IS ARIMA REALLY A PLACE OF WATER?
Francis Morean @4th June 2019
(This is the fifteenth in a series of articles being published here by Francis Morean with the focus upon the history of Arima.)
I have often reflected upon the process by which European explorers and colonists went about documenting the names by which indigenous peoples called themselves and the places around them.
On the one hand indigenous peoples everywhere were often portrayed as illiterate, primitive persons. But at the same time they had their own languages, belief systems and technology, some of which were adapted by the Europeans.
They were also very literate and were also able to not only communicate with the Europeans, but evidently, based upon various historical documents, they were also quickly able to learn the languages of the colonizing powers.
The first indigenous person in the island Cairi or Chaleibi whose name was recorded by the Spanish conquistadors was probably that of the cacique Maruana of the province of Chacomar. Cacique Maruana has also been called Chacomar by some writers. He has been recorded as having been the leader of a tribe of Indians in the south of Cairi at the time of Sedeno’s effort to settle the island that Columbus called La Trinite. He was very friendly to Sedeno and his men and afforded them an escape route from Erin at the south of Cairi / Chaleibi, in 1530 when they came under sustained attack from other indigenous persons.
Even this however has not been the subject of mutual agreement among local historians. Some writers such as Sue-Ann Gomes, have also suggested that Chacomar was in fact a Southern Province of Cairi / Chaleibi but she goes on to claim that it was ruled by the Cacique Marnana. This may probably have been a typographical error which the publishers failed to discern.
Michael Anthony has suggested that it was not even Chacomar but Chacomaray. He goes on to indicate among other things in his Historical Dictionary of Trinidad and Tobago that Chacomaray was :
“A Trinidad province of Amerindian times occupying much of the south-western portion of the island. It existed at least during the early part of the sixteenth century when it was ruled over by Maruana, a cacique known for his help and various courtesies to the early conquistadores who called at Trinidad. This was a period when ships were still entering the Gulf of Paria through the southern passage, the Serpent’s Mouth, following in the path of Columbus.”
Based upon the detailed writings of the Spanish chronicler, Oviedo, it appears that the cacique’s name was in fact Maruana and the province was called Chacomare. Accepting the writings of Oviedo as being an account of a writer who was in this region during the early sixteenth century and who had a firsthand account of many of the matters described in his well-known work, it could be assumed that his account of the events in Cairi or Chaleibi in the early 1530s is the most reliable primary source of information about the island from that era.
I was born and grew up in part of the area that was known as Chacomar.
The names of both the cacique and the place were adopted by me when I decided to establish a publishing house, the Chacomar-Maruana Indigenous Press about a decade and a half ago. It has nothing to do with marijuana as some folks sometimes wonder aloud.
As a child, I knew nothing about the names of either Chacomar nor Maruana. I felt that the use of the names for a publishing house would be a practical manner of educating the public about that bit of history.
Like most children in this nation, however, I knew of a place called Arima. I was taught as a child that Arima meant “the place of water”, and of course, like most, if not all children in the nation, I grew up believing that. And we were also taught that Naparima meant the place without water.
This opinion had been reported by James Henry Collens in 1884 who had also noted that “another theory deserving of some consideration, is that Anaparima means the place lacking water, in contradiction to Arima, or the land of abundant water.”
As I became an adult I began to however discover other perspectives about the meaning of Naparima and that caused me to review as well what I had been taught about Arima.
As a matter of fact, the meaning of Arima has been subject to some disagreement over the past two decades even within the community of the descendants of indigenous peoples.
When I first met Ricardo Cruz at the herbal workshop I held at Asa Wright over the Independence weekend of 1998 he indicated that based upon his understanding, and upon his interpretation of the views presented by other researchers it meant “The Place of the Beginning.” For many reasons that was an interpretation that I personally liked.
The British Governor Claud Hollis, who had taken a great interest in the history of Trinidad and Tobago in general and Arima in particular, had on more than one occasion indicated that Arima is named in honour of Hierreima (Hyarima). He did not indicate the source of his information however his postulation appears to be incorrect. He found strong support for that view from F.E.M Hosein.
