2nd Article “CALVARY HILL AND THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLES OF ARIMA”

CALVARY HILL AND THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLES OF ARIMA

@Francis Morean 30th October 2018

(This is the second in a series of articles being published here by Francis Morean with the focus upon the history of Arima.)

In the previous post I quoted former Mayor of Arima F.E.M. Hosein, who suggested “ that Arima was the headquarters and high capital of the aboriginal Indians; the place where their chief or cacique resided.”
CALVARY HILL AND THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLES OF ARIMAIf Arima could be seen, in that light, then Calvary Hill had for many years been the withdrawal room of their home. Calvary Hill is the elevated area directly to the north of the town. One hundred years ago, the hilltop and hillsides of the area were covered in a variety of native plants, and cultivated with cocoa and fruit trees. Mango and cashew trees were everywhere. Manicous and cachicams were also found everywhere. Here and there were a few trees of the icaco or fat pork.

Guacamayo plants bloomed everywhere upon the hillsides. Scattered amongst these were the thrash houses of the indigenous peoples who inhabited the hillside. There dwelled the members of the Lopez family, the Gomez family, the Hernandez family, the Augustus family, the Boneos, the Calderons, the Campos, the Castillos, the Eccles, the Fermins, the Galeras, the Hills, the Noreigas, the Penas and other families who claimed to have “Carib blood”.
CALVARY HILL AND THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLES OF ARIMAThe history of the hill had also been intimately connected with the Roman Catholic presence in the area. Its name is derived from its use as a route during Good Friday Roman Catholic processions. The name, or its Spanish version, El Calvario, as it has been known among some of the older Spanish – speaking members of the community, has been in use for at least a century and a quarter. The area may have been so named from as early as the Spanish colonial era.

Once clothed in forests, this hillside above the Mission Village was part of the area once known as the Cabeceras or Heights of Arima. According to researcher Patricia Elie, it “had been the site of the Indian conucos or small gardens in the early Mission period. By 1850 it had actually become commonly known as El Conuco. Later, it gained the name of Calvet or Calvary.” It is reported that in the 1860’s there were 265 Caribs living at Calvary Hill. The Cabeceras extended for about six miles beyond Calvary Hill as can be noted in many of the reports of the Arima Road District which came into existence late during the first half of the nineteenth century.

One report in 1859 described the road to Cabeceras of Arima as a “mountainous road’ which was “not in a satisfactory manner”. The exact location of that early roadway is unclear. It is quite possible that this road skirted the Calvary Hill area and traversed the Mount Pleasant area.

The forested nature of Calvary Hill up to late in the nineteenth century, as well as its proximity to the forested Arima Valley, created a haven for wildlife. In fact, the historian Bridget Brereton has cited the fact that around 1840 “Occassionaly surviving members of a group of Chayma Indians used to come down from the heights beyond Arima to the Farfan estate, to barter wild meats for small household goods.” Even today, some areas of Calvary Hill as well as the steep hillsides of the neighbouring Mount Pleasant district are still covered in some forests.

Areas known as cabeceras existed, not only in the outskirts of Arima, but in many other areas in the Northern Range such as Maracas, Caura, La Laja, Toompoona, Guanapo, Valencia and Oropouche, where cocoa panyols settlements had been established. These were usually upland forested areas which were upstream or upwind from the central areas of human settlement. These areas provided an escape for the indigenous peoples. Local historian Bridget Brereton, captures what in some respects is a somewhat limited sense of their condition in the hills when she notes “Indeed, by 1850 there were said to be no more than four hundred Indians of pure descent in the whole island; by 1875 only a handful survived, and of the people of mixed Amerindian- Spanish-African descent, very few knew anything of Indian languages or ways. They all spoke Spanish. The “half-caste” Amerindians, living mostly in the valleys of the Northern Range behind Arima, were simple peasants and hunters, living in ajoupas, often preserving Amerindian arts of basket-weaving.”

It is not unlikely that the area that became known as Calvary Hill could have served as the route for the processions by the zealous Aragonese Capuchin monks who first established the unnamed mission at Arima around 1749 or by the monks who served in the area after the Mission was formerly re-established in April 1786.

