16 May 2011

Funeral Ceremony for Trinidad Carib Queen Valentina Medina

The late Carib queen, Valentina Assing Medina, had three wishes. They were granted. Paying tribute to Medina, her daughter Loretta Medina-Grant said, “She wanted a pink rose in her hair. She also asked to see several people including Senator (Penny) Beckles (who read her eulogy), and Councillor Metevier. She especially asked for Msgr Christian Perreira to do her service.” The celebration and thanksgiving for the life of Medina, fondly known as Mavis, took place at the Santa Rosa RC Church, Arima, on April 29. Among those present were acting Prime Minister Winston Dookeran, Minister of Arts and Multiculturalism Winston Peters, and president of the Santa Rosa Carib Community Ricardo Bharath.

Lopinot/Bon Air West MP Dr Lincoln Douglas and chair of the Amerindian Project Committee Vel Lewis were also present. As a lagniappe, she was sent to the Great Spirit via a traditional Amerindian ceremony at the nearby Santa Rosa cemetery. Leading the cortege, was flagsman Peter Diaz. The strains of Pedro Lezama’s saxophone were replaced by the infectious sounds of traditional parang which permeated the landmark kirk. From vantage points at the Santa Rosa park, mourners, including filmmaker and journalist Tracy Assing, watched the celebration unfold. Delicate poui blossoms formed a purple carpet closer to the boys’ school. The cortege was en route to God’s acre to bid their final rites to Medina. Another famous Arimian, calypsonian Aldwyn Roberts, fondly known as Lord Kitchener, was buried there.

Clutching palm fronds, members of the Carib clan decked in traditional vestments followed reverently. Their pretty faces were wreathed in smiles. Retired Spanish teacher at Arima Government Secondary School, Beryl Almarales, was spotted. She was joined by Jennifer Cassar, Antonia and Catherine Calderon, Maria Hernandez and Mary Noreiga. Elders, including Ramona Lopez and Metrina Medina, paid their final respects.

Even the menfolk such as Partners for the First Peoples, Roger Belix, donned waistcoats etched with bird figurines. As they wended their way, traditional Arima families like the Martinez clan watched the procession from their home—which was a blend of modernity and colonial architecture.

Amerindian ceremony send off
In the cool of the evening, Bharath and medicine man or shaman, Cristo Adonis, officiated at the smoke ceremony. They were assisted by her grandson Zachary Medina. Among those present were Arima Mayor Ghassan Youseph, and Arima MP Rodger Samuel. The aroma of forest incense wafted. Mourners coughed, and some retreated as the fire blazed. Under the boughs of a mango tree, neighbours espied the religious spectacle. Quizzed on the ceremony, Bharath said, “It is a smoke ritual. But it has different components to it. It is done in begging for a request from the Great Spirit. It is done in thanksgiving and at the death of someone. Depending on the ceremony, you will use different ingredients. In the case of death, we used tobacco, incense and some medicinal herbs.”

During the ceremony, Bharath said, “We prayed to the Great Spirit (Tamushi) to allow the guardians of the four directions to guide the soul of the departed to find rest and peace. It was simpler in the send off.” As custodians of the environment, Bharath said he prepared the incense from trees growing in the forest. “We use what is indigenous to the area. We get if from the gum trees in the forest.” Earlier on, in his tribute, Bharath had lamented that several traditions had died. “In the earlier days, they would have placed tools or what the person used in life. “If it was a medicinal man, they would have put herbs. If it was a hunter, they would have put his bow and arrow. They might have even put some food. But some of those traditions we don’t practice. The heavy traditions have died,” he said. After the religious formalities, traditional paranderos shook their chac chacs and strummed their guitars as they celebrated the life of a proud Arimian, who was “humble, dedicated, caring and loving.”

Santa Rosa Festival
Throughout her reign, she remained devoted to Santa Rosa. Accompanied by Father Perreira, Medina led the procession through Arima. The statue of Santa Rosa, was decked with rows of beautiful roses and a bouquet of red roses, perfected by whites, pinks and yellows. The celebrants sang hymns and chanted the Our Father. The Carib community and other participants clutched tropical blooms like anthuriums, ginger lilies and roses.

Carib strides
During her tenure, the government declared October 14 as the official day of recognition. In 2006, T&T was given the chairmanship of the Regional Council of Indigenous Peoples. She expressed gratitude to Works Minister Jack Warner, George Hadeed and Mayor Youseph for their assistance. Bharath said he regretted her passing without witnessing the land handover. In a previous interview, (August 11, 2002) Medina said: “If we get the land we will plant cassava, corn, too. “We want a place for agouti and deer to run. It will boost our heritage and culture. “We do not eat people—only wild meat like agouti, deer and tattoo,” she had joked.

About Valentina Medina
Valentina Medina lived at Wattley Street, Mt Pleasant, Arima. In 2002, she was one of many indigenous peoples celebrated by the United Nations on International Day of the World’s Indigenous People. She was born to Clemencia Hale Assing and Thompson Hale Assing at Rapsey Street in Caura. She was the wife of the late John Medina. She was the mother of Loretta, Camilus, Octave, Herbert and Bernadette. Medina grew up in Paria, a very pristine neck of the woods, in Arima. She lived and worked there. She was Carib queen for 11 years. She felt it was a “special experience to be queen of the Carib community.” She was elected based on her knowledge and history and traditions of the Carib community. She was the fifth Carib queen in the history of the Santa Rosa Carib Community.

