Friday, August 31, 2007

Congress of the People and Trinidad's Caribs

In "Dookeran pays tribute to the Caribs," an article that appeared in Trinidad's Newsday on June 9, 2007, Winston Dookeran, the leader of the opposition Congress of the People (COP),

has paid tribute to the indigenous people of Trinidad and Tobago, mainly the Caribs, and urged the country not to forget the contribution they made to its development. Dookeran made the call on Wednesday night during his address at the seminar — A Rich Heritage a Common Future in celebration of our First People — at Legacy Hall, Sanchez Street, Arima. He said the COP is committed to the construction of a “national character” and in so doing cannot forget the sacrifice of the country’s indigenous foreparents. Dookeran said he is aware of the many challenges faced by the descendants of indigenous people and expressed the firm conviction that the fragile community is already threatened by the trends of Western society and must be preserved. He said most people will agree that not enough had been done to support the Carib community of Arima in a country that possesses so much wealth. “It is high time that we learn to respect the memory and contribution of those who came before us,” said Dookeran. “It is important that we pay debt of gratitude to the Santa Rosa festival and tribute to the descendants in spite of the hurdles they had to overcome.”

It is interesting to see that, increasingly, national political parties visit Arima and court it's "indigenous heritage" in making their pitches for national unity, as part of their campaigns to attain national office. This was rarely the case before the current millennium. Why this is starting to happen with greater frequency now is an interesting question.

Where Dookeran does not depart from the past is in his resort to a standard menu for framing Trinidad's indigenous people, in terms of past "contributions"--indeed, contributions to "national development," which supposedly occurred prior to the nation, in fact, prior to "development" itself. Caribs are memory, and sacrifice, part of the long and painful quest to achieve national independence--it is a laudable, even heroic theme, but it is also nostalgic and abandons Trinidad's Amerindians to history, speaking of Caribs today as "descendants."

(For those of you who may be asking if Dookeran is East Indian, one can only say he is a "descendant.")

News about Trinidad's Caribs and the State

In an article in Trinidad and Tobago's Newsday, "Carib leader snubs COP" (by Irene Medina, Wednesday, June 13, 2007), the following extract is worthy of note. It concerns the work of a government-appointed Amerindian Projects Committee, which was formally (re)instituted in September of 2006:

a Cabinet-appointed committee to look into issues affecting indigenous people, submitted its first draft report to the Minister of Community Development, Culture and Gender Affair Joan Yuille-Williams for Cabinet’s consideration. The Committee, which is being chaired by Museum Curator Val Lewis is also looking into the issues of a public holiday for the Carib community next year and the issuance of a parcel of land. Lewis told Newsday: “We have made a number of recommendations that would improve the Carib communities generally throughout the country. Some of these include documenting the story of the Amerindians, immediate steps to protect archaeological sites and protection of medicinal herbs.” Lewis said talks have already been held with the Central Statistical Office (CSO) to identify the Caribs by name in the next census and that concerns were raised about the use of the Carib name as a product brand. He said three members of the Carib Community were on this committee and some major developments may be coming for the group.

Several elements of this story are noteworthy, some of which I have underlined in the passage above. The first has to do with the fact that the government appointed a museum curator to head the committee, which reflects the usual positioning of indigenous issues in Trinidad within the framework of history, archaeology, and the display of relics of a folk culture. This is not-so-subtle way for the government to suggest that indigeneity in Trinidad is shrouded in pastness, is not part of contemporary experience, and is to be managed by non-indigenous experts of the distant Amerindian past. The good news is that this is an orthodox position: for readers who may not be familiar with the writings of French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu, orthodox views are articulated in defense of a position, precisely because that position is under question and open to contestation. In the absence of questioning, where domination proceeds unchallenged, there is no need to convert everyday assumptions into hardened ideology. That the existence of this orthodoxy--Caribs are relics of the past--has come into being reveals an unsteady state, and what is typical of unsteady states is moments of confusion and contradiction in official positions.

Thus, as if to contradict relegating Caribs to the dusty covers of history books, the article above tells us that now the Central Statistical Office may be planning to include a "Carib" category on the next census, something that seems to follow on the heels of an article published in this blog before the news above was made public (see: "Does Trinidad Recognize its Indigenous People?"). This is good news, and the effect of this inclusion may help to revolutionize the ways that Trinidadians self-identify.

