Thursday, October 05, 2006

Part-3: Preserving The Indigenous Identity

On my last journey to Brasil, in March 2006, my friend put this Tupi indian crown atop my head. Why did I feel so uncomfortable wearing this ornate crown of Amazon bird feathers?
After all, my grandfather had explained to me that his mother was an indigenous indian.
If I was an American I would therefore be afforded the identity,"rights" and status of a 'Native American'. Being a Carib or Taino indigenous American does not afford you the right to any official racial distinction. Maybe that is why the crown was so uncomfortable to bear atop my head.
The Tupi are one of the surviving indigenous ethnic groups in the Americas. Many of the indigenous people of the Caribbean where not as fortunate. Not having a dense jungle as a refuge, made the natives more susceptable to wholesale slaughter and European diseases.

It can be said that human bloodlines do not easily disappear into the sunset of history .
Though civilizations might seemingly vanish without a trace or be vanquished by genocide;human bloodlines remain.
Walk down the streets of any major American city and you will see the faces of Mayans,Aztecs,Olmecs and Incas. What about the indigenous of the Caribbean?
Though a significant population of indigenous people still exist on the islands of Dominica and Trinidad,the more significant number protected their bloodlines by intermarriage.
The Taino,Lucayan,Ciboney,Arawak and Carib were not extinguished from history.
They did have to blend their bloodlines with both Europeans and Africans to survive.
In some cases, as with the Spanish and Portuguese, these mestizo bloodlines were even more convoluted because the Europeans themselves had already mixed with North African Berbers and Arabs.
The surviving creole ethnicity still managed to retain a cultural identity by keeping to themselves in small communities. The result is that when you walk down the street in Arima,Trinidad (as I have) you see a multitude of indigenous faces. It doesn't matter that the Caribs in Trinidad may have intermarried with East Indians, the culture and bloodlines have not been made extinct. The Taino bloodlines of the Greater Antilles (Cuba,Santo Domingo & Puerto Rico) were thought to have been completely extinguished. Recent books have dispelled this myth. A recent genetic study done in Puerto Rico estimated that more than 60% of the population have Taino bloodlines. Actually, this was no surprise to people on the island who eat pasteles, guanemes and cassabe bread and refer to many dark-haired girls as "la India".
In Puerto Rico, as in other islands, the Taino survived by going into the central mountains.
In other parts of the Americas, African maroons were given shelter by indigenous people.
The Garifuna of Central America being an example of how this blending of bloodlines allowed both cultural imprints to survive. Though there may not exist any "pure Caribbean Indians"
the culture is far from extinct. People do not willingly disappear into the sunset of history.

Here are some of the original names of Caribbean islands:

Cubanacán (
Cuba), Waitikubuli (Dominica), Boriken (Puerto Rico),Cairi (Trinidad)
Quisqueya (Dominican Republic) Xaymaca (Jamaica) and
Lucayas (Bahamas).