Friday, October 20, 2006

Debating Race As If It Mattered

An online forum, ostensibly devoted to the topic of US racialism, found several of its pages being turned over to a lively, and sometimes instructive, series of exchanges on the "true" identity of Belize's Garifuna, that is, whether or not they are "actually" African more than Carib. Genetics then acquires a prominent place, thereby reducing culture to a matter of biology. What is lost as a result is any real discussion of how much of the Caribbean region's Amerindian culture has been carried forward by the Garifuna. As far as I see, how the Garifuna supposedly "look" is neither interesting nor relevant, nor a settled issue for that matter. If you are curious, have a look at:

Words of Wisdom from Guanaguanare

An anonymous blogger who goes by the name of Guanaguanare (the laughing gull), a person/bird who clearly is possessed of a great love for his/her island of Trinidad, has once again shared some wisdom with the rest of us in a recent posting that tries to explain the identity of Guanaguanare and in the process produces an Amerindian vision of survival, reconstitution and healing. Simple words really, but clearly heartfelt and very effective.

He/she/the gull writes the following:

"Why the Laughing Gull?
Guanaguanare, the happy, non-threatening seagull hovers over this blog. This seagull symbolises something of the resilient though besieged natural spirit of the islands and many of its aboriginal presence...a retiring, gentler spirit that does not seek heavy baggage and leaves a light footprint. The name Guanaguanare is an Amerindian word for the laughing gull and you probably know that it was also used by the Amerindian cacique - Cacique Guanaguanare, who gave the Spanish the land on which they were to establish San Jose de Oruna or St. Joseph, the first capital of Trinidad.

resources on Island Carib language, I created the site's rallying call:

Ahakutiwa, al√ęlekatiwa, akuyawatiwa!
We awake, we laugh, we return!

It is meant to give hope to all people who are mourning the loss of a better quality of life. On another level, it is also addresses people with Amerindian ancestry who do and do not publicly identify with this connection. We are still here, sleeping maybe, but not extinct.

Apart from its use to disprove the fact of a continuing Amerindian presence among us and in our veins, the extinction myth is also used to suppress so many other possibilities, to nip life itself in the bud. Someone decided that Hope is Extinct and people are despairing because they are beginning to believe the myths, that human kindness is dead, that the option of a simpler, less punishing lifestyle is a lost cause, that Trinidad and Tobago is going down the tubes, that law breakers and inconvenient human foetuses are better off dead, that all efforts to reverse the tailspin will amount to nothing.

The site belongs to everyone, all the spirits who fly through to contemplate or to leave their contributions to this conversation about Trinidad and Tobago. Even if you do not submit works, please visit to read and to leave your comments.

Looking forward to meeting you! Many blessings!

Mweh ka allay!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A Lokono Prayer in Trinidad

The following is the original and translated text of a prayer in use in the Santa Rosa Carib Community in Arima, Trinidad. Some will have already heard another version in a previous audio file posted on this site (click here to open/download), being read by Ricardo Bharath. At a recent Interfaith Thanksgiving Service for the former President of the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago, Justice Noor M. Hassanali (1918-2006), held on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2006, in Queen's Hall, Port of Spain, the shaman of the Carib community, Cristo Adonis, was invited to be the first to offer his prayer. In the program for the event, Adonis preceded an Orisha representative (Pearl Entou Springer), who was then followed by Fr. Clyde Harvey (Roman Catholic--see this previous post). So much for the lengthy introduction, now let's get to the prayer:

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

More than likely, elements that suggest Christian influence, are not accidental. The prayer was provided by Toshau (Chief) Neville Goveia from a former mission in Guyana, and who has stayed as a guest of the Carib Community in Arima a few times in recent years, including as recently as last month.

I was very happy to see Uncle Neville again, and he resumed our past conversations about kanaima in Guyana as if four years had not passed since we last conversed. Uncle Neville is now 74 and is still going strong. I wish him another 74 years, at least. Below is a photograph of Neville Goveia walking and talking with Cristo Adonis during the 2002 Santa Rosa Festival.

Thus here the reader can "see" what some Arima Caribs refer to as "cultural interchange" in actual practice. This is what I have been most interested in recently--the more intimate, direct and interpersonal exchanges between members of neighbouring indigenous communities in the region, with a lot less emphasis (unlike my work in the past) on leaders gathering among other social and political elites and pitching themselves to those elites.

