Successful Debate in Patamona wraps up activities for IYIL  

MOIPA: In late December 2019, the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs held its first-ever debate in the Patamona language. The historic event hosted in Paramakatoi, Potaro-Siparuni, brought the curtains down on the activities to mark the International Year of Indigenous Languages.

The moot for the debate was “Indigenous Languages hold tremendous benefits not just for indigenous peoples, but for all Guyanese, hence it’s the responsibility of the Government to ensure that indigenous languages are preserved and promoted nationally.”

The proposition with fierce representation captured the undivided attention of the judges and the more than 300 residents who gathered to witness history made in the auditorium of the Paramakatoi Secondary School.

Taking to the podium in support of the moot, Marlon Williams speaking in fluent Patamona contended that the government’s continued financial investment ensures the Indigenous culture inclusive of all its dialects is preserved and embraced by all.

Williams noted that doctors, lawyers and pilots from Indigenous communities who converse in their Indigenous languages are assets in bridging the communication gap, whilst also imparting this valuable knowledge to the younger generation.

His team member and winner of the best speaker prize Molly Simon reminded that Guyana’s motto – “One People, One Nation, One Destiny” – speaks volumes to the integral role various languages play our society.

The opposition in their argument contended that Indigenous languages in this era cannot ensure one gets a job and creates a language barrier which in turn could lead to exploitation. As such, they maintained the government should focus on other aspects of Indigenous life.

Dat Nagalla representing the opposition argued that preserving Indigenous languages “will put our students countrywide at risk as it relates to writing CXC. The students will continue to fail year after year since everything is done in English and not their various languages.”

He added that funds should be utilised to address issues such as the serious threats of drought and shortage of drug supplies nationwide.”

Following the conclusion of the debate, the presenters were asked to give their views on what preservation of the Indigenous languages means to them.

Williams said “… Indigenous languages are very important not only for today but for future generations and we must always preserve and promote it nationally once I have the chance to publicly inform the people…I will tell them, from my heart, how important it is to preserve and promote it.”

Echoing similar sentiments as Williams, Elizabeth Aaron, a speaker on the opposing team noted: “we can learn our languages at home and teach our children and when they go to school there is where they will learn English and they can also teach their language to their friends so everyone can learn it.”

Simon opined that once the preservation of Indigenous languages is done nationally “people from the coastland will be able to learn the different languages and we will be able to communicate with each other. I look forward to participating in another debate.”

In earlier remarks, Minister within the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs Valerie Garrido-Lowe assured that the government will continue to support the promotion and preservation of Indigenous languages. She also disclosed that plans are on stream for the hosting of a grand Indigenous Song Festival this year.

Among the other activities in 2019 that marked the International Year of Indigenous Languages were the publications of a Patamona dictionary, an Arekuna alphabet, an Arawak dictionary and lesson book, Akawaio and Warrau dictionaries and a Tourism Handbook. Several evenings of Indigenous storytelling, music, drama and poetry were also hosted.

The events were celebrated under the theme: “One People, Many Languages: Preserving our Cultural Diversity”.

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