Friday, April 04, 2008

What Does it Mean to be "Indigenous" Today in the Caribbean?

A new forum discussion has been started on the Indigenous Caribbean Network. Depending on the level of interest, we might take this into the new chat room on the ICN. The outline of the intent of the discussion is as follows:

Indigenous can be read in many different ways. Some link the idea of indigenous to notions of race, to being "Amerindian", to ideas of ancient ancestry that predates that of all other groups resident in a given territory. Others see indigenous as being local, as belonging here, as being native in a broad sense.

Sometimes the differences in these ideas of indigenous can occasion real struggles, for example, the way the Guyanese Organisation of Indigenous People wants the Guyanese Government to stop using the term Amerindian (as in Minister of Amerindian Affairs) and to use the term indigenous when speaking only of those who have been called Amerindian. The government refuses, thus far, saying that all Guyanese are indigenous, as in native, as in born in Guyana and belonging in Guyana.

There doesn't appear to be a "correct" answer here that everyone will agree with, let alone a simple solution. I think the best we can do is to fully air all possible sides on this issue. Can "indigenous" in the Caribbean today really be a matter of "race"? Is indigenous rooted in DNA percentages? What do you think?
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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Indigeneity, Créolité, and Independence: Mylène Priam

In an April 3, 2008, article in the Harvard University Gazette we are introduced to Mylène Priam, an assistant professor of Romance languages and literatures, who argues that French citizenship for the locals of Guadeloupe and Martinique does not necessarily translate into their possessing a French national identity. Priam studies “Créolité” (Creoleness) which is a literary movement that developed from the 1980s onwards in the French Caribbean. The guiding idea is that a locally fashioned Creole identity and not French continental identity should lead in defining the islands’ cultures and literatures. As the article explains:

According to the authors, Créolité could provide a way for West Indians to have a say in their destiny. Furthermore, they argued, Caribbean identity could be defined not only by the legacy of French Colonialism and slavery, but rather by a flexible and unlimited combination of influences that might include indigenous Caribbean, European, and even Asian culture (among others).

Priam will be exploring these themes further in an upcoming book titled, Creole Soup for the Caribbean Soul: The Créolité Manifesto.

The reason for singling out this notion of Créolité is that it opens a long closed door to indigenous identity and indigenous presence in the Caribbean. It does so in a way that allows indigenous identity to be expressed not in the form of over emphasized indigenous authenticity, that could lend itself to the reproduction of well worn stereotypes that might be alien to the Caribbean region, but in a more realistic sense as part of a wider Caribbean fabric. One can see emerging ways that indigenous creoleness is being expressed on Trinidadian blogs for example (e.g. see Guanaganare in the recommended blogs list on this page), where aboriginality is fused with a broader sense of localness, of human universality, and of national identity, an uneasy mix but a much more lived and everyday mix rather than a bookish ideology, I think. This is another reason why we have so much to learn from the Garifuna--the only Caribbean culture (outside of the Guyanas) to retain an indigenous language (Island Carib), within a cultural frame that easily incorporates African and other elements, without any attempt to produce a hard edged look of indigenous purity. There is nothing "obvious" and plain about the Caribbean, and this has applicability for both the presumed absence or sometimes overstated presence of indigeneity.
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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Condolences to Carib Queen Valentina Medina and her family

John "Bertie" Medina, husband of Valentina Medina the Queen of the Arima Caribs, and great uncle to CAC Editor Tracy Assing, passed away today (Wednesday, 02 April, 2008). According to Cristo Adonis, in a phone call this evening, the tentative plans are for a funeral on Monday, 07 April, 2008.

I also knew Mr. Medina from the two previous times I lived in Arima (1997-1999, 2001-2003) and he was always a warm, gentle, humorous person. The photograph shown here was taken in August of 1997 at the Santa Rosa Carib Community Centre, where he was helping to clean rods used for the flags of the Santa Rosa Festival.

Roll Call for the Ancestors

It is very sad that in my limited time I have seen the passing of so many elders and key people in the Carib Community, including:
  • Justa Werges, the former Carib Queen
  • Alexander Calderon
  • Julie Calderon
  • Nemencia Calderon
  • Elma Reyes
  • Lawrence Augustus
  • and now Bertie Medina
Our condolences to the family, relatives, and friends.

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