29 December 2011

Introduction to the Smithsonian Taino Symposium, August 2011

Uploaded by eliudbonilla on Dec 29, 2011

"José Barreiro, director of the Office of Latin America at the National Museum of the American Indian, introduces the participants of the Smithsonian Latino Center's "Beyond Extinction: Consciousness of Taíno & Caribbean Indigeneity" symposium on August 26, 2011.

"Text from the invitation: This symposium features scholars on Taíno and Caribbean indigenous themes who will discuss the survival of Taíno language, identity, and material culture in contemporary Caribbean consciousness.

"Participants include archaeologist Osvaldo García Goyco, historian Alejandro Hartmann Matos, and biologist Juan Carlos Martínez Cruzado. Roberto Borrero, president, United Confederation of Taíno People, will serve as respondent. Moderated by José Barreiro, director of the Office of Latin America at the National Museum of the American Indian.

"This program is organized by the National Museum of the American Indian and the Smithsonian Latino Center and is supported by the Consortium for World Cultures, Smithsonian Institution."

17 October 2011

First Nation peoples lauded as they celebrate Amerindian Heritage Day.

First Nation peoples lauded as they celebrate Amerindian Heritage Day.
By Michelle Loubon
Trinidad Guardian Online | Monday, October 17, 2011

Edris De Freitas knits a hand-woven basket.

Craft, indigenous cuisine, basketry and traditional vestments took centre stage as the Carib community celebrated Amerindian Heritage Day in the precincts of the Santa Rosa RC Church, Arima, on Friday. The cultural extravaganza featured Maypole dancing, drumming, singing, chanting and the playing of wooden musical instruments. The celebrations began at pre-dawn with a smoke signal ceremony at the base of the Hyarima statue. Among those attending were contingents of Surinamese, Dominican and Guyanese Amerindians. They added their local arts and craft to the cultural potpourri. Amerindian visitors fielded questions about the mores, customs and folk traditions of the Amerindian.

On Thursday, Santa Rosa Carib queen Jennifer Cassar said Amerindian Heritage Day was celebrated to remind indigenous people about the contribution of ancestors of First Nation peoples. She said: “We cannot get a holiday so it is a day to remind us of our ancestors who were there before us and to sensitise us to the contribution of our ancestors. That is the only day we have at this point to commemorate the memory of most of our ancestors and exhibit the local craft.” Special tribute was paid to tribal queen Hummingbird Ramirez from Miami, USA. Members of the Orisha movement were also in attendance.

Apart from the Santa Rosa activity, events were launched at the Arima Town Hall. School children from the community learned about the contribution of First Nation peoples. Canadian High Commissioner Karen Mc Donald also hosted the contingents at a Canada sponsored Culture of the Cloth exhibition at the National Museum, Keate Street, Port-of-Spain on Wednesday.

Peters: They have contributed greatly to society
In his congratulatory message, Peters lauded First Nation peoples for their contribution to T&T. He said: “The First Nation peoples have contributed greatly to our multi-cultural society. With their presence, most evident in our place names like Tunapuna, Caroni and Chaguanas, we realise their contribution to national history. I hope First Nation peoples would pass on their rich heritage to the next generation and the legacies would live on forever.

He noted the Santa Rosa community has been struggling assiduously to stabilise issues like land settlement, protection of sacred sites, raising public awareness, promoting education, curriculum revival and cultural exchanges. Peters urged them to continue to negotiate outcomes for the benefit of the Santa Rosa community.

10 September 2011

Wikileaks: The U.S. Embassy in Trinidad and Tobago, the Amerindians, and Indigenous Rights

Thanks to the recent release of WikiLeaks' U.S. Embassy cables, we have a complete set for Trinidad and Tobago, and many of the items are quite striking and revealing. One is of particular relevance to Trinidad's Indigenous community. It seems that the U.S. Embassy worked to temper any Trinidadian embrace of a new Indigenous Rights charter (that being drafted by the OAS), and that on the other hand, the Trinidadian government had a very selective view of what rights it had actually signed on to at the UN, as well as seeming agreeable to making concessions to the U.S. Of course none of this international diplomatic chatter on the rights of Trinidad's Indigenous People was previously made public.

Apparently the public profile of Trinidad and Tobago's Indigenous community, specifically the Santa Rosa Carib Community, came up in discussions between the Government of Trinidad and Tobago (GOTT) and an officer in the Political Affairs section (PolOff) of the U.S. Embassy in Port of Spain, according to a WikiLeaks cable. The cable is marked as "sensitive but unclassified". In a meeting that took place on 22 October 2007, Ms. Delia Chatoor of the Multilateral Affairs Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs mentioned that "Trinidad and Tobago's own small Amerindian community had recently become more vocal, and that a week dedicated to the history and culture of the group had just concluded [Amerindian Heritage Week]". These remarks were made in connection with developing a government position on the work of the Organization of American States (OAS) in preparing a Draft Declaration of Indigenous Rights (DRIP) (also see this and that), and in light of the then recent passage of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples--which the GOTT approved. We already know, from other WikiLeaks cables, that the U.S. worked actively on the international front to try to pressure governments to vote against the UN Declaration. However, the remarks by the Trinidadian government official are rather curious.

With reference to the UN Declaration, Chatoor commented that "states could...pick and choose which items to endorse"--when the GOTT in fact voted to approve the Declaration as a whole, not select parts. This comment suggests some duplicity on the part of the government, in that it might "pick and choose" those elements which it found to be least of a challenge to the dominant order. To her credit, she also told the U.S. Embassy official that "the UN declaration was important as a means of reminding people indigenous rights was not a dead issue and that indigenous communities should be factored into considerations of human rights".

However, when it came to the OAS DRIP, Chatoor seemed to agree with the U.S. Embassy that instead of a Declaration, "a Year of Action and a non-binding action plan also had merit". Merit for whom? Certainly not for Indigenous Peoples, as this would mean the adoption of superficial, symbolic actions. While she earlier implied that the more vocal Amerindian community in Trinidad had an impact on the Government's decision-making regarding Indigenous Rights, her subsequent willingness to concede to U.S. interests, and her delegating authority to Trinidad's diplomatic mission at the OAS before reaching any decision, make it apparent that the rights of Trinidad's Indigenous People are not as important as they ought to be--and they are apparently subject to negotiation with foreign powers.

07 August 2011

Preserve heritage sites. New Carib Queen:

Preserve heritage sites. New Carib Queen:
By Louis B Homer
Trinidad Express Newspapers | Aug 7, 2011 at 11:42 PM ECT

As newly-elected Carib Queen Jennifer Cassar took up office on Saturday, she immediately called for the preservation of all special Amerindian sites in Trinidad.

