Indigenous Resurgence in the Contemporary Caribbean:
Amerindian Survival and Revival

Edited by Maximilian C. Forte
Published by Peter Lang, New York, 2006

Chapter One. Introduction: The Dual Absences of Extinction and MarginalityWhat Difference Does an Indigenous Presence Make?
Maximilian C. Forte
click here for a copy of the chapter in PDF format--146 kb]
In this introductory chapter the primary themes of the volume (presence, identities, rights, relations with the nation-state, and regional organization) are related to one another, whilst providing an analytical overview of the contemporary situation of indigenous peoples in the Caribbean and some of the challenges they face in making their identities present. The arguments presented hinge on the view that acknowledgement of the presence of the indigenous in Caribbean societies significantly challenges not just previous scholarly displacements and erasures of indigenous survival and indigenous inputs in the creation of local Creole cultural practices, but also political and economic processes that have the effect of marginalizing contemporary Amerindians. The dual theme here is of extinction and marginality—the former speaking of Amerindians as an absence, the latter proceeding as if they were in fact absent. This dual theme is used to frame the combination of both Island and Mainland cases in this volume, where extinction theses have pertained mostly to the former, while marginalization on multiple levels continues to confront the latter. The chapter contains a review of the main currents in the historical and anthropological literature pertaining to the Amerindian presence. Issues surrounding definitions of survival and revival, continuity and change, essentialism and constructionism, and authenticity and invention are also debated. Through a concise overview of the chapters in this volume, the introduction argues that no proper understanding of the contemporary Caribbean can be achieved without understanding and appreciating the meanings surrounding continued and renewed indigeneity.

Chapter Two. Taíno Survivals: Cacique Panchito, Caridad de los Indios, Cuba
This chapter consists of three main elements. The first is a reconsideration of the documentary history of eastern Cuba that attests to the continued presence of an indigenous population of Taíno descent. Numerous historical sources are examined, shedding light on documents and testimonials that have long been overlooked. Second, the chapter also provides an account of the presence of Cuban Amerindians in the Cuban independence struggle, specifically with reference to the Hatuey Regiment. Thirdly, the chapter takes us to meet Panchito Ramirez, the elder cacique of Caridad de los Indios, in eastern Cuba, general center of many people of Native Cuban extraction. He is a man of knowledge and singular talent for gentle and wise leadership. Panchito speaks a deep language of love of the Cuban earth and of the Taíno Indian identity passed down to him by his grandparents. He speaks of dreams and of survival throughout Cuban history to achieve a continuous presence that now re-emerges.

Chapter Three. Ocama-Daca Taíno (Hear Me, I Am Taíno): Taíno Survival on Hispaniola, Focusing on the Dominican Republic
The island of Hispaniola, shared by the Dominican Republic and the Republic of Haiti, was the heart of the flourishing Taíno culture that, by the 1490s, encompassed most of the Greater Antilles region. It was also on Hispaniola, arising in the first half of the 16th century, that the myth of Taíno extinction began. The most prevalent reason for the creation of this myth was the campaign of the Dominican friars, led by Bartolomé de las Casas, to abolish the encomienda system and replace it with a mission system for the conversion of the Native Peoples. Further, a myth of Taíno extinction provided the Spanish Crown with a perfect cover-up, concealing its inability to exert absolute control over the resisting Taínos. Finally, Taíno extinction provided a rationale for those colonists who benefited from the importation of African people as slaves.  Over the years, t
he extinction myth was transformed in multiple ways to suit national and class interests, which helps explain its tenaciousness in the Dominican ethos. After centuries of unquestioning acceptance of Taíno extinction, some scholars are beginning to challenge the assumption. Indeed, recent historical, ethnographic, ethno-archaeological, linguistic, and DNA studies are demonstrating multidisciplinary evidence for both Taíno cultural and biological survival. This chapter examines the new evidence and takes an in-depth look at the paradoxical situation of today’s Dominican Taínos. While their fellow Dominicans value the pre-Columbian Taíno cultural heritage, they disclaim the existence of Taíno descendants. This is partly because so many authorities over the centuries have perpetuated the myth of Taíno extinction, and partly because complex questions about ethnicity aggravate the already problematical areas of “race” and identity in this politically and economically troubled nation. Ironically, but understandably, the various Taíno revival movements began in Puerto Rico and in the U.S.A. among Taínos of the diaspora. Hopes are that, with the weight of all the new evidence—which sparks yet more new studies—the revival is approaching a critical mass and Taíno survival will soon be recognized in the original Taíno homeland.

