30 December 2007

Caribbean Artist Roy Lawaetz at the Florence Biennale: Taino Inspiration

Roy Lawaetz, whose Modular Trinagular System was featured in The CAC Review in 2002, recently exhibited his work at the Florence Biennale.

Featured in Florence, his “Global Warming Series” assimilates pre-Columbian tribal beliefs to highlight a modern day topic. As presented in his brochure for the exhibition, his work is inspired by the Taino zemi or “spirit stone” and in this series his works refer to indigenous Caribbean people who were not polluters but rather worshippers of nature. The Taino Indians practiced a belief model recognizing Nature Deities such as weather gods.

In his interactive piece “Atabey, Fertility Goddess”, this artwork dramatically presents global temperature shifts in innovative display. The melting phenomenon posed by climate crisis is shown in uncompromising terms with virtual dripping water from ice inside a cone. As in Eugene Ionesco’s absurd play where mushrooms spring up all over, it is as if global warming with a melting ice pack has drifted so far as to affect the artist’s own canvas. The artist technically demonstrates how the triangle motif of the zemi stone can be removed from its archaeological categories for re-emphasis on modern day environmental concerns. By focusing on the fertility beliefs of the Taino he reconstructs and re-invents to provide a pictorial modern day narrative that draws from their old cultural heritage practices. The Taino’s own belief that certain zemies could provide adequate water and the good things in life is combined in Atabey, Fertility Goddess. This interactive presentation succeeds in blending modern day technology and ancient tribal belief with the artist’s
own environmental irony.

For more, please see his lavishly beautiful brochure at:
See also:

New Book: Hans Staden's True History

Available June 2008 from Duke University Press
Hans Staden’s True History
An Account of Cannibal Captivity in Brazil

Hans Staden
Edited with an introduction by Neil L. Whitehead
Newly translated by Michael Harbsmeier

In 1550, the German adventurer Hans Staden was serving as a gunner in a Portuguese fort on the Brazilian coast. While out hunting, he was captured by the Tupinambá, an indigenous people who had a reputation for engaging in ritual cannibalism, and who, as allies of the French, were hostile to the Portuguese. Staden’s True History, first published in Germany in 1557, tells the story of his nine-month captivity among the Tupi Indians. It is a dramatic first-person account of his capture, captivity, and eventual escape.

Staden’s narrative is a foundational text in the history and European “discovery” of Brazil, the earliest European account of the Tupi Indians, and a touchstone in the debate on cannibalism. Yet despite its importance, the last English-language edition of Staden’s True History was published in 1929. This new critical edition features a new translation from the sixteenth-century German along with annotations and an extensive introduction. It restores to the text the fifty-six woodcut illustrations of Staden’s adventures and final escape that appeared in the original 1557 edition.

In the introduction, Neil L. Whitehead discusses the circumstances surrounding the production of Staden’s narrative and its ethnological significance, paying particular attention to contemporary debates about cannibalism. Whitehead illuminates the value of Staden’s True History as an eye-witness account of Tupi society on the eve of its collapse, of ritual war and sacrifice among Native peoples, and of colonial rivalries in the region of Rio de Janeiro. He chronicles the history of the various editions of Staden’s narrative and their reception from 1557 until the present. Staden’s work continues to engage a wide range of readers, not least within Brazil, where it has recently been the subject of two films and a graphic novel.

Neil L. Whitehead is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is the author of Dark Shamans: Kanaimà and the Poetics of Violent Death and the editor of Terror and Violence: Anthropological Approaches (with Andrew Strathern and Pamela Stewart); In Darkness and Secrecy: The Anthropology of Assault Sorcery and Witchcraft in Amazonia (with Robin Wright); Histories and Historicities in Amazonia; and The Discoverie of the Large, Rich and Bewtiful Empire of Guiana by Sir Walter Raleigh. Dark Shamans and In Darkness and Secrecy are both also published by Duke University Press. He is also sits on the editorial board of KACIKE: The Journal of Caribbean Amerindian History and Anthropology.

