Hunting, fishing, parakari, forro and… marathons make a Shulinab Christmas. Shulinaban, Nicholas Fredericks, spoke with SN journalist Gaulbert Sutherland about Christmastime in the last Macushi village in the South Central Rupununi in Region Nine.
“Sometimes we have a marathon, a road race where we would have a house mainly with parakari in it, and the winner of the race usually tries to get into the house but you have some strong men standing at the door there and he, he would, sometimes with all his force that he’s coming and he’s so heated… sometimes he pass through and dip his head in the kari container.”
At this time of the year, the hot sun bakes the Rupununi savannahs. Democracy thrives here. As the day approaches, the Village Council meets to plan for Christmas and then calls a general meeting where plans for hunting and fishing trips are made. Villagers are identified to make farine and parakari – an alcoholic beverage made with cassava. Everybody, including those from Shulinab’s two satellite villages participates, and elects the leaders of the hunting and fishing parties and the areas they will cover and those who will lead the farine and parakari-making.
Usually about four or five deer, three or four bush hogs, a tapir, some birds and turtles are caught while the fishers go to the Rupununi River and others go to the Takutu River. “The marksmen are mostly responsible for shooting, but we does be part of the crew to roast and fetch… maybe where you run down the deer and horse and roping – I am more versed in that.”
The meat is garnished with a cow from the village stock, and lunch and dinner is served on Christmas Day. “We recognise because of all the hard work that the community do through self-help during the year, we celebrate at the end of the year for all the achievements that we did. We see who are the hardest working councillors for the year and give them a small gift; the students who has the highest attendance for the year, we give them something and we treat the elderly people separately on a table.”
In the evening, its forro, a Brazilian type of music. “We listen to a lot of Brazilian music, forro, we have some Christmas music. We listen to Uncle Basil Rodrigues’ music, the one that he released. We listen to some reggae but most of it is forro.”
The celebrations go on. “We drink parakari, some wine that other people make to bring in… we party whole night, till broad daylight.” And on! “Normally like till midday or so the next day.”
There are the never-to-be-forgotten experiences. “I remember I was up to here (in my head) with kari and I refused to have a bowl of kari from this gentleman who was sharing his kari around, and it is customary that you accept the kari, but I just couldn’t take it any more.
He emptied the bowl of parakari on me, because refusing is like an insult to the indigenous communities. He tell me if you can’t drink it, you will have to bathe with it and I never forget that.”
It is a time to catch up with old friends and relatives as persons from Lethem and other neighbouring communities congregate at Shulinab: “A lot of our friends come in so we have a very enjoyable time during that time.”
But the celebrations start some time before the actual day. On the last days of school, a lot of Christmas carols are sung by the schoolchildren and they make Christmas cards and send them to their friends. The schoolteachers and the village facilitate a school party in the daytime for the kids.
For the past two years, the village council purchased gifts for the nursery and primary schoolchildren, and has done the same this year.
Shulinab has only a Catholic church and the residents attend before the boisterous celebrations later. There are cultural presentations.
Nothing has changed much from the early ’80s when Nicholas was a boy, though the music systems have gotten bigger. “The meat supply has declined. From when I knew as a lil boy, it was a lot more…” But with the village’s livestock population having grown, this has eased the pressure on the hunting resources.
Christmas is always a time of bringing people together. “It’s a good time to reflect on what you did.
Some of the good things, some of the bad things that happened within the community, but for me, it’s really strong in bringing the people together and linking them and looking forward for a next new year coming… It’s really a joyous time.”