Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Indigenous Founding Mothers of the Americas

Many thanks to the author of the following article, Rick Kearns (, for the permission to reproduce his article below. This website's Creative Commons license does not apply to this piece. The article originally appeared in Indian Country Today (, on November 9, 2006. Rick Kearns is also the author of several pieces on the Taino restoration movement that appeared in Issues in Caribbean Amerindian Studies--please see:

The indigenous roots of Colombia are coming into focus, as it is yet another Latin American nation learning about its true history: the founding mothers of Colombia were indigenous.

According to a recently released DNA survey, 85.5 percent of all Colombian women have indigenous mitochondria, a component of DNA that is passed down unaltered through the maternal line.

Dr. Emilio Yunis Turbay, a distinguished scientist who founded the Genetics Institute at the National University at Bogota, was the principle author of the study. Yunis Turbay assembled a team of specialists, including his son, Dr. Juan Jose Yunis, who analyzed 1,522 samples of mitochondrial (mt) DNA from across Colombia.

The final analysis yielded a startling conclusion: Almost 90 percent of all Colombian women have a Native grandmother in their ancestry. This finding echoes the results gathered in Puerto Rico three years ago, where it was discovered that 61 percent of all Puerto Ricans had indigenous mitochondrial DNA.

According to Dr. Juan Martinez Cruzado, author of the Puerto Rico study, this signals a trend.

''This seems to be a common thread in all Latin America,'' he asserted. ''I spoke with a Mexican researcher who tested some Mexicans in the north of their country as well as Mexicans living in the southwestern United States, and over 80 percent of them had the indigenous mitochondrial DNA.''

Martinez Cruzado added that he had examined 16 indigenous mtDNA samples from Aruba recently and 86 percent of those samples showed the indigenous mtDNA. He has been in contact with Venezuelan scientists who informed him that a majority of the residents of Caracas, the capital city, also contained indigenous mtDNA.

''And in Argentina, which is so white, so European and which is most identified with Italy and Spain, most of the Argentineans also have indigenous mtDNA, according to the research of the well-known scientist Claudio Bravi,'' asserted Martinez Cruzado.

The presence of these grandmothers in the histories of Colombia and probably all of Latin America will force a re-evaluation of each country's story. And while the role of fathers and grandfathers is very important in any culture, it is the mother who teaches the children directly. It is the mother and grandmother who transmit the cultural values and beliefs.

For anyone who comes from Latin America, a great many of us are ''part-Indian.'' The ramifications of this historical fact will produce some similar results as well as some that are unique to each country.

Yunis Turbay put forward a similar argument in other media statements. He noted that upon analyzing the genetic structure of the Colombian population, one re-invents the history of the country as one reaches the conclusion that Colombia (like many Latin American countries) is genetically fragmented. But for Colombians specifically, there is another aspect of their genetic fragmentation that bears examination, according to the famous scientist.

There are ''the mulattoes on one side, the blacks on another, the indigenous in another, the white mestizos [mixes] in another,'' he pointed out. ''One begins to make a picture that shows a country made up of genetic patches. Looking at it this way explains the utilization of the tools of power to exclude populations,'' he asserted.

''The unity of Colombia is made by 'superstructures,' not by a structural development based on means of communication that integrate the market, allowing for the exchange of products, of cultures and unions of different origins,'' he continued. ''We have made Colombia a very unequal country, and what is worse, with citizens of different categories. We have regionalized race.''

Yunis Turbay and others in Colombia there are trying desperately to unify the country, an extremely difficult task for now. However, there is a good chance that Yunis Turbay's research and calls for action will be taken seriously. He is possibly the most well-respected scientist in his country, who has also contributed to national Colombian discussion on identity. He conducted a larger genetic study of the country in 1992 and authored a book, ''Why Are We This Way? What Happened in Colombia? An Analysis of the Mixing (Mestizaje).'' This work contains a series of essays in which he connected genetics, history, geography and politics to advance his argument of how to unify the country through markets and geography.

