This is It's A Fact, Page 6



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In many parts of the world, Guyana included, the seashore is dense forest reaching all the way to the water. The trees that make up this kind of coastline are called mangroves.

Mangrove forests are not as pleasing to look at as coral reefs and white sandy beaches. In fact they may be unsightly and are not likely to be tourist attractions. However, the value of these important trees is inestimable.

 In normal, quiet times, they prevent shoreline erosion. Because they act as buffers, catching materials washed downstream from rivers, they help maintain the elevation of the land. During hurricanes and storms, mangroves also provide a protective buffer zone and help shield coastlines from storm damage and wave action, minimizing damage to property and loss of life.

Mangroves also support many kinds of tropical fish which spend their early lives in nursery conditions, feeding and sheltering among the trees’ roots. Mangroves also benefit coral reefs that might be nearby by filtering sediment.  

In addition, mangrove forests have long provided materials people have found useful, such as firewood, medicines, dyes, food, fibers, charcoal, and construction materials.

There is something unusual about the behavior of the fruit of the species of mangrove tree most commonly found in Guyana. The fruit is a cone-shaped reddish-brown berry with a single seed. The seed germinates inside the fruit while it is still on the tree, forming a large, pointed root. When the fruit is dropped, the root, already in place, quickly anchors the seedling in the mud.

Roots from the seeds form a tangled network that props up the trees and form a base that holds deposits of silt and other material carried by the tides. Land is thus built up and is soon covered by other vegetation and many kinds of animal life.

Mangrove trees are found growing in muddy coastal areas almost everywhere in the Caribbean and in Guyana. In Guyana especially they grow on muddy tidal flats and riverbanks near to the Atlantic. Because they tolerate salt very well, they thrive in sea water.

Were it not for the presence of mangrove trees on the banks of rivers in Guyana, most river banks would have been washed away and the surrounding areas flooded more than they are now.

Mangroves also provide habitats for many forms of insect, plant, marine and animal life. In Belize, mangroves support manatees, crab-eating monkeys, over 500 species of birds, numerous kinds of fish,  fishing cats, monitor lizards, jaguars, snails, hermit crabs, mangrove fiddler crabs, periwinkles, tarantulas, and sea turtles.

There are many species of mangrove. The species of mangrove that grows in an area is largely determined by how "salty" the water is. Also, some types of mangroves shut out salt from their systems while others discharge or eject salt from their systems. Water from the trunks of mangroves that exclude salt is so fresh that people can drink it, even though the mangrove may be standing in very salty soil or water.

These trees thrive in many parts of the world. The countries with the largest concentrations are Indonesia, Brazil, Australia, Nigeria and Mexico.

Mangrove forests have helped save many lives over the ages. They did so once more during the devastating tsunamis triggered by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, one of the deadliest natural disasters in history.

 The tsunamis killed more than 225,000 people in eleven countries and flooded coastal communities with waves up to 100 feet high. Comparisons between villages that were hit by the giant waves in Sri Lanka, for example, demonstrated that damage was relatively small where mangrove vegetation played a role. Where mangroves were cleared for wood and to make way for shrimp farms and tourist development, there was major flooding and the loss of lives.

Thankfully, the current plan of The European Union to improve Guyana's sea defenses recognizes mangroves as the first line of sea defense, and includes re-planting and maintenance of mangroves. The plan also includes a public education program intended to sensitize Guyanese about the importance of mangroves and to encourage their support in ensuring that the trees are not destroyed.

Video: Mangroves in the Caribbean


From Lift-and-Ask Times to Now

Have you ever used a lift-and-ask phone? Well, perhaps you haven’t lived long enough. But there was a time when after lifting the earpiece of the phone, you used the mouthpiece to ask an operator to connect you. There was no other way.

Now, the operator has gone. Almost. The telephone book or telephone directory, which was not even there at the beginning, soon became a necessity, has since served well for over 100 years, and may even be going out of style.

Every subscriber in the geographical coverage area is usually listed alphabetically with telephone number an postal or street address; but subscribers may request the exclusion of their numbers from the directory, often for a fee. In the United States, such people are said to be "unlisted;" in Britain, they are "ex-directory" or "private"

Today the White Pages generally give personal or residential listings, and the Yellow Pages (the Golden Pages in Ireland) a business directory classified by business type or service, almost always with paid advertising.

There may also be Grey pages, sometimes called a "reverse telephone directory". These allow users to search by a telephone number in order to get customer details. Depending on a country's customs, other colors may be used. Information on government agencies are often printed on blue or green pages.

The telephone book may give important numbers for emergency services (such as police, fire and ambulance services), utilities, hospitals and generally useful organizations. It may also have civil defense or emergency management information. There may be transit maps, postal code guides, or stadium seating charts, as well as advertising.

The first telephone book ever issued in America was published in New Haven, Connecticut, by the New Haven District Telephone Company in February, 1878. It was barebones and primitive and contained only 50 names.

In Britain, the first telephone book was published in 1880. But there were no numbers in it. Only the addresses of its first 248 subscribers to the telephone company were listed. To be connected, you had to lift the earpiece, ring the operator, and ask for your contact by name.

The practice of providing instructions, at the top and bottom of pages of the telephone book, about how to use the service, started early. In Britain the book said "Answer telephone promptly." "Train staff in the use of telephones." And "Subscribers should not engage the telephonist in conversation."  The 1934 phone book added "Don't say Hullo! Announce your identity."

Today we mostly dial direct, with no operator assistance. As recently as the 1960's however, many people still had 'lift-and-ask' phones, as the British called them.

In some countries, mobile phone listings are not included in telephone directories. Many subscribers are strongly opposed to cellular directories in order to avoid telemarketer intrusions and other annoyances.

Today it is possible to obtain telephone listings on CDs or on the World Wide Web. Could it be that we won’t need telephone books in the future? Some people think we will still need them at least to help small children sit up higher at tables.

