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Turtle Ranch

This story was told to me by uncle Campbell Ewell, resident of Wowetta village, in the North Rupununi. It illustrates how places came to be named in Amerindian territories, and the importance of storytelling for passing on traditional knowledge about the landscape and its inhabitants.

Lakeram

A very long time ago, a family lived in a place that is today known as Wowetta, in the North Rupununi. During one of their outing into the nearby forest, the family heard a noise coming from the mountain, which is very high to our standards. It sounded as if a creature was blowing into a bamboo whistle from the top of the mountain: Tuuuuung, tuuuuuuuung…

They wanted to know what was making such a strange noise. But as soon as it stopped, a very strong wind engulfed the whole forest and the area was plunged into darkness as sudden rains developed. The family got so scared that they decided to hastily head back to their camp, which fortunately was not too far away.

Another day, they managed to observe the creature. It took the form of a giant domesticated cat, which had lots of bright spots on its body, what is today known as the Jaguar. It was making the exact same noise than the one they had heard before, when the storm and rain had passed through the forest… Tuuuuung, tuuuuuuuuung. This time, however, the creature had come down the mountain into the savannah. Despite having weapons to defend themselves, the family had to make good escape. The jaguar was so huge and mighty that they did not stand a chance!

After this, no one was allowed to venture into the savannah or the nearby forest for a long time as the massive jaguar was known to be lurking in the area, and it was by far the largest creature they had ever seen in their lifetime.

A long time passed and people eventually started to go back to the forbidden area. They were relieved to notice that the bamboo whistle sound could not be heard anymore. Out of curiosity, they even decided to overnight in the area, and spent a very quiet night. To make sure that it had disappeared for good, they returned several nights but to their relief, the noise was gone and so was the creature.

It was suspected that the jaguar may have died or moved away. They decided to call the savannah: Kiwan Piti, or Jaguar Point Savannah. But people wondered what had caused the jaguar to be so big in size. It was thought later on that the abundance of yellow-footed tortoises in the savannah and the forest might have been the reason.

Uncle Campbell confirmed to me that during his young days, he used to run into an abundance of turtles congregating in the savannah. He said, “for the jaguar, feeding on these turtles would have been an easy life”. But an elder man had told him that in the centre of the savannah there is an island forest, and in the centre of this forest, there is a boulder in the shape of a canister that looks almost like a turtle. It was believed to be the master of the turtles, which is why they were always found in abundance there.

As people realized that these turtles were a good source of food, they started to harvest them. In recent times, their population has dwindled and the time has come to protect them, but the memory of their abundance has remained and is passed from generation to generation through storytelling and in the names given to the landscape. Today, we call this savannah: Turtle Ranch.