Assuring aboriginals of their place in the community of nations
September 6, 1999
IT IS WITH a deep sense of respect that we salute Guyana's aboriginal peoples on the occasion of Amerindian Heritage Month, which commenced on Wednesday, September 1. Inaugurated in the mid-90s, Amerindian Heritage Month serves to remind the diverse ethnic groups that comprise the nation of Guyana of the tremendous contributions made by Amerindians to the cultural matrix and the spiritual ethos of this country. The month also provides Guyana's native peoples with the opportunity to re-assert their historic presence in this part of the world and to assess their material advances in the mainstream of national life.
While other ethnic groups in the Guyanese society can measure their time in this land in terms of generations and, perhaps centuries, the Amerindian peoples have been traversing this country and settling in various communities for thousands of years. They are believed to be the descendants of Asians who crossed the land bridge of the Bering Straits as hunter-gatherers during the fourth Ice Age. After peopling North America, these intrepid tribals crossed into South America and settled in every country.
The great civilisations of the Incas, the Mayas and the Aztecs still evoke wonder in this age of information technology. The wise men of those times were so learned in astronomy that they predicted with mathematical accuracy most of the important heavenly occurrences up to the second millennium. The mummies of Peru amaze archaeologists with the quality of preservation of bodies that lived thousands of years ago. Though not as splendidly preserved, the skeletons of aboriginals who lived in the north western areas of Guyana thousands of years before the birth of Christ, do confer on this country a sacred sense of history.
The late Dr Denis Williams, respected archaeologist, who conducted excavations at Barabina in the early 1980s, unearthed human remains, fragments of dug-out canoes and a collection of potsherd, which to a trained intelligence, reveals the texture of everyday living and the rites of birth and death observed by those early peoples. They named this land Guyana - a word which means Land of Many Waters. The wonderful finds of Barabina, which were authenticated by no lesser authority than the Smithsonian, are prized possessions of the Walter Roth Museum.
The last 500 years have not been easy for the aboriginals of the so-called `New World', for with `discovery' by the famed Admiral of the Ocean Sea came the greedy ravages of European expansionism. The first peoples were robbed of their lands and placed into virtual slavery which translated into ruthless exploitation. Some tribals, like the ancestors of the Garifunas of Belize, were even displaced from their home in the Eastern Caribbean.
Today's generation has seen a welcome resurgence of pride among the world's aboriginals. From the 1992 Nobel Peace Laureate Rigoberta Menchu, a Quiche Indian of Guatemala to the group of Australian aboriginals who recently filed a class act against the authorities for taking away children from their parents, tribals all over the world are networking and forming effective associations so that their voices can be heard, and not just listened to patronisingly, in the citadels of world power.
Former United Nations Secretary General Mr Boutros Boutros-Ghali put it succinctly three years ago, when in a message to mark International Day of the World's Indigenous People, he exhorted humankind to do more than apologise for the wrongs aboriginal people have faced. He advised states to help them to take their rightful place as full participants in the community of nations.
This advice we firmly endorse.
A © page from: Guyana: Land of Six Peoples