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SANTA ROSA FIRST PEOPLES COMMUNITY HERITAGE WEEK

SANTA ROSA FIRST PEOPLES COMMUNITY HERITAGE WEEK

"Preserving a legacy, nurturing a future"

Every year since its inception in 1990, the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community, formerly known as the Santa Rosa Carib Community, has hosted “Heritage Week”. This is usually held in the period leading up to the day of recognition October 14.

During Heritage Week, the community opens its doors to other indigenous tribes scattered throughout the world, religious bodies, and the public. Sacred traditions such as the Smoke Ceremony and Water Ritual, indigenous street parades and fairs are some of the many events incorporated into Heritage Week. These events are focused on fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation for the history, contributions, and beliefs of the First Peoples Community within Trinidad and Tobago. 

The Heritage Library Division (HLD) through its wealth of resources on this culturally relevant group seeks to share some of the experiences documented during previous festivities. In this post, we will explore both the Smoke Ceremony and Water Ritual, two of the main staples which one can experience during Heritage Week.

 

 

 

 

Community Member captured in motion during 2015, indigenous parade, Port of Spain

 

 

Members of the First Peoples Community captured during the 2015 celebration at Independence Square, Port of Spain

 

A Brief Glance at the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community Ancestral History

Over seven thousand (7000) years ago, the ancestors of the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community, journeyed from South America to Trinidad which they referred to as Kairi / Cairi / Caeri, this meant ‘the island’. They came from tribes such as the Aruaca, Garini, Nepuyos, Shebayos, Laios, Salvaios, Carinepagoto, Warao, Lokono, Karinas, Garifunas or Tainos, Chaguanese and Yaios (Balkaransingh 1-3) and roamed Kairi freely until 1498 when Christopher Columbus claimed Kairi in the name of Spain. The Amerindians fought against this conquest; one such encounter is the Arena Massacre of 1699, which was led by Chief Hyarima. The Amerindians who survived these rebellions either retreated to South America or faced enslavement. (Khan 15-19, Ottley 1-34).

Throughout Trinidad and Tobago, the rich history of the Amerindians remains preserved. This history can be seen in the various place names, music, culture, and customs left by Amerindian ancestors. Arima which is the Amerindian word meaning “water or place of much water” is one such location where the First Peoples migrated. This migration occurred after a mission was established in Arima in 1785 for three encomienda villages (Khan 20). Within the area of Arima, there are several descendants from the various tribes who are active members of the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community.

Today, the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community is recognised as the only organisation involved in ensuring the preservation and survival of the First Peoples heritage within Trinidad and Tobago. The Community consists of over one thousand (1,000) members, of which approximately four hundred (400) were registered when it was incorporated for business purposes. The community is led by a Council of Elders which include:

  • Chief: Ricardo Bharath-Hernandez.
  • Carib Queen: Nona Lopez Aquan
  • Shaman/ Pyai / Medicine man: Cristo Adonis.

Descendants of the Community can be identified based on their lineage and residence. Family names such as Boneo, Campo, Calderon, Castillo, Hernandez, Martinez, Torres, Guerra, Belcon and Peña are associated with that of First Peoples ancestry.

On Friday, 13th October 2017, in recognition of the contributions and sacrifices of the First Peoples Community, the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago granted a one-off holiday.

Spiritual greeting between member of the First Peoples Community

Spritual greeting between member of the First Peoples Community (left) and guest (right), 2013

 

Water Ritual

An early morning trip to the river, to witness the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community Water Ritual, is guaranteed to be an eye-opening experience. Being nature worshippers, the Community sees water as “Life”, and because of this belief, the river holds an important role. They believe that the river possesses its very own Spirit/God, thus, they perform the Water Ritual firstly, as an offering to the Spirit that controls the body of water and secondly, as an offering to one’s ancestors.

On the day of the ritual, members of the Community, internationally recognized indigenous tribes, religious fraternities, and spectators congregate at the ceremonial site. Devotees come adorned in their traditional attire; this includes knitted / crocheted wool clothing, intricate headpieces and engraved chac-chacs of all styles and sizes. Fashioned in vibrant colours inclusive of scarlet red, sunny yellow, majestic blue, and lily white, the traditional attire worn by members produce a spectacle reminiscent of a sea of colour, while inspiring awe and reverence for the heritage of the First Peoples.

At the ceremonial grounds, the Chief enlightens the congregation about the ritual. Alongside the other members, he prepares the site, offerings and a special wash made from herbs. This wash is used by devotees for cleansing before participation in the ceremony. When the official ceremony begins, the congregation gathers around the site, one by one devotees step forth and make their offering to the Unseen God, Tamushi. This activity is accompanied by steady rhythmic drumming, chanting, and the shaking of chac-chacs, maracas and other musical instruments. Before the ceremony concludes, devotees pour the remainder of these offerings into the river. Members who desire wade in the water, where they wash their hands, face, and neck. The sharing of this ritual fosters an awareness of the First Peoples customs and serves to educate others of the need to respect our natural resources, water being one of the most important.