Michael Harbsmeier is Associate Professor of History in the Department of Culture and Identity at Roskilde University in Roskilde, Denmark. He is the author of two books in German.

Order form, and printed information available at:


The Lost Fort of Columbus...and the Tainos of Today

From an article appearing in the History & Archaeology section of The Smithsonian Magazine for January 2008, by France Maclean:

And then there's Clark Moore, a 65-year-old construction contractor from Washington State. Moore has spent the winter months of the past 27 years in Haiti and has located more than 980 former Indian sites. "Clark is the most important thing to have happened to Haitian archaeology in the last two decades," says [archaeologist Kathleen] Deagan. "He researches, publishes, goes places no one has ever been before. He's nothing short of miraculous."


In 1980, Moore showed some of his artifacts to the foremost archaeologist of the Caribbean, Irving Rouse, a professor at Yale. "It was clear Clark was very focused, and once he had an idea, he could follow through," Rouse recalled to me. "Plus he was able to do certain things, such as getting around Haiti, speaking Creole to the locals and dealing with the bureaucracy, better than anyone else." Moore became Rouse's man in Haiti, and Rouse became Moore's most distinguished mentor.


One night, when Moore was entertaining friends at his harborside cinder-block house in Cap-HaÔtien—he lives there with his wife, Pat, a nurse from Nebraska with 16 years' service in Haiti's rural clinics—the conversation turned to the fate of the Taino. "The Taino really weren't all wiped out," Moore said. "There are groups in New York, Puerto Rico and Cuba who call themselves the descendants. They're reviving the language and ceremonies and want the world to know 'Hey, we're still here.'"

"The descendants in Haiti are secretive," a visiting archaeologist chimed in.

28 December 2007


América Indígena. Artículos y documentos sobre los pueblos y culturas precolombinos:

New articles, mostly in Spanish, are available on this website which offers readers a very impressive variety of open access articles.

Please see:




It is rare that we have good news to offer readers, but this is potentially momentous, and we should all be vigilant that government authorities restrain themselves from using violence as a means of suppression as in the past. Also, it is to be hoped that as many indigenous organizations and nations as possible lend the weight of their recognition to Lakota nationhood. The news below is somewhat disjointed, cobbled together from a variety of sources.

We are a Sovereign Nation
A Declaration of Independence from the USA

Lakota Sioux Indian representatives declared sovereign nation status today in Washington D.C. following Monday's withdrawal from all previously signed treaties with the United States Government.

The withdrawal, hand delivered to Daniel Turner, Deputy Director of Public Liaison at the State Department, immediately and irrevocably ends all agreements between the Lakota Sioux Nation of Indians and the United States Government outlined in the 1851 and 1868 Treaties at Fort Laramie Wyoming.

"This is an historic day for our Lakota people," declared Russell Means, Itacan of Lakota. "United States colonial rule is at its end!" "Today is a historic day and our forefathers speak through us. Our Forefathers made the treaties in good faith with the sacred Canupa and with the knowledge of the Great Spirit," shared Garry Rowland from Wounded Knee. "They never honored the treaties, that's the reason we are here today."

The four member Lakota delegation traveled to Washington D.C. culminating years of internal discussion among treaty representatives of the various Lakota communities. Delegation members included well known activist and actor Russell Means, Women of All Red Nations (WARN) founder Phyllis Young, Oglala Lakota Strong Heart Society leader Duane Martin Sr., and Garry Rowland, Leader Chief Big Foot Riders. Means, Rowland, Martin Sr. were all members of the 1973 Wounded Knee takeover.