In her maiden speech as head of the Santa Rosa First Peoples Carib Community, Cassar said: "I am emboldened to engage the attention of the authorities and the national community on the preservation of Corita, a petroglyphics stone at Maracas St Joseph, site of the old church at Caura Valley, Banwarie site in south Trinidad, and La Venezuela Statue on Old Santa Cruz Road."

She said the positive contributions made by their forefathers to the development of these areas have been largely ignored, and the history of Trinidad and Tobago has been no different.

Cassar said her first step would be the realisation of a heritage village which is critical to the preservation of Carib culture, spiritual traditions, and the social and economic development of young people.

She said Government has agreed to grant the community 25 acres of land on Blanchisseuse Road.

"My first duty will be to pursue discussions with the Cabinet-appointed committee to complete the paper work to officially hand over the land to the community next year."

She said the village will be used as a catalyst to generate employment, provide food security and the understanding of indigenous food and craft, create an environment for the education of children, create a museum to showcase the diversity of the nation, and to develop activities in eco- tourism and sustainable business activities.

Cassar, a descendant from a full Carib bloodline from Guyana, was inaugurated as the new Carib Queen at a colourful ceremony during Holy Mass at Santa Rosa Roman Catholic Church, Arima, in the presence of members of the Carib community and officials from the Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism and various organisations.

Minister Winston Peters was represented at the historic ceremony by Permanent Secretary Jennifer Jones.

Following her anointment by Monsignor Allan Ventour, parish priest of Arima, the community's new banner was blessed and Cassar was presented to the congregation, with loud acclamation from members of the community, as their fifth Queen of the Carib Community of Santa Rosa.

Her predecessor, Valentina Medina, died recently after serving as queen for 11 years.

03 August 2011

The Caurita Stone and Trinidad's Caribs

First published as:
Caurita Stone a Carib legacy
By Heather-Dawn Herrera
In the Trinidad Express, 14 July 2011

Since 1995 when the existence of the Caurita Stone was first publicised in our local newspapers, there has been much speculation as to the origins and meanings of the etchings on its surface. Back then, the stone was known as the "Mystery Stone of Caurita".

Today, the site, in the hills of the Maracas Valley where the stone is located, is the main destination of hikers and descendants of Amerindian ancestry.

Ricardo Bharath Hernandez, chief of the Santa Rosa Carib community, and Cristo Adonis, shaman for the community, led us on a trip up to Caurita, which included members of the National Heritage Council Rawle Mitchell and Niketa Yearwood.

Adonis, well acquainted with the natural vegetation of the area, pointed out several plants that usually go unnoticed by the untrained eye. The roots and leaves of most of these plants are composed of important medicinal ingredients for various illnesses and diseases. Adonis identified many of these precious plants amid the understorey of the forest.

As the trail wound through estates of cocoa, coffee and mixed species of forest, a bubbly stream criss-crossed the way several times. Immortelle trees provided sanctuary for oropendolas, busy as always with the duty of building nests and caring for their young. A large ficus tree welcomed a bay-headed tanager onto its shady bough.

It was just below the area of a large bamboo stool that Adonis revealed how he first found the stone.

"I was in these hills searching for the stone. My little son was with me at the time. When we reached this bamboo stool, an agouti dashed up the ridge ahead. My son said, 'Where the agouti run is where the stone is.' We headed up this ridge, following the direction of the agouti, and found the stone alongside the track."

Eager now to reach the stone, our party headed up the ridge, and just as Adonis had described, there it was, sitting prominently at the side of the trail.

The height and width of the stone is roughly six feet by eight feet, and drawings have been etched into the top half of its exposed surface at the front. These drawings show faintly between the growing mosses that carpet the stone. Mitchell promptly got to work cleaning the stone, so the depictions on the surface could be seen clearly.

Members of the Santa Rosa Carib community view this stone as having special spiritual significance and regard it as part of their natural heritage. Some of the etchings identified depict a chief, other people in ceremonial wear and a deer.

The chief and the shaman present gave offerings to the four porters or gateways: El Tucuche to the north, El Cerro del Aripo to the east, San Fernando Hill to the south and a mountain in Venezuela's Paria peninsula to the west.

It is agreed among Amerindian communities in Trinidad that etchings on the stone bear spiritual significance. The site of the Caurita Stone is now regarded as an important part of the ongoing quest for knowledge and understanding of Amerindian ancestral occupation and life on this island.

Sites such as this bear testimony that our First Nation did set the path for our present way of life and so, as an integral part of our anthem, do represent an important part of our heritage for the future.

01 August 2011

The Chief's Prayers

Today is both the start of the month of Santa Rosa for the Carib Community in Arima, Trinidad & Tobago, as well as African Emancipation Day. Sometimes the two events are jointly celebrated on top of Calvary Hill in Arima, where the events begin at 6:00am with the blasting of the cannon. As that cannon is blasted, this post is scheduled to go up. Usually a smoke ceremony is held by the Caribs, and this is a collection of some of the prayers used by Chief Ricardo Bharath Hernandez. Best wishes to the Carib Community and Happy Emancipation Day!


Adaiahiili Tamushi Anshika ba
O Great Spirit God give us your
Maiauhii daiba wai koma anshihi
Peace so we can love as you love us
Amarita mun sakwa daiba
Make us healthy so
Wai koma kamunka usahu kahiihii
We can have a good life
Wa chin achi waianchicha
We praise you O Lord


Oh, Great Spirit
Whose voice I hear in the winds,
And whose breath gives life to all the world,
hear me, I am small and weak,
I need your strength and wisdom.
Let me walk in beauty and make my eyes ever behold
the red and purple sunset.
Make my hands respect the things you have
made and my ears sharp to hear your voice.
Make me wise so that I may understand the things
you have taught my people.
Let me learn the lessons you have
hidden in every leaf and rock.

I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother,
but to fight my greatest enemy - myself.
Make me always ready to come to you
with clean hands and straight eyes.
So when life fades, as the fading sunset,
my Spirit may come to you without shame.

(translated by Lakota Sioux Chief Yellow Lark in 1887)
published in Native American Prayers - by the Episcopal Church.


We send our prayers to the Great Spirit
Adaiahiili Tamushi
Whose manifestation we see in the spirit of the hawk,
Whose spirit we see in the mighty wind,
Whose spirit manifests through the sacred fire,
Who gives sustenance through the waters,
Who is ever-present in the forests,
And who gives us the provisions of the earth.
And through Santa Rosa,
We ask that he may receive our prayers,
As we pray for forgiveness,
As we pray in thanksgiving,
As we pray for continued blessings
For our Community,
For our Borough,
For our nation,
And for our world.

