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Essequibo River

Shanties
Essequibo River

The form of this shanty - triple call and response, with the third call & response unchanged throughout the song - is usually a good indicator of Negro or slave origin, as found in shanties such as John Kanaka, Yellow Girls and Alabama John Cherokee. The Essequibo River is in Guyana and Hugill says this shanty is obviously of West Indian or Guiana origin, and was probably first used for jobs ashore where pulling is needed: moving shanty huts; working cargo, etc. It would later be taken to sea by coloured seamen shipping on board Yankee, Bluenose, or British wind-jammers. Hugill gives it as a halyard shanty,

No clear answer has been given as to the meaning (or original language) of the refrain "buddy ta-na-na, we are somebody-o". One conjecture, voiced on the Mudcat Cafe website in February 2000 by a guest posting as Chris, was as follows:

I've been speaking to a friend of mine, who's an expert in Caribbean creole, and she told me that "Buddy tanana, we are somebody, oh" could well have originated from "Boat a-turnin' now, we are somebody o'er" (i.e. turn the boat around, we're a man overboard). This would also give the song a Caribbean provenance. It also makes sense from a nautical point of view, since the boats traditionally used to navigate the Essequibo were light, small-hulled vessels that could hug the shore without going aground on the shallows, and could avoid the strong currents midstream. Curiously, the ruddermen often lacked their thumbs (or other fingers): if they accidentally trailed them in the water, pirahna would bite them off without the sailors feeling a thing. Any opinions?


In over twelve years since then, nobody has produced any evidence to either support or refute these conjectures: in fact nobody has even stated whether or not they agree with them. As the old shantymen said "
They thought the moon was made of cheese, Oh yes, oh, And you can believe it, if you please, A hundred years ago"

Roud Number
Click to play MIDI file
Essequibo River
Essequibo River


Essequibo River is the king of rivers all,

Buddy ta-na-na, we are somebody, oh.

Essequibo River is the king of rivers all,

Buddy ta-na-na, we are somebody, oh.
Somebody, oh, Johnny, somebody, oh,
Buddy ta-na-na, we are somebody, oh.

Essequibo captain is the king of captains all,

Buddy ta-na-na, we are somebody, oh.

Essequibo captain is the king of captains all

Buddy ta-na-na, we are somebody, oh.
Somebody, oh, Johnny, somebody, oh,
Buddy ta-na-na, we are somebody, oh.

Essequibo sailor is the king of sailors all

Buddy ta-na-na, we are somebody, oh.

Essequibo sailor is the king of sailors all

Buddy ta-na-na, we are somebody, oh.
Somebody, oh, Johnny, somebody, oh,
Buddy ta-na-na, we are somebody, oh.

Essequibo bosun is the king of bosuns all,

Buddy ta-na-na, we are somebody, oh.

Essequibo bosun is the king of bosuns all,

Buddy ta-na-na, we are somebody, oh.
Somebody, oh, Johnny, somebody, oh,
Buddy ta-na-na, we are somebody, oh.

Essequibo Judy is the queen of judies all

Buddy ta-na-na, we are somebody, oh.

Essequibo Judy is the queen of judies all

Buddy ta-na-na, we are somebody, oh.
Somebody, oh, Johnny, somebody, oh,
Buddy ta-na-na, we are somebody, oh.

Essequibo River is the king of rivers all

Buddy ta-na-na, we are somebody, oh.

Essequibo River is the king of rivers all

Buddy ta-na-na, we are somebody, oh.
Somebody, oh, Johnny, somebody, oh,
Buddy ta-na-na, we are somebody, oh.

Somebody, oh, Johnny, somebody, oh,
Buddy ta-na-na, we are somebody, oh.

Recorded by Sharp As Razors
Play MP3
Essequibo River, sung by Sharp As Razors
The Essequibo River

The Essequibo (or Esequibo) River lies entirely within the South American country of Guyana, and is the largest river between the Orinoco and Amazon. Rising near the Brazilian border, it flows north for some 600 miles to reach the Atlantic Ocean about 15 miles west of the capital, Georgetown (GPS 6.8177,-58.1596).

Despite its length it is not a major commercial artery due to the countless falls and rapids in its course. Although the estuary is 20 miles wide, it is obstructed by islands and silt, and small ocean-going vessels may go no further than Bartica (GPS 6.4104,-58.6234), a mere 50 miles inland.

It is named after the Spanish explorer,
Juan de Esquivel, who accompanied Columbus on his second American voyage in 1493, and explored the river around 1500. Shortly afterwards Capuchin missionaries became active in the area converting the local tribes, but the first permanent European settlement in Guyana was built by the Dutch along the lower part of the Essequibo in 1615. Along with two further Dutch colonies, it was seized by Britain in 1796 while the Netherlands was under French occupation: in 1831 the three colonies were united to form British Guiana.

In 1840 the western border with Venezuela was fixed
close to its current position after that country gained independence from Spain. However, Venzuela always claimed all land west of the Essequibo as its own: an 1899 international tribunal awarded it only 6% of the disputed territory, and both sides agreed this settlement in 1905. But Venezuela revived its claim in 1962 and still claims to this day that its eastern boundary is the Essequibo River.

buddy ta-na-na ... we are somebody-o
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