President David Granger: Thank you, please be seated. Well, when I was greeted by Toshao Mr. Lenox Shuman, I saw the spear; I thought I would address him first. Thank you for allowing me to pass into your village Toshao Shuman, then I will greet the Vice President Sydney Allicock because he has no spear. Honourable Minister of Social Cohesion, Honourable Minister of Public Affairs; Member of the National Assembly representing the Leader of the Opposition, Ms. Gail Teixeira; Chairman of the Demerara- Mahaica Region; Chairman of the National Toshaos Council; other visiting Toshaos; members of the NTC; my old colleague- comrade, I see him still wearing his Border Defence Medal; other military veterans; greetings.
I don’t think there is anybody in this community over the age of maybe sixty-five who has not served in the GDF. This has been a very faithful community to the defence of Guyana; congrats. Special invitees; residents of Pakuri; members of the media; ladies and gentlemen, I am happy to be here; this is what I think in Pakuri is called a warm welcome and the longer we stay the warmer it will get, but it’s always a pleasure to come here and I’m very glad that the community has taken initiative to engage in what I call an exercise of authentication; that is to restore the authentic name of this community to Pakuri.
As you know a little more than one and a quarter centuries ago an Anglican Mission was established and since that time this community has been known by the name of that mission- Saint Cuthbert. I don’t know if many people in Pakuri know who Saint Cuthbert was but he lived about fifteen hundred years ago in northern England and I’m sure that Toshao couldn’t be dressed like that when he went to the birth place of Saint Cuthbert, but I think this exercise in authentication is a correct move and particularly because Pakuri is a special community of the nine Amerindian nations in Guyana: the Lokono or the Arawak are the largest and Pakuri, the only indigenous community in the Demerara-Mahaica Region, is the largest by geographical area, although they have not been producing children at the rate of other communities yet.
Actually, Pakuri is bigger than Saint Lucia; it is bigger than Saint Vincent, it is bigger than several Caribbean islands and safer too. So you do have a tremendous geographical area, for which you are responsible, but today’s observance as you have heard before is not simply a celebration; it is a sort of New Year’s Day. As you know the celebration of indigenous heritage started in the 1980s and as it has been pointed out correctly, a decision was taken in the 1990s to move the day from which it was celebrated to September because it was on the 10th of September and tomorrow will be the 10th of September. It’s the 10th of September when Stephen Joseph Campbell entered what is called the Legislative Council in 1957. So in fact tomorrow will be the Diamond Jubilee of Stephen Campbell’s entry into the Legislative Council and I hope that those of you, who are devotees of any faith, will say a little prayer for Steven Campbell tomorrow at his 60th anniversary into the Legislative Council after the 1957 elections.
Ladies and gentlemen, we celebrate today, a day which I feel is very important to all Guyanese. When I was in the opposition a few years ago I introduced a motion to observe the 9th of November as the National Day for Villages because we all came from villages. We all came from villages, not only the indigenous people, but also the African and Indian people and the Portuguese people, and Chinese. After leaving the plantation at the end of their indenture ship or enslavement, they went into the villages and up to now you still see the villages being the important economic dynamo in this country. People like Mr. Bernard De Santos of Portuguese origin still lives in a village. People like Mr. Clyde Roopchand, who died recently, came out of Buxton village. Bishop Benedict Singh came out of Buxton village.
Eugene Correia, born in Buxton village, so when we speak of villages we don’t speak of one ethnic group; we speak of all of the ethnic groups in this country and in November we will observe the National Day of Villages and today, particularly, we are happy to be here in Pakuri village celebrating village life. The village is the crucible of culture as you can see from these young persons who have been dancing and playing music for us this morning.
The village is the custodian of the customs of the people. The village, as you would see later I’m sure, I saw yesterday at the Regional Agriculture and Commercial Exhibition of this region, the Demerara – Mahaica Region, craft work which was produced in Pakuri village. All of these things come out of our villages. So it is important that we are here today to recognise the importance of the villages, not only culturally but also to the economy of our country, but today is not about the past, it is not even about the present, it is about the future.