"In order to stop the continuous taking of our resources ñ people, land, water and children- we have no choice but to claim our own destiny," said Phyllis Young, a former Indigenous representative to the United Nations and representative from Standing Rock. Property ownership in thefive state area of Lakota now takes center stage. Parts of North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana have been illegally homesteaded for years despite knowledge of Lakota as predecessor sovereign [historic owner]. Lakota representatives say if the United States does not enter into immediate diplomatic negotiations, liens will be filed on real estate transactions in the five state region, clouding title over literally thousands of square miles of land and property. Young added, "The actions of Lakota are not intended to embarrass the United States but to simply save the lives of our people".

Following Monday's withdrawal at the State Department, the four Lakota Itacan representatives have been meeting with foreign embassy officials in order to hasten their official return to the Family of Nations. Lakota's efforts are gaining traction as Bolivia, home to Indigenous President Evo Morales, shared they are "very, very interested in the Lakota case" while Venezuela received the Lakota delegation with "respect and solidarity." "Our meetings have been fruitful and we hope to work with these countries for better relations," explained Garry Rowland. "As a nation, we have equal status within the national community."

Education, energy and justice now take top priority in emerging Lakota. "Cultural immersion education is crucial as a next step to protect our language, culture and sovereignty," said Means. "Energy independence using solar, wind, geothermal, and sugar beets enables Lakota to protect our freedom and provide electricity and heating to our people."

The Lakota reservations are among the most impoverished areas in North America, a shameful legacy of broken treaties and apartheid policies. Lakota has the highest death rate in the United States and Lakota men have the lowest life expectancy of any nation on earth, excluding AIDS, at approximately 44 years. Lakota infant mortality rate is five times the United States average and teen suicide rates 150% more than national average. 97% of Lakota people live below the poverty line and unemployment hovers near 85%.

"After 150 years of colonial enforcement, when you back people into a corner there is only one alternative," emphasized Duane Martin Sr. "The only alternative is to bring freedom into its existence by taking it back to the love of freedom, to our lifeway."

We are the freedom loving Lakota from the Sioux Indian reservations of Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana who have traveled to Washington DC to withdraw from the constitutionally mandated treaties to become a free and independent country. We are alerting the Family of Nations we have now reassumed our freedom and independence with the backing of Natural, International, and United States law.

For more information, please visit our new website at
444 Crazy Horse Drive, P.O. Box 99;
Porcupine, SD 57772


We are the freedom loving Lakota from the Sioux Indian reservations of Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana who have suffered from cultural and physical genocide in the colonial apartheid system we have been forced to live under.

We are continuing the work that we were asked to do by the traditional chiefs and treaty councils, and 98 Indian Nations at the first Indian Treaty Council meeting at Standing Rock Sioux Indian Country in 1974.

During the week of December 17-19, 2007, we traveled to Washington DC and withdrew from the constitutionally mandated treaties to become a free and independent country. We are alerting the Family of Nations we have now reassumed our freedom and independence with the backing of Natural, International, and United States law.

In the face of the colonial apartheid conditions imposed on Lakota people, the withdrawal from the U.S. Treaties is necessary. These conditions have been devastating:

--Lakota men have a life expectancy of less than 44 years, lowest of any country in the World (excluding AIDS) including Haiti.
--Lakota death rate is the highest in the United States.
--The Lakota infant mortality rate is 300% more than the U.S. Average.
--Teenage suicide rate is 150% higher than the U.S national average for this group.

--More than half the Reservation's adults battle addiction and disease.
--Alcoholism affects 8 in 10 families.

--Indian children incarceration rate 40% higher than whites.
--In South Dakota, 21 percent of state prisoners were Native.
--Indians have the second largest state prison incarceration rate in the nation.

--The Tuberculosis rate on Lakota reservations is approx 800% higher than the U.S national average.
--Cervical cancer is 500% higher than the U.S national average.
--The rate of diabetes is 800% higher than the U.S national average.
--Federal Commodity Food Program provides high sugar foods that kill Native people through diabetes and heart disease.

--Median income is approximately $2,600 to $3,500 per year.
--97% of our Lakota people live below the poverty line.
--Many families cannot afford heating oil, wood or propane and many residents use ovens to heat their homes.

