When I was in Guyana for a three month volunteering stint, the village in which I lived was St. Cuthbert’s Mission (SCM). It was a fascinating place, one where a sociologist would have a field day. From a tourism point of view, though, I think SCM is worth a visit if you happen to find yourself in the area. SCM is an Amerindian village in northern Guyana, located on the Mahaica River (which is a tributary of the Essequibo River). The village was founded in the late 1800s and was originally called Pakuri. However, in 1889, when Anglican missionaries came traipsing through, a mission was founded on St. Cuthbert’s Day. As such, the Anglicans, of course, unimaginatively changed Pakuri’s name to St. Cuthbert’s Mission. Seriously, what is it with colonizers changing the name of everything they touch?
SCM is predominately populated by the Lokono people but is also mixed with those of African or Indian ancestry. There are about 1700 people living in the Mission and homes tend to be pretty spread out (the village land is about 620 square km). The village is mostly sandy as it is built in a savannah – on one side it is shrubbery as far as the eye can see and on the other side of the village, its verdant rainforests. SCM is the closest Amerindian village to Georgetown. This proximity means that the village is fairly developed in terms of amenities such as running water (though having it inside one’s house is a hit and miss) and electricity (four hours a day in the evening).
Getting to SCM can be an adventure in itself. After driving about 80km from Georgetown on a two-lane highway, one must turn off onto a side road that takes you through the savannah. On a sunny day, it’s a beautiful drive – wide red earth track below you and above is blue skies with fluffy clouds scudding their away into the distance. On a rainy day or the day after a rainy day, that wide red earth track becomes a nightmare with washouts, flooding, and potholes. On a good day, the drive from the highway to the village proper is almost an hour. On bad days…well, just have some patience and a spare tire.
SCM is governed by a Village Council led by a Toshao (chief) who is elected every three years. SCM’s right to be so governed is outlined in Guyana’s Amerindian Act which allows any Amerindian village in the country to be governed in this manner. The men of the village tend to be loggers or miners and many are away for weeks at a time in the bowels of Guyana. Women tend to be the ones dealing with the day to day running of village life – some have little stores or make items to sell in the village’s craft centre. Others practice subsistence farming or work in the three schools and the health centre.
There are no official tourism facilities in SCM, which is too bad. I believe that this village could be positioned to be a tourist destination, enabling the village to have self-reliance rather than depending on foreign mining/logging companies for work. It would take careful planning to ensure it remains people’s home and not Disneyland, but I believe it can be done. They wouldn’t even need to fix that red earth road, especially if SCM billed itself as an eco-tourism locale. So with tourism in mind, here is a pictorial guide to four things (no particular order) to see/do in St. Cuthbert’s Mission (besides learning how to make coconut oil):