First peoples of Guyana
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on google
Share on whatsapp

Historian Vere T. Daly, in ‘The Making of Guyana’ (1974), said the word Guiana comes from the Amerindian root word ‘winna’ meaning water or watery country.

Amerindians belonging to the Mongoloid group are believed to have crossed from Asia by way of the Bering Strait, an ice bridge joining Asia with the Americas, leaving during the fourth ice age following migrating prey. Fishermen as well as hunters, they brought their skill of making weapons of stone and bone and at some point learned to cultivate the land as well.
A talented people, Amerindians are known even today for their craftsmanship. They can make canoes, baskets, pottery, hammocks, weapons, jewellery, utensils, clothing and buildings out of the materials that are around them. Materials include beads, stones, shells, wood, bamboo, calabash, leaves and tibisiri straw.
Far from the ‘Museum pieces’ described by Daly in ‘A Short History of the Guyanese People’ (1975), Amerindians are making their mark in every sphere of life today.
In political terms, Amerindians played an important role in the establishment and maintenance of Dutch rule in Guyana, writes Daly (1974). He explains that the Dutch realized that the key to the establishment of a successful settlement was to gain the friendship of the Indian tribes. From the first Dutch settlement established in Essequibo in 1616, founder Adrian Groenewegen was careful to establish the confidence of the Amerindians, even marrying a Carib wife.
Daly goes on to state that when Africans were introduced as slaves in Guiana, the Amerindians rendered invaluable assistance to the Dutch in helping quell slave revolts and capturing runaway slaves. The Amerindians acted not only as allies and soldiers of the Dutch but also their servants, being employed as boatmen, pilots, guides and field labourers. Many were also employed in established fisheries along the coast from the Essequibo to the Orinoco, including the mouths of Waini, Barima and the Amacuro Rivers.
Currently, nine Amerindian tribes are accounted for in Guyana: The Warraus, Lokono (Arawak), Wapishanas, Caribs, Macusi, Arecunas, Wai Wais, Akawaio and the Patamonas. Tribes such as Maiongkongs, Maopityans, Drois, Tarumas, Amaripas and Pianoghottos, all thriving populations in the 1800s are now extinct.
Born in 1892 in Moruca, Stephen Campbell has his place in history as the first Amerindian parliamentarian. Many other Amerindians followed making their mark in the political arena. Some names that immediately come to mind include Dr. George Norton, the only Amerindian Ophthalmologist in Guyana and a Member of Parliament on the Peoples National Congress Reform, Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett – Minister of Foreign Affairs, Pauline Sukhai – current Minister of Amerindian Affairs and the late Dr. Desrey Fox, a former Minister in the Ministry of Education who will forever be remembered as an outstanding scholar who made many contributions in the field of Linguistics and Amerindian Studies.
In the meantime, others are making strides in the area of public works and the production of books and documentaries such as Annette Arjoon; in the Media (on radio) such as Michela Abraham-Ali and Merano Isaacs; and in many other fields such as law, sports, medicine, law enforcement and education, among others.
After more than three years of consultation with the Government and Amerindian communities, the Amerindian Act of 2006 replaced the Amerindian Act of 1951. Prior to the new Act; procedures dealing with Indigenous lands, territories and natural resources were mainly administrative as the Amerindian Act of 1951 was inadequate. The new Act outlines the procedure for the transfer of State lands to Indigenous communities, giving them full ownership of these lands as well as providing for traditional rights within State lands and other matters relating to natural resources.

Over the past two years, efforts have been made to preserve the Amerindian language, an Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) project of 2008, led to the publishing of dictionaries containing the languages of various tribes.
In August 2009, the office of Climate Change collaborated with the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs to translate the concepts and objectives of the revolutionary Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) into five Amerindian languages in order to promote a better understanding of the LCDS among Guyana’s Amerindian people who are cited as part of the strategy’s main stakeholder group. Translations will be done in the Patamona, Wai Wai, Wapishana, Akawaio and Macusi languages.
The LCDS is an initiative of former President Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo, which seeks to transform Guyana into a low carbon economy providing that the proposal for compensation for forests, and the environmental services which they provide to the world, is included in the Copenhagen agreement.

SHARE THIS ARTICLE :
Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on google
Google+
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Scroll to Top
All our printed editions are available online
emblem3
Subscribe to the Guyana Chronicle.
Sign up to receive news and updates.
We respect your privacy.