Story and photos by Gaulbert Sutherland
If there is any place in Guyana that should be at the top of the list of places to live, it would be Annai. But as a Rupununian from a much more wonderful part of the Rupununi, it would be blasphemy to say Annai is number one, so let’s just say it is number two on the list.
But Annai has several things in its favour. Perched at the foot of the Pakaraima Mountains, where the savannah rises to meet the forest covered mountains, the landscape is beautiful and serene, especially from the top of the three high hills that invite visitors to climb to feel the never-ending breeze and look upon villagers traversing the laterite roads which look like blood-red veins on the savannah. Life here moves at a more sedate pace and services available there, though still poor compared to coastal areas, are growing.
For clarity, the Annai Amerindian territory comprises five communities: Annai itself or Annai central, Wowetta, Surama, Rupertee and Kwatamang.
For an area as large as this, said Toshao Mark George with a smile, a “cabinet” of 34 councillors is needed to administer it. Each community has senior councillors who deal with the affairs of the individual communities before the entire council meets to discuss main issues. This article focuses on Annai central.
Like much of the 574 persons who reside in Annai central, George is a Macushi Amerindian, though surprisingly, he said, the community’s name derives from a Carib word that means pineapple. “This was full of pineapple,” he said, a wave indicating the hills on which the community, packed with a mixture of modern concrete homes as well as traditional thatched buildings, sits.
George has served for 12 non-consecutive years as toshao of the community and his grandfather also served as toshao when the community was in its infancy, he said. Residents more or less depend on subsistence farming while there is small-scale logging and fishing and the village is working to promote tourism with its craft and culture being attractions. “We are strong with our culture,” George said.
Annai is the main administrative hub for the communities of the North Rupununi, and the Regional Democratic Council office, a regional guest house, a police station, the Guyana Elections Commission office, as well as a district hospital are located here. Other infrastructure in the community includes a primary and nursery schools, the Village Office, teachers quarters, a giant Benab (which is being rebuilt after it was destroyed by fire some months back), nurses quarters, doctors quarters, an Anglican training centre, a sewing centre, a market, and a craft shop. There are four churches in Annai.
Some houses have running water and electricity and the telecommunications company GT&T, has a cellular site in the area. The Georgetown-Lethem trail runs alongside the community with minibuses providing daily access from the coast or further south to Lethem.
Just outside of Annai is the Rock View Lodge, a tourism resort with a swimming pool, rock garden, an orchard and the famous Dakota bar as well as the Oasis providing comfort as well as employment to locals, otherwise not easily obtained in this part of Guyana. The airstrip here provides another means of getting to the community with scheduled daily flights.
Employment is one of the key concerns of the community, George said, while adding that this was raised at the level of the National Toshaos Council. “School leavers go to Georgetown or elsewhere to look for work,” he said. Transportation for him and the council to carry out their duties is another area of concern as this is not readily available, he said. The village leader also said that he would like to see more transportation made available for schoolchildren some of whom walk long distances daily to get to school. The community also needs an ambulance, he said, while relating the case of a woman who died in childbirth a few years ago because there was no vehicle to take her to the hospital and villagers having to use a bullock cart.
The community needs more jobs and tourism is one of the ways in which the village is working to provide employment, George said. Through linkage with the Rock View Lodge, two tour guides carry tourists around the community while a craft shop has been established and culture groups perform for visitors.
George said that while he is satisfied at some of the progress seen in Annai, more needs to be done. But with 12 years of being the village chief under his belt, “I want to sit down now,” he said even as he declined to be photographed alone, calling his wife Norma George to be photographed with him.
In Annai, walking around on the grassy trails is an experience of meeting smiling, friendly people going about their business or just relaxing in hammocks under trees,
catching up or feeling the breeze.
In her shop which is transformed into Annai’s nightclub at weekends, Emelda Sandy related that despite her business, she still farms and makes cassava bread herself. Business is slow because there are not many people, she says. All but two of her six children have scattered to various parts including Brazil and Barbados. She is one of the persons getting water via pipes but said that during the dry season, they have to resort to a well. “Everybody does come together and dig it out again,” she said.
In Annai, even the churches get involved in national celebrations such as Mashramani. One recent Sunday, Viki Williams returning home from the Anglican Church related that the churches had come together and planned the children’s Mash parade which was scheduled for Monday. Williams is a teacher at the Annai Primary School which has 182 students. There are many activities and clubs which youths can be involved in, she said.
Annai is developing with the most obvious change being from mud and thatched roof buildings to zinc and brick houses, Williams said. However, she
was unhappy that in a project by a non-governmental organization to provide housing for some residents, leaders only choose select residents and not the ones really in need such as old folks. “These people are old…they could have helped them,” she said. In the distribution of solar panels as well, she said, the process could have been fairer as only some received and others have not, despite promises.
Williams said that the introduction of the cellular service to the area has seen students using phones in class and they do not like this. However, she noted that there are also benefits. Increased traffic on the Linden-Lethem road is also a concern as many children walk along the road – which has lonely stretches – every day to get to school, she said. “Children coming far, far to school, something could happen to them on the way,” she explained. While there is a minibus service available, it is not enough to take the vast majority of the students and the cost is also a factor which determines who uses the service. “Only when they have money to pay, then they jump in the bus,” Williams related. “When they know they don’t have money, is walking they have to walk.”
There are some occasions when the walk is fun. One Monday, British tourist Chris Murtagh joined in the waving and dancing for a bit as schoolchildren followed a truck blasting music for the Annai Mash parade. He wondered if this was how the children in Guyana go to school every day. If this was the
case, Murtagh said, he would not have missed a day.