The Rupununi Chamber of Commerce & Industry has no right to control all activities in the Rupununi over the Easter weekend

Dear Editor,

Being relatively new to the Rupununi, I suspect you may be unaware that the principal owner of the Takutu Hotel, Mr Ivan Johnson, is one of the early pioneers of the Rupununi, dating back to the 1940s, when he left his home in Berbice and journeyed through the cattle trail to create a livelihood in the Rupununi.

Mr Johnson and his now deceased business partner,  Mr Arthur Bobb, started their business in early 1960s, and in 1969 opened the Takutu Guest House in time to accommodate the first Safari Expedition to the Rupununi through the cattle trail.  Over the next decades, through the 1980s, Mr Johnson and Mr Bobb were heavily involved in the development activities of the Rupununi, including being members of the Rodeo organising committee.  Mr Johnson through his ranch business and guest house contributed to the annual rodeo event by providing monetary contributions, cattle and vaqueros for the festival.

Throughout the history of the Rupununi, the rodeo festivities took place on the Saturday and Sunday of the Easter weekend.  The event traditionally kick-started with a rodeo queen competition with contestants exhibiting their horsemanship and outfit.  There was never a rodeo pageant.

For a number of years in recent times, Mr John Macedo, former president and current Chairman of the Rodeo Committee, promoted a ‘Lime’ at his gas station in Lethem on Good Friday.  This event would normally go to the break of dawn and as far as we are aware, there was never any objection from the authorities, the Rupununi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (RCCI)/rodeo committee, or the community.  Everyone saw it as a pre-rodeo jam to kick off the following days activities.

Prior to 2006, the Takutu Hotel entertained its patrons and other visitors to the Easter rodeo event to an evening of soft music and a candlelight dinner with the view that after the long and sometimes arduous journey, guests would prefer a quiet night of relaxation before the bustle of the following days of activities. This was always well received; however, visitors would express their preference for ‘more action.’ Having come this far, they preferred full entertainment throughout their visit which their families too could enjoy.  This spawned Takutu’s annual rodeo promotions: Rupununi Rodeo Pageant & Karaoke Competition and this year our intended Rupununi Rodeo Talent Competition and Lime.  Prior to the first hosting, the management of Takutu Hotel, as a matter of courtesy, wrote to the RCCI indicating its intention to host the event on the Good Friday evening,  that the same would enhance the Easter Rupununi rodeo experience for all, and that the support of the RCCI would be appreciated.  Over the last seven years the event has enjoyed great success, thanks to our sponsors and other supporters, becoming the headliner for the Good Friday evening. Admission to the event has been free.  Unfortunately, we did not realise that this initiative would also usher in continuous challenges from the executives of the RCCI operating under the mask of the organisation such as:

1. The Takutu Hotel cannot advertise under the name ‘Rupununi Rodeo’ in its promotion as same is limited to their rodeo event.

2. Influencing the local police office to require us to take down our banners, and deny permission to hold the event on the grounds where the event is held on Good Friday, on the grounds that in Guyana, no sporting event is permissible on such a day.  Further, that the Rupununi is a Catholic community and that the religion of the people must be respected. (We have had to make our case to the police headquarters in Georgetown resulting in permission being granted).

3. Influencing the local business community not to sponsor the contestants for the pageant.  (Thankfully, there were a few independent businesses which saw the good faith of the promoters, the tourism value of the event, and continued with their sponsorship.  In one year due to the withdrawal of some of the local businesses at the eleventh hour, Takutu has had to dress most of the contestants for the show to run off.)

4. Writing to the Prime Minister, the Commissioner of Police, the EPA, the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Guyana Fire Service to stop the show on the grounds that the show was being held near a gas station and that the same was a risk to the community, there being no a fire service.  (This point ignored the fact that the then President of the RCCI conducted his pre-rodeo jam at his gas station for many years and that his hotel sits on top of his gas station.  Notwithstanding this, security arrangements had been made to cordon off the gas station and to move the show area some metres away from the station.)

