrons felt quite safe from the dangers of the Blitz outside. But on March 8, 1941, during a German air raid on London, one of the bombs found its way into the club's airshaft. Over 30 people were snuffed out, and 60 more were seriously injured. Ken Johnson, only 26 years old, a flower in his lapel, was among the dead. 



Let’s share a story from Barbados of two people – Inkle, a white man from England and Yarico, an Amerindian girl. The story is held to be based on fact.  

In 1758, Inkle, on his way to Barbados to make his fortune, was separated from his party in a storm and shipwrecked on the Guiana coast. The Carib Indians who found him almost dead would have killed him, but the beautiful Carib girl, Yarico, caused his life to be spared for some strange reason.  

Over a period of months, she nursed him back to  in a cave. Eventually, she fell in love with him, and he with her. When a British ship came by, Inkle persuaded Yarico to leave her people and go to Barbados with him as his wife. It was an act of daring, for the society (and Barbados society then was white society) looked with especial disfavor on such unions. They frowned upon Inkle’s behavior and let him know it at every opportunity. Inkle could not withstand the strain and his love grew cold. Worse than that, Inkle allowed himself to be persuaded to sell Yarico into slavery. He did so although at first he was horrified by the idea.  

Inkle later became rich and returned to England, but was forever ashamed of what he had done. He returned to Barbados many years later to find Yarico. She was on her deathbed when he made contact with her. Although she came to forgive him for what he had done to her, she defiantly refused the help he offered her. 

The story of Inkle and Yarico was dramatized and was made into an opera in 1797. It was popular during the time William Wilberforce was campaigning in Britain for the abolition of the slave trade and drew attention to the attitudes of the European colonizers to captive peoples.

 Numerous performances have been staged all over the world since then. It is often billed as a story of love, betrayal and redemption.

More about Inkle and Yarico  


Let’s go back in time and place to a Roman Catholic church at Meadow Bank on the East Bank of the Demerara River in Guyana. In many ways it was an ordinary Roman Catholic church. It had its masses and its social activities such as jumble sales and bazaars, but it also had its “festas” or feasts – and these made a real difference.

Meadow Bank was one of the areas in which the indentured Madeira Portuguese settled. The Roman Catholic church there (and also the Sacred Heart church in Georgetown) was built and supported to fulfill the needs of these Portuguese, and also with a view to encouraging Portuguese immigration. The Roman Catholic bishop himself lived at Meadow Bank until he gave his house over to the Ursuline nuns when they first arrived.

Fr. Schembri, a well-known figure in the history of Roman Catholicism in Guyana, introduced the feasts of St. John the Baptist, St. Peter, and the Holy Ghost, among others.

For the feast of St. Peter, the boat of St. Peter, or so it was called, was taken from the house of the promoter of the feast by six sailors, who walked in a distinctive sailor’s gait to the church. They marched to music and to sounds of approval from large crowds of people lining the streets.  

The feast of St. Peter was a big occasion. At the Meadow Bank church, bread was distributed and a band played at the band-stand erected there.  

But bigger yet was the Feast of the Holy Ghost. It began on Easter Sunday. In preparation for the feast, two Holy Ghost flags, red in color, with a white dove in the middle, were taken to different houses by four men who were the “promoters”; two girls would sing and a man would play a violin. This group solicited money to feed the poor. The hymn to the Holy Ghost was sung and money was put in a silver crown with a dove on top of it.

During the feast itself, beggars were fed in the school. There were three altars in the school – one in the middle filled with silver, another on one side filled with bread, and a third with a flag. Each beggar was given a complete outfit of clothes, including a new white suit and a pair of shoes, a basket filled with food and a towel.

The helpers helped, and helped themselves. They also made merry with what was left over. They enjoyed themselves so much that over the years the festas developed into noisy drinking sprees. The bishop therefore stopped them.

The Passion Sunday procession was kept up however. Members of the Cathedral Guild in Georgetown went to Meadow Bank and carried the statues of "Our Lady of Sorrows" and that of  “Our Lord” with his cross on his shoulders.

