IN THIS COUNTRY, CARIB COUNTRY
Francis Morean @ 16th November 2018.
(This is the eleventh in a series of articles being published here by Francis Morean with the focus upon the history of Arima.)
This piece continues directly from the tenth piece and places a historical perspective upon the survival of the Shaman Capriata, the survival of the indigenous peoples in Arima and the survival of the Chaconia plants within the urban centre of Arima. In an interesting way it also juxtaposes events of Red Friday 1989 with events that took place in Jonestown, Arima exactly eleven years before.
Capriata lived at Mausica Lands, just west of Arima’s Santa Rosa Roman Catholic cemetary. His home stood a very short distance south west of the burial ground. The area was also called Jonestown in the opinion of many citizens and even Arimians (and wrongfully so), probably because it was carved out of the forest, as well as the abandoned tonca bean trees, old cocoa trees and backwoods which formed part of an old estate and its seeming isolation, reclusive-ness and the relative financial impoverishment of some of the early residents who squatted in the area from around 1960 and more so in the late 1980’s, reminded the supposedly well-to-do ‘gens d’Arimes’, who lived in the heart of a community which, back in 1888 had been granted the status of a Royal Chartered Borough by Queen Victoria – and who had proudly maintained the supposedly Royal title in spite of the nation’s subsequent Republican status- of the commune carved out of the Guyana hinterland by Jim Jones and his followers back in the nineteen seventies.
Exactly eleven years before Red Day, on another Friday the seventeenth of November, the curtain was being drawn on another dramatic set of circumstances, in the original Jonestown. On that Friday, United States of America Congressman Leo Ryan had arrived at the People’s Temple agricultural commune near Kaituma in the Guyana hinterland on a fact-finding mission to investigate claims that some members of the cult wanted to return to their homes in America but were being held against their will by the autocratic and domineering stewardship of its leader, Reverend Jim Jones
As he was about to leave the commune the next day by an aircraft to return to Georgetown and then to the USA, Ryan was gunned down by followers of Jim Jones. Four others, including three journalists and a member of the cult were also killed. This triggered off a wave of suicides and murders which led to the death of over 900 people, including Jim Jones himself. Many died after consuming or being forced to consume a deadly red coloured cocktail laced with cyanide, tranquillizers and other drugs.
On this eventful Friday morning in Arima’s Jonestown, a somewhat similar, yet quite different, mass hypnotism and fanaticism was now taking place in the streets. It was most likely also being played out in the streets in other parts of Arima and in other towns and villages across the nation.
As we sat together to share breakfast, memories of the mass murders, massacre, suicides and mayhem which took place in the Guyana hinterland came to mind. Memories also came to mind of the genocide which occurred in this region following the historic encounter between European and the predominantly Taino civilisations which began in October 1492 with the arrival of Columbus at Guananahani on what was to turn out to be the first of his four journeys to the region.
“Capriata was now almost completely annoyed. His diminutive figure had often belied the force of his power and determination. In his moments of annoyance I often visualised the seventeenth century Nepuyo Chief, Hyarima (Hierreima) who is considered by some to be our nation’s first National Hero. As Capriata ranted and raved I could again discern in him the spirit of the warrior.”
*** *** ***
To the west of Capriata’s home ran a tributary of the Mausica River. Along its bank grew a variety of indigenous trees and shrubs, relics from the days when the area was covered in natural forests. Among these was the plant known to Capriata as the guacamayo.
Here and there among the branches of the towering coppice like trees, were to be found a few brilliant scarlet sprays of the guacamayo. These were the remnants of the blooms of that year’s flowering. Much more commonplace were the brown, withered sepals, which had already had their moments of glory.
The few fresh blooms which still brightened the morning sky, reminded me so much of Capriata and of the descendants of the indigenous peoples who once lived in the area.
Over the years, it became fashionable to describe these people in Arima in particular as Caribs. This was a process which began in the early nineteenth century. Having been acculturated with this name, these people had even gone further and chose to call themselves the Santa Rosa Carib Community. In the process they had incorporated the name of a Roman Catholic saint as part of their community’s name.
The majority of their members resided within close walking distance from Capriata and especially in the Calvary Hill area. That district had in fact become something of the last outpost of an almost forgotten people. Even there however they were being rapidly displaced by housing and other developments.
Arima itself took its name from the language of one of the tribes of the first peoples of Cairi or Chaleibi, as Trinidad had been known among some of the first peoples. Only the ravine clothed in guacamayo and a few other native plants separated Capriata’s residence from the larger compound occupied by the official headquarters of the descendants of the first peoples, the Santa Rosa Carib Community, and by the home of the organization’s President, Ricardo Bharath-Hernandez and his family, which was located on the nearby Paul-Mitchell Street.