--Elderly die each winter from hypothermia (freezing).
--1/3 of the homes lack basic clean water and sewage while 40% lack electricty.
--60% of Reservation families have no telephone.
--60% of housing is infected with potentially fatal black molds.
--There is an estimated average of 17 people living in each family home (may only have two to three rooms). Some homes, built for 6 to 8 people, have up to 30 people living in them.

--Unemployment rates on our reservations is 85% or higher.

--Only 14% of the Lakota population can speak Lakota language.
--The language is not being shared inter-generationally, today, the average Lakota speaker is 65 years old.
--Our Lakota language is an Endangered Language, on the verge of extinction.

We do not represent those BIA or IRA governments beholden to the colonial apartheid system, or those "stay by the fort" Indians who are unwilling claim their freedom.



Tsilhqot'in Nation v. British Columbia, 2007

Many thanks to Dr. Roi Kwabena for forwarding this information.

Media release from Woodward and Company:

Decision Reached in Historical Land Claim Case:

Tsilhqot'in Nation v. British Columbia, 2007 BCSC 1700

Victoria, British Columbia, November 21, 2007 - After a courageous and epic struggle, a small Tsilhqot'in First Nation that took on the governments of Canada and British Columbia to protect their land and way of life has been victorious in Court. In a major precedent-setting decision, Justice David Vickers of the British Columbia Supreme Court ruled today that the Tsilhqot'in (Chilcotin) people have proven Aboriginal title to approximately 200,000 square hectares in and around the remote Nemiah Valley, south and west of Williams Lake, British Columbia. Although Justice Vickers declined to make a declaration of title based on technical issues, he found that the tests for evidence of title were met in almost half the area claimed.

The trial lasted 339 days during which 29 Tsilhqot'in witnesses gave evidence, many in their native language. 604 exhibits were entered with Exhibit 156 alone containing over 1,000 historical documents. The Judge received about 7,000 pages of written submissions from the lawyers on all sides.

"The court has given us greater control of our lands. From now on, nobody will come into our territory to log or mine or explore for oil and gas, without seeking our agreement," said the Plaintiff, Chief Roger William. "The court recognized that we have proven title in about half of the Claim Area - and from today we accept our renewed responsibility and powers of ownership of those lands."

Justice Vickers made a number of important findings that will impact future relations between the governments of Canada and British Columbia and First Nations, including:

1. The Tsilhqot'in people have aboriginal rights, including the right to trade furs to obtain a moderate livelihood, throughout the Claim Area.

2. British Columbia's Forest Act does not apply within Aboriginal title lands.

3. British Columbia has infringed the Aboriginal rights and title of the Tsilhqot'in people, and has no justification for doing so.

4. Canada's Parliament has unacceptably denied and avoided its constitutional responsibility to protect Aboriginal lands and Aboriginal rights, pursuant to s. 91(24) of the Constitution.

5. British Columbia has apparently been violating Aboriginal title in an unconstitutional and therefore illegal fashion ever since it joined Canada in 1871.

Throughout much of Canada and the United States, the colonial governments made treaties with First Nations to purchase their lands. This did not happen in most of British Columbia. The government has continued to deny that B.C.'s indigenous people inherited the land that their grandparents owned.

A longer version is available at:

2) A link to the decision itself is available at: http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/sc/sc-jdbwk.asp

Dr Roi Ankhkara Kwabena

CARIFESTA X, 2008: Guyana

August 22 – 31, 2008
Guyana, South America

One Caribbean, One Purpose, Our Culture, Our Life

CARIFESTA, the premier cultural festival of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), will be held in Guyana from August 22 to 31, 2008, under the theme “One Caribbean, One Purpose, Our Culture, Our Life.”

