One thing Guyanese people are known for, is their love for all things Amerindian and our vast, beautiful hinterland (not that there aren’t those who pillage and plunder our beautiful spaces). One of our national dishes, Pepperpot, was taken from the Ameridians. We also have the Benab, cassava bread, hammocks and many types of Amerindian inspired arts and crafts which we use in our daily lives. So, it is not too shocking that one of the biggest film projects to come out of Guyana recently, is connected with the Ameridians.
Written by Michael Gilkes, PhD., one of Guyana’s leading creatives, and with collaborators such as Conservation International and Iwokrama International Centre and the Makushi community of Surama, “Maira and the Jaguar People,” represents an effort to promote the restoration and preservation of the Amerindian culture in Guyana, already in grave danger of being lost through the pull of the cities on their young people.
It is early evening: it’s story time in a small Amerindian village. The Piaiman (Shaman) tells the legendary story of Maira and her brother Mairun to the children gathered around his ‘benab’ (small thatched house). Maira loved birdsong and was fascinated by the flute-like call of a rare bird no one had ever seen. Mairun dreamed of becoming a brave hunter. The Shaman tells the listening children “music is life, the gift of the birds: the jaguar people’s gift is death, but both life and death must be welcomed. They are twins”. They (and the viewers) are then taken on a journey back in time as the story unfolds. Maira and Mairun become caught up in a dreamlike drama of life and death with a talking jaguar when they lose their way in the forest looking for Maira’s elusive ‘flute-bird’. The ‘jaguar'( an illusion created by the Shaman’s magic to teach the children a lesson about going alone into the forest ) its secret discovered, refuses to let them return to the village. They must become ‘kamarapichu’ (jaguar people) like him. It finally threatens to attack them. Mairun dies saving his sister who is able to escape during the fight. The Shaman’s story ends when the ‘lost’ girl is found. Maira’s life and Mairun’s death are both reconciled through the music of the Shaman’s ceremonial flute, fashioned from the thigh bone of a dead jaguar discovered in a remote part of the forest .
The rainforest will be more than just a stunningly beautiful backdrop. The music of its trees, waterfalls, rivers and birdsong will play a very important part in the story. So will the musical language of the Makushi (with subtitles) which will also be featured.
Watch a teaser here:
What is needed:
The film has been over 3 years in the making and is virtually ready for filming. A shooting script has been prepared and actors and crew selected. The Makushi are fully involved, and 2 preliminary visits have been made to Surama to set up locations and a two week shooting schedule. Some funding has been received from the Guyana Ministry of Culture and from supportive Guyanese private sector sources, but has fallen well short of the $200,000.00 US needed for a quality production.
The producers aim to start by building and developing the 2 major locations already chosen in the Surama rainforest (north Rupununi, Region #9):
A Makushi village of the 1940s/1950s. This location will serve both as a ‘base camp’ for actors and crew and as the main film set where most of the action is centred. This arrangement allows the Makushi’s everyday life in their community (approximately a mile away) to go on without interference or interruption.
The second location, several miles upriver, will need a canopied, outboard motor boat for transporting supplies, cast and crew. The Makushi already have one motor-driven boat and are preparing the ground for our second location which will become, in time, a Makushi Heritage site. Foot trails and rest stops in the forest for overnighting need to be constructed. It is a beautiful and ancient location (it features in the 5 min. ‘teaser’ on YouTube) with ‘Timehri’ (figures written or carved on large boulders) that date back many hundreds of years. It also marks an important historical event, the death, in battle, of a heroic Makushi Toshau (leader). The story is legendary and in danger of being lost especially to the Makushi youth. It’s a location sacred to the tribe, and this will be an important aspect of the filming.
Through this campaign, the filmmakers are hoping to raise the $200,000 US required to make the film. For additional details on how the funds will be spent, please visit the project’s page on Indiegogo.
The Impact of the Film:
The impact of this film could be far-reaching, not just for Guyanese and the Caribbean, but for a global audience. Ecotourism, or ‘nature tourism’ has the potential to open up minds about the importance of conservation of the natural world of the rainforests as well as of the indigenous cultures that have grown and survived in them for thousands of years. They have been the ‘stewards’ and protectors of the forests which have supported their own communities. We are in danger of losing that balance between Mankind and Nature.
The Makushi people of Surama will benefit directly from the making of this film, both in terms of their close involvement in the technical and casting areas of the production, but also because we will be building a replica of a Makushi village from the 1950’s as part of the set for the film, and the structures built will not be torn down after filming, but will remain in the care of the Makushi community. Since the Makushi are involved in ecotourism, these structures could then be used as living or guest spaces for the community and their visitors, or serve as a museum site, for example. In addition, the clearing and trail construction to facilitate access to the second location will be facilitated by the Makushi, and this will include overnight accommodations for crew and cast members. All these facilities will remain after we have gone, for the use of the Makushi community.
While we hope the film will meet it’s funding goal, as with all Indiegogo campaigns choosing the flexible funding option, this project will receive whatever funds it raises (minus Indiegogo’s fees), and will not be failure if the funding goal is not met. So, whatever you contribute, no matter the amount, will make it to the filmmakers.
Please consider contributing. Click here to go to the film’s page on Indiegogo.