Haitian Arawak Movement

I was very excited to receive the following message today:

"I am very happy that this side of the history of the Dominican Republic [in a special issue in the journal KACIKE] had been brought to light and I hope that the same thing could be done for Haiti. I am a mixed-blooded Arawak from Haiti and I'd like to take this opportunity to let the world know that we, the Indians of Haiti, were never extinct and we are very proud of our indigenous heritage. I hope that our brothers and sisters in DR understand that our language may be different but we are the same people. Anyone who wishes to learn more about the Haitian Arawak people or speak to us can visit us at:
Long live the Arawak/Taino people!
Guanahata Ben Emmanuel"

Indeed, I had a chance to visit the website of the Haitian Arawak Movement, and I think a great many people will find it to be appealing, not just visually, but also in terms of some content that helps to fill in a very large gap in public consciousness. It never made sense to me that Taino cultural survival would somehow stop at the border with Haiti, as if that relatively novel and arbitrary post-conquest creation corresponded with indigenous realities. Incidentally, I am not suggesting that anyone has made this argument, but the focus on Taino survival in Hispaniola has, to date, tended to focus on the Dominican side, and not because of any sinister conspiracy. I would like to see more dicussion perhaps as to why there has been this Haitian absence from discussions of indigenous cultural survival, aside from some of the very engaging work produced by Maya Deren (Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti). I look forward to hearing more from Ben Emmanuel.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Australian Aboriginals Win Claim to Perth

For those of you who did not read this news when it was announced in the international media about three weeks ago, the Noongar Aboriginal people of Western Australia were affirmed as holding title to a substantial part of Western Australia, including the city of Perth. You can read the actual case of Bennell v. State of Western Australia (2006) FCA 1243 at:

For more news coverage from Australia concerning this landmark claim, see:


"Australian PM Concerned Over Perth Native Title Claim" at:

Call for Pre-Columbian Specialists

From: "Dr. H. Micheal Tarver"
Date: October 3, 2006


I am writing on behalf of ABC-CLIO, the leader in history reference publishing. We are currently working on an ambitious twenty-one volume Encyclopedia of World History, and are in need of Pre-Columbian specialists to write some critical entries. If you are interested, please contact me at your earliest convenience.

Arrangements can be made to translate essays (500 to 1000 words) into English.

With best regards,

Micheal Tarver
Editor, Era 8

Dr. H. Micheal Tarver
Department Head -
Social Sciences and Philosophy
Arkansas Tech University
Witherspoon 254
407 West Q Street
Russellville, AR 72801-2222

Tel: 479.968.0265
Fax: 479.858.6452

Caledonia, Ontario: Beware the Big Bad Indian

Several months ago I watched a CBC News television report of a protest by non-Native residents of Caledonia, Ontario, where Six Nations protesters have reclaimed land that they insist, and eagerly demonstrate, was illegally usurped. In that report, a young blonde woman, veins bulging on her throat, rose over the other non-Native protesters to scream that the Natives were "terrorists" and that her children were afraid whenever they drove past the Natives.

The immediate question that came to mind was: "Lady, what kind of racist rubbish are you teaching your children?" Why are three Mohawks carrying placards the new definition of terrorism now? Is it the old prejudice that when Natives gather "trouble's a brewin' "?

Such gratuitous prejudice did not end with one speaker, of course, after all this is "Canada" and fools roam in herds over our vast open spaces. Once again, the CBC reports the following in its
latest article from the scene: "VanSickle, who said her elementary-school children are afraid to be home alone, also took aim at Prime Minister Stephen Harper for engaging in negotiations with the Six Nations while Caledonia is 'held hostage.' " Afraid to be home alone? As a parent, what has she done to assuage what hopefully is only the irrational fear of a child...or has this irrational fear been taught to the children by the mother? Held "hostage"? Why are such images, accusations and bogey men dredged up in Canada whenever protesters lack the deathly pallor that has been associated with "civilization"? I suppose that I have just answered my own question.

The question that does remain for me is this: how can one live as a "Canadian" citizen without feeling a deep sense of shame and anger over the obvious failure of our school system to raise our compatriots from the gutters of nineteenth-century European racism? One possible answer, for some anyway, has been to pretend that Canadians are a fundamentally just and even handed people, "unlike Americans." This has been a useful lie some of us have told ourselves for some years now, using George Bush as a convenient foil. That lie had to wear off, as soon as we woke up to realize that we too have secret detentions, that Muslims are targeted for surveillance and abuse in the streets, that our newspapers have frontpage stories linking immigration with terror plots, and that our troops are fighting a pointless dirty war in Afghanistan.

I admit that I have been much more polemical in my writings than in the past on this blog. What has not changed is my belief that the way "Canada" acts toward indigenous peoples is symptomatic of a much larger web of domestic and international social relations and cultural politics that remain fundamentally colonial in nature.