12 July 2013


By JULIEN NEAVES | Trinidad & Tobago's Newsday | Friday, July 12 2013

MEMBERS of the Santa Rosa First People’s Indigenous Community will be performing a spiritual ritual tomorrow at the Red House in Port-of-Spain to “appease the spirits” of bones disturbed during works at the site, Chief Ricardo Bharath Hernandez disclosed yesterday.

He explained it is the belief of the indigenous peoples that when bones are disturbed, a special ritual has to be performed “to give peace to the spirit of those killed there”.

About seven people, including himself, will participate in the simple ceremony which will involve smoke as a medium of prayer and will take place at about 2 pm. They will also sanctify the site as a sacred burial area.

In October, they plan to hold an all-night ceremony called a “Purablaka”, similar to a wake. It will start from 6 pm with the ceremonial painting of people, go through various phases with different music, prayers and chants, and end the next morning with a procession around the building and a visit to a river or the sea for ritual baths and cleansing. About 30 or 40 people are expected to participate in that ceremony, Hernandez reported in a telephone interview with Newsday.

He said approval for tomorrow’s ceremony was given by officials of the House Cultural Heritage Team, a Cabinet-appointed committee to manage aspects of the historical find.

On March 26, a number of skeletal remains, cultural and historical artifacts were discovered during initial excavation work as part of the restoration of the Red House. The bones date from 430 AD to 1390 AD. The First People believe the remains and artifacts are from their ancestors.

At a press conference on Tuesday, the community called on Government to turn the Red House into a national historical site and consider the permanent removal of Parliament, which has been housed temporarily at the International Waterfront Centre since October 2011.

Minister of National Diversity and Social Integration, Clifton De Coteau, described the request as “a very tall order”. Speaking with the Newsday, in a brief telephone interview, he noted the Red House is a heritage site for many reasons, including that it is the Parliament building.

“And there is a lot of history on that site where the building is situated,” he added. On possibly converting it to a national historical site, De Coteau explained that because the site is on the parliamentary property, the Red House Cultural Heritage Team will assume responsibility for it. Heritage sites fall under his ministry while the buildings are under the purview of the restoration unit of the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure.

“So that we’ll all have to talk but first of all, I’ll have to talk to Chief Bharath,” he said.

He planned to meet with the Chief of the First People some time next week. Hernandez reported yesterday the community has sent a formal letter to the Red House Cultural Heritage Team, chaired by House Speaker Wade Mark, with the suggestion about the Red House. They have received an acknowledgment and the assurance of a reply. Questioned whether he believed Government would convert the Red House to a national historical site Hernandez replied, “I would want to believe so. I see no reason why it shouldn’t be. Not 100 percent sure of (the) position of those in authority. But we will do all in our power to see that it is made as such.”

Mark yesterday told Newsday he had not received the correspondence, adding he had only recently returned from “another place” — serving as Acting President in the absence of President Anthony Carmona. He noted the request would be reviewed by the committee and at the appropriate time a statement issued.

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