Pakuri is about the future; it is a project that we want to succeed. It’s about a plan and that plan and, of course, I will seek prior informed consent, free prior informed consent, is that each village and particularly Pakuri should be guided by a plan; what I call a village improvement plan, what my protocol officer might call the VIP, but we can’t go on without a plan as the saying goes from the famous Dr. Laurence J. Peter, “if you don’t know where you are going, you will end up somewhere else” and Pakuri must know where it is going and I believe that that VIP will help ‘Pakurians’ to work systematically year after year to ensure that they achieve their objectives and they provide that good life that we all deserve. The world will not wait for Pakuri; change is continuous; next year when I come here, perhaps I wouldn’t even hear a generator because they would have gone solar. The generator, the whole fossil fuel will be a part of the past; that would be in a museum- wouldn’t it? So let us look at this plan.
This plan like a house could be and I proposed this to Toshao Shuman built on four pillars and the first pillar, as I always say concerning the children, is the pillar of education. Pakuri is lucky; it has a primary school, it has a secondary school, but in some communities of this country too many of our primary and secondary school children drop out. Somebody said that there is an African proverb which goes like this “it takes a village to raise a child”; in fact the person who said that can’t say which African community it came from, but let us say it takes a village to raise a child and Pakuri must accept the responsibility for each child in this community. They must be zero dropouts; no child must drop out of primary and secondary school. Your motto must be every child in school and education is no longer just nursery; it’s no longer just primary; it’s no longer secondary alone. Take the boat out of Mahaica, go along the road to Turkeyen and let’s see more Indigenous children graduating from Cyril Potter College of Education and the University of Guyana.
The second pillar of the village improvement plan is jobs. In other regions, particularly the border regions – and we have indigenous people in all ten regions, but the heaviest concentration is in the border regions of the Barima-Waini, the Cuyuni-Mazaruni, the Pataro-Siparuni and the Rupununi regions. Many children, even if they go to primary and secondary schools, even if they don’t drop out, end up going across the border to Brazil; some of them working in restaurants, some of them working as labourers.
Nothing is wrong with work; I like people to work, but we can provide full employment in Guyana right here in these villages; right here in this more than six hundred square kilometres village of Pakuri, but we have to move farming forward, we have to move logging forward, we have to move craft manufacture forward, we have to move agro- processing forward so that everything we produce could reach the market.
Here in Pakuri, the market is easier to access than Awarenauwau or Hobadia or other villages around the country, but I am confident that every single indigenous child in this country could get full employment by using the resources in his or her village and they can do this because of the traditional knowledge and we have to be able to access the market more aggressively. Everything you produce, if you produce sweet potato I must be able to go into a fish and chip shop and eat sweet potato from Pakuri- potato chips.
I must be able to make pepper pot from cassareep from Pakuri, farine; all of these traditional products could now be put on an industrial footing. So there is work, there is employment, there are jobs, but where our grandparents perhaps were able to get a few hundred kilos from a hectare we must use agricultural science to produce more from less land, but we must seek employment right here in our villages; we don’t have to go across the border and right now there is reverse migration because some of them find the borders too hot and many people who went away are now coming back to the promised land – the green state of Guyana.
The third pillar, my brothers and sisters, of which this VIP is erected, is the environment and I think there are about four hundred school children here and they have an exercise book. Any school children have exercise books here? Let me see them, there you go. This exercise book is about your environment, it has the images of the giants- twenty giants. These giants belong to you, they belong to us, they belong to Guyana. These are not fake news, they’re not video images. They’re not downloaded from the internet; these are giants which roam Guyana. The largest snake in the world, the largest bat in the world, the largest freshwater fish in the world, the largest eagle in the world, the largest vulture in the world; this is part of our environment and this is the third pillar on which the VIP will be erected.
