Nostalgia: Upper Demerara River Many Years Ago – updated

Nostalgia: Upper Demerara River Many Years Ago – updated
by Peter Halder

Economic activities in the Upper Demerara River were mainly timber grants. The first grant, I believe, was at Kumaparo, about 60 miles south of Mallali but below Great Falls. The grant was owned and operated by Willems Timber and Trading Company. Jack Willems was the owner of the Company at that time. His Manager in Georgetown was a Mr McIntyre who flew to the site regularly on an Art Williams seaplane.

Another timber grant pioneer was Harry Lorrimer. His grant was at Kumaro about 18 miles south of Mallali. He travelled by speedboat and used tugs to transport his logs to Georgetown. He was among the first to use trucks to haul timber from the forest to the bank of the river for shipping.   

Mr McDoom owned and operated a grant at Mallali Mission.

And Mr A.P. Fiedtkou also owned and operated a grant at Karakuya, above Mallali.

Arthur Seon, Mr Biddings and a Mr Couchman also had wood grants at a place called Karakubi.

In those days, the main species of wood extracted from the forests were greenheart, purpleheart and kabakalli.

Some amount of alluvial gold mining was also done.  Beyond Great Falls, Sigmund Croft, whose family lived at Kaka Kara Creek opposite Section C, Christianburg, did gold mining at Kanaimatu

There was no diamond mining as far as I was told.

Amerindians lived along both banks of the river, mainly as individual families in thatched troolie palm huts. They were from different tribes…Wapishiana, Macushi, Arawak and Carib.

There was a settlement above Great Falls. Great Falls is about 80 miles south of Mallali. Unlike Station, Kaikuchekabra and Anthony near Mallali, it was not flat. To go beyond it, you had to take your boat, canoe from the river and walk along a portage around the Fall, to where the river continued. The source of the Demerara River is Cannister Falls, near the Brazil border.

When the tide was at its highest during the rainy season, fishes swam from down to upriver to spawn but could not go go beyond Great Falls. The Amerindians who lived beyond the Falls harvested them, and dried or smoked them so they can be stored. Among the fishes were laulau, hymara, tiger fish, tibicuri and dara.

The Amerindian settlement was at Mabura about four miles below Great Falls. It was known as Mabura Mission. They held an annual festival which was called bimiti. It featured feasting, music and dancing. There was also another custom called mashramani in which the men would cut down trees, clear land and build huts. The women would cultivate farms and do all the cooking and house keeping. Men also did hunting and fishing.

A main crop for the Amerindians was bitter cassava. It was used to make cassava bread. There were two kinds…the round flat kind that is well known and also one that was very thick called aresuca. The crop was also used for making casareep and two popular drink called pywarri and cassiri. Of course casareep was used for making pepperpot in a huge iron pot. There were two kinds of pepperpot, one made with meat…deer, labba, accouri, wild cow (tapir) or wild hog. The other was with thick cleaned and filleted fish, especially laulau and very large hymara. Hot whole peppers were also an ingredient. Other potables included warrup, made from sugar cane juice. The juice was squeezed into large earthen jars, left in the sun to ferment with the help of a little yeast, and when ready, was placed in a nearby creek to chill. The most popular potable was Sleepy Tonic made with sugar, yeast and sometimes potato and sweet potato added.

Three superior forest experts in those days, were Amerindians who lived below Great Falls. They knew the forests in the Upper Demerara River like the back of their hands, did not need any maps and were never lost. The three were Wilford Wanama, Richard Williams and Sabia Daniels. The three were very good, for example, at locating greenheart sub-forests. They were able to smell from a distance the peculiar odour of greenheart leaves or know from the soil where greenheart or other commercial trees grew.

Animals that inhabited the forests in the Upper Demerara River included, wild cow (tapir), wild hog, deer ( a small, striped variety called wibishiri and a large brown variety), labba, accouri which thrived on eating the corio palm nuts when they fell to the ground, puma, jaguar (including the black jaguar) and the ewalla tiger. Snakes included the boa constrictor or camoudi, labaria, cunacura, lanara or bushmaster, rattlesnake.

There was a Water Gauge above the Falls that was set up by the Geological Survey Department in Georgetown. It was used to measure the depth of the water in the river.

