Masakanarî Village: The Unexpected

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Author – Bernie Robertson

It was decided! We were going to the end of Guyana, Konashen – Wai Wai Territory – to work with the community of Masakanarî.

We left early in the morning of the 5th March from Eugene F Correira International Airport by charter flight as this was the only way to get to the community.

My heart was pounding whilst on the way, eager to work with this community as I had never imagined that I might ever get to this part of the country. For a moment, the pounding was fear, fear that we would have to turn back as the pilot signaled the view of the sky in front of us, dark with the coming rain. But luck was on our side.

As our flight circled the airstrip, I saw some villagers waiting for us and we were given a warm welcome into the village. During the course of the afternoon, we set up the logistics for training and working with the community and was constantly checked on by villagers with welcoming smiles making sure our evening was a peaceful one.

The very next morning, we were eager to work with community members. Our smiles, bright as the sun, as we waited for people to come to the Benab to hear more about what we would be doing. While waiting, we heard the most incredible voice calling out to the people to come to the benab. It was time to meet. That voice belonged to Councillor Maripâ Marawanaru, famed for being on the cover of the Explore Guyana Magazine 2013, a well-respected elder of the village.

Councillor Maripâ welcomed all; he asked those attending to listen well and learn and said that he hoped that we would train their young people well, even though the time would be short. We spent that day explaining the project and exploring the challenges the community faced with their traditional knowledge. We also looked at the state of traditional knowledge in carrying out important activities in the village.

The next couple of days was spent with a set of incredible young people, teaching them to use tablets to make videos as part of our participatory video training. We had 11 young and energetic persons instead of the usual 8 but we did not mind as it made things interesting. They took the challenge to learn to use the technology as they saw it as a way of benefiting not only themselves but also how video could be used to help their community and to better manage their protected area.

The training videos focused on daily life and their cultural heritage. This is usual for the communities we train. But as a trainer, I was left without words in seeing how rich the Wai Wai had kept their traditional way of life, whilst most other communities, further out in the savanna, seem to be losing so much of it.

It brought home that when these practices – fishing, hunting, gathering,and farming – are used for everyday living it does not go away. I was ashamed that some things that I as a Makushi young man should have learned growing up in my community, I learned from them. They were not beyond teasing me about being a savanna man, and boy were they vex when Deirdre told them that Curare was a Makushi thing! They were like “nope, we learned that in Brazil”.

I learned so many things from them, such as the love they have for their rich cultural heritage. So whilst working and training these young people, I was able to learn many unique techniques of fishing and hunting, and even how to plant in different ways while we were walking in their farms and seeing the different techniques they have used to plant their cassava. Trying out some of these techniques have become my new passion now that I am home for a little while.

The team enjoyed many other things while there. The best was all the fresh mangoes you can eat, watching and participating in the community feeding, picnicking on the river but most of all enjoying the village’s reactions to the final videos that were put together by the trainees. Councillor Maripâ said now I will be more famous than Elka – their Great Chief – for playing Elka.

Our farewell had us in tears and smiles as the whole village came out to hug us. They sang songs, showered us with souvenirs to remember them by and bid us come again. I am still hearing those wonderful songs in my head and I look forward to my next visit.

Follow Jay Mistry:

Professor of Geography - Royal Holloway University of London

Jay has more than 22 years’ experience in teaching, researching and building capacity for natural resource management with local communities. Her particular interests include supporting local livelihoods and biodiversity conservation, local environmental governance, action research using participatory video and capacity building for natural resource management.