Here are some more prayers in the various Indigenous languages of the Caribbean:


Kioumoue tetaniem oubecouyum:
santiketàla eyeti:
membouilla biouboutou malibatali:
Mingatte-catou-thoattica ayeoula tibouic monba cachi tibuic-bali oubecou.
Huere-bali im-eboue bimàle louago lica hueyou icoigne:
roya-catou-kia-banum huenocaten huiouine cachi roya-ouabàli nhìuine innocatitium ouaone.
Aca menépeton-ouahattica toróman tachaouonnê-tebouroni:
irheu chibacaiketa-baoua touaria toulibani-hanhan-catou.


Mábuiga María
Buíntibu labu gracis
Abúreme biníuatibu
Jádan sun
UUríña biníuatiguiyé
Tin bágaim Jesus.
Sándu María lúguchu
Ayumuraguabá uáu
Uguñetó, lídan
Ora uóuve. Ítara la.


Karima, najamutuata jakutai,
Jiwai yatomanetekunarai.
Jirujuna rujanu rijana.
Najamutuata jiaobojona eku abaya.
Raina eku monukajase jiaobojona eku abakunarai.
Kanajoro ama saba jakutai taisi kamoau.
Kaisiko asiraja nonajakutai taisi kuare barinaka kaobojona bereaoko.
Taisi monuka kaobojona asirajasi kuare barinaka bere.
Kayakara minaka jau.
Tiarone asiraja arotuma amojekumo kejeronu.
Iji are Airamo tane rujakitane ja.
Iji are jijara taeraja.
Iji are Airamowitu.

25 July 2011

The Santa Rosa Carib Community of Arima, Trinidad and Tobago: A Video Introduction

Carib Community of Arima, Trinidad and Tobago from Maximilian Forte on Vimeo.

This video introduction is the start of a long overdue series of video documentaries to come, this one focusing on photography and providing a condensed overview of the key themes in the history, politics, and culture of the Caribs of Arima, Trinidad. It also presents much of the material of what used to be available on the website of the Santa Rosa Carib Community, which has since expired and which has not yet been replaced by Indigenous members of the community (I am the former webmaster)--although it remains archived here. (In addition, see this tremendous effort to put material about the Carib Community online, by primary school students in Trinidad, hosted by the Ministry of Education.) With time, I will be posting the best of the materials from the former Carib Community website, so that they are still "active" online.

The video above is based on both ethnographic and historical research. The contents of the video are organized according to the following sections:

1. The Mission
The loss of lands under colonial rule; racism; displacement.

2. The So-called "Extinction"
How the Caribs were abolished by the stroke of a pen; historiography; stereotypes; censuses; "the only real Carib is a pure a Carib, and the only pure Carib is a dead Carib".

3. The Traditions
Loss of land, but perseverance of the essence of indigenous affectivity: belonging, Home. The mutation and multiplication of traditions: glimpsing what the Caribs mean by retained, maintained, and reclaimed traditions.

3-A. The Santa Rosa Festival
Processions. Gathering together.

3-B. Work duties for the Santa Rosa Festival
Carib labour; maintenance of a Carib hold on Trinidad's oldest public festival.

3-C. The Smoke Ceremony
Indigenous resurgence, reclamation, shamanism. Indigenous language reacquisition. Prayers.

4. The Resurgence

A focus on key actors in the Carib Community, and the role played by Indigenous Peoples outside of Trinidad who visit the Arima Caribs.

4-A. Chief Ricardo Bharath Hernandez
How he started the resurgence. Formation of the Santa Rosa Carib Community as a new organization. Being landless.

4-B. Shaman Cristo Adonis
The shaman is the one who sings--a short overview of Cristo Adonis' work in the community.

4-C. Carib Queen Justa Werges
Extensive quotations on the role and power of the Queen, the vision of Just Werges.
--Brief notes on other Carib Queens (in this video, a total of four appear: Maria Werges, Edith Martinez, Justa Werges, and Valentina Medina)

4-D. International Indigenous Connections
Selective, based on the photographs available: Assembly of First Nations of Canada, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, Tainos, Australian Aboriginals, Dominica's Gli-Gli Carib Canoe, Guyanese weavers, Surinamese singers.

5. The Question of Recognition
The paradox of recognition as another act of dismissal. How the Caribs have been monumentalized, enshrined, museumized, and continue to be stereotyped and appropriated. The national mainstream media. State support and government recognition.
Yet, the state will only recognize one single organization, and only then after having pushed it to formally incorporate itself as a limited liability company, which is the legal status of the Santa Rosa Carib Community.

Funds provided to the Community are for the purposes of mounting shows and displays, not for the Community's own sustenance, to achieve self-reliance, for its own long-term benefit.

Recognizing only one organization, in one single place, as Carib means that all of the descendants of Trinidad's Indigenous Peoples, spread throughout the country, go unrecognized.

The Caribs have been boxed up. The state mounts an implausible explanation to the United Nations: that all Caribs died off, except for in Arima, only one of over a dozen mission towns to have existed.

If before the only real Carib was a pure Carib, and the only pure Carib was a dead Carib...today that has become:

"The only recognized Carib is an Arima Carib."

Otherwise, the state dares not to even speak the name Carib, Warao, Indigenous, Amerindian, or First Peoples on the national Census.

And so the struggle continues...
Closing with a collage of members of the Carib Community throughout history.

21 July 2011

SANTA ROSA, by Melan Garcia

SANTA ROSA, by Melan Garcia from Maximilian Forte on Vimeo.

Lyrics (by Melan Garcia):
The Caribs are a peaceful people
This is what we know.

And Arima is the home of Caribs
From many years ago
Long ago.

So look back and I am sure that you will agree with me
That somewhere in your family you have Carib ancestry
Sing me with, now...

Santa Rosa
The feast that holds us all together.
Santa Rosa
Come sing you people from Arima.

Had it not been for the older folks
Then none of us would know
We wouldn't know...

Santa Rosa was found by three men
In that village called Pinto
In Pinto.

The three men were Raimundo, Punyan, and Puyon.
So now you see, my people, this is history put in song.
Sing along, with:

Santa Rosa
The feast that holds us all together.
Santa Rosa
Come sing you people from Arima.

Yes, we learned too that the hunter went back
To where the Saint was found
And on that very spot they found her necklace and her crown
And her crown...

The crown was made with roses of colours real distinct
That is why we use the colours of red, yellow, white, and pink.

What you think was...

Santa Rosa
The feast that holds us all together.
Santa Rosa
Come sing you people of Arima.

***** ***** ***** *****

Filmed by Maximilian Forte in September, 2006, at the cannon on Calvary Hill in Arima. The filming was done in late afternoon just as the sun was setting, and the camera faces south, overlooking the centre of Arima.

Melan Garcia, a well known parrandero from Calvary Hill in Arima, Trinidad and Tobago, in the past played with Los Tocadores and Rebuscar.

