NEWS  21st Jul 2017

SES Representative in Guyana - Major General Joseph Singh

The story of the SES's association with the Wai Wai tribe in Guyana goes back many years. During Operation Raleigh, Major General Joseph Singh, Commander of the Guyana Defence Force, did much to help organise the expeditions there. Later he became the SES Country Representative and asked John Blashford-Snell (JBS) if a medical/dental expedition could be sent to assist the remote Wai Wai tribe on Guyana's southern borders. This was done and a request was subsequently received from the people's priest to take them a grand piano to encourage their musically skilled young people to remain in the tribal area and not emigrate to the capital where, with no particular skills, they would be unemployed.

The piano was delivered by an SES expedition led by JBS and was supported by the Daily Mail and the BBC. The publicity that followed the TV film around the world helped to convince the US Charity Conservation International to make a large grant of funds so the Wai Wai territory could become a protected area and the people trained as rangers to guard it. In 2010 SES sent in another expedition to assist the Wai Wai and a team led by civil engineer Julian Butter surveyed a tractor trail through dense forest to facilitate the travel of the Wai Wai children to secondary school over 100 kilometers away. All this has led to the newly announced Government recognition of the status of the Wai Wai territory.


"JBS, Yoli, and those who are familiar with the Wai Wai Indians in the Deep SW of Guyana, South America, will be happy to learn that the Government of Guyana has agreed to the Wai Wai request for their Titled Land of nearly 600,000 ha and which they manage as a Community-Owned Conservation Area, to be included in the National Protected Areas System. A formal agreement between the Protected Areas Commission and the Wai Wai Community was signed on Friday, July 7th, 2017 at Gunns Strip, in the presence of the Community. I was privileged to have been invited to be present and to sign as a Witness to the Agreement. The final steps are the formal approval of the President of Guyana - which is assured, and the Gazetting of the Wai Wai Titled Land as a Protected Area, which will be accomplished in September 2017 and this will coincide with the annual celebration of Amerindian Heritage Month.

Wai Wai Signing Ceremony

It has been 48 years since I (then a Lieutenant in the Guyana Defence Force) gave the then Great Chief of the Wai Wai - Kayaritomo Elka, a commitment that I will do everything in my power to ensure sustained advocacy for the Wai Wai to have Absolute Title to their land. This was achieved in 2004.

MG Joseph Singh addressing the Wai Wai

When the Protected Areas Act was established in 2011, the community requested that their Titled Land be designated an Amerindian Protected Area within the National Protected Areas System, managed by them in perpetuity with technical and financial support from the Protected Areas Commission and Trust Fund.

I am happy and relieved that this process is being concluded. The support of JBS and several SES Expeditions to the Wai Wai at Akotopono and Masakenari Villages over the past two decades, contributed immensely to the transitioning of the Wai Wai to modernity, while they retain the strengths of their language, culture and traditions".

Story by Henrietta Thorpe 

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