During his tenure as Mayor of Arima, Hosein paid great attention to the presence of the descendants of the indigenous peoples in Arima. At the time, as to a great extent it still is today, there was very little easily available recorded information about the history of the indigenous peoples of Arima. F.E.M. Hosein sought to correct that situation. In the process he was ably assisted by one of the key figures in the Trinidad Historical Society.
F.E.M. Hosein himself was to later indicate the extent to which he relied upon information received from Dr Kenrick Stanton Wise in the writing of a pageant play the following year about the Nepuyo Chief, Hyarima. Dr Wise was the Director of Medical Services in Trinidad around the time when Hosein was the mayor of Arima, and in the opinion of Sir Claude Hollis, the doctor was “the leading authority on the history of Trinidad under Spanish rule”.
The Governor at the time also depended upon some of the work of Dr Wise in the subsequent production of his little-known book, A Brief History of Trinidad Under The Spanish Crown. Governor Hollis would have also had the benefit of access to other historical documents which were not in wide circulation at the time. As an example he had access to a number of documents which had been used by the notable historian Pierre-Louis Gustave-Borde. It is not clear however to what extent F.E.M. Hosein had direct access to any of the old primary Spanish colonial documents which would have helped to trace the history of the indigenous peoples of Arima, or from when he had access to them, if at all. This would become very evident in this article as well as in my soon to be published book about FEM Hosein and his contribution to the indigenous people of Arima.
From the context in which F.E.M. Hosein used the expression “the indigenous inhabitants of the colony” in his controversial speech of May 1913 to the East Indian National Association it can be clearly seen that up to at least the time of that lecture, Hosein had incorrectly perceived the non-Indian population as being the indigenous inhabitants. In fact, his definition of the indigenous people of the time seems to have excluded the first peoples of Trinidad or at best, to have lumped them among the mixture of Africans, Chinese and Europeans who were in Trinidad before the arrival of East Indians in the island.
F.E.M. Hosein’s interest in the indigenous people of Arima seems to have only developed quite late in his career when he became the Mayor of Arima. It appears to have been stimulated by his preparation of a welcome speech which he made on the occasion of the first visit to Arima, in August 1930, by the islands’ then new Governor, Sir Claud Hollis. One can get a glimpse of the extent of the research conducted by F.E.M. from the content of the welcome address which he had made.
Unfortunately, even some of the statements made by Hosein in his speech may be subject to some questions until they can be validated by historical evidence. That in itself is highly unlikely in my considered opinion. Interestingly, although Hosein’s welcome speech referred to historical details which are not easily available in Trinidad, he had made no mention whatsoever of Hierreima (Hyarima) in his speech.
That is a very significant point to be noted. It appears that the research which he had done in the run-up to the Governor’s visit had triggered in him a strong interest in the indigenous peoples. This had led him to visit the site of the Arena Uprising and to complete the pageant play about Hierreima (Hyarima) less than a year after the Governor’s formal visit to Arima. In the archival records prior to 1930, I have found no mention of Hosein having given specific attention to the needs of that community.
Hyarima’s life inspired the play “Hyarima and the Saints” which was written by F.E.M. Hosein in 1931 and which celebrates the Amerindian lifestyle and the Amerindian resistance to the European colonists. The writing of the play was completed in May 1931. In the introduction to the play, the late Mayor of Arima noted:
“I have done no less than what by inclination, temperament and circumstances, I was led to do. I do not say that what I have done is well done. I challenge no comparisons. I have done the highest justice I was capable of to such a lofty theme”.
Of his play about Hyarima, Hosein noted :
“I have not written with any pretensions to strict historical accuracy. No one knows that better than Dr Wise to whom I am entirely indebted for whatever of Carib History appears in my Play. That History, it is true, was meagre. But it was the most that could be had. And from that little I feel that I am justified in placing Hyarima in the lime-light. The little revealed that he was altogether too big to be lost.”
Although we are grateful to Hosein for his role in stimulating renewed interest in Hyarima, we need to appreciate that Hosein was a complicated person, who sometimes engaged in flights of literary fancy. I would not be willing to elaborate more about that in this space. In fact it is due to his sense of drama that the notion developed that Hyarima was still alive in 1699. That is not just highly disputable but highly unlikely.