What might seem more problematic is the notion presented in the article above that the government would improve the position of "Carib communities...throught the country": Who will do the identifying? What are the criteria they will use for indentifying these communities as "Carib communities"? What do they mean by community? What if persons who self-identify as Carib are not members of any kind of formal, identifiable structure that could be called a community? Indeed, it is arguable that were it not for the Mission, and the Santa Rosa Festival, there might not have been a Carib community in Arima itself, which is quite far from saying that, therefore, no self-identifying Caribs would have existed in Arima.

Also surprising is the news that a "public holiday" may now be established for the Caribs, something they have not requested. They have requested land, for decades now, and much further in the past as well, and there really is little excuse for not having granted any. What makes the ongoing stalling of a land grant all the more remarkable is that the head of the Carib Community, Ricardo Bharath Hernandez, is a devoted member of the ruling People's National Movement, which has been in power for most of Trinidad's history since Independence (coincidentally, to be commemorated on today's date). The article from which the extract above was taken is in fact primarily about Bharath refusing to attend a "heritage dinner" for indigenous people hosted by the opposition Congress of the People. As stated in the article:
“I would have gone in the interest of indigenous people but I felt it was inappropriate to attend that particular function in this, an election year. I did not want anyone to be unsure about where my allegiance is,” he said. Bharath-Hernandez added he was all for the development and upliftment of the indigenous people, but being a member of the PNM, felt attending wouldhave been a conflict of interest. He said he had written the COP declining the invitation.

One doubts that anyone will question Bharath's allegiance to the PNM. The question is whether the ruling party has shown sufficient reciprocal allegiance to the Caribs.


Thursday, August 30, 2007

Carib Santa Rosa Festival 2007

Photo of the Carib section of the procession for the August 26, 2007, Santa Rosa Festival in Arima. Holding the banner is Cristo Adonis, and behind him is Ricardo Bharath Hernandez.

For last year's Santa Rosa Festival, I wrote one main essay on what transpired at the event, and I can say I will not be doing an encore. I wanted only to bring attention to some aspects that were salient to me, and once again I was fortunate to have listened to the complete proceedings over the Internet on I95.5 FM.

The proceedings for this year seemed to transpire at a rapid pace, and even the radio coverage was one hour shorter than last year's, with the radio announcer seemingly in a big hurry to get to the next program. The chief celebrant was the Papal Nuncio to the Antilles, which is an interesting choice given the degree of outrage expressed by indigenous persons across the Americas over the Pope's recent remarks that criticized indigenous religious revivals, while praising the purifying role of the Catholic Church. The main theme of this year's event appeared to be "social justice." The radio narrators themselves spoken solemnly, and quoted heavily from the mid-19th century text by L.A.A. De Verteuil, where he spoke of Santa Rosa festivals he had witnessed as a youth. The radio narrators were impressed with the degree of continuity, a comment unfortunately made right after a quote from De Verteuil that on this day the Amerindians would forget their servitude.

What was also striking is the amount of resources and organization invested by the Church in this event: a medical vehicle to follow the procession, police and marshals, water stations for those on the procession, and of course the media coverage itself, the giant flat screen used to convey the mass to those outside of the church, and so forth.

Also of interest to me is that the order of the procession has been changed in recent years. The Carib Community was once third in line, behind the acolytes, and behind the priests and members of the Arima Borough Council. Now only the acolytes lead, followed by the Carib Queen, followed by the Carib Community, then followed by the rest. Why this has changed is an interesting question, and one can speculate that past discussions, and critical comments, sometimes made in the presence of those connected to the church, could have had some impact.

For those interested in hearing the English language portion of Ricardo Bharath's very interesting prayer at the mass, please click here (opens a new window).

The website of the Santa Rosa Carib Community can be accessed by clicking here (also opens a new window).


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The "Plastic" versus the "Real" Shaman?

I am not sure how it happened that I ended up on the mailing list of the "Shaman Portal," a website that features "all things shamanic" and offers a variety of resources to shamans, some for sale. I am glad to receive their e-mails, especially as it gives me a sense of the diffusion of indigenous cultures and beliefs, meaning that from early on I sensed that the shamans behind this portal were not necessarily of indigenous ancestry. This particular impression seems to have formed the grounds for a sharp exchange between owners of the Shaman Portal and some readers, as evidenced in this interesting bit of dialogue:

"Dear shamans of all nations,

A few days ago in response to an announcement we posted about in one of the main shamanic groups on the internet, one of the readers sent us a response accusing us for being "Plastic Shamans" adding:

"....I don't think that anyone who is not part of a native culture where there are actually shamans can call themselves that. The term 'shaman' is used by commercial operators to denote any sort of nonsense that they wish to promote, and it has become a practically meaningless term, having nothing to do with the things that the word originally denoted. This 'shaman community' is really just a name for a lot of unscrupulous operators who take money in order to blow smoke up people's hidden orifices. I checked a lot of them out and they are, to put it simply, phonies....This 'white shaman' phenomena, where all of the shamans are either white folks or else they are white folks who claim Indian ancestry (are they different than other white folks?), is a parody of actual shamanism. Actual shamanism is a practice of third world, native peoples from a specific part of the globe, which one could not aspire to be a part of no matter how much wanted to. What people call shamanism in the context in which your business enterprises operate is actually 'neo-shamanism'.