Chapter Four. Placing the Carib Model Village: The Carib Territory and Dominican Tourism
A ‘Carib Model Village’ was first suggested by indigenous activists within the Carib Territory of Dominica in the mid 1970s. It was envisaged as a center of indigenous arts and crafts, providing education for the community and a focus of indigeneity for those who visited the Carib Territory. From the late 1970s to the early 1990s the project was considered by various national, regional and international funding bodies, until it was finally realized in 1998 through funding from the Caribbean Development Bank. In 2003, however, the completed project remained unused, falling into disrepair. Whilst various tales of political and development contest and intrigue surround the project, this chapter looks at the Carib Model Village using paradigms and theories of spatial production and perception. The placement of the project within the social landscape is considered and how it effects the construction of that space. This links to two notions of ‘place’ through which the Model Village is recognized.  It is a ‘place’ for performing a Carib identity, and is thus situated within the dominating structures of tourist perception of the island and the Carib Territory. However, this contrasts to a concept of the Model Village as a ‘place’ of Carib performativity, in which an indigenous identity is reiterated by the re-enactment of indigenous practices.  It is suggested that the inability to negotiate this spatial tension has led to the Model Village’s current displaced situation.

Chapter Five. Land Ownership and the Construction of Carib Identity in St. Vincent
This paper sets out how a chain of events precipitated by the eruption of the Soufriere volcano in 1979 led to a resurgence in a sense of Carib community in the north windward area of St. Vincent W.I. It traces how the effects of the eruption led, as it had own a previous occasion, to a decision by the owners of the Orange Hill Estate to sell up. However, whereas on the previous occasion this had occurred within a colonial setting, by the time of the second sell off of the largest plantation on the island St. Vincent was a newly independent nation. The sale of the property to a group of Danes led to an island wide debate, which encompassed issues not only of Carib identity and identification with the land but also of national integrity, extended beyond the islands themselves to emigrant groups overseas. The issues raised by the land sale became entwined within wider discourses of Native American rights, slavery and conquest. It also served to refocus national attention on a group of people who had hitherto been marginalized within the nation state. Foremost in this were, to use Gramsci’s term, a group of organic intellectuals who were able to effectively put the case for the indigenous rights of the Carib Community and the implementation of a land settlement scheme in the north of the island.

Chapter Six. “In This Place Where I Was Chief”: History and Ritual in the Maintenance and Retrieval of Traditions in the Carib Community of Arima, Trinidad

This chapter outlines and explores the cultural practices of the Santa Rosa Carib Community, a formal organization located in Arima, Trinidad, consisting of a core of roughly 45 individuals related through ties of kinship, and a supporting network of over 300 individuals in the wider Arima area. This is a community that has long been neglected in the modern historical and anthropological literature on Trinidad and thus, to a limited extent, the aim of this chapter is to outline the nature of the identity and history of this body. The leadership of the Carib Community has publicly acknowledged that its activities represent part of Trinidad’s ethnic revivals of the last three decades. In addition, multiple projects have been developed for maintaining, preserving and retrieving lost cultural traditions, in part through ‘cultural interchange’ with neighbouring Amerindian communities in the Caribbean Basin. The authors will discuss and analyze the ways in which certain material practices, objects, private religious rituals, and kinship ties have served to maintain a focus and sense of communal bonding and veneration for indigenous ancestry amongst the members of this population. The temporal scope of the chapter focuses largely on the period from the 1970s to the present, with some preliminary consideration of the history of Arima as an Indian Mission and as an area of Trinidad that has been recognized by both state and society for possessing an organized body of indigenous descendants.

