Int’l year of Indigenous Languages launched in Guyana

– 9 Indigenous languages were celebrated in Aishalton, Reg. 9

– protect, preserve and promote the languages – PM Nagamootoo urges Indigenous communities

DPI, Guyana, Saturday, January 19, 2019

The Nine Indigenous Languages of Guyana were celebrated today in Aishalton Village, South Rupununi, Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo, Region 9, as the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs collaborated with the University of Guyana to officially launch International Year of the Indigenous Languages.

The historic event saw representatives from the Nine Nations of Guyana, many of whom are visiting the Rupununi for the first time, speaking in their respective dialects, Patamona, Akawaio, Wapichan, Makushi, Wai Wai, Carib, Arecuna and Arawak.

Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, who is performing the duties of the President, his wife Mrs. Sita Nagamootoo, Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, Sydney Allicock, Minister within the Ministry, Valerie Garrido-Lowe and Chancellor of the University of Guyana, Professor Ivla Griffith were also in attendance.

Prime Minister Nagamootoo delivered the feature address and urged the Indigenous peoples to protect, preserve and promote their languages.

“You must hold on to what you have, hold on to your languages, preserve them, promote them, protect them. You should be proud of your languages because your languages speak about you, it speaks about your civilization. The civilization of Indigenous peoples and your languages are very important.”

The programme was broadcast live throughout Guyana through NCN’s Voice of Guyana (VOG). According to the Prime Minister, this is the first time such an event, where the Indigenous peoples are speaking in their nine languages, was broadcast nationally and around the world.

The Prime Minister stressed the importance of promoting the Indigenous languages through local radio programmes.

“It is for this reason that government, when it got into office in 2015 it established radio stations Aishalton, Mabaruma, Lethem, Mahdia and Orealla was establiahed and equipped with world class equipment,” he said.

Underscoring the importance of ‘language’ to the Indigenous peoples and the preservation of those languages, Minister Allicock said:

“Our language is key to our culture and like all language, it is key to our survival, how else can we communicate?” Minister added, “Language plays an extremely critical role in everyone’s daily lives, not only as a tool for communication, education, and social integration and development, but also as a fountain for everyone’s unique identity cultural hisyory, traditions and memory. However, despite their immense value, languages around the world continue to disappear, at an extremely alarming rate.”

Therefore, Minister Allicock said, that it is important that the Indigenous peoples understand the importance of such a historic event. He emphasised government’s commitment to supporting the preservations of Indigenous languages.

The International Year of Indigenous Languages is a United Nations observance in 2019. It aims to raise awareness of the consequences of the endangerment of Indigenous languages across the world, with an aim to establish a link between language, development, peace and reconciliation.

On December 19, 2016, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly proclaimed 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages based on a resolution of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. The General Assembly’s resolution requested the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as the lead UN agency for coordination of the year.

UNESCO’s Representative Patrice LaFleur commended Guyana for the work it has been doing to promote and preserve its nine Indigenous languages.She explained that the International Year of Indigenous Languages aims to focus attention on the risks confronting indigenous languages, especially those significant for development, reconciliation, good governance and peacebuilding.

It also aims to improve the quality of life, wider international cooperation and visibility and strengthened intercultural dialogue to reaffirm the continuity of indigenous languages and cultures.

Activities planned for the year will be in three thematic areas; supporting the revitalisation and maintenance of indigenous languages through the creation of more materials and content; preserving indigenous languages, creating access to education, information and knowledge in and about indigenous languages for indigenous children, young people and adults; and mainstreaming the knowledge areas and values of indigenous peoples and cultures within broader social-cultural economic and political domains, as well as cultural practices such as traditional sports and games.

In Guyana, the sum of $36M was allocated in the 2019 National Budget to promote the nine Indigenous Languages, through the collaboration with the UN’s Indigenous Peoples Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

Among activities proposed throughout the year are a Language Revival Programme, Village Welcome Signboards to be erected at the entrance of each village in their respective language, Radio and Television programmes, a Children’s Book, a Tourist Hand Book, a Short Story competition, debates in four languages (Patamona, Akawaio, Wapishana and Makushi) at the Umana Yana, an Indigenous Food festival, a Calendar of Nations 2019 and establishing an Indigenous Summer School.

Aishalton is leading in the preservation and promotion of Indigenous languages. Already, a bi-lingual Wapichan education programme was implemented in the schools in in the village.

Speaking in the Wapichan language, Toshao Michael Thomas said that the event is another milestone for his community and they will continue to ensure that their language is preserved.

Synieka Thorne

Images: Keno George


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