 

Former Carib Queen Jennifer Cassar (deceased) captured preparing mixture, which will be used for purification by devotees

 

Shaman, Cristo Adonis pours offering around clay pot containing herb mixture

  Shaman, Cristo Adonis pours offering around clay pot containing herb mixture

 

Chief, Ricardo Bharath-Hernandez raises cassava bread towards the heavens in offering

Chief, Ricardo Bharath-Hernandez raises cassava bread towards the heavens in offering.

 

The Smoke Ceremony

“Prepare to be engulfed in smoke,” while this promises to be a mesmerising experience, the ceremonial smoke is sacred to the community’s rituals. The ceremony has several purposes, one of which is paying homage to the indigenous community’s ancestors. One such ancestor is Chief Hyarima who led the Arena Massacre of 1699. This ceremony essentially takes place at the base of Hyarima’s statue, located on Hollis Avenue, Arima. 

Monument of Chief Hyarima

Monument for Chief Hyarima

At this event, members of the community attired in their traditional clothing (like those worn during the Water Ritual), guests, and spectators gather in the early hours of the morning at Hyarima’s monument for the ritual. Lit tobacco cigars as well as a special wash are used by devotees as a method of purification before participating in the ceremony.

 

Member of the community blowing smoke into a special wash. This will be used for cleansing, 2015

 

Offerings are made during this ritual, some of which include items such as flowers, cassava bread, incense, and fragrant oils. These oblations are poured into a kindled fire in adherence to community practices. Smoke will gradually rise to engulf the participants as more offerings are added to the fire. The enthralling atmosphere of the ritual is punctuated only by the melodious voices of the congregation raised in song as well as the incessant rolling of chac-chacs, and the pulsating beat of sambura drums. Upon conclusion members of the Santa Rosa First community and their guests parade through the streets of Arima as they make their way towards the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community Centre where the celebrations continue.

Visiting contingent of First People captured during 2015 Indigenous Parade, Port of Spain

Visiting contingent of First People captured during 2015 Indigenous Parade, Port of Spain

 

By opening its doors, the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community has provided the citizenry and their members with the ability to experience a sense of familiarity, acceptance and appreciation of the diversity and similarities in cultures and customs passed down and practiced by the different ancestral groups in Trinidad and Tobago. 

We hope that this blog has piqued your interest, nurtured an appreciation and thirst for more knowledge on the First Peoples Community. NALIS’ Heritage Library Division (HLD) is committed to the documentation, preservation and dissemination of the unique history and diverse perspectives of Trinbagonians in the various formats available. Throughout the years HLD has had the esteemed pleasure of documenting aspects of the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community and its Heritage Week. Consequently, we have worked previously with Chief Ricardo Bharath-Hernandez and other members of the community to ensure the accuracy of the information preserved within our collection. This will be presented in a booklet featuring images captured during these celebrations. To discover more on this and other aspects of Trinidad and Tobago’s history follow us on Facebook @NALISHLDTT.

"Let's explore our heritage together"

 

 

References:

  • Bharath-Hernandez, Ricardo. Personal interview. 11 February 2016.
  • “FIRST PEOPLES.” NALIS, www.nalis.gov.tt/Resources/Exhibitions-and-Photo-Galleries/ID/26/FIRST-PEOPLES.
  • Khan, Jacqueline. The Santa Rosa Caribs of Arima: The History of Trinidad and Tobago’s only retained Amerindian Community. Trinidad and Tobago: El Dorado Quality Printers LTD. 1992. Print.
  • NALIS. Heritage Library Division. Information file: Indigenous People Trinidad and Tobago 2008-2014. Trinidad and Tobago: Heritage Library Division, n.d. Print.
  • NALIS. Heritage Library Division. Photographic Collection: Santa Rosa First Peoples Community-Red House Sanctification, 2013. CD ROM.
  • NALIS. Heritage Library Division. Photographic Collection: Santa Rosa First Peoples Community-Smoke Ceremony, 2012. CD ROM.
  • NALIS. Heritage Library Division. Photographic Collection: Santa Rosa First Peoples Community-Smoke Ceremony, 2015. CD ROM.
  • NALIS. Heritage Library Division. Photographic Collection: Santa Rosa First Peoples Community-Water Ritual, 2013. CD ROM.
  • Ottley, Carlton. “An account of life in Spanish Trinidad.” Trinidad and Tobago: College Press, 1955. Print.

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