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N Touch
Monday 20 November 2017
Commentary

First Peoples in our veins

ARIMA IS STILL in high celebrity mode as the impact of its First Peoples celebrations dies down. Growing up in this the third largest town of Trinidad, the only chartered borough, as we were taught, and the home of the Carib queen, was in itself a cause for celebration.

The annual Carib queen procession and the Santa Rosa harvest festival were highlights of our lives.

We learnt with pride that the name Arima is a Carib name for water. I learnt later that I have a trace of Amerindian blood, though not from Arima. As the Trinidadian/Canadian writer Dionne Brand has noted, many of us carry the First Peoples within our veins and this very fact means that the first occupiers of our land remain in permanent interaction with those other peoples who came after.

However, this is not all. The First Peoples continue as real presences by virtue of names, herbal remedies, traditions, foods such cassava bread and farine, music and festivals. Arima is only one of many names that carry the vestige of the First Peoples in our region.

Even the word pomme Aruac, which as we know means the apple of the Aruacs, exists today as a memory of their enduring presence. This is the stuff of legend.

The philosopher and novelist Wilson Harris wove an entire theory of literature and culture around the traces of Amerindian existence. He proposes “the notion of a bridge” between cultures.

Literally, we carry the traces of the past in every age and we consume them as a way of reshaping present cultures and creating bridges between races and cultures.

The continuing presence and the insistent determination of the First Peoples of Arima, in particular, to both remember who they are and their rights to land give us pause in another way. It forces us to ask, what is it about humankind that carries this seed of hubris that is so dedicated to the destruction or subservience of others to the point where one group can attempt the extinction of another? In addition, when will we learn that power and possessions are not the end or the rationale of our existence?

When after Columbus, Europeans began the process of exterminating the Amerindians and stealing their land, they did so with what has been classically called “hubris.” That is, they saw themselves as better than those they encountered. Pride allowed a justification of dispossession of peoples who had lived there for perhaps thousands of years.

The usurpers then used education and religion to further justify the fact that a whole civilisation had been virtually destroyed or impoverished.

The idea that these newcomers were better than those they met in the Americas appeared to legitimise both theft and murder.

The truth is that today similar acts of distorted arrogance continue on a grand scale in and around the globe and within civil society.

Many feel that because they have accumulated wealth or power that they are somehow better than those who have not achieved success in quite the same way.

The ability to wield force continues to enable the marginalisation of those who do not have the means to adequately defend themselves.

The belief in superiority or a greater right enables such acts of injustice.

There is a reason why humility is at the heart of many religious beliefs. Humility does not mean that we grovel.

Instead, it signifies that we recognise the validity and the rights of others, while also accepting our own worth. It leads to social justice and in the case of the First Peoples may allow us to make a real commitment to their right to reparation.

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