Honouring our collective heritage Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
September 2, 2002

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ON SATURDAY, the month of August in which African Emancipation is informally celebrated in Guyana and in several territories of the New World came to an end. And last night, the elegance of African haute couture was scheduled to be on display at the National Cultural Centre under the theme of the ‘Miss Guyana African Heritage Pageant’. That colourful pageant was planned to be the last formal highlight of the Emancipation season. Yesterday, September 1, marked the beginning of Amerindian Heritage Month, and for the next 28 days, Guyanese will witness a heightened emphasis on various aspects of the material culture as well as the artistic components that distinguish the Amerindian way of life, and, at the same time, contribute to the melting pot of the Guyanese ethos. In the month of May, there were wonderful functions to commemorate East Indian Arrival Day, and thousands of Guyanese participated in the programmes, which included classical Indian music and dances as well as colourful and pulsating glimpses of Indian folk culture.

These observances and celebrations help to re-affirm the solid historical beginnings of Guyanese society, and re-assure every citizen of the cherished place he or she has in this nation. With the exception of the Amerindian peoples, every other ethnic group came to this country as explorers or colonisers, or was brought as captive labourers or indentured servants. History tells us that the ancestors of present-day Amerindians came to this country several millennia before the birth of Christ by crossing the Bering Straits and then migrating through North America. The late brilliant Archaeologist and Anthropologist Dr Denis Williams, whose Barabina, North West finds are on display at the Walter Roth Museum, was given confirmation by the Smithsonian that the human skeletons excavated in this country were at least seven thousand years old.

Aboriginals conceptualised the very landscape of this country when they named it Guyana - which means, Land of Many Waters. They were the first to discover and name the rivers, creeks, and waterfalls that characterise the landscape and provide nourishment for the agricultural soils of the coastland while enriching the tropical foliage of the hinterland. Guyana’s unique dish -- pepperpot - originated with the Amerindians, who ingeniously, divined a way of extracting the juice of the highly toxic bitter cassava, and after boiling it into a thick condiment called casareep, and used it successfully to preserve cooked meat, fish or poultry for days. That pot of meat would be eaten communally with fragments of thick cassava bread, also developed from the bitter cassava. Today, pepperpot is one of the most important dishes for the celebration of a Guyanese Christmas. Guyanese overseas make sure they have some casareep come December so that they could prepare a pot of pepperpot to enjoy a taste of home.

Guyana is one of the few countries in which the Amerindian population is on the increase instead of shrinking. Over the last four decades, more and more Amerindians have opted to participate in mainstream Guyanese society, and have distinguished themselves as nurses, midwives, Medexes, formally trained artists, sculptors and ceramists. We cannot speak of the Amerindian contribution to Guyanese life without genuflecting to the memory of late Parliamentarian Mr Stephen Campbell, who was the first Amerindian to sit in the British Guiana Legislative Assembly. His talented offspring include international artiste David Campbell, whose songs including ‘Kabakaburi Children’ have delighted his fellow nationals and audiences in North America. The late Mrs Stephanie Correia, brilliant Guyanese artist and ceramist, was another progeny of Stephen Campbell. Several of Mrs Correia’s mixed media productions reflected continental traditions as well as unique local themes.

Today, like other ethnic groups of this nation, Amerindians face severe economic problems most of which have their origins in poverty and underdevelopment. Yet, so rich is their culture and so pervasive their handiwork on the national tapestry that citizens should have no hesitation in saluting the Amerindians for the invaluable contribution they have made to Guyana’s cultural heritage.