Georgetown, Guyana – (September 1, 2015) Out of respect and sensitivity for Guyana’s first peoples, what was known as “Amerindian Heritage Month” has now been re-designated ‘Indigenous Heritage Month”. This was announced earlier this evening, as President David Granger, declared the 2015 Heritage Month celebration opened at, the Sophia, Exhibition site.
“We are pleased to be associated with Indigenous Heritage Month, which is dedicated to events and observances to highlight aspects of Indigenous life and showcase their contributions to national life,” the President stated. In keeping with this year’s theme, “Preserving Indigenous customs and traditions”, the President spoke of the importance, which his administration places on safeguarding every aspect of the Indigenous peoples’ way of life.
Against this backdrop, the President announced that the administration will recommence the Amerindian Languages Project, at the University of Guyana. However, it will be renamed, the Indigenous Language Project.
This follows an announcement by President Granger at the National Toshaos Council Meeting, two weeks ago, on the establishment of the Hinterland Language, Cultural and Sports Commission. This Commission, among other things, will promote the preservation, through documentation and recording, of indigenous languages.
President Granger told a packed auditorium, that the rich and diverse cultural heritage of Indigenous peoples needs to be safeguarded, even as modernisation and penetration by other cultures are threatening many of the traditions and values.
With specific focus on the preservation of Indigenous languages, President Granger pointed out that provision for this, is made for in the Constitution. The Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana prescribes, in Article 149G, states, “Indigenous peoples shall have the right to the protection, preservation and promulgation of their languages, cultural heritage and way of life”.
President Granger reaffirmed that as leader of the country he is obligated to fulfill what is in the Constitution.
“The heritage of our Indigenous peoples is the patrimony of all of Guyana; languages speak to your heritage. The languages of our Indigenous peoples contain the wisdom passed down through the ages by their ancestors. The loss of languages, therefore, constitutes a form of cultural loss to the entire nation,” President Granger said.
Meanwhile, the President’s message on the importance of maintaining Indigenous language was well received as it was welcomed by some prominent indigenous figures present at the opening ceremony. Brethnol Ashley, Regional Chairman of Region one, in an invited comment, told the Ministry of the Presidency, that in his view, the announcement is very timely one.
“…This year’s theme reflects on preserving customs and tradition. I think having the languages preserved in Guyana is something very important and something that our government should foster in helping our Indigenous brothers and sisters to remember their identity and find their identity.”
Lennox Shuman, the Toshao of St. Cuthbert’s Mission, who also spoke with the Ministry of the Presidency, lauded the announcement by the President and deemed it a bold step.
“It’s a great initiative. It’s something that has been neglected for well over 40 years and we look forward to everything this administration can do. They have taken a very bold first step in changing from Amerindian to Indigenous, which gives us a different platform under various international organisations to address those issues.” Shuman added that the Indigenous communities will be looking forward to even bolder moves such as seeing the languages being incorporated into the school’s curriculum.
There are nine Indigenous languages; Arawak (Lokono), Akawaio, Arekuna, Carib (Karina), Makushi, Patamona, Wapishana, WaiWai and Warau. However, to date, dictionaries have only been produced for seven of the nine, leaving the Carib (Karina) and the Patamona languages still to be completed.
Over the next four weeks, Guyana’s indigenous people will showcase their, cuisine, culture and talent in their respective villages as well at the Sophia Exhibition site. Others events that will coincide with this month’s celebrations will include the Indigenous Heritage Month Pageant, the Stephen Campbell Educational Lecture, fashion shows, a cultural extravaganza and much more.
This year, Santa Aratak Village, Region three has been designated the official Heritage village.