The church with all its statues, and also St. Peter’s Boat, was burnt down on 8th May, 1939. And with the passing of the church came the passing of the festas at Meadow Bank. No more would people hear at Sunday mass the announcement that went: “The Holy Ghost will visit  Albouystown” (or Ruimveldt or somewhere else). No more would the Meadow Bank group visit homes, with music and ceremony, collecting money for the poor.


Matthew Henson was born in Maryland on August 6, 1866. At age 13, he began working on a ship as a cabin boy. The ship's skipper taught Henson to read and write.  

Lt. Robert Peary met Henson in Washington D.C. in 1887. Peary was looking for an aide and Henson left his store clerk job to work as Peary’s valet. "I can't get along without him," Peary was later to tell National Geographic magazine writer Wally Herbert. Henson was to remain Peary’s assistant during eight arctic expeditions spanning a perion of  22 years. Their final expedition, in 1909, was crowned with success. Together, they reached the North Pole.  

For this difficult and treacherous journey, they did not have the benefit of the modern gear and equipment available today. However Henson brought to the enterprise many valuable skills necessary for the tough Arctic voyage. He was a good mapmaker. He could speak Inuit and the Inuit, the native people of the Arctic region, loved that. Peary said, "He was more of an Eskimo than some of them." They taught Henson many arctic survival skills. Included among such skills were breaking trails, driving a dog team, building a camp, repairing sleds, and hunting polar bears.  

On April 6, 1909, when the team reached the North Pole, Henson had been acting as the trailbreaker, traveling ahead of the other members of the expedition. When Henson's compass began to act strangely, he sat down and waited for the rest of the party. Forty-five minutes later, Peary and the four Inuit guides arrived. The guides were pulling Peary on the sled because he could not walk. His feet were frostbitten.  

Henson was later to say that when Peary arrived he greeted him with, "I think I'm the first man to sit on top of the world." Henson said this statement seemed to make Peary angry. "Oh, he got hopping mad … No, he didn't say anything, but I could tell," wrote Henson. Henson wrote that Peary "fastened the flag to a staff and planted it firmly on top of his igloo."  

They made camp at the site. The next morning, Peary verified their position. They had reached the North Pole!  

Who was first to the North Pole? For many years, Peary the great arctic explorer was generally thought to have been the first human to reach the North Pole.  

What about the Inuit? They might have been first, but there is no evidence of this. They were very skilled arctic travelers. However, it is felt to be unlikely that the Inuit would have visited the North Pole. It is a long way from the open water where the Inuit hunted and fished.  

The first person who claimed to have reached the North Pole was Dr. Frederick Cook. He said that he reached it in 1908, a year earlier than the Peary-Henson expedition. Both Cook and Peary insisted that they were first, and a controversy arose. It was difficult to decide. The only proofs each man could offer were written records. In 1908 and 1909, there was no other way to tell if either expedition had reached the Pole. Many scientific investigations, including one ordered by the Congress of the United States, failed to settle the matter to the satisfaction of everyone. It is however widely accepted that Admiral Peary was the first recorded person to arrive at the North Pole.  

For a long time, little or nothing was heard about Matthew Henson’s role in the Peary expedition. Naturally! Matthew Henson was an African-American and the American majority was not ready to hear that the person who actually got to the North Pole first was black.  

Racial prejudice kept Henson from receiving the recognition he deserved as an arctic explorer. He was three times refused a pension by Congress. He was excluded from the Explorer's Club in which his commander, Peary, was president. Lastly, Henson was not considered for burial among the heroes at Arlington National Cemetery at the time of his death. After his death in 1955, Matthew Henson was buried in New York City's Woodlawn Cemetery. In 1968, the body of his wife Lucy Ross Henson was buried nearby.  

Recognition of Henson came later. In 1988, the remains of  Henson and his wife were taken to the Arlington National Cemetery and interred alongside Peary.  The information about Henson on the Arlington Cemetery website says, “On that historic day, it was Henson, an African-American, who first reached the Pole and planted the American flag.”

 In 1996, the U.S.N.S Henson, an oceanographic survey ship, called was commissioned in Henson's honor. In 2000, the National Geographic Society posthumously awarded Matthew Henson its highest honor—the Hubbard Medal. “The honor is long overdue," said Society president John Fahey at the 2000 celebration.