04 May 2011

Indigenous Caribbean News Round-up: 21 April--03 May, 2011

25 April 2011

The Traditional and Ancient Medicine Law was approved this March 29 in its entirety by the plenary National Assembly. It aims to recognize, respect, protect and promote the practices and expressions of traditional medicine in all specialties, the purposes of this law are noted for promoting the use of traditional medicines based on derivatives of plants, animals and minerals or any combination thereof, in terms of quality, safety, accessibility and accountability...continue reading

21 April 2011

Position in relation to negotiations sponsored by Chavez and Santos:
We call on the Honduran people to reject any manipulation that attempts the reintegration of the Honduran state into the Organization of American States while those who have continued the coup d'etat remain in power, while repression, militarization and impunity continue to reign. Our efforts and actions should be to strengthen the struggle for the Re-foundation of the country....continue reading

The Bajan Reporter, 03 May 2011

Well known Worldwide Indigenous Rights Activist Damon Gerard Corrie (himself of maternal Guyanese Lokono-Arawak descent), is now the Caribbean representative on the Planning Committee of the 4th Indigenous Leaders Summit of the Americas; it is a three-year mandate. With the majority of votes of support coming in from every Caribbean country that harbors an Indigenous population – Corrie joins 2 Representatives from Mesoamerica, and 3 from South America on this important body; North America will decide imminently on its representatives – bringing the Planning Committee to a final membership of eight. Damon has been a firm believer and staunch advocate of the Inter-American system embodied by the Organization of American States (OAS) since he first became involved with it in the year 2000, and of the United Nations since he became involved in it in 2008....continue reading

The Bajan Reporter, 03 May 2011

I am tired of my own Arawak children and other Amerindian children in Barbadian schools (some 40 children in all) being told by mis educated or ill-informed teachers that the tribe to which they belong ‘no longer exists’ so therefore they cannot possibly be who they say they are. For the information of these ’educators’ there are almost 20,000 Arawaks STILL in Guyana, 2,000 in Suriname, about 1,000 in French Guiana, and around 200 in Venezuela to this day! Also for the record – we do NOT call ourselves ‘Arawaks‘, it is not even a word in our language, we call ourselves ‘Lokono’ which means in English ‘The People’ (Columbus nearly got it right when he wrote that the name of our tribe was ‘Lucayo’); but for the sake of familiarity I shall use the word ‘Arawak’ throughout this letter....continue reading

03 May 2011

Pre-Colonial Caribbean Indigenous Presence in North America: Evidence from Georgia, added to Alabama and Florida

Amazing new evidence of the travel, communication, and settlement of Caribbean indigenous people in North America--this time with evidence coming from an area near Atlanta, Georgia. In an article recently published in The Examiner, "Experts solve mystery of ancient stone monument near Atlanta" (11 April 2011), we read that glyphs on a granite slab found near the remains of New Manchester in Georgia have been determined to be evidence of settlement by indigenous people from Cuba or Puerto Rico who once lived in the interior of eastern North America.
"One day, long before Christopher Columbus claimed to have landed on the eastern edge of Asia, a forgotten people cut steps in the rocks leading up a steep bluff near the Chattahoochee River in the northwest section of the State of Georgia. They carved a supernatural figure on a four feet by one foot granite slab and erected it on the top of the knoll. The strange, primitive art was very different than the highly realistic stone sculptures found in the region that are known to have been created by the ancestors of Georgia’s Creek Indians.

"...In 1909 a man named W. H. Roberts was hunting wild turkeys in a hilly area next to the ruins of Manchester. After climbing the bluff over Sweetwater Creek that was known as “an Indian cemetery” because of the stone artifacts scattered on its slopes, Roberts happened to notice a granite slab laying flat on the ground. Apparently, rains had washed away the thin top soil that had concealed it for centuries.

"Most scholars, who viewed the images incised on the slab in the early 1900s, assumed it was created by Native Americans, but had no further explanation. Primitive rock art such as on the slab found by Roberts is now known as petroglyphs. There are now professionals and organizations that have developed the study of petroglyphs into a science, but a century ago such artifacts were viewed as curiosities