Be that as it may, in trying to justify his idea that Arima was named after Hyarima, Hosein had made the following comments during a speech in 1931 at which a cannon was being presented at Calvary Hill to the indigenous peoples.
“It was on the 1stDecember, 1699, that the good Fathers Estavan de San Felice, Marco de Vicque, the brothers Random de Figuerola with the ensign bearer, Thomas de Lima were foully murdered at San Francisco de Arenales. The spot where the foul deed was done is still marked by a rough wooden cross. Simultaneously with this massacre was the massacre of the Spanish Governor Don Jose de Leon y Eschala and his party on the banks of the Caroni River and within earshot almost of San Francisco de Arenales whither His Excellency was going on a visit to the Mission.
The two massacres simultaneously done pointed to some concerted plan on the part of the Caribs to get rid at one stroke of the foreign invasion both in its civil and religious aspects. The massacre was carried through successfully and but for a sudden panic which seized the Indians which caused them to flee from the scene of the murders, they would very likely have succeeded in driving the Spaniards out of Trinidad. That their plans were well laid suggest a master brain among them, and their evident panic and helplessness when they had all but succeeded suggest the sudden and unexpected removal of that master brain. If there was a master brain among the Caribs of that period, that master brain was Nepuyo, Chieftain Hyarima.
Now it is known that Hyarima lived here with his tribe. He said so himself, and there can be no doubt from the exact similarity of names that this place, derives its name from him. He must have been, therefore, a man of outstanding character to leave his name to this spot.
Whether Arima means water or stone, is immaterial. The fact is that Hyarima lived and died here. He is an historical character. He was the chief of the warlike Nepuyos and he was undoubtedly the Spaniards bitterest foe. If Hyarima was a good enough name for a man, it was equally good enough name for a place whereby the memory of that man could be perpetuated and honoured.”
In those last few sentences which I have quoted, Hosein craftily and dismissively conjoined historical details with personal opinion in a manner, which I have observed among some contemporary attorneys and politicians. For whatever it is worth, we must remember that he was both.
Governor Hollis also touched upon the issue of the nomenclature of Arima during his response. He remarked”
“Your Worship, Burgesses of Arima, Representatives of the Caribs, Ladies and Gentlemen – I thank you for the welcome which you have given to Lady Hollis and myself to-day. It rivals in cordiality the welcome that you extended to Lady Hollis, my daughter and myself just a year ago, when I paid my first official visit to Arima. On that occasion His Worship the Mayor asked me to present, on behalf of the Government a piece of Ordinance to the Caribs, to take the place of the cannon which had been given to them by a former Governor, Lord Harris, some 80 years ago, but which had since come to grief. I am very glad that it has been possible to make arrangements for bronze cannon to be brought to Arima and that the old custom of summoning the Caribs on Santa Rosa day will by its means be revived.
The cannon is dated 1794, and was therefore cast three years before the capitulation, that is to say whilst the Island of Trinidad was still a Spanish Colony. It will serve to remind the Caribs of the glorious days when one of the greatest of their Chiefs, Hyarima after whom this town is named, fought for the Independence of the tribe; and it will also remind them of the more peaceful times when their ancestors embraced Christianity.”
Interestingly however, the perspective of the then Mayor and Governor did not find favour and did not gain traction among the burgesses. In fact, a few days later, one C.S. Assee ripped apart the notion in a letter to the editor of one of the local newspapers. To Assee and most Arimians, Arima remained a place of water. And who could have blamed them for holding to that position.
After all, Arima had always been well-known for the rivers, which coursed through it from the mountains.
In a lecture delivered in Edinburgh, on March 11th, 1882 by A. R. Gray, for example, he discussed a visit to a cocoa estate in the Arima Valley.
