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Are People Doing KAP in Guyana?


Have Guyanese started to do KAP yet? They have a good foundation. The rest should be easy.


At Easter time, Guyanese fly kites. Yes, the Guyanese Christian faithful go to Church. On Friday of the Easter weekend, they observe Good Friday, which commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. On Easter Sunday, they celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. But Christians and non-Christians alike go out to fly kites.


They flock to the wide-open spaces - among them the Georgetown Seawall and seawalls in many parts of the coast, sports grounds all over the country, the National Park in Georgetown, and the Joe Vieira Park just off the Demerara Harbour Bridge on the West Bank Demerara.


Guyana has expertise in kite building and kite flying and also great scenery to take advantage of KAP. If the country has not discovered KAP by now, it almost certainly will.


What is KAP? It’s Kite Aerial Photography. This is an old activity, really - dating back to the 19th century. In Europe and America, it was used back then by a number of  hobbyists, scientists, and people in commerce and other occupations for various purposes. KAP was notably valuable in scientific experimentation, military reconnaissance and disaster assessment. 


Put simply, KAP is hoisting a camera high up in the air, using a kite, and taking photographs. More people all over the world are doing it, thanks to today’s small digital cameras.


In the old days, cameras were relatively heavy and difficult to operate remotely, and kite technology was not as sophisticated as today. Hot air balloons, which were also used to take pictures, had their special problems.


 Later aircraft came along and provided the popular way to take pictures from the air. However, an aircraft for aerial photography was always an expensive proposition. In addition, planes and helicopters are noisy.


Kites are relatively quiet, light, portable, and easy to launch. A steady wind is all the power they need. They can soar in quite strong winds and at altitudes too great for tethered balloons, and they can be flown at levels too low or too dangerous for aircraft operation. They require little support equipment, and can be used almost anywhere - in cities, in the country, in forests, in savannahs.


The Web is now full on information about how to do KAP. Kappers find it easy now to obtain KAP kits, share knowledge, and exchange tips or breathtaking pictures they have taken.


A kit might consist of a single string nylon kite with a wingspan of around 10 feet, the minimum size for lifting a digital camera; a cradle for holding the camera made from aluminum or carbon fiber; and a radio control system from model aircraft used to take pictures once the camera is in the air. Some of today’s rigs have mechanisms to point the camera in any direction.


Many kappers still use film, but digital cameras are growing in popularity because they are now relatively cheap and lightweight and can take more shots before they need to be retrieved. The digital cameras used are the simple straightforward five- or six-mega pixel ones, without the fancy features.


Keeping it cheap and simple generally makes sense. For example, a flash is not of much use at high altitude. Again, the possibility of losing one’s camera is quite high.


With Kite Aerial Photography, Guyana can usefully fly kites in and out of Easter season to great advantage.  



  DR. JOSEPH LENNOX PAWAN

How a Trinidadian scientist hunted down a killer disease. 


Young Joseph Lennox Pawan had an important decision to make. What subject should he pursue at school the next year? He was a bright young man, good at all the subjects in the curriculum, but he must choose for the future.


He was one of a group of boys from St Mary's College in Trinidad, looking at specimen trees and plants in the Botanic Gardens in Port of Spain one day, when he was asked by Mr. Graf, his German biology teacher why he seemed to be preoccupied. He shared his concern with Mr. Graf.


Mr. Graf suggested science.  That suggestion, which young Joseph accepted, began a journey that was to lead him to making the finest contribution ever made by a Trinidadian to the world of tropical medicine.


Born in Port-of-Spain in 1887, Joseph Lennox Pawan won an Island Scholarship and went on to degrees in Medicine and Surgery. During the First World War he served as Assistant Surgeon at the Colonial Hospital, Port of Spain, and later as the District Medical Officer in Tobago and Cedros. In 1923, he was appointed bacteriologist to the Government.


In the early 1930s, medicine in the tropical areas of the world had among its urgent problems to solve, that of a virus that attacked people, leaving them paralytic or dead in just a few days.  It manifested itself in Trinidad, but because no one knew where the virus came from, what it really was, and how it spread, there were global implications.


The symptoms of the disease resembled those of rabies, but the rabies virus was known to be transmitted by dogs, through dog-bites, which did not occur in any of the cases. Rabies from dog-bites had not been identified in Trinidad since 1914. Doctors therefore diagnosed it as poliomyelitis.


The first recorded cases in Trinidad took place in 1925 when a number of cattle on the Mucurapo Pasture in Port-of-Spain, and also at St Ann's, became infected. Within a few days, the cattle were all dead of what was described as botulism.


Recognizing this development as an urgent matter, doctors and scientific researchers gave its investigation high priority. Yet, in 1929, 13 people contracted the disease in Siparia and quickly died. Doctors were now talking about “acutely spreading paralysis.”


In 1930, there were three more cases, and in 1931 another case. The reducing numbers gave the doctors no sense of ease as they still did not understand what was happening. By now, their experiments led them to conclude that the disease resulted from the rabies virus, but where did the virus come from?


Profoundly puzzled, Dr. Pawan, then the Government bacteriologist, together with his colleagues J.A. Waterman and H.M.V. Metivier, labored to solve this deadly riddle.


As Dr. Pawan kept reviewing past cases for a clue, it struck him that one patient told him that one month before she became ill; she was awakened from her sleep by a bat biting her under her big toe. As bat bites were common in the country districts of Trinidad, neither the patient nor the doctor thought it significant.


Anyway, Dr Pawan decided to closely observe bats. Finding a bat near a paralyzed cow, he drew liquid from its brain, and inoculated a monkey and several rabbits with the liquid. All the rabbits died quickly. The monkey developed an abscess, but also died after developing rabies.


