Last update: 12-Dec-2013 4:50 am
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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We want to oversee Red House excavation—Carib chief
Members of the indigenous communities of Guyana, Suriname, Belize and Dominica joined those from T&T’s First Peoples community on Thursday evening to perform a ceremony for the dead ancestors whose remains were found beneath the Red House in Port-of-Spain. Ricardo Hernandez-Bharath, chief of T&T’s First Peoples, told the T&T Guardian the following day that the indigenous community is unhappy that they are being left out of the archaeological process taking place.
In March, the T&T Guardian reported the discovery of human remains beneath the foundations of the Red House during excavations which were part of the ongoing restoration project. The remains were subsequently dated by an archaeological team as being from three distinct periods: the fifth century AD, the ninth century and the 14th century. The time span is thought to be between 430 AD and 1390 AD, pre-European contact and therefore indigenous.
Following the discovery, the parliamentary committee that was put together to oversee the Red House restoration project, which is chaired by Speaker of the House Wade Mark, contacted Hernandez, to consult them on the find. Neil Jagessar, project administrator of the Red House restoration project, watched the ceremony as it unfolded. He told the T&T Guardian Dr Basil Reid’s team of archaeologists were excavating on a daily basis. “Even today they found another skeleton,” he said.
Asked what he would like to happen with the archaeological project and the remains of his ancestral people, Hernandez was critical of Parliament’s approach thus far. “We feel they are working without any involvement of the indigenous community,” he said. “There is no representative of the First Peoples in the archaeological team at all. They tell us they are handling the remains with respect but that is not enough.”
Asked if he could suggest an archaeologist of indigenous descent he said that was not the point, the representative needn’t be an archaeologist but simply one of the community. “The UN clearly states human remains of First People are their own. If a community member was involved they would have a first-hand feel and see what is being unearthed. They feel struck out, cut off, excluded.”
Hernandez says he tabled the suggestion of including a nominated First Peoples representative in the dig at the last meeting of the committee but it was not acted upon. “If they continue to go about it this way, without First Peoples involvement, we feel the work should stop,” he said.
The group of ritual performers, including around 25 from T&T’s indigenous people, were dressed in clothing known as halekade and headdresses called kamahu. They beat drums known as samburas and shook maracas that were made with the seed called kawasie which, Hernandez said, is a seed used only used to perform the death ritual.
Speaking with the T&T Guardian on the penultimate day of the First Peoples Heritage Week taking place in Arima, Hernandez described how the decision to perform an indigenous ritual was arrived at after discussions with community elders. The ritual, called Turublacka (which translates as “ceremony for the departed souls”) involved around 70 people walking, dancing and drumming around the perimeter of the Red House, chanting in Carinha (the Carib language) and in Lokono (the Arawak language.)
Hernandez led the procession, alongside the leaders of the Guyanese and Surinamese groups. He said they were asking Tamushi (The Great Spirit) to grant peace to the ancestors buried there and to grant peace to the land of Trinidad.
This was the third such ceremony. The first happened three months ago, beginning a period of mourning for the dead. Yesterday was the final ceremony marking the end of that period. Mourning usually lasts six to 12 months but the decision was taken to mourn for three months in this case since the remains of the ancestors were so old. The traditional ritual ends in feasting, which took place in private after the ceremony.
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