Rupununi Ranchers’ Rodeo: Then and Now

Written by on May 7, 2024

The Rupununi Rodeo is a cultural highlight on Guyana’s calendar of events. With a rich history dating back to the early 1950s, the Rodeo has evolved over the years. The Rupununi Rodeo began as a simple recreational gathering near the airstrip in Tabatinga. As the famous Rodeo King Bob Barker recounted, before bull-riding became a fixture of the event, there was an equally thrilling activity where the men would affix a saddle onto a drum, attach the drum to four sticks, and then pull the sticks so that the saddle on the drum would move vigorously, as a raging bull would.

Bob Barker, Famous Rodeo King

During the 1960s, the ranchers came together once a year to round up their cattle and separate their personal herd from other ranch herds. They started out at Charlie Melville’s Impreza Ranch just south of the Kanuku Mountains, moved across the central and northern
Rupununi ranches and culminated in a grand round-up at Pirara Ranch, owned by the Hart Family. Over time, a friendly competition ensued and the Rupununi Rodeo started to take shape. Additionally, a system of self-help emerged and this was vital in funding the development of the rodeo. Soon a chute was constructed and cowboys and ranchers from across the Rupununi and neighbouring Brazil gathered to participate in bull riding and bareback and saddle bronco.

By the late 1960s, the rodeo had moved to the Stock Farm in St. Ignatius. By this time, it had become an organised event. Ranchers and vaqueros flocked the event to compete for the title of Rodeo King or Queen. Some famous Rodeo Kings include Bob Barker, Paul Atkinson and Sherman Rodrigues. Drewan Lee, Indrani Moses and Cynthi Fredericks are some of the most notable Rodeo Queens. Although the rodeo had gained considerable popularity by this time, sponsorship was still very minimal. Hence, the organisers of the event, particularly members of the Rupununi Livestock Producers Association (RLPA), held fundraisers to acquire money to cover the prizes and other expenses.

Triple R Rodeo Ground

The Rupununi Rancher’s Rodeo (RRR) Ground in Tabatinga became the home of the rodeo in the mid to late 1980s. The organisers continued their fundraising efforts to build a rough structure for the arena as well as basic holding pens. The rodeo continued to grow in popularity and eventually gained national attention. Even more Brazilians flocked to the event, but most notably, more Guyanese from all over the country started to attend. By the 90s into the 2000s, the Rupununi Rodeo was booming! Consequently, the event required more structure and much more financial support. In response, the RLPA and the Rodeo Committee sought official sponsorship.

Over the years, the Rupununi Rodeo has seen tremendous growth. The event now boasts attendees from across South and Central America, the USA and England. It is a major source of revenue for the region and by extension, the country. Minister of Tourism, Industry and Commerce Hon. Oneidge Walrond, described the Rupununi Rodeo as the “bedrock of Guyana’s tourism product”. It contributes to our green economy while helping to preserve the culture and traditions of the Rupununi.

Minister of Tourism, Industry and Commerce Hon. Oneidge Walrond hopped on the Community Train to chat about the Rupununi Rodeo and its contribution to Tourism in Guyana:

This year, EdYouFM was able to participate in the rodeo activities. Our booth achieved its primary goal of sensitising patrons about EdPal, our free mobile app. EdPal is an easy-to-use study tool which has content across all grade levels and subject areas. We also made a significant contribution to the Miss Rupununi Rodeo Pageant. Like most pageants, The Rupununi Rodeo Pageant was an extravagant display of poise and elegance. However, it also engaged the delegates, who came from communities across Region 9, in activities such as horseback riding and whip cracking, which aim to promote authentic Indigenous Rupununi culture.

While in Lethem, the Community Train crew were able to catch up with Rancher Kayla Defreitas and learn more about ranch life and the history of the Rupununi Rodeo:

Story by Carlene Samuel

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