Here's hoping that his fellow Colombians are listening to him. Here's an idea: Maybe we should invite him to study the U.S. population, starting with Washington, D.C. Just a thought.

Rick Kearns is a freelance writer of Boricua heritage who focuses on indigenous issues in Latin America.

Interpreting the Gli-Gli

Never adrift, but perhaps beneath the horizon of popular awareness, the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean archipelago are symbolically reunited by the sailing of the Gli-Gli, on a sea that once united more than it divided its inhabitants. If the resurgence of Caribbean indigenous peoples were to be compared to a voyage, the Gli-Gli would be singled out as one of its proudest vehicles. “Integration” is not just a matter for technocrats and politicians. The Kalinago, the artists, and the visionaries behind the Gli-Gli wrest cultural history from the hands of the wayward captains of the region. Ten years after its first momentous voyage through the Lesser Antilles and on to Guyana, the Gli-Gli sails again, reenacting history while reencountering the indigenous present. The resurgence of the identities, cultures and communities of the region's indigenous peoples is made up of many landmark events, but what is ever more apparent is that the resurgence of one community cannot proceed without the contact, exchange, and knowledge shared between communities in separate islands united by the sea. Whether it is looked at as art, or as the heightened media savvy of indigenous activists and their supporters, or as historical reinterpretation, this voyage of renewal leaves previously self-assured histories of the region foundering on the shoals of extinction.

The sailing of the Gli Gli is one of the more vivid and exciting vehicles that brings knowledge and awareness of the survival of the region's indigenous peoples to diverse shores in the Caribbean. It is through such acts that popular consciousness may be broadened to acknowledge the cultural complexity of the region, by bringing attention to a long ignored population. The project also exemplifies some of the key dimensions of the Caribbean indigenous resurgence: regional exchange and connections, a broad network of supporters, and the use of media technologies. How will the Gli Gli be received in these diverse territories? What questions will the hosts of the crew ask? What will be the impact of the voyage? We look forward to learning the answers to these questions.

Gli-Gli Press Release

PRESS RELEASE: April 16, 2007

Provided to the Caribbean Amerindian Centrelink by Aragorn Dick-Read



For the first time in over 300 years a Carib Indian canoe, with a crew of Kalinago Caribs from Dominica, will sail up the Leeward Islands from Antigua to the Virgin Islands. Their mission is to draw attention to the survival and resurgence of their culture and to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of Gli Gli’s creation.

Gli Gli is a traditional 35’ dug out sailing canoe. She will be crewed by 12 men and 2 women from the Kalinago Carib Territory in Dominica. On the 6th of May she will sail from Antigua to the islands of Nevis, St Kitts, St Barths, St Martin, St Maateen and Anguilla, before crossing the Anegada passage to the British Virgin Islands.

The various heritage societies of these islands will be hosting the Gli Gli’s visit. At each stop along the way the crew will be giving talks about Carib culture, performing traditional Carib music, demonstrating their unique craft-making techniques, and showing the BBC documentary, “The Quest of the Carib Canoe”, a film about Gli Gli’s historic sail from Dominica to Guyana 10 years ago, which symbolically reunited the Caribs of Dominica with their ancestral relatives in the southern Caribbean and Guyana.

Though there are no distinct Carib communities in the Leeward Islands today, the up coming journey aims to raise awareness that these islands were once the domain of a thriving indigenous culture. The Carib people and their predecessors had a closely integrated tribal society, using canoes such as the Gli Gli as their primary means of transport. The expedition will be exploring the importance of the Carib legacy and mythology in contemporary Caribbean culture.

On their arrival, the Europeans were taken aback by the resistance and fighting skills of the Caribs. Columbus famously scarred their reputation through the ages by coining the term ‘cannibal’ from the word Carib. It is this kind of negative mythology, which is still being taught in schools, that the Gli Gli project aims to dispel.

