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Mr. Ivan Alexander Johnson: A Rupununi Pioneer

Published: 24th of January, 2023 by Patrick Carpen

Last updated: January 24, 2023 at 18:56 pm

Mr. Ivan Alexander Johnson (Sr), who completed his long and fruitful earthly journey in December 2017, was doubtless one of the the first pioneers of the Rupununi Savannahs of Guyana.  He was one of many Rupununi trailblazers, who, in their own simple ways, unique personalities, and vision for making a successful living in what is still considered a remote region of Guyana, have facilitated the opening up of the Rupununi to the rest of the country and the world at large, and contributed to the economic and social wellbeing of the Region. 

In 1946, at age 17, Ivan Johnson took courage and ventured through the then Cattle Trail, like many others, in search of employment to support his parents and siblings back home in Berbice.

In the early years, he worked as a helper of tradesmen traversing the Rupununi selling their merchandise, then as a ranch hand where he was introduced to the workings of ranches in the Rupununi.  Thereafter, after a unique experience, he was fortunate to become the “Runner Boy” of Sir Gordon James Lethem, then Governor of Lethem.  Subsequently, he gained employment with the Lethem Power Station where he worked as an assistant to the Station Manager.  After some years gaining experience as a technician, and due to his loyalty, diligence and kind disposition, he earned a Government scholarship to attend the Government Technical Institute in Georgetown where he was educated as an electrician.  On his return, he was appointed Manager of the Power Station where he served until retirement.

Those close to Mr. Johnson relates that he was man of many virtues.  But one that is most relevant for this feature was his love for the Rupununi, and making it the home for his family, seizing business opportunities, and contributing to the economic and social wellbeing of the people.  He played a critical role in promoting domestic tourism of the Region: After establishing his Kumu Ranch in the late 1960s, and then Vilami Ranch in the 1980s, and being one of the main shareholders of the Annai Livestock Association, Ivan Johnson became one of the principal leaders in the development of the Rupununi Rodeo product.  Mr. Johnson loved excitement and to be in the “thick of things.” He was committed and passionate in the planning and rollout of the Rupununi Rodeo event each year, always readying up his vaqueros and cattle to take part.  To his wife’s chagrin, each year, he had to participate in the featured events – the horse races! where he would put money besides his prized “Shot Gun” and others in the wake of the likes of “Carifesta,” “She’s a Lady” and “Her Majesty.”

In November 1971, Ivan Johnson, with his partner Arthur Bobb, established the Takutu Guest House, a six-room guest facility which opened to receive the first Safari expedition to the Rupununi.  The facility became the Takutu Hotel in the 1980s on achieving 21 guest rooms.  The hotel currently accommodates 54 guest rooms with conference and other facilities.

In the year 2019, Ivan Alexander Johnson was posthumously inducted into the Rupununi Tourism Body’s Hall of Fame for his outstanding contributions to the development of Rupununi tourism. The event was attended by his wife, children, and other family members who expressed deep gratitude for the recognition of his contributions to the Rupununi tourism industry.

The late Mr. Johnson loved the Rupununi and its people, and worked through the challenges of its development.  It was his home. Upon his passing in December, 2017, Mr. Johnson left behind a great legacy for his wife, children, and other family members to continue. They too share his passion for the Rupununi and have happily taken up the torch of supporting the development of the Rupununi Savannahs.

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