Sep 12, 2016 Letters
Fourteen years ago, on Thursday June 13, 2002, I attended an event at the Park Tower Hotel on a presentation on the Wai Wai culture and wrote some notes and reflections which I forgot about and only found again recently. I did only some minor correctional editing, added an updated final paragraph and a title and now proffer it as my contribution to Amerindian Heritage Month.
IS OUR HUMANITY PIECES OF PAPER OR MORE THAN THAT?
Wai Wai culture is another way of being human. What does Wai Wai culture have to offer Guyana and modern Westernized culture?
Wai Wai and other Native American cultures are not paper or text-based but are based on oral and other non-text facets.
Their culture is as fully legitimate, expressive, contemporary and valid as any other culture and is another way of being human, that is, another valid expression of what it means to be human.
To be human, or of humanity, means to be involved in reciprocity – give and take – exchange – sacrifice – interdependence.
Native American cultures are community-based. The people generally believe that they belong to the land and not the land to them as modern societies believe.
Modern cultures have a concept of ownership of land and property in which the individual believes that he/she owns things and that those things belong to him/her exclusively. Native American cultures believe that things are community-owned and are for the benefit of all and all must care for those things.
The Earth is our Mother, we belong to HER, so we must respect and care for her as she nurtures us.
Let us question the use of the term ‘modern’. What is modern? What is being modern? It begs the question of what is primitive. Should we use the terms ‘modern’ and ‘primitive’? The former means a higher stage of development, whereas the latter means a lower stage of development. What is development? What does it mean to be developed? Is Wai Wai culture at a lower stage and so-called modern cultures at a higher stage? Or is it the other way around?
Wai Wai culture is another was of being human and is no more modern or primitive or inferior or superior than European Western culture. We separate the sacred from the secular, but they do not.
The Wai Wai does not have our notion of separation of church and state, the physical from the spiritual. For them all is spiritual; the physical and spiritual intertwine and are inseparable, and this gives them meaning.
Even our culture depends on the sacred or divine or something outside of ourselves to give our lives meaning. In our society, the State is that something outside of ourselves. The State gives us a birth certificate that we belong to it and we give the State its existence.
Women give birth to children and the State replicates the birth process in the registration process of birth by giving you a name, place, time of birth, race, region, district, country and sequence number. The State gives you the birth registration process making you a part of itself and in so doing giving itself existence. In today’s world, everybody MUST belong to the State and have a passport or travel documents to travel from state to state.
The State is frightened of people it cannot control or those whom it has no influence over, although they might be within the State’s territory. But some states ignore native people until elections time to get their votes. In Guyana the State demands a birth certificate but gives Amerindians a hard time to get birth certificates! A contradiction!
A text-based society seeks to reduce our humanity to pieces of paper with text printed or written on them. When we were born the State gave us a piece of paper based on an original birth registration book to certify our birth.
Without a birth certificate, in the eyes of the State we do not exist! We then go to school to learn to make marks on pieces of paper.
These marks represent oral sounds, ideas, concepts, beliefs, words, letters and numbers. We soon learn that if we make the right marks we meet our teachers’, parents’ and society’s approval.
Upon writing various texts in examinations we try to make the right marks and if we have made enough of them, we are given more pieces of paper with more markings on them certifying that we are able to make the right marks on paper. The examination certificates open doors for us to gain employment, careers and acceptance where we live and work.
At the end of the day or week or month, we are given pieces of paper with special markings representing the value of our labour.
With these pieces of paper we go into shops and stores and exchange them (the value of our sweat) for things we really need – food, clothing, shelter, medicines, water, basic services – and things we want – luxuries.
As proof of the exchange we sometimes demand or are given pieces of paper certifying that the exchange took place that we did indeed handed over pieces of paper and got goods and services in return.
Michael Xiu Quan Balgobind Hackett
Editor’s note; because of its length, this letter will conclude in tomorrow’s edition
I will eat a piece of Exxon Christmas Cake with your ingredients inside.
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