GUYANA: Indigenous Artist and Regional Development Officer – Anil Roberts – is a ‘Special Person’

 Sep 19, 2021 Kaieteur News – By Rehanyna Ramsa

Anil Roberts

Championing the cause of Guyana’s first peoples…

“To experience the culture there [in the Rupununi] and the position I am in today at the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs, which is to be able to help my fellow Amerindian brothers and sisters within the villages on governance, project development, and support is what I view as great.”

At any successful entity or corporation, it is common knowledge that hiring the right people for the job produces better results for achieving the desired end.

For this week’s ‘Special Person,’ this certainly proves true. As someone who is always championing the cause of the indigenous peoples as an artist and Principal Regional Development Officer (PRDO) attached to the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs, Anil Roberts is constantly striving towards preserving and advocating for their rights, culture and heritage.

In his capacity as PRDO, Mr. Roberts has, throughout the years, worked to help promote projects aimed towards the development of the Indigenous peoples. Being Indigenous himself, “seeing Indigenous peoples prosper” only comes naturally.

Born to the Makushi nation (tribe) of the North Rupununi District in Region Nine, Roberts uses his art to make a positive impact on behalf of his culture. His work is a testament to the ever so often overlooked and forgotten contribution of the nation’s first people. His creative niche is to ensure that the efforts of the nine indigenous tribes of Guyana are not easily erased.

As an artist, he is constantly looking for opportunities to tell stories “from an Indigenous point of view.” Roberts’ ultimate goal is to ensure that the Indigenous peoples are known for not just pepperpot, farine, and the other delicious cuisines but for their contribution to the arts, language, culture, and development of the Guyanese people.

PHOTO: Cozy Family: Mr. Roberts and his Awarak wife along with their four-year-old son.


Outside of his artwork and Amerindian Affairs Ministry portfolio, Roberts holds quite an impressive resume.

Never one to shy away from an opportunity to pass on knowledge, Roberts spent a few of his years as a fine arts and visual arts tutor for Caribbean Secondary Examination Council (CSEC) students as well as Distance Education Programme teachers of the Cyril Potter College of Education (CPCE).

And as a result of this commitment to promoting his heritage, Roberts has represented Guyana at several international forums including the technical mission on Amazon Cooperative Treaty Organisation (ACTO) on Indigenous peoples in Voluntary Isolation in Peru in 2013; and the ACTO technical mission on Indigenous Peoples in Voluntary Isolation in Colombia in 2014; and at the World Social Forum in Belem, Brazil in 2008 as a participant of the delegation of Indigenous Guyanese where he prepared a presentation on the Indigenous people of Guyana.

Reflecting on his accomplishments, Roberts noted, “To experience the culture there [in the Rupununi] and the position I am in today at the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs, which is to be able to help my fellow Amerindian brothers and sisters within the villages on governance, project development, and support is what I view as great.”

He noted nevertheless that none of the above would have been possible had he not taken a leap of faith and journeyed from the serenity and comfort of his village in the North Rupununi to the city in an effort to further his academic and artistic pursuits.
For him, coming from Rupertee Village, North Rupununi, to Georgetown to live and study accompanied its own challenges.

 PHOTO: Mr. Roberts’ handiwork: a painting depicting an Amerindian or Indigenous family

“It was a completely new environment, to study, and often with financial constraint,” he recalled of his voyage.
However, the talent of the Amerindian youth superseded those challenges. Roberts’ skills as an artist developed quickly and he was soon taken under the wings of famed Indigenous anthropologist/archaeologist and artist, the late George Simon. From that time, he said, Mr. Simon became his mentor.
“He guided me through most of my life at the university. He basically highlighted the importance of my culture and to use that in art. He taught me not only technique but also the ability to paint thematically. We painted a lot of murals – Umana Yana, Cheddi Jagan International Airport, National Museum, National Stadium, and the University of Guyana (called the Palace of the Peacock,” Roberts said.
To this end, this week’s ‘Special Person’ was keen to mention another person who supported his artistic studies and career. “Ms. Vanda Radzik supported me in whatever way throughout my career. From my entry into the ER Burrowes School of Art and the University of Guyana, she was always there for me,” he said.

The 39-year-old accomplished artist and PRDO emphasised too that his tertiary education could not have been possible if he had not received a sound academic foundation. In this regard, he is thankful for the education he received in the North Rupununi.

PHOTO: Paining a mural at the University of Guyana alongside his mentor the late Mr. George Simon.

He explained that though he enjoyed the perks of traditional indigenous life, his parents Jerome and Benita Roberts made sure that he and his brothers Ryan and Wesley and their only sister Surita Urma Roberts attended school regularly.
As such, Roberts started his schooling at the Annai Primary School, then after being successful at the Common Entrance Exam (NGSA), he attended the only Secondary School in the Region, the St. Ignatius Secondary School from 1994 – 1999.
At the St. Ignatius Secondary School, he was successful in six subject areas and thereafter he travelled to pursue his dreams as an artist. In 2003, Roberts obtained his Diploma in Art and Design from the Burrowes School of Art. That year, he was dubbed the overall best graduating student for his dissertation: Makushi Art as portrayed through Craft.

