Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Caribs and Arawaks: An Indigenous Story

The University of Trinidad and Tobago is hosting a presentation with this title on June 14th at the National Library in Port of Spain.

Newly appointed Senior Research Fellow of UTT's First Peoples Project, Peter Harris is the main speaker.

The advertising for the presentation reads:

We all know the schoolbook story of the warlike Carib who conquered the peaceful Arawak, ate the men, and married the women. It came from a single source, the political elite of Dominica in the 1640s. How true is this story? It is not good research to base history on a single source. Still worse to use information from a political elite. We all know a political elite is less concerned with historical accuracy than with staying in power. Research shows a more complicated situation. Six indigenous peoples from three language families are recorded in Tobago in 1758. Before this date the ethnic situation in Tobago is unclear, as two groups are called the same name by both the indigenous peoples and the Spanish. History records inflows of four more ethnic groups in the 18-19C. First I discuss a widespread mental framework of indigenous geography. Then I report some highlights for each indigenous people, as it passes through different phases of its history: eg European contact, Limited settlement, Control through missionaries, Marginalization, and Cultural rebirth. The old ethnic groups are more or less relevant today. But there are numerous "People of Indigenous Descent" in the Caribbean. And they want recognition of their cultural identity.

Harris' development as an archeologist has been largely local. In 1970 he made a sample excavation at the Banwari site and the following year he joined the International Association for Caribbean Archaeology. He has worked closely with Arie Boomert.

The University of Trinidad and Tobago is part of the PNM government's 20/20 Vision. The main campus is meant to be situated at Wallerfield but is some way from completion. The University's focus seems to lean more on the side of industry, namely fuel technologies but Harris is part of the Research Academy at UTT for Arts, Letters, Culture and Public Affairs.


Maximilian C. Forte said...

I was very surprised to learn that Peter Harris believes that the story of Carib cannibalism originated in Dominica in the 1640s. He must know that the first recorded allegations/depictions of Caribs as mythical man eaters first emerged in the journal of Christopher Columbus, almost 150 years earlier, and not in Dominica. This leads me to wonder if he is trying to make some other argument, while leaving out some vital, intermediate logical steps. Otherwise, as it stands, the statement is factually erroneous.

Anonymous said...

Logically, then, Johnny Depp is a cannibal.