Magazine article Geographical

John Blashford-Snell: Colonel John Blashford-Snell Is in a Remote Part of Guyana, Where He's Helping a Local Tribe Set Up a Sustainable Business, and Tuning Its Grand Piano. the Explorer, Who Is Best Known for His Reed-Boat Adventures, Spoke to Christian Amodeo until the Solar-Charged Batteries of His Satellite Phone Ran Out

Magazine article Geographical

John Blashford-Snell: Colonel John Blashford-Snell Is in a Remote Part of Guyana, Where He's Helping a Local Tribe Set Up a Sustainable Business, and Tuning Its Grand Piano. the Explorer, Who Is Best Known for His Reed-Boat Adventures, Spoke to Christian Amodeo until the Solar-Charged Batteries of His Satellite Phone Ran Out

Article excerpt

What are you doing in Guyana?

Our aim is to set up a scientific research centre and a small ecotourism business for the Wai-Wai people. In addition, I have brought with me three piano tuners to service the baby grand piano I donated to the village of Masakenari two years ago.

Why did you donate the piano?

The tribespeople asked me for it. They had seen pictures of one but had never heard or played one, so I took it to them in 2000. This tribe really is quite unlike any other; they are very musical people, and even call themselves the Musicians of El Dorado. It was a bit of a struggle, but I eventually got it here in one piece. Recently the tribe asked us to tune it.

The piano tuners must have had their work cut out for them

I advertised the position of expedition piano tuner and got such a great response that I ended up taking three. One of them, Tanya, is also a piano maker, which has come in very handy. Initially, they had to remove tarantulas and cockroaches from inside the piano--now and then when you pressed a key you'd hear a cockroach getting crushed by the hammer.

What is the significance of the piano?

As the tribe is so musical, the piano is very important. The people are also very religious; they have a seven-hour service every Sunday. The piano sits where the altar would be in a Western Christian church so it's at the centre of their community. Improving their quality of life is what our work here is all about. The tribe doesn't really want to leave this region, and their impact upon it is small. If the younger members can be discouraged from moving to the big towns, it's a good thing. The government is also keen for them to stay, as they are the area's natural guardians. If they leave, it will be open to illegal logging. Our projects will raise 2,000-3,000 [pounds sterling] a year, which will go into a foundation fund for the community.

How is the project going?

It's going very well. We have consulted the tribe's council on everything. Only yesterday we had a big meeting for them to decide the number of visitors, who'll mainly be scientists, to allow in. The tribes must run the projects; four villagers have already been flown to the town for management training. …

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