Telephone books, these days with millions of listings, have become so huge that ripping one in half is considered an impossibility or, at least, a feat of great strength – first performed, it’s been said, facetiously I believe, by an angry father with a teenage daughter.

That feat would hardly be meaningful now. Teenage daughter has her own listing on the cell phone. 



The snake called “camoudi” by people in the interior of Guyana is the subject of many scary stories – some true, some exaggerated. For example, someone will tell you that he started walking across a log in a swampy area, only to

feel movement underfoot, then discover to his horror that he was walking on the back of a huge camoudi. 

Or someone may tell you about a snake so improbably huge or long, it should easily make the Guiness Book of World Records.

Exaggerations are quite understandable, because the camoudi or kamudi is so greatly feared it can generate illusions. The snake is better known around the world as the anaconda. It is one of the largest, most heavy-bodied, most powerful snakes in the world. Another name is boa constrictor, because its most striking feature is that it kills by constricting or squeezing its victims to death. Therein is its power, because although this snake can bite, it has no venom in its fangs.

The snake first strikes at its prey and pulls the prey into its coils. When the prey is large, the snake would pull itself onto the victim then wrap its coils around it.

As the anaconda does this, it tightens its grip to prevent the lungs of its victim from functioning so that, deprived of oxygen, the victim suffocates. The snake then swallows its newly acquired meal. The process of ingestion can take hours or even days.

No wonder disappearances of people in the jungles of South America are sometimes blamed on the snakes. However, scientists say that human deaths by anacondas are rare.

Anacondas typically live in the swamps and rivers of the densely forested areas in tropical South America, and also in Trinidad. They consume rodents, alligators, caimans, fish and, on land, such animals as capybaras, tapirs and deer.

The species of anaconda most often seen in South America and on the island of Trinidad is the green anaconda Eunectes murinus. South American anacondas are found throughout the Amazon River Basin and the Orinoco River Basin.

Its overall color is an olive green, with black blotches along the body. Its head is narrow with orange-yellow striping on either side. The eyes are set high on their head so as to allow the snake to be able to see out of the water or mud in which it is lying camouflaged or submerged. The nostrils are also set high so the animal can breathe while its body is submerged. Indeed, this is its favorite posture. It loves water and wet places. As a result it is often called the “water camoudi.”

But there are three other major types of anaconda.  The yellow anaconda is the second most well known, located mainly in southern Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, and northern Argentina. Other anacondas are the Bolivian anaconda and the dark-spotted anaconda.

The green anaconda is larger and more numerous, however. There are stories of giant anacondas reaching more than 50 feet in length. However, scientists believe such lengths are exaggerations. Among the more credible reports about the size of anacondas is one from Guyanese scientist Vincent Roth, who claimed to have shot and killed a 34-foot anaconda in Guyana.  




Guyana, land of many waters, is also land of numerous crabs. There are crabs along the seashore, along the river banks and even in the inland trenches. 

Let’s visit a few members of the crab family. First, meet the hermit or soldier crab, which is found all along Guyana’s coastline. He is not a true crab and has a soft edible back that fishes could reduce to nothing in a short while. The hermit or soldier crab solves his problem by borrowing the unoccupied shell of a snail-like mollusk, screwing himself into the shell so that the crab’s tender back is protected. As the crab grows bigger he changes his borrowed shell, now too small, for a larger one, and occupies it. 

The buck grab is the one whose meat is mostly used with parsley and red pepper to make the delicacy we call "crab back" or "crab cake." It is an attractive creature of bright colors, often a bluish or greenish gray with purple legs, the underside being white. 

Being a land crab, the buck crab visits the sea only in the breeding season and spends much of its time out of the water. It digs a deep hole in the mud and hurries into it when there is need for safety. The hole is wide and always contains water, so without going to the sea, the crab is kept damp all the time. 

The next best known crab, and a favorite in soup, is the sherringer (or sherriger), a true water-dwelling species. It is a great swimmer, its hind legs being flattened and fringed for use as oars. The shell and claws are armed with needle-sharp points. In color, it varies from dark green to reddish brown and deep scarlet. 

The largest of Guyana’s crabs, the great bunduri of the North West and Essequibo Coast are said to “march” in the mating season between late August and early September when with one particular spring tide they would literally cover the beaches in millions for a few hours. On this “crab march,” they are a panorama of closely packed waving claws, and bodies rattling against each other.  

Once these great crabs were found only on the seashores and close to the river banks where their persistent boring into dams led to the abandonment of many a coconut estate. More recently, however, the marching season takes them up the Essequibo hills, and residents need only go to their backyards to get them. 

Some other crabs are: the jumbie crab, the scissors crab, the square-backed land crab, the mud crab, the spider crab, the flat or porcelain crab, the rock crab, the shield back crab and the white land crab. 

Most crabs are supplied commercially by fishermen. They are caught in fishermen’s nets. However, some crab catchers work at night. They would induce the crabs to leave their holes by placing bright lights near the holes. When the crabs emerge and walk toward the light the crab catchers would grab them with their bare or gloved hands.

There is something macho about catching crabs with bare hands and skillfully avoiding the pincers so ready to attack. So some crab catchers would identify the holes and place their hands in them to skillfully snatch the crabs.

“Feeling for crabs” is a very popular sport among boys and young men in areas where there is a good crab population and is mostly done at low tide when the crab holes are above water level.



            When we say a person is a “sloth,” we pay him no compliment. We mean he is sluggish and lazy. We are saying is that he takes after the sloth, an animal that is loath to move, and sleeps for most of the day. 

            Sloths are strange-looking animals, found in Central and South America, and are related to anteaters, armadillos, and aardvarks. They live in the canopies of trees in tropical rain forests and are never ordinarily seen anywhere else. 

There are 6 species, generally described as three-toed and two-toed sloths. Three-toed sloths have three toes on each foot. Two-toed sloths have two toes on their front feet and three on the back. The length of a two-toed sloth ranges from 18 inches to a little above 2 feet. Its tail is about 2.5 inches. The three-toed sloth is somewhat smaller. Weights vary from about 7 to 18 pounds. 

