Keep the Arawak language alive

Several dancers after performing on stage during the annual Indigenous Heritage Month celebration at St Cuthbert’s Mission on Saturday (Delano Williams photo)

– ministers urge residents of St Cuthbert’s Mission

AMID the annual celebrations marked by a variety of indigenous foods and crowds of visitors at St Cuthbert’s Mission, Soesdyke/Linden Highway, residents were on Saturday urged to ensure the Arawak language is preserved.
Minister within the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, Valerie Garrido- Lowe and Minister of Social Cohesion, Dr. George Norton, implored the residents to teach the language to children as early as kindergarten age.

According to Minister Garrido-Lowe, the nine Indigenous tribes in Guyana have emerged with their language and way of life intact. “We have lots to celebrate, ” she said as she noted the progression of indigenous people over the years in Guyana.
The minister noted that the continuity of the language of the people must be consciously kept in mind as she noted that the indigenous tribes can speak their respective languages. She said that in the village, the traditions have been passed down to every other generation, and said it is time that “we take the baton and be conscious of what is passed down to the children of tomorrow”.

Minister Norton told the gathering that time has had its effect on the various aspects of indigenous culture, especially the language.

“I want to call you to action to become a language champion,” he said to a resounding applause.

Norton pointed out that according to the United Nations Declarations of Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples’, their ability to speak their language is considered a human right. He said everyone within the villages has a responsibility to preserve their language and culture. Norton also informed the residents that the first time he heard conversations in Lokomo was on his way up the Mahaica Creek to visit St Cuthbert’s Mission.

He reiterated the importance of the Awarak language and urged the residents not to have “this valuable, priceless asset to die.”

He said government can only do so much to preserve indigenous heritage and noted that at the end of the day, the onus is on the people, particularly the parents, to teach the children about their heritage.

“Teach them about who they are. Today we pay tribute to our ancestors,” he said, noting that the indigenous culture has shaped the Guyanese identity.

During the celebrations on Saturday, there were various booths with many featuring indigenous craft, beverages and food items.

David Phillips and Maryann Phillips, a couple who have settled at the village for decades, said every year the annual heritage celebration brings the village to life.
The couple, who sold indigenous foods such as cassava bread and labba, noted that last years’ may have been bigger in terms of the crowds since the village was the designated heritage village.