One of the impressive festivals of long ago in Guyana was the Tadjah (or Tazia) festival. It has Muslim origins, but while it lasted everybody was involved either in participating or in observing the extravaganza that Tadjah was.  

The towering Tadjah, about 30 feet high, and representing an ornate tomb, was something to see. Its frame was made of bamboo, but it was finished in tinsel, pieces of glass, beads, globes, little lanterns, tassels, and paper in a grand variety of bright colors.

During the day, the Tadjah was taken in procession along the road, as people shouted  "Hoosain! Hassan! …. Hoosain! Hassan", interminably "Hoosain! Hassan"  

Legend says that the first Tadjah was a tomb built centuries ago by Ali, father of Hoosain and Hassan, for the sons he lost through a treacherous murder during a religious war. Ali was the grandson of the prophet, Mohamed. The tomb Ali constructed was monumental and costly. The bamboo and paper structures of the Tadjah festival, grand as they appeared, were only poor replicas of the original.  

The people's shouts "Hoosain! Hassan" were in remembrance of these young men on the anniversary of their death, observed in the month of  Mohurrun (Muharram), according to the Muslim calendar, 10 days after the appearance of the new moon.  

The night-scenes during the Tadjah festival were also impressive. Lights were everywhere  - all kinds of lights, including gas lamps, storm lamps, candles, bottle lamps and floating wicks.  

Then there were the stick fights. Each fighter had two long tough sticks called dantas - one danta in each hand. As the fighters proceeded, there was no aggressive combat, but rather a display of skilful stick play in which the sticks were struck together rhythmically as the fighters danced.  

Music was made on drums – mostly large, waist-high drums made from wooden barrels and sheepskin or goatskin - beaten with heavy wooden drumsticks. In a village there could be as many as 100 drums lining the roads, manned by players competing for acclamation. Drumming continued throughout the night, accompanied by hand clapping and singing.  

There were other attractions. Many of these were provided to entertain the large crowds and not because they were related to the Tadjah. On sale were sweetmeats, black-pudding and souse. Some communities even threw in greasy-pole climbing and tightrope walking.  

Why did Tadjah come to an end in Guyana? Alcohol caused ceremonial stick fights to degenerate into fights to the death and generally changed the character of the celebration. In addition, some Muslims who regarded the Tadjah festival as un-Islamic pressed for its abolition. The same arguments were unsuccessfully pressed in Trinidad where Tadjan still lives on as Hosay. In the end, Tadjah was proscribed in Guyana.  

But there are still people alive who can remember Muslim celebrants crying in the streets "Hoosain! Hassan! …  Hoosain! Hassan", the beating drums, the myriad lamps, and the great and imposing a structure called Tadjah, that yearly met eventual destruction after it was thrown into the sea at high tide. The next year, however, it would be re-created out of bamboo and suitably decorated to set the countryside alight again.


The name of our featured personality was quite unusual. His first name was Alexander, and his last name was also Alexander.  

Alexander Alexander was born in Scotland and went to the colony of British Guiana to work in management. He should have had it made in those days when sugar was unquestionably King, for he was factory manager at a sugar plantation. But he found he did not have it made. Life, for him, was not as rewarding as he thought it should be.  

When he returned to Scotland on leave, he joined the Salvation Army – a charitable organization working in the London slums and among whose objectives was visitation among the poor and lowly and sick. The Army is primarily a Christian evangelical organization, but its helpful work was always done among the people who needed it, whoever those people were. Alexander Alexander gave up his factory manager’s job in 1896 to throw all his energies into this new vocation.  

The soldiers of the Salvation Army had a hard time practically everywhere - in Europe, and also in the colonies such as British Guiana. The Army was the target of jokes and abuse. This was the life Alexander Alexander entered upon.  

He had a special concern for the immigrants from India however. He had become acquainted with East Indians while working on the sugar estate, and his concern grew into a need for action.  