For many years he served as an Arima Borough Councillor, representing Calvary Hill, for the People's National Movement. He is also tied to the Carib Community and has Indigenous ancestry.

ARIMA WAS, by Melan Garcia

Lyrics (by Melan Garcia, originally transcribed by Guanaguanare)

In years gone by, this ent no lie
And I am sure you'll remember
Arima was a place with plenty water
We fertile soil, that and all spoil
We hardly getting good cassava
Quarries and farms polluting our rivers.

So let us try and see
If we could make Arima just like it used to be
Don't mind, don't mind, we population more
But is we, the Arimians, to make it like before
We have our duty to perform now because I'm sure
We'd like to see Arima just like Arima was. Woh oh ho
Yes, we have our duty to perform now because I'm sure
We'd like to see Arima just like Arima was.

The Spanish came and settled here
Along with peons from Venezuela
Together they did big plantations for we
Then came the French and Africans
Who accepted parcels of land
You see, Arima was always cosmopolitan. Yes, man!
1797 British came, planted their flag and left their name
In 1806 we got some Chinese too
East Indians joined up in the fun
Followed closely by the Syrians
That's true, Arima was one big pot of callaloo.

So let us try and see
If we could make Arima just like it used to be
Don't mind, don't mind, we population more
But is we, the Arimians, to make it like before
We have our duty to perform now because I'm sure
We'd like to see Arima just like Arima was. Woh oh oh
Yes, we have our duty to perform now because I'm sure
We'd like to see Arima just like Arima was.

Yes, Arima, this Easter star
Wallen bought a Dial and give her.
A gift you'll hardly find any other place
Them years ago was love for so,
But where the love gone, boy, I don't know
I think is since they open the Yankee base.

Oh, Arima, oh, Arima!
Like we heading for a disaster
I think is time we call upon The Master
Is endless crime, a waste of time!
Rape and robbery, even mass murder
Well, if it ent Sodom, well is Gomorrah.

So let us try and see
If we could make Arima just like it used to be
Don't mind, don't mind, we population more
But is we, the Arimians, to make it like before
We have our duty to perform now because I'm sure
We'd like to see Arima just like Arima was, Woh oh oh
Yes, we have our duty to perform now because I'm sure
We'd like to see Arima just like Arima was.

***** ***** ***** *****

Filmed by Maximilian Forte in September, 2006, at the cannon on Calvary Hill in Arima. The filming was done in late afternoon just as the sun was setting, and the camera faces south, overlooking the centre of Arima.

***** ***** ***** *****

Melan Garcia, a well known parrandero from Calvary Hill in Arima, Trinidad and Tobago, in the past played with Los Tocadores and Rebuscar. For many years he served as an Arima Borough Councillor, representing Calvary Hill, for the People's National Movement. He is also tied to the Carib Community and has Indigenous ancestry.

David Maybury-Lewis: Notes on the Abolition of the Indigenous

The following paragraphs come from the late David Maybury-Lewis, Harvard anthropologist, co-founder and director of Cultural Survival [(1993) A New World Dilemma: The Indian Question in the Americas. Bulletin of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 46(7), pp. 44-59].

Regarding the vision of Latin American liberals:
"The liberals demanded freedom for all, including the Indians, but what they meant by this for the Indians was the freedom to cease being Indian altogether. They considered Indio a derogatory word and Indianness a stigma--a kind of royalist, conservative, ecclesiastical device for maintaining indigenous peoples in a state of savagery. In the liberal vision of the future there would be no more Indians; the very word would be prohibited. The new constitutions therefore promised freedom and equality for all, with no mention of the Indians and no special provisions for them. It was assumed that they would disappear into the mainstream" (p. 48).

The Americas as a vast laboratory for the eradication of the indigenous:
"...the Americas since the conquest have been a vast laboratory for the eradication of indigenous cultures. As one studies the record, one cannot help being struck by the effort and ingenuity devoted by the conquerors to this task. They attacked indigenous religions. They imposed forced labor of various kinds. They invented a whole series of ways to lure or trick those not already forced to work into peonage through debt (the debt could only be worked off-and only with difficulty). Here and there they simply abolished Indians by a stroke of the pen and followed that up by trying to break up indigenous communities. They took Indian children away from their parents, sometimes by force, to be educated in alien schools that taught them to despise the ways of their peoples and discouraged them from speaking their own languages. The assault on indigenous landholding makes for the most remarkable reading of all: it is clear that the invaders not only coveted and seized Indian lands whenever they could; they were also affronted by those peoples and communities that held their lands in common. The Europeans considered that concept the very essence of savagery, for it departed from the ideas of private property and individual title to land that were considered central to Western civilization. It was thus with a convenient conviction of moral superiority that the invaders constantly tried to break up the communal landholdings of the Indians" (pp. 50-51).

"Emancipated Indians" in Brazil:
"until recently the Brazilian government had an official policy of 'emancipating' the Indians. They were not held in servitude but were considered wards of the state. The only way the Indians could be emancipated, therefore, was if they legally gave up being considered Indian and were thus deprived of their indigenous identity" (p. 55).

Abolishing Indians, Since 1492:
"It is one of the many ironies of the American experience that the invaders created the category of Indians, imposed it on the inhabitants of the New World, and have been trying to abolish it ever since" (p. 55).

From Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, decrees of abolition, plans of eradication:
"In many countries it was decreed that Indians would no longer be referred to as Indios but would instead be called campesinos (peasants); Indianness was thus abolished by a stroke of the pen. In Chile, General Pinochet's government tried to destroy the identity of the large Mapuche (Araucanian) minority by forcing them to divide their lands into privately owned lots. Even the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, which is widely thought to be one of the more generous settlements made with indigenous peoples, was drafted to turn Indian communities into corporations and their members into stockholders. Future members of the community will not acquire stocks unless stocks are bequeathed to them by those who originally received them. Meanwhile, stocks can soon be given, willed, or sold to people who are not members of the communities. The effect of the act, if not its intention, is to provide a mechanism for phasing out the native communities altogether" (pp. 55-56).

