Many Waters: Exploring Guyana’s Amerindian Culture at Santa Mission ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡พ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡พ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡พ

March 1, 2023

Words by Jesse Serwer
Photos by Martei Korley

From atop a white sand hill above the black waters of Kamuni Creek, Santa Mission at once embodies Guyana’s past and its present.

Residents of the isolated village, a Lokono-Arawak settlement originally founded as a logging camp in 1858, enjoy most modern amenities: TV, wi-fi, good cell service. But you wonโ€™t find any cars or motorbikes here.

Canoe is the village’s essential mode of transportation, carrying residents to and from more heavily-populated areas across the Demerara, like Georgetown and Timehri. It’s just about the only way in and out of Santa Mission, short of catching a helicopter, or making a mad dash through the forest followed by a long swim across the Demerara.

Heading through the creek to Santa Mission, you will see people of all generations steering dugout canoes, made in a traditional Arawak style practically identical to boats found in Eastern Caribbean islands like Dominica. While the boats are built with techniques that date back centuries, they are outfitted with modern outboard engines, facilitating long-distance travel and the delivery of industrial lumber to the city.

These days, tourism is as much a part of Santa Mission’s economy as the lumber the settlement was founded to harvest.

Ferries to nearby Arrowpoint Nature Resort, a few miles further into the creek, typically stop at Santa Mission, carrying tourists who are greeted, and given a tour, by a local guide. From there, they can purchase locally-made baskets from a craft shop operated by the women of Santa Mission, or stop in for some cassava bread, made in the traditional Arawak style by a local baker.

During our stay at Arrowpoint, we had the chance to spend some time at Santa Mission where local resident Derek Poole filled us in on the area’s history and traditions.

Every trip to Santa Mission begins with a crossing of the glassy, broad Demerara River.

A traditional Arawak boat, outfitted with a Yamaha outboard engine, sits outside a logging site on the way to Santa Mission.

Kamuni Creek is the main waterway connecting Santa Mission with the Demerara River and, by extension, the Georgetown region.

Preparing to depart for a supply run to the city

Guide Derek Poole welcomes visitors to Santa Mission

Residents call this giant silk cotton tree Kamaka, meaning โ€˜the mother of all trees.โ€™ Kamaka’s roots are said to extend throughout the village.ย 

A typical Guyanese home, built on stilts to protect from flooding.

A craft shop, run by the women of Santa Mission, showcases traditional Lokono-Arawak baskets.

A beautiful and intricate thatched roof keeps cover over the craft shop

Arrow trees grow in great abundance in the area

A young boa constrictor waits out a rainstorm curled up on a low-hanging branch.

A child peers out from beneath his familyโ€™s house.