Music, poetry used to teach respect for environment in Amazon

Joseph Abraham is a community leader, educator, poet and songwriter in Hiowa, Guyana.
(CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

Eighth in a 13-part series

By Barbara J. Fraser
Catholic News Service

HIOWA, Guyana (CNS) — Joseph Abraham, the son of two of the first teachers to work in Guyana’s remote Amerindian villages, never went to secondary school. Yet he became a teacher and principal of the school in Hiowa.

A girl works on a paper at a classroom in Hiowa, Guyana.
(CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

“My parents were too poor — they couldn’t send me,” he told Catholic News Service.

As a teacher and principal, he encouraged the village’s youngsters to respect and care for the natural world. He remembers admonishing a group of boys who were harassing the large anteaters that occasionally ambled past the school.

“These animals — just as you want to live, they want to live,” he told the boys.

Once, though, when he was chastising a boy who reportedly had killed an anteater, he was caught off guard when the child replied: “I didn’t kill it for the crows to eat. Today my pot is full.”

Retired now, Abraham continues to foster respect for the environment and appreciation for the southern Guyana region known as Rupununi. He uses two of his favorite teaching tools: music and poetry.

A boy smiles during class in class in Hiowa, Guyana, March 4, 2019. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

He greeted visitors with an original song about Rupununi, “a place that has been blessed by God’s own hand,” and three 10- and 11-year-old girls recited dramatic readings extolling the beauty of the Kanuku Mountains and exhorting farmers not to fight weeds with fire.

“Before you throw a lighted match,” they urged their listeners, in unison, “think how many creatures you’ll kill.”

“Since I can remember, people have burned the savanna,” he said, recalling one wildfire that stopped just a few yards from his home.

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Special reporting on the church in the Amazon by Catholic News Service was supported in part by Aid to the Church in Need-USA and the USCCB Collection for the Church in Latin America.

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