In the very nature of the outcrops of guaratal stones which dotted the steep hillside overlooking the village, the early Roman Catholic priests in the area such as Fray Manuel de la Mata, Padre Pedro Jose Reyes Bravo, (who was the first Cura doctrinero of the reestablished Mission) Fray Juan Batista Molinar, Don Manuel Perez, Antonio Aguillera and Candido Martinez would have found imagery befitting the journey of Jesus on the way to his crucifixion. The forested nature of the hillsides would however have been an impediment to the early priests leading such ritual processions in the area.

It was not until after the arrival of Father Louis Daudier in 1869, that durable Stations of the Cross were erected on the eastern side of the hill. By that time much of the original forests would have gone and a larger proportion of the indigenous peoples would have already moved away from the core of the Mission to the frugal homesteads or conucos which they had established in the hills. Some of the trees from the hillside were used as firewood and in the production of charcoal. Stones from the hillside as well as some of the timber species would also have been used during the rebuilding of the church in 1869. From the time of Father Daudier to the current day, the hillside has been continually used for Good Friday processions. Up to the early nineteen forties, a large old wooden cross, about fifteen to twenty feet high, stood on a flattened part of the hillside in the vicinity of where stands today the playing field, south of the quarters for the priests at Calvary.
CALVARY HILL AND THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLES OF ARIMAOne visitor to the area in 1933, Canadian journalist J.C. Rowan observed : “What a magnificent view one can get from that point. Down below us nestled, the village of Arima, while for miles and miles, the green foliage of the country side, in many shades, stretched away to the distant mountains. There was peace and quiet there, disturbed only by the playing of Reverend Farell’s two small dogs and our conversation. Here and there on the sides of the hills one could see thatched cottages but no sign of the people who lived in them. There was outward evidence that they were occupied, however, I would have liked to speak to some of the Caribs but found them, even as their Queen had said, quite unapproachable and shy.”

The earliest easily available pictorial image of the village of Arima has been that by the artist Michel Cazabon (1813 – 1888) which was painted around 1850. In it, Cazabon had presented his impression of the breath taking view and some of the expansive vistas which can be experienced from the hillside north of the town and had hopefully captured a realistic perspective of Arima at the time. In the painting, Cazabon presents an image of cattle grazing on a heavily denuded southern slope on the hillside. He also presented an image of a well wooded environment which formed the village and centre of the Mission. If his portrayal was realistic, then it would not be unlikely that the area would already have been used at that time for Good Friday processions.

During the past century, the Queens of the Carib community had been interviewed from time to time and the voice of the children of the first peoples had thereby found some expression in the local press. Other than that however, their history had usually been recorded, if at all, through the glimpses seen by missionaries and travel writers with their “in built Euro – centric positions, world views and prejudices”, by historians of the time such as E.L.Joseph, and by a few local observers such as Leon de Gannes and Louis de Verteuil.
CALVARY HILL AND THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLES OF ARIMAThe journalist Rowan had visited the Carib Queen, Mary Werges, at her home which was located at the corner of Woodford and Longden Streets in Arima. It was she who had invited him to pay a visit to Calvary Hill. In his commentary upon the interview with her he had reflected upon the manner in which years of European hostility had adversely impacted upon the descendants of the indigenous peoples.

In the report published on the interview conducted between him and the Carib Queen, who he had also photographed in ceremonial wear he noted the reclusive and retiring nature of the descendants of the indigenous peoples.

“Asked where the Caribs of today lived, she waved her hands in the general directions of the hills.
“But you can’t see them “she said.
“They are shy. They run and hide when strangers come. Only will they talk if some particular person they know comes with the stranger. Sometimes even, they run from me. They are proud too, and becoming more so I think.”
This secretiveness on the part of the Caribs is, I am told, a characteristic of the race. For centuries, Sir Walter Raleigh, and his men in the closing days of the 16th century found this true then.

