Evita Walcott is Amerindian Heritage Queen By Yondell Proffit
Guyana Chronicle
October 2, 2001

TWENTY-year-old Evita Walcott felt it was a dream come true for her to be performing on stage at the National Cultural Centre last Sunday night. And when she was crowned queen at the first ever Miss Amerindian Heritage Pageant, it was the most fantastic moment of her life.

Evita, who represented Region Two, was one of ten lovely Amerindian delegates vying for the historic crown.

The first runner-up position was given to Region Seven's Veron Henry, while second runner-up was Denise Rodriques from Region Nine.

In a brief address to the packed Cultural Centre, His Excellency, President Bharrat Jadgeo, said that he was extremely pleased to be allowed the privilege of sharing the evening with all Guyanese.

" This activity shows the month of celebrations of rich Amerindian culture," he said "and I am extremely proud to be a Guyanese."

The President explained that before the pageant, he had an opportunity to speak with the ten delegates and said he found out that most of them have never even been on a stage to perform in front of people.

"We are all Guyanese and this is our culture as well," the President said.

He announced that he is more encouraged to become involved in preserving the culture and way of life of the Amerindian communities and added that he is more willing to provide ways and create opportunities for Amerindians, while he makes plans to have them integrated in society.

This event was organised by the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs and it was the finale of a programme of activities to mark Amerindian Heritage Month.

The pageant started at 20:00hrs (8 p.m.) sharp Sunday and ended at about 12:45hrs yesterday.

A written message from the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs said that the Pageant is a normal part of Amerindian Heritage activities in most of the Administrative Regions of Guyana. It noted that there were various thoughts on what exactly this 'Heritage Pageant' should be. The contest was also an opportunity for Guyanese to see the extent of Amerindian integration.

The girls made their first appearance with a brief introduction of themselves, before moving on to the talent segment.

They were judged in four categories: introduction, talent, traditional wear and intelligence. There was also an evening wear segment. However, the contestants were not judged in this.

Evita, in her introduction, said that she is a trained teacher who enjoys communicating and outdoor sports. She is also from the Arawak tribe.

In this segment it was felt that all the contestants did well, except for Region Ten's Clair Jonas, who only told the audience that she was from Region Ten. This introduction category was worth ten points.

Managing Director of Shell Beach and Co-founder and Secretary of Marine Turtle Conservation, Ms Anette Arjoon, was the Chief Judge, while the other judges were Ms Erica Baharali, a trained teacher of Cummings Lodge Secondary School; Dr. George Norton who is a specialist in ophthalmology at the Georgetown Public Hospital; and Ms Christine Lowe, who is a teacher at Head Start Nursery. The other judge was Mr Hubert Wong, an anthropologist and businessman.

The next segment was the talent piece where each of the delegates highlighted something from their respective tribes.

Evita sang a calypso, entitled, "Don't Think We Stupid". In this composition, Evita commented on some of the treatment Amerindians receive from the rest of society. She asserted that Amerindians were proving themselves in all professions while maintaining the important aspects of their culture.

Contestant from Region Three, Michelle Barker, also came up with an interesting presentation. It was a poem she had written with the message 'Don't let us separate because of race hate'.

After this segment, there was a 15-minute break, before the start of the evening gown sequence.

The Cultural Centre stage was well designed with real trees, artificial birds and giant stones that created a picture of the hinterland. On the floor of the stage were scattered leaves, and branches hung from the ceiling. It was a night of spectacular beauty, creativity and elegance.

In the intelligence category, the contestants were judged for content, relevance, fluency as well as poise and confidence. Their individual questions were based on their platform and were believed by many to be quite easy. There were hardly any faults here, except from the Region Five delegate, who was asked to name three by-products of cassava and also explain how one of them is made. Of course, she named cassava bread and explained how it is made, but then she went on to explain about pepper-pot and how good it tasted with cassava bread, completely forgetting that she had to respond to the first part of the question.

This young lady, Rovina Charles, was however the crowd favourite because she represented a 'true' Amerindian woman.

Then there was the traditional wear segment, with most of the costumes consisting of seeds, leaves, feathers and tibisiri. The same young lady stole the show in this event.

While all the other girls displayed their garments in the normal way, Rovina Charles went on stage in her outfit equipped with a fishing bow and a bag with all that was needed for a day in the swamp. Among the eatables were her own favourite, cassava bread, fish and pepperpot. It was very original and this get-up gave her a place in the top five.

She, however, failed in the final intelligence category after the five contestants were asked what they would deal with most if they were to become Minister of Amerindian Affairs.

Evita Walcott, maintaining her confidence and poise, said that she would see as most important the issue of exploitation of Amerindian women. She also plans to address the land rights issue and education for her people. Charles, on the other hand started off well with education, but then branched into her people's way of life and continued her explanation of how the people from her area are usually treated by outsiders.

To add to the night's entertainment there were performances by the Couchman family, famous for their hit song 'Guyana Hinterland'. There were also cultural presentations by the Sand Creek Group, doing their version of the 'Cassava Dance', as well as interpretive dances and poems written and performed by the participants themselves. Calypso finalist, Vivian Jordan, also made a guest appearance.

The queen was sashed by President Bharrat Jagdeo and crowned by Miss Guyana 2001, Olive Gopaul. Miss Talented Teen, Asha Pieters also made an appearance. Among Evita's prizes are $100,000 in cash prize and six months of free computer classes.