An excited Dr. Pawan wrote with care and restraint: "The opinion that the vector (carrier) may be the vampire bat is tentatively expressed."


The detective work that followed was wide-ranging and intense. Was the blood-sucking vampire bat, (Desmodus Rufus), the only carrier? Did the disease affect the bats? Was the disease, in fact, classical rabies? Dr. Pawan hotly pursued all trails, working in his small and simply-equipped laboratory at the Colonial Hospital (now called the General Hospital).


Then, it came to light that this same disease had destroyed cattle in the Brazilian State of Santa Catarina in 1906.  A rabid dog in one of the remote Santa Catarina villages in 1906 had bitten a bat, starting the chain of deadly events. This bat infected other bats in Santa Catarina. Infected bats flew to Venezuela, and from there to Trinidad.


It now became clear what the disease was, and how it started. Joseph Lennox Pawan’s monumental work had worldwide significance. He was only 44 years old.


He was awarded an MBE (Member of the British Empire) and was recognized worldwide as a scientist of the highest caliber. In 1954 he became consultant on rabies to the United States Government, and was invited to become Chairman of the World  Organization. He could not accept the chairmanship because of ill .


Soon after his retirement in 1953, he fell seriously ill, was bedridden at an Abercromby Street nursing home for over a year, and died on November 3, 1957.


The laboratory in which Dr Pawan did his great work remained (in the year 2000 ) in a street named after him, off Wainwright Street in Federation Park, Port of Spain, Trinidad.



Dr. Daniel Hale Williams

First Successful Open-Heart Surgeon


On July 9, 1893, a young street fighter named James Cornish was involved in a bar brawl and suffered a knife wound in the heart area.  In those days, such a wound was considered fatal, as  patients like him almost always died. To make matters worse, Cornish had already lost a lot of blood. 


Cornish, who was black, was rushed to Provident Hospital where Dr Daniel Hale Williams, also a black man, made the decision to open the patient’s chest and perform the surgery necessary to save him. Today we call it open-heart surgery. Before then, it was surgery that was just was not done. 


Those were the days before X-rays, breathing apparatus, sulfa drugs, and blood transfusion. 


 Dr. Williams performed the surgery with the help of six of his colleagues on the staff of the Provident Hospital, in a converted bedroom that served as an operating room.  Fifty-one days later the patient was discharged. He was healthy again. 


Dr. Williams was 37 years old then. One newspaper shouted: "Sewed Up His Heart! Remarkable surgical operation on a Colored man!" Dr. Williams’ skill as a surgeon spread far and wide, and physicians from many parts of the country went to Provident to observe him. 


Daniel Hale Williams was born January 18th 1856 in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania. When he was 11, his father died and his mother left him to fend for himself. 


On his hard way up to becoming a medical doctor, he worked as an apprentice shoemaker, a roustabout on a lake steamer and a barber. He moved around often. When he went to Janesville, Wisconsin, and became apprentice to a white physician, this physician encouraged him to enter medicine. With the aid of friends, he finished Chicago Medical College in 1883 and opened his office on Chicago's South Side. 


His evident skill earned him a post at his alma mater as a surgeon and demonstrator in anatomy. 


At this time, no hospital in Chicago allowed Negro doctors to use their facilities. In 1891, against great odds and almost single handedly, Dan Williams established Provident Hospital for the use of  physicians of any color.  This facility helped reduce the number of operations performed on couches and kitchen tables in Chicago's impoverished South Side. 


In 1894 Dr. Williams left Chicago for Washington D.C. when President Cleveland appointed him to take over direction of the Freedmen's Hospital. This was a primitive run-own institution, but during his five-year tenure there the doctor reorganized it and started the first training school for black nurses.  Dr. Williams significantly improved the structure and functioning of the hospital. 


At that time, the American Medical Association admitted only white doctors to its ranks. One of Dr. Williams’ many positive actions of benefit to blacks in medicine was to help establish the National Medical Association, a black counterpart to the AMA.


Dr. Williams later resumed his position of Chief of Surgery at Provident Hospital, moving away from administration and back to the surgery he loved. He also did more overseas travel. He kept urging black leaders in other cities to open hospitals. In 1890, there were two black medical schools in America. Eight black medical schools were added over the next ten years.  


More black medical schools meant the provision of greater opportunities for blacks in medicine but, more than that, it also meant better treatment in hospitals for black patients. 


Daniel Hale Williams resigned from Provident and became Staff Surgeon at St Luke’s Hospital. After suffering a stroke in 1926, he retired to Michigan where he died, at the end of a brilliant, fruitful life, in 1931.


KOKER DOOR OPEN, BACK DAM FLOOD


The tragic flooding of January 2005 in Guyana has focused attention on many aspects of the drainage and irrigation system of the country. Flooding and drought are both constant threats to life in Guyana.


"Koker door open, back dam flood" in Guyana means to a Guyanese that a mistake has been made and we have to face dire consequences.


Koker is the name used in Guyana for sluice.  The koker is one of the most important features of the drainage system. The word is said to have Dutch origins. However, it seems that not even the Dutch call their sluices kokers; only Guyanese, it appears, do that.


However the name came to be used, the Dutch had much to do with the entire water management system.  As the first colonists, they designed the country's drainage and irrigation system with its sea walls, canals, sluices (kokers), culverts, groynes, aqueducts and pumps.


The Dutch have long been experts at warfare against the encroaching sea. They were forced to be. Over 25 percent of the Netherlands is below sea level.  Much of the land the Dutch live on is reclaimed from the sea and protected by thousands of miles of embankment of earth and rock, called dykes (dikes), built to prevent floods.


