Friday, 4 November 2011

Hy Arima

Before he climbed the mountain, he had purified himself by vomiting. And as the vanishing sun dropped swiftly into the ocean, he had taken from the hand of the ancient creature a forked tube and sniffed a grayish powder placed in a wooden dish upon the head of a rough-hewn tone statue, which represented the god. Now, past, present and future were one. The cohiba ceremony was enacted by those who would know the will of the gods.
The rolling mists were really a part of the cloudscape that blanketed the summits of the Northern Range. The brilliance of the full moon appearing in an intermittent manner gave an atmosphere to the scene that suggested phantoms. There may have been indeed some.
As far as he knew, there was no difference between himself and the elements about him: the earth, the moon, the sky from which the mist fell, soft rain to rise like mists again... The huge black stone glistened in the damp. Its engraved pictures told a story that he could read only with his heart. A tale so old that it no longer possessed beginning or end, and like the mists it existed in a perpetual state of becoming.
They say his name was Hy Arima, and that he had come to the top of Aripo to be at one with the navel of the world. No one knows who put the pictureglyphs, rock carvings, on this huge bolder embedded in the flank of Cierro Aripo. There are some similar ones on the main in Venezuela and in Colombia. There is no deciphering of these marks, and it is probably impossible to know how long ago they were made.
The story of the tribal people of these islands can barely be gleaned through the mists of time - even though their history came to a violent end only some 300 years ago. So thorough was the genocide committed by the Europeans of that time. It has been suggested that the earliest Amerindians crossed over from Asia to the northern hemisphere some 40,000 years ago of what became known as the New World. Much of the ocean’s water was then locked in the glaciers of the polar caps, and the level of the sea was extremely low.
These paleo-Indians, as they are called by archeologists, slowly traveled the length and breadth of north and south America. Hunters and collectors, they used simple tools of stone and wood. Some 15,000 to 20,000 years were to pass before the stone projectiles were hefted on to wooden spears to hunt the large land mammals which populated the savannahs of the Americas before the end of the ice age more effectively - the spear was born. At kill sites in north west Venezuela, animal bones have been found which show traces of being cut through, and there were projectile points and other stone implements. The West Indies were not inhabited during paleo-Indian times, probably because the earliest Amerindians lacked the skill of boat buildings.
Trinidad, however, was still attached to the mainland during the final millennium of the ice age more than 8,000 years ago. The Dragon’s Mouth sealed the land bridge that connected the island to the continent. Complete skeletons of ice age animals have been found in Trinidad, but no kill sites have yet been discovered. Archeologists like Dr. Ari Boomert, formerly attached to U.W.I., feel convinced that deep in the southern forest of the island those kill sites are still awaiting discovery.
As the climate of the world changed, the ice melted and the seas rose. Trinidad was cut off from the mainland, and possibly Tobago from Trinidad. A different life now emerged for those who lived on this newly made island. The enormous sloth, together with other huge mammals, was now extinct, and the natives, now describes as meso-Indians, altered their life styles. Arrows replaced spears, as animals were now smaller. Shellfish and crustaceans became the main source of food.. This forced a knowledge of the sea and seafood, evidenced by fish bones and shells which can be found in huge middens. Those middens could have been in use for hundreds of years.
Boat building enabled the meso-Indians to explore and settle in the islands of the Caribbean chain. The oldest evidence of a settlement suggest a date of some 7,000 years ago and are located in the south east of Trinidad. It has been suggested, however, that the Banwari midden, a shell heap at Oropouche, may well be older. These refuse heaps contain bones of deer, agoutis, wild cats and monkeys, and also caimans, iguanas and birds. Specialised tools and weapons were now developed for hunting and food processing. Ground stone tools such as mortars and pestles for grinding nuts, well polished bone points for fish spears, and finely ground stone axes for felling trees were used by the meso-Indians.
Life remained unaltered for thousands of years. It was not until approximately 300 B.C. that the Guianas and Trinidad were invaded by Indians with a far more advanced type of culture - Indians who possessed the knowledge of land cultivation, of crops such as bitter manioc and sweet potatoes, of making pottery and polishing stone implements, of spinning cotton into thread and weaving it into cloth. Those Indians were a people with a way of living and a society fundamentally different from that of the hunters, fishers and food gatherers of the previous epoch.
These people came out of the Orinoco river system, from what would later be called Venezuela and the Guianas, and they are known today as neo-Indians. Archeologists also call them Saladoid people, after a site of that name in eastern Venezuela. The Saladoid people were the first to organise agriculture, villages and long distance travel. They made cassava bread from the manioc root, once the prussic acid had been squeezed out. Baked into large disks, the cassava loaves could be kept for weeks.
It may be guessed that the Saladoid people may have been the first Arawakan-speaking people in the West Indies. After 300 A.D., another wave of adventurers, the Barrancos, crossed the narrow sea to Trinidad. These were absorbed by the earlier settlers. The difference between them may only be observed by the respective styles of their pottery decoration. These new people migrated to Tobago, and, according to Boomert, influenced the Saladoid peoples of the Lesser Antilles.
Boomert points out that the majority of objects made by the neo-Indians were manufactured of perishable materials, featherwork, basket work and textiles, and as such little idea may be gleaned of their artistic skills. What has survived, however, is pottery or objects made from stone or shell with the notable exception of a number of finds from the Pitch Lake, wooden paddles, war clubs, a bench, a mortar and a bowl.
Some burial sites have been discovered as well, which contain stone axes and pots with remains of food - all this to sustain the deceased on his or her journey to the hereafter.
The legend of Hy Arima is but a whisper in the vast testimony of a now vanished people. The place names around the country echo the words from a distant time and serve to maintain a memory of when this land was theirs. We, who have come after, should hold all this in trust, and be awed by the ghostly presence of Trinidad and Tobago’s ancient tribal people. 

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