Latest update March 28th, 2023 12:59 AM
Feb 06, 2023 Letters
Dear Ms. Letitia Wright,
Awii glaad yu kom (Creolese: We are very glad that you’ve come.)
Wakope kuru auyesak mang (Arekuna: It’s good to have you come.)
Saru eni man Letitia, pori’ pe esi e pi.enna’ posak pe’apata’se’ya’ (Akawaio: Welcome Letitia; I am happy because you have come to your home.)
Guepah lolipoe, yapokurumeh owopifoh oweichopo Guyana taka mah (Carib: Greetings, welcome home; we de appreciate your visit to Guyana.)
Miiyarîman (.Makushi: Welcome.)
Maburika to’shikwa Letitia.. (Lokono: Welcome home Letitia)
Wakù pe elepankà apata yak Letitia! (Patamuna: Welcome home Letitia!)
Kaiman wadapapan pugaru: (Wapichan: We welcome you wholeheartedly!)
Kîrwanhê mîmoko (Wai Wai: Happy that you have come back.)
Boukaiya (Warau: Welcome.)
We are delighted that you have taken it upon yourself to ‘rep’ Guyana everywhere you go and every time you get the chance. One area we Guyanese are not so great at either understanding for ourselves or explaining to the world is the question of our languages. We proudly pronounce that we are ‘the only English-speaking country’ in South America. Of course, we all know that the only language most Guyanese speak everyday with our families and friends and in our workplaces is Creolese. And some people like to fool us that it is ‘broken English’, ‘bad English’, or ‘just English with careless pronunciation’. Or we tell ourselves that it isn’t a language because people in Buxton speak ‘a totally different language’ to the people in the Corentyne, even though ‘mi doz swim in trench’ means exactly the same thing anywhere you go in the country. Or we say that the way we speak cannot be written accurately only because we don’t know the writing system for Creolese and have never learnt it or been taught it.
To borrow from what the constitution of Haiti says about Haitian Creole, Creolese is the language which unites all Guyanese. This is a language created by our African ancestors in conditions of slavery, inherited by Indian, Chinese and Portuguese indentured servants, who have added words covering every single feature of culture, food, music and folk tradition that makes us who we are. English just happens to be, for now, the only language of the courts, government administration and formal education. That, of course, can change if we as Guyanese make it so.
And then there are the other Guyanese languages, the languages of the Indigenous peoples of the country. The main ones are Akawaio, Arekuna, Karinya (Carib), Lokono (Arawak), Makushi, Patamuna, Wai-Wai, Wapichan (Wapishana) and Warau. These are the languages of the ancestral people of this continent who kept this country safe and sound for those of us who have since landed or were landed on its shores. Like Creolese, these languages pass down from generation to generation and make us who we are.
You are reported to have said that you regret ‘losing your Guyanese accent’. We know that behind that statement is regret at losing your native language, Creolese. You have not lost it. It is buried inside of you, under years of being forced to talk differently. But the language of your mother and grandmother lies within you, just waiting for you to dig it up and display it to the world. In fact, we hear it rising to the surface ever so often, like when you were reminiscing about your favourite Guyanese foods on Jumpstart radio. It’s just a matter of time, Miss Letitia, and a bit of practice.
We note the excitement of speakers of South African Xhosa, Mexican Yucatecan Mayan and Haitian Creole when they hear their long ignored and disrespected languages spoken in ‘Wakanda Forever’. The fact that the Black Panther movies show not only ‘people who look like me’ but ‘people who talk like me’ is important for the children of the world. We are lucky to have you at the centre of this. We can be forgiven for dreaming of hearing our languages in the next Black Panther sequel. These would be the languages of a hidden multilingual civilisation with a population made up of Amerindian, African, and South Asian people, using Creolese and the nine Indigenous languages of Guyana. Maybe, they might use the knowledge embodied in these languages to create their own vibranium from scratch, with that mineral coming from their inner spaces, rather than from outer space. We have, of course, recently been gifted with the vibranium of the real world, oil and gas. But even as we play with the two-edged sword that is our vibranium, we need the inner understanding and acceptance of self which can only come with an acceptance of our languages.
We dream that you, as our representative can help us see and hear ourselves for who we really are. We dream that you, in the role you have adopted for yourself to ‘rep’ Guyana, can ‘rep’ the Guyanese languages too. We dream for you to become a patron of the Guyanese Languages Unit at the University of Guyana and carry our language torch to the world. We dream that that glow will reflect back on Guyana as we work in the dark to find ourselves beneath the rubble left behind by slavery, indentureship and colonialism. We know we are dreaming. But, in the world of the imagination, all things are possible.
And all our languages have a word for ‘dream’.
We love you Ms. Letitia!
Charlene Wilkinson (Creolese)
Trevon Baird (Creolese)
Charo Albert (Arekuna)
Cliva Joseph (Akawaio)
Akeem Henry (Kalina)
Skeitha Thomas (Lokono)
Gloria Duarte (Makushi)
Ovid Williams (Patamuna)
Bernicia Chekema (Wai Wai)
Vivian Alex Marco (Wapichan)
Derrick Henry (Warau)
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