Recently, an elder indigenous Pagé (shaman) deep in the Brazilian Amazon said to a group of visiting white folks: "We are all shaman. Don't you think that just because I wear those funny clothes and those colorful feathers on my head, I am more powerful then you are. We are all indigenous to Mother Earth, no matter where we come from."

Two very different and opposing view points."

If you have any opinions on this, please feel free to post your comments here.

Chasing the Ana - Triumph

From Taino - Wrap Up

18 days at sea, and yes I have completed the circumnavigation of my homeland Boriken (Puerto Rico). It was the trip that I had anticipated and much more. The north coast was a challenge with quartering swells and winds, the west was dead calm; no current, but intense heat, and gunfire! The south was headwinds and more head winds and the east was beam seas all the way back to the north which bought those nice North East winds and large swells again. I have seen the coast and know the waters of my beloved Boriken and with the pace of the Indio I can truly say I have accomplished my goals. Now enough of me I would like to thank the following Nydia Kein for her friendship and support. To the gang at Carrie Media and her Fiance José Quiñones who have gone well out of their way to take care of me and I didn’t have to ask. To their children; Jose, Maria, Francisco and Joaquin. Truly a loving and sharing family. A special message to mi gente my people on the island in the various locations that we meet you were all exceptional I am truly proud. Thank you also to Derrick & Yvonne and finally Wendy Killoran who picked me for this trip, and yes Wendy you were RIGHT.
Adios and Bomatum
Who is afraid of the surf?
Taino Almestica
Hijo de Aibonito.
last day

The sea does not care about last days. It goes on living and breathing long after we have turned to dust. We are of no consequence. Our petty accomplishments mean nothing to the sea.
We launched for the very last day from under the shadows of condominiums and just north of an old cemetery that now seemed so oddly out of place in this tourist’s playground on the outskirts of San Juan. I paddled out and swept my paddle on top of a small wave to again turn west. I looked over at Taino, now with his canoe paddle perched on the deck of his orange impex kayak. I thought about how different we were as people and as men. This was in many ways a solo journey for both of us. One we paddled together. Our reasons, our experiences, even our paddle styles were very different. Yet we could share the joy accomplishing our goals, traveling the same roads for a time, even if we would get off at different exits.
The ocean floor north of Puerto Rico comes in from the deepest trench in the Atlantic, then quickly rises to the island. The sea builds quickly before slamming into the rocky shoals guarding the pristine beaches. As the old forts came into view the waves began to steepen. 8 foot waves became common with 10 to 12 footers beginning to show themselves. Ahead we could see the ocean breaking on the many hidden rocks. The sound of the water crashing into stone always causes a bit of a shiver in my mind. Often you want to cling to the shore, but you must go further into the sea for calmer water. We paddled north, further into the open ocean. Beyond the green water and into the midnight blue the flow turned from south to west the waves eased into a quick but relaxing 4-5 foot sea. We moved light lightning on what I estimated to be a 3 kt current and were soon just outside of San Juan Harbor, the busiest in the Caribbean.
San Juan Harbor is deep but it’s mouth is only a bit over a mile wide. The east side was bordered San Felipe del Morro upon high stone cliffs, the west side by rocky waters and rocky shores. We paddled right up to the edge just as a large cargo ship eased out behind the cover of the fort. We paddled slowly giving the behemoth time to pass, and then we began our crossing. The water inside the channel was wild and jumping densely after the passing of the ship. We worked our way through a 4-6 bubbling cauldron catching the occasional bigger wave that would overpower everything else to push us further across the channel. To our right two large cargo ships passed, the one we had just waited for and another that was now on its way in. As we reached the other side of the channel the water swallowed again and the waves rose.
With just over a mile left we crossed the last big shallow bay. The sea came into us from our back quarter at 8-10 feet and quite steep. Still they weren’t breaking and we could easily just ride the escalator up one side, then with a quick flick and a couple quick strokes, race down the other allow gravity to do the work. We approached the last little island where we would turn and ride into the protected beach at Punta Salinas. This time around we would have to get across the breakers. Rain was spitting down from a storm that had been shadowing us all day. As was our habit, we both chose our own lines through the breakers and with a combination of surfing and back paddling we soon slid into the relaxed 2 foot rollers of the calm bay. I heard the voice of a crazy woman yelling on the back of a racing ATV taking an angle to meet us on shore. In front I could see the yellow “” tees standing out starkly against the dark trees behind the beach. I paused and let Taino go in first. I was not quite ready to leave the sea. I sat out and rolled and played for a few moments, then let the surf slide me in.
Many more stories to tell yet for the moment I want to also thank our sponsors, Carrie & Jose for traveling all over the island to provide water, food or whatever else we needed. Also for putting us up before and after the trip. It would have been a much harder task without their constant support. Special thanks to Jose as well for bringing back my gear, driving me to the airport and letting me set up a tent on his roof. Thanks to Nydia K. for her help and driving us around as well. Also thanks to Yvonne for posting pics, bringing supplies, and letting us fill her garage with sand. ( 4 buckets I’m told). Teamwork is the only reason an adventure like this works. Sure, you can go it alone. . but it’s just not the same.
Now. . . WHO was afraid of the sharks?
Chasing the Ana FINAL TEAM UPDATE!