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  • Laura G  On July 7, 2013 at 1:25 am

    Dear Editor,
    I have read this article with great interest. I am of the Akawaio people of the Upper Mazaruni. My ancestors have often spoke about the Akawaios living in the Upper Demerara. I do not see them mentioned here but I can connect with some names of rivers/falls cited here as they are Akawaio terms. For example, Kumaparo in our language is named after a type of frog called ‘kuma’ and the ‘paro’ would mean the water around there. This would mean that a lot of ‘kuma’ were found around these lands or waters. “Mallali” in Akawaio would also mean rapid/falls. (in the Akawaio language there is no ‘l’ sound, but non-Akawaios have mispronounced/misspelt ending up with ‘distorted’ names…would appreciate making contact with the author.

    • Peter Halder  On July 7, 2013 at 11:32 am

      Dear Laura,
      You may contact me :

    • Nick Ward  On August 4, 2016 at 9:11 pm

      I carried out a study on behalf of the Guyanese Government and Conservation Development Trust. It was the most exhilarating and wonderful experience of my life. I got to know the are well and have many happy memories. Good to hear more about the Demerara.

  • de castro  On July 12, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    Laura and Peter would love to read more about the History of the Amazonia..
    I will be making the journey from PERU via Amazon river to the Atlantic
    with my Peruvian friend in December 2013… in hand …sleeping
    on board in hammock et all…last December I visited Lethem ..Bon Fin
    Via amazonia in a convoy …was stuck in mud for few minutes at 3am
    listening to the airy sounds of the jungle….wow wow ! “Call of the wild” !
    All my journies are being documented for future exhibition/exposition.

    I would love to read more about the aboriginals of the amazon a subject
    close to my heart and of the future of the “lungs” of our planet…..
    The amazonia….
    My e mail address is

    Will e mail Peterr desperately.

  • clifford nehaul,  On July 12, 2013 at 8:49 pm

    biddings?deana or dimitri, might suggest Binnings,Manley had a sawmill?would like to know

  • clifford nehaul,  On July 13, 2013 at 10:19 pm

    Got it now That might be George BINNING,that would be Manley’s father and my grandfather.Thanks

  • walter nehaul  On July 13, 2013 at 10:30 pm

    it might be George BINNING, not Biddings,that would be the father of Manley and my grandfather,let me know thanks

  • Francis  On December 25, 2013 at 7:50 pm

    Can anyone provide on the Compant “Timber Developments (B.G.) Limited” which operated in British Guiana around 1959??

    • compton de castro  On January 2, 2014 at 7:33 am

      Peter Thanks well wishes 2014 ….wishes reciprocated my friend ..although we never met …just liked your writings/thinkings. Keep it up !

      Quick 🙂 self-introduction…. Kamptan ….Guyanese born bred educated retired “world traveler”…Euroland Americaland now.

      Enjoyed reading your comments 2013 ….write on my friend. Kamptan

      • Peter Halder  On January 2, 2014 at 2:33 pm

        Your’e welcome Kamptan. Live long and prosper.

  • Francis  On December 25, 2013 at 7:53 pm

    Correction: Can anyone provide information about the Company “Timber Developments (B.G.) Limited” which operated in British Guiana around 1959? V.J. Willems was a Director.

    • Peter Halder  On January 2, 2014 at 2:44 pm

      What I do recall is that Willems Timber and Trading Company, most probably Timber Developments (B.G.) Limited, was located at the corner of Water and Shumacher Street, adjacent to the Demerara River. South of it was Bookers’ Wharf where molasses was exported. Willems, I can’t recall which one one now, owned a Timber Grant in the Upper Demarara River. The Willems family lived in a huge house, second, going east, on Brickdam at Louisa Row. I was a good friend of one family member, Sonia Willems who was a talented artist. She painted several scenes in Guyana – Stabroek Market, Promenade Gardens, a Waterfall, Lamaha and Camp Street and Umana Yana, which I had framed.. Maybe you can obtain more information about the Company by googling it online.

      • Peter Halder  On January 2, 2014 at 4:23 pm

        Hi Francis,
        The Timber Grant and Company owner was Jack Willems. Read my comments in my Nostalgia on the Upper Demarara River Many Years Ago.

  • Francis  On March 21, 2014 at 3:17 am

    Thank you Peter.

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