Strictly speaking all sloths have three toes. The "two-toed" sloths, however, have only two fingers. Two-toed sloths are generally faster moving than three-toed sloths. 

Sloths have long, curved claws that allow them to comfortably hang upside-down from branches. With only about half as much muscle tissue as other animals of similar weight, they move only when necessary. At night they inch slowly along the branches in search of the tree leaves and twigs that they eat. They sometimes sit on top of branches but, more often, they eat, sleep, and even give birth hanging from tree limbs. 

Most early literature said that sloths sleep for about 18 hours each day. However, a recent study done by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany, indicates sloths sleep about 10 hours a day. 

On smooth ground a sloth is relatively helpless, barely able to support its own weight. On a flat surface its claws scratch around trying hard to get a grip. When sloths do move along the ground, their speed is generally less than one foot per minute. Their top speed is about 5 feet per minute. 

However, sloths are competent swimmers. Where there is a stream or a lake they may jump in without fear and swim easily. 

Baby sloths normally cling to their mother's fur, and fall off occasionally. They are tough creatures and rarely die from a fall. However, some of them do fall and die. Rarely would a mother leave her place on the tree to investigate. 

It has been noticed, however, that sloths observe a ritual descent about once a week. They would go to the ground to urinate and defecate, exposing themselves to great risk by going to same spot on each occasion. 

Females normally produce a baby every year, but because of their slow movements they may take longer than a year to make contact with a mate. 

The English explorer and writer Charles Waterton, who lived in  British Guiana from  1804 to 1812, said in his book “Wanderings in South America,” that sloths they were often caught and abused. He wrote that the sloth’s looks, gestures and cries “all conspire to entreat you to take pity on him.” Three-toed sloths are commonly called Ai . The name “Ai,” imitates the sighing sound that sloths sometimes make when in distress. 

The sloth’s digestion also is slow. The leaves it eats do not provide a great deal of energy and take a long time to pass through the multiple compartments of the animal’s very large, specialized, slow-acting stomachs, and the process can take as long as a month to complete. 

The fur of a sloth may be brown or gray and shaggy. It is often covered by growing algae. The greenish color the algae gives the fur serves as a camouflage against humans, eagles, jaguars, ocelots, harpy eagles, anacondas and other animals. 

The sloth’s greatest danger from humans is not from being hunted, but from displacement from its habitat. 

The sloth hangs tenaciously to life. Even when shot by a hunter, and in the process of dying, it may remain hanging upside-down in a tree, held in place by its claws. Waterton wrote: “It exists long after it has received wounds which would have destroyed any other animal; and it may be said, on seeing a mortally wounded sloth, that life disputes with death every inch of flesh in its body.”


It Bounces Back

If doing or saying something has an effect you did not intend, especially one that causes you harm or embarrassment, what you did or said can be regarded as having  boomeranged or backfired. That’s because your action came back at you, to surprise or hurt you.

The term “boomerang” derives from the speech of the Turuwal tribe of Aborigines, indigenous to the south of Sydney, Australia. It is the name of a device, which, when thrown correctly, travels in a curved path and returns to its thrower.

A boomerang is a curved, usually wooden missile, constructed flat on one side and rounded on the other so that it soars or curves in flight. The average boomerang is 12 to 30 inches long and weighs up to 12 ounces. 

There are other devices that are thrown by the Aborigines. Some of these are also imprecisely called boomerangs. However, these are more appropriately called “throwing sticks” or “hunting sticks.”

Many are not just plain sticks but ornamented objects of elegant workmanship. They come in many shapes and sizes, determined by who makes them, and for what purpose. 

What is the difference between throwing sticks and boomerangs? Only boomerangs come back when thrown. To state it in other words:  If it doesn't come back, it’s not a boomerang. However, we should bear in mind that some writers and speakers do not observe the difference and give the name boomerang to both kinds of device.

Boomerangs can be thrown to a height of 50 feet or more. Their curved shape takes them on a circular path 50 yards (or more) wide, and they keep circling, each time coming in closer and closer to the thrower until they drop near his feet. 

What causes the boomerang effect? Two things, mainly. First, the curved shape; second, the spinning motion that results when a boomerang is thrown well. A good throw is usually made when the thrower himself is moving and uses a strong wrist movement just before he lets go of his boomerang. 

The aborigines used boomerangs for several purposes. Among them, to train their warriors to dodge enemy weapons and to drive birds into nets strung from trees. 

The “throwstick” or “throwing stick,” a relatively heavy device, was used for hunting larger prey, such as the kangaroo, but also for small prey as well. A throwstick flies in a nearly straight path when thrown horizontally and can be heavy enough to take down an animal on impact to the legs or knees. For hunting emu, the throwstick is thrown toward the neck to break it.

Throwsticks (sometimes called non-returning boomerangs) are bigger and heavier than the returning kinds and drop to the ground at once when they hit something. These have also been used as weapons in hand-to-hand combat. A hook attached to one end could kill an animal, or wound or kill an enemy warrior in battle.

Boomerangs can be used as percussive musical instruments, battle clubs, fire-starters, decoys for hunting waterfowl, and as recreational play toys.

Today, in and out of Australia, boomerangs are mostly used as sporting items. The modern sport boomerang (often referred to as a 'boom' or 'rang'), may be made of Finnish birch plywood, hardwood, plastic or composite materials and comes in many different shapes and colors. Most sport boomerangs typically weigh less than 100 grams. The MTA boomerangs (boomerangs used for the Maximum Time Aloft) often under 25 grams.


Or Perhaps Jumbie Bird

People use the expression “eating crow” to describe humiliating public acknowledgement that one has made a serious error.

The crow referred to here is a large, mostly black, mostly disliked bird. The American crow is classified as Corvus brachyrhynchos.

Eating crow is like eating the meat of a bird considered to be not only extremely distasteful, but doing something humiliating to the point of anguish. The Caribbean equivalent is probably eating jumbie bird.

