The wee hours of Sunday morning saw 20-year-old stunner, Sherryanna Balkaran of Paramakatoi being crowned Miss Indigenous Heritage at the National Cultural Centre. Sherryanna’s fluency when she spoke and her confident stride throughout each segment found favour with the judges and by the end of night, they were ready to bestow the prestigious honour on her.
“… It was surreal. I was ecstatic, nervous, I can’t begin to explain. Right now, it’s sinking in and I’m happy; I’m enjoying,” the Patamona beauty excitedly shared earlier this week.
The pageant consisted of five segments: Intro-duction, Talent, Evening Wear, Cultural Wear and Final Question. Introduction was one of Sherryanna’s two favourite categories as she got the opportunity to introduce herself in the Patamona dialect. The other was the Final Question.
Her undoubtedly outstanding performance in the pageant did not come easy but took tireless days of practice. In the run up to the pageant, she said, training was intense and two weeks prior to coronation night things got hectic. Each contestant was trained on perfecting her speech, on how to be emphatic, to appease the crowd and perfecting her struts which included learning to do the ‘T’ stand. They were trained by the Fung family from 11 in the morning to one in the afternoon each day for speech class and from 6.30 in the evening until the trainer was satisfied with the practice regarding modelling.
Sherryanna said that this opportunity has brought her an unforgettable experience. She noted also that she gained the friendships of the nine beautiful ladies as well as the friendship of 2015’s queen. The experience also enabled her to be better at balancing her daily activities.
Asked whether she’s a pageant fanatic, she responded in the negative saying that she became interested in participating after witnessing the inaugural Miss Indigenous Heritage Pageant being won by home girl Sondra Cheong in 2005.
Sherryanna, who hails from Paramakatoi, left when she was three years old to live in Georgetown. She attended Mae’s Primary School, St Stanislaus College and finished her secondary education at Mae’s Secondary. Yet, every vacation, she returned home to visit with her missionary grandparents and shortly after her arrival she would fall in with the ways of the people there; it was as if she had never left.
Paramakatoi for Sherryanna means green pristine forest, fresh air, lots of casiree and tuma and church services which she attends whenever there.
Asked about her friends there and having to leave them at the end of her vacations, she replied, “I have little, big friends, medium friends, I always look forward to visiting. I remembered this one time I had to leave; it was the August vacation and I was preparing to start primary two. While in the plane I cried on my way back.”
As she grew things became different. Of course, when she became a teenager, she did not look forward to these trips anymore, more so because they meant no access to the internet but this was just a phase and Paramakatoi would always call; she could never refuse.
“Now I appreciate that rustic, bucolic lifestyle and though I want there to be developed, I want the village to maintain that rurality, that rustic environment,” she said.
After completing her secondary education, she took a break before she journeyed back home having heard of the decline in passes in English at the CSEC level there. She stayed for a year teaching her fellow villagers.
Sherryanna had never forgotten Sondra Cheong’s win in 2005 and had vowed to one day bring home the crown for her people again but over the years the idea dissipated until her recent one year stay as a teacher. “… I wanted to feel the same way I felt when Sondra had won except with me wearing the crown. This pageant has been a lifelong dream of mine. Being there [Paramakatoi] made the feeling of wanting to be a part of the pageant intensify and so I told myself this is my year,” Sherryanna said.
And her year it was though she did admit to being a “bundle of nerves” the night before the pageant which she said could have been because of lack of sleep. The pageant night however was the total opposite. “I felt that calmness and serenity wash over me. I believe God was with me. I had a lot of people back home praying for me; my granddad was fasting.”
She also said that though she was confident and optimistic most times, there were times she just wanted to give up but pressed on because of her beloved region.
All the contestants prior to that evening were given a general topic to choose their platforms from. The topic was ‘Combating Climate Change using Traditional and Non-Traditional Methods whilst Promoting Sustainable Livelihoods in your Specific Region’. Sherryanna’s platform or sub-topic was ‘Targeting Deforestation as a means of Countering Climate Change’. During her reign she plans to merge with the ministries as well as the NGOs including the Amerindian Peoples Association in relation to targeting deforestation. Climate change affects the entire world and so she hopes to include everyone she can in this project.
The newly crowned queen in her answer to final question, ‘What do you think is the biggest misconception about indigenous persons and what would you do to mitigate same?’ said, “One of the biggest misconceptions about indigenous peoples is that we are stupid and uncivilized; but who is to determine what civilized really means. I would implore each indigenous person to go after their degree but at the same time know how to plait a matapee, go after their degree but at the same time know how to make casiree, go after their degree but at the same time be able to drink piwari. I would implore them to be unapologetically indigenous.” This efficient answer certainly took the judges and audience by storm.
During the interview, Sherryanna said that she wishes that at the end of her two-year stint, she can reflect on all that she has done and be pleased with what she would have accomplished, the changes she would have made and the lives she would have impacted in a positive way.
She is inspired by Ovid Williams of Department of Public Relations, Winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2002 Jean La Rose and her mother Sherry Balkaran, who she says are unapologetically indigenous and she wants to emulate them and be an inspiration to others.
Some other things to know about this ambitious Capricorn is that she’s the second of four siblings who loves the colour forest green and enjoys hanging out, reading (mostly thrillers), looking at culinary shows, spending quality time with her family and people of humour. Sherryanna is currently a first-year student at the University of Guyana pursuing a degree in law.
She has three dogs but is a little terrified of animals and has good reason to be. When she was younger she bitten by three dogs at various times, clawed by a cat and fell into a manatee pond which did not happen once but twice and though she does not quite remember how it happened, she strongly believes it was her sister’s doing, she amusingly shared.
She praised her elder sister Serena Balkaran-McKenzie for being one of her biggest supporters adding that she was her stylist and hairdresser.
Sherryanna’s evening gown was designed by Randy Madray, but she designed her cultural and traditional dresses and they were put together by Emelda Alfred and Elizabeth Williams.
Along with the title she received awards for Best Evening Gown, Best Cultural Wear, a cash prize and trophy.