Saturday 28 October 2017

The First People of Trinidad & Tobago (Part II)


Christopher Columbus approached the island that he would name for the Holy Trinity out of a
rolling Atlantic Ocean from the north-east. To persons sailing from Barbados, for example, who would want to enter the Gulf of Paria from the Serpent’s Mouth, Trinidad would appear at first, in the distance, as a long mountain chain, pale and blue, that stretched ever westward. As one dropped to a more southerly course,  another pale blue mountainous shape emerges on the horizon some way away from the first, and further south, a smaller range of hills would be seen. There would be a point in time when all three ranges, the northern, the central and the southern, separated by wide valleys, would appear on the horizon, joined at their bases by the land.
E.L. Joseph writes “Columbus rightly describes the north-eastern promontory of the island as resembling a galley under sail; hence he called it Punta de la Galera (Point of the Galley), which name it bears today. As he advanced towards the island from eastward, the three points which he first described in his log were doubtless Punta de la Galera, Point Manzanilla, and Point Guatare. He then coasted five leagues to the southward, where he anchored at night, doubtless in Manzanilla Bay. On the following day, the 1st of August, he passed what is now called Point Galiota, which is the southeast point of the island, and ran before the wind to the westward, along the channel,  in search of a convenient harbour and water.”
For close to three hundred years
Trinidad was under the rule of Spain
Columbus’ squadron entered the channel that lies between Trinidad and Venezuela, which is today named the Columbus Channel after  him, where it is said that the lookout, Alonzo Perez, reported that he saw three hills. Recalling that he had promised to name the next land he discovered after the Holy Trinity, he christened the island Trinidad.
Based on the location, it has been questioned as to whether Perez could have seen three separate peaks, presumably Morne Derrick, Gros Morne and Guaya Hill, as separate from the rolling mass of hillsides that comprise what we know today as the Trinity Hills.

Joseph continues, “Anchoring at a point, which he called Punta de la Playa, he sent his boats on shore for water. Here the seamen discovered an abundant limpid stream; this is conjectured to be the Marouga river.”
Columbus’ men came ashore at several points along the southern coast. Alarmed by the strength of the currents he called this entrance of the Gulf Boca de la Sierpa. He may have lost an anchor there, as one was found, some centuries later, that fitted the description of anchors from that time.
Before him lay the vast expanse of the Gulf of Paria, which he explored and named the Gulf of Whales, Gulfo de Balina. Never imagining that he had come upon the continent of South America, he called the vast coast from which a massive river, the Orinoco, flowed into the gulf, the Island of Gracia.
A16th century chart of
Trinidad & Tobago. Cambridge.
Columbus thought it perilous to pass between the Point of Paria and the small islands that appeared like stepping stones joining it to the island Trinidad that he called Boca del Dragon.
Columbus and his sailors would have been on the lookout for the evidence of gold, as this was foremost in the minds of those who had risked their lives on these perilous voyages. The first recorded evidence of seeing a golden object here in Trinidad was when he landed at Point Arenal. There, according to Joseph, he was met by an Indian Cacique, who took the Admiral’s cap of crimson velvet off his head and replaced it with a circle of gold that the he himself had worn.
The cupidity, or greed, of the Spaniards was aroused further by observing the great quantity of pearls that the Tribal People wore and the plates of inferior gold, shaped like a crescent, that was also worn. These were called ‘guanin’ or ‘caracol’ and consisted of eight parts gold, six parts silver, and eight parts copper. The Indians said these came from the high-lands, which, they pointed out, was to the west. They cautioned that it was dangerous to go into the interior of the land, the mainland, “either because,” writes Columbus, “the inhabitants were cannibals” or the place was infested “with noxious animals”.
The 15th and 16th centuries were to see explorers, adventurers and exploiters come to these islands.  As in the European wars of the period, payment, in fact profit, for these enterprises could only be had through the plundering of the conquered.

Carib carbet left open
to show hammocks.
Baccassaas with one mast.
Carib pirogue.
Caracol, a personal decoration
worn by men made of a
mixture of gold, silver and copper.
This was especially the case with the Spaniards who had fought the Moors for control of the Iberian peninsula for approximately 780 years, between the Islamic conquest of Hispania in 711 and the fall of the last Islamic state in Iberia at Granada to the expanding Christian kingdoms in 1492. The Reconquista was completed just before the European discovery of the Americas—the “New World”—which ushered in the era of the Spanish and Portuguese colonial empires.
It was the captains and the fighting men of  the Reconquista, Spanish for the “reconquest”, who were at the forefront of the conquest of the New World.  In ‘Companions of Columbus, Alonso de Ojeda’ we see,  “. . .Letters were received from Columbus giving account of the events of his third voyage, especially of his discovery of the coast of Paria, which he described as abounding in spices, in gold and silver, and precious stones, and, above all, in oriental pearls, and which he supposed to be the borders of that vast and unknown region of the east, wherein, according to certain learned theorists, was situated the terrestrial paradise. Specimens of the pearls, procured in considerable quantities from the natives, accompanied his epistle, together with a great sensation among the maritime adventures of Spain. . .”