The British English equivalent is eating humble pie. Other expressions with roughly the same meaning are eating dirt, eating one’s words, and “eating one’s hat.”

The crow seems to be no one’s favorite bird. In agricultural areas especially, crows are considered great pests. The use of scarecrows, crude images of people set up in fields to   scare birds away from growing crops, attest to the desire to keep crows away.

Crows are, among other things, scavengers. They can often be seen eating roadkill. However, the experts say that the American Crow is not specialized to be a scavenger. “Its stout bill is not strong enough to break through the skin of even a gray squirrel. It must wait for something else to open a carcass or for the carcass to decompose and become tender enough to eat.”

Crows, and especially ravens, are associated with doom and death in European legends and mythology. Their dark plumage and their unnerving harsh “caws” enhance their macabre reputation.

In fairness, it should be said that as a group, crows seem to be remarkably intelligent birds. It seems also that crows are kind birds and feed their parents when they are old and weak.

Still, few people like the crow. Large numbers of American crows roost together in winter. Roosts of up to two million crows have been known to exist. Over recent decades, some roosts have moved into the cities where their noise and messiness have further degraded their popularity.

The crow is as little liked in other parts of the world as the Pygmy-Owl is in Trinidad and Tobago. Like the crow, this bird is regarded as a nest robber. Other species of birds don’t like it either and combine to attack it. Trinidadians call it the "Jumbie Bird" (or Spirit Bird). A Jumbie Bird calling at night is regarded as a harbinger of death. As a result people don’t eat the jumbie bird.

Guyanese have their own Jumbie Bird and don’t eat it either. It is also called the Old Witch. Whether in flight or on its perch, the Old Witch is the picture of awkwardness. Its wings are small for its size and it flies only short distances using a number of wing beats and short glides. It seems to have problems with its long tail, which it seems unable to manage very well.

Evidently, people everywhere do not eat birds considered unattractive or with unattractive associations. One account says that an old joke among American outdoorsmen says that “if you get lost in the woods without any food and manage to catch a crow, you should put it in a pot with one of your boots, boil it for a week, and then eat the boot.” Many people of the Caribbean would probably feel the same way about jumbie birds.


To Eat or Not to Eat

The fruit called mammee, also mammee apple or mamey, is not as well known or as popular as the orange or banana, but there are those who love it dearly. The yellow to orange flesh of a mature fruit is firm, juicy, flavorful and fragrant..

The people of the Caribbean eat it fresh, in fruit salads, or served with cream and sugar or wine, but also cook it to make sauces, preserves or jams. Sliced mammee flesh may also be cooked in pies or tarts, and may be seasoned with cinnamon or ginger. Slightly under-ripe fruits, rich in pectin, are made into jelly. Wine is made from the fruit and fermented "toddy" from the sap.

 The mammee fruit is round and up to 6 inches in diameter. It has thick, somewhat rough, leathery light-brown skin, enclosing between 1 and 4 seeds – the larger fruit tending to have more seeds.  .

The mammee tree, Mammea americana is indigenous to the West Indies and Northern South America. It is not difficult to grow, nor is it a weakling. Once established, it needs hardly any attention and is resistant to pests and diseases.

Its qualities should make it more popular than it is, but people in many Caribbean territories have traditionally doubted its safety. They love it, but are suspicious of it. Some say that people with weak stomachs should not eat much of it – whatever that means.

All parts of the tree exude a bitter yellow resin when cut. Only the pulp of the fruit is exempt. There have been reports that there is some substance in it that is toxic to guinea pigs.

There are also vague suspicions about the bitterness in the membrane under the skin that clings to the flesh, its claim to be antibiotic, reports about its insecticidal properties against mole crickets, cutworms, mites and head lice.  

When the United States Department of Agriculture recorded the introduction of mammee seed from Ecuador in 1919, there was mention of the insecticidal and medicinal uses and not that the fruit was edible.

Some people in Guyana have a fear that eating mammee after drinking alcohol, or vice versa, results in death. The rumor is unsupported by evidence, but it still persists.

It seems fair to say that eating mammee it is quite safe generally, and that those who enjoy it eat it with no problems at all. 

It should be remembered, however, that many foods can be dangerous if not properly prepared. The Jamaican treasure, ackee, is one example. It can be lethal if improperly harvested and prepared because of the poison hypoglycin in unripe fruit.

Apple seeds contain a compound that is broken down into hydrogen cyanide, a well known poison. However, they contain so little of the poison, you'd need to chew a lot of the seeds, and well, to release it.

Again, improper preparation of cassava can result in cyanide poisoning.

As for mammee, it seems fair to say the lack of evidence suggest that it has acquired an undeserved bad name. If you encounter it in the future, it’s probably worth a try. Try a little. And if there is no problem, try some more.



Manicou and Yawari in the Caribbean

“Playing possum” is a phrase that means pretending to be dead, injured, unconscious, or otherwise vulnerable. Often this is done to secure some advantage. A species of the interesting creatures that gave the expression its origin lives in the Caribbean. In Guyana the local name is “yawari” or "yawarri" and in Trinidad and other islands of the Caribbean it’s the “manicou.”

Opossums (possums) are marsupials – mammals in which the female has a pouch (called the marsupium)) in which it rears its young through early infancy. Beyond the pouch, a mother carries her young upon her back. The babies cling there tightly even when their mother is running or climbing.

Other more well known marsupials are the koala and the kangaroo. These both live in Australia. The opossum is common throughout North and South America. About 80 species, including the rat opossum, live in South America and the Caribbean islands.

An opossum is about the size of a large house cat and averages 9 pounds in weight. It has a white face, a fuzzy grey body, naked ears, and a scaly, prehensile tail. A young opossum may hang briefly by its tail. But an adult opossum's body is far too heavy for that, in spite of  published illustrations to the contrary. The opossum actually uses its tail to stabilize its body while climbing.

