Honouring their place in this nation

Guyana Chronicle
September 30, 2000

WHILE today, the last day of September, marks the end of Amerindian Heritage Month, it does not conclude this nation's act of homage and gratitude to the people who named this land where they have lived in harmony with nature for thousands of years. The formal period of commemoration of things Amerindian will not necessarily mean that the nine tribes of aboriginals who contribute so much to the mosaic of the Guyanese nation will be forgotten until next September. The Amerindian strands of heritage and lore are far too interwoven into the tapestry of Guyana's material culture for citizens to ever forget or neglect the existence of the first people.

All Guyana honours the name of the late Amerindian Legislator, Mr Stephen Campbell, who in the 1950s entered the annals of this country's history when he assumed his seat in the Legislative Council of a pre-Independent Guyana. Campbell's life-long work in representing the interests of his people has been deemed so comprehensive that some years ago, organisations began to clamour for him to be accorded a posthumous national award. A mid-90s GTV documentary on the life of this great Guyanese revealed Campbell's habit of interpreting for his young children the wonderful secrets of the environment and the sustenance they could glean from the myriad trees and plant life around them.

Fortunately for Guyana, his children internalised this transmitted knowledge and culture, and in turn were able to enrich the rest of the nation through the vehicles of art and music. His famous singing son, David Campbell of `Kabakaburi Children' fame travelled to the United States where he was able to re-establish historic links with Native Americans. One of Stephen Campbell's daughters, Mrs Stephanie Correia, who sadly passed away a few months ago was one of this country's most brilliant artists. Her works ranged from paintings to ceramics to poetry, and when she opted to produce a work of mixed-media, it would exert a kind of power over the viewer's senses.

George Simon, another notable Guyanese of Amerindian descent, has also produced paintings of extraordinary power and grace. Influenced by the late Dr Denis Williams, who was one of the finest intellects of this country, George Simon brings vision and gravitas to his art through archaeological excursions into his people's past.

As we reminisce on the feats of outstanding Guyanese aboriginals, we are constrained to mention the miraculous 200-hundred jungle mile trek of Bertina and Bernadette early in 1995. The two sisters were nine and 13 and living with their parents in the Rupununi. As we recall the amazing story, it was the Easter school holidays and the girls were entrusted to an uncle to be taken to their parents' homestead. For reasons unknown, the uncle deviated from the destination and took them hostage into the bushes. Using their wits, the two girls escaped from their relative and then began a month-long journey through the rainforest. With historical instincts and courage way beyond their youthful years, the girls endured the perils of the jungle. They survived by living on fish they roasted after trapping them in rivers. They also munched on edible shoots and even had to eat peppers! They made it through the cold forest nights by climbing trees and hugging each other to sleep. They encountered snakes, and once, a jaguar. Thirty days later they walked into a clearing of the forest and found a camp, and although they were hungry and tired, they remembered their manners and first bade the astonished men, "Good morning."

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