Why does ‘Cultural Village’ banner feature no real Guyanese people?

Dear Editor,

Last weekend I went to the National Stadium for the final game of the High School Football Championship. Although the team I was supporting – Waramadong – did not win, it was still a good afternoon overall. I was glad that the ban on selling alcohol at school events was observed and it was also nice to not have to spend a ridiculous amount of money on an outing.

My enjoyment of the event was marred however by the appalling name-calling I heard uttered towards the indigenous people of Guyana – the Amerindians. Comments about ‘buck’ people were prevalent, mostly derogatory in nature. Also disappointing was the fact that not a single indigenous song was played by the DJ during the entire event. Now, I don’t understand why a DJ is needed at a football game in the first place, but since there was one, and knowing in advance that one of the finalists in the championships was a team from an Amerindian community, it seems to me like the least that could have been done was for the DJ to find at least one Amerindian song to play. I have heard indigenous songs playing on Guyanese radio stations during Heritage Month, and I even own entire CDs of Amerindian music, so I know such things exist. Apparently though, all the DJ at this event knew was soca and dancehall. This lack of attention to showing even a simple bit of appreciation for the cultural diversity of Guyana, illustrates what has sadly come to be true in Guyana today – only lip service is given to culture and diversity – there is little actual care or attention paid to ensuring that such things are really respected and embraced.

While the DJ’s cultural insensitivity can be dismissed as individual ignorance, the banner at the entrance of the Stadium advertising the upcoming Guyana Festival put on by the Ministry of Tourism cannot be so easily excused. This event is supposed to be a celebration of Guyanese heritage, culture, food, art, and music, to “reflect the true Guyanese identity,” as Minister Irfaan Ali’s message on the GF’s webpage proclaims.

Most laudable indeed. However, when I stopped and looked at the banner advertising the ‘Cultural Village’ aspect of this event, I was shocked. Guyana is known as the land of six people and there are indeed six individuals featured on this banner, but none of them is Guyanese. Sure, there’s a South Asian and an East Asian woman on top and an Indigenous and African man on the bottom, but these people are not Guyanese. They may ‘resemble’ people in Guyana but they’re not Guyanese. As for the two images in the middle – a Heidi and bewigged man – they are even more bewildering. No one I’ve talked to knows which Guyanese they are supposed to represent.

This banner is huge and has been in place for over a month now. Many people have passed it but until the other day when I shared a picture of this atrocity on social media, I had not heard anyone comment on it. This is telling to me as it illustrates yet another instance of Guyanese people remaining silent in the face of massive disrespect. Because that’s what this banner is – a slap in the face to the diverse Guyanese people as well as an insult to our collective intelligence. Not all indigenous, African, or Asian people are the same. You cannot simply cut and paste pictures that vaguely resemble Guyanese people onto a banner and then try to use that to entice people to a ‘Cultural Village’ and ‘Guyana Festival’. We are not fools nor are we being fooled!

Images of Guyana’s diverse people abound; why then are no real Guyanese featured on this banner? Yes, the festival’s webpage does have lots of pictures of real Guyanese but this banner with the fake people is the public face of the festival. Some advertising company got paid a significant amount of money to create it and that they produced a banner advertising Guyana’s culture without one single Guyanese person on it is atrocious. I call on Minister Ali to tell the Guyanese public the name of the advertising company/team that produced this ridiculous thing as well as to reveal how much of our tax dollars they were given.

It is appalling that Minister Ali and his staff at the Ministry of Tourism approved this banner and waste of funds. That such poor quality work is acceptable, that misinformation and inaccuracies are permitted and given a place of prominence in the public sphere, that no real care or attention is paid to Guyana’s history and people from a government minister/ ministry no less, is sickening. It illustrates their acceptance of shoddy work, deception, and disrespect for the people of Guyana.

Guyanese people deserve better. We deserve to see images in the media and public sphere that accurately reflect our lives and reality. This is not just ‘nice’ to do; it is necessary for the healthy development of people, for building positive self-esteem, and for fostering understanding and respect for others who are different from oneself.

These are all things that are lacking in Guyana and that have contributed to a divisive and intolerant society. This is why derogatory terms like ‘buck’ can be hurled at indigenous children by adults who think nothing wrong with such behaviour. This is why racist ads specifying that only individuals of a specific ethnicity need apply can still be allowed to appear in our local newspapers. This is why certain individuals and communities receive government privileges and services while others languish.

A people divided will always be easily conquered. People ignorant of their identity and strengths are a weak people, easy to take advantage of. Children who are not taught their culture or to take pride in themselves, to value fake, foreign things over local quality goods will grow up without proper self-confidence, accepting and perpetuating abuse, and willing to sell out to the highest bidder. People who see obvious nonsense being perpetrated by their elected officials yet remain silent, or worse, who choose to participate in the fraudulent schemes are people complicit in their own destruction. If Guyana is to truly progress, we have to do better. We have to demand truth and accuracy at all times, in all spheres, from all people. We cannot just be satisfied with a plateful of food in our belly, a cup full of rum in our hand, and some music to wine up to.

I call on Minister Irfaan Ali to apologize to the Guyanese people for this atrocious banner, and to disclose the name of the advertising company that was paid our tax dollars. I call on the Government of Guyana to truly invest in cultural education and to set up concrete systems to support local artisans. Artists should not have to wait months to receive payment for their work or picket to receive prizes that they have won. People should not have to migrate in order to succeed, or to give up their dreams in order to earn a livelihood. Also, one-off events with sky high booth rental costs are not accessible to small crafts people and serve as money-making fronts instead of real avenues for cultural advancement.

I call on my fellow Guyanese to boycott all fake ‘festivals’ and to spend their time, energy, and resources on educating themselves, their children, and their neighbours instead; to develop and support local talent. Let us cooperate and organize festivals in our own communities instead of giving our attention and hard earned dollars to people who continually disrespect, lie to, and abuse us.

Yours faithfully,

Sherlina Nageer

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