The Ministry of Amerindian Affairs has launched a new project to rejuvenate the Arawak language, as part of a larger objective of revitalising the rich culture of Amerindians in Guyana.
A release from the Government Information Agency (GINA) said that the 10-month Arawak Language Project, launched on Monday, in Capoey, Region Two, will teach Arawak to village children, ages 4 to 10 years. According to Minister of Amerindian Affairs Pauline Sukhai,this project is the start of the development of groups of Amerindian children who will eventually be fluent in their nine languages. She said the success of the Capoey pilot will be used as justification for the ministry to seek to acquire additional resources to roll out the project to the rest of coastal communities where the Amerindian language is under threat.
The minister urged stakeholders in the Capoey area to provide moral support and to encourage the students to successfully complete the course with at least a 70 per cent pass rate.
The classes are being conducted by Father Jones Richard, an elder in the community who is well versed in the language. The project targets children since it has been found that they generally assimilate language easier than adults. The release said Minister Sukhai noted that language revival was a good mechanism to preserve culture, so among the aims of the project is ensuring the preservation of the Amerindian culture, by having the youth, the future generation, retain the language.
Sukhai implored the villagers to grasp the opportunity to have their children better understand and connect with their indigenous identity. She cautioned that if the villagers fail to do so, they risk the continued loss of the Arawak language.
The release said Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs Nigel Dharamlall described the project as the most significant event in the 2013 celebrations since it speaks so aptly to the theme of the Heritage 2013 observances. He reaffirmed the ministry’s commitment to continue ensuring the languages’ revival. He said too, the ministry is committed to ensuring the success of the Capoey pilot, and to expand it to the other villages.
Stakeholders were also informed of the other government initiatives to revive Amerindian languages. Among these was the Ministry of Culture’s effort to produce dictionaries of the nine languages as part of the Guyana Classics Series. The Arawak dictionary has been completed and as part of the project, a few will be supplied for the students’ use. Also highlighted was the Culture Ministry’s recent compilation of Wapishiana language stories, in a book by Linguist Adrian Gomes, who has an ongoing language revival project with over 600 students in Aishalton, Region Nine. In the future, Gomes will also conduct a summer course in Wapishiana at the University of Guyana, as part of the effort to revive the nine Amerindian languages.
GINA said it is estimated that there are about 15,000 Arawaks living in Guyana, however, it is estimated that only 1,500 can still speak the language fluently, with most of the speakers being adults over the age of 50.