Over the ten-day period, 100 events will be presented. These events will feature all aspects of Caribbean creative expression—the culinary arts, fashion, the literary arts, the performing arts, and the visual arts. In addition, there will be programs featuring the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean, symposia focusing on the future of Caribbean culture and cultural industries, super concerts, as well as calypso, chutney, reggae, soca, and steel band festivals, and special events for Caribbean youth.

The first CARIFESTA, CARIFESTA 72, was held in Guyana in 1972 and brought together writers, artists, musicians, dancers, poets, and other creative people from more than 30 Caribbean and Latin American countries. The audiences were not only Guyanese but included visitors from other Caribbean countries, the United States, Europe, and other parts of the world. CARIFESTA 72 was a celebration and a showcase of the ethnic, racial, and cultural diversity that is the hallmark of the Caribbean. It was inspirational and left a legacy of education and community development. This orientation and spirit have marked the nine CARIFESTAs that have followed since 1972—Jamaica (1976), Cuba (1979), Barbados (1981), Trinidad and Tobago (1992), Trinidad and Tobago (1995), St. Kitts and Nevis (2000), Suriname (2003), and Trinidad and Tobago (2006),

One innovation in CARIFESTA X is a systematic effort to encourage the participation of the Caribbean Diaspora. To do this, a number of CARIFESTA Chapters are being established across the Caribbean Diaspora.

While declaring open the Family Fun Day of the Guyana Folk Festival on Sunday, September 1, 2007, His Excellency Bharrat Jagdeo, President of the Republic of Guyana, invited the organizers, the Guyana Cultural Association of New York, Inc., to become engaged in CARIFESTA X.

Since then, the association has worked closely with Guyana’s Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports and with members of the wider Caribbean community in New York and in other parts of the United States to develop a mechanism to support the participation of the Caribbean Diaspora in the United States in CARIFESTA X.

On December 7, 2007, the Guyana Cultural Association of New York, Inc., was designated the New York CARIFESTA 2008 Chapter by Guyana’s Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports. The core tasks of the New York CARIFESTA 2008 Chapter will be to:

  • Promote CARIFESTA X among the Caribbean Diaspora in the United States of America, particularly in the New York area.
  • Mobilize volunteers to provide technical assistance in areas such as live sound, lighting, and related areas, through the means of pre-CARIFESTA X workshops.
  • Organize cultural performances, displays/exhibitions, etc., to showcase the cultural expressions of the Caribbean Diaspora in the United States of America.
The Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports expressed confidence that the association “would also play a leading role in mobilizing support from other parts of the United States.”

The New York CARIFESTA 2008 Chapter has established a number of interdisciplinary task groups. These task groups are chaired by a number of experienced Caribbean professionals and cultural activists from the following organizations: The Blue Pan Project, Brooklyn Caribbean Youth Festival, Caribbean Cultural Theatre, Caribbean Literacy and Culture Center of the Brooklyn Public Library, Caribbean Media Enterprises, Caribbean Society for the Visual Arts, eCaroh Caribbean Emporium, Guyana Cultural Association of New York, Inc., Guyana Day Committee, Guyana Tri-State Alliance, Impressions Dance Company, Meyer Levin High School for the Performing Arts, Nritya Kala Kendra International Academy for Indian Dance Art and Culture, and the Rajkumari Cultural Center.

Other cultural organizations in the United States that are interested in contributing to CARIFESTA X are encouraged to make contact with the New York CARIFESTA 2008 Chapter. Contact information is provided below.