The Dutch built dykes around almost everything and kept them dry by pumping out the excess water. Dams are everywhere. Land reclaimed this way from the sea are considered to have been empoldered and are called polders.


Many Dutch place names reflect this reality.  Rotterdam is the dam in the Rotte, and Amsterdam the dam in the river Amstel. The Dutch name Van Dyke refers to people living on or near a dyke. Many Dutch streets, villages and towns have the term dyke in it.


Many place names in Guyana reflect the reality that the Dutch were once there.  Guyanese poet Arthur Seymour's "Name Poem" reminds us that


"words born upon Dutch tongues live in our speech.

The sentinel that was Kykoveral

Beterverwagting, Vlissengen and Stabroek

And sonorous toll of bells in Vergenoegen."


Dutch engineering was necessary because Guyana's narrow coastal belt, home to 90 percent of the population and the most intensively cultivated part of the country, is several feet below sea level at high tide. They therefore employed Dutch solutions to a familiar problem.


The entire coastal area in Guyana, including the capital city of Georgetown need protection both from the Atlantic ocean and the mouths of the larger rivers - in the case of Georgetown, the Demerara River. The coastal area is protected from the Atlantic Ocean by a seawall started by the Dutch.


 The Dutch also built a series of sluice gates (kokers) at points where the canals they dug meet the Demerara estuary. At high tide the kokers form a barrier between the Atlantic Ocean and the canals and the koker gate must be closed or water will flood the land. At low tide kokers must be opened to allow the surplus surface water to flow away, or it will keep accumulating and cause trouble.


Kokers generally have attendants. The attendant is expected to be watchful and control the flow of the water. To do so, he must work with the tides. 


When there is unwanted water on the land, the attendant must ensure that the gate is open at low tide so that water would flow out into the river or ocean. He must also close the gate to ensure that when the water rises during high tide, it does not invade the land by way of the koker. 


Koker attendants sometimes fail. They could fall asleep, be inattentive or just be drunk. Heavy damage to property, including farm crops, could be caused by a single instance of inattention. 


Kokers sometimes fail. The mechanisms may fail to work or there may be blockages. 


At various times in the country's history and in various parts of the country, Guyana has had to deal with flooding. Guyana knows about frantically shoring up dams with sandbags or whatever seemed a t the time would be of help.  Perhaps the most chronicled instance was the Kingston Flood of 1855, as a result of the failure of the Georgetown sea wall.


It seems, too, that the lesson that scrupulous maintenance of the country's drainage system is critical has to be learnt over and over again and at great cost.


The "back dam," a dam behind the main living area in an empoldered area, is relatively far away from the offending Atlantic or the river. When "Koker door open" (at the wrong time) and "back dam flood," everywhere else is flooded too.



THE STORY OF MARY SEACOLE


Mary Seacole, born in Kingston, Jamaica, returned from the Crimean War  bankrupt, broke. In London, she tried to set up a business that would get her out of debt - selling to soldiers. But this failed.


 Did her life crumble? No. In spite of her financial condition, she was a star. Her story had been written by others in the British press. She herself wrote a very successful book "The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands"- published in 1857.  A deeply grateful London subscribed money in gratitude to her. She spent the rest of her life traveling and working between London and Kingston. She was to receive later the Crimean Medal, the French Legion of Honour and a Turkish medal. 


 Why? London knew of what she had done from the wide coverage she received in the London newspapers. In 1856 William Howard Russell, special correspondent of the Times and a hugely influential journalist of the time, wrote

 "I have witnessed her devotion and her courage...and I trust that England will never forget one who has nursed her sick, who sought out her wounded to aid and succour them and who performed the last offices for some of her illustrious dead".


He was referring to the services that Mary Seacole performed in the Crimean War.


Mary Seacole was born Mary Grant to a mixed race Jamaican mother and a white Scottish father in 1805 in Kingston, Jamaica. Her father had been a soldier and her mother was a healer who ran a boarding house for invalid soldiers. Mary married in 1836 to Edward Seacole, but her husband died some months later.


When her mother died shortly afterwards, Mary took over the boarding house and continued the work of caring for the sick. Most of these men were British soldiers. She also knew a number of military doctors from whom she learnt as much as she could. And she had the experience of working with the sick during the cholera epidemic that hit Jamaica in 1850.


Then came the Crimean War. In March 1853, Britain and France went to the aid of Turkey after its invasion by Russia. In this conflict, known as the Crimean War, thousands of British soldiers succumbed to cholera and malaria while in Turkey.


Mary Seacole heard about the cholera epidemic she traveled to London to offer her services to the British Army. Prejudice against women's involvement in medicine ensured her rejection. No one would give her an ear. The British War Office never gave her an interview. 


But when it became widely known that large numbers of British soldiers were dying of cholera, a public outcry forced the government to do something about it. However, it was the volunteer Florence Nightingale who was permitted to go to Turkey with a group of thirty-eight nurses. 


ary Seacole, an expert at dealing with cholera, which Florence Nightingale was not, applied to join the Nightingale team, but her application was rejected. Mary, determined to go regardless, did so at her own expense. Once in Turkey, she applied to Florence Nightingale again, and was again refused. 


ndeterred, Mary launched a business called the British Hotel. There she sold food and drink to the British soldiers and with the proceeds she financed the medical treatment she gave to the wounded and sick soldiers. 


he two women worked, but separately. Florence Nightingale and her nurses did their work in hospital miles from the battlefront. Mary Seacole treated her patients on the battlefield, sometimes treating wounded men from both sides of the conflict, sometimes doing so while hostilities still raged. 


ary used the knowledge and skills she had acquired during her work with cholera patients in Jamaica, her educational travels in Central America and the Caribbean, and her experience dispensing the remedies and healing herbs she had learnt were effective. 


t it be acknowledged that Florence Nightingale was a wonderful person who was truly a force for good, but she had little practical experience of cholera. The two ladies, working together, would have been much more formidable.