 Opossums are usually nomadic, staying in one area as long as food and water are easily available. They will comfortably occupy abandoned burrows, without putting much effort into building their own. They favor dark, secure areas, below ground or above.

These creatures are born after a gestation period of only 13 days. Blind, and about the size of a bee, each newborn opossum crawls instinctively to its mother's pouch, where it attaches to a nipple. The baby then remains in the mother's pouch for another 7 weeks, until it is large enough to detach itself from the nipple. Mother opossums carry their babies on their backs each night, when they prowl for food.

Grown opossums generally live alone.  They are extremely resistant to disease and snake bites, including those of rattlesnakes.

Opossums are not aggressive. They prefer to flee than fight. In extreme circumstances, they will go into a state of shock. Their bodies become stiff, and their breathing slows down. They do not respond to prodding and can be even bodily moved without any resistance. In many cases, a predator will give up its attack, assuming that the opossum is already dead. Hence the expression "play possum."  If left alone, in minutes or hours an opossum will regain consciousness and escape quietly on its own.

Many people eat opossums. The meat is described as light and fine-grained and can be used in place of rabbit and chicken in recipes. People in the Caribbean, including Dominica and Trinidad, remove the musk glands, then smoke and stew them.  Opossum meat was once widely consumed in the United States. You can see many opossum recipes in older editions of The Joy of Cooking.

Opossums help to keep the environment clean by consuming carrion and all kinds of bugs, including roaches. They help gardeners by consuming snails, slugs, and other destructive creatures. They also eat over-ripe fruit before it rots and also catch and eat rats. In fact, opossums will eat just about anything.

“Anything” includes  people’s chickens; and  for this reason, opossums and have been often treated as a pests.



 For some people, getting into a canoe promises adventure and excitement. Or it may promise a quiet getaway from the shore into a quiet spot on the water with a book. 

For some others, the prospect of getting into a canoe may be one of sheer terror. They see a boat as both unsettled and unsettling, threatening every moment to capsize and dump them into deep water. The thought may be all the more fearful when they consider the possibility of nasties, such as the deadly perai fish in river water, waiting to finish them off. 

For thousands of people in Guyana’s traditional interior communities, there are no options.  The canoe provides an unavoidable means of normal transportation – often the only means of getting to where they want to go.   Living as they do along the river banks, rivers and creeks are their roadways, or waterways – the means of getting from one place to another.

In the heavily forested areas of Guyana you can see numerous canoes tied to the river banks. It’s the way children go to school every morning, the way people go to church on Sundays, the way workers get out into the “field,” the way to get to the doctor and for the doctor to get to you.

Not surprising then that from a very early age, Amerindian children learn the sophisticated skills of river navigation. Very literally, they learn to paddle their own canoe, together with others, or even alone.

Generally, a canoe is a narrow open boat propelled with paddles. It has a light wooden framework and may carry three or four people. 

So much of the life of Amerindians has been spent on water, boat building has always been for them a very important industry. Canoes and canoe-building were developed over the course of thousands of years.

To make a dugout canoe in the traditional way, a suitable tree is sought, felled, and roughly hewn on the spot. It is hollowed or dug out partly with an axe and partly by burning out the inside. It is then laboriously carried down to the river.

Canoe builders use several methods to keep the sides of the tree trunk apart. One method was to insert bars of hard wood. Installing benches also helped in this regard. The canoe is also caulked using a wood resin.

If the canoe is to be used for long journeys, a tent would be added for the protection of the cargo.

Canoes have been used all over the Caribbean. In the West Indian islands canoes were used mainly along the coast. They were generally larger, capable of carrying 10 or 12 passengers, plus a cargo of flour, salt fish and other items.

These seagoing boats were used by the Carib Indians, and not so much for long river journeys. They were constructed from large tree trunks which were hollowed and shaped, and were strong enough to travel between the islands. 

In Guyana, lighter boats were preferred, as they had to practically haul them over the numerous waterfalls on the fast-flowing rivers.


 People of the Caribbean who have lived long enough still remember the days when chiggers (jiggers) were rampant. Children, who as a rule went barefooted for much of the time, would often come down with sick feet and find walking painful for a while. 

The culprit was the small tropical chigger flea, also called sand flea, pigue, nigua, pico, and bicho de pie (bug of the foot). Its scientific names are Tunga penetrans and  Pulex penetrans.

Normally, the offending fleas live in warm, dry soil and sand of beaches, stables, and stock farms, but they delight in moving to the unprotected skin of a warm-blooded host. The skin of humans does just fine, but chiggers are just as willing to infect the skin of  cattle, sheep, horses, mules, rats, mice, dogs, pigs, and wild animals. Although regular folk did not call the condition Tungiasis, that’s its name.

When the female chigger is fertilized, she would use her mouthparts to burrow under human skin, frequently between the toes, under the toenails and into the soles of the feet.  In bad cases, infestations could also occur on the hands and arms, particularly around the elbow, and even in the genital region.

All this is done painlessly. The female then inserts her head and body into the skin and would feed from the blood vessels while her last two abdominal segments are exposed at the surface of the skin. Positioned this way, she grows to the size of a pea. 

 As she feeds, she deposits eggs periodically. Most eggs fall to the ground and hatch, but a few may hatch within the swollen area of host skin before falling to the ground.

Over one or two weeks, more than 100 eggs would fall to the ground. Then the flea dies and eventually falls away from the host. The eggs hatch on the ground in 3-4 days, go through larval and pupal stages and become adults in 2-3 weeks, ready to start the cycle all over again.

When the female flea dies, she remains for a time embedded in the skin of the host and produces inflammation and ulcers, each center of infection looking like a light patch with a black dot. Irritation can be extreme. Ulcerations due to the presence of numerous chiggers may flow into one another.

In most cases, tungiasis resolves without complications. In people's homes, a parent would use a pin or needle to prick an infected area and remove a flea from a child’s foot.  Antiseptic ointment would then be applied and the opening would be covered. 