The Task Groups will ensure that the Caribbean Diaspora will be able to participate in the following aspects of CARIFESTA X:
  • Information, Communication, and Marketing (Co-chairs: Dr. Vibert Cambridge, Claire Goring, Roy Singh, Claire Patterson-Monah, and Donna Flemming)
  • Visual Arts (Co-chairs: Jerry Barry and Ivor Thom)
  • Youth Program (Co-chairs: Maxine Alexander, Rudy Daley, and Ron Lammy)
  • Skills Transfers: (Co-chairs: Maurice Braithwaite and Malcolm Hall)
  • Film Festival: (Co-chairs: Shirvington Hannays and Claire Goring)
  • Performances (Co-chairs: Malcolm Hall, E. Wayne McDonald, and Pritha Singh)
  • Symposia (Co-chairs: Dr. Aubrey Bonnett, Dr. Vibert Cambridge, Dr. Juliet Emanuel, and Dr. Prem Misir)
All Caribbean persons, persons of Caribbean ancestry, and friends of the Caribbean in the United States are encouraged to participate in CARIFESTA X. Attractive travel packages are being developed. Visitors to CARIFESTA X will be able to enjoy a number of world class super concerts, art exhibitions, book exhibitions, and theatrical performances.

Participants from the Caribbean Diaspora in the United States of America can make positive contributions to the conversations that will take place during CARIFESTA X on the state of Caribbean culture and developing a road map for the future.

The members of the New York CARIFESTA 2008 Chapter are aware of the significant amount of work that still has to be done and look forward to your advice, guidance, and support.

For further information on CARIFESTA X, please contact the Secretariat of the Guyana Folk Festival, 1368 E. 89th Street, Suite #2, Brooklyn, NY 11236. Telephone: 718-209-5207 or e-mail Malcolm Hall, President, Guyana Cultural (Guyfolkpresident@aol.com); Claire Goring, Cultural Director, Guyana Cultural Association (ClaireAGoring@aol.com); or Dr. Vibert Cambridge, Diaspora Coordinator for Carifesta 2008 (cambridg@ohio.edu).

The Guyana Cultural Association of New York, Inc., the organizers of the Guyana Folk Festival has launched a web site for Carifesta 2008. Please visit it at: http://www.guyfolkfest.org/carifestax2008.htm

Malcolm Hall, President
Guyana Cultural Association of New York, Inc.,
December 15, 2007

Release of new book on Puerto Rican archaeology and Caribbean paleoethnobotany

De antiguos pueblos y culturas botánicas en el Puerto Rico indígena has just been published by Archaeopress (BAR, Oxford , U.K), and was edited in the Université de Paris (Panthéon-Sorbonne) as Paris Monographs in American Archaeology, No. 18 (2007). The edition is in Spanish with abstracts in Spanish, French, Dutch and English. People interested in learning more about this publication (and who may wish to buy it) can go to the link provided below or to the author's personal blog (www.arqueologiaantillana.blogspot.com) where he posted the links of those booksellers offering the book.

Link to Paris Monographs in American Archaeology Series

Dr. Jaime R. Pagán-Jiménez
URL personal: http://www.arqueologiaantillana.blogspot.com
URL consultoría: http://www.ekconsultores.blogspot.com
Calle Azucena #19
Urb. Río Piedras Valley
San Juan, Puerto Rico, 00926
Tel. móvil: (787) 207-5898


Garifuna Coalition USA

Thanks again to Wellington Ramos for forwarding news of this new website.

The Garifuna Coalition Advocacy Center in the Bronx

The Garifuna Coalition USA, Inc. is seeking funding from various sources to establish a Garifuna Coalition Advocacy Center in The Bronx. The goal is that the Center will become a resource center in which constituents can comfortably place their trust to seek out a wide range of social service they need. The purpose of the center will be to identify the most common and pressing problems facing the Garifuna Immigrant Community in The Bronx and to design and implement methods to resolve those problems. These resolutions will include interventions as well as referrals. The Center will operate on an Open Door policy, by which Garifuna Immigrant Community members will be able to walk in without an appointment to seek help.



Jonkonnu and the Garifuna of Belize

Many thanks to Wellington Ramos for forwarding the article from which the passages below were extracted.

In Belize, a celebration of liberation
Jonkonnu is a masquerade party observed in parts of the English-speaking Caribbean during the Christmas season.