16 July 2011

On the Passing of Rose Janniere, Former Mayor of Arima, Friend of the Carib Community of Trinidad

Rose Janneire, at Balisier House, on Republic Day 1998.
© Maximilian C. Forte.
I was sadly surprised to learn of the passing of former Arima Mayor, Rose Janniere, from reading the Trinidad news this morning. She passed away on Thursday, 14 July, 2011. I first met Rose Janniere about 16 years ago, in 1995, at the Carib Community Centre, when she was then Mayor of Arima and closely associated with the Santa Rosa Carib Community. Janniere was the first, and only, woman to have become Mayor of Arima. In the years that I did my research with the Caribs (1995, 1998-1999, 2001-2003, 2006) I would meet her very often, especially as my research expanded to include the Arima Borough Council where she sat as an Alderman next to Ricardo Bharath Hernandez, head of the Carib Community. She was for a long time a staunch promoter of the Carib Community. Like Ricardo, and most members of the Carib Community, she was also a loyal supporter of the People's National Movement and, if I recall correctly, had at one time been the secretary to Dr. Eric Williams, and later was the Public Relations Officer for the PNM. Thanks to her, I was able to attend and document the PNM's celebration of Republic Day in 1998, where I saw how Trinidad's Caribs were prominently featured (in part due to the work of Rose Janniere), and where I also met Patrick Manning, then Opposition Leader. Later Rose Janniere also became active in the National Association for the Empowerment of African People (NAEAP), which today has also written its condolences:
The National Association for the Empowerment of African People (NAEAP) joins the nation in recognizing the many services Ms. Janneire rendered to the nation. Ms. Janneire joined NAEAP in 2000, two years after it was founded, and worked arduously with the organization to transform the landscape of African people in this country. She served as a trustee in the organization and for many years controlled the finances of the organization.

For most of her eleven years in NAEAP she was the chairman of NAEAP’s Annual Emancipation Dinner and made sure she found the finances to run NAEAP’s day school. She served conscientiously in these roles and gave of herself unstintingly to make NAEAP a better organization. That is why NAEAP members such Oscar Gooding, Marcia Toney, Marion Simmons and Annette Valdez took care of Ms. Janneire in the final days of her life while her daughter lived in Barbados and her son served as a priest in New Jersey.

NAEAP regards her as faithful servant who worked hard to advance the cause of African people in Trinidad and Tobago. We thank her for such services on behalf of the black community. Selwyn R. Cudjoe, President of NAEAP says of Ms. Janneire, “She was a good and faithful servant who served her nation well. We will all miss her as an organization.” NAEAP will not hold its annual Emancipation dinner this year in respect for the life that Ms. Janneire’s lived. We will use the time to reflect on the many contributions that she made to her country.
Even via NAEAP, Rose Janniere continued to support the Carib Community, and once again it was thanks to her that I met Dr. Selwyn Cudjoe who came and advised at various community planning meetings in the Carib Centre. Rose Janniere became a Senator, and from that point I do not think I saw her again. While we certainly had our differences, I must say that Rose always showed herself to be very gracious and kind in my regards. I am certain that her loss is felt not just by her family, but also by many people in the Carib Community, not least of whom is the current Carib chief.

Rose welcoming the Caribs as they enter the Church for the Santa Rosa Festival
Rose dancing with Cristo Adonis of the Carib Community
Rose and the author of this post, at the Carib Centre in August of 1998

Rose Janniere dies from pancreatic cancer
First published in the Trinidad Express
Story by Anna Ramdass
Jul 16, 2011

Former mayor of Arima and member of the People's National Movement (PNM) Rose Janniere is dead.

Janniere died on Thursday at the Port of Spain General Hospital from pancreatic cancer.

Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley, in a statement yesterday, described Janniere as a "servant to the people of Trinidad and Tobago".

"As a member of the PNM, Ms Janniere served in the constituency of Arima as Deputy Mayor from 1983 to 1987 and as Mayor from 1992 to 1996. She was actively involved with the Carib community and also served on the management team of Arima United Sports Club," stated Rowley.

He further noted that Janniere gave yeoman service to the PNM as assistant general secretary, public relations officer and a member of the Women's League.
"Her public career saw her act as a senator between 2002 and 2007. She also served as a director of the Port Authority and, up to 2010, was employed at the Airports Authority of Trinidad and Tobago," stated Rowley.

He added, "Rose Janniere was a tried and true servant of the People's National Movement and, by extension, the people of Trinidad and Tobago. On behalf of the PNM family, it is with a great sense of loss and sadness that I extend sincere condolences to the family and friends of Ms Janniere. May she rest in peace."

PNM general secretary Ashton Ford told the Express he had known Janniere for a very long time and praised her for her service to party and people.

"I worked with her when I was a member of Parliament. She became a councillor and moved on to be the first female mayor of Arima. She was well loved and served the party at all levels," said Ford.

He added that Janniere was a people's person who was actively involved with the sporting community and loved Carnival and playing mas.

He also pointed out that Janniere was instrumental in having the statue of Calypso King "Lord Kitchener" erected in the country.

Arima Mayor Alderman Ghassan Youseph also expressed sympathies to Janniere's family, adding that a condolence book will be opened at Arima Town Hall for all Arimians who wish to pay their respects.

He said the Council will be in contact with the family to determine what role the Council can play in the funeral arrangements.

"On behalf of the Council and staff of the Arima Corporation, and all Arimians, and on my own behalf, I extend condolences to the family of the late Rose Janniere, especially her mom Ms Rose Hilibrand and children Mrs Natasha Lashley and Fr Nigel Mohammed," Youseph said in a press release.

He pointed out that Janniere, who came from a well-known Arima family, served Trinidad and Tobago and the Arimians, as Mayor of Arima, for almost four years, between 1992 and 1996.

"Ms Janniere's passing is a sad loss for the borough of Arima and all of Trinidad and Tobago," he added.

07 July 2011

Kalinago (Carib) Territory, Dominica: A Video Introduction

This is a fairly elementary but well synthesized historical overview of the indigenous people of Dominica, narrated by Dominican historian Lennox Honychurch. It was produced by the Government of Dominica, and specifically by the Ministry of Tourism, so don't expect any radical indigenist critique of the post-colonial nation-state here. Nonetheless, it is an interesting visual record with good introductory historical and ethnographic detail. And, it is shared freely, and in its entirety, unlike some of the videos we recently posted.

04 July 2011

New Carib Queen Elected in Trinidad: Jennifer Cassar

First published in the Trinidad Express as "Jennifer Cassar is new Carib Queen"
By Kimberly Castillo
02 July 2011

Carib Queen Jennifer Cassar
AUGUST 6 will signal a new chapter in the history of the Carib community.

On that day, Jennifer Cassar, 59, will walk out of the Santa Rosa RC Church in full Carib regalia, as the new Carib Queen.

The event is expected to draw supporters and members of the indigenous community bearing the traditional halekebe (crocheted poncho).

Cassar will take her place among her predecessors including Dolores MacDavid, Maria Werges, Justa Werges and Valentina Medina.
Her inauguration next month will be the first time in more than a decade that the community has elected a titular head.

For 11 years Medina served as Carib Queen until she succumbed to breast cancer in April at the age of 78.

Carib queens are elected based on their maturity and their vast knowledge of Carib history, practices, customs, way of life and oral traditions.

To say that Cassar is knowledgeable of her heritage would be a big understatement.

Since she was a child, Cassar was groomed in the indigenous customs, so much so that today she is like a walking encyclopedia on indigenous history.

