Amerindian languages must be encouraged and preserved at all costs
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Dear Editor,

I WISH to bring to focus our national theme for this year’s Amerindian Heritage Month: ‘Preserving our traditional Integrity;Celebrating our Cultural Identity.’
There is an increasing perception, sir, that the Amerindian is slowly losing pride in his own culture.

Editor, there is a semblance of truth in this,  but those of us who take genuine pride  identifying as the First Peoples of this land are in the great majority.
But what can give rise, or is giving rise to isolated cases of disgruntled, avert behaviour? What could be the possible cause of what seems to be a cultural phenomenon.

Society is so structured that minorities will experience some form of alienation living in towns and villages that are more developed than their home villages. That is only natural. The resultant format of split loyalty, however, is seen in early assimilation of subjects into a more dominant culture, thus giving rise to a loss of pride of their origin, loss of interest in where they truly belong; taking pride in a culture which is not theirs.

That would be a crude way of explaining the cultural phenomenon, but that is, although unfortunate, only natural. After all, humans are always improvising in order to be counted, to be accepted; that they belong to the larger, more affluent society.

Historically, there are factors, both internal and external, too, that influenced the extent to which our Amerindian culture was preserved or aided and accepted.

Missionaries in the colonial past were perhaps more concerned with the spiritual aspects of the tribes rather than helping with practical aspects such as agriculture, machines and machinery, wood craft, balata craft, cookery and so on and so forth. Without the wherewithal to eke out a better way of life, too, could have been a grave concern for us the Amerindians and that served to hurt our pride, living in a state of abject poverty with poor levels of education. And whose pride could not go unhurt?

For certain, tribal languages were the least encouraged and least preserved, except for some tribes these days. Amerindians then found themselves between accepting a foreign language and being ridiculed, for the use of their language. The impression was, their language was inferior, and that too caused the cultural dilemma.

However, the use of our Amerindian languages must be encouraged and preserved at all cost.
To make my final point, Mr. Editor, a comment is critical to give clarity to the subject at hand.

Amerindians, as far as tradition goes, are accountable for each other.

Properly understood, community implies more than just living together in a geographical location. It means that there is some real sharing of life together, namely, that we work together, that we celebrate our rites together, that we celebrate some of our everyday joys, fears, and feasts together;  that we are responsible to each other and open to each other as regards mutual correction and challenge.

So all these things together, and more, in essence, mean in some form or the other, we are mutually accountable to each other for our lives.

We may live in our private home, but once we belong to a village community, tradition has it that we no longer own our lives, as it were. We are answerable to each other and may not fully claim our own lives as a piece of private property, as such.

I mean, if anyone began to do things that went against village by-laws, for example, the community would go against him, or her, and challenge that person to straighten himself out… and he, she couldn’t protest and say, “That is my life, beat out, that’s none of your business.”

The community is the people and they determine what is tradition in terms of what is culturally accepted as the norm, in terms of ceremonial outfit, type of beverages,  land use, etc., etc.

It goes without saying that cultural preferences, therefore, must, for all intents and purposes continue to be determined by the collective, the people at large; not by an individual or a group of individuals.

The integrity of one’s culture must be preserved, but it must reflect the approval of the whole, the Amerindian community; the people themselves.

In the end we will all be the happier of who we are and celebrate our Amerindian identity with pride. Happy heritage to all my Amerindian sisters and brothers.

God bless us the Amerindians of Guyana.
God bless Guyana.

Yours faithfully,
Joseph Atkinson

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