Work on the sugar estates was not always available for everyone. And when it was not, many of them slept on the pavements in Georgetown and cooked there as well. His heart went out to these homeless, sometimes hungry, people. It was he who acquired and  opened the first soup kitchen to provide meals for them. Each meal cost a penny. Meals were substantial and would consist of or include roti and dhall. He also opened night shelters in which they slept after paying a penny a night.  

At first the people of the pavements were very suspicious and had to be practically forced to use these services. Alexander Alexander who dropped his European dress went to them bare-footed, in dhoti and with a new name "Ghurib Das" to move them into the shelters. Eventually, he earned their trust.  

Soup kitchen and shelter were combined at their locations on America Street, Water Street in Kingston and on Broad Street. It is believed that the Salvation Army is indebted to Ghurib Das for all the buildings it now owns. This was certainly held to be the case in the late nineteen eighties.  

The Salvation Army was divided into two divisions, the West Indian Division and the East Indian Division, in order to serve more effectively during that period of Guyana’s history. Captain Tecklepelly was put in charge of the West Indian Division and Ghurib Das headed the East Indian Division, which served immigrants from India specially.

See Salvation Army in Guyana 


On January 17, 1935, when radio broadcasting was still in its infancy everywhere in the world, Trinidadian Deigo Serrao installed himself on the balcony of a house on Elizabeth Street, overlooking Queen’s Park Oval cricket pitch and created history in his country. The MCC were touring the West Indies, and from this excellent vantage point he did Trinidad’s first ever local broadcast of cricket commentary.  

However, the first radio broadcast featuring Trinidadians took place the year before, 1934. Calypsonians Lion and Attila, who had gone on tour to the United States of America, had arranged to do a broadcast of calypsoes back to Trinidad. News that this broadcast was going to take place generated great anticipation in Port of Spain, but when it actually happened on the night of March 8, it was a disappointment. People had crowded the streets of Port of Spain, in front of the few homes that could afford radios, in order to listen to a station called W2XAF. But all they heard, and very faintly, was the voice of Lion singing his then well-known: "Bad woman, oh, oh, oh."  

Next, Trinidad heard broadcasts from the 1934-1935 cricket series between the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) and the West Indies, played at Kensington Oval, Barbados and transmitted from an experimental short-wave radio station in Barbados. It was the first broadcast of ball-by-ball cricket commentary successfully heard in Trinidad. For the first time, Trinidad crowds were thrown into the heat of excitement by a match taking place outside of the island. 

Back to Diego Serrao. On January 18, in that year, 1935, readers saw the "Trinidad Guardian" banner headline: TRINIDAD GOES ON AIR FOR THE FIRST TIME. The newspaper's report declared: "The first officially approved broadcast of the match between Trinidad and the MCC team was transmitted yesterday by Mr. Diego Serrao, the Trinidad amateur and radio expert, who has set up his own broadcasting station in his home….. Yesterday he gave the latest scores at regular intervals and provided a concert of gramophone records when he was not broadcasting".  

In February, 1935, following  Serrao's performance, crowds were able to listen comfortably to another New York broadcast, now from Attila, Beginner, and Tiger.  

The next year, 1936, brought another significant moment. Radio receivers were still expensive and radio reception still far from perfect, but interest in radio broadcasts was high. A company called Trinidad Radio Distribution used superior receivers to “capture” broadcasts originating abroad then re-transmitted them using wired radio in order to eliminate further interference. The company arranged to have receiving sets sold as cheaply as possible and ran landlines all over Port of Spain.  

From its transmitter on Mount Hololo in Cascade, the first re-diffusion broadcast was made on February 1, 1936. Trinidadians were able to hear live broadcasts of exciting matches at a time when World Boxing Champion Joe Louis was at the height of his popularity.  

In  1943  the American Forces Radio (Station WVDI) in Port of Spain began regular broadcasts. People listened to them, but they were not intended for general consumption in Trinidad.  

The island got its own radio station with the inauguration of  “Radio Trinidad” on August 31, 1947 by a new company – the Trinidad Broadcasting Company Limited, headed by William McLurg, and with headquarters at 11 B Maraval Road. Radio Trinidad was opened by Governor Sir John Shaw and the first night showcased  local artistes and musicians. There was also the program, “This is Trinidad,” described as "a picture in sound and words."  

