By Sharmain Cornette
It does not take much for her to become trapped in the nostalgic feeling of the many Christmases she spent with her parents and siblings – Yes spell-binding they were, those Akawaio-style Christmases spent in the Amerindian Village of Waramadong.
Reminiscing on her younger days, Dr Desrey Fox, now Minister within the Ministry of Education, said that Christmas was one of the most exciting time of year for her, and even the entire community in which she grew up. It was a time of togetherness and everyone participated in one way or another to make Christmas what it was back in those days.
Today, things as simple as the renditions of Amerindian children singing in their various native dialects causes her to reflect fondly on the blissful Christmases she celebrated back then.
Singing, music, and games were a must, as was the grand feast which was the highlight of the festivities, recounted Dr Fox.
But those days perhaps will never be again, since according to her, things have noticeably changed in the village of Waramadong.
Waramadong is a community located in Region Seven in the Upper Mazaruni and is situated on the left bank of the Kamarang River. It is divided into four areas: Sammawapai, Enemorojipai, Abamang and Wayawakpai.
Today, the population there is made up of about 900 persons comprising primarily Akawaio-speaking Amerindians.
Although she does not live in that community anymore due to her political commitments, Dr Fox admits that instead of the fully coordinated celebration, Christmas in Waramadong is much more centred on the typical party affair.
According to her, in Waramadong, Christmas was celebrated based on the traditions derived from the Seventh Days Adventist religious beliefs which were embraced by the community over the years.
“Because of that, Christmas is celebrated as a religious event just like anywhere else in the world. We would go to church where there would be this special Christmas programme…and we invited just about everybody, even those who hadn’t gone to church for a long time…”
But according to the doctor, the most important aspect of the celebrations was the grand feast for which preparation would commence several weeks before Christmas.
And as a child she would know the festive season was near when she saw men folk of the village leaving in their numbers, geared for hunting.
“Most of them leave mid-November but some leave at the beginning of November and they go up into the mountains leaving the Mazaruni River. They head to ancestral hunting grounds where there is a lot of game…”
And there they remain for the several weeks hunting for meat the likes of deer, wild cow, and wild hog. They also catch small species of birds as well as fishes on their hunting stint, Dr Fox fondly related.
While out on their mission, the hunters would smoke their meat in order to preserve their catch.
After the time of hunting is completed, Dr Fox explained that with the aid of a makeshift basket, called a wagawak, the men would pack their catch and head home.
“It is always exciting because we know that they would return around December 22nd and we could hear from very far the blowing of the hunting horn…They would alert the village that they were coming home with this big catch of meat and it is all just exciting…This tells us that the celebration is even closer…”
Upon arrival at the village, the hunters would take the meat directly to the chief, in whose care it would remain until Christmas Day.
The much anticipated day is set in motion very early with a church service in the morning following a hearty breakfast which each family member would partake in.
After the service, there would be games the likes of Drop It Peter Boy, Over Whose Head, Rounders and Volleyball. Indoor games were not an exception once they were wholesome, such as dominoes and snakes and ladders, among others.
During this time tents were set up in the centre of the village, all in preparation for the grand feast.
At the feast, every member of the community is able to indulge in an assortment of dishes, including pepperpot and all types of stews made from the variety of meats, cassava bread, and drinks made from almost every type of farm crop. The children were also specially treated with an abundance of sweets, compliments of the Chief. “What he did, he stood on a chair and would throw the sweets and we would just fight to get our share…It was just lively,” Dr Fox related with a smile. During the festivities, too, the Chief would review the past year and speak of his plans for the New Year.
Dr Fox opined that while the celebration of Christmas is just as important in the city and on the coastland, at Waramadong there is a seemingly deeper sense of togetherness and cooperation.
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