As late as the 1750’s the European planters of Antigua and St Kitts were living in fear of Caribs from Dominica raiding their coastal estates in fleets of canoes. The Leeward Islands Expedition will be the first time a Carib canoe has sailed in these waters since the subjugation of the seafaring tribe by the colonial navies. Gli Gli is named after the sparrow hawk, a totem of bravery for Carib warriors, a name chosen as a mark of respect for the ancestors.

John Francis, a Carib drummer and activist, and Aragorn Dick-Read an artist and activist from the British Virgin Islands are co-directing the project. Paulinus Frederick is the expedition spokesman as well as lead musician. The master canoe builder Mr Etiene Charles, aka “Chalo”, who built the canoe in 1996, will be sailing on board. Other members of the team include, master basket weavers, calabash carvers, drummers and a dancer. The crew is something of a family affair….with 3 father son pairs and one father daughter pair. The perpetuation of the Carib culture is the driving goal of the project.

The Gli Gli will be accompanied by a beautiful 90’ top sail schooner, “Fiddlers Green”, rigged and owned by Captain Douglas Watson of Australia. The Mother ship will be housing the expedition personnel as well as the camera crew led by Timothy Wheeler of "Documenting Life", from Los Angeles, USA, and Johnny Tattersall of the BVI.

A flotilla of support boats is anticipated, including “Genisis” of Antigua, owned by Alexis Andrews and “Rush” owned by Phil and Julie Louwrens.

The project is being partially funded by a grant from the Robinson Bequest Fund and by private donations. However the expedition will be fundraising en route with musical performances and by selling Carib craft items, T-shirts and DVDs of the BBC film.

The expedition is grateful to the following sponsors for their contributions and efforts:

LIAT Airlines, Golden Hind Chandlery, Arawak Arts, Lignum Vitae Arts, Bougainvillea clinic, Paint factory, Mr and Mrs Channey.

For further information about the Gli Gli Leeward Islands expedition see the website or contact Aragorn Dick-Read
tel: 1 284 49 51849

Gli-Gli Sailing and Visit Schedule, 2007

For information on the itinerary of the Gli-Gli Carib Canoe, please see the following page at:

Gli Gli News from Aragorn Dick-Read

With reference to the 10th anniversary sailing of the Gli Gli Carib Canoe, Aragorn Dick-Read informs the CAC that his team is putting together a booklet about the Gli Gli, outlining the goals of the trip along with general information on the Carib cultural legacy in the region.

The goals of the project, aside from sailing the Gli Gli through the Leeward islands to the British Virigin Islands, are to bring, as he says, "a bit of 'Caribness' to these islands, both as a reminder to the people of the past as well as a recognition of Carib cultural survival or resurgence."

The Gli Gli crew will bring with them basket makers, canoe builders, calabash carvers, drummers, singers, flute and banjo players, and a dancer. They also plan to perform some cassava bread making in each island. The group as a whole consists of 14 people, ranging from elders to those in their early 20's, including three father-son pairs and one father-daughter pair. All of this takes placed under the intellectual leadership of Paulinus Frederick, the head drummer and spokesperson.

The team anticipates forming something of a flotilla of support as they move up the islands. They are filming the whole event as well.

Garifuna Community News

Many thanks to CAC editor, Cheryl Noralez, for passing this along:

View photos from the 3rd Annual Garifuna Community Forum

Garifuna-American Jounalist column on Don Imus ran on the front page of the State Journal-Register here in Springfield.

Celebrating the Bi-Centenary Anniversary of Garifuna People

Andy Palacio: Taking Garifuna Culture to the World
"The Garifuna Peoples are original blacks who lived in the Caribbean before the arrival of Columbus. They were banished to Central America by the British two hundred and ten years ago for their violent resistance to occupation by Europeans in the Windward & Leeward islands."