23 September 2013

First Peoples getting ready for Heritage Week.

First Peoples getting ready for Heritage Week.
Trinidad Express Newspapers | Sep 22, 2013 at 10:28 PM ECT

President/Chief of the Santa Rosa First Peoples’ Community Ricardo Bharath says the community is gearing up for its annual Amerindian Heritage Week of Activities from October 11 to 19.

According to a news release from the Community, Heritage Week will feature special events, including a conference themed Exploring Heritage, Consolidating Traditions and Creating A Legacy.

The conference is being held in conjunction with the University of Trinidad and Tobago and the Ministry of National Diversity and Social Integration. It comes on the heels of the month-long celebrations for the Santa Rosa Festival de Arima. A highlight was the procession of the Santa Rosa statue through the borough on August 25.

Arima can lay claim to being home to the largest number of descendants from the Caribs, who were among Trinidad and Tobago’s first inhabitants.

The release said: “The Community has gone one step further than in the past. It has engaged technical and professional expertise to assist it in planning and implementing various aspects of the Heritage Week. It is also engaging the business community, civil society groups and academic institutions in and around Arima to partner with it in making the week of activities very successful.”

Both Bharath and Carib queen Jennifer Cassar have enlisted the help of Arima businessman Balliram Maharaj, who has been working to influence other commercial entities to help.

Citizens can visit the Community’s new office and secretariat at 7 Paul Mitchell Street, Arima; call 664-1897, 776-0210 (c); or e-mail@santarosafirstpeoples.org.

19 September 2013

Give Red House bones proper burial.

Give Red House bones proper burial.
By Miranda La Rose
T&T Newsday | Wednesday, September 18 2013

MAKING HER POINT: Deborah Koylass of Penal, makes a point 
at a meeting of the First People in Arima on Monday night...

A United Nations advisor to the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is advising that the State turns over the remains of bones found recently under the Red House to the local indigenous people for a proper burial.

The advisor, St Lucian-born Albert Deterville is also advising that the remains should not be placed in a museum.

Addressing members of the Partners for First People’s Development on Monday evening at the Photo House building in Arima, Deterville said,

“Normally what happens, when the remains of indigenous peoples are found, the State turns over the remains to the descendants of the remains, or to indigenous peoples. I would hope that the State in its wisdom would do so.”

Stating he does know what the State will do, he said, “I hope that a proper burial would be executed for the remains that were found, and that they are not be placed in a museum.”

He has always questioned, he said “why anthropologists and archeologists are so interested in the history and past of the indigenous peoples, and like to keep their bones, but they do not take the bones of other ethnic groups.”

The bones of the dead, he said “are sacred and it is disrespect for the bones to be kept by somebody who has no relationship with it.”

Noting he will support the decisions of the indigenous community on what should be done about the historical remains, he said he intended to hold discussions yesterday with officials of the Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism on the implications of the find, as well as, to raise a number of issues with respect to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

On March 26, 2013 during initial excavation work undertaken as part of the restoration of the Red House — the country’s seat of governance — a number of skeletal remains, cultural and historical artifacts were found on the site. Subsequently, a composite of material comprising human bones, fragments of animal bones, shells, pottery and other artifacts were discovered and extracted from the soil in other areas at the Red House.

Another indigenous group, the Santa Rosa First People’s Indigenous Community on July 14 performed a spiritual ritual to “appease the spirits” of bones disturbed during works at the site. They were given approval by officials of the House Cultural Heritage Team, a Cabinet-appointed committee to manage aspects of the historical find.

The issue of land and land titles to indigenous communities, Deterville said was another “vexing problem” faced by indigenous communities, not only in TT, but in other parts of the region, and the world. He was surprised, he said, when last year, the UN representative in Geneva boasted that TT had granted 25 acres of land to the indigenous community in Trinidad.

The statement made by the representative in Geneva, he said, was made against the background that the Government of TT was protecting the rights of the indigenous peoples of TT, and as such gave them 25 acres of land. His statement evoked some laughter from the audience.

Noting that he was concerned about the dignity and respect for indigenous peoples, he said he questioned if the lands were titled and vested with the indigenous community and the response was in the negative.

“How many hundreds of thousands of acres of land are in Trinidad and Tobago for the Government to be handing over only 25 acres to the rightful owners of the country?” he asked.

11 September 2013

A Matter of Survival.

A matter of survival.
By Heather-Dawn Herrera
Trinidad Express Newspapers | Sep 11, 2013 at 10:45 PM ECT

We visited the domain of one of our nocturnal species of avian wild life at a period when newborn chicks as well as those half grown are trying to adapt to the habitat into which they were born.

As we entered the cavern hundreds of pairs of red eyes peered down at us. The large white dots forming a distinguishing line at their sides were prominent in the darkness. Large birds squawked and click clicked as they flew around using echo location in the dark recesses of the interior. The roof and walls were just crowded with birds. This was the sanctuary of the oilbird steatornis caripensis and we were but mere disturbances of their peace at the moment.
Personally I wondered how a person coming here with the sole intention of poaching this harmless species felt when this colony guarded its territory so fiercely. Our visit alone felt like sinful intrusion.

We explored a part of the cavern wall that curved further inward to a series of ledges where a number of birds had built their nests. In the past we had retrieved gear used for ensnaring the birds here. Today all was well.

Presumably this would have been one of the caverns that the First Peoples had visited centuries ago to gather oil from the fat of the oilbird. At that time, it was a matter of survival.

Nearby, we found one shallow nest with three eggs in it and another with two tiny newborns that spun round and round in their limited space. Quite close by, a large bird snarled an apparent warning to us. We believed that this was the parent of these chicks.

There was a third nest with an extremely large ‘fatty’ ‘half grown’ that had feathers only on his head, wings and tail. We could see how our First Peoples got enough oil to satisfy their needs.

This larger chick spun round and round on his nest too. This seemed to be the typical behaviour of this species as we had noted the same spinning trait of the newborns.
On nests where adult oilbirds sat, we could see the usual rocking movement of their heads from side to side that we had come to be so familiar with. Someone called this a ‘Stevie Wonder move’.

On the other side of the cavern, another half grown got our attention as he landed with a loud thump and a flurry of half feathered wings having unsuccessfully tried to fly like his elders. Just about four months old, this bird was beginning his own quest for survival. He remained motionless for a while until regaining his initial will to try his wings again and again.

Our oilbirds are perhaps the least observed of our avian species in this part of the world because of their nocturnal life and the fact that their colonies thrive off the beaten track in the cavernous terrain of our mountains. When Alexander von Humboldt first discovered these birds in a cave in Venezuela’s north eastern mountains in 1799 their existence was virtually unknown to people other than immediate natives. This location eventually became Venezuela’s first national monument.

Today some caverns in northern South America have become tourist attractions. In Trinidad, this is so to a lesser extent because of the lack of manpower to effectively protect and manage these remote locations. So far, only the Asa Wright Nature Centre has been successful in protecting, promoting and maintaining its oilbird cavern as a tourist attraction.

It is always an amazing sight to see a large colony of oilbirds fly out from the home cavern in mass exodus at sunset. Their feeding grounds are sometimes located miles away from their home they being the only nocturnal fruit eating bird in the world and must find bearing palms and laurels.

On their return to the home cavern, we could well imagine the eager reactions of their dependent offspring to sustenance being served after spending a night alone. Soon, these chicks will follow in the habits of their parents as they too will continue the cycle of survival of this species.