The operation is somewhat more difficult when the flea has grown. The opening then needs to be enlarged, and the entire nodule removed whole if possible. In a  center, an antibiotic ointment may be applied, and if there is secondary infection, aggressive treatment may be necessary.

There could be intense irritation, and sores could become severely infected. Heavy infestations may lead to severe inflammation and ulceration.

The risk of secondary infection is high. In bad cases, the loss of toes can take place. In the old days, death has occasionally resulted from gangrene or tetanus.  

The chigger flea is believed to be indigenous to the West Indian/Caribbean region and crewmen who sailed with Christopher Columbus were infested with it when they came to these parts. The flea spread to Africa, India, Pakistan, Latin America and parts of the United States.  

Where the chigger occurs, walking barefooted should be avoided. Tunga penetrans commonly occurs in sandy soil, and infestations are sometimes acquired by tourists walking barefoot along sandy beaches in some parts of the Caribbean. Attached fleas should be immediately removed with a sterile needle or fine-pointed tweezers.

During crop-over in Barbados, one of the forms of street dancing seen is chigoe-foot or jigger-foot dancing. You can no doubt imagine what this looks like. Jigger-foot is not dangerous if the flea is removed quickly, but if left unattended the result could be decidedly ugly. 

Today, awareness and footwear are making a lot of difference. Jigger-foot, or whatever you call it, is rare.



In the long struggle by African Americans for recognition in the American political arena, Barbara Jordan played a significant role. This remarkable woman, a powerful speaker,  was born on February 21, 1936 in the Fifth Ward of the city of Houston, Texas. Her parents were Reverend Benjamin Jordan and his wife, Arlyn.

Barbara Jordan’s father, a strict Baptist, emphasized high standards, respectability, and excellence. Her mother also was a capable speaker.  Her grandfather, John Ed Patten, introduced her to literature and philosophy, helped her improve her speaking skills and encouraged her to be bold.

Barbara lived her first 20 years in the Fifth Ward, a poor, close knit ghetto community with middle class values in the Jim Crow South. She knew what being part of a community felt like. It included the church she and her family attended regularly.

In 1952, after high school, Barbara Jordan began attending Texas Southern University (TSU). At TSU, Dr. Thomas Freeman, the University's debate coach helped her use her naturally strong and clear speaking voice to the best advantage. Barbara attributed much of her success as a speaker to him.

In 1956, Barbara Jordan graduated from TSU with honors, and went on to Boston University Law School. Graduating in 1959, she passed both the Massachusetts and Texas bar examinations, then set up law practice back home in the Fifth Ward. 

In 1960, an election year, she volunteered at the Kennedy Johnson Headquarters in Houston. By 1966, she had made history by winning resoundingly against a White opponent, and the Texas Senate had its first black member since Reconstruction.

Jordan was senator for six years, during which she authored many bills that improved the quality of life for minorities, the poor and women. She was the first African American to preside over the state senate and chair a major committee.  

President Lyndon Johnson saw her as a political asset and found ways to get her national exposure and experience. In 1972, she was elected to serve in the Ninety-third Congress, becoming the first African American woman elected to Congress from Texas and the first African American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from the South.

 During her six-year term, Congresswoman Jordan introduced many important pieces of legislation. In 1976 she was the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention where she nominated President Jimmy Carter. She was the first African American to give a keynote speech at a major party's political convention. In that much remembered speech, she said,

It was one hundred and forty-four years ago that members of the Democratic Party first met in convention to select a Presidential candidate. Since that time, Democrats have continued to convene once every four years and draft a party platform and nominate a Presidential candidate. And our meeting this week is a continuation of that tradition. But there is something different about tonight. There is something special about tonight. What is different? What is special? I, Barbara Jordan, am a keynote speaker.

When -- A lot of years passed since 1832, and during that time it would have been most unusual for any national political party to ask a Barbara Jordan to deliver a keynote address. But tonight, here I am. And I feel -- I feel that notwithstanding the past that my presence here is one additional bit of evidence that the American Dream need not forever be deferred.

She ended this way:

Now I began this speech by commenting to you on the uniqueness of a Barbara Jordan making a keynote address. Well I am going to close my speech by quoting a Republican President and I ask you that as you listen to these words of Abraham Lincoln, relate them to the concept of a national community in which every last one of us participates:

"As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master." This -- This -- "This expresses my idea of Democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no Democracy."

Almost upon arrival, Barbara Jordan found herself she found herself involved in the Watergate deliberations.

In Washington, the House of Representatives held its formal inquiry into the impeachment of President Nixon. The motion was put on the floor to adopt the Articles of Impeachment. After the committee debate, each member, in order of seniority, was allowed 15 minutes to summarize. It so happened that Barbara Jordan’s speech would be at the peak of television’s prime time, and the nation heard her.

She said:

Earlier today, we heard the beginning of the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States: "We, the people." It's a very eloquent beginning. But when that document was completed on the seventeenth of September in 1787, I was not included in that "We, the people." I felt somehow for many years that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake. But through the process of amendment, interpretation, and court decision, I have finally been included in "We, the people."

Today I am an inquisitor. An hyperbole would not be fictional and would not overstate the solemnness that I feel right now. My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete; it is total. And I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction, of the Constitution.

Later she ended:

Has the President committed offenses, and planned, and directed, and acquiesced in a course of conduct which the Constitution will not tolerate? That's the question. We know that. We know the question. We should now forthwith proceed to answer the question. It is reason, and not passion, which must guide our deliberations, guide our debate, and guide our decision.

In 1978, Jordan left Congress and returned to private life as a professor at the University of Texas Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs in Austin. She also continued to participate in public service activities and was honored in many ways.  She left a lasting legacy as a powerful force in American politics.



            The  is the world’s largest desert and is located in the world’s hottest region. The record holder for the hottest place in the Sahara, and in the world, is Azizia, near Tripoli in Libya, where a temperature of 150° F ( 66° C) was recorded in 1922.

Not only is the Sahara hot, it is vast. It is bigger than the entire United States, with an area of over 3,500,000 square miles, and is nearly as big as all of Europe.

