30 September 2019

The Real History of the Mission of Santa Rosa de Arima: From ARIMA BORN

The real history of the Arima Mission in Trinidad is one of exploitation, and even abuse. The Arima Mission is revealed to have been primarily a slave colony, dominated by the presence of Black slaves. The mission itself was under the authority of Don Manuel Sorzano, a prominent official in the outgoing Spanish regime, a major estate owner in Arima, and an owner of slaves. Rather than just an Amerindian history, the baptismal registers reveal a masked and obscured African history of Arima. The baptismal registers, coupled with other documentary sources, also reveal a history of Amerindian resistance to assimilation promoted by the “civilizing mission” of Christianization. Assimilation was largely a failure—a fact that was embarrassing to colonial √©lites—and rather than confront their failures they airbrushed Amerindians out of history altogether. We also witness how colonial authorities, priests included, went about the business of deliberately under-counting the Amerindian population, when it became convenient. The fabricated “vanishing” of Amerindians also reveals a complex political economy of land, labour, and power.

Amerindians were valued while their labour had value, and their labour had value only for as long as they cultivated cassava to feed slaves, cleared lands for cultivation, built roads to speed the products of estates to market, and staffed the armed militia used to put down slave revolts. When the cocoa-producing lands occupied by the Mission’s Amerindians soared in value, and when slaves were emancipated, plus an influx of new labourers from abroad came in, the value of Amerindian labour plunged. It is no accident that the Arima Mission was dissolved a few short years after slaves were fully emancipated at the end of apprenticeship in 1838. Amerindian labour, and Amerindians as such, became disposable.

By a change in labelling practices, they were made to disappear from the baptismal registers. Rather than help perpetuate a community of Amerindians, the mission promoted its breakdown. This book tells that story for the first time.

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