"Throughout the mid-20th century, the Roberts (or Sweetwater Creek) petroglyph was on display at the Rhodes Mansion on Peachtree Street in Atlanta. This landmark house was the original office of the Georgia Division of Archives and History. After the state agency moved to a large marble structure near the Capitol, the petroglyphs were put in storage. The granite slab stayed there until Sweetwater Creek State Park was created around the ruins of Manchester in the 1970s. The slab is now on display at the park and protected by a Plexiglas screen."
The inquiry as to the possibility that the rock art may have been produced by Caribbean indigenous settlers began when the The Examiner launched its national architecture and design column series on the petroglyphs of the Southern Highlands. One of the articles featured the Sweetwater Creek petroglyph and an cluster of petroglyphs on nearby Nickajack Creek. This intrigued "filmmaker and amateur archaeologist Jon Haskell of Carmel, Indiana," who was struck by the unusual appearance of the Sweetwater Creek petroglyph--"he had filmed documentaries in many parts of the Americas, but had never seen any petroglyph like the Sweetwater Creek Petroglyph in the United States."
"During the first week of April 2011, Haskell sent emails throughout North America to friends who were either archaeologists, petroglyph specialists or experts on Native American art. Most of the responses also expressed bafflement that such a strange petroglyph design would be found near Atlanta. Some respondents commented that it was similar to Ice Age cave art found in Spain and North Africa. However, because of its placement on a hilltop shrine associated with Native American artifacts, the Sweetwater Petroglyph appears to date from a much more recent epoch. 
"Stephen C. Jett is a geography professor at the University of California at Davis and a recognized scholar of the petroglyphs and pictographs of the American Southwest. His brief comment emailed back to Jon Haskell was the first interpretation in a century that assigned an ethnic identity to the Sweetwater Petroglyph. He wrote, 'It looks vaguely Caribbean to me, but that's just an impression, I am not conversant with the rock art of that region.'
"Images and descriptions of the Sweetwater Petroglyph were immediately emailed to several specialists on Caribbean rock art. The respondents sent back photographs of rock art in Cuba, Puerto Rico and Hispaniola that were the same style as the one in Georgia. One petroglyph from Puerto Rico seems to portray the very same supernatural figure. It is a “guardian spirit” whose presence warned travelers that they were entering a province or sacred area. This style of art was typically placed on stone slabs 3-5 tall, which were located on hilltops or beside major trails."
The Sweetwater Petroglyph is a stone slab 4 feet tall that was originally on a hilltop. It is now found to be "very significant evidence that Native Americans originally from Puerto Rico, Cuba or Hispaniola paddled to the Florida Peninsula; followed the Gulf Coast up to the mouth of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee River; then ulitimately settled in the vicinity of what is now Atlanta." It seems that the most likely time period for this migration dates from 1,000 to 2,000 years ago, "but the date of the carvings on the granite slab are currently unknown."

Tobacco, Corn, and the Bow and Arrow: Also from the Caribbean?

The same article also discusses the likelihood that corn and tobacco were introduced to North American Indians by Caribbean migrants:
"Archaeologists currently believe that the Caribbean Basin was settled by waves of peoples moving northward out of South America. The presence of the oldest known pottery of the Western Hemisphere in Georgia suggests that there may have also been movements of population and cultural innovations in the other direction. It is documented, though, that the agricultural villagers began island-hopping northward out of Venezuela around 500 BC and by 500 AD had occupied most islands in the Caribbean Basin. These early people grew tobacco and sweet potatoes, but not many other cultivated plants. Their presence in the Caribbean Basin coincides with the appearance of tobacco in the Southeastern United States.

"In the late 1960s archaeologists working in advance of an industrial park on the Chattahoochee River near Sweetwater Creek's outlet found three varieties of indigenous sweet potatoes growing wild. They looked like 'bushy' morning glories, but had large, edible tubers growing underground. Intensive land development since then has eliminated the wild sweet potato patches. 
"A second wave of Caribbean immigration by Natives speaking dialects of the Arawak language began around 600 AD. These immigrants are associated with the Taino People of the Caribbean Basin and the Timucua of Florida. They introduced the bow and arrow, plus advanced varieties of Indian corn to the Caribbean Basin. They were much sophisticated artisans and farmers than the first wave of immigrants. The period also marks the introduction of the bow and arrow, plus advanced varieties of corn into the Southeastern United States. By 1150 AD the second wave of Arawak immigrants had reached the Florida peninsula. About that same time, numerous towns with mounds were abandoned in northeastern Florida as was the large megapolis on the Ocmulgee River near Macon, GA, which is now known as Ocmulgee National Monument."
The Indigenous Caribbean within North America

The article concludes with a section dealing with Caribbean indigenous peoples in North America:
"It is commonly known that the Arawak-speaking Timucua occupied northeastern Florida and the southeastern tip of Georgia in the 1500s when Spain colonized the region. The public is not generally aware that there was also a small cluster of Arawak-speaking villages in the vicinity of Birmingham, AL until the mid-1700s, when they were absorbed by the Creek Indian Confederacy. The presence of what appears to be an Caribbean rock art in northern Georgia suggests that the first wave of Caribbean immigrants were pushed northward into the mainland of North America by the second wave, who were better armed with bows and arrows, and better fed by a wide range of cultivated crops. 
"In 1541 the Hernando de Soto Expedition observed an ethnic group in what is now South Carolina that had a culture very similar to the first wave of Arawak immigrants into the Caribbean. They were described as primitive hunters who went naked, did not know how to grow corn and beans, and relied on roots that they dug from the ground for nutrition. The Creek Indian guides of the expedition called this primitive people the Chalo-ke, which means bass (fish) people. They were not the same people as the Cherokees, and are last seen on a map by French cartographer Delisle, living in southeast Georgia in the early 1700s. 
"The earlier occupants of the Caribbean depended on hunting, gathering, and the digging up of wild yucca roots (cassava) or sweet potatoes for nutrition. They went almost naked. The Guanajatabeyes and Ciboney people were pushed into the western sections of Cuba and Hispaniola by the more sophisticated Taino. The Ciboney often lived in caves. They both soon became extinct after the Spanish arrived.

