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By Ashraf DabieEven though the celebration of Christmas has its origin set on religious beliefs, Guyanese have over the years managed to transform this festive occasion into yet another aspect of the diverse local culture. As such, the season is no longer limited to any specific group but has become perhaps the most highly anticipated time of the year, with an entire calendar of activities billed for the celebrations extending throughout the length and breadth of Guyana.However, for villages in the Upper Mazaruni, Region Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni), it was with the spreading of Adventism, a phenomenon that took place sometime inChief Aukathe 1900s, that the tribes of this region began to formulate their own little customs and traditions, as they too observe the birth of Jesus Christ.This is all detailed in a story told throughout the district that chronicles the transition which saw the Indigenous communities leaving behind their ancestral beliefs to take on the Christian way of life.It all started in the village of Kako, when the then leader, Chief Auka, was ambushed by a premonition which hinted at the arrival of a stranger to their well protected land.According to the legend, Auka who was known as a ruthless leader with many wives, while lost in his subconscious, was greeted by a “White man carrying a black book.” This stranger, bold enough to defy the defensive nature of the people, ventured into their home with a mission to change the way in which they lived.However, strange enough, Auka somehow felt it best to welcome this mysterious man into their village after realising he meant no harm.The next day, the village Chief was eager to inform his people of this dream, only that it was not a dream but more so a vision; a glimpse of the future.Auka thereby alerted his villagers of the impending arrival of this stranger carrying a black book, while laying out specific instructions to inflict no harm but to take the man directly to him instead. And so said so done, the man did come.This stranger quickly became well-known across in the Upper Mazaruni as OEMissionary OE DavisDavis, a missionary, who brought with him material possessions of more civilised societies, such as clothing but most importantly, the word of God. Davis, through his journeys within the region, took the Adventist faith (a denomination of Christianity) into various Indigenous communities, teaching the people through simply practices such as covering their bodies with clothing, what to eat and drink and to honour monogamy.Adding to that, the missionary also shared Christian religious practices with the first peoples, one of which was the observation of the birth of Christ, commonly known as Christmas.Over the decades, the customs and traditions became more and more entrenched in the culture of these communities and even evolved to take on aspects of the modern society.This evolution is evident is Parima, one of the villages visited by Davis during his crusades all those years ago. This Adventist community in the depths of the Mazaruni River, is home to the only remaining families of the Arecuna tribe.Every Christmas, the families gather at the centre of the community, at the village’s dining hall, to share a wide array of specially prepared Indigenous cuisine, which for them is the true spirit of the season.The gathering over a hefty meal, with a selection of festive dishes, is what sets the occasion aside when compared to others. Given that food takes the forefront of the celebration, the tuma pot (the original pepper pot) is a must have on the ChristmasA typical Christmas table in Upper Mazarunitable.However, what makes Christmas tuma special is that meats such as deer or the black curassow (or powis), which makes for a much-desired festive treat, are substituted for fish or other common sources of protein at this time of the year.This is paired with what is known as “kata” which is simply small fishes boiled in cassava juice until it reaches a thick consistency. Of course, other delicacies such as the cassava bread and specially brewed Indigenous beverages are must havesThe famous tuma potat this time as well.In Parima, while the extravagance of the celebrations synonymous to Christmas in the city may not exist, some of the well-known traditions were maintained, whereas others were eventually adopted.In the Chambers family, for example, the hanging of fairy lights and adorning their home with festive decorations has become a tradition which was generally uncommon in the region. In recent years also, they also adopted the custom of Christmas gift exchange within their household.Even with that, Christmas in Indigenous communities is generally a simple occasion, much like the lives they lead. However, the communities mostly look forward to the time spent in communion, through the sharing of food at the gathering of fun and laughter.In this way, the Indigenous communities stand out as examples to others throughout the country and even around the world who seem to have lost the essence of the season in their quested for extravagance.However, putting that aside, the people of the Upper Mazaruni continues to maintain the true nature of the holiday through embracing the wonders of sharing and togetherness.