“Our ride is along the brink of a precipice, the pathway being in some cases not more than two feet in width, the sides of which, if not covered with cocoa trees, are clad with huge trees and luxuriant tropical vegetation; and down below running river, sometimes babbling brook; at others when swollen by the rains, a torrent dashing and roaring and surging, carrying devastation and ruin with it in its headlong course. On the other hand frowns a rugged mountain side, it also giving evidence of a man’s handiwork in being clothed with cocoa cultivation, or presenting the face bestowed on it by another statue, but disfigured by man, but decked in Nature’s garment; vast trees, mighty monarchs of the tropical woods; virgin forests, untrodden by mortal foot. The bridle path is crossed at intervals by little ravines or rivulets, running down from some spring on the hill-side to mingle their waters with the larger river.”
On the whole, travel writers in the Arima Valley have often celebrated the beauty of the Arima River as it wends its way down to Arima. Alas, the quality of that water has changed so much as a result of extensive quarrying in the valley.
F.E.M Hosein himself, in his welcome address to Governor Hollis in 1930 had noted: “Placed on a plateau more than 200 feet above sea level, with the Arima River on the East and the Mausica River on the West and South and intersected by natural watercourses on the East, West and South she has the advantage of being both well-watered and well-drained, conditions which no Town in the Colony and few, if any, inland village enjoy.”
A member of the Encinas family, in describing Emancipation celebrations in Arima during the mid to late nineteenth century noted :“A centre for the observance of this grand occasion was Arima. Liberated slaves came from around Port of Spain, Matura, Turure, Arouca, Manzanilla, etc. to celebrate every first of August.
When I was little, I had the opportunity to take part in the pageant one year. The house where the grand display was held was at “Chemin de Riviere” corner of Prince and de Gannes Streets.”
Most modern day Arimians would be familiar with that location as well as with River Road off Cocorite Road.
In the town itself, the term “over the bridge” (which refers to a bridge that was located at a ravine on Guanapo Street) was up to a decade or so ago used to define one of the boundaries to determine who was to be considered a true Arimian or a member of the ‘gens d’Arimes’ as they were originally called by the descendants of the early French settlers in the area and subsequently by other groups. The bridge was first constructed during the late nineteenth century. To the farmers, hunters and forest dwellers of the mountain villages of La Laja, Brasso Seco and Morne La Croix, that point was also known by the French patois name of Lava Pied Ravine. It was the place where people would wash their feet of the mud along the dirt roads of the forest and then enter the town centre.
Then along the Arima and Mausica Rivers there were the many popular bathing pools, which most likely even pre-dated the European presence in Arima. I hope to discuss some of the in my next article in this series.
The area known as Mausica Lands as well as the river and tributaries which run through this area to the north west of the town centre were formerly known as Mauxico, Mauxica or Muzico during the nineteenth century. One of the tributaries of the river was known as the Mauxiquita Ravine. The vegetation of some f these tributaries still even today reflect the days when water steadily flowed in them even during the dry season.
The main ravine which runs under King Street near the cemetery, was once known as El Canal de Los Muertos. It marks the eastern limit of the original cemetery. It separated the cemetery from the settlements of the indigenous peoples within the mission of Arima. It is one of the tributaries of the Mausica River. For a few years beginning in 2006 I lived just a few feet from the edge of that ravine, which is now paved. Such was the force of the water currents in that ravine during heavy rains, that a homeless man who lived along its course died by drowning when heavy rains came down unexpectedly one night.
In such an environment, where so many water courses have been running through Arima, it was unlikely that anyone could have succeeded in changing the public’s perception that Arima was “the place of water”. Neither Hosein nor Governor Hollis succeeded.
In taking them to task, the burgess Assee responded “Angalis pou Anglais” and threw several verbal jabs at Hosein, who at the time was admittedly one of the most academically qualified citizens of Arima. He began by suggesting in part
“So, after all, Arima is really a contraction of Hyarima, called after a Carib Indian brave. We live and learn, in this world, we must:- and live to learn and learn to live. Other Indians here (not the autocthonous), and some contractors (verbal as well as written), and the poorer class of people in the country generally, who are pioneers at making short cuts, (verbal as well), clip a syllable and say or mumble “Rima” not Arima. By a strange freak of coincidence, there was once upon a time another Rima who dwelt among the quadrumanas uncatalogued by Darwin and Epstein’s nightmare birds; and whose abode was in “Green Mansions” abroad.
So far, so good. If that is so, may we ask, of what brave general’s name is Naparima a contraction? The answer is Napoleon of course!”