Chapter Seven. “These Forests Have Always Been Ours”: Official and Amerindian Discourses on Guyana’s Forest Estate

This chapter shows how forest policy was one of the projects of State building in British Guiana destined, over time, to become a legitimating instrument that constituted, dispersed and influenced the shaping of norms and responses by State and Amerindians. The documented and oral records of resistances to this colonial project are also presented. The discussion then moves to the Structural Adjustment initiatives from the mid 1980s, funded principally by multilateral agencies like the World Bank and IMF, that included reform of the national forest policy as part of a suite of reforms imposed as loan conditionalities. The relationships between new state authorities (e.g. the Environmental Protection Agency), regulations and actors vis-à-vis the entrenched practices of the State regulatory agencies (Guyana Forestry Commission, Guyana Geology and Mines Commission, Lands and Surveys Commission, etc.) over forests and forest resources are examined. The fundamental issues of resource allocation that lie behind these discursive strategies are also discussed. The chapter presents the forms taken by the responses (including resistance) of local forest peoples, including non-Amerindians, the wider national society, and international indigenous rights’ organizations to the new tools, methodologies and forest classificatory systems. The chapter also includes a discussion of international standards regarding indigenous rights re forests, as contained in the draft UN Declaration, the ILO Convention No. 169, and the draft OAS Declaration, and traces the ways in which indigenous (self) identification has been strategic, instrumental and positional in the same periods.

Chapter Eight. Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Suriname: A Human Rights Perspective


Suriname is a small former Dutch colony on the north-east coast of mainland South America. It is a member of CARICOM and according to historical and demographic factors is considered to be Caribbean rather than Latin American. Until recently, its substantial tropical rainforests, which cover at least 80 percent of the surface area of the country, were regarded as one of the best prospects for long term, sustainable use and conservation. These forests are the ancestral home of five distinct indigenous peoples comprising up to five percent of the population and six tribal peoples (known as Maroons) totaling between ten and fifteen percent of the population. In real numbers, this translates as approximately 20,000 indigenous people and 40-60,000 tribal people. Less than 30 years ago, Suriname was one of the most prosperous states in South America. A brutal military dictatorship, civil war, endemic corruption, declining prices for bauxite and the periodic suspension of Dutch aid money has left the country with serious economic problems. In an attempt to secure revenue to service foreign debt and stimulate economic recovery, Suriname has granted numerous concessions for gold, bauxite and timber that encompass close to 40 percent of the country’s land mass. Additionally, some 30,000 Brazilian garimpeiros have been licensed to mine by the state. In most cases, these concessions have been granted on lands traditionally occupied and used by indigenous and tribal peoples, provoking serious conflict and allegations of widespread human rights abuses. While Suriname claims that the concessions will provide desperately needed revenue, analyses of contracts for both logging and mining operations have revealed that the Surinamese treasury will receive few if any benefits and that the environment and indigenous and tribal peoples will suffer irreparable harm. Indigenous and tribal peoples, whose rights to their territories and resources are not recognized in Surinamese law, have vigorously condemned this invasion of their lands and territories. They have demanded that all existing concessions be suspended and that no more be issued until their rights are recognized in accordance with international human rights standards and enforceable guarantees are in place in Surinamese law.  They have also begun to organize and proactively seek recognition and protection of their rights in various domestic and international fora.This article will provide an overview of the situation of indigenous and tribal peoples in Suriname and will analyze this situation from a human rights perspective and describe the measures that indigenous and tribal peoples have employed to seek recognition and protection of their rights.  Particular attention will be paid to two cases involving Maroons presently pending before the Inter-American human rights system.