In her book, Mary Seacole dealt with the run around she got when she was seeking an interview, and asked “Did these ladies shrink from accepting my aid because my blood flowed beneath a somewhat duskier skin than theirs?”


Mary died on May 14th, 1881 and was buried at St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, Harrow Road, London. Her life is a testimony to what, with tenacity, dusky skins can do.



FASCINATING NEW YEAR TRADITIONS FROM AROUND THE WORLD


Most of us do something special to mark the passing of the old year and the arrival of the new. What do other people do to welcome the New Year? It’s very interesting.


Among the their New Year activities are getting together with family and friends, often in an open-house setting, often in public places; eating special foods - or overeating; and often observing special customs.


People are often preoccupied with securing good luck or fortune for the new year and to avoid bad luck and this was affected by what they did on the first day of the new year.


January, the first month of the year, is named for the Roman god, Janus. He is depicted as having two faces - one looking forward and one looking backward. This symbolizes the connection with both the ending of the old year and the beginning the new one. In America, other symbols are also used. The passing year is symbolized by a bearded old man, while the new year is symbolized by a baby in diapers.


In many traditions, some foods are thought to bring luck. The Dutch believe that eating donuts on New Year's Day will bring good fortune as a donut represents a full circle.


In many parts of the U.S., people celebrate the New Year by eating black-eyed peas. In the south, black-eyed peas known as Hoppin John are eaten to bring prosperity in the New Year. Black-eyed peas and other legumes have been considered good luck in many cultures. Peas show increase in size, as they are prepared.  


The peas are typically accompanied by either hog jowls or ham. The hog, and thus its meat, is considered lucky and to symbolize prosperity. In Austria pork is the traditional. Austrians like the fact that the pig always roots forward. The lobster is avoided as it moves backwards and might cause setbacks in the New Year. In Germany eating pork, and fish too, is supposed to bring riches. In some parts of the world, pork is supposed to bring .


Cabbage is a special "good luck" vegetable that is consumed on New Year's Day by many. Cabbage leaves are also considered a sign of prosperity. The leaves suggest paper  currency. In some regions, rice is a lucky food that is eaten on New Year's Day.


In Spain, you’ll find the belief that if you eat grapes on New Year's Day, you will have money the whole year. The Spanish and many Latin Americans eat 12 grapes, one for each month of the New Year at the stoke of midnight. In Mexico, for example, many people usually gather in front of the TV with their relatives and friends and wait to see or hear the bell ringing twelve times. Each time the bell rings, each person eats one grape and makes a wish. Then they hug each other and wish each other a Happy New Year. 


The New Year symbolizes the renewal of life. Something ends and something begins. So in many cultural practices, the old is thrown out and the new is celebrated.


Some people in Alabama in the US, do not wash clothes on New Years Day. Doing so would wash a loved one away. On the other hand, in China, where the Chinese New Year is celebrated in January or February, homes are cleaned, debts are paid and there are celebrations and symbolic meals.


In Japan, everyone laughs at the stroke of midnight to ensure good luck in the New Year. There too, craftsmen clean and honor their tools.


 In Mexico, some people take out their suitcases and walk around the block, hoping it would help them travel during the next year.  


In Mexico too, some people, especially women, wear red underwear hoping to find love in the next year.  In Venezuela people usually wear yellow underwear, wishing for good luck in the new year.  


In the Philippines, children jump ten times when the clock strikes twelve hoping to grow taller in the new year.


The song, "Auld Lang Syne," is sung at the stroke of midnight in almost every English-speaking country in the world to bring in the New Year. 


In much of the world also, a deafening noise is made at midnight. The ancient idea is that the noise will drive away evil spirits. So there is a great wailing of horns, and shouts, and beating of drums, honking of car horns, blowing of party horns, ringing of church bells, clanging of pots and pans - anything that serves the purpose of producing a devil-chasing din. 


On New Year’s Eve, people in London crowd into Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square awaiting Big Ben to announce the start of the New Year.


In New York City, there is also a lot of noise. In what is perhaps the most publicized New Year ceremony, at 11:59 PM a spectacular 1,070-pound, 6-foot-diameter crystal ball, located in a tower above Times Square, is lowered down a flagpole and reaches the bottom of its tower at precisely midnight on January 1. Those who go to Times Square to watch “the ball drop” and others at home make various noises, shout "Happy New Year",  kiss, toast the New Year with various beverages, and sing "Auld Lang Syne". Some make New Year resolutions.


STRANGLER FIG

Murder in the Rain Forest


There is a tree that wreaks slow violence in rain forest areas of the Caribbean. In order to live it must kill. It therefore kills other trees. No wonder it has some rather ominous names, such as the strangler fig and the killer tree.


The strangler fig begins its life as a parasite.  Its sticky seed is borne mostly in the droppings of the birds and monkeys that eat the fig fruit and is lodged high up in the cracks and crevices of the bark of a host tree. The cabbage palm is a favorite.


The seed germinates and sends out long air roots in order to take in nutrients and water from the air and the host tree. The strangler’s seedlings grow slowly at first. The roots hang in the air or snake slowly along the trunk of the host tree to reach the ground and develop their own underground root system, independent of the host tree.