For many years schoolchildren in this nation have been erroneously taught that the original inhabitants of Trinidad and Tobago had belonged to the Carib or Arawak tribes. Even Capriata considered himself a Carib and traced his roots back to the Carib, Telef (Telesford) , his paternal grandfather who hailed from Maraval and his paternal grandmother, the Carib called Vitoween , from Arima. The group of people that became so-called as the Caribs of Arima may have in fact been an assemblage of the Nepuyo and Karinya tribes and members of the Karifuna tribe who had come to Trinidad from St Vincent between 1786 and 1812 and who had also intermarried not only between themselves but also with migrant cocoa panyols from Venezuela or their descendants. There had also been some intermixing in the early 17th century between the Dutch and the native tribes in Trinidad.
Over the past two centuries, the numbers of the indigenous peoples have declined or their physical presence may seem less obvious due to subsequent marriage and assimilation with members of other ethnic groups who migrated to the area in the mid to late nineteenth century and thereafter and the general population of Trinidad and Tobago has failed to appreciate the importance of their presence and contribution as well as that of the descendants of the indigenous peoples in other parts of the nation to our national heritage and well-being.
For many years as well, the descendants of the indigenous peoples of Arima had received some almost ritualistic attention on an annual basis, if at all, only during the season of the activities known as the Santa Rosa festivities in August. Sir Harry Luke who visited Arima and observed the festivities in the early nineteen forties expressed the view that “On this solitary occasion the Colony’s smallest and feeblest racial unit emerges, like Cinderella, into an ephemeral prominence, relic of an age when the Caribs were numerous and strong in Iere, “the Land of the Humming – bird”, as they called Trinidad, and their famous Chief Hyarima was the powerful lord of the region which still bears his name.”
No doubt, Sir Luke must have been the beneficiary of information about Hyarima which had been propagated by F.E.M. Hosein, or had read the content of one of the two hundred copies of the book, A Brief History of Trinidad Under the Spanish Crown, which had been published by Sir Hollis in 1941, and which had made reference to the exploits of Hyarima (Hierreima).
The notion of Arima having been named after Hyarima (Hierreima) is questionable.
Questionable too is the history of the ritual of the Santa Rosa festivities. This festival has had a long and mysterious history which dates back to the days when the area was an Amerindian Mission and which can be linked historically to the animistic and shamanistic belief system of the indigenous peoples to the patronal feasts which were conducted at the other Roman Catholic Missions which were previously established in other parts of Trinidad, and to the Roman Catholic rituals such as Vieux Croix and Ensalmos which, were practised by the cocoa panyols who came to Trinidad from Venezuela.
The very spot on which Capriata had taken up residence some almost twenty five years or so before this eventful morning may have itself been part of the land which was part of a block of at least 1000 acres of land initially granted to the remnants of the indigenous people of the island, who back in 1785 during the tenure of the last Spanish Governor, Don Jose Maria Chacon, were removed from the Amerindian Missions of Tacarigua and Arauca and the then expanding cocoa producing village of Cuara and relocated and consolidated into the Mission of Arima.
The Mission of Arima had been initially established in the mid eighteenth century for the purpose of the settlement and indoctrination of the indigenous peoples, on a parcel of land, (which had been granted by Don Juan Jose Salcedo, the Governor from 1746 – 1752) which some sources suggest was initially located within the territory of the Arimagotos tribe.
The Mission had initially been short-lived but had been formerly re-established in April 1786 on lands which by that time had been in the possession of Don Cristobal Guillen de Robles. De Robles was one of the richest proprietors in the island and had donated his parcel of 500 quarrees of land at Arima for the re-establishment of the Mission. This wealthy Spaniard was a Royal Officer of the Treasury who had arrived in Trinidad around 1745 and had been in office in Trinidad from the 1750s to the 1770s. The reconstituted Mission of Arima was organized under the leadership of Padre Reyes Bravo who three years before, had been confirmed as the Cura Proprietario of the three Missions west of Arima.
The lands of the Mission were considered the inalienable lands of the indigenous peoples and they were administered on their behalf by the Catholic Church. During the tenure of the British Governor Ralph Woodford a further 320 acres were allocated to the Mission. Unfortunately the mid to late nineteenth century saw the disenfranchisement of the indigenous peoples of their lands through a variety of strategies which were apparently all illegal. The 1870’s saw efforts made by Father Louis Daudier, the Parish Priest of Arima who agitated for the official return of these lands to the indigenous people.