By Ericka Hamburg, Special to The Los Angeles Times
December 21, 2007

Welcome to Jonkonnu, a masquerade found in parts of the English-speaking Caribbean during the Christmas season. Unlike Carnival, this festival has secular roots; when Caribbean colonial masters loosened restrictions on slaves, the slaves then entertained and parodied them with costumed characters and musical processions.

Last winter, on a sultry Christmas morning, I found myself in Dangriga. This rough-and-tumble town is the cultural capital of the Garinagu, also known as Black Caribs.

In the 17th century, shipwrecked West Africans and aboriginal Arawaks found one another on St. Vincent and intermarried; thus began Garinagu society. Although Spain was the ruler of record, the British arrived with ambitions to farm cotton and sugar, with the unconsenting labor of island inhabitants.

The Garinagu (now known more commonly by their language, Garifuna) successfully fought off the British until 1797, when they were forced into exile, set adrift with a loss of thousands of lives. The survivors landed first on Becquia and Roatán and, in 1823, migrated to the mainland, settling in pockets of Honduras, Guatemala and the southern coast of Belize.

With a week to witness Jonkonnu and other seasonal traditions, I rented a beachfront room at Pal's Guesthouse and set out along Dangriga's main street, St. Vincent.

A crush of dancers, drummers, singers and wannabes had converged on a corner, and I fell right in. Flag bearers at the lead, we moved as one, like a many-legged organism, stopping in backyards, on driveways, under raised porches or drying laundry, to perform by request.

Jonkonnu participants are a multi-generation brotherhood of dancers, perfecting their routines over years. Some return from outside Belize to perform. Here, and in other Garifuna villages -- Hopkins, Seine Bight and Punta Gorda -- Jonkonnu brings both joy and catharsis: the formal black-and-white costumes, headdresses, European-featured masks and frenzied marching steps evoke and mock an old nemesis, the English military.

As we moved from house to house, some money and some rum were exchanged. The ritual would repeat on Boxing Day (Dec. 26), and Día del Rey (Jan. 6).

The fete continued into darkness, when I left the crowd and headed to Val's Laundry. Visitors gravitate here for Internet access, laundry service, fresh coffee and, my treat to myself, rum raisin ice cream.

The next day I drove about an hour south, through orange groves and rows of banana trees, to Hopkins and the Lebeha Drumming Center. Driving along a dirt road paralleling the beach, I slowed to accommodate homemade speed bumps fashioned from giant ropes.

At Lebeha ("the end"), under a handsome backyard hut, kids were putting crayons to cardboard masks and practicing drum routines for the holiday. Jabbar Lambey teaches the intricacies of Garifuna rhythms to locals, visitors from nearby resorts and serious percussion students. I chatted with Dorothy, his Canadian wife, as she cooked, orchestrated events and attended to a rescued canine.

Interview with Taino Almestica

On August 1, 2007 Taino Almestica and Derrick Mayoleth, circumnavigated the island of Boriken (Puerto Rico) in a kayak. They were the first to attempt such a feat since the days when the Classic Taino people traveled across all the islands of the Caribbean in canoes. Taino Almestica a descendant of the islands original inhabitants is the first Taino to not only attempt such a feat but to accomplish his aim as well. Below is an interview I conducted with Taino Almestica upon his return to New York City:

JE: What motivated you to circumnavigate the island of Boriken?

TA: Since my childhood I have been in and out of canoes. As I got older I was searching for that experience again but unfortunately there weren’t that many opportunities around Manhattan. I did eventually find a kayak group in Manhattan and I decided to explore this different but similar craft. The dream of being able to circumnavigate the island was set into motion. I looked for the connection to my ancestors and the personal challenge to me.

JE: How long did this trip last?

TA: It took us 18 days to circumnavigate the entire island but there where a few days, which we took off the water. The first time we took a few days to readjust gear and to plan some other exploring of the island. The second major layoff was when Hurricane Dean was approaching the island. We were off the water for five or six days, which I felt, was too long. I took advantage to visit some family in Aibonito.
a) Start point: We launched from the Toa Baja region of the island near the town of Levittown. We launched from Punta Salinas.
b) Middle: I would say when we arrived in Ponce.
c) End point: that of course would be our start point.

