A collaborative effort could help Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
September 6, 2002

Related Links: Articles on Amerindians
Letters Menu Archival Menu

AMERINDIANS, the first inhabitants of this land, have significantly contributed to the unique cultural diversity that Guyana is so well known for.

Many of the national dishes and beverages relished by Guyanese of all walks of life are from the Amerindians - cassava bread, tasso, pepperpot, casareep, paiwari - and they all form part of the rich Amerindian heritage that has blended into our national culture.

Amerindians are unmatched in their skill, originality and patience in carving, weaving and constructing masterpieces of handicraft.

The world famous Amerindian hammock is yet to have a rival, and the nibbi furniture and many other types of handicraft are unique to the indigenous people.

Of note is that they do not use any modern technology or equipment in producing their pieces - the work is done by using traditional and indigenous methods that have been developed over the centuries.

It was a significant and most welcome development when the late President Cheddi Jagan initiated for the first time a Ministry of Amerindian Affairs and declared this month Amerindian Heritage Month.

Dr. Jagan, in and out of office, had always kept in close touch with the Amerindians and their difficulties and this move was no surprise.

Since the establishment of the ministry, the problems facing Amerindian communities have been and are increasingly being addressed. But that is not to say that problems do not exist.

It has been recognised that the development of indigenous communities is integrally linked to poverty reduction, and in this regard improving education is seen as a key factor in this process.

The hinterland scholarship programme for Amerindian students, the teachers upgrading programme and improved medical services in the hinterland communities, are positive steps in the overall scheme of development for Amerindians.

Only recently a Headmaster from the Rupununi, the first Amerindian to have received such an award, was granted a British scholarship to pursue a Masters Degree in the teaching of English as a second language, at Leeds University. This is indeed a great boost for the further educational development of Amerindians.

The demarcation of Amerindian lands, which had lingered for several decades but was completed a few years ago, is another significant achievement, adding to a greater feeling of security for Amerindians.

However, amid the many positive indicators of Amerindian development, one of the disturbing problems still persisting in the society is the disrespect, molestation and exploitation meted out to Amerindians by insensitive and unscrupulous persons.

Apart from authoritative and legal means, one way in which this problem could be alleviated is through more intensive education about the history, traditions, customs and culture of Amerindians across the wider spectrum of society.

Organising economy cost educational tours to the indigenous communities, which incidentally are located in some of the most naturally beautiful parts of the country, can also help in a change of attitude.

Perhaps, this could be done through a collaborative effort of the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs and the Tourism and Hospitality Association of Guyana.

Most Guyanese have never visited a hinterland community and tours could help to truly understand, respect and appreciate the culture of the Amerindians.

As other Guyanese join with and salute their Amerindian brothers and sisters in reflecting on and celebrating their tremendous achievements during this month designated as Amerindian Heritage Month, there is also need to focus on the difficulties and intensify the search for feasible solutions.