And then he really began to expose his biting wit and sarcasm.
But surely not historically, for History may repeat, but does not contradict itself. Water does not flow backwards, even in Arima the land of water; far less in Naparima the land of water famine. This anachronism in derivation from Napoleon could easily be duplicated and made worse by counterclaiming that the Indian name Naparima is a contraction of a bogus French phrase “N’est pas Arima,” or “N’a pas Arima,” the very antithesis of Arima. What next? Santa Rosa de Lima will next be “Santa Rosa de Rime”. Arima is pronounced “Lima” by celestials.
Seriously, after all, are not coincidences normal? Are we not familiar with coincidences occurring, even as physical phenomena – and far more daily, in this work a day world?
A cacique or chieftain called Hyarima may have lived in Arima without setting the Arima river on fire; just as Jack London may have lived in London without baptising or setting the Thames on fire. And a man may be called Drinkwater without a drop of water in his eyes, far less his mouth.”
“If Arima is indeed an eponym, why should there have been a contraction of the name at all from Hyarima? There is nothing low about it. Why make it lower? If the name is the monument of the man, in this case, it is strange – strange – strange – passing strange – that the Spaniards did not change that name after the assassination of the Governor of the Colony and massacre of prominent citizens and high church dignitaries by the Indians of the district, but allowed it to remain as a tradition to perpetuate the name of the leader of the assassins. As they changed the name of the Southern Borough Naparima into San Fernando, they could have changed the name of the Middleborough into Santa Rosa, or any other Rose, sainted or scented all the same, even with no reason, and all the more if there was reason to do so. As well think that the British would have allowed the natives to change the name of the settlement, where the Viceroy of India, Lord Mayo (no relative of Miss Mayo) was assassinated, to co-opt or perpetuate the name of his assassin.”
More recently, Roger Belix has indicated to me that some first nation peoples of Guyana have told him that the arima is a type of tree in South America and that the tree may have once been common in this area.
Other writers have suggested that the name Arima has been derived from haiyarema plant, a large forest tree with poisonous roots. I do not give much credence to the latter notions but at the same time would consider it foolhardy to discredit them and I do not intend to exclude the possibilities. It is known for example that some native plants which were once common in some parts of Trinidad are now extinct in those areas.
Examples include the toco plant (also known as the toque tree) after which the village of Toco was named, and the cashima plant after which a part of the village of Palo Seco had been named up to around 1935.
My effort to identify such a plant, or for that matter any plant with an indigenous name which is phonetically similar to Arima has so far been limited to four possibilities. In this I have been guided partly by the Amerindian plant names personally recorded by D.B. Fanshawe directly from the indigenous peoples , or compiled from work done by the Forest Department of the then British Guiana from as early as 1926. There is a plant called ariwa by the indigenous peoples of Guyana. The Scientific name is Cespedesia amazonica. This plant is not known from Trinidad.
In Guyana can also be found the plant Tapiria guianensis Aubl. Which, is known to the indigenous peoples there as warimia. There is also the plant Clathrotropis brachypetala (Tul.)Kleinh, called aromataby the indigenous peoples of Guyana. This plant is commonplace in the Arima Valley. Based upon the phonetic similarity between arima and aromata one can speculate about the possibility which has been raised by Belix.
The final possibility lies in the use of the tirite plant in the production of utilitarian items by the indigenous peoples of Arima. The botanical name of this plant is Ischnosiphon arouma. The English writer and clergyman Charles Kingsley recorded it as the arouma plant during his visit to Trinidad in 1869. This is phonetically similar to arima. It is not clear to me however whether the indigenous peoples called this plant arouma or whether this was a name that Kingsley had learnt from the staff at the Botanic Garden while he stayed at “The Cottage”.
All these differences in opinion are connected directly to the loss of the languages of the indigenous peoples of Trinidad.
It can be seen quite clearly however from the foregoing that from the early days of European settlement in Trinidad, Amerindian plant names were being used in the description of places, and that process continued into the mid to late nineteenth century.
The tradition of river bathing was also very popular among indigenous peoples and in my next article I plan to post a piece about that.