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The Godineau’s well-kept secret
February 27, 2011
The actual name of this river is the South Oropouche River. It is called the Godineau because in the 1840s, the French owner of St John’s Estate along its banks opened up a navigable canal to the sea (the lower extremity of which is seen here), thus making the river navigable.
Prior to this, the dense mangroves of the Oropouche Lagoon had made sailing on the lower part of this river almost impossible. His name was Jean Pierre Godineau. The old man was described as a lovable eccentric with a white beard. When he died, he willed his body to the swamp, being buried on a hilly promontory of his estate which jutted into the lagoon. The tombstone is no longer there, but the spot may be seen to this day. The river was an important highway to the sea for inland sugar estates such as Woodland, and later for cocoa plantations in Avocat (the old St John’s Estate).
At the mouth of the river was a landing place (seen here on the left bank) where boats ferrying passengers and goods from the island steamer called. The steamer itself was compelled to anchor almost a mile offshore due to the mudflat which runs along this part of the coast. This landing place and one higher up near the old St John’s Estate, was where oilfield equipment was first landed for the nascent Apex oilfield in Fyzabad in 1914. Bulls would be used to drag the machinery up the banks from whence trucks would take the apparatus and pipelines to Fyzabad.
Across the sandbar between the sea and the Oropouche Lagoon, a corduroy road was laid in 1851. This was done under then tenure of the intrepid Lord Harris, who was then governor of the Colony. It consisted of laying tree trunks as a floating foundation on the muddy soil, and then covering them with a layer of gravel and clay.
Across the broad mouth of the Godineau River, Lord Harris erected a fine iron bridge which was replaced by a more modern bailey bridge in the 1930s. The ballast-brick foundations and posts of the original 1851 structure, however, may still be seen today. This road considerably increased trade between the districts of La Brea, Oropouche and San Fernando, the latter town being heavily dependent on these country districts for supplies of plantains, red rice and ground provisions. Mosquito Creek is most famous as being a cremation site.
When Hindu cremations were legalized in 1952, the original site was on the right bank, being on a spit of land just off the bridge. Erosion and higher tides forced the moving of the site to a cliff on the left bank of the river mouth where the site still is in use today. The Godineau River is fed by several large tributaries that flow through the Woodland area that are also part of the extensive Oropouche lagoons. Several flood gates were installed to prevent the incursion of salt water into the lagoons, some of which are still functional up to today.
Some have deteriorated and much of the landscape has reverted to salty marshes. One little known fact is that many of the cut channels that flow into the Godineau are still navigable by boats up to today. A well-kept secret is the thousands of Scarlet Ibis that nest in the mangrove areas of the Godineau.
However, hundreds of people who lived for generations on crabs, shell fish, fishing and hunting have become unemployed because of oil pollution, silting, destruction and the removal of the mangrove for road expansion. Our coastal areas need to be preserved. The tsunamis of Banda Aceh brought home the point to the world of the importance of our mangrove belts along the coastline. Could these areas be deemed as national parks for future generations to come?
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