5. Publishing in the daily newspapers notice that the Takutu’s rodeo promotions are not associated with the RCCI rodeo activities and that sponsors should take notice.

6. In 2010, for the first time the RCCI opened the Easter Rodeo event on the Good Friday night with a pageant, complemented by one of the leading entertainment bands from Georgetown.  (Suffice it to say that Takutu’s promotion came off the said evening with the usual success.  The RCCI did not host the pageant in 2011 and this year reverted to the usual days of the event.)
It is our position that the RCCI has no legal right to restrict anyone who markets their promotion under the name ‘Rupununi Rodeo’ and further, absolutely no legal right to limit or control all activities in the Rupununi over the Easter weekend.  Furthermore, our promotional name is distinct from that used by the RCCI, and it has always been made clear that the event is promoted by the Takutu Hotel, and who the sponsors of the event are. It has also been Takutu’s moral commitment not to promote any event which would distract from the traditional rodeo event.

For Rodeo 2012, the Takutu management decided to host the ‘Rupununi Rodeo Talent competition and Lime.’  The Rupununi has never had a talent competition and it was thought that the event would showcase the talent of the Rupununi (with a rodeo flare).  There was significant interest and excitement from persons in the region (North, South and Central Rupununi) to participate in the competition, enticed by the opportunity to compete for the first time, and the very attractive prizes at stake.  The list of contestants included a group from the Amerindian villages of Surama (15 persons) and Sand Creek (12 persons), aggressively competing to win.

Regrettably, it rained on the evening of Good Friday.  After consultation with the said two groups (since they had travelled 140 and 75 miles respectively, including in the case of the Sand Creek group having to walk 7 miles as part of the journey back home) and the desire of the contestants for the show to come off the following day, it was agreed to postpone the show to the following evening and that the Takutu Hotel would provide the groups with meals for the said night and the following day (the groups had planned to return to their community immediately after the event).  It was further agreed that the show would start at 6 pm sharp and end at 9 pm (this is well within our right being a licensed hotel) so as not to detract from the Rodeo night (Saturday and Sunday) party at the rodeo site which usually goes for most of the night.

However, this was not to be.  At around 5 pm the day of the show, we received a call from the Lethem police indicating that they had received information about the show being hosted that very evening and that there was reservation for same. We were told the show would conflict with the RCCI’s Rodeo activities.  We explained our right to hold the event and the circumstances of the decision.  It would appear that our explanations were considered reasonable by the police after having promised that the show would not progress beyond the time indicated.  However, it would appear that there were manoeuvrings, since just as we were about to start the show, we received a further call from the police instructing us not to hold the event.
On learning of the decision, the Surama and Sand Creek groups decided that since they had come so far and had gone to much expense to prepare for the competition, they would make their presentation to the guests of the hotel and persons present.  Other contestants also wanted to make their presentation but this was not permitted.  In the circumstances, the Takutu management decided to make a monetary contribution to the two groups for their efforts and the obvious expense incurred for the competition, as a result of their confidence in the organisers and the sponsors of the event.  Fuel was also provided for their return transport to their communities.

The misguided view of the RCCI concerning its monopoly over the Easter weekend activities is regrettable.  The RCCI’s actions have denied visitors the opportunity to witness the rich talent of the Rupununi, and also the locals the experience of a talent competition with attractive rewards.   However, of greater concern is the use of the RCCI to advance the personal interest of some of its members.  Further, should this be allowed to continue, it will only stifle the genuine entrepreneurial efforts of persons in the community and the potential for the Easter rodeo event to become even more attractive, offering patrons the full cultural flavour of the Rupununi.

Yours faithfully,
Morsha Johnson
Takutu Hotel

Editor’s note
We are sending a copy of this letter to Mr Roger King, President of the Rupununi Chamber of Commerce and Industry for any comment he might wish to make.

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