At that point Re-diffusion was still there. The rental was $2.00 a month for the receiving sets and 14 hours of broadcasting a day.  

Radio has come a long way since those days, but perhaps no development beat Diego Serrao’s groundbreaking cricket coverage in 1935 on the last exciting day of the three-day match between Trinidad and the MCC.  


Up till the 1950s, there was an island called Pelican Island just about 100 yards from Barbados. The tiny island was a mini-Barbados in shape and set in the same axis. In size it was about 250 yards by 150 yards - one side rugged, the other side sheltered and mainly beach. Once it lived up to its name. It was covered with pelicans. Over time, the birds deserted Pelican Island for other islands such as Antigua and Montserrat. And today Pelican Island is swallowed up and incorporated in the Deep Water Harbour area.

Why was Pelican Island significant? In the days of sailing ships, many vessels went to Barbados or stopped there to take in fresh water. Because of the heavy traffic, there was a real danger of epidemics of such diseases as cholera and small pox being spread to Barbados. Barbados therefore established a quarantine station on Pelican Island.

Pelican Island was convenient for this purpose and it was suitably developed and used. Patients or suspects went there directly by boat. The first building they came to, as they walked off the bridge, was the fumigating building. In this reception building, they were received, undressed, and clothed in hospital garb. The clothes they traveled in were then placed in a small dome-shaped structure. Two ovens were lit under circular pans filled with sulphur. The intensely pungent fumes were used to fumigate the clothes and destroy harmful germs.

There was also a bathing hut and an elaborate building known as “the hospital” – a well designed structure at the extreme tip of the island, with individual rooms, all with mosquito nets.

Enclosed toilets with wooden seats and buckets - probably the most advanced design in those days – were located at the end of  three 20-foot jetties. One building, circular and with very few windows, served as the mortuary.

The buildings on the island reflected class-consciousness. The two halves were labeled descriptively – “Above the Wall” and “Below the Wall.” The area above the wall had the main administrative buildings. There were two buildings of equal size: one subdivided for the officers and the other for the ships’ crews. There was also a long building divided into three sections, supplied with canvas cots for third-class passengers.

 At the beginning of the twentieth century, many patients were on the island during the smallpox epidemic, but as time went on, fewer and fewer persons were referred there. These were mainly visitors who arrived ill from ports where these contagious diseases were endemic. As the practice of inoculation was not universal, some visitors from these ports would remain on Pelican Island until the period of quarantine had elapsed.

Pelican Island remained an entity until the 1950s. With the construction of the Deep Water Harbour, Pelican Island was joined to Barbados and the area was called Pelican Village. The Village contains an amalgam of art galleries and  curio shops selling mostly handmade items for tourists. It is the first stop for cruise visitors after they disembark at the Harbour.

See the Trinidad equivalent, Nelson Island


Long, long, ago in Guyana, there were “baby weddings”.  

The wedding was called a baby wedding perhaps because it was a little wedding. Baby weddings were weddings arranged by children of school age.  

They were usually Saturday affairs. In those pre-refrigerator days, mothers cleared the meat safes on Friday to make way for Saturday’s purchases. Children would then save up the bits and pieces for their occasion – saltfish,  hog jowl, pig snout, ribs, the fatty parts of pork, and rice. With these ingredients, the success of the wedding reception (called the Dajineer) was assured. For from these ingredients, and others available, they made metem or other “dry food,” cutty-cutty soup, curry and rice, cook-up or yellow rice.  

All cooking was done on an open fire. For the cutty-cutty soup, everything was cut up and boiled together: hog tannia, roasting tannia, oku yam, plantain, cassava, and eddoes, dried shrimps, ochroes, pigeon peas, wirri-wirri pepper, broad leaf and fine leaf thyme, married-man pork and onions. Dumplings were made of white flour and cornmeal. Yellow rice got its name from either the abbey fat (which came from the abbey palm) or annatto dye.  

Drinks had to be served, of course –mainly swank. The sweetmeats came from home – corn pone, cassava pone, heavy sweet bread, conkie or aggidi.  

