Guyana’s Amerindian population consists of several tribes, including the Caribs, Wapisianas, Arawaks, and Warraus. As Guyana’s oldest bank, GBTI supports Guyana’s indigenous population through a variety of ways, including sponsoring Indigenous Heritage Month.
Anthropologists believe that Amerindian tribes were Guyana’s first inhabitants, arriving around 11,000 years ago. They settled low-lying coastal regions of the country, where they fished, hunted, and used a variety of plant species to produce fibers, oils, dyes, and a variety of different dishes.
Over the centuries, Guyana’s Amerindian population migrated inland, penetrating the dense jungle via the country’s extensive river system, constructing temporary and permanent settlements. While Amerindians dwelling in coastal regions lived on turtles, fish, crabs, and snails, those inhabiting the savannahs hunted various types of mammal, including deer, monkey, and sloth, as well as various types of waterfowl. Guyana’s indigenous eetay palm is an important source of flour in Amerindian cuisine, while the country’s interior is also rich in cashews and wild honey.
Amerindian cuisine remains incredibly popular in Guyana, both within traditional indigenous villages and in towns and cities. In 2014 Tuma Sálâ opened in Georgetown, establishing itself as the country’s first Amerindian restaurant.
Read on to learn more about four popular Amerindian foods in Guyana.
Made from cassava root flour, farine is a Guyanese Amerindian staple that is incredibly versatile. Historians believe that the Wapisiana people introduced farine to Guyana. The name comes from the Portuguese word farinha, meaning “flour.”
Made from just cassava and salt, farine can be mixed with sugar and milk, creating a nutritious drink. It can safely be stored over long periods, and it is an effective thickening agent for stews and soups. Farine can also be used as a stuffing for chicken or fish, and it forms a key component in several sweet dishes, such as white pudding, coconut rock buns, and black cake.
2. Pepper Pot
This classic Amerindian stew is the national dish of Guyana. It is made from mutton, beef, or pork, though fish, chicken, and tapir are occasionally used.
Pepper pot is commonly served with roti, rice, or cassava bread and is eaten at any time of day. One of its main ingredients is cassareep, a thick sauce made from cassava juice. To make cassareep, cassava juice is boiled until it reduces to the consistency of molasses, at which point sugar, salt, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and cloves are added, creating a distinctive bittersweet taste that is used in a variety of different Amerindian recipes.
Traditionally made with celery, hot peppers, salt beef, cow heel, and spices, pepper pot is reserved for special occasions such as Christmas and other holidays and celebrations. It is often served over several days.
3. Cassava Bread
The cassava plant grows year-round in Guyana and is simple to cultivate. A cassava plant takes around seven months to mature. Once the root is harvested, it is peeled, revealing white flesh that looks similar to cheese.
The cassava root is then grated and then placed in a long, woven strainer called a matapee. The strainer is repeatedly wrung, draining out the juices of the cassava. The Wapisiana tribe uses this juice to make sarawi and parikari, both a type of alcoholic beverage. The cassava root must be handled with care since in its natural state it contains high amounts of cyanide and can be deadly if not prepared properly.
Next, the fully dried cassava root, resembling off-white flour, is poured into circular forms to cook over a fire. It is hung to dry and is soon ready to eat.
While cassava bread is one of Guyana’s best known and loved foods, its preparation can require days of travel to obtain the right ingredients.
4. Peanut Butter
It takes around 540 peanuts to make every 12-ounce jar of this pantry staple. Each year, Americans consume enough peanut butter to cover the floor of the Grand Canyon. However, the peanut is believed to have originated in South America, namely Brazil or Peru.
As far back as 3,500 years ago, Amerindians were decorating jars with peanut motifs and making peanut-shaped pottery. Anthropologists have found evidence that the Incas of Peru entombed peanuts with mummies and incorporated the legume in sacrificial offerings. Meanwhile, Brazilian tribes have been consuming a nutritious drink made from ground maize and peanuts since ancient times.
Amerindians are widely believed to be the first people to make peanut butter.
This low-cost food staple is rich in nutrients that regulate blood sugar levels and improve heart health. Peanut butter is high in protein, phosphorous, zinc, niacin, magnesium, and vitamin B6. Studies suggest that eating peanut butter improves satiety—the feeling of fullness—which can have a positive impact in terms of weight loss.
Peanut butter is commonly eaten throughout Guyana today, with the country’s finest natural peanut butter produced by the Aranaputa Processors Peanut Butter Factory in North Rupununi. Schoolchildren throughout the region often enjoy fresh peanut butter slathered on cassava bread as a tasty, nutritious snack.