On the night of the 2nd, according to E.L. Joseph (1838), “a remarkable swell occurred which alarmed the crews exceedingly.” This swell is occasioned by a change in the tide which causes water to rush into the Gulf of Paria. This current—later called La Remou—caused the anchor of the Vaquenos to be severed from its cable and it was lost. The soil at Icacos is mainly sand and silt deposited over thousands of years by the Orinoco floods, so the spot where the anchor was lost became dry land.
Christopher Columbus arriving in the New World. Daniel.

In 1877, labourers on Constance Estate unearthed a large anchor almost 200 feet from the shoreline. It was cleaned and exhibited by the estate owner, Francois Agostini, who sent it to fairs in Rome, Paris and Chicago, where it was positively identified as a bronze anchor of 15th-century Spanish origin, undoubtedly Columbus’. Upon its return to Trinidad, the anchor was proudly displayed on the estate, before being given to the Royal Victoria Institute (now the National Museum) in Port-of-Spain in 1912, where it was installed in the courtyard. In the 1920s, a devastating fire gutted the building, destroying many irreplaceable artefacts, but the anchor survived. When the museum was re-opened in 1928, the anchor was again a star attraction. It may still be seen today, sporting a length of its original chain and a brass plaque telling a little of its history. It is a proud connection with the great discoverer that few Trinidadians know exists.

The Conquistadors
The Gulf of Whales was colloquially
called the Gulf of Pearls,
and eventually the Gulf of Tears
for the hundreds of Tribal People
who died there having been made to dive for pearls.

The first attempt to settle the island of Trinidad  was mounted in 1513, when two Spanish Dominican missionaries arrived. Their names were Francisco Cordova and Juan Garces, and they were successful in befriending  the local Caciques, even though they didn’t know each other’s language.
When a Spanish ship arrived, the Tribal People, now used to the Spanish friars and trusting them, welcomed the sailors with tokens and gifts. A number of Amerindians were invited on board and no sooner had they arrived, that the captain raised anchor and  set sail for Santo Domingo, where they were sold into slavery.
The Spanish friars, as upset as the Amerindians, and just short of being lynched by the Tribal People, begged to be allowed to try to free the abducted. With the next ship to arrive, they sent their complaints to the authorities in Santo Domingo and to the superior of the Dominican order. Unfortunately, the Amerindians from Trinidad had been bought as slaves by officials of the supreme court, so nothing was done about the matter. For eight months, the Tribal People and the monks waited in Trinidad. Eventually, the Amerindians lost their patience and the friars were put to death, becoming the first martyrs of their faith in Trinidad.
In 1516, Juan Bono from the Bay of Biscay  arrived in Trinidad with 70 men. Ostensibly a peaceful settler, he won the trust of the Amerindians. After a while, Bono invited a large group of Tribal People to a feast of friendship. When everyone was gathered in a large hut, Bono’s men surrounded the hut, overwhelmed the gathering by force and abducted many of the Tribal People, taking them to their ship. The ones he could not fit into the hold were burnt to death inside the hut which was set on fire. Those aboard were sold as slaves in Puerto Rico.

Don Antonio Sedeño may be described as a conquistador and was the first governor of Trinidad
An encampment of Tribal People in the Windward Islands
in the 18th century from Brian Edwards’ “History” 
He arrived in Trinidad on November 8, 1530 with two caravels and seventy men. He was joined by the Cacique Turpiari and a small party of his native people. They first landed at Chacomare, the southern province, ruled by Marnana. Here they found an excellent port facing the gulf. This is believed to have been San Fernando.
His arrival in 1530 marked the first serious attempt by the Spanish Crown to settle in Trinidad after its discovery by Columbus some 32 years before.
Prior to, and during his tenure, sporadic visits had been made by Spanish captains, who had tricked or forced the Tribal People they came into contact with to dive for the pearls in the Gulf of Paria. In order to find enough pearl oysters,  the Indians were often forced to descend to depths of over 100 feet on a single breath, exposing them to the dangers of hostile creatures, waves, eye damage, and drowning, often as a result of shallow water blackout on resurfacing. This exploitation of the simple eventually led to their enslavement and the taking them away to the other pearl islands of Cubagua, Coche and Margarita. The death toll was  so horrendous that the Gulf of Whales became known as the Gulf of Tears.
Sedeño arrived in Trinidad in November 1530, with two caravels, 70 men, food, arms, horses, domestic animals and trinkets for barter with the Tribal People.