When the roots reach the ground they dig in, feast on the newfound nutrients, and grow much faster, competing fiercely with the host tree for water and food. They may also send out a network of roots that surround the host tree and fuse together. As the roots grow heavier and stronger, they squeeze the trunk of the host and cut off its flow of nutrients.


The stage is eventually reached where the host tree is hogtied by long roots at its middle, shut out from sunlight by the strangler’s thick canopy of hardy leaves at the top, and robbed of nutrients and water in the ground.


Eventually the strangler fig stands on its own, the strangled host dies, and a hollow center marks the place where it once lived. 


There is a good side to the strangler. Figs are important to many animals of the rainforest as they bear fruit several times a year and many creatures feast on them. The daytime feeders include pigeons, parrots, hornbills, toucans, monkeys, gibbons, and fruit-eating bats. At night, fruit-eating bats descend upon the branches. 


Different species of figs fruit at different times so that there is always a supply of food for animals that depend on fruit as a major part of their diet. 


Even after the strangler has murdered its host, it serves a welcome purpose. Hundreds of animal species make their homes in the hollow trunk of the decayed host tree. Among the trunk-dwellers are several kinds of lizards, geckos, frogs, wasps, bees, beetles and ants. 


Strangler figs are common in many parts of the Caribbean and the tropical Americas. There is hardly a West Indian island that does not have some species of the strangler. They are present in Trinidad, Jamaica, Dominica and many other places, including Guyana. 


The island of Barbados is supposedly named after its “bearded fig trees.”  These fig trees are the common strangler fig (Ficus citrifolia), which sometimes seems bearded when dressed in its abundant aerial roots.


THE CHEEKY KISKADEE 


Many Guyanese would tell you that their favorite bird is the kiskadee, sometimes spelled kisskadee. It is an unusually bold bird.  Its boldness and its prevalence make the Guyana Kiskadee (Lanius sulphuratus) one of the best-known birds in the country’s rural areas and in its towns and villages.


This bird has practically named itself.  It loudly, and sometimes incessantly, calls out kis-ka-dee, kis-kis-ka-dee from its perch – which may be a telephone wire or on a roof or a tree or myriad other places. It often issues its piercing call and its shrill chatter even in the heat of the day, when other birds are quiet.


The Guyana Kiskadee is about eight inches long, with the back and upper parts brown in color, the breast and under wing feathers a bright yellow, and the throat is white. The head is black surrounded with a broad white band.


There are other kinds of kiskadees in Guyana, notably the Cayenne Flycatcher and the Grey-headed Kiskadee.


Other kinds of kiskadee, including the Great Kiskadee, are found in many parts of the world.  They are found almost anywhere in South America and the Caribbean in locations where there are rivers, streams, and lakes bordered by dense vegetation and also in more open country. In the United States, they live from extreme southern Texas (lower Rio Grande Valley) southward.


The Kiskadee builds a large nest with its entrance at the side. It is made from all kinds of plant-material, such as sticks, grass and bark.


Kiskadees eat mostly insects, but also lizards and even fish.  They also eat palm and pepper seeds as well as occasionally ripe bananas and other fruit.


It is entertaining to watch the Guyana kiskadee. The bird is a member of the flycatcher family. Flycatchers have the dexterity to snatch flies and other insects out of the air, but kiskadees will also dive straight into the water for fish.


Both kiskadee parents defend the nesting area vigorously and even if they have no nest they are aggressive to other birds. It is quite a common sight to see a kiskadee chasing large vultures high up in the sky. But, strangely, a hummingbird might chase away a kiskadee.


The author had a rather interesting experience with kiskadees one hot dry day in Guyana. A few kiskadees alighted on a fence as he was watering his garden plants. One by one, the kiskadees left their perch on the fence and flew fearlessly into the stream of water from the garden hose then back to the fence. They repeated the act several times before leaving. They seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed themselves


Kisskadees can be infuriating. They can destroy prized fruit, papayas for example, right before one’s very eyes. In a picnic setting, they can take food of the table. In Bermuda, kiskadees are called “bandit birds.”


A   poem by Dr. Prem Janmejai translated into from the original Hindi by Trinidad’s poetess and radio personality Sumita Chakraborty Brooms says in part:


O dear little bird Kisskadee

having shattered the barriers of language

what is the song you sing

the strings of my heart say

this, yes this is the very song I heard

just before I got here.


The Guyanese song Way Down Demerara, composed by R.C.G.Potter says:


When you’re wakened in the morning by a cheerful kiskadee,

And you see a sackiwinki by a mukka mukka tree,

And the very homely features of the slimy manatee,

You can know that you are down in Demerara.

Demerara, Demerara, you can know that you are down in Demerara


The kiskadee or kisskadee, however you spell it, has made an impact everywhere in the Caribbean.



FASCINATING NEW YEAR TRADITIONS FROM AROUND THE WORLD


ost of us do something special to mark the passing of the old year and the arrival of the new. What do other people do to welcome the New Year? It’s very interesting.


Among the their New Year activities are getting together with family and friends, often in an open-house setting, often in public places; eating special foods - or overeating; and often observing special customs.


People are often preoccupied with securing good luck or fortune for the new year and to avoid bad luck and this was affected by what they did on the first day of the new year.


January, the first month of the year, is named for the Roman god, Janus. He is depicted as having two faces - one looking forward and one looking backward. This symbolizes the connection with both the ending of the old year and the beginning the new one. In America, other symbols are also used. The passing year is symbolized by a bearded old man, while the new year is symbolized by a baby in diapers.


In many traditions, some foods are thought to bring luck. The Dutch believe that eating donuts on New Year's Day will bring good fortune as a donut represents a full circle.


