05
Sep
06

Letter from Cristo Adonis (Carib, Trinidad)

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

In his Historical Sketches of Trinidad and Tobago, K.S. Wise noted in 1934:

“No one can live long in Trinidad without being told that Iere was the aboriginal Indian name for the island … so much so that this name has become part of the traditional history of Trinidad and has been adopted as a place name.”

Wise also wrote:

“Caribs were an intractable and warlike people; they were proud and dominating and preferred death to subjection. Throughout history the Caribs have always been indomitable and implacable opponents of all invaders. The early Conquistadors found in the Caribs valiant and worthy opponents, and only too often the Spaniards suffered disastrous defeats.”

The Amerindian thus bestows on the nation a sense of antiquity and a sense of occupation of the territory that is Trinidad. – Maximilian Forte, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Concordia University. Author, Ruins of Absence, Presence of Caribs

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

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

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

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

Identity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cristo Adonis

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