His tertiary education began at the University of Guyana, where he obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts. His work portrayed, inter alia, past and contemporary arts of the Indigenous Peoples of Guyana (with special references to the Makushi people of the North Rupununi). Roberts then went on to obtain an MA certificate from the University of Newcastle (England) for similar artistic work; this time his thesis was on the access to traditional lands and its implication on indigenous cultural practices.

The artist achieved an MA from Newcastle University in England.

Despite his list of academic achievements, Roberts still pursued studies at the Boise State University, USA, (a collaboration with the University of Guyana) where he obtained a certificate in Archaeology: Excavation and Lab Assessment, from the Denis Williams Summer School of Anthropology and the Walter Roth Museum, Guyana.
Reflecting on these accomplishments, Roberts counts being able to come out from a small village and be able to complete his Masters in England among his greatest feats.

In terms of promoting his heritage, Roberts has spent a significant portion of his time showcasing and teaching others about the traditions of the indigenous peoples. He noted while other cultures align Amerindians with their contributions to the mouth-watering Guyanese cuisines such as pepperpot, indigenous peoples should be known for so much more. From a personal standpoint, Roberts says that for an artist of indigenous descent “creativity is very important.”
“It’s a part of our life. Traditionally we grow up mainly dependent on our environment, we do subsistence farming, fishing, and hunting, cattle ranching, roping… [Craft] is intrinsic to our traditional livelihood,” said the artist who constantly borrows inspiration for his creations from his heritage background.

PHOTO: Artist Anil Roberts paints a mural at the Iwokrama Field Station.

“It’s therapeutic,” he says adding that for artists “‘if you simply cannot see a thought, then you do not know art.’”
“People look at my work and say ‘I love your work, why don’t you paint more.’ My work strongly reflects the traditions and customs of my people – the cultural performances, language, spiritual rituals and the use of symbols and animals to represent a meaning such as strength and wisdom,” he said.
Roberts notes, nevertheless, that his motivation is always high. He says spending time with his family is a key motivator, something he inculcates into his culture as well.
His wife’s name is Analisa Andrews, who is of the Arawak nation from Moriakobai, the only Amerindian Village in Region Five. The couple share a four-year-old son, whose name is Kuwanau (meaning Harpy Eagle in Makushi).
“Since his mother is from the Arawak nation and I am from the Makushi nation, he is often referred to as the ‘Arwakushi’,” Roberts added.
The doting husband and father noted that since his work is so demanding when he travels to the hinterland for a number of days for work, he is in contact daily with his family. Roberts says passing on the traditions and language to the next generation of his family is especially important to him. In this regard, the couple’s babysitter, Nelissa, is a great help. She teaches their son a few words in Makushi when they are away at work.

As PRDO for the Department of Community Development and Governance at the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs, Roberts has managed 13 Community Development Officers (CDOs) throughout the 10 Administrative Regions of Guyana, coordinated, and submitted a work plan of objectives and activities for community development and governance.
He is responsible for delivering the Ministry’s programmes within the Indigenous communities and providing improved communication transfers and deliverance of verified reports and updates to the Ministry.

PHOTO: A painting depicting the Indigenous spirit of Shaman and the other of the Rupununi scenery.

The PDRO supports indigenous communities in governance training, capacity building, conflict resolution, consultation processes, and accountability and transparency. He submits project proposals annually for indigenous communities to be included in the national budget.
Roberts also plays an active role in the planning and execution of the annual National Toshaos Council (NTC) Conference, which is held annually in Georgetown.
Added to this, he coordinates and executes the celebration of Indigenous Heritage Month, every September. He is also responsible for the preparation and execution of Toshao/Village Council Elections, coordinates village audits in Indigenous Communities and the collection of all activities taking place in villages through constant coordination with CDOs, village and regional officials.
At present, the PDRO is not involved in any social ventures due to COVID-19. However, he was previously part of an Amerindian youth group that often participated in disseminating information. He was also part of a football team dubbed the ‘GT Kanaimas’ which is part of the Amerindian Heritage Month sport event and the exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, an activity which is now virtually displayed.
In the meantime, Roberts continues to pass his skills on to the next generation. He revealed that through the Hinterland Scholarship Programme, he is part of a team that supported some young talent, mostly from Region Nine, to study at the ER Burrowes School of Art. Roberts spoke glowingly of the upcoming indigenous artists.
He said, “I visited the exhibition of the final year students and was amazed at the quality of work presented. I did encourage them to keep the focus on the next step after ER Burrowes School of Art. I told them of my experiences as a young artist, the challenges and the opportunities, to never give up and keep painting.”

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  • brandli62  On 09/23/2021 at 4:03 am

    It’s wonderful to see how indigenous people find their way and righteous place in the Guyanese society. From my limited perspective, the situation of indigenous communities in Guyana appears to be much better than in the neighbouring countries, such as Brazil and Venezuela. When traveling to the interior in the past, they came across to me as proud and self-confident people. I am however prepared to be corrected by the readers of GO.

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