In many parts of the U.S., people celebrate the New Year by eating black-eyed peas. In the south, black-eyed peas known as Hoppin John are eaten to bring prosperity in the New Year. Black-eyed peas and other legumes have been considered good luck in many cultures. Peas show increase in size, as they are prepared.  


The peas are typically accompanied by either hog jowls or ham. The hog, and thus its meat, is considered lucky and to symbolize prosperity. In Austria pork is the traditional. Austrians like the fact that the pig always roots forward. The lobster is avoided as it moves backwards and might cause setbacks in the New Year. In Germany eating pork, and fish too, is supposed to bring riches. In some parts of the world, pork is supposed to bring .


Cabbage is a special "good luck" vegetable that is consumed on New Year's Day by many. Cabbage leaves are also considered a sign of prosperity. The leaves suggest paper  currency. In some regions, rice is a lucky food that is eaten on New Year's Day.


In Spain, you’ll find the belief that if you eat grapes on New Year's Day, you will have money the whole year. The Spanish and many Latin Americans eat 12 grapes, one for each month of the New Year at the stoke of midnight. In Mexico, for example, many people usually gather in front of the TV with their relatives and friends and wait to see or hear the bell ringing twelve times. Each time the bell rings, each person eats one grape and makes a wish. Then they hug each other and wish each other a Happy New Year. 


The New Year symbolizes the renewal of life. Something ends and something begins. So in many cultural practices, the old is thrown out and the new is celebrated.


Some people in Alabama in the US, do not wash clothes on New Years Day. Doing so would wash a loved one away. On the other hand, in China, where the Chinese New Year is celebrated in January or February, homes are cleaned, debts are paid and there are celebrations and symbolic meals.


In Japan, everyone laughs at the stroke of midnight to ensure good luck in the New Year. There too, craftsmen clean and honor their tools.


 In Mexico, some people take out their suitcases and walk around the block, hoping it would help them travel during the next year.


In Mexico too, some people, especially women, wear red underwear hoping to find love in the next year.  In Venezuela people usually wear yellow underwear, wishing for good luck in the new year.


In the Philippines, children jump ten times when the clock strikes twelve hoping to grow taller in the new year.


The song, "Auld Lang Syne," is sung at the stroke of midnight in almost every English-speaking country in the world to bring in the New Year. 


In much of the world also, a deafening noise is made at midnight. The ancient idea is that the noise will drive away evil spirits. So there is a great wailing of horns, and shouts, and beating of drums, honking of car horns, blowing of party horns, ringing of church bells, clanging of pots and pans - anything that serves the purpose of producing a devil-chasing din. 


On New Year’s Eve, people in London crowd into Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square awaiting Big Ben to announce the start of the New Year.


In New York City, there is also a lot of noise. In what is perhaps the most publicized New Year ceremony, at 11:59 PM a spectacular 1,070-pound, 6-foot-diameter crystal ball, located in a tower above Times Square, is lowered down a flagpole and reaches the bottom of its tower at precisely midnight on January 1. Those who go to Times Square to watch “the ball drop” and others at home make various noises, shout "Happy New Year",  kiss, toast the New Year with various beverages, and sing "Auld Lang Syne". Some make New Year resolutions.



PEPPERPOT FROM GUYANA


You can be sure that wherever in the world Guyanese are this Christmas, most of them will be enjoying pepperpot, as they have done for years. The taste and smell of pepperpot are part of the Guyanese Christmas memory and experience.


This is not the pepperpot of other areas in the Caribbean - made with callaloo and other greens, beef or pork, and spices. Guyana’s pepperpot is a dish of meat of many kinds, of spices, and of casareep, boiled well for a long time, then eaten with rice or bread, or alone.


But we might not have had pepperpot to enjoy if Amerindians had abandoned the use of bitter cassava (yucca) when they realized that it was poisonous. They found ways to make the poison harmless. One of them resulted in casareep, the indispensable ingredient in pepperpot.


Bitter cassava is deadly poisonous if eaten raw.  If it enters the stomach, the hydrogen cyanide in it starts a series of actions that ultimately cause asphyxiation.


Moderate cyanide poisoning can lead to vomiting, convulsions, deep breathing, shortness of breath, and anxiety. More serious cases result in loss of consciousness, heart arrest and death.  Amerindians used this poison to tip their arrows and blow darts.


Today, no one need fear cassava poisoning. It is well known that boiling cassava drives off the cyanide as a gas. In addition, bitter cassava is not normally sold in stores – only the safe sweet cassava; and generally people know that it is best to treat all cassava as if poisonous, and always cook it.


Amerindians learned several ways of removing the poison from bitter cassava. Boiling and squeezing are two of them.


In making casareep, that important ingredient in Guyanese pepperpot, Amerindians first grate the cassava, squeeze out the liquid, traditionally with an ingenious plaited basket sieve in the shape of a cylinder called a matapee, then boil it. Fully boiled casareep is often thick and very dark brown.


One of its most remarkable properties is its highly antiseptic power, preserving meat that has been boiled in it for long periods. The Arawak hunter of old would bring home fresh meat and add it to a pot that had been in use for many months. In practice, Guyanese now heat a pepperpot once a day, which is more than is necessary. The Georgetown YMCA of Guyana, while it was British Guiana, maintained a pepperpot for over 25 years.


Casareep also gives pepperpot its unmistakable flavor, the flavor changing, mostly improving, but only subtly, as new meat is added.


