Guyana Legends�Folk Tales of the Indigenous Amerindians By Odeen Ishmael G uyana Legends�Folk Tales of the Indigenous Amerindians is a collection of fifty folk tales of the first people to inhabit Guyana and the contiguous regions of the north coast of the South American continent. Very little is known of Amerindian history in Guyana before the arrival of European settlers in the early seventeenth century and, actually, no written form of their languages existed until about seventy years ago. Indeed, much of the history of the Amerindians people is based on oral traditions which are not quite clear because the periods when important events occurred are difficult to place. Still, native oral traditions are very rich in folk stories of the ancestral heroes and heroines of these indigenous people. Some of these folk stories have varying versions among the nine different language groups�or tribes� that comprise the Amerindian population of Guyana. Such a difference is illustrated in this book which presents two different tales of how fire was acquired and various versions of the legend of two immortal folk heroes, the bothers Makonaima and Pia. This present collection of Amerindian legends was compiled over a lengthy period of many years during which I listened to and collected versions of these tales from elderly Amerindians in various regions of Guyana, and more recently from Amerindian residents of the Delta Amacuro region of Venezuela, on the frontier with Guyana. Significantly, most of these legends were also summarised since the late nineteenth century by a succession of writers, including Everard F. im Thurn, W.H. Brett, Walter Roth and Leonard Lambert. But it is significant to note that those versions�by no means original�which were related by those writers of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have undergone some changes with the passing years, and new characters have been added to them. Since Amerindians of the North West District of Guyana are ethnologically and culturally related to those in the eastern regions of Venezuela, particularly the Delta Amacuro region, it is noteworthy that the myths and legends of those Venezuelan Amerindians bear close similarities to those of their Guyanese counterparts. Interestingly, the Guajiro people�Amerindians of Arawak background living in north-west Venezuela near to Lake Maracaibo�also have some folk-tales that closely resemble those of their �relatives� living in the North-West District of Guyana and the Delta Amacuro region of Venezuela. For further information, the writings of Venezuelan researchers, Cesar�o de Armellada, Maria Manuela de Cora and Michel Perrin are recommended. It is essential to note too that an important character in Amerindian legend is �Tiger�. While there are a number of tigers in the stories�and generally they are all villains�these animals, however, are not part of the fauna in Guyana or the entire American continent. What is generally referred to as a �tiger� is the large spotted jaguar. And the �black tiger�, mentioned in one of the stories in this book, is the large South American puma. Twenty of the folk tales included in this collection appear in my earlier book, Amerindian Legends of Guyana, published in 1995. However, they have now been revised and, in some cases, retitled. Among the thirty other stories are those of two clever tricksters in Amerindian folklore, the lazy but sly Konehu and the wily rabbit, Koneso. Readers will find these legends of the original inhabitants of Guyana informative in the anthropological sense, in addition to being interesting and entertaining at the same time.
Dr. Odeen Ishmael, a veteran Guyanese diplomat, is currently ambassador of Guyana to the state of Kuwait. Before his current appointment in January 2011, he was ambassador to Venezuela from 2003 to 2011 and to the United States of America (USA) from 1993 to 2003. In the USA, he served concurrently as Guyana�s permanent representative to the Organization of American States (OAS) where he had the distinction of being the chairman of the OAS Permanent Council for two periods�in 1994 and 2003. He was also his country�s chief negotiator in the Summit of the Americas from 1994 to 2003 and functioned as the representative of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) on the Summit�s implementation committee during 2000�2003. Additionally, in the course of his career, he has represented Guyana at the United Nations and at other international forums such as the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and the Non-Aligned Movement, and during 2003�2010, at high-level meetings of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Latin America and Caribbean Economic System (SELA). He was elected as chairman of SELA, headquartered in Venezuela, for the period of 2009�2010. In his early career, the author worked as a teacher for almost three decades both in Guyana and the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. Since the 1970s, he has been a premier writer on the problems and perspectives of education in Guyana and the wider Caribbean region. He continues to write extensively on Guyanese history and political developments in the Caribbean and the Latin American region. His writings on these subjects are published in newspapers and journals in Guyana, the wider Caribbean, North America, and the Latin American region. His published books include The Democracy Perspective in the Americas, Problems of the Transition of Education in the Third World, Towards Education Reform in Guyana, Amerindian Legends of Guyana, The Magic Pot�Nansi Stories From the Caribbean, and Guyana Legends�Folktales of the Indigenous Amerindians. An Internet edition of his documentary history of the Guyana-Venezuela border controversy, The Trail of Diplomacy, was released in 1998 and has been regularly updated since then. Further, he has compiled a lengthy collection of original documents on the Guyana-Venezuela border issue under the title, Guyana�s Western Border. In addition, as editor of the online GNI Publications, he has published a series of documents on Guyanese history. For his work in diplomacy, the author received one of Guyana�s highest honors, the Cacique Crown of Honor, in May 1997. And during his stint in the United States, he received the prestigious King Legacy Award for International Service from the International Committee to Commemorate the Life and Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. in January 2002. Significantly, the U.S. Congress paid a special tribute to him by a joint resolution in October 2003 just before he completed his service in the United States. The author and his wife, Evangeline, have a son, Safraz Waseem, and a daughter, Nadeeza.