Annai Benab – largest ‘meeting place’ in Guyana

DPI, Guyana, Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Annai Benab, located in the heart of the Central Rupununi community, is the largest indigenous ‘meeting place’ in Guyana. This remarkable model of Indigenous Craftsmanship and native Architecture stands at 70 feet tall and 90 feet wide; larger than the Umana Yana in Georgetown, which is only 55-feet high.

History of the Annai Benab

Construction of the Benab to host the Heritage Village Day Celebrations began in 2005. Built at a cost of $2.5M, and completed in 2006, the building stood at 80 feet wide and 50 feet in height, with 12,000 Kokerite leaves.

The Annai Benab.

The structure was commissioned that year by the late Elder Walter Brown, a former Tosha and prominent figure in the community.  According to Mike Williams, Community Development Officer (CDO), it was a proud day for the residents of the North Rupunini.

Tragically, however, the building was gutted by fire, in October 2011. The fire was caused by flying cinders from a resident’s burning garbage heap, that caught the roof of the Benab. Within minutes, the structure was reduced to ash.

Instead of falling into despair, the villagers rallied together and vowed to rebuild a stronger Benab. They successfully lobbied the administration to provide the sum of $4.5M, for a new building.

Construction of the new benab begun in 2013 with a goal of creating a new edifice with a shingle roof. The building was three-quarters completed when disaster struck again. The shingled roof collapsed and with funds exhausted, villagers were unable to replace the damaged roofing materials.

Again, however, they united, and through self-help completed the construction of the Benab.

Today, the building “signifies the strength and temperament of the residents”,  Williams said. The benab stands as the largest Indigenous structure in Guyana. It now has more seating arrangements and is surrounded by a football pitch.

The floor is still to be completed as well as a sanitary facility. Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, Sydney Allicock recently visited the community and assured residents that his ministry will provide the necessary support to have the floor completed.

A benab is a ‘meeting place’ for the Indigenous People of Guyana. It is designed in such a way to protect their way of life, togetherness, and wellbeing. Residents gather there almost on monthly a bases, to discuss critical issues and make decisions that affect their lives. It is also the spot for social activities.

These massive Indigenous edifices utilise local woods and tree bark, leaves, branches, straws, vines, and palm. They can remain standing for several generations. Interestingly too, while the benab towers into the skyline, the construction is almost solely handcrafted with limited use of modern tools and equipment.

 

By: Synieka Thorne

Persons visiting booths at the benab.

A group of young people performing at the benab.

 

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