Resplendent in red, white and black vestal garments, Carib queen Jennifer Cassar led the Arima Santa Rosa First Peoples Carib community to the National Academy for the Performing Arts (Napa), Keate Street, Port-of-Spain, on Thursday. Local Caribs were joined by their First Nation counterparts from Miami, Dominica, Guyana and Suriname. Occasion was The Indigenous Concert which coincided with Amerindian Heritage Day celebrations 2012.
Among those present were Santa Rosa Carib chief Ricardo Bharath, shaman Cristo Adonis and Vel Lewis, chair of the Amerindian Project Committee. It was held in conjunction with the Ministry of National Diversity and Social Integration and the Santa Rosa community. The highlight was the play I Hyarima written by poet Pearl Eintou Springer. Playing great Nepuyo war chief, Hyarima, thespian Brendon La Caille brought the tale of Amerindian resistance to life. The cast included warrior story tellers Makesi Algernon and Giorgion Gonzales, and Trinity Artiste Management dance troupe.
Hundreds of children from about 20 primary and secondary schools attended the event. Among them were students from Arima Boys’ RC, Eastern Boys, Morvant Anglican and Tunapuna Secondary. As the event unfurled, the children were exposed to a buffet of Amerindian culture. The Guyanese contingent held a craft display in the foyer. Suriname and Dominica sang songs complemented by drumology.
They were exposed to native dress in the form of feathered headpieces, exquisite handcrafted necklaces, red roses and embroidered shawls. After the formalities, schoolchildren posed with local and Caribbean visitors. They were even more pleased to get a trinket from co-ordinator, Kamlan Aleong. Lewis stressed the concert was didactic. “We wanted to teach the children about Amerindian culture. It was more than just entertainment. We had some challenges. But we were pleased at the turnout. We had quite a number of schools. We want to use this as a template to educate children about the culture and history of First Nation Peoples.” Cassar added, “Hyarima was well-received. First time we were able to showcase our talents at Napa.”
First Nation peoples want more respect, recognition
Among those who participated were Dominica’s contingent leader Gerard Langelais, Miami Carib queen Catherine Hummingbird Ramirez and Guyana’s Hyacinth Ruffino. Consensus was they felt land issues should be resolved. They issued clarion calls for governments to make a concerted effort to preserve native culture and traditions.
Boasting he had been integrated into Arima Carib community since 1992, Langelais, a member of the Kalinago tribe, said their reservation consisted of 3,900 acres of land. They had a chief and a minister of Carib Affairs (Ashton Granoau) who spearheaded a week of Kalinago celebrations.
Langelais said, “We are seeking more respect and more recognition. We find leaders are addressing the problems of other groups. Most of it relates to land. We want our language to be on the school curriculum.”
He prided himself First Nation Peoples have survived 500 years of oppression. Ramirez added, “We must unite. The English said we had been decimated. But we are very much alive. We are asking for land to plant our food so we can be self-sufficient. We want to pass on our culture to our children. We want to take care of the environment. Some roots and sites are sacred.”
She heaped praises on T&T “as a beautiful country which was keeping the traditions like smoke ceremonies alive.”
Guyana’s Ruffino said she was pleased to share her knowledge of indigenous foods (cassava) and crafts (hand-woven fans). “But land issues have to be resolved,” she said. Zeroing on local land issues, Bharath said they were promised land at Blanchisseuse Old Road, Arima.
He said, “Progress is being made toward finalising the arrangements. I am optimistic we would have it finalised. Work has been ongoing to make it a reality. We are hoping for meaningful recognition.”