"The Sweetwater Petroglyph has never been scientifically dated by geologists. In order to interpret the stone more precisely, the general range of its age must be determined. There may be other stones like it hidden under the soil or forgotten in the basements of museums."
For more articles of relevance, previously published in our journal KACIKE, please see:

Figueredo, Alfred E. (2006). The Virgin Islands as an Historical Frontier between the Taínos and the Caribs. KACIKE: The Journal of Caribbean Amerindian History and Anthropology.

Seidemann, Ryan. (2006). The Bahamian Problem in Florida Archaeology: Oceanographic Perspectives on the Issue of Pre-Columbian Contact. KACIKE: The Journal of Caribbean Amerindian History and Anthropology.

Calvache, Divaldo Gutiérrez. (2006). Estilo Patana: Propuesta Para un Nuevo Estilo Ideografico en el Extrmemo Mas Oriental de Cuba. By Divaldo Gutiérrez Calvache, Rasco Fernández Ortega and Jose González Tendero. KACIKE: The Journal of Caribbean Amerindian History and Anthropology.

Files for this report have also been stored in our document collection:

02 May 2011

UNESCO Statement on Race and Racial Prejudice (1968)

1. "All men are born free and equal both in dignity and in rights". This universally proclaimed democratic principle stands in jeopardy wherever political, economic, social and cultural inequalities affect human group relations. A particularly striking obstacle to the recognition of equal dignity for all is racism. Racism continues to haunt the world. As a major social phenomenon it requires the attention of all students of the sciences of man.

2. Racism stultifies the development of those who suffer from it, perverts those who apply it, divides nations within themselves, aggravates international conflict and threatens world peace.

3. The conference of experts meeting in Paris in September 1967, agreed that racist doctrines lack any scientific basis whatsoever. It reaffirmed the propositions adopted by the international meeting held in Moscow in 1964 which was called to re-examine the biological aspects of the statements on race and racial differences issued in 1950 and 1951. In particular, it draws attention to the following points:
(a) All men living today belong to the same species and descend from the same stock.

(b) The division of the human species into "races" is partly conventional and partly arbitrary and does not imply any hierarchy whatsoever. Many anthropologists stress the importance of human variation, but believe that "racial" divisions have limited scientific interest and may even carry the risk of inviting abusive generalization.

(c) Current biological knowledge does not permit us to impute cultural achievements to differences in genetic potential. Differences in the achievements of different peoples should be attributed solely to their cultural history. The peoples of the world today appear to possess equal biological potentialities for attaining any level of civilization. Racism grossly falsifies the knowledge of human biology.
4. The human problems arising from so-called "race" relations are social in origin rather than biological. A basic problem is racism, namely, anti-social beliefs and acts which are based on the fallacy that discriminatory inter-group relations are justifiable on biological grounds.

5. Groups commonly evaluate their characteristics in comparison with others. Racism falsely claims that there is a scientific basis for arranging groups hierarchically in terms of psychological and cultural characteristics that are immutable and innate. In this way it seeks to make existing differences appear inviolable as a means of permanently maintaining current relations between groups.

6. Faced with the exposure of the falsity of its biological doctrines, racism finds ever new stratagems for justifying the inequality of groups. It points to the fact that groups do not intermarry, a fact which follows, in part, from the divisions created by racism. It uses this fact to argue the thesis that this absence of intermarriage derives from differences of a biological order. Whenever it fails in its attempts to prove that the source of group differences lies in the biological field, it falls back upon justifications in terms of divine purpose, cultural differences, disparity of educational standards or some other doctrine which would serve to mask its continued racist beliefs. Thus, many of the problems which racism presents in the world today do not arise merely from its open manifestations, but from the activities of those who discriminate on racial grounds but are unwilling to acknowledge it.

7. Racism has historical roots. It has not been a universal phenomenon. Many contemporary societies and cultures show little trace of it. It was not evident for long periods in world history. Many forms of racism have arisen out of the conditions of conquest--as exemplified in the case of Indians in the New World--out of the justification of Negro slavery and its aftermath of racial inequality in the West, and out of the colonial relationship. Among other examples is that of anti-semitism, which has played a particular role in history, with Jews being the chosen scapegoat to take the blame for problems and crises met by many societies.

8. The anti-colonial revolution of the Twentieth century has opened up new possibilities for eliminating the scourge of racism. In some formerly dependent countries, people formerly classified as inferior have for the first time obtained full political rights. Moreover, the participation of formerly dependent nations in international organizations in terms of equality has done much to undermine racism.

9. There are, however, some instances in certain societies in which groups, victims of racialistic practices, have themselves applied doctrines with racist implications in their struggle for freedom. Such an attitude is a secondary phenomenon, a reaction stemming from men's search for an identity which prior racist theory and racialistic practices denied them. None the less, the new forms of racist ideology, resulting from this prior exploitation, have no justification in biology. They are a product of a political struggle and have no scientific foundation.

10. In order to undermine racism it is not sufficient that biologists should expose its fallacies. It is also necessary that psychologists and sociologists should demonstrate its causes. The social structure is always an important factor. However, within the same social structure, there may be great individual variation in racialistic behaviour, associated with the personality of the individuals and their personal circumstances.