It is kept dry by the winds in the region. These are northeast trade winds which grow hotter as they move toward the Equator, take up moisture, and leave the terrain mostly rock and sand.

The landscape on the whole is varied. The famous sand dunes of the Sahara Desert grow up to 1,411 ft high - taller than the Empire State Building in New York. The biggest of them are in Algeria. But some of the desert terrain is made up of flat stony plains called regs, some areas are under sea level, yet others rise up in stony mountains up to 11,000 feet high.

In spite of the prevailing heat in the desert, when the sun goes down, the land can cool very quickly. The temperature may drop 30 to 50 degrees, and in winter some oases even see frost at night.

Of the Sahara's roughly 4 million people, most live in Mauritania, Western Sahara, Algeria, Libya and Egypt.

Thousands of years ago, most of the Sahara was not nearly as dry as it is today. Scientists say that it once had the climate of a moist, temperate or subtropical region and was green with grass, plants and trees.  Giraffes, elephants and rhinos were part of the animal population. Gradually, however, the vegetation disappeared and the region became arid. The animals could not be sustained.

Today, much of the Sahara is so low in organic matter it supports little or no biological activity. The soil in depressions is often inhospitably saline.

Vegetation in places include scattered growths of grasses, shrubs and trees in the highlands as well as in the oases and along river beds. A few plants are well adjusted to the climate, and germinate within 3 days of rain.

Today, there are a number of fertile oases watered by underground rivers, springs and natural wells. In such places, cultivated grasses, corn, fruits and date palms may be found.

 Animal life is limited. Some locations support gazelles, Barbary sheep, deer, oryx, desert antelopes, jackals, sand foxes, badgers, hyena and a few others. There are about 300 species of birds.

Rivers in the Sahara are mostly seasonal, carrying water for brief periods following erratic rainfalls then reverting to dry river beds.  The only permanent ones are the Nile and Niger Rivers.  

Rock paintings found in south-east Algeria, drawn thousands of years ago, are reminders of the time when the Sahara was fertile.

Will such a time return? Unlikely. Scientists say the Sahara is expanding southwards at an average of ½ mile a month.


Used for crime, and ritual 

Many people who are adults today remember drinking castor oil when they were children. Castor oil was respected, and dreaded, as a laxative that worked, even when other laxatives were not up to the job. But castor oil was notably unpleasant to the taste. Little did parents know, however, that the oil had more deadly connections.

The castor plant is grown commercially for the pharmaceutical and industrial uses of its oil and also for use in landscape gardening because of its handsome, large, fanlike leaves and its attractive bronze-to-red clusters of fruit.

The versatile castor oil is used in the production of plastics, adhesives, soaps, textiles, inks, dyes, paints, lubricants, cosmetics, polishes, and numerous other products.

Most of us were introduced to the yellowish oil by our mothers and grandmothers.  The taste and odor were so disagreeable, however, that in order to get us to take it, our parents added something like fruit juice or peppermint to make it more acceptable. These additions rarely worked on their own, however, and coaxing, threats and close supervision were needed to get it down.

The Italian fascist leader Mussolini had his agents force-feed captured political enemies large quantities of castor oil. This would produce severe diarrhea, sometimes leading to death.

But the humble castor plant can in fact do much worse. From the castor bean chemists are able to extract a deadly poison called ricin. The residue left over after pressing castor seeds contains about 5% ricin, an extremely poisonous substance so toxic that one milligram can kill an adult. It has been used to commit murder..

Symptoms of poisoning are abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea, which is sometimes bloody. Within several days there is severe dehydration, a decrease in urine, and a decrease in blood pressure.

The castor plant itself, which grows in most parts of the world, is called Ricinus communis. The seeds are generally called “castor beans” because they look like beans. Ricinus is Latin for the blood-sucking tick, to which the seed has some resemblance.

Obviously, humans should avoid ingesting castor beans. However, small children are attracted to the plant’s numerous large, beautifully-mottled seeds and love to make necklaces with them.

Because of the tendency of small children to put items in their mouths, it is not advisable to have castor beans in or around a house with such children. In addition, castor bean plants should not be allowed to flower and seed in a garden to which children have access.

The castor plant is native to the Ethiopian region of tropical East Africa, but has become naturalized in tropical and warm temperate regions throughout the world. In some areas it is so abundant it has the status of a weed.

Yet it produces one of nature's finest natural oils. It came to the Caribbean with African slaves and has been used by their descendants to help treat skin conditions such as eczema, liver spots, moles, warts, pimples, and rashes. It has also been used to soften and remove corns and calluses and also in arthritis, rheumatism, joint stiffness, and muscular aches and pain.

The castor plant also came to the Caribbean by way of the people of India. Hindus celebrate Holi (also called Phagwah) 40 days from the ceremonial planting of the castor oil tree, which they call Holika. The burning of Holika takes place on the full moon night before Phagwah. Participants would all go to the Hindu temple, or Mandir, for the burning of the castor oil plant, and the next morning the ashes would be placed their foreheads.


Guinea worm disease, an ugly infectious disease, characterized by the emergence of a long ugly worm, has been endemic for centuries in much of Africa, India and Pakistan.  Its suitably ugly scientific name, Dracunculiasis, Latin for "affliction with little dragons," attempts to capture the picture of a searing fiery pain caused by the emergence of the worm.

Researchers say that the first recognized mention of Dracunculiasis comes from ancient Egypt. A 1500 BCE papyrus includes names for the disease and instructions for treating swellings and removing the worms from limbs. The worm also turned up in at least one Egyptian mummy.

Scholars speculate that these worms were the Bible’s “fiery serpents” that attacked the Hebrew people near the Red Sea after the Exodus from Egypt. Mention of the worms is also present in Assyrian, Greek and Roman texts.  

Guinea worm infestation begins when people drink stagnant water containing small crustaceans of the Cyclops species. After digestion in the stomach, the larvae move into the small intestine and then to the abdominal wall and thorax.