In the late 1920s Francis Evelyn Mohammed “F.E.M” Hosein, a former Mayor of Arima and the author of “Hyarima and the Saints”, a miracle play and pageant, also unsuccessfully made efforts to have some lands returned to the indigenous peoples.
The Arima Mission, like other Roman Catholic Missions which had been established in other parts of the island and the region was part of the general plans of the Spanish conquistadors to subdue and Christianise the indigenous peoples and to reduce the risks of revolt among them. Additional reasons have been given for the establishment of the Arima Mision in particular.
The missions which had been first set up in Trinidad, beginning in 1687 were known as reducciones or misions de conversions and were established by Capuchin monks from the province of Catalonia in Spain. This had followed the failure of the conquistadors to subdue the indigenous peoples of the region by force. The new approach was the result of a royal decree which had been issued in 1642 by King Phillip II of Spain. He had also ordered the end of armed conquest in this region. The missions were also meant to reduce the opportunities for the native peoples to engage in their trade in tobacco and other produce with the ships of other European nations.
In 1708, contrary to the wishes of the Capuchin monks, the status of the early missions in Trinidad was changed by the Spanish colonial governments to that of misions de doctrina. These were under the civil administration of the Spanish governors of the day, who in turn appointed a Spanish Corregidor who functioned as a chief magistrate and administrator. The misiones de doctrina were also under the bishop of the Diocese. He appointed a cura doctrinero as the priest in charge of each mission.
The missions in Trinidad, like the encomiendas which, had been established before them were effectively a system for the institutionalised domination of the indigenous peoples. In some respects they also represented a form of slavery. John Harricharan, a local priest who has written extensively about the early history of the Roman Catholic church in Trinidad has expressed the view that the missions accomplished the “partial preservation of the Indigenous race as agricultural workers under the guise of living a Catholic life”.
The change of their status in Trinidad in 1708 arose from the complaints of the vecinos or cocoa planters about the lack of labour. Notwithstanding the exploitation of the indigenous peoples as a source of labour on the cocoa estates within the Missions, the excesses committed by the vecinos in their dealings with the indigenous peoples had however been unacceptable to the Capuchin missionaries.
According to the writer Burns, “The Indians were given in trusts (encomiendas) to the Spanish settlers for protection, conversion and instruction, and it was, indeed with an eye to the conversion of the heathen Arawaks that the Crown gave permission for their virtual enslavement”.
He went on to describe the conditions on the encomiendas “The wretched Indians were overworked in the mines and in the fields, and the food they received was insufficient for men engaged in arduous toil. They were brutally punished for slight offences and for any shirking of work, and their women were taken from them by their Spanish masters. Under these conditions it is not remarkable that the population rapidly dwindled but the system continued in the Spanish West Indies until there were no more indigenous labourers left to be allotted for this forced labour.”
Many writers have also suggested that the long distance between Spain (where the terms of the encomiendas were dictated) and the colonies in the region with an abundance of headstrong settlers, made it possible for the gross abuse of the system due to the armed superiority of the settlers.
In fact, although the year 1756 saw the formal proclamation of the end of slavery of indigenous peoples in the region, and although they would have constituted at that time more than eighty percent of the population their persecution in Trinidad continued even in some of the missions, as had been noted at Savanna Grande by the celebrated coloured Trinidad writer J.B. Phillipe.
It was the persecution of the indigenous peoples in the encomiendas that led to the first historical records about Hyarima (Hierreima). It was the tyrannical conduct of the Spaniards that created in his heart the desire which was given voice in the words of F.E.M. Hosein “to overcome the hateful Espanoles” and drive them out of Trinidad. It was this that brought Hyarima to question:
Was it ordained, decreed and even settled
That the children of thy woods and forests
Should be extirpated and their names
Forever blotted out and made extinct?
If so by whom or what!
It was this that inspired him to resolve to fight to protect the rights of his people.
Which heats my blood up to the boiling point
Where savage slaughter seems the only vent
For pent-up feelings long and hard repressed! >>>>>>>
P.S. As an important point I need to mention as well that by the middle of the 19th century a number of the indigenous peoples had also intermingled with person or persons of Irish blood. One of the corregidors of the Mission was an Irish settler called Goin (also spelt Goen in some records) who was the owner of the Mausica Estate before it had been acquired by the Cleavers. (There are a number of interesting stories there.)
Between 2003 and 2005, while conducting research in south Trinidad I independently encountered 2 families where the elders claimed that they were descendants of “a Carib woman from Arima” and a white man called Goin. The timeline of their family trees suggest that the Corregidor could have been their ancestor.