Tuesday, March 13, 2007

UNESCO, UWI, Preserving Caribbean Indigenous Languages

UNESCO supports Caribbean indigenous and endangered languages portal

07-11-2006 (Kingston)

UNESCO and University of West Indies Language Unit launch the first authoritative website on Caribbean Indigenous and Endangered Languages (CIEL). The website showcases and promotes the preservation of over 20 indigenous languages in the region.

Caribbean indigenous languages and their cultures were produced over thousands of years. In the 500 years since the arrival of Europeans, most of these languages and cultures have either disappeared or are seriously endangered.

According to Hubert Devonish, Professor of Languages at the University of the West Indies, “these languages must be preserved if we are to safeguard a significant part of the heritage of mankind. We would not just be preserving things past but rather, we would be maintaining bodies of knowledge, technology and beliefs which can be useful to mankind in the present and the future.”

Hubert Devonish insists on and ensures that his team employs scientific approaches in the collection of data relating to these indigenous languages, making the portal truly authoritative.

UNESCO is now exploring Phase 2 of the project along the lines of:

a) additional language data collection;

b) language documentation through the production and digital storage of the material collected;

c) development of webpages within the CIEL website especially designed for use by school children and members of the communities involved;

d) production of books of stories and cultural information bilingually, in indigenous languages and English, supported by audio and video materials.


Sunday, March 11, 2007

Does Arima Matter?

Carib Community or Indigenous People?
Chief Ricardo Bharath Hernandez, Oct. 14, 2006In connection with the previous post about the Government of Trinidad and Tobago's purported acts of "recognition," I would like to draw readers' attention to an article posted in Newsday titled, "Carib descendants ponder another holiday" (Sunday, Oct. 15, 2006). The article, which tells us that Ricardo Bharath Hernandez called on Government to show more "meaningful recognition to the indigenous people," unwittingly confuses two separate issues when it adds that, "MP for the area, Pennelope Beckles said Cabinet has already appointed a committee to look into the needs of the group." I am not necessarily blaming the author of the piece here since it may simply be a case of directly quoting what was said at the event. Trinidad's "indigenous people," and the group known as the Santa Rosa Carib Community (SRCC) are two distinct entities, the former containing the latter. It is clear that Ricardo Bharath Hernandez was, however, speaking solely of the Carib Community when he said, "the Carib community will continue to struggle for meaningful recognition," and that maybe the author of the article is the source of the confusion.

Extinction by Localization
The SRCC is a formally constituted group; it cannot be equated with nor stand for all persons of indigenous descent in Trinidad, and to my knowledge its leadership has never made such a claim. Yet, typically we find in most Trinidadian publications--whether these be locally self-published books and pamphlets, tourist brochures, Trinidadian websites, newspaper articles, and school texts--that Arima is routinely hailed as the "home of the Caribs," or the home of the last remaining Caribs.

This form of localized recognition, besides being preposterous in ethnohistoric terms, functions either deliberately or by accident to delimit and contain indigeneity in Trinidad and Tobago. It is preposterous in the sense that the Indian Mission of Toco survived virtually as long as that of Arima, as did that of Siparia with its own long-lasting and still present festival of La Divina Pastora. Why would Amerindian descendants have mysteriously disappeared in such places and not at Arima? Indeed, many Amerindian descendants in Arima, of so-called "mixed race," were effectively barred from the mission and forced to leave Arima. In addition, with the de facto dissolution of the mission of Arima, many Amerindians had to move elsewhere and squat on lands. So it is not just the ex-mission towns that have Amerindian descendants, but a whole range of small rural villages and hamlets, e.g. Talparo, Brazil, Rio Claro, Paria, etc.

To delimit recognition to Arima, and to the SRCC, is to wipe the rest of the face of Trinidad clean of indigenous identification. This is reinforced by the deliberate omission of indigenous identity from any censuses. This is what is meant here by extinction via localization. Localization of indigeneity in Trinidad effectively serves to neutralize indigeneity, by evading recognition of the widespread dissemination of Amerindian ancestry, family lines, and cultural practices throughout Trinidad, and Tobago as well.

The Limits of Anthropological Advocacy
The author of this short essay is an anthropologist, and a foreigner and non-indigenous person as well. There is little such a person could, or even should, do to foster a broader movement for the recovery of indigenous identity in Trinidad and Tobago. However, it is a fact that numerous individuals, many more than are to be found in the SRCC, have contacted the writer over the past ten years that he has been active online, proudly proclaiming their Amerindian ancestry. Many (not all, maybe not most) of these individuals reside outside of Trinidad and Tobago. It will be up to them, if they wish, to find some way of communicating to a broader audience and to perhaps organize themselves in some shape or fashion. Such things cannot be dictated, not even urged by an outsider, and if such developments were to fail to take place then that would of course also be of anthropological significance.