04 December 2017

Yefan, son of the First Peoples

Originally published in Newsday 
By Tenisha Sylvester
Photo by Enrique Assoon
Sunday, October 8, 2017 

Yefan Sealey shows how his ancestors would have wielded a spear.

Ten-year-old Yefan Sealey is taking pride in his heritage, as he is a descendent of the indigenous people in Trinidad and Tobago.

"I feel very happy that I am a descendant of the First Peoples, it's exciting," said Yefan last Thursday at the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community Centre, Arima.

Yefan means strength and in his daily life he manages to eat a nutritional diet and his favorite foods are corn pastelles and cassava bread. He enjoys listening to parang music which is popular at Christmas time. Parang in TT is also a hybrid of Spanish and Amerindian music.

With less than a week left, the community centre is filled with people working feverishly on props, building huts and practising their singing all in anticipation of the First Peoples holiday on Friday 13.
Yefan explained that many still think that the First Peoples were war-like.

Arima was the home of the Nepuyo tribe whose active resistance to Spanish Rule limited Spanish attempts to control and settle in northern Trinidad. "Even though the best known of the Nepuyo was the war chief, Hyarima, who continuously harassed Spanish settlements from his base in Arima, they were peaceful people despite the war-like nature Columbus recorded. What they did was stand up for themselves against outsiders."

A statue of Hyarima is located in the heart of Arima. On May 25 1993 it was unveiled, in keeping with the theme of -The year of the Indigenous People.

Living in Valencia, Yefan visits the Community Centre twice a week where he learns about the history of the indigenous peoples; that they were nature-worshippers who believed in the Great Spirit who is the God they cannot see but is always present.

"I have also learned that places named Caroni, Arouca, Caura, Tunapuna and Oropouche have Amerindian origin."

He also partakes in the First Peoples rituals where they pray, chant, dance and play their musical instruments like the chac chac, whistles and drums.

"I also enjoy learning archery there because that's one of the main ways the indigenous people hunted for food and I am looking forward to seeing the lighting of the smoke-signal on Friday."

The lighting of the smoke-signal symbolises the beginning of celebrations for the First Peoples community and is followed by a series of ceremonial prayers.

The intelligent standard three student attends Christian Primary Academy, Elementary School where his favourite subjects are science and art.

" I love science because I learn a lot of things about technology and I love art because I like to draw and paint."

Yefan's goal is to become a scientist or an artist because he wants to use his creativity to invent something that could be used by everyone, to make their lives easier.

This straight-A student is encouraged to pursue his dreams by his mother Chelese Arindell , grand-mother Sheila Cumberbatch and the entire First Peoples community.

Yefan enjoys playing with his dog, Ninja and in his spare time he creates colourful drawings and paintings.

The First Peoples celebration begins on Friday at 7am in Arima for the lighting of the smoke-signal. Then there would be a sacred street procession to the Arima Velodrome where various exhibitions would be set up in honour of the indigenous peoples. At 11am there is the formal opening with the Prime Minister, leading up to the concert at 4pm.

" I am really excited and looking forward to taking part in the street celebration on Friday, I encourage everyone to come see the festivities because it will be amazing."

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