It is said that the only occasion on which they did not hide themselves when a party of strangers arrived, they were taken captives and sold as slaves. This, no doubt, accounts for the custom.
“How do they live? If you climb the hill you can see their huts. But you won’t see any people. I don’t know where they go but they leave everything and hide.”

This withdrawal by the descendants of the indigenous peoples effectively served to deny the nation of opportunities to learn about our first peoples through what could have been their own words, if faithfully recorded by visitors to the area such as Rowan and others.

Drucilla “Mama Shillee” Galera of Calvary was one of the first elders of the community, other than the Carib Queens, whose voice has been documented for posterity. In an interview with journalist and writer Elma Reyes and others which was conducted around 1975 when she was almost 106 years old, “Ma Galera” recalled the location of the Carib Community in Arima about a century and more before. “That time it was not only Calvary Hill. The village began all where the Church is, and so it was up to when I was born because my father’s house, where I was born was right opposite the Church.”

In 1978 Reyes had observed that “This settlement, Calvary Hill, is still home to some members of the tribe. The rest of them have been displaced since recent “developments” began to take place on Calvary Hill. These developments” may have been beneficial to some citizens, but definitely not to the Carib people.” Back in 1978, she had also noted “when some years ago, some members of the Carib community in Arima were told they had to move to give way to a proposed development, the affected persons were assured they would be given alternate housing lots. Approximately twenty years later, the alternate lots have not as yet materialised, and the Carib people describe what they have got as a “run-around”.

These developments were no doubt attracted by the views from the hill, the changing moods of which both Cazabon and Rowan had previously appreciated and documented. The new structures served among other things to improve the opportunities for secondary education in Arima and environs. They however had significant impacts upon the descendants of the indigenous peoples in Arima.

Below can be found a complete transcription of the article by Rowan.

“A VISIT TO THE QUEEN OF THE CARIBS

Having heard much of the secretiveness of the Caribs, those descendants of the original inhabitants of the Island, I had not much hope of a lengthy conversation with her. However, when, with the Rev. E. I. D. Farrell, the Rector of St. Judes Anglican Church, Arima, I knocked at the door of her home, we were received courteously.

Not a palace, certainly, but a clean and well-kept cottage is Mrs. Verges home, a point which struck me when we entered on her invitation.

AMERICAN INDIAN
Rather short and with features that reminded me of the Indians of North America, the Queen gave us a most pleasant welcome. She was dressed in what is known as a “Mother Hubbard” and her straight black hair hung down in two braids.

Asked where the Caribs of today lived, she waved her hands in the general direction of the hills. “But you can’t see them,” she said. “They are shy. They run and hide when strangers come. Only will they talk if some particular person they know comes with the stranger. Sometimes, even, they run away from me. They are proud too, and becoming more so, I think.”

This secretiveness on the part of the Caribs is, I am told, a characteristic of the race. For centuries they have run and hidden at the approach of strangers. Sir Walter Raleigh and his men in the closing days of the 16th century found this true then.

It is said that the only occasion on which they did not hide themselves when a party of strangers arrived, they were taken captives and sold as slaves. This, no doubt, accounts for the custom.

“How do they live. If you climb the hill you can see their huts. But you won’t see any people. I don’t know where they go but they leave everything and hide.”

SYMBOL OF AUTHORITY
Mrs. Verges, who has been the Carib Queen for 48 years, stated that she held her authority by reason of her silver cross. “Years ago I knew two very old Caribs. One of them had the Cross. When he died the other take it and when she die she give it to me and tell me I am Queen of the Caribs. When I die I will leave the Cross to my son or daughter who will be head of the people.”

Leaving us for a moment the Queen went into another room and produced the Cross. It is a small thing of silver from which the replica of the Christ has been lost. Asked how old this symbol of her authority might be, she replied that it was “Old, old. When my father, mother born, it was old.”

SANTA ROSA FEAST
Sitting in a rocking-chair in the living room of the house, Mrs. Verges went on to tell me about the Carib observance of the Feast of Santa Rosa, the one day in the year when they gather together.