Guyana seems to have had a long relationship with cyanide. It is in cassava, but we know how to deal with that. It spilled at Omai during gold mining operations in Guyana and caused great damage. But even before then it was used in the Kool-Aid drunk by hundreds of people when the followers of Jim Jones committed suicide at Jonestown, Guyana in November 1978. This was not the first time that people had committed suicide by cyanide. Before them, Arawak Indians had done the same by biting into uncooked bitter cassava to avoid torture by the Conquistadors.


Today Guyanese enjoy the benefits of cassava as they savor their pepperpot at Christmastime or any time. Right now pepperpots are simmering in many places all over the world with beef, pork, oxtail, trotters, iguana, watrash, mutton, spice, cloves, hot peppers, and other ingredients, in preparation for eating with rice, bread, especially home-made bread, or alone.


For many, Christmas would not be Christmas without it.


 SURPRISING FEATURES OF PIRATE SOCIETY 


People steal in every kind of situation. The high seas are not exempt. For as long as men have sailed the seas, they have had to guard against pirates, for pirates rob or plunder at sea, and sometimes even on shore. Pirates, on the other hand, organized themselves in order to survive. 


 In ancient times whole cities turned pirate along the Mediterranean seacoast or on the many small islands at its eastern end. Roman fleets patrolled these busy waters for centuries to protect themselves against pirates.  Pirate vessels launched out from bays and inlets in China and India.  


But the famous age of piracy began about over 300 years ago along the coasts of what have come to be called New World countries – the Caribbean and the Americas. 


For the English, the rich targets included treasure ships that brought the New World's gold to Spain. For the Spanish, it would be similar English cargo. But there were those pirates who took everything that came their way, regardless of the country they were going to. 


Merchants, clerks, and sailors and all kinds of other people became pirates.  Stede Bonnet, a retired British army major, always dressed in an elegant powdered wig and embroidered frock coat, commanded a ship in Blackbeard's small pirate fleet. 


They liked to call themselves Pirate Gentlemen of Fortune. Some crewmembers with special skills - the surgeon, cook, carpenter, sail maker, boatswain - might receive slightly higher shares of the booty, but every ordinary pirate adventurer shared alike with his mates. 


Most pirates were known by their nicknames. Among the successful and well-known pirates was John Rackam, renamed Calico Jack for his bright clothing, and remembered also for his long romance with one of history's few woman pirates, Anne Bonny. Henry Avery’s nickname was Long Ben Avery.


  Edward Teach (nobody was ever sure of his name) was called Blackbeard! Blackbeard who let his wild black beard grow from his ears to his chest set out to be the most terrifying of all pirates. Blackbeard flew a pirate flag, depicting a white skeleton on a black background with a red heart beneath it. Other pirates added swords, hearts, and skeletons as they wished to their own flags. The name used for a pirate flag was the Jolly Roger, which probably comes from the French words for the older, red buccaneer flag: joli rouge, "pretty red."


 Pirates often had organized societies. They shared in whatever booty they seized, according to a complicated formula that determined each man’s allotted share. Pirates injured in battle might be given special compensation. 


 Black Bart, the most successful pirate of his time, required his men to sign his Pirate Articles. These articles promised an equal vote and an equal share among crewmates. However, no one could leave the crew until he made at least £1,000.


 There was also a kind of insurance policy. If a member of the crew became crippled or lost a limb, the crew was obliged to collect 800 silver pieces-of-eight for him. For smaller injuries, the compensation would be less.


 Pirates were also required to keep their cutlasses and pistols clean and ready at all times, to play no cards or dice for money, to bring no women aboard ship, and to put the lights out at eight o'clock. They were forbidden to quarrel with other pirates. However, if a dispute could not be settled otherwise, a duel might be arranged. Robbing or cheating another pirate or deserting the ship was especially forbidden. Rule breaking could result in the offender being rowed ashore and left on a barren island.


 When European nations went to war with each other they often issued special licenses, “letters of marque”, to private ship owners, called privateers. Armed with a letter of marque, a sea captain was allowed to attack trading ships of his country's enemies. It was intended to dignify their piracy with a commission resembling an extension of the country’s navy. 


An enemy country, of course, was likely to treat a privateer as a criminal if he was caught, and was likely to hang him. On the other hand, he might become very rich taking whole cargoes for himself.



GREENHEART FROM GUYANA


 Guyana’s greenheart (Chlorocardium rodiei/ Ocotea rodiaei) is truly famous wood. Hard, heavy, strong and durable, it has gone virtually everywhere in the world to do good in one form or another. One of its important virtues is its resistance to attack by many harmful organisms, such as fungi, marine borers and dry-wood termites and other creatures that burrow into and live in wood under the water.


Greenheart has traveled in ships to every part of the globe – not only as cargo, but also as part of the ships themselves. In ship construction, the wood is used for planking and gangways, flooring, handrails, decking of all kinds, engine bearers, sternposts, fenders, and sheathing.


In marine construction, it has been shipped to other countries to be sunk into the earth as wharves, bridges, piles, dock gates, canal locks, jetties, revetments, marinas and breakwaters.


Working with greenheart is described as difficult. It is not easy to drive a nail into greenheart. It is so dense, it quickly dulls both hand and machine tools. However, it provides a fine, smooth, lustrous surface, turns easily and takes a high polish.


In spite of the difficulties, the people of Guyana have long used greenheart to build strong and lasting houses and also some of the furniture inside. One type of common greenheart furniture was the four-poster bed.


Greenheart has been valuable for making smaller items as well. For many years, greenheart was the most popular material for making fishing rods – even more popular than bamboo, and this in spite of its relative heaviness. Alexander Grant’s invention of a fishing rod made of greenheart in which each section was joined to the other by overlapping splices, took the took the angling world by storm in its day.