"Although my mother was around, I also grew up with my grandparents and they lived a strict Carib way of life, this involved all aspects of Carib life. My grandmother was involved heavily in the Santa Rosa festival, I had to be part of the the procession with her. I made a commitment before she died that the lifestyle she had, I would emulate. I have to carry the mantle of my ancestors," said Cassar as she sat in the Carib Centre at Arima, surrounded by life-sized wooded sculptures, palm fronds and hand-woven baskets.

Cassar's appointment was based on more than her knowledge of the indigenous community. President of the Santa Rosa Carib Community, Ricardo Bharath-Hernandez explained that Cassar's cultural activism and her public service made her an obvious choice for Carib Queen.

For more than 20 years, Cassar has been involved in Carnival related activities, and has been the main organiser for the regional Carnival committee of the National Carnival Commission.

It is hard to imagine that this wife and mother of two, who is reserved by nature, is also a coordinator for stick-fighting competitions.
She has also spent 40 years as a public servant.

For the past five years, Cassar has also been a member of the Cabinet-appointed Amerindian project committee and has participated in a seminar on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples for the Caribbean.

"Cassar has what it takes," said Bharath-Hernandez, to take the Carib community further.
Cassar made it clear that her role would involve more than simply being the face of the Carib community.

Her duty as Carib Queen will include supervising the Santa Rosa Festival, one of the major highlights on the local indigenous calendar.

She will take on the responsibility of cleaning and decorating the church in preparation for the festival.

Cassar will also take the lead in the procession and offer prayers and she is tasked with passing on Carib traditions to members of the community.

There are burning issues which Cassar says need to be addressed as a matter of priority.

"We want to ensure that the land that was promised to us by the last Government comes to fruition, at least during my lifetime, and to ensure that the people of Amerindian descent become actively involved in the Santa Rosa Carib Community, because there are a lot of them out there who do not want to be identified as Carib or indigenous, so we want to create projects to woo young people and also go out there on a campaign to encourage them to come to the community," said Cassar.

One of Medina's unfulfilled wishes was to see a united indigenous community.

Cassar says she is committed to making this a reality as she paid homage to her predecessor: "She was a very pious individual, very devoted to Santa Rosa, she was like a matriarch. Even though I have a lot of experience in many areas, I am a simple person, very approachable and open to any idea anyone may have on how we can take this community forward."

First published in Newsday as "Caribs elect new queen"
Saturday, 02 July 2011

Jennifer Cassar is the new Carib Queen-elect.

Following the passing of former Queen, Valentina “Ma Mavis” Assing, who died of cancer, in April this year, Cassar was chosen to take up the mantle of the indigenous Carib community.

Cassar is the sixth woman to head the Carib community since female rule was introduced in 1875. She said she is elated and is looking forward to her responsibility.

Cassar said she has embraced the Carib way of life since childhood.

“I’ve been a Carib all my life. My great-great grand- parents were full blooded Caribs; my grandfather and my mother are half Caribs.

I know a lot of the history because I lived my life as a Carib,” Cassar said. “There is a lot that I have to look forward to as the Carib Queen,” she added.

Cassar, who has two children, said although she tries to impart the Carib influence on her children, they prefer to be “modern” in their ways. She said one of her aims would be to try to encourage more awareness of the Caribs and their way of life. She said the Carib community has a lot to offer.

President/Chief of the Santa Rosa Carib Community, Ricardo Bharath-Hernandez, said he believes Cassar is a noble Carib Queen.

He noted that Cassar has a wealth of experience that will benefit the Carib community, which is also known as the Santa Rosa First People’s Community.

Schedule for the 2011 Santa Rosa Festival in Arima, Trinidad

August 18th – Arrival of the Santa Rosa Statue at Santa Rosa Church from the Santa Rosa Carib Community

August 19th – Start of the 9 day Novena at 6.00 p.m. each evening

August 23rd – Actual Feast Day of Santa Rosa—Mass and Novena at 6.00 a.m. followed by simple procession

August 26th – Parang Competition in Santa Rosa Park

August 27th – Close of the Novena at 5.00 p.m. followed by Mass and the Lighting up of the Santa Rosa Park

August 28th Solemn High Mass and Procession at 9.00 a.m.

See the website of the Santa Rosa RC Church for more to come.

More on The Amerindians, film by Tracy Assing

You can read/see more about Tracy Assing and her film The Amerindians below:

"Historians tell stories of the past. These stories are always partial truths. These partial truths have consequences for how we imagine the present and the future. In this excellent documentary account of the contemporary Amerindian population of Trinidad and Tobago, and the issues the community faces, directors Tracy Assing and Sophie Meyer clearly illustrate this connection between past, present, and future. Amerindian identity, we are reminded, is not and nor should it be solely or principally about public events like the Santa Rosa Festival. There is far more to the story"....
"What does “indigenous” mean in contemporary Trinidad? How has the island’s Amerindian heritage survived? Tracy Assing, a member of the Carib community of Arima, compares her own family traditions with historical accounts, and asks herself crucial questions about the meaning of the past and the nature of home"....

Dr. Basil Reid on The Amerindian in Trinidadian History
Dr. Bridget Brereton on Amerindians in Trinidad's History
Amerindian Day of Recognition

Filmmaker Tracy Assing: Inspired by the Amerindians

First published in The Guardian
By Michelle Loubon
03 July 2011

Tracy Assing, Carib filmmaker
Clutching tiny woven cane baskets filled with red and pink flowers, Carib descendant Tracy Kim Assing joined the Santa Rosa parade, through the Borough of Arima. She dropped delicate hibiscus and rose blossoms for her late aunt, Carib queen Valentina Medina to trod upon. The Santa Rosa Carib Community is the last remaining organised group of people identifying with an Amerindian identity and way of life. At Arima Government Secondary School, she learned Caribs and Arawaks had been decimated by los conquistadores who came in search of El Dorado. At eight, she had made a concrete decision to stop participating in the festival. During her stint as Assistant Editor Caribbean Beat, she documented it in an essay The Long Walk Home (July/August 2005).

Assing said: “Even at that age I realised that the story of its origin might have been only as real as the tales that captured my imagination in the books of Enid Blyton. Questions about my heritage would only multiply as I grew older, and I found there were many instances of written history contradicting the things I’d come to believe as life-practices.” True to form, Assing kept pondering about her ancestors and First Nation Peoples. She took it upon herself to create a film—The Amerindians—which sought to address some of these burning questions. Assing, a former Guardian feature writer, relied upon her journalistic skills and natural curiosity. Assing, 36, shared her inspiration for The Amerindians. She realised she had to tell the story of her people for posterity. Assing said: “The media do not recognise us much. Except for the Day of Recognition (October) and the Santa Rosa Festival (August). In the 70s and 80s, there were fairly regular stories about what we were doing.”