11. The committee of experts agreed on the following conclusions about the social causes of race prejudice:
(a) Social and economic causes of racial prejudice are particularly observed in settler societies wherein are found conditions of great disparity of power and property, in certain urban areas where there have emerged ghettoes in which individuals are deprived of equal access to employment, housing, political participation, education, and the administration of justice, and in many societies where social and economic tasks which are deemed to be contrary to the ethics or beneath the dignity of its members are assigned to a group different origins who are derided, blamed, and punished for taking on these tasks.

(b) Individuals with certain personality troubles may be particularly inclined to adopt and manifest racial prejudices. Small groups, associations, and social movements of a certain kind sometimes preserve and transmit racial prejudices. The foundations of the prejudices lie, however, in the economic and social system of a society.

(c) Racism tends to be cumulative. Discrimination deprives a group of equal treatment and presents that group as a problem. The group then tends to be blamed for its own condition, leading to further elaboration of racist theory.
12. The major techniques for coping with racism involve changing those social situations which give rise to prejudice, preventing the prejudiced from acting in accordance with their beliefs, and combating the false beliefs themselves.

13. It is recognized that the basically important changes in the social structure that may lead to the elimination of racial prejudice may require decisions of a political nature. It is also recognized, however, that certain agencies of enlightenment, such as education and other means of social and economic advancement, mass media, and law can be immediately and effectively mobilized for the elimination of racial prejudice.

14. The school and other instruments for social and economic progress can be one of the most effective agents for the achievement of broadened understanding and the fulfilment of the potentialities of man. They can equally much be used for the perpetuation of discrimination and inequality. It is therefore essential that the resources for education and for social and economic action of all nations be employed in two ways:
(i) The schools should ensure that their curricula contain scientific understandings about race and human unity, and that invidious distinctions about peoples are not made in texts and classrooms.

(ii) (a) Because the skills to be gained in formal and vocational education become increasingly important with the processes of technological development, the resources of the schools and other resources should be fully available to all parts of the population with neither restriction nor discrimination.

(b) Furthermore, in cases where, for historical reasons, certain groups have a lower average education and economic standing, it is the responsibility of the society to take corrective measures. These measures should ensure, so far as possible, that the limitations of poor environments are not passed on to the children. In view of the importance of teachers in any educational programme, special attention should be given to their training. Teachers should be made conscious of the degree to which they reflect the prejudices which may be current in their society. They should be encouraged to avoid these prejudices.
15. Governmental units and other organizations concerned should give special attention to improving the housing situations and work opportunities available to victims of racism. This will not only counteract the effects of racism, but in itself can be a positive way of modifying racist attitudes and behaviour.

16. The media of mass communication are increasingly important in promoting knowledge and understanding, but their exact potentiality is not fully known. Continuing research into the social utilization of the media is needed in order to assess their influence in relation to formation of attitudes and behavioural patterns in the field of race prejudice and race discrimination. Because the mass media reach vast numbers of people at different educational and social levels, their role in encouraging or combating, race prejudice can be crucial. Those who work in these media should maintain a positive approach to the promotion of understanding between groups and populations. Representation of peoples in stereotypes and holding them up to ridicule should be avoided. Attachment to news reports of racial designations which are not germane to the accounts should also be avoided.

17. Law is among the most important means of ensuring equality between individuals and one of the most effective means of fighting racism. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 10 December 1948 and the related international agreements and conventions which have taken effect subsequently can contribute effectively, on both the national and international level, to the fight gain st any injustice of racist origin. National legislation is a means of effectively outlawing racist propaganda and acts based upon racial discrimination. Moreover, the policy expressed in such legislation must bind not only the courts and judges charged with its enforcement, but also all agencies of government of whatever level or whatever character. It is not claimed that legislation can immediately eliminate prejudice. Nevertheless, by being a means of protecting the victims of acts based upon prejudice, and by setting a moral example backed by the dignity of the courts, it can, in the long run, even change attitudes.

18. Ethnic groups which represent the object of some form of discrimination are sometimes accepted and tolerated by dominating groups at the cost of their having to abandon completely their cultural identity. It should be stressed that the effort of these ethnic groups to preserve their cultural values should be encouraged. They will thus be better able to contribute to the enrichment of the total culture of humanity.

19. Racial prejudice and discrimination in the world today arise from historical and social phenomena and falsely claim the sanction of science. It is, therefore, the responsibility of all biological and social scientists, philosophers, and others working in related disciplines, to ensure that the results of their research are not misused by those who wish to propagate racial prejudice and encourage discrimination.