Chapter Nine. Cultural Identity among Rural Garifuna Migrants in Belize City, Belize  
A survey of sixty household heads of Garifuna migrants living in Belize City reveals continuity of practices, social ties and identifications they brought from the village, as well as some changes in their cultural identity, induced by the urban social setting.  There is a backdrop for the survey in terms of the prolonged migratory tradition of the Garifuna and significant pre-independence cultural transformations overtaking Belize, and especially felt in Belize City.  There is an analysis of the significance of rural/urban transition on identity and, more particularly, on the cultural identity of the Garifuna as indigenous people.

Chapter Ten. Disputing Aboriginality: French Amerindians in European Guiana

The context of globalization has opened the way for a crisis in modern societies, leading to a questioning of the nation-state, and facing the rise of specific identity affirmations. This is all the more the case in France, were the state is based on patterns of nation and citizenship in which cultural assimilation processes prevail. The paper proposes to deal with these questions with reference to the Amerindian political movement in French Guyana, a so-called French departement d’outre-mer (i.e. an "overseas department"). The simultaneous emergence of this movement and the call for more local political autonomy of French Guyana has set up a complex situation multiplying for the Amerindians the question of identity to three levels: the French nation, a "Guyanese" nation to come, and the strong affirmation of a native identity.
The Amerindian political movement in French Guyana originated in the 1980s among the Kali’na (Caribs) on the bases of a territorial claim as well as a call for the recognition of their culture and indigenous language. These claims were addressed to the French state, thus reproducing a long established relationship between France and the indigenous peoples during the colonial era. However in the last decade the Amerindians of Guyana (Arawak, Emerillons, Kali’na, Palikur, Wayana, Wayapi) have developed different political strategies in that they initiated a move unto the transnational stage developed by the indigenous political bodies from greater Amazonia (such as the Movement of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin, or COICA), as well as by working groups piloted by NGOs or by the United Nations’ offices at Geneva, where potential new international laws concerning the Indigenous people are being discussed. Through these processes, the Amerindians of French Guyana have succeeded in breaking their exclusive link with the state, established during the colonial era. This opening of the Indigenous Guyanese movement to the international community led them also to deeply reconfigure their discourses and arguments and to create new trans-boundary cooperation. And, above all, it has legitimized the notion of the ‘indigenous peoples’, hereafter central in the political discourse of peoples who, in the recent past, had to see themselves as mere ‘minorities’ belonging to a nation-state as a unitary whole. But their revindication of this specific status is in conflict with the ongoing definition of the common ‘imagined community’ (following Benedict Anderson), Guyana, seen by the Creole political elite as gathering all ethnic groups in a multi-cultural country, which some day could become important to support tomorrow’s autonomy or independence.

Chapter Eleven. Looking at Ourselves in the Mirror: The Caribbean Organization of Indigenous Peoples (COIP)

In 1988-89 a series of events took place in various territories of CARICOM gradually climaxing in a seminal gathering in St. Vincent that led to the birth of the Caribbean Organization of Indigenous Peoples (COIP). It was the fist time after the first peoples of the subregion had roamed with ease from one part to the other that their descendants met on their own terms to discuss matters of mutual importance. Those of us at the gathering could not believe our eyes and senses when we met, shook hands, hugged, and cried with each other—so happy were we about this once in a lifetime opportunity. The event was a mirror where we saw ourselves for the first time. This article will trace the beginning and trajectory of the COIP—the inspiration for its formation, the gathering at St. Vincent, setting up the Secretariat in Belize, the main achievements of the Secretariat and its difficulties, and the demise of the Secretariat and ultimately the COIP in the 1990s. The other spotlight on the COIP as a mirror will take the form of a reflective exercise in which I will engage as the Coordinator of the Secretariat. It will be my observations as a Garifuna academic-cum-activist on my role—how I became the Coordinator; my efforts to insert the Caribbean within the hemispheric wide movement of Indigenous Peoples; and the several structural problems that plagued the COIP constituents from taking off. The latter include economic poverty, representativity, the interminable squabbles among indigenous peoples within some countries, and the difficulty to see beyond the horizon at any moment. But the biggest difficulty, I think, was the unease that persons felt about themselves as indigenous peoples.  Inevitably this led to the fruitless question of who was more indigenous than the other.  Ironically, this was the legacy of colonialism playing a cruel game on the people who had lost their very being to enable the colonial settlers to strive and impose their racist ideology throughout the Caribbean.
The paper will end with lessons learned from the COIP on the formation of organizations within the Caribbean to participate in the world indigenous peoples movement. This is important as we come to the end of the UN Declared decade of Indigenous Peoples in 2005.

