20 September 2006

Upcoming News from Arima, Trinidad

Well everyone, in a few hours I am off to Arima, Trinidad. I will be covering events surrounding CARIFESTA (see http://www.carifesta.net/), focusing entirely on the Santa Rosa Carib Community as it plays host in Arima to numerous Amerindian delegations from across the Circum-Caribbean region. At the same time, the Caribbean Organization of Indigenous Peoples (COIP) will be entering a new phase as Ricardo Bharath Hernandez, head of the Arima Carib community, becomes COIP's new chair.

Despite the many shortcomings and disarray that have plagued CARIFESTA IX, this should still be a momentous occasion for many of the region's indigenous communities.

I return to Montreal on October 1st, and I should post some materials, and some news, on this blog soon after I return.

[My thanks to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for funding that made this trip possible. Funding was received in the form of a Standard Research Grant for my project titled, "Indigenous translocals in the Caribbean: place, intimacy and the quotidian dimensions of the regionalized Carib resurgence."]

Tainos and DNA Studies: Ayes' Art Blog

One "blogger" (I cannot get accustomed to this new terminology, this word sounds offensive somehow), John Ayes, a Florida-based artist with a blog available at


is featuring a number of articles and links on the study of DNA to show Taino biological survival in Puerto Rico. Some of you may be interested in chatting with him and providing any further information that you might think could be useful.

Best wishes to John Ayes.

[In the meantime, someone should explain to me what Bluetooth is--it sounds like a disease--as well as what getting Yahoo messenger on your FiDo is supposed to mean.]

Tainos por las calles dominicanas

In the newspaper, Hoy Digital, from Santo Domingo, a story was published titled "Taínos por las calles dominicanas", which is available at:


CAC editors Lynne Guitar and Jorge Estevez also appear in the story, from which the following was extracted:

"La idea de esta desaparición fue una especie de plan de supervivencia desarrollado por los frailes dominicos, según la teoría de Lynne Guitar, arqueóloga norteamericana actualmente trabajando en el país. Este plan tuvo algún éxito, a juicio de la arqueóloga Guitar: 'En comparación con la cantidad de los taínos en La Española, muy pocos españoles llegaron y los que llegaron eran, en su mayoría, varones. Aunque ha habido mucha discusión acerca de la población original de los taínos, el consenso hoy día es que habían unos millones en la isla en los años de 1490 en adelante –la cantidad sube año tras año–. Los españoles, entonces, eran una minoría; pero, arrogantes con el éxito de su Reconquista (la expulsión final de los moros de España en 1492), implantaron su propio orden social, económico y político en la isla, con el apoyo de sus aliados invisibles –muchos virus y bacterias– en contra de las cuales los indios no tenían ninguna inmunidad. El impacto de la colonización europea en los taínos los devastó. Hizo una reestructuración total de la trayectoria de su modo de vida, pero no los eliminó'."

Garifuna Protest at Disney: Photographs

Photographs for the Garifuna protest of Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean can be viewed online at:


The protest was against the release of Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean sequel. This took place on Disneyland's Main Street on Saturday June 25, 2006 from 2:00 to 4:00 pm in Anaheim, California.

New Taino Website: Wakia Arawaka Taina

Wakia Arawaka Taina is a new Taino website, accessible at:

Here is a short introduction from the website itself:

"El Grupo Wakía Arawaka Taina, Representa nuestra cultura indígena de Puerto Rico y su proposito es fomentar el conocimiento de la procedencia de nuestra ideologia Taina, a la ves llevar un mensaje positivo, enfatizando en la educación hacia nuestros niños, llevando así el Sentimiento de que el Taino aun Vive y somos Cultura Viva."

11 September 2006

Photographs of the 2006 Carib Santa Rosa Festival

Coupled with the audio files presented in a previous post on this subject, we now have an extensive range of photographs of the events of Sunday, 27 August, 2006, covering the Caribs and their celebration of the Santa Rosa Festival. They have been posted in three galleries on the massive Trinidad website known as "TriniView.com" (please see: http://triniview.com/album/Carib_Festival_270806). The photographer, who does not appear to have been named on the site, obviously did a great job of following the Caribs from the moment they left their community centre, their procession to the Church, their presence inside the Church, the procession of the statue of St. Rose through the streets of Arima, and the festivities at the Carib Centre after mass. In a few instances, mistakes are made in the captions with the names of individual members of the Carib Community, however, the photographer still did an impressive job of collecting so many of the names to begin with.

05 September 2006

"You Got Recognition"

I was reflecting on parts of the letter recently sent by Cristo Adonis (see the previous post of this date), and recalled a film I was to have shown in class today, You Are On Indian Land (1969, directed by Mort Ransen), which covers the barricades erected by the St. Regis Mohawks to block travelers along a highway from the US leading into Canada, a highway built on their land without their permission. They charged all travelers with trespassing and blocked the route. The police, who arrived in numbers, frequently told the prostesters, "you got recognition," and it definitely sounded to me like the unspoken addendum to that sentence was, "now get lost."