On the day before the Feast, the Queen sends messages to her people that the annual gathering will take place. For weeks previous to this both she and they have been making preparations for “Their Day.”

The morning dawns and, by means of a rocket, which was presented to the district by the Government, the Caribs are notified that the celebration has begun. In other years a gun was fired but this has been superceded by the more modern appliance.

At six a.m. then, the ceremony begins. The effigy of Santa Rosa, which has been decorated with flowers is placed in a form of sedan chair and carried at the head of the procession which makes its way up Calvary Road, observing the Stations of the Cross.

CARIB LEGEND
Incidentally, the Caribs have a legend that their statue of Santa Rosa, which is only brought out in public on the one day in the year, was found in the woods many hundred years ago and brought to the spot where the Church of Santa Rosa now stands.

The Queen allowed me to inspect the Cross while she went again into another room and brought forth a small effigy which she said represented the Infant Jesus.

This was also very old she said. To us it looked remarkably fresh, clothed, as it was in a long white child’s dress. Holding it in her arms she explained that it was placed in the arms of Santa Rosa on the feast day.

On one of the wrists was a collection of queer-looking articles which, on closer inspection, proved to be replicas of eyes, limbs etc. These, she said, were given by people who had prayed to Santa Rosa for help in various afflictions, such as blindness, injured limbs and so forth.

I had seen representations of the Madonna and Child in many places but never before had I seen the Infant Jesus represented with a thick head of curly brown hair. Perhaps, as do some of the American negroes, the Caribs believe Him to have been of their race, and the brown hair is the outward sign of this.

NO CARIB TONGUE
Reverting to our discussion about the Caribs, Mrs. Verges stated that they no longer spoke the Carib language. Spanish and English and a patois were used today.

As to their means of gaining a livelihood, she said that they cultivated cocoa on their small holdings or would work as labourers, if necessary.

I asked the Queen if I might take a photograph of her and with a smile she assented.

She came out into the sun and holding the Cross in both hands in front of her breast, posed for me. Looking as like a Queen as anyone, except, perhaps in the matter of dress.

And that is the picture of her I carried away in my mind. A short, stoutish little woman with black hair and bright eyes, holding tight to a silver cross, the emblem of her authority and a symbol of belief.

Her features reminded me strangely of a North American Indian and I could not help wondering whether the Caribs were not related to the tribes in North America. My illustration shows a distinct family likeness.

CARIBS CALVARY
Leaving Mrs. Verges, I thought I would like to see the Calvary to which the Caribs climbed on the Feast of Santa Rosa.
CALVARY HILL AND THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLES OF ARIMAThe road, known as Calvary Road, winds up a hill and, as the Rev. Mr. Farrell and I climbed it, I meditated on the fact that, for years and years, these people, whose ancestors had at one time massacred Christian Priests, followed the way to Calvary even as did the Christ Himself.

Every few yards up the hill is a small white cross, signifying one of the Stations.

Finally we rounded a sharp turn and, at the top, standing on a foundation of stone is the tall weather-beaten, wooden Cross which looks out over the countryside.

What a magnificent view one can get from that point. Down below us nestled the village of Arima while, for miles and miles, the green foliage of the countryside, in so many shades, stretched away to the distant mountains.

PEACE AND QUIET
There was a peace and quiet there, disturbed only by the playing of Rev. Farrell’s two small dogs and our conversation.

Here and there on the sides of the hills one could see thatched cottages but no sign of the people who lived in them. There was outward evidence that they were occupied, however.

I would have liked to speak to some of the Caribs but found them, even as their Queen had said, quite unapproachable and shy.

Coming down the hill, the road leads to the Church of Santa Rosa and here we called on the Rev. Father J. Kenny, O.P., the Parish Priest, hoping that he would be able to enlighten me on the tradition of the statue of Santa Rosa. This he was unable to do.

Someday I am going to visit ‘Queen Marie’ again and ask her to accompany me into the forest where her people live. It should be interesting.”

(This is the second in a series of articles being published here by Francis Morean with the focus upon the history of Arima.)
CALVARY HILL AND THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLES OF ARIMA