It is important for all groups to be who they are
Stabroek News
September 28, 2001

Dear Editor,

In his response to my letter [ please note: link provided by LOSP web site ] of September 8, I appreciated Mr Vic Lobert's sincerity and honesty in his letter captioned `Culture changes with progress' (SN, 22.9.200l), where he declared that the logic of the Amerindian culture argument eluded him. Like Mr Lobert, the importance of culture could elude many of us as we often make the mistake of associating the quest of culture with jingoism, racism, lack of progress, lack of sophistication, or a lack of education, and risk being perceived a turncoat.

First, however, we must examine what is meant by `culture.' This word has many different meanings which include one's mores, traditions and ways of life, refinement, improvement by mental or physical training, ethos, works of art - living in cities, etc. The culture argument is concerned with tradition and ways of life, etc, and not with dwelling in cities, as Mr Lobert has assumed.

Amerindians may be afforded the respect and privileges of Guyanese but it is important for them to be who they are, to preserve their community values, to express themselves differently if they so desire, to practise and exhibit their arts and crafts, to sing and dance to their own tunes and to be Wai-Wais, Wapishanas, Arawaks or whatever. Of equal concern is also the fast decline, since languages are intricately linked to cultures, in the way thoughts and ideas are expressed.

We may not be deliberately trying to suppress Amerindian culture but it is easy to be swallowed up in the dominant culture because of sheer numeric, social, political, economic and environmental pressures. That is why I laud the celebration of Etauchingpang and the Amerindian Heritage Month. It is a step in the right direction but more efforts are necessary to solidify the cultural and other rights of our indigenous peoples who have been bereft of respect and sidelined to the lower echelons of society.

Dwelling in towns does not nullify the expression of culture as Mr Lobert claims. Afro-Guyanese live mostly in the cities yet we witness much glamour and celebration of the African culture not only on Emancipation Day but on other occasions as well. Similarly, the Indo-Guyanese culture is alive and well in the city and in the country. And the nine Amerindian tribes like other ethnic groups in Guyana may "all seem to be the same, eating the same food, wearing the same clothing and living in areas the same as other Guyanese" but their mores could be quite different.

For the sake of our mutual survival it is essential that we look beyond the surface and appreciate the intricate dynamics of humanity. God has made us differently and though we are all flesh and blood we also differ in terms of our strengths, weaknesses, values, food, music, temperaments, mode of thinking, etc. Things that make people in the different groups tick can often only be truly understood and felt by people in those groups.

Mr Lobert contends that cultural changes, "have already gone past the point of no return," yet we see ACDA (fortunately) is restoring cultural pride to the Afro-Guyanese people through a revival in their music, culture, clothing, etc. The Amerindians should also be afforded a similar renaissance.

Exposure to modern amenities and technology does not mean that there should be a deprivation of culture and traditions. I know of many scientists, doctors and lawyers who have particular respect and devotion to age-old practices such as paying homage to the sun or water, a ritual that may seem incredible to the modern and unfamiliar eye. These customs are part of these people's value system which they esteem, and which we should respect.

Education should not "replace ethnicity and culture" as posited by Mr Lobert. Rather, education should enhance and strengthen our appreciation for the plurality and beauty of various ethnicities and cultures.

This topic of culture is a vast and fascinating one. It is contained in the discipline of Cultural Anthropology which is an established behavioural and cognitive science. There is a plethora of literature, books and magazines available on this topic, especially on the internet. However, we can gain some valuable insight into this topic from some recent letters to the Stabroek News including that of Ms Bernadette Indira Persaud (24.1.01) and Ms Ryhaan Shah (3.8.01 and 17.8.01). These sources would help us to be more informed and become less elusive about the legitimacy of cultural anthropology. And the better the understanding we have of this concept, the easier it would be for us to actualise the adage 'unity in diversity.'

Yours faithfully,

Devanand Bhagwan