fotos by : Playa Azul, night time camp Luquillo, Puerto Rico

Luquillo, Puerto Rico
12:25 pm
25 August 2007
Final Team Update

This will be your final team update for Chasing The Ana Puerto Rico '07 before the men are off the water and Derrick will take the rest of the story from there. I look forward to reading the details of this adventure written by Derrick.

For those of you getting this blog via email, you may continue to follow Derrick's blog by clicking here

The tracking maps are being posted in order at

Derrick's photographs of this expedition are continuing to be posted at

Last night the men arrived late in Luquillo on a storm swept beach, Playa Azul. I must have been bit by over a hundred little beach gnats. Of course when I mentioned this I got little sympathy from Derrick or Taino who have been bit THOUSANDS of times in the past three weeks. I had to laugh at myself. At least they offered me insect repellent.

The men are in excellent spirits as they come close to the final day. The marine forcast looks good, but isolated thunderstorms have been sending a few too many lightning stikes for comfort, causing the men to stay off the water for a few hours on Friday.
Special thanks to all our readers and guardian angels, our sponsors: Rockpool Kayaks, Reed, Impex, Kokatat, , and race recon, also Werner Paddles, Support team Nydia Kein, Weather Tracking Karel Vissel, Ground Support: Yvonne Le Guillou and team, José Quiñones and , the US Coast Guard in Puerto Rico for answering questions and tracking our adventure, and the generosity of the many Puerto Rican people who offered kindness, assistance, and camping spots!.
We will be video taping the completion of this expedition, and have a post expedition celebration. Call (787) 925-9232 for more information, or email You can meet us at Punta Salinas, in Levittown, on Sunday morning if you wish to greet our paddling duo!! For permission to post photographs contact Derrick Mayoleth for his photos or for photos taken by them. foto by José Quiñones, Derrick and Taino at Playa Arroyo:
Chasing The Ana Team Post Day Twenty Three
FOTO: Derrick and Taino practicing rolls together in Levittown

Un-named beach between rocky cliffs
Puerto Rico
August 23, 2007
6 pm
Team Post - Day Twenty-Three
Carrie Medina checking in on day 23 of the expedition.
Derrick emailed me and said they were forced off the water due to lightning. Well, there is never a dull day, now is there!
The men are in an area between rocky cliffs. Derrick will have to forgive me on this one, but by his description I have placed them on the map and I might not have made a perfect pin point. Either way we are looking forward to meeting them Friday to resupply them and encourage them for the last sprint toward home!
Here is the link to the map and the marine forcast for the last few days:

East winds 11 to 15 knots. Seas 3 to 5 feet. Scattered showers and isolated thunderstorms.
East winds 11 to 16 knots. Seas 3 to 5 feet. Isolated thunderstorms in the morning. Scattered showers.
Friday Night
East southeast winds 11 to 16 knots. Seas 4 feet. Scattered showers.
East winds 10 to 15 knots. Seas 4 feet. Scattered showers. Isolated thunderstorms in the afternoon.
Saturday Night
East winds 12 to 17 knots. Seas 4 feet. Scattered showers and isolated thunderstorms.
East southeast winds 11 to 16 knots. Seas 3 to 5 feet. Scattered showers and isolated thunderstorms.
Chasing The Ana Team Post Day Twenty-Two

foto: Tracking Map by

Playa Palmas Del Mar,
Puerto Rico August 21, 2007
4 pm
Team Post - Day Twenty-Two

Carrie Medina checking in with team blog for day 22 of Chasing the Ana, Puerto Rico '07.