The Caribs of Trinidad "got recognition." Recognition is a great achievement if for centuries your very presence has been denied. Recognition can also play into a politics of paternalistic dismissal: you have been recognized, we love to put you on display for select ceremonial occasions, and we give you various candies, but please do not dream of inserting yourselves into the serious politics of the nation in which you live, as if you could have any say. This is why in a previous post I called the state's recognition of the Caribs "cosmetic respect" for indigenous culture: a superficial celebration of their presence, treated as tokens of the nation's legendary past, but not viewed as holders of knowledge of alternative ways of living and fundamentally respecting Trinidad's environment.

If the Caribs were to have a say in national affairs, this could prove very awkward for the state, and for the ruling party specifically. The government in fact seems intent on appropriating the label "indigenous"-as in Guyana--to denote anyone born in Trinidad, or anything created in Trinidad, whether Amerindian or not, which might be deemed reasonable on a number of grounds. However, it is also one way that indigenous peoples are pushed into the background of national qua "indigenous" decision-making.

That "recognition" is reduced to celebration is probably the reason why the Caribs are Trinidad's only ethnic community not to have received land from a government ever since their lands were expropriated. Even Spiritual Baptists and Orisha communities, which were hardly core support groups for the mostly East Indian United National Congress which ruled Trinidad in the late 1990s, still received lands and buildings from that same government. The Caribs, most of whom vote for today's ruling People's National Movement, have received no such consideration, and that's after three decades of promises. With friends like these...

Letter from Cristo Adonis (Carib, Trinidad)

The following is a letter from Cristo Adonis, shaman of the Arima Carib community in Trinidad, forwarded thanks to Tracy Assing.

In his Historical Sketches of Trinidad and Tobago, K.S. Wise noted in 1934:
“No one can live long in Trinidad without being told that Iere was the aboriginal Indian name for the island … so much so that this name has become part of the traditional history of Trinidad and has been adopted as a place name.”

Wise also wrote:
“Caribs were an intractable and warlike people; they were proud and dominating and preferred death to subjection. Throughout history the Caribs have always been indomitable and implacable opponents of all invaders. The early Conquistadors found in the Caribs valiant and worthy opponents, and only too often the Spaniards suffered disastrous defeats.”
The Amerindian thus bestows on the nation a sense of antiquity and a sense of occupation of the territory that is Trinidad. – Maximilian Forte, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Concordia University. Author, Ruins of Absence, Presence of Caribs

Dutch archeologist Arie Boomert wrote in a 1982 article in the Trinidad Naturalist, entitled “Our Amerindian Heritage” that due to Trinidad being “one of the world’s most cosmopolitan populations” as a result “it is often forgotten that a few of the people now living in Trinidad are descended or partly descended from the original inhabitants of the island, the Amerindians.”

Bridget Brereton’s An introduction to the History of Trinidad and Tobago (1996) makes specific references to the contemporary Santa Rosa Carib Community. Her chapter entitled “The first Trinidadians and Tobagonians” following Dr Eric Williams’ (1962) designation of “Our Amerindian Ancestors”. She repeatedly uses phrases such as “the first people” and “the first Trinidadians” throughout her chapter.

The resistance theme appears in her text as well, without discriminating between Caribs and Arawaks: “Amerindians resisted … strongly. The Amerindians were good fighters and it was not until 1592 that the Spaniards could actually make a permanent settlement” (Brereton, 1996). Instead of arguing that Ameridians became extinct, Brereton opts for the view of Amerindians declining in numbers. She says:

“Only a few people in Trinidad and Tobago today have Amerindian blood, but we should all be proud of our first people. Their legacy is all around us. We can see it in many words and place names, reminding us that these people made the islands their own by settling down and naming places, rivers, bays, districts and things. We can see it in roads which date back to their paths. We see it in ways of cooking, especially dishes made with cassava. We also have a community in Arima, who call themselves ‘Caribs’ and are very proud of their culture. They are working hard to make us all more aware of the heritage of our first people.”


I have observed the Independence celebrations and noted that no invitation was sent to members of the First Nation People of Trinidad and Tobago to speak or offer any blessings to the nation.

We have also not been invited to participate in the recent discussions regarding the decision on what the nation’s highest award/honour is to become.

In sending greetings to the First Nation People of Trinidad and Tobago on the occasion of the recently held Santa Rosa Festival, which seems to be the only First Nation celebration of interest to the media and the Government, I have noticed that corporate citizens chose to use the statue of Hyarima … some people would be proud of that but we have live people as well.

We are grateful but this helps cement the view that the only real First Nations people in this country are dead.

The real honour for Hyarima lies in the smoke ceremony homage we pay to our ancestors.

I respect other peoples being granted their holidays, our people have been granted a day of recognition and we did not ask for a public holiday as we have so many of those.

When it is our day of recognition hardly anything is mentioned in the media. In fact, the media only recognises the existence of First Nations Peoples on specific days of the year for the rest of the year we do not exist.

But in our own country, in the country of our ancestors we continue to await the Promised Land.

Not the Promised Land promised to us by those who converted our ancestors to Catholicism but the land promised to us by the Government as a move toward reparation.

It is my belief that our people should be included in all discussions pertaining to the environment and the well being of our country. This is a land we understand. We understand the rivers, the sea, the mountains, the trees, the plants and the animals.

The story of the First Nation People of Trinidad and Tobago is one of survival.

Cristo Adonis