Indigenous Heritage Month this year is being celebrated under the theme ‘Proud of Our Indigenous Identity, Celebrating in Unity.’ It is a theme from which we can all draw inspiration.
Every Guyanese should be proud of their identity and celebrate their progress as individuals as well as part of a collective. The Indigenous Peoples have preserved much of their diverse culture. Having quietly endured and overcoming struggles in seeking respect and their place in society, they are serving in politics, healthcare, business, education, media, art, design, entertainment and other spheres, where they are continuing to make their mark on this nation.
Pride and identity are about self-awareness; as an individual, you are both unique and part of an exceptional collective. These are inspirations for building and leaving legacies that your descendants can be proud of and which will stand for many generations. They, therefore, motivate people to work towards the advancement of their societies. But even with pride, we often must humble ourselves. Humility is what drives us to work diligently even through challenges. Many people may feel that they are not fulfilled with their way of life; dissatisfied with their career choices, their earnings or simply avoiding the options for happiness because misery is easier. A person is powerful when they are focused and know that they must for the sake of themselves and those they will inspire, endure and overcome instead of accepting defeat. It is the spirit of determination that creates the most successes.
Without pride and identity, people are lost. Without pride and identity there is chaos in the society; when people have no knowledge of self or are afraid to acknowledge who they are, their emptiness often results in negative outcomes; their feelings of hopelessness can permeate the spaces where there should be efforts to lift, build and evolve. When we observe our society, we are constantly bombarded with the evidence of the broken. There are shattered pieces of people longing and
wanting, but never finding the answers or a centre of peace; self-saboteurs waiting to die. That is no way to live. The Indigenous Peoples have cause to celebrate their survival. History tells that they were the first in this part of the world. History also tells about the efforts to exterminate them globally, yet they stand with the faces of their ancestors who were sacrificed.
As a Guyanese people, it is imperative that we embrace each other; a great part of our strength is our effort to learn about each other’s cultures. We may not survive if we are not truly united. The answer as to why we are not further in our progression as a nation is not a mystery. Our cohesion should not be left to special occasions. It should be our way of life, especially if we are to survive and stand against our enemies and build a better Guyana for all of us. However, occasions such as Indigenous Heritage Month are important as they help to capture and demonstrate that indeed we are one people, and one nation with one destiny. Visiting this year’s Indigenous Heritage Village on three occasions, reinforced this.
Sunday night was my first visit to the Indigenous Village at the Sophia Exhibition Centre. One could not miss the smell of roasting meat and barbecue as they strolled into the site. The sight of kebabs, fish and large pieces of meat on grills stimulated the taste buds. And there were drinks, including Fly (potato wine) and Piwari, being sold by many vendors. The dancing men with cups in their hands, friends and family enjoying each other’s company and the music all created a welcoming atmosphere.
As usual, my main intention was to get my hands on some tuma pot, which is a dish that is made with fish or meat. The usually spicy dish was introduced to me a few years ago and I fell in love with it.
My second trip to the Indigenous Village was on Monday night, when I was accompanied by two friends. Sipping on Fly, we enjoyed the presentations of music, dance and drama, which were quite entertaining. Two of us tried the tocuma worm at the encouragement of another friend. It was my first time. It was roasted as I was not brave enough to eat a live worm. Perhaps next time, as I do intend to try it again.
When we left the exhibition centre, we were a bit inebriated, having consumed a lot of Fly, as well as happy and laughing and not worrying about the ills of the world for the time being. My last visit was on the final night, when I returned with my daughters to have them experience a little of the celebration.
Guyanese from all backgrounds were present. No one told those of Indian, African, Portuguese, Chinese or European descent that they did not belong. There were no politicians there to say how to celebrate or whose food or drinks to buy. These are the occasions when we see social cohesion not forced by pseudo efforts. But in fact, we do witness this every day. In the marketplaces, in the offices, villages, and social settings, we are together demonstrating social cohesion. Still, the racially divisive tools that have been used throughout our history to divide and conquer us are still present and still imprison many of our people, especially when they are used for political gain.
The Indigenous Heritage Village created an escape for those who needed one. Even in the midst of the teachers strike for better wages and working conditions, we were able to dance, drink and mingle. Not dance because we did not care or drink because we were not affected or empathising, but because we deserve to celebrate. If we spend our time always engrossed in our country’s problems, we hurt ourselves and miss opportunities to truly experience happiness. That energy would be better spent putting in the effort to save ourselves.
We must express our pride often and celebrate who we are; the pleasures of life are meant to be enjoyed, even if we sometimes must take risks. Today is here. Tomorrow is not promised. Be proud, celebrate and unite now.