Words by Jesse Serwer
Photos by Martei Korley
Guyana recently celebrated 50 years of nationhood with a month-long Golden Jubilee celebration culminating on Independence Day, May 26th. Perhaps you’ve heard of Mashramani, Guyana’s annual Carnival celebration in February; Well, this year there was no Mashramani, as the country’s festive season was shifted back three months to prepare for something much, much bigger.
LargeUp took this opportunity to visit Guyana for the first, we hope, of many visits to the Land of Many Waters. While Guyana’s people are well represented in major cities like New York, London, Toronto and Miami and in the worlds of business, sports and entertainment, images of GT (as most Guyanese refer to their home country, in reference to the capital city of Georgetown) itself are not always so visible internationally, for reasons that one can’t easily explain. Geographically a part of South America, but culturally Caribbean, it’s a remarkably beautiful place, with much to offer the world, from abundant natural resources to delicious cuisine and a growing music scene.
We arrived in Georgetown last month, at the tail end of the Golden Jubilee celebrations, to find a country showing its best self. As Guyanese people living abroad streamed home in record numbers, Guyanese pride was at its peak, with practically every public building (and many private homes) adorned with flags and other displays of Guyana’s Golden Arrowhead. Most of our time was spent in Georgetown, the epicenter of the celebrations and the country as a whole. In the limited time we had, we were able to scratch the surface of the country’s vast, and largely untouched, interior, with visits to majestic Kaieteur and Orinduik Falls, near the country’s Southwest, and to Santa Mission, a Carib village and heritage center located along the Kamuni Creek.
Here’s a brief overview of the sights we took in as we visited Guyana at 50 years, and a preview of what’s to come as LargeUp explores Guyana. Scroll down below for Martei Korley’s photos and keep it locked here for much, much more from GT.
At 43.5 metres (143 feet), St. George’s Cathedral is one of the tallest wooden buildings in the world —maybe the tallest. Built between 1889 and 1894, primarily from Greenheart, Guyana’s durable “miracle” wood, it remains one of Georgetown’s most recognizable and significant landmarks. The airy chapel appears almost exactly as it did 120 years ago — with a small, temporary exception in the form of these flags draped above the pews for the Golden Jubilee.
A man offers parrots for sale, on a busy street corner in Georgetown’s downtown shopping area. Guyana is home to 16 species of parrot, as well as numerous macaws and parakeets.
On Sunday nights in Georgetown, the Sea Wall is the place to be. A massive embankment protecting Guyana’s coastline — much of which sits below sea level — from the Atlantic, the Sea Wall is one of the best places to enjoy and experience the pulse of Guyanese life, especially in the area of Vissengen Road. Though you’ll find a few folks idling here in the daytime, it truly comes alive at night, especially on Sundays, when vendors selling everything from hot dogs to video games line the parking area, and groups of teens, couples, families, motorcycle clubs, etc. take up a spot along the wall to hold a vibes. This vendor cuts a patriotic figure as he serves up beer and soda along on the holiday weekend.
Sandra waves the Guyana flag at Kaieteur Falls. Guyana’s No. 1 attraction, and the world’s tallest single-drop waterfall, is about an hour plane ride from Georgetown’s Ogle Airport, and well worth the trip.
What a rush! Orinduik Falls, along the border with Brazil in the remote Potaro-Siparuni Region, is one of the most accessible places to experience the wild side of the Land of Many Rivers, thanks to the day tours which stop here after visits to Kaieteur Falls. Unlike its massive, more famous counterpart, Orinduik offers visitors the opportunity to bathe (in the waters of the Ireng River, an Amazon tributary) — whether they’re wearing Guyana flag shorts or not!
A float from the Golden Jubilee celebration rests, post-parade, with the Pegasus Hotel Guyana in the background.
Flags and placards denoting the Golden Jubilee celebration covered just about every building in Georgetown, including this one belonging to the Ministry of Education.
The Umana Yana was constructed by members of the Wai Wai community, an Amerindian tribe from the Konashen District in southernmost Guyana, to host a conference of the Non-
Inside Umana Yana, which was recently rebuilt following a 2014 fire, by a new generation of Wai Wai. Members of the tribe, which is well known for its weaving techniques, reconstructed the 55-foot-tall structure without nails, or any metals, using strictly local plants harvested specifically for the project. As has been previously noted, the landmark structure remains an example of sustainable architecture at its finest.
Bourda Market is one of Georgetown’s liveliest food markets. Here, a stall on Merriman’s Mall, on the market’s outer fringe, offers eddoes, sapodilla and several types of mango, including buxton spice, a rare, flavorful variety unique to coastal Guyana.
Fresh pineapples for sale at Bourda Market.
Those ain’t cherries, bway. Only a brave soul would snack on these Guyana wiri wiri, the hottest peppers grown in South America.
Ikel of Ital All the Time mans his food stand outside Starbroek Market, the largest and oldest market in Georgetown. Located in the center of town, the area around Starbroek is Georgetown’s primary transit hub, bustling practically 24/7. Ask for the “Black Water Sip,” a vegan version of the popular Guyanese dish, cookup rice, with young breadnut, callaloo and channa, among other things.
The national drinks: Banks and GT beer, and El Dorado Rum.
Giftland Mall, GT’s newest attraction, cuts a festive figure at night.
Chinese Horror? Guyana’s panoply of ethnicities are on display in the selections at this video store inside Giftland.
Is that Beres Hammond? The Golden Jubilee celebrations featured a series of nightly concerts headlined by some of the biggest names in Caribbean music, from Popcaan to Destra, as well as local Guyanese talent, like Natural Black and Lisa Punch. Here, the King of Lovers Rock takes a bow after a headlining performance at the “50 Shades of Reggae” concert at Guyana’s National Park.
When it rains, it pours: It’s advisable to bring an umbrella just about anyplace you go during Guyana’s rainy season…
Natural Black is one of Guyana’s best-known musical exports in the area of reggae, with hits such as “Far From Reality” and “Life Be Same.” The singer, who this year released the song “50 Years” to commemorate his country’s Golden Jubilee, reaches out to the crowd during his performance outside Guyana National Stadium on Independence Night.
The next generation of Guyanese music: Artists Remar, Dublin and Juke Ross have a laugh with Jonathan Beepat, producer of The Golden Children Project, a compilation highlighting young Guyanese artists, backstage at the Back to the Future concert at the National Stadium.
A pair of Guyanese beauties in town from Brooklyn enjoy their last moments in GT before heading home.