Indigenous Peoples

1.0 Introduction

The Indigenous peoples of Guyana have inhabited the country long before the land was discovered by the Europeans. They are also major inhabitants all sections of the hinterland: forest, savannah, coastland and highland. They possess knowledge of the natural environment that enables them to make their living in remote areas without modern infrastructure. There are nine remaining tribes left, the Wapishiana, Akawaio, Arekuna, Macushi, Carib, Warrow, Patamona, Arawak and the Wai Wai, the latter has now reached a gene pool crisis, with few pure Wai Wai individuals remaining in the village.


1.1 Current status of Indigenous people         

 Unfortunately these people sometimes find themselves in the midst of land use conflicts, where the land they reside upon or live next to is given as a consession to foresters, miners, resort developers or conservation areas. They are also vulnerable to exploition by some people who use their skill to harvest forest products, such as wildlife and non timber products, they are paid very little upon delivery.
Amerindian farming
Amerindian farmers use the traditional method of shifting agriculture which is a method best suited to the conditions of the forest. It was a method that has evolved over centuries of experience. It has been criticized as a wasteful means of landuse, however it has proven to be an effective means of cultivation without needing artificial fertilizers or pesticides. However times are changing and many farmers are remaining on one piece of land for longer periods because of land restrictions and other outside influences, thus necessitating modern techniques of artificial fertilizers and pecticides. 
See plate 1. This is a more traditional Amerindian farm where mixed cropping is practiced.
Plate 1. Amerindian farm in the North West

Amerindian settlement
Traditionally, Amerindians use natural materials from their environment to construct their dwellings, the picture on the right, plate 2, is an example. The most common natural material used for the roofs is the leaf of the Truli Palm, and clay or wood is used to construct the walls. In recent years more and more dwellings are being constructed with some non-traditional material such as concrete and aluminum sheets

Traditional materials once suited the nomadic lifestyle of the people, today, this lifestyle is largely abandoned, though many people still travel frequently across the borders of Brazil, Venezuela and Suriname.

Plate 2. Amerindian dwelling in Rupununi savannahs

1.2 The importance of the Indigenous Peoples

The main peoples inhabiting the interior lands of the country are the Indigenous peoples. To date they have demonstrated unique knowledge and skill to utilize the resources of the natural envirionment in order to survive and support themselves, and at the same time avoided having much adverse impact on natural systems. Thus they are an important factor to consider with when considering the state and future of the natural environment of Guyana.


1.3 The threat to the Indigenous peoples     

The Indigenous peoples have a right to any lifestyle they choose, as well as livelihood and culture. The livlihood of many depend on the surrounding environment, their culture and beliefs have so far cultivated a respect for the environment. However, many in the newer generation are moving towards the logging and dredging activities in order to support a more conventional lifestyle. They too have a right to which ever lifestyle they may choose, however they need to be made aware of the adverse effects of this change on the family structure, local heritage, and communities. With this shift, traditional values are destroyed and cultural practices and knowledge are broken down, all this is coupled with a greater risk of disease especially STDs brought with association outsiders.

With these changes, valuable knowledge pertaining to the natural environment and methods of sustainable use, as well as respect for it will dwindle as outside influences intrude.

Many Amerindians still rely on traditional means of transport, that is canoe or foot. Other means include bicycles and motorcycles to a lesser degree. Amerindians are known to be great travellers travelling by foot or canoe up to weeks at a time.
Plate 3. River entrance to an Amerindian village- Assakata

Infrastructure and basic needs
Generally in the hinterland, good infrastructure such as roads, running water and electricity are not easily found. Laterite roads (hard packed red soil) are the best to be found, these have their own problems associated with various weather conditions. Fresh water is mainly accessed via creeks and rivers, and to some extent rain. In the savannah, wells are another source of fresh water.Some villages have a power-house which supplies electricity at certain times of the day and night. Clinics and medical facilities are few and far between in the hinterland, though many villages have a medic trained to administer minor ailmanets. Schools too are sometimes shared between villages.
Plate 4. A section of a road in the savanna region 

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