Male and female worms mate inside the body. The male worm later dies and is absorbed by the female. The pregnant female lives on for another 10 - 14 months taking up residence just beneath the skin. There may be several such worms in a patient. At this stage, each worm may be carrying as many as 3 million embryos.

For about one year after infection, there are no symptoms. Then the mature female worm forms a painful blister, typically in a lower extremity such as a leg, ankle, or foot. The blister is usually accompanied by rashes, feelings of nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and dizziness.

The patient develops edema because of a build-up of excess body fluids in the lower limbs and feet. Skin, muscles, tendons, and joints, may be affected and may interfere with locomotion and use of limbs. The skin then bursts exposing a painful open blister.

After a few days, the blister ruptures, draining toxic fluids, thereby relieving the patient of general malaise symptoms. The adult worm is exposed in the ruptured blister as a quivering string of flesh and can then be slowly removed.

The Guinea worm, possibly 3 feet long by now, begins its agonizingly painful emergence through the blister. To hasten the process, the worm can be given assistance.

The protruding worm is removed slowly to minimize inflammation. This is done by winding a few centimeters of the worm each day onto a stick for a period of several days or even weeks. Attempting to extract it all at once can cause it to tear.

Because bacterial infection can develop along the tunnel occupied by the worm and add to the damage inflicted by the disease, antiseptic or antibiotic ointment is often used as removal is done.

At this time, the patient experiences intense burning sensations and has a powerful urge to step into water to relieve them. If the patient were to do this, the worm would contract and release thousands of larvae into the water, thus contaminating the water and restarting the cycle of infection.

Guinea worm disease has significant economic consequences. Though the disease rarely causes death, the pain and debilitation it causes generally results in lost work time for adults and missed school days for children. Many patients continue to have pain and immobile joints for up to two years after removal of the parasite.

Thanks to eradication programs led by the WHO (World  Organization), Dracunculiasis is now only endemic in fourteen sub-Saharan African countries – mainly Sudan, followed by Ghana and Nigeria.

The results have been spectacular. Since the establishment of WHO community based programs in 1986, there has been a 98% reduction in Guinea worm disease worldwide. These programs stress measures to combat the disease to affected populations.

They are taught to filter drinking water through a tightly woven cloth to remove the parasite, thus breaking its life cycle; to boil drinking and cooking water to kill the larvae; and to avoid water sources while the worms are emerging from their bodies.  

In 1989, the disease afflicted a reported 3.5 million people in 23 countries in Africa and Asia. The Commission for the Certification of Dracunculiasis Eradication, a body of scientific experts created by WHO, has declared 180 countries as Guinea worm-free since 1995 and has targeted the year 2009 for total eradication of the disease.


How does one get to conduct important orchestras like the London Philharmonic and the Berlin Philharmonic? Without a doubt, one has got to be good. 

No wonder then that when Rudolph Dunbar, who did just such things, returned to Guyana in 1951, people who loved the kind of  music played at bandstands on the Georgetown Seawall and in other parts of the country saw it as a great big exciting event.  

Dunbar was fourteen when he joined the British Guiana Militia Band as an apprentice, playing the clarinet. After five years, he emigrated to the United States and began study   at the Institute of Musical Art, (now the Juilliard School) in New York.

From 1919 to 1924, the period he lived in New York, he studied composition, clarinet and piano at the Juilliard. Outside of Juilliard, he became active in the Harlem jazz scene, and was a recording artiste, playing clarinet solos. He also established a friendship with the noted black composer William Grant Still. 

After graduating in 1925, Dunbar moved to Paris, where he established himself as a clarinetist of the highest order.  And in 1931, he moved to London, where he worked as a music critic and also started a clarinet school, which attracted students from around the world. In 1939 he was commissioned to write a textbook on the clarinet, and his Treatise on the Clarinet (Boehm System) became established as an important reference work for the instrument. It remained in print though ten editions.

Rudolph Dunbar promoted the performance of the music of other black composers, including, of course, William Grant Still. Dunbar played alongside Still in the Harlem Orchestra around 1924, and the autograph of Still's Festive Overture of 1944 is dedicated "To my dear friend, Rudolph Dunbar".

His achievements were stellar. He was the youngest of any race (at that time) to conduct the London Philharmonic and the first black man to do so. He was the first black man to conduct an orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

He was also the first black man to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic (1945). During the Second World War, Dunbar became war correspondent in Europe for the Associated Negro Press of Chicago, but had to flee Germany and return to London.  He returned to Germany shortly after the War and led the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra in battledress as its first post-War guest conductor.

 The 2,000 Berliners and the 500 Allied soldiers in the audience warmly applauded the performance of Weber's Oberon and Tchaikovsky's Pathétique. The audience called him back five times when he gave them Berlin's first hearing the new sound of William Grant Still's Afro-American Symphony.

There were other firsts. He was the first person to conduct a Festival of American Music in Paris (1945), the first black man to conduct orchestras the then Soviet bloc countries of Poland (1959) and Russia (1964). He was also the first conductor to promote the works of black composers in Europe.

So here he was – back in Guyana. Between 1916 and 1951, Dunbar had come a long way. He led the band in which he played as a child amidst the loud and long applause. At the end of one performance,  Sgt. Major E. A. Carter, who was the first man to introduce Dunbar to music and the clarinet in 1916, made his way to the podium to congratulate the conductor.

But Dunbar’s heyday had past already. Nobody was now asking him to conduct orchestras. He was not even playing his clarinet at concerts anymore. In fact, he died in obscurity in London in 1988.  

Why was Dunbar overlooked? There is no clear answer to that question.


In an interview he gave six months before his death in 1988, Dunbar, who had previously conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra, blamed the BBC and a particular producer/director in the organization for derailing his career.

In those days, the BBC was powerful enough to open doors and close doors to people in the arts and music.  

There may have been other factors as well, given that he was one of a group of West Indians in the UK who campaigned openly against racism and colonialism.

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