JE: What were the scariest moments for you?

TA: I would have to say two times when we were caught paddling with lighting near to us that for me was the scariest. Not to mention that my mind was always looking out for sharks. The first time I came upon to a pair of very large manatee. I have never seen them that large and from the perspective of paddling right up to them. Did I get knocked into the water or tipped in sure did three or four times. Got caught the first time looking one way and a wave caught me off guard. Then there was one on the North coast which I could hear rumbling behind me as it build in power and size. I tried to out run it or back paddle to let it pass under me but the wall just increase over my head and then collapsed on top of me. I just rolled up. Did a 360 spin under and back up on top of the water.

JE: How was the public support for what you were trying to accomplish on the island?

TA: The community was incredible to us. They provided us with water, food and coffee during the trip. In addition they provided safe places for us to sleep and the fishermen giving us local knowledge of the waters, which we would encounter. Of course they all thought we where crazy!

JE: What does the Kayak and the sea mean to you?

TA: This is my temple, church, I worship and remember to worship and give thanks for a great day and safe journeys. No days are ever alike each wave different from the one before.

JE: As a Taino, did you think about what our ancestors may or may not be thinking as they traversed around the islands of the Caribbean?

TA: I did think about that from several points. Arriving at a location that you don’t know and then having to find a safe place to land and find food and shelter. Another point would be from those who lived in this environment- the daily experience of searching for water, food, protection from the weather. I mean, I like camping, but I came as best prepared as possible and even then there were challenges. I live in an apartment and turn on my air conditioning and go shopping for food right outside my door.. It’s almost inconceivable how our ancestors traveled throughout the islands, long stretches at sea, landing on unfamiliar beaches and then survive the way they did. How could I ever compare myself to them or whine about what I don’t have? I carried all I needed in my kayak.

JE: What message do you want to leave the people of Boriken?

TA: To explore life. If you happen to identify with Taino ancestry whether in Boriken or the other islands, know that you don’t have to be just a warrior, medicine person or a chief. I mean, some one had to throw out the garbage right? I guess that’s my job. To my people I say they must go home to their islands and explore them in their entirety to get a clear view of what it means to be Taino. You will find out what you don’t know and what that means. Experience that and then let us sit down and discuss being Taino.

JE: Any plans for a Caribbean wide trip?

TA: Yes if I could walk away from work, were a whole lot younger and could build up the courage to take the abuse!

Taino with his Daughter Alexandria

JE: You used the symbol of Guabancex Wind and Rain Society, what does it mean to you?

TA: After having some experience with various groups I found the internal and external fighting was just a waste of time and mental resources. The jealousy and envy has fogged the fact that the Taino don’t exist- at least the Taino that some are trying to portray. We have lost so much and we continue to lose our youth every day to outside cultural pressures or pop culture. It was good to be invited into Guabancex since I feel I understand what their philosophy is about.

At first I thought, since the founding members all have academic degrees what could I bring to Guabancex? Of course not all are or claim to be Taino but we all work to research, disseminate and record information whether new or old or relearning what it was. I bring a little from my experience on the island and the things that I was shown by my family; mainly on the island and some here on the main land. Of course put me in a boat or in the mountains and I’m in my elements and I can share that with others and that is the key SHARING. Working on the material and not on how many titles I claim. The connection with the land and how our ancestors had that connection is what I’m learning and experiencing. There is a need for science and a need for what is left from the island people before it is all lost. Maybe if we are lucky someone will take up the mantle on some element of our culture, and run with it. I learned so much from this adventure. That experiencing it is so much more that saying I am it.

JE: I appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions. You have truly inspired me. Bo Matum Taino.

TA: Bo Matum