Greenheart is known by several other names, including Bibiru, Sipiri, Kevatuk, and Beeberoe. In the commercial world, it is often referred to as Demerara greenheart, even though most of Guyana’s greenheart grows in the Essequibo area.


Belonging to the laurel family (Lauraceae), the greenheart tree large tree that grows to a height of 40 m (130 feet) and is native to the Guianas.  Commercial quantities occur mostly in the north central portion of Guyana.


Greenheart’s heartwood, the denser central wood, varies in color – generally designated as black, yellow, brown or white greenheart. In fact, the color ranges from yellowish green to light olive to dark green, and orange green to orange brown to dark brown - sometimes with black streaks. The surrounding sapwood is usually a pale, yellowish green.


Many of Guyana’s historic buildings are built of greenheart and contain greenheart furniture. In the Parliament Chamber of the Public Buildings there are pieces of highly polished greenheart furniture sitting on a floor that is made entirely of greenheart. St. George’s Cathedral is largely of greenheart construction. So are old St. Andrew’s Kirk, and the historic Red House. 


Greenheart is ubiquitous. Most islands of the Caribbean boast of the greenheart floors in their villas and other more expensive buildings. Architects for the University of New Mexico in the United States specified greenheart for the seating for its new stadium. The wood has been used to toughen the blade tips of Greenland sea kayak paddles. 


Greenheart is of considerable economic value to Guyana and will continue to be so. However, groups concerned with the destruction of the world’s remaining rainforests are applying pressure to their governments to stop buying certain tropical woods, including greenheart. 


These groups are meeting with some success, especially in Europe and the United States. In the UK, many plans to purchase greenheart have been outlawed and cancelled. Following the purchase of thousands of greenheart logs for the construction of the Staten Island Ferry of New York, importation of such logs has been stopped.


The future of greenheart is uncertain. But noting is certain in our world. It may be farfetched to think of the tree as a major source of medicine. However, let it be noted that its bark and fruits contain bebeerine, an alkaloid formerly used to reduce fever.


Let it be noted, too, that greenheart even made a contribution to the food department. In hard times, Amerindians used to grind its fruit into flour, which they then used for making bread.



THE SEARCH FOR COCHINEAL


This is an account of a search that started as I prepared an article on “Old Time Cosmetics.” One of the items mentioned was cochineal. I was personally acquainted with cochineal in Guyana, but when I tried to research it, I could find no easy reference to what I was looking for.


 The cochineal I knew was a plant with huge fat leaves that were sliced and used for various purposes. In the article, I described how it was used as a hair conditioner. It was also used as a hair shampoo. I recall too that it was used as a healing agent, and was applied to wounds, burns, and sores.


 The cochineal plant was, to my mind, well known. It grew wild, and people in a rural neighborhood knew where a stand of cochineal could be found. They would go there when they needed it. However, when I tried researching cochineal, I was flummoxed because the dictionaries I consulted knew nothing of such a plant.


Practically all dictionaries said it was a red food coloringa fabric dye, or a red dye obtained from the crushed dried bodies of female cochineal insects. Everywhere, it was either a dye or an insect.


 However, experience has taught me that there would most likely be a connection somewhere, even if it resulted from a misconception by someone.


Eventually, there was some sunlight. I came across the fact that the ancient Aztecs, who produced a rich purple or brilliant scarlet dye and used it in fabrics and cosmetics, cultivated a species of cactus that acted as a host to the cochineal scale insect that they crushed to make their dye.


 This was good information, because my cochineal looked like a cactus. The name of the cactus I read about was Opuntia cochenillifera. With a scientific name to follow the trail, I soon discovered that its more popular names were Prickly Pear, Prickly Pear Cactus and Cactus Pear. When I checked Caribbean sources using the scientific name, I began to notice that the scientific types who worked in Guyana called it cochineal.


 I had found my cochineal.  Even the Smithsonian Institution's Centre for the Study of Biological Diversity in Guyana called it cochineal.


 By whatever name, the plants are quite popular today. They are sold as ornamentals. They grow fast in difficult conditions and produce an attractive bright red flower. Because of their hardiness, they are advertised as the “perfect plant for the lazy gardener.” They are even eaten, cooked or raw.


  People even believe that a potted plant neutralizes radiation from TV and computer monitors. It is sometimes called Warm Hand, as the leaves get warm in summer and touching them is like touching a warm hand.


 The plant has long been used for medicinal purposes. In Guyana and neighboring countries, stems and leaves are used in various ways. They are used fresh, roasted, or grated, for various ailments such as back pain, coughs, colds, fever, and constipation.  Today you can find products from cochineal (under the names Prickly Pear or Cactus Pear, of course), described as herbal supplements and sold as capsules, powders, tinctures, and ointments.


 As I continued the search, some new names appeared: cochineal pricklypear, cocheneal nopal cactus, cochineal cactus, cochineal nopalea, cochineal plant.


 My personal experience has a parallel in the past. I discovered that when the Spaniards arrived in Mexico in the 1500s, they were amazed by the brilliant red-dyed clothing worn the natives. Nothing in Europe could compare.


Before they were processed, the dried insects looked like seeds to the Spanish, so they called them grana cochinilla (grana means seeds). But even when they came to realize that they were insects, the Spanish perpetuated the idea and kept the truth a secret.  As a result, competitors who went looking for seeds came up empty. With this deception, the Spanish established and maintained a monopoly in cochineal production that remained in place for a long time.


 When what you want are insects and you are looking for seeds, it is difficult to find what you want. It is also difficult to find what you want when you begin looking for a plant, but your main sources tell you it’s a dye or an insect. 





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