Christmas celebrations in hinterland communities

end in the New Year


Christmas Day in the hinterland village of Phillipai usually gets started with a huge church service

THE Christmas season is well-known as a time that fosters the coming together of family and friends, and, for many Amerindian villages in Guyana, this is an aspect that they take really seriously, celebrating the day with huge village-wide cook-outs, inter-denominational church services, and lots of friendly sport competitions. 

Councils for the villages would often take charge of coordinating all and sundry to play a part in a wide array of activities, with something for everyone in the village to feel the love and spirit of Christmas, even if you’re just a visitor.


An aerial view of the hinterland village of Isseneru, Region Seven

“This year might be quiet different due to the COVID -19 pandemic but Christmas has always been a wonderful time,” shared Dwight Larson, 31, a native of the hinterland village of Isseneru in the Cuyuni Mazaruni Region (Region Seven).

The indigenous community is home to a population of just over 300 persons. Larson currently lives on the coast but usually makes the trip back home for the holidays, to take his two children, a daughter and a son, to learn about their culture.

“On Christmas Day, the Village Council takes over the festivities. A lunch is planned and prepared for everyone including families, friends and visitors. Gifts are also distributed by the Village Council to every household and budding young families. There are also planned concerts, football or other games arranged by the sports group, in which the young and old take part,” Larson told the Guyana Chronicle.

For the villagers in Isseneru, Christmas Day rolls out with an inter-denominational midnight church service.


“Isseneru Village has two main churches, the Allejuah and the Anglican churches, and despite their various forms of worship, both collaborate to usher in the Christmas holiday. Everyone attends the church service, greeting and hugging families, friends and visitors. There is always laughter during the wee hours on Christmas Day. This has been the tradition for many years,” Larson elaborated.

For Isseneru, Christmas Day climaxes with a huge village luncheon, where everyone in the village brings out food and meets at one location to celebrate the day together.
“It’s a tradition that was passed on by our foreparents,” Larson said.

Dwight Larson (centre) dresses in a Santa Claus suit, flanked by his cousins while celebrating one of his Christmases in Isseneru, Region Seven

“I remembered when I was little they would blow the horn for families to gather in the mornings to eat and drink. That has passed on to our generations. Every family contributes to the Christmas lunch.”


Patrons get to enjoy the traditional Amerindian dishes such as tuma pot, which is made with meat that includes deer, fish or labba, and of course this is eaten with cassava bread; however, up for grabs is also a wide array of dishes from other cultures such as chicken curry, fried rice, roti and cakes.

And then there are the beverages, naturally it’s not an Amerindian event without piwari but other beverages include Cassiri, potato juice, and cane juice.

“Food is never enough, we eat, we share and we take home. It’s all about enjoying the holiday and sharing the love on Christmas Day,” Larson said, adding: “There are a variety of things cooked for the Christmas lunch. We have the various traditional foods and drinks, roasts and other Guyanese cuisines.”

Notwithstanding the COVID-19 situation and toned down celebration, Larson is looking forward to returning home this Christmas, with his family, affirming that: “We are going home to Isseneru for the holidays as we do every year.”

At Phillipai Village, located in the Upper Mazaruni, also in Region Seven, the atmosphere, celebrations, and spirit of togetherness during the Christmas season, are pretty much the same as Isseneru.


Christmas in hinterland village of Phillipai, Region Seven, usually involves a big lunch with all of the villagers

“The village council arranges for a big pot of food to be cooked. In addition to that there are pots upon pots of tuma, with meat, or fish tuma, or smoked fish. Cassiri is in abundance and it is shared around to all the residents. Barrels, upon barrels of Cassiri, there’s cassava bread and the men are sent out to hunt or fish, especially to celebrate Christmas,” said Laura George, who is a native of that village.
Though a little bigger than Isseneru, having a population of some 1,500 residents, togetherness still permeates the Amerindian community of Phillipai.


“We have a big community spirit in Phillipai. Everybody just come together and eat together and it’s just such a big celebration. It reminds us of how grateful we are for being together. To me that’s very unique about Christmas in Phillipai,” George expressed.

She added: “All the residents come out and we sing Christmas carol and people from the different satellite communities and neighbouring villages would also come out. Persons always say they love how we celebrate the Christmas in Phillipai so they would come to celebrate with us and we’re happy to have them.”

After eating together, it’s time to play together.

“After the lunch, the big communal lunch, there’s usually time for games. We may have a friendly football match, or cricket match and we would have competition between the young and the old, or the men and the women, so it’s a really fun time,” she related.

“After the games we would close off with a snack time and then persons would go off into individual groups and they would even have further celebrations there.”


Villagers are often given presents on Christmas Day in Phillipai

Again, it’s not just a celebration for one day. “These celebrations even though it’s for Christmas, it lasts for days and even into the New Year as well,” said George.
And even as time ebbs on and society changes, and in some places traditions may change, many of the ways in which Amerindian villages celebrated their togetherness before is just how they still celebrate it in present day.
“Christmas in Phillipai hasn’t changed much at all. Something that will always remain is our spirit of helping each other.