Guyana’s president, David Granger, opened the country’s inaugural Indigenous Heritage Month on Sunday, September 1, 2019. Read on for a look at the cultural history of Guyana, as well as the event itself, including its theme “Maintaining traditional practices while promoting a green economy.”
Indigenous Heritage Month
Staged at the Sophia Exhibition Center, the event featured an Indigenous Village. Here, President David Granger reviewed the Guard-of-Honor.
Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, along with his wife, Sita Nagamootoo, and Ministers of Indigenous People’s Affairs Valerie Garrido-Lowe and Sydney Allicock, were also on hand to greet guests.
The Indigenous Village featured craft stalls, as well as a mainstage, where the Surama Cultural Group performed traditional dances. Visitors modeled feathered indigenous headbands and sampled mouthwatering traditional Guyanese dishes, including piwari and pepperpot.
Speaking about the event, Prime Minister Nagamootoo explained that Indigenous Heritage Month is an opportunity to reflect on not only the vast progress being made in Guyana’s towns and cities but also the role of indigenous communities in preserving and protecting the country’s land and collective life.
Nagamootoo spoke about the recent fires in the Amazon rainforest, pointing out that it is vital for countries to invest in their indigenous peoples. He said that providing indigenous peoples with land is not giving it away but rather giving it back to them.
He also noted that indigenous peoples have inhabited the world’s rainforests for centuries, protecting them from destruction. Guyana’s indigenous people are the guardians of the country’s rainforests, birds, rivers, fish stocks, and animals.
Prime Minister Nagamootoo pledged the government’s commitment to helping communities make beneficial use of Guyana’s land and resources. The Guyanese government urges local communities to draft Village Improvement Plans as a way to access resources that can improve the standard of living for their community.
Nagamootoo also underlined positive changes. He explained that indigenous communities are no longer isolated from each other nor from the coast.
Although the government faces challenges in developing infrastructure to traverse swamps, savannahs, mountains, and forests, over the past four years it has invested around $48 billion into building and maintaining highways and bridges that connect these communities. In 2019 the government approved an additional $38.5 billion for these purposes.
Guyana’s indigenous people
Guyana is an English-speaking, multiracial country with a population of approximately 783,600.
Guyana comprises four natural regions:
- The alluvial coastal plain, where 90 percent of the population lives
- The interior savannahs
- The highland region
- The sand and clay hill country that supports the gold, timber, and diamond industries
Guyana is divided into 10 administrative areas:
Region 1: Barima/Waini
Region 2: Pomeroon/Supenaam
Region 3: Essequibo Islands/West Demerata
Region 4: Demarara/Mahaica
Region 5: Mahaica/West Berbice
Region 6: East Berbice/Corentyne
Region 7: Cuyuni/Mazaruni
Region 8: Potaro/Siparuni
Region 9: Upper Takatu/Upper Essequibo
Region 10: Upper Demerara/Upper Berbice
Known as the “land of many waters,” Guyana has many rivers. Most regional borders follow the course of these natural boundaries.
The term “indigenous people” is used by the Guyanese to describe Amerindians, who have occupied Guyana for around 12,000 years.
Due to colonization, however, the Drios, Tarumas, Maiongkongs, Pianoghottos, Amaripas, and Maopityans tribes have either assimilated with mainstream Guyanese society or disappeared over the centuries.
Today in Guyana, nine indigenous tribes remain, scattered throughout the country. According to a United Nations estimate in 1994, there are the Arawak, Macushi, Wapishanas, Patamuna, Warrau, Akawaio, Carib, Arekuna, and Waiwai.
These tribes belong to the three main linguistic groups in Guyana: Arawakan, Cariban, and Warrauan. Some of these linguistic groups share cultural and political figures in common. Other groups may share linguistic similarities but have little in common in terms of spiritual life, culture, or social organization.
GBTI cultural integration and indigenous empowerment efforts
GBTI today boasts more local branches than any other bank in Guyana. As Guyana’s first indigenous bank, the organization supports Indigenous Heritage Month, working with local businesses, the Guyanese government, and indigenous communities to support, protect, and preserve indigenous culture, traditions, and rights.
GBTI marked Indigenous Heritage Month by supporting community events, staging Amerindian arts and crafts exhibitions at various branches, and inviting indigenous students for a guided tour around their branches.
As Richard Isava, executive director of GBTI explains, the financial institution identifies as Guyanese, representing each and every ethnic group it serves. GBTI provides even the remotest Guyanese communities with investment opportunities and small business saving and lending facilities. It also supports women’s empowerment and eco-tourism projects.
As Mr. Isava points out, GBTI prides itself on understanding the individual needs and challenges of all of its clients, seeing the world through their eyes, to provide innovative financial solutions.