A journey up the Rupununi River for fieldwork in Apoteri and Rewa Villages – Part 1

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Working in Apoteri, through the eyes of Sean Mendonca, Policy & Technical Coordinator, Darwin Project

It began with me jumping into a bus in Georgetown on a Monday afternoon. I arrived at my destination at about 8:30am – many hours later – the next morning in Annai Central. As I step out of the bus my excitement grows. It is a welcome break from my daily routine of sitting behind a computer screen in the office, and more importantly, I get to connect with my colleagues based at the North Rupununi District Development Board (NRDDB). On this trip I am teaming up with Grace Albert (Cobra Collective Consultant) and Neville Adolph (Kanuku Mountain Community Representative Group’s liaison to the Darwin Project) to visit the two communities of Apoteri and Rewa along the Rupununi River. These opportunities for fieldwork really help me to remember and better appreciate the impact of what our project is trying to accomplish.

Leaving the river landing from Kwatamang Village, we are soon on our way towards Rewa Village – 3 hours away. What is more, it seems the start of the rainy season intended to align itself with our travels! When the rains began, it poured for the most of our journey. Stopping briefly at Rewa to confirm our request to meet with the Village Council and confirm our return date to work with them in a week’s time, we continued on the Rupununi River for about another 2 hours before we finally arrived at Apoteri Village. This Indigenous village is uniquely situated at the junction where the Rupununi merges into the mighty Essequibo River. This is my first visit to Apoteri and I was looking forward to exploring the community and interacting with its residents.

After meeting with the Toshao and being shown our sleeping/living quarters, our first priority was to – you guessed it – get into some dry clothes! Later we met with the Toshao to give an overview of our intended workplan for the week. The Toshao reassured us of his support in carrying out the work that we were there to do and began spreading the word in the village of the Darwin team’s presence. We had also already agreed on a day and time for a community meeting so this message was also being shared.  At this meeting, the team would share what the Darwin project has been up to and screen several videos that have been produced so far by the project.

The community researchers that we would work with were currently in Crashwater Village – we had passed them on the river not very long after leaving Kwatamang Landing. They had indicated that they would be home later that very night. The next morning while having breakfast we got confirmation that the community researchers – Defrietas and Verlene had returned late the night before, as planned. Soon enough, they arrived and, after introductions – myself and Neville were meeting them for the first time – we jumped right into work. Grace took the lead, outlining the proposed workplan once again and discussing the suggestions arising from the team’s initial review of the draft community owned solution (COS) video. By the way, Apoteri’s COS video focuses on ‘Traditional Hunting’!

Both researchers were eager to get busy and contributed positively to the discussion as we started to make a list of who and where we needed to go to get some of the overlay materials and additional interviews. It didn’t take long for us to soon be out the door and off to make appointments for interviews within the next two days and to determine the areas where we might get our overlay materials. Myself and Neville moved with DeFrietas for the next two days. I was really impressed with his coordination skills and it definitely helped that he seemed to be best of friends with everyone in the area. He also showed great interest in improving his videoing skills and was constantly asking questions. Neville was quick to jump in at these times – he really likes this aspect of his work.

Over the next two days between the two teams, we managed to successfully gather all the materials we set out to do.  We then moved to upload all this new material to be incorporated into the draft COS video on the project laptop. This aspect can definitely be painstaking – but on the positive side, power wasn’t a problem since we had power supply from a larger solar panel setup for the shop below us. After lots of video clipping and replays of the material we finally could agree as a team that we had a final version worthy of being screened to the community. DeFreitas and Verlene really appreciated the review process that led to us collecting the extra materials and doing a few more interviews. They both thought that this final video was much better.

Community screening in Apoteri

We had a good turnout at the community meeting which was held at the Primary School. The screening of the final cut of their COS video along with other videos produced by the project went well. A lively discussion followed and it was evident that community members valued traditional hunting and saw the need to protect such knowledge for the conservation and sustainable use of the wildlife in their community lands. A brief presentation to all present also allowed us to share some of the key findings of the work that has been conducted in the communities we have been working in so far.

Overall our time in Apoteri was very productive and I definitely had fun along the way, whether it was walking for an hour to see a villager to do an interview, or meeting the strangest of wildlife whom are local pets to some families. Included on this list would be labba, agouti, peccary and wait for it – a red-necked woodpecker!

Grace Albert
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Grace Albert has 5 years’ experience in community development and visual methodologies. She speaks fluent Makushi and English, and has strong skills in community facilitation and engagement, visual methods, and her local Makushi traditions. Following a strong grounding in further education courses of natural resource management, wildlife management, agriculture , information technology, leadership and culture, she has worked for the North Rupununi District Development Board (NRDDB), a local Indigenous community-based organization, in several roles. This includes as a radio broadcaster, a community film maker and most recently as a Community Research Assistant. With these experiences, Grace hopes to remain as a resource person for her community and is committed towards development of her homeland.