This statement was unanimously adopted at the conclusion of a meeting of experts on race and racial prejudice which was held at Unesco House, Paris, from 18 to 26 September 1967. The experts attending the meeting were:

Dr. Muddathir Abdel Rahim, University of Khartoum, Sudan

Professor Georges Balandier, Universite de Paris, France

Professor Celio de Oliveira Borja, University of Guanabara, Brazil

Professor Lloyd Braithwaite, University of the West Indies, Jamaica

Professor Leonard Broom, University of Texas, United States of America

Professor G. F. Debetz, Institute of Ethnography, Moscow, Union of Soviet
Socialist Republics

Professor J. Djardjevic, University of Belgrade, Yugoslavia

Dean Clarence Clyde Ferguson, Howard University, United States of America

Dr. Dharam P. Ghai, University College, Kenya

Dr. Louis Guttman, Hebrew University, Israel

Professor Jean Hiernaux, Universite libre de Bruxelles, Belgium

Professor A. Kloskowska, University of Lodz, Poland

Judge Kkba M'Baye, President of the Supreme Court, Senegal

Professor John Rex, University of Durham, United Kingdom

Professor Mariano R. Solveira, Universidad de la Havana, Cuba

Professor Hisashi Suzuki, University of Tokyo, Japan

Dr. Romila Thapar, University of Delhi, India

Professor C. H. Waddington, University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom

01 May 2011

Ricardo Bharath on the Carib Queen, Land, Survival

[Senator Pennelope Beckles presented the eulogy at the late Santa Rosa Carib queen Valentina Medina’s funeral.]

President of the Carib Community Ricardo Bharath regrets that the late Carib queen Valentina Medina was not in a position to attend the handing-over ceremony of the land promised to the Carib community at Blanchisseuse Old Road, Arima. He also lamented that the community has not made more strides in the country because of a community leadership crisis since they were viewed as a minority group. Medina served the Santa Rosa Carib community in her capacity as queen for 11 years until her death from cancer recently. Bharath made the comment during a celebration of thanksgiving for her life at Santa Rosa RC Church, Arima, on Friday last. Among those in attendance at the church service were acting Prime Minister Winston Dookeran, Arima MP Rodger Samuel, Arima Mayor Ghassan Youseph and Senator Pennelope Beckles who offered the eulogy. Msgr Christian Pereira was chief celebrant.

Bharath said: “There is some disappointment she was never able to see the actual handover of the land. We are not asking for a gift.” Interviewed on Wednesday, Bharath said: “If only she could have seen the model village, that would have contributed to the sustenance of the community. “I am saddened by her passing and disappointed she never had that opportunity.” Bharath indicated the site would offer craft, a museum with indigenous forms of agriculture and offer information on cassava (manioc) processing. “It would be a living village. Many students would be able to get a hands-on experience,” he said. Bharath added: “I feel the government needs to step up but somehow things are moving too slow. Something should be done for the last remnant of the first peoples.” Quizzed on the elevation of a new queen, Bharath said: “After the burial (last Friday) a meeting would be called and her successor named.”


Bharath said before the community came under the jurisdiction of the Catholic Church, they were represented by a chief. “But being placed in a Catholic Mission, they came under the control of the priest.” He lamented culture and traditions have begun to die. Meanwhile, women are emerging with leadership qualities. “Santa Rosa Festival was named for the first Carib queen.” Medina was the fifth Carib queen, from 1785, in what was known as the Santa Rosa Mission. Making reference to the community being viewed as a minority, Bharath added: “We are seen as incapable of making decisions. The change is gradual.” He called for mutual respect so they could move forward.

Colonialism and the New World Order

Russell Means of the Republic of Lakota explains how what the world knows as U.S. imperialism was first developed against American Indians, and colonialism perfected on American Indian reservations...and it continues.

Carib Identity, Racial Politics, & the Problem of Belonging

Carib Identity, Racial Politics, and the Problem of Belonging

by Maximilian C. Forte
Department of Sociology & Anthropology
Concordia University
April 2011

[For presentation at the conference, “Our Legacy: Indigenous-African Relations Across the Americas,” organized by the Race, Ethnicity and Indigeneity Program and the Centre for Feminist Research, York University, Toronto, Canada, 29 April-01 May 2011. The version that follows was intended for oral presentation.]

The resilience of Carib identity, in places such as Trinidad & Tobago, is something remarkable, not to mention the renewal, resurgence, and social revalidation of this identity. This resilience is remarkable not only when one considers a consistent pattern of European colonial military onslaughts, enslavement, expropriation of lands, and social marginalization, but also the cultural stigma historically attached to Caribness, such that even surviving Caribs, and persons with indigenous ancestry, often sought refuge in other identities, and some still do. Even if left at this the situation is clearly a historically complex one. What renders matters even more complex is the pattern of racial thinking imposed by European colonizers through all sorts of residential and labour segregations and legislation, that would control and delimit who was deemed to be indigenous. The introduction of foreign labour from Africa, the French Caribbean, and Asia, added to the administration of identities and the “rights” which the colonial administrations would allot to them, added to administrators' calculations of different racial valuations, with the aim of shoring up colonial dominance. Afterward, the rise of nationalism, independence, and the emergence of party politics organized along an ethnic divide between Trinidadians of East Indian and African descent, further cemented racial thinking. Then the recent, positive validation of Carib identity and history by leading elements of the wider society has taken place while leaving unresolved the question of where Caribs fit in within the large scheme of racialized divisions between the country’s two leading groups, East Indians and Africans. Thus “belonging” becomes a problematic issue, and here I will focus on the racialization of Caribness in order to highlight how Caribs “belong” to “the nation,” as well as the problem of who gets to be defined as Carib.