Love had no part in choosing the bride. The bride was the little girl who turned up with the prettiest chair covering. This was “darnett” or antimacassar. The chair covering didn’t cover a chair at a baby wedding, but was used as the bride’s headdress. The outfit was completed with something discarded from mummy’s wardrobe and a freshly cut bunch of flowers.  

The bridegroom wore his own clothes with a sprig of myrtle. The myrtle signified love. He also wore a red rosebud – this meant deep love. Although these sentiments were never discussed by the children, they were imagined to be there in some way.  

The ceremony was not nearly as important as the festivity, and guests at the reception enjoyed themselves, dancing to music made on tin vessels, cardboard boxes, papaw stems, paper and comb, crab backs and such other improvised instruments - for as long as the food lasted. 


 The nation of Guyana was born on the morning of May 26, 1966, but celebrations for the event lasted a full week - beginning Sunday, May 22, and ending Sunday, May 29.  

The high point came just before midnight on May 25, when before thousands of awed Guyanese, diplomats, and visitors from many parts of the world, the British Union Jack was lowered and Guyana's National Flag raised at the National Park (then the Queen Elizabeth Park). With the new day, and to the cheers of thousands, came the ascendancy of the new Guyana flag, and the new Nationa1 Anthem. British Guiana passed into history. The new Guyana was born.  

Even as this ceremony took place at the National Park, the Guyana National flag was raised at Mount Ayanganna, the country’s highest mountain peak, and at the Guyana High Commission in London, and in New York. New York's Governor, Nelson Rockefeller, proclaimed May 26 “Guyanese Independence Day" for New York State. Messages of goodwill had been received beforehand from many countries around the world.  

Before the ceremony began, a strange but pleasant thing happened. Prime Minister Burnham and Opposition Leader Cheddi Jagan suddenly, emotionally, embraced that night. It came as a complete surprise to everybody.  

And thousands from all walks of life were assembled at the National Park that night - among them former Colonial Secretary Duncan Sandys, former Governor Sir Ralph Grey, and former Governor Sir Charles Woolley.  

The new nation became the 23rd member of the Commonwealth of Nations, with the Queen as Head of State. Representing  Her Majesty in Guyana was the last Governor of Guyana, Sir Richard Luyt, who was asked to stay on and serve in the new office of Governor General until a Guyanese could be found to replace him.  

After a night of glorious lights - lights framing most of the significant buildings in Georgetown - and brilliant pageantry at the National Park, the State Opening of Parliament was held on Independence Day itself.  

The Public Buildings was richly decorated and the new national flag was everywhere. Parliament Chamber was completely rearranged. The portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh was replaced by that of Prime Minister, Forbes Burnham. The Speaker, Mr. A.P. Alleyne wore a ceremonial gown, with fabric in the colors of the national flag attached to the shoulders.  

That day the Duke of Kent read a throne speech on behalf of the Queen. Prime Minister Forbes Burnham and Leader of the Opposition Cheddi Jagan later addressed the Assembly. The Prime Minister captured much of the meaning of the occasion in a single paragraph when he said:  

"The days ahead are going to be difficult. Tomorrow, no doubt, we as Guyanese will indulge in the usual political conflicts and differences in ideology. But today to my mind, is above such petty matters. For today Guyana is free."

Sir Richard Luyt was sworn in as Guyana's first Governor General at a ceremony in the ballroom of Guyana House.  

Next day, Friday, May 27, the Prime Minister addressed great crowds at Independence Park (formerly the Parade Ground) and ended with the words: "I bid you enjoy yourselves." The people did his bidding carnival-style, with steelbands, mother sallies, princes, clowns, independence slogans and national flags everywhere. The revelry continued until Saturday night.  

Sunday, May 29, the last day of independence observances, was Thanksgiving Day, and all over Guyana, people went to their places of worship to pray.  

It was a magically memorable time. Those who were there can no doubt recall the impressive float parade along the streets of Georgetown, the historical pageant at the National Park, the spectacular fireworks that created in the night-sky portraits of Kaieteur, the National Flag and of Prime Minister Burnham.  

It all went to say that for Guyana the era of colonialism bad come to an end, and a new era of independence had begun.

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