Taino has just called in. Derrick and Taino are at the beautiful Playa Palmas del Mar in Yabucoa. They met up with a local paddling club and were invited to a gathering of paddlers in Levittown on Sunday. OK guys, paddle hard!

The men are now 3/4 the way to the original starting point of Levittown. Any local paddlers, or people following along, who would like to join us, please be at Punta Salinas early Sunday morning to welcome and congratulate Derrick and Taino. We will be video taping the arrival and have a post expedition celebration! Call (787) 925-9232 for more information, or email
Chasing The Ana Team Post Day Twenty-One
foto: Tracking Map by

Punta Patillas, Puerto Rico
August 21, 2007
9 pm
Team Post - Day Nine
Carrie Medina checking in with team blog for day 21 of Chasing the Ana, Puerto Rico '07.

What a WONDERFUL day to paddle! Our boys Derrick and Taino are back on the water August 21, 2007 after a few days of delay caused by Hurricane Dean (stop date August 15, 2007). Fortunately for our paddling duo, Hurricane Dean caused little upset to the island of Puerto Rico, and the seas, once at 12 foot swells, have returned to calm 2-4 foot smooth paddling!

Tonight our boys have reached Punta Patillas, on the southeast coast. For those of you recieving a forward, click this link to take you to the Chasing the Ana blog to view our map, tracking our expedition around the island.

You guys are 3/4 the way home!

East southeast winds 11 to 16 knots. Seas 3 to 4 feet. Scattered showers and isolated thunderstorms.
Wednesday Night
East winds 13 to 18 knots. Seas 3 to 4 feet. Scattered showers and isolated thunderstorms.
East winds 13 to 18 knots. Seas 3 to 4 feet. Isolated showers.
Thursday Night
East northeast winds 14 to 19 knots. Seas 3 to 4 feet. Isolated showers.
up with the chickens. . . and the goats

When we landed at Puerto Real it took my a bit by surprise. It was a small village steeped in poverty. There was a nice marina on the waters edge but no other real access to land. In this small village I could find no one with even limited English which is quite rare in Puerto Rico. Homes and shops were worn with years. Streets were small and claustrophobic. For a while I just sat by my kayak trying to organize my thoughts and figure out if this was a place I felt comfortable to stay. While I sat there two small goats came walking across the street to investigate this strange guy and his kayaks. Soon they were followed by a young girl. She looked at me with a big smile and started to talk to me while pointing at the goats. "Sorry, no comprenda" I said. "English?". "No." she said, and smiled. Then she went on telling me about her goats as if I I could understand every word. I watched her and smiled when she smiled. Made a surprised face when she did. We were, in some ways, communicating just fine. They were her goats and she was proud of them. That's all I needed to know. After a long chat she called the goats and the trio went walking off into the group of yellow, white, and pink houses across the street. It was a nice moment.

I am waiting this morning for Taino to join me here and then we are off again to explore this tropical island.

Oct. 14, 2007: Amerindian Heritage Day in Trinidad & Tobago

Many thanks to Cristo Adonis of the Santa Rosa Carib Community of Arima, Trinidad, for earlier this month sending the following program of activities for October 14, which is an annual day of recognition for Trinidad's indigenous cultural heritage.

Daily five minutes educational spots on radio: topics should include historical facts about the Amerindian community in Arima; place names; Hyarima; foods; medicinal herbs; customs; arts; crafts; etc.

Sunday October 14th
Opening Ceremony
Carib Centre in Arima
6:00 p.m.

Monday 15th October
Gathering at Hyarima Statue Indigenous ceremony followed by Procession through the streets of Arima to Lord Harris Square for all day Indigenous activities
7:00 a.m.

Tuesday 16th October
6:00 p.m.

Wednesday 17th October
Lectures on Local Community
Indigenous World View
Groups would appear in Tobago

Thursday 18th October
San Fernando Hill
10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.

Friday 19th October
Workshop on Indigenous Spirituality & Languages
C.O.I.P. meeting (Caribbean Organization of Indigenous Peoples)
Carib Centre

Saturday 20th October
Visiting groups depart

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Santa Rosa Festival: Aug. 26, 2007

Today the Carib Community of Arima, Trinidad, will be celebrating the high mass of the annual Santa Rosa Festival, with a procession through the streets of Arima. The actual date of the feast of St. Rose is August 23rd, and the mass is held on the nearest Sunday.