Red and pink hibiscus nodded their pretty heads at the Carib Centre, Paul Mitchell Street, Arima. A short distance from the chaitaigne (breadnut tree), the newly installed queen of the Carib community Jennifer Cassar cut a regal picture under the moriche palm hut. Opposite, the Centre was a jigsaw with carvings of Amerindian children in an Age of Innocence and guidelines to the Making of a Canoe (an Amerindian mode of transport). President of the Santa Rosa Carib Community Ricardo Bharath explained they were busy preparing for the Santa Rosa Festival on August 28.
Cassar, too, was equally excited about the Feast of Santa Rosa-her first official role- since her induction at the landmark Santa Rosa RC Church, on August 6. Quizzed on her sentiments Cassar, 60, said: "I am humbled. I am honoured to be able to represent the Carib community. I am a proud Arimian. I am of Carib stock." As the countdown ticks to the street procession, Cassar said: "We are continuing the celebration which has been ongoing for 200 years. It began in the 1700s. It is one of the few indigenous festivals that have thrived."
Preparations are underway.
Cassar added: "The community has the responsibility for cleaning the brass candle holders. We have to clean and decorate the Santa Rosa statue. White, pink, yellow and red roses decorate the statue. We have to decorate the church." Led by Monsignor Allan Ventour, the procession would wend its way through the streets of the Borough. Hymns, songs and chants are raised in honour of Santa Rosa. It culminates with lunch and a cultural festival featuring steelbands and paranderos at the Centre.
Induction at Santa Rosa
The late Carib queen Valentina Medina was given a grand send off at Santa Rosa on April 29. It was the same venue for Cassar's induction during the regular 5pm mass. It was witnessed by several dignitaries like Arima mayor Ghassan Youseph and shaman Adonis Cristo. As she mounted the steps, Cassar said: "I was received by Monsignor Ventour. I was ushered to my seat. Chief Bharath escorted me to the altar. He announced I was the new titular head of the Santa Rosa Carib community. I was welcomed in the Karena language. It was an auspicious day."
Renews call for Amerindian Village
Seizing the opportunity during her maiden speech, Cassar spoke about the land for the proposed Amerindian Village at Blanchisseuse Road, Arima. Cassar said: "It is critical. I will begin to work assiduously on getting the land that was promised to us. We want to start the process to ensure survivability. We want to set up a cassava (manioc) making institution. We want to rear wildlife. We want to form linkages like eco tourism since there are rivers running through it." Cassar estimated it would cost about $1/2 million to cut an access road and construct two buildings.
Malabar resident Cassar boasted she was "living on the same place where she was born" to Odette, 80, and Rawle Pyle, 86. Pyle's grandmother was an Amerindian from Guyana. Her grandfather Pablito Lara was descended from pure Carib stock. Reflecting on her childhood, she said: "I lived the Carib life. We used the mortar and pestle. We made cassava bread. We had a tapia house." She is married to Augustin Cassar and is the mother of Vanessa and John.
After 41 years as a Public Servant (Judiciary) she has retired. Cassar has also found time to be a cultural activist co ordinating stickfighting competitions throughout T&T. She instituted the segment King of the Rock and Best Kandal which is often won by the Talparo Tambule In Kandal boismen. But her passion for the First Nation Peoples never waned. Cassar has attended conferences in Panama and Suriname on their behalf.