Race: A Non-Indigenous System of Categorization

In thinking about race and Caribness, I should probably start by talking about how racial thinking about Caribness emerged in the first place, since such thinking is not itself rooted in the indigenous cultures of the Caribbean. Ethnohistorians have already indicated the tendency of island Caribs to acquire European and African captives from Puerto Rico and other territories, and amalgamating them into their society, culturally adopting and assimilating them. By some accounts, the Caribs of early sixteenth-century Dominica were already to some extent a cosmopolitan mixture of peoples, yet all assembled under the label of Carib and all engaged in the lifeways associated with island aboriginals. From this early point, in other words, there is no evidence to suggest that race, and racial purity, were either indigenous concerns or part of a philosophy rooted in indigenous culture. This is not suggest that Caribs could or would not find various ways to exclude others; rather, it is that they did not exclude others on a basis that we could in any way identify as racial. In the case of Trinidad specifically (Tobago largely lies beyond the scope of my work, and remained a separate colony until the late 1800s), we see a similar pattern of intercultural and interethnic amalgamation, between long-time Spanish settlers and indigenous inhabitants, in an underdeveloped colony long neglected by Spain. While there is no doubt that the indigenous population acquired some of the cultural practices and beliefs of their Spanish cohabitants, what is most often remarked upon is the housing, dress, and material sustenance of the Spanish settlers, as barely distinguishable from that of the aboriginals. This Spanish-indigenous fusion became formed to the extent that even today, many of those who could be called Carib, and who in different situations identify themselves as Carib, go by the ethnic label of “Spanish” or “Payol” (from Español). By the end of the Spanish colonial regime at the end of the 1700s, with Britain's occupation of Trinidad, and the arrival of French Caribbean planters and their slaves, ideas of racial hierarchy, exclusion, and concerns with purity then came to the fore. 

The Colonial Administration of Race

Under British domination in the nineteenth century, and administering a territory remade into one that was predominantly an African slave colony, quickly followed by emancipation and the importation of indentured labourers primarily from India, we clearly see in government records, and in the writings of the local elites that produced the first historical and social commentaries on the island, a definite concern with assigning particular “kinds” of people—racial kinds—to particular commercial crops, in particular zones of the island, and under very different labour regimes. By this time, most of the surviving indigenous communities had been relocated and confined to missions run by the Catholic Church. Africans and then Indians were assigned to the production of sugar, while aboriginals were engaged in the cultivation of cocoa, coffee, and root crops (primarily for local consumption). For the first four decades of British rule, Africans were enslaved. Amerindians on the other hand were free labour. Both were confined populations: Africans confined on sugar estates, and Amerindians confined to missions. After the late 1830s, Africans moved off the plantations and formed the basis for an urban work force. East Indians who replaced Africans were also assigned to sugar estates in south and central Trinidad, and as indentured labourers their labour was coerced—until the end of their indenture contracts, when most opted to remain in Trinidad and acquired plots of land as part of their contract. Yet another group of free labourers came with a large influx of Venezuelan mestizo and Amerindians from the 1870s to the 1920s, who blended in with local Amerindians, and local mestizos (the so-called Spanish people of northwestern Trinidad)--and who by that time had been divested of their collectively-owned mission lands.

There were thus specific colonial conditions under which “Carib” was allowed to exist, for a time: to Caribness were attached rights to collective, inalienable land; nominally free labour; residential exclusivity; and, of course, the prospect of Christian redemption. Under colonial administration, these rights were relatively unique, and second only to those of the small white population. In this crucible, where the British ranked and scaled peoples according to their material rights and economic obligations, race became the favourite way to normalize and naturalize, and to ideologize identity.

Colonial Exclusions: Purity and Liberty, Land and Labour

Under the colonial regime, who got what was determined according to a finely graded scale of racial identity. Those who were white, and closest to being white, could expect property rights and ownership of their own labour, unlike African slaves, and unlike indentured East Indians. The “inferior peoples” were lower—as in subjugated and subordinated—in material terms, and kept that way for as long as practical, with the added injury of ideologizing their condition as one inherent to their natural biological properties. Keeping the races “pure,” thereby more effectively and efficiently administering who got what, was a paramount concern among the white ruling class. With white purity came white liberty. Obscurity (i.e. “mixture”) meant a decline into increasing “inferiority,” until a perverse new “purity” was designated: blackness and utter dispossession. No wonder then women, as gatekeepers to the next generations of offspring, became so critical to racial theorists and colonial legislators.

When it became desirable to dispossess the Amerindians of lands that were theirs, and were inalienable, the colonial project became one of defining them out of existence, so that their lands could be put up for sale. No purity meant no Amerindians which meant no Amerindian lands. Residence in the Mission of Santa Rosa in Arima was determined by race: mixed-race offspring were no longer bound to the mission and could not in the future lay any claim to the mission lands. It mattered not that they were raised by Amerindian mothers, and may have identified themselves as Amerindian, what mattered was their “racial mixture.”

From this point, writers began to produce various theories/myths of Amerindian extinction in Trinidad, that worked to bolster and justify the dominant order based on expropriating collective lands, further private property ownership, and realigning northwestern Trinidad with the increased demand in the world market for cocoa. As their land became more valued by private interests supported by the state, and with increased labour competition from new influxes of immigrant labour, smudging the Amerindian out of existence became opportune.