Assing added: “The film started with questions. I grew up in the Carib Community. I went to school at Arima Secondary. I was taught the Caribs and Arawaks had been decimated. But I was still alive. I was of Carib ancestry. I wondered whether we did eat people. Do we eat people? I would ask my parents...I thought I would ask my priest (Fr Christian Perreira).” She lamented the Carib community was facing a sense of erosion. Assing added: “Where was the sense of identity...the sense somebody could apply. Young people started to distance themselves from ‘what it is to be Carib’. The word Carib became commercialised. A beer is a Carib.” Questions assailed her. “They may not have been Carib or any tribe called Carib. There were a number of tribes. People were put into missions.” Miscegenation had taken place within the Carib community, too. As she embarked upon the odyssey, Assing had tete-a-tete with archaeologist Dr Basil Reid, eminent historian Prof Bridget Brereton and her late great aunt Carib queen Valentina Medina.

Kudos to Askia Amon-Ra

When The Amerindians premiered at the 2010 Film Festival, Assing dedicated it to her former History teacher Askia Amon-Ra at Arima Secondary School. He had built a formidable reputation as a teacher who got full CXC History passes and encouraged his students to love history. Assing has read for History at CXC level, but she did not read for a degree. Yet the lack of tertiary education did not hinder her from creating The Amerindians. “I dedicated the film to Askia Amon-Ra. He was responsible for instilling that search of identity. “It is one of the reasons I dedicated the film to him. He encouraged us not to just accept what was written but to seek the truth.”

Challenging questions

As she continued to unearth the truths, Assing said: “I did get a lot of answers. In the interviews, people were honest academics. They were excited about my questions.” While Assing was reluctant to let the cat out of the bag completely, she noted the film explored questions related to the Santa Rosa Festival and Amerindian life in an era gone by. She asked: “Did they find a statue in the forest?” Fr Perreira gave an interesting answer. She turned to her aunt Valentina Medina, fondly known as Aunty Mavis. “What makes a queen?” she asked. She even remembered the stories her grandfather, the late John Assing had told her. Assing said: “I talked to them about their childhood. How did they know they were indigenous? They said “they just knew they were indigenous.” They set their story in Caura and Paria and working on the cocoa plantations. Great Caura was peopled by a tribe from Venezuela.” Assing added: “Indigenous people sailed down the Coora River in Venezuela and settled in Caura. They fashioned their bows and arrows to catch fish. They used the spokes of bicycle wheels to make spears. They used a lot of bush medicine.” As the storyline unfolded, Assing said: “I became aware of my heritage.”

The Amerindians document

Assing paid kudos to Carla Foderingham and the Trinidad and Tobago Film Company for their input into The Amerindians. She said: “It has the distinction of being one of the few films chosen by every film station.” Assing’s ace effort didn’t go unnoticed. Guardian’s editorial (May 2) saluted Assing’s efforts. An excerpt said: “The young filmmaker created an important document in the narrative of the First People of Trinidad and Tobago, whose history lives on largely in the stories passed on from generation to generation, undocumented by the many conquerors who came to this island. It added: “The formation of the Carib Santa Rosa Community in 1974 has been an effort at not just staking a claim on that kind of memory, but an attempt at knitting the stories of the region into a larger history and cultural archive as that organisation has reached out to surviving Amerindian tribes in the region.” While saluting her efforts, the editorial warned time was against them. It said: “Gathering these stories and rebuilding the rich, natural narrative of the lifestyles and history of the first inhabitants of Trinidad and Tobago is the only way to provide a real alternative to the readily consumed temptations available in the attractively packaged fictions of foreign entertainment. These are not simple matters, and time is against the elders of the Carib community. Encouraging and supporting efforts of local documentarians to preserve the history and traditions of the oldest elements of our history in modern media should be the first point of intervention by the Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism (led by Winston Peters) in advancing the future of the local Carib community.”

Amerindians in T&T

Amerindian peoples have existed in Trinidad for as long as 6,000 years before the arrival of Columbus, and numbered at least 40,000 at the time of Spanish settlement in 1592. All of Trinidad was populated by several tribes, Trinidad being a transit point in the Caribbean network of Amerindian trade and exchange. Amerindian tribes were referred to by various names: Yaio, Nepuyo, Chaima, Warao, Kalipuna, Carinepogoto, Garini, Aruaca. Amerindian words and place names survive into the present: the Caroni and Oropouche rivers; the Tamana and Aripo mountains; places such as Arima, Paria, Arouca, Caura, Tunapuna, Tacarigua, Couva, Mucurapo, Chaguanas, Carapichaima, Guaico, Mayaro, Guayaguayare. Trinidad’s Amerindians formed part of large regional island-to-island and island-to-mainland trading networks; the Warao of Venezuela, who still exist, were frequent visitors until only recent times.

The Amerindians developed the canoe, the bow and arrow, and the ajoupa. Amerindian cuisine is enjoyed by many Trinidadians: Cassava bread and Farine; Warap; barbecued wild game; corn pastelles; coffee; cocoa; chadon beni. The Amerindians also gave Trinidad and Tobago its first major rebellion in the name of freedom: the Arena uprising of 1699. In 1783 Trinidad’s Amerindians were displaced from their lands to make way for the influx of French planters and their African slaves. In 1759 the Mission of Arima was formed, consolidated and enlarged in 1785, and the Amerindians were to have had control of 2,000 acres of land. A number of tribes were pressed into Arima, mostly Nepuyo, and generically referred to as either “Caribe” or “Indio”—Arima was the last Mission Town.

Parang, utilising both Spanish and Amerindian musical instruments, emerged from the evangelisation of the Amerindians. The Caribs in Arima, converted to Catholicism, were led by a Titular Queen.

The histories of major towns such as Arima and Siparia, two large former Amerindian Mission Towns, have given us Trinidad’s two oldest festivals: The Santa Rosa Festival of Arima, and La Divina Pastora in Siparia. At least 12,000 people in Northeast Trinidad are of Amerindian descent. (Taken from the Santa Rosa Carib Communty Web site)

About the filmmaker

Assing has been invited to speak at the University of Toronto, Canada. Assing, who was Editor of Discover T&T for three years, is currently considering taking it to the US and Caribbean. She is also considering a sequel The Herbalist. Assing said: “If young people took to the medium of film, they would spend less time viewing and filming violence. Less time with porn. They would check out ‘Where do umbrellas come from? Why does granny drink vervine tea?’ “The country is full of rich stories. Exploring stories on film is a means of documenting culture. Culture is everything.” Assing is signing a distribution deal with a New York-based company, Third World News Reel—which specialises in educational films.

It can be viewed on Facebook and some videos can be seen on Assing’s site, TriniWildIndian.