The protection of our environment. I have been told the Indigenous people say that trees hold up the sky and if you cut down the trees the sky will fall. But trees are also the habitat, the environment is also the habitat of these creatures, and every school child in Pakuri now has a copy of this exercise book and I want it to be a constant reminder. We have Highlands which some of you perhaps never saw, covered in clouds. We have the lowlands like parts of the Mahaica and the Mahaicony and the Canje from which our national bird comes, the Canje Pheasant. We have the grasslands in Berbice and in the Rupununi. We have the islands in the Essequibo and three of those islands – Leguan, Wakenaam and Hogg Island – alone are the size of the British Virgin Islands and I’m very sorry to hear what happened to the British Virgin Islands, but never mind Essequibo you are safe.
We have rain forest where many of these animals live, we have rivers and waterfalls; some of the most beautiful in the world. Pakuri can make a living out of eco-tourism; there are only fifteen hundred of you here, even though Toshao Shuman has given me a commitment that he will try to augment the population, but among you, you can establish viable and profitable eco-tourism industries. Smaller countries with less rich biodiversity encourage birding, sport fishing, they encourage canoeing and they can build resorts so that people within a couple of hours could get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and experience clean air and fresh water, and beautiful people. So let us look towards creating an environment here and I’m not here as a spoil sport but one person complained about the condition of the road from the highway. I complained about the number of plastic bottles and Styrofoam boxes that I have seen coming in here. So let us look after our environment; if we want tourists to come, move the beer bottles and make sure that Pakuri is an environmentally beautiful community, pristine community.
And the fourth pillar, as I mentioned before, is the economy – economic diversification. It is good that we should produce craft, but I’m sure there are many of us who go into the city or to supermarkets and to see products which you know your own grandmother used to make being imported from other countries. I really don’t have the stomach to touch plantain chips and banana chips from Guatemala; I think it would stick in my throat; guava cheese (Goiabada) from other countries. I am a Head of State, so I can’t call countries’ names too freely, but you can do better Pakuri; so let us look to economic diversification; everything you can produce can be processed. Everything you grow up eating can be processed; could be packaged, could be bottled and sold in the Caribbean or sold in the supermarkets of Guyana.
Energy generation too – let us get rid of this addiction, all addictions are harmful to life. Let us get rid of this addiction to oil. Oil is coming, but it is also going to go. We will continue to walk on two legs people; green environment and use the profit from petroleum to give our people a good life. We wouldn’t get drunk on oil like other people. Let us put our craft manufacturing on a sound footing; we can produce the best hammocks, we can produce the best condiments and food stuff.
Earlier this year when I had a luncheon for visiting Caribbean Heads of Government, I pointed out to you already the Toshaos, everything they were served came from the soil of Guyana and one particular Head, enjoying a bit of Guyanese breadfruit, took the opportunity to tell that his country has eighteen varieties of breadfruit – and when I was launching the National Tree Day and I hope that you launch your National Tree Day here in Pakuri on the first Saturday next month October; the 7th of October I think it is. I was told that if every household in Bartica and (Dr. Norton knows about this) if every household in Bartica had one breadfruit tree; a mature breadfruit tree, Bartica alone would be able to produce a million pounds of bread fruit a year. If we produce a million pounds of breadfruit a year Saint Vincent would sink. So I urge you, urge you, to make use of these six hundred and twelve square kilometres, which Pakuri has as its territory to produce more food, more fruit for sale in the market place.
So ladies and gentlemen, particularly the residents of Pakuri and most particularly Toshao Lenox Shuman, whom I know has his heart in the right place even though some other things may not be visible. I see every day the enthusiasm with which he goes about his duties as a Toshao. I commend you Toshao Shuman and to your council this village improvement plan. Let us pay attention to the education of the young ones so that they learn techniques of agriculture, of science, of technology. Let us seek employment right here in Pakuri.
There can be jobs for all Guyanese. Let us protect our environment, that environment is not only the habitat for our most precious animals, but it’s also a source of profit if we embark on eco-tourism and other ecological services and let us pursue vigorously the goal of economic diversification so that Pakuri will be one of the most progressive Lokono villages not only in Guyana but also in the Caribbean.
I am very happy to be here. I thank you for inviting me and allowing me to address you today and I wish all the best to you, the residents of Pakuri, that you could enjoy the good life and I’m very confident that in years to come with a village improvement plan, you’ll be not only better educated but fully employed with a strong economy.
May God bless you all. Thank you.