Chapter Twelve. A Bridge for the Journey: Trajectory of the Indigenous Legacies of the Caribbean Encounters, 1997
This chapter tells the story of the eight year journey of emergence in the Cuban mountains of the long-standing Cuban Indian (Taíno-descended) community at Caridad de los Indios, Manuel Tames Municipality, Guantanamo, Cuba. It tells the story of the community currently led and guided by the elder, don Francisco (Panchito) Ramirez Rojas, in the context of the creation of an eight year forum, the Indigenous Legacies of the Caribbean.
An encounter took place in the Cuban mountains in 1995. Several travelers met in the dark of tropical rain with the cacique, at the start of a long adventure behind the cacique's invitation to bring Native people from the Four Directions and any other visitors who would explore and entertain the topic of the conference. Thus begins a great cultural exchange that  culminates, seven years later in the repatriation of Cuban Taíno human remains, from the Smithsonian Institution in the United States, to Cuba, and more specifically to the more recently recognized and incipiently better endowed Taíno-guajiro community, for proper and respectful reburial. The intervening years witnessed many expressions of personal narrative, ceremony, round-table discussions and other presentations on music, political concept, historical appearance, spiritual and literary manifestations, food, agriculture and most specially, medicinal applications, still present from our common indigenous legacy of the Caribbean.

Chapter Thirteen. Searching for a Center in the Digital Ether: Notes on the Indigenous Caribbean Resurgence on the Internet

Maximilian C. Forte
This chapter explores several issues and problems concerning the media and outcomes of indigenous self-representation on the Internet, especially those cultural practices that utilize the Internet as a means of challenging myths of extinction and realities of marginalization. This chapter is based on the author’s six years of experience in coordinating and developing two resources related to the Caribbean indigenous resurgence on the Internet—the Caribbean Amerindian Centrelink­ and Kacike: The Journal of Caribbean Amerindian History and Anthropology—in addition to experience as the web developer for the Santa Rosa Carib Community of Arima, Trinidad. Several questions will be concisely explored as a means of rounding out this section of the volume pertaining to regional and international networking and organization. Amongst these questions are: 1) To what extent has the Internet been useful in furthering Caribbean indigenous goals of self-representation, regional organization and actual change ‘on the ground’? 2) What are the challenges facing Caribbean indigenous utilization of the Internet? 3) Are the self-representations propagated via the Internet a mirror of what we see offline? 4) How far have myths of extinction and realities of marginalization been successfully challenged via Internet communication? The chapter will conclude that, by and large, only a select minority of indigenous Caribbean communities has been in the position to make most use of the Internet, and yet, the Internet may become to indigenous resurgence what the printing press was for early European nationalists.

Chapter Fourteen. Conclusion. “Before, We Were Asleep: Now We Must Awake from Our Sleep and Move Forward”
Einhorn provides a closing commentary to the volume, stemming from many decades as an anthropological researcher and teacher, with both knowledge and personal ties spanning Native North America and the Caribbean, and with personal experience in assisting in the further development of those ties. His commentary is a reflective piece on the colonial history of the Caribbean and its impacts on indigenous peoples, as well as a discussion of the parallels between the histories and resurgences of Native North American and Caribbean indigenous peoples. His chapter is organized under the following headings:
The American Mediterranean; The Caribbean in an Era of Globalization; The “Extinction” Problematique; Colonialism: Caribbean-North American Parallels; Amerindian Transformations; A Crashing Civilization; Challenges to Amerindian Survival: Comparing the Caribbean and North America, The Mainland, The Greater Antilles, The Lesser Antilles; and, Amerindian Identity since 1992.