This week the Pepperpot Magazine journeyed over land and water to two of the 365 islands in the Essequibo River, that is, Hogg Island and Dookalbo Island.
These two locations can be reached via the Hubu Koker, Parika, East Bank Essequibo with a boat and the journey entails several hours on the Essequibo River, navigating the murky waves and being exposed to the elements.
The first place visited was Eastern Hogg Island, where a group of curious residents came in their boats to engage in dialogue.
The tide was a bit low and the speedboat which is powered by a 40 horsepower engine had to be hauled in manually to shore, a beach, where other boats were moored.
According to residents, the tide is always rough at this section of the river, creating large swellings and when the tide is low they cannot travel via boat, the only mode of transportation.
On this section of the island, there are a handful of houses with a very large landmass which is used for large-scale farming and the rearing of livestock.
Hogg Island is the home of the largest and most juicy watermelons. They also grow corn, pumpkins and ground provisions on a large scale and it is sold to wholesale buyers and other ‘middlemen.’
The people of Hogg Island are scattered across the vast landmass, most of which is overgrown by bushes and other vegetation.
The island is said to be the largest in the Essequibo River and is divided into Eastern, Western and Northern sections.
On the bottom half of the island, there is a health centre and a primary school, but it is not easily accessible to villagers on the Eastern side of the island because it is time-consuming and not pocket-friendly in terms of the purchase of gasoline.
Hogg Island is home to mostly Indo Guyanese and a few Afro Guyanese who are farmers and labourers on farms.
The people are simple and welcoming and did not hesitate to engage the team during its visit to the island.
Hogg Island is located just five kilometres from the river’s mouth in the estuary into the Atlantic Ocean.
With a total area coverage of 60 kilometres (23 square miles) Hogg Island is larger than many Caribbean islands.
It has about 200 residents whose livelihoods revolve around farming, but over the years many people relocated to other parts of the country due to flooding and erosion of the land and other challenges.
It is reported that the island used to be controlled by the Dutch, who were the early settlers when it was known as Varken Eiland or Hogg Island, so named due to it being inhabited by a large number of wild hogs.
Then in 1814 with the cessation of the Napoleonic Wars, the British gained control of the Dutch colonies: Demerara, Berbice and Essequibo, leaving the Dutch with Suriname until 1975. The British had decided to keep the name of the island as the Dutch did Hogg Island.
The people of Eastern Hog Island, Essequibo River (Carl Croker photos)
A village elder, 72-year-old Motielall Sukhlall, who is a farmer told the Pepperpot Magazine that he is a resident of Brickery, Eastern Hogg Island.
He works on a farm with some villagers as a foreman, who would supervise workers who are employed by a large-scale farmer.
Sukhlall reported that he is originally from Wakenaam, another island in the Essequibo River and relocated to Hogg Island in search of work and a better life.
He added that even though he is a pensioner, he still works and has a cataract in one eye for which he needs surgery.
The father of three stated that his children are grown and leading their separate lives and since his wife passed away more than 35 years ago, he has had no other comfort in life.
He has been a resident of Hogg Island for the past 25 years and has a small house where he would cook for himself.
Sukhlall explained that his life wasn’t always easy, because he worked all over including as a cane-cutter at Diamond Sugar Estate, back in the days.
He worked many years in the sugar industry and was elevated to a Guyana Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU) regional representative and fought tirelessly for the rights of sugar workers.
“I had a house at Wakenaam Island, but I had to sell it and relocate where I started all over again from scratch, because things were hard and I’m still working as is, on a farm,” he said.
Sukhlall reported that he supervises a dozen workers daily, which starts early in the morning, whether it is rain or sun and they would end the workday depending on the harvest.
The senior citizen stated that there is no form of recreation on the island, so life has become routine and most people on the island need help in terms of farming with seeds, seedlings, agricultural tools and equipment.
Sukhlall disclosed that farmers work under adverse conditions and due to the constant flooding and erosion of the land, it is even more difficult for them.
The island, he stated, has no internal drains, so the land is often swampy and over the years acres of land have simply been swallowed up by the ocean.
As a farmer, he reported too, that their produce is often destroyed by pests and they have to buy a lot of chemicals to have a good harvest.
“A little help goes a long way and we need the assistance to survive as farmers and simple people and it would be nice if we can,” he said.
Dookalbo Island or Duklabu is a riverine community located in the Essequibo River and it is home to about eight families.
They live quite simply and earn by farming and rearing livestock such as ducks, chickens, pigs and cows.
One family earns by fishing in a small boat and selling their daily catches at Hubu Koker, Parika.
The locals of this island said they don’t get many visitors and there are not many modern amenities.
They too are severely affected by spring tides which cause flooding inland to up to four feet. As such, the livestock would often die by the dozens.
There are five houses on one side of the island and on the other side, there are three houses.
The people have small solar panels to power lights at nights and they preserve their meats, or the meats are sold off within the same day if chickens and ducks are plucked.
The people of this island are very friendly and would like to have a few basic things to enhance their lives.
The nearest health facility is at Fort Island, where there is also a multi-grade school.
Dookalbo Island is a twin-island which has a big and a smaller island which is uninhabited.