Last Stand for the First People

First published as an Editorial in The Guardian
02 May 2011

The loss of Carib Queen Valentina Assing Medina which was memorialised on Friday marks a key milestone in the continuing efforts of the local Carib community to carve out a distinct space for themselves in the landscape of modern Trinidad and Tobago. At the funeral on Saturday, a surprisingly emotional Minister of Arts and Multiculturalism Winston Peters, made an impassioned plea for the community to hang together or risk falling apart.

“You are your worst enemy,” Minister Winston Peters warned the congregation in a tone that seemed to convey a mix of frustration and loss. The need to present the Carib community as unified and coordinated isn’t simply a matter of getting things together for a common cause. As filmmaker and journalist Tracy Assing noted in an essay, The Long Walk Home, published in Caribbean Beat, “I stopped participating in the [Santa Rosa] festival when I was eight. Even at that age I realised that the story of its origin might have been only as real as the tales that captured my imagination in the books of Enid Blyton.”

Assing created a tangible corrective to the contradictory stories she grew up with in a film, The Amerindians, first screened in 2010. Raised as a Carib descendant, Assing’s struggles to reconcile the history her family shared with her with the official histories of Trinidad and Tobago provided the foundation for the documentary’s narrative. The young filmmaker, who grew up calling Valentina Assing Medina “Aunty Mavis,” created an important document in the narrative of the First People of Trinidad and Tobago, whose history lives on largely in the stories passed on from generation to generation, undocumented by the many conquerors who came to this island.

Under the previous government, the Carib community was given five acres of land at Blanchisseuse Old Road in Arima and Minister Peters seems keen to amplify that gift with input from his government’s resources. At this point in the history of the Carib community, with participation by the youngest descendants of the original inhabitants of this country dwindling, the most critical space that champions of this community can occupy is in the minds of the larger population.

Rebuilding the narrative of the First People in the consciousness and conversations of the larger population and stoking pride and interest among the scattered generations of descendants will do as much for the Carib community’s cause as the construction of the proposed museum, craft centres and recreations of historical village life.

Losing Valentina Medina was, ultimately, the loss of a remarkable resource of knowledge and memory of the experiences of the oldest truly native culture that this country can claim as its own. The formation of the Carib Santa Rosa Community in 1974 has been an effort at not just staking a claim on that kind of memory, but an attempt at knitting the stories of the region into a larger history and cultural archive as that organisation has reached out to surviving Amerindian tribes in the region.

Gathering these stories and rebuilding the rich, natural narrative of the lifestyles and history of the first inhabitants of Trinidad and Tobago is the only way to provide a real alternative to the readily consumed temptations available in the attractively packaged fictions of foreign entertainment. These are not simple matters, and time is against the elders of the Carib community. Encouraging and supporting efforts of local documentarians to preserve the history and traditions of the oldest elements of our history in modern media should be the first point of intervention by the Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism in advancing the future of the local Carib community.

Finding the First Natives: Trinidad and Tobago Archaeology

First published in Newsday
By Marina Salandy Brown
23 December 2010

Since the 1980s the accepted version of our history — that Caribs and Arawaks, the two groups Christopher Columbus found in the Caribbean region were the main settlers — has been challenged. In future, unlike in my day, children will not just be taught that the Caribs were bellicose, marauding man-eaters, while the Arawaks were settled and peace loving, because there is much more to our history than that.

Following the Eurocentric view of history, local historians had, until recently, taken 1492 as the beginning of the history of the Caribbean part of the new world, with only a cursory glance back at pre-Colonial times. The reason for this was simply that there was so little tangible evidence of that past, unlike in Mexico or Peru where great civilisations existed and great monuments to power and wealth and culture were undeniable. Writing began in the “new world” with the coming of Europeans, and written records are the basis of conventional history. Only now is the oral tradition being more respected and promulgated and the archaeological proof emerging to produce a broader interpretation and recording of the Caribbean’s long history.

Contributing to this larger discussion are two fascinating films that have been made this year. Buried Treasure, by award-winning veteran documentary-maker Alex de Verteuil, shows and tells us why archaeologists specialising in the Americas consider TT one of the most important locations for the study of the past. These islands, so very close to the South American mainland, were the stepping-stones for different waves of indigenous peoples for 7000 years as they made their way up the island chain, getting as far as Puerto Rico.

There is an abundance of artefacts hidden in the ground in ancient sites throughout TT that reveal what these original natives ate, how they grew and caught food and cooked, and traded. These cultural relics allow the writing of a new history.

Buried Treasure is also a polemic about the state of archaeology in this country. I was surprised to learn that most of the experts are not Trinidadian or Tobagonian in origin. At UWI, archaeology comes under the history department and Dr Basil Reid, who is the resident expert, is from Jamaica. All the other archaeologists, except for one from Trinidad, Archibald Chauharjasingh, who is a layman, are from Europe and the USA. It seems that archaeology as an academic discipline was established very late on here and now there is no indigenous archaeologist or professor of archaeology at UWI, and no government archaeologist to ensure the preservation of ancient relics.

From what I understand, circa 1960s or ‘70s the then government set up the Archaeological Society of Trinidad and Tobago, essentially to monitor the work of Canadian archaeologists on a dig in Tobago, but the Society outlived the Canadians and was only disbanded latterly by Mr Manning’s government. It is unclear whether it has been reconstituted under the present government, but if it does exist it most probably comes under the National Heritage Trust, a government body with a broad remit, too broad, in fact, to be effective with regard to archaeological conservation.

The result is that as we build, we destroy the past. The very places we choose to live in now are the same ones the original natives preferred, so as we develop, we lose treasures of huge significance. With no proper policing of whatever statutes may exist with regard to finding ancient relics, contractors take the easy way out and carry on regardless, as they did when constructing the Twin Towers in PoS. There they simply concreted up the pottery fragments. Mr Chauharjasingh believes there are many more sites to be discovered. This is exciting because locating the past would be a boon for the Caribs and other native communities. The other recent film, The Amerindians, by Tracey Assing deals more with the cultural and spiritual aspects of the Arima Caribs and it is clear that real knowledge of their past is needed.

If I were asked what should be done, I would suggest that an Archaeological Research Institute be founded to give focus to the work going on, to encourage new students, and to reflect the important role TT played in pre-Columbian history. The Institute should have an archaeological/anthropological museum as part of it. The displays at the Carib Cultural Centre in Arima need revitalising, similarly with the ones at the National Museum, while other exhibits are inaccessible at UWI. The time may have come to bring everything together and create a valuable resource, attractive to tourists, that is sustained by the only international academic centre for the study of early Caribbean history. If we do not do something along those lines we will squander yet another unique advantage we have. Maybe there is an opportunity for the private sector to dig deep into its pocket and partner the government in this. Happy Christmas to everyone.