One of the dominant myths of extinction, wrapped in terms of the then dominant evolutionism, had to do with extinction via miscegenation, a purely racial argument. No “pure” Amerindian equals no Amerindian. One of my favourite quotes in this regard comes from an historiographic text published in 1858 with a lot of material about Trinidad’s aboriginal population (specifically: De Verteuil, L. A. A. 1858. Trinidad: Its Geography, Natural Resources, Administration, Present Condition, and Prospects. London: Ward & Lock, p. 172):
“At present there cannot be above 200 or 300 Indians in the colony, so that the aborigines may be said to be almost extinct….finally sunk under the ascendancy of a more intelligent race….but I also coincide in opinion with some judicious observers, who trace the approximate extinction of those tribes to the marked presence manifested by the Indian women towards the negroes and the whites, by whome they were kindly treated, whilst they were regarded by their husbands, of kindred race, more as slaves and beasts of burden, than as equals or companions. As a consequence of those connections, there exists at present, in the colony, a certain number of individuals of Indian descent, but of mixed blood.”
Mixed blood. Approximate extinction. The liberation of their women. The preference for men of other races. There it is, neat and simple, all in one mythological package.

The Rule of Race: National Independence and Party Politics

With Trinidad's achievement of self-rule in 1956, and eventual independence in 1962, the country witnessed the organization of political support along ethnic lines, with two parties traditionally vying for power, one dominated by urban African-descended Trinidadians, and the other by more rural, East Indian-descended Trinidadians, locked for decades now in a virtual Cold War.

Long in power, the African dominated People's National Movement (PNM) cultivated patron-client relationships to ensure electoral support, and one of its clients was the Santa Rosa Carib Community in Arima, which it pushed toward formal incorporation and official recognition beginning in the mid-1970s. Members of the Carib community not only live in close proximity with Afro-Trinidadians, with Arima long a bastion of support for the PNM, but have also intermarried with them. This does not mean to say that one can never hear stigmatizing statements against Africans from members of the community, but then that would be true in an Afro-Trinidadian community as well. Those that seem most alien to members of the Carib community, especially the older generation, are East Indians—one going as far as scornfully referring to East Indians as “that other nation,” a strong statement which I had not before encountered in my time in Trinidad. Nonetheless, members of the Carib community have also intermarried with persons of East Indian descent.

To some extent, at least for some members of the older generation of Caribs (those over 50 years of age), “racial mixture” is a problem when it comes to asserting an identity as Carib. Commonly, they are forced to answer what is virtually an accusation, that they are not “pure.” For some, they take on the problem and accept its terms, repeating what are now the official rules of the society—the propaganda about racial purity—even while their everyday customary practice runs counter to the rules. What remains unsettled is Carib as a cultural identity, not a racial one, and it is extremely difficult to convince a Trinidadian audience that culture is not something that is “in the blood” and can be seen on one's face.

What Makes a Carib?

For most members of the older generation, a Carib is someone with proven ancestry to the Amerindians of Arima. Kinship matters foremost. Caribs are those you know as Carib, have always known to be Carib, and who were referred to by others as Carib. This seems relatively simple and unproblematic, except that it covers over the routine exclusions of those who were “too dark” to be considered “real” Caribs. It is still not uncommon to hear members of the community refer to someone, casually and informally, as a “true” or “pure” Carib, based entirely on that person's appearance. The concept of a “Black Carib” is a novel innovation for Trinidad, even if in St. Vincent it dates to the 1700s, and even though some members have Vincentian Carib ancestry.

One of the challenges of identity and belonging, taken up with greater vigor by the Carib community, is to realign Caribness with the practice, beliefs, and lifeways that mark indigenous belonging. This is a big challenge to the dominant way of understanding identity, one that may contribute to efforts elsewhere in the society to overcome race by transcending it. While some members of the community told me that a Carib is someone with a specific genealogy, others also held that Carib is something one feels, a sense of being rooted here, or being totally at home in the nation's forests, mountains, rivers, and beaches—where there is no other place that beckons. 

Everyone Has Some Carib in Them

Rather than simply leave things at “Caribs are mixed with,” say, Africans, spokespersons for the Carib community have tried to take their discourse further, by flipping the direction of the narrative of mixture. Capitalizing on an institutionalized discourse of national identity, national belonging, and official depictions of Trinidad as a mixed, cosmopolitan, or creolized society, Carib spokespersons will not deny that they are an amalgam of the wider society's multiethnic influences—instead, they will assert that there is, as a result, “some Carib blood” in everyone else. The late Elma Reyes, a research and public relations officer for the Santa Rosa Carib Community wrote an extensive newspaper article that argued this very point. Carib Breweries, which appropriated the name of the people, and for a while even funded the Carib community, subsequently used this phrase as a marketing slogan. Culture is still objectified as race, as a biological essence, but at least the diminishing zone of exclusion around Carib identity is disrupted. Rather than argue in terms of “decline,” now the argument is about diffusion and dissemination, about the rural lifeways of many Trinidadians, East Indians and Africans, having been shaped and influenced by those of the Caribs, and thus perpetuated. Rather than extinction via miscegenation, this is survival via miscegenation. The problem remains one of arresting common, everyday, and taken for granted practices, and reassigning a Carib label to them.


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