They gave this land its name

Guyana Chronicle
September 4, 2000

IT WOULD be difficult to list all the contributions Guyana's first people have made to this nation which possesses one of the richest amalgams of the melting-pot experience in this hemisphere. Guyana's Amerindians have had a very firm hand in defining the nation's material culture as well as the broad poetics of myths, lore, pre-historic petroglyphs and creation stories.

To the many tribes of Amerindians who still follow their centuries-old traditions in Guyana's hinterland and the savannahs, time is measured by the movements of the sun and the moon and the rising of the waters. They commune instinctively with the environment, and to them the rivers, the rocks, the forests and the mountains are sources of legend and inspiration as well as sustenance.

It is meet and right that a period of time has been identified for the observance of Amerindian Heritage Month and it is our hope that the rest of the nation take some time to reflect on the many ways in which Guyana's first people have enriched the ethos of the country.

The ancestors of Guyana's Amerindians lived on this land from the mists of antiquity. Bones, artefacts, tools and fragments of pottery excavated and analysed by archaeologist, the late Dr Denis Williams, establish unequivocally that Amerindians inhabited this land thousands of years before the birth of Christ.

The very name `Guyana' which means land of many waters is derived from the culture of the Amerindians. They also named the rivers, mountains and creeks, around which many of their creation stories evolved.

The Amerindians survived near-genocide in the 16th and 17th centuries, when hordes of European adventurers descended on the `New World' with the noble aim of converting the heathen to Christianity and the ignoble objective of stealing their items of material culture and forcing them into a form of slavery.

In 1994, the United Nations launched `The Decade of the World's Indigenous People (1995-2004)' as a way of paying tribute to the millions of native people or tribals scattered through the Americas and in other parts of the world. The then Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr Boutros-Boutros Ghali, said that the launching of the Decade was the result of the "determination of those people not to remain at the margins of national and international life".

The ten-year period was viewed as a time set aside for recognition of the indigenous peoples and their aspirations and also as a frame for the United Nations system, government and non-government organisations (NGOs) and others to give priority to the new role of aboriginals as decision-makers and beneficiaries of national, regional and international development activities.

A UN statement at the time, observed that there should be cooperation and consultations with indigenous peoples in the implementation and evaluation of development schemes affecting their lives. The theme selected for the Decade was "Indigenous People: A New Relationship/Partnership in Action".

Perhaps it is time for local Amerindian organisations to assess the levels of progress made by Guyanese aboriginals in various aspects of their lives and to guide both government agencies and international bodies on precise needs and requirements for further positive development.

As one country of the Americas where the artefacts of pre-Columbian occupation by aboriginal peoples have been careful researched and preserved as part of the national heritage and where there are ongoing enquiries into all aspects of Amerindian culture, Guyana is well-placed to achieve the goals of the Decade of the World's Indigenous People.

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