THE GREAT PATAMONA DEBATE – ‘languaging’ at 3000 feet above sea level

Preserving our literary heritage

By Petamber Persaud

Friday, December 20, 2019, Georgetown, Guyana, six feet below sea level: first oil and it made headlines, locally and afar.

Friday, December 20, 2019, Paramakatoi, Guyana, 3,000 feet above sea level: also flowing at a blistering pace was a debate on indigenous languages conducted totally in Patamona. This is another first for Guyana yet it did not make the news. It did not make the news but it did move those who witnessed the debate.

For those who witnessed the debate, it was a treat, an engaging treat. All elements of a classy debate were present – the thrusting and parrying, the flow of the Patamona Language (Ovid Williams gave a live/running translation for the benefit of the ‘mudheads’ of the coastlands/non- Patamona-speaking attendees only), the articulation (no, these were not scholars nor orators but a people in tune with their language, in tune with their body – innate qualities, in tune with their culture and their identity), the crowd engagement with each side, each salient point presented was cheered. Yes, you could also laugh and heckle in Patamona.

The Judges

Before the start of the event, the air was filled with excitement as people despite the wet and slippery conditions trickles and thronged towards the venue which could not hold everyone so people were standing around or seated on their ATVs outdoors. The din of exchanges in the language was a sign that sparks would fly during the debate.

The opening items on programme were designed to set the stage for a quality debate. The prayer in Patamona by Pastor Roy Edwin was poignant, so too was the reciting of the National Pledge by all standing reverently, capped by an elucidating overview of the debate by Ovid Williams, who also introduced the team from Georgetown and [those identifies ] were urged to stand to be acknowledged. But it was the moderator, Lennox Aaron, who did an outstanding job keeping the ball in play throughout the event and we were off like an ATV with Ovid Williams doing live translation for benefit of the team from Georgetown.

The moot: ‘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 the languages are preserved and promoted nationally’.

Best Speaker Molly Simon

The audience was into the action from the start as both the Opposition and Preposition Teams battled it out with emotion and gesticulations that paid a dividend, even without the translation, we would have followed the direction of each presentation.

There were consensuses between the Preposition Team and Opposition Team on a few issues for instance both agreed that the indigenous languages must be preserved and one way to do this is for the languages to be documented, documentation was of utmost priority. However, the disagreements fell in two main areas, for instance, it was the responsibility of the indigenous peoples to preserve the languages by keeping then in usage and functional and the focus of Government should be on more important things like improving or providing necessary amenities for indigenous peoples. A big issue was that speaking indigenous languages only poses a barrier in communication especially in the job arena and in the field of education where examination papers are set in English.

After the break, there was an informative cultural item showcasing people who were Patamona of different ethnicity – Blacks, East Indians, Chinese and Europeans, some who came and, in order, to survive and live in such an environment had to learn Patamona like the shop owner/immigration agent, Sammy.

In the end, the Preposition Team won the debate which meant that the moot also won the day as pointing the way forward, and just as well for the minister in the Ministry for Indigenous Peoples Affairs, Hon. Valerie Gorrido-Lowe was present and the ball was lobbed into her court. In the end, there were no losers for on this momentous day everyone walked away with heads held high and pride beating their breasts.

The International Year of Indigenous Languages is a United Nations observance in 2019 that aims to raise awareness of the consequences of the endangerment of Indigenous languages across the world, with an aim to establish a link between language, development, peace, and reconciliation. (From UN website)

It would be remiss if I failed to highlight at least one part of the printed programme under the heading ‘keeping in touch with your roots’ which states ‘learning to speak in the mother tongue is very important for a child’s overall development’ for it ‘benefits the child in many ways …it connects him to his culture, ensures better cognitive development, and aids in the learning of other languages’.

Both teams with trophies

Guyana must be commended and should be given a citation by the UN for executing the mandate of that august body. Even unto the last days of 2019, this country was in full and active support of the UN call for the year 2019 to be designated ‘International Year for Indigenous Languages’ by hosting a debate in an indigenous language with the moot ‘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 the languages are preserved and promoted nationally’. Yes, Guyana sitting at 6 feet below sea level should be commended for elevating such an issue to the height of 3,000 feet in the air – a fitting end to the year.

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