A drawing of Tribal People in the Orinoco
delta in the 1800s. Shim.
The Tribal People of Tobago, whose make up were not substantially different from their brothers in Trinidad, also had a dramatic encounter with Europeans. In the case of Tobago, which possesses the  unfortunate history of being the most fought over island in the Caribbean, the Tribal People’s existence from very early on was one of misfortune. Nevertheless we learn from archaeologists of their long and substantial presence there. Mention is made of an “Indian Town” and several villages that were marked on early maps as the residences of kings. These Caciques have been named as Cardinal, Peter and Roussel. Roussel may have been a Frenchman who married an Amerindian woman. In all, the native population of Tobago in the 18th century appears drastically diminished as a result of not only the invasions, but also because of the rapid agricultural development that took place all over Tobago. It is said that by 1779 King Peter and his people had all left Tobago for the mainland. Dr. Boomert tells us that Tobago, like Trinidad, held a tribal presence in what is called the archaic period, which is about twelve thousand years ago. Pottery, tools and other evidence of their presence may be found at Milford Bay. Later, other people left their mark at Golden Grove, Great Courland Bay, Lover’s Retreat, Sandy point and in other sites all around the island. Today a visit to King Peter’s Bay on the leeward coast would be a gentle remainder of a turbulent past.

The Amerindians did not resist him. Rather, they came to welcome him, with their Cacique Maruana as the leader. Sedeño distributed gifts, and Maruana made him understand that he would appreciate him as an ally against the Caribs.
Sedeño, who was, however, cautious, built a fortification for his men and his possessions. After a while, the Spaniards’ food stocks began to run out. They decided to raid the conucos (villages) of the Amerindians in the northern part of the island, at Cumucurapo, in the dead of night. When the Amerindians heard of this, they conspired to expel the intruders—all with the exception of Maruana, who had come to see himself as Sedeño’s friend and did not join the conspiracy.
The attack of the Amerindians was sudden, but the Spaniards were able to hold them off for a while thanks to their fortifications and firearms. After losing many soldiers, Sedeño decided to  retreat, sending the remaining men to the mainland and going himself to Puerto Rico for reinforcements and food. Maruana helped the Spaniards to escape in the two caravels in which they had arrived.
It was not as easy as expected for Sedeño to raise men and provisions in Puerto Rico. Everyone there had heard of the conflict with the Tribal People in Trinidad and was reluctant to join Sedeño. Over the next six years Sedeño travelled between Trinidad, the forts on the South American mainland, Puerto Rico and Santo Domingo. Fort Paria, which was where the remainder of the Trinidad soldiers had settled, was taken over by another Spanish conquistador, Diego de Ordas. Unbeknown to them, Sedeño sent a ship to Fort Paria with supplies. Fearful of de Ordas, the caravel turned away from the fort and landed instead in Cumucurapo. The Amerindians seemed to be welcoming enough, and gave the 30 men of the ship a place to settle. A week later, 24 of the sailors were killed by the Tribal People, who obviously did not trust the Spaniards. Six men escaped with the caravel and left to report to Sedeño.

The El Dorado or golden man being
overed with resin and sprayed with gold dust.
Taken from an old engraving redrawn by Peter Shim.
El Dorado, Spanish for “the golden one”, originally El Hombre Dorado (the golden man), or El Rey Dorado (the golden king), was the term used by the Spanish Empire to describe a mythical tribal chief of the Muisca native people of Colombia, who, as an initiation rite, covered himself with gold dust and submerged in Lake Guatavita. The legends surrounding El Dorado changed over time, as it went from being a man, to a city, to a kingdom, and then finally an empire. A second location for El Dorado was inferred from rumors, which inspired several unsuccessful expeditions in the late 1500s in search of a city called Manõa on the shores of Lake Parime. Two of the most famous of these expeditions were led by Sir Walter Raleigh. In pursuit of the legend, Spanish conquistadors and numerous others searched Colombia, Venezuela, and parts of Guyana and northern Brazil for the city and its fabulous king. In the course of these explorations, much of northern South America, including the Amazon River, was mapped. By the beginning of the 19th century most people dismissed the existence of the city as a myth. (Wikipedia)

At the end of 1532, Sedeño sailed once again to Trinidad with 80 men with a plan to attack the Amerindians. The Tribal People, however, had been warned of the night attack, and fought fiercely. However, Sedeño eventually overwhelmed them,  leaving merely a handful of women and children in Cumucurapo, who fled into the mountains. Nothing was left of the village, and having no provisions, Sedeño withdrew to Margarita. A year later, Sedeño returned with 170 men with the intention to conquer and settle Trinidad. The Spaniards built a stockade at Cumucurapo. Many of his men fell ill, and even though he suspected another attack, Sedeño could only rely on the food supplies from the Cacique Maruana, so he decided to wait.
On the 13th September 1533, the second battle of Cumucurapo began. The  tribes swept down from the mountains with loud battle cries. Many Spaniards were killed, and the Indian attack was only broken up when the Spaniards counter-attacked on horseback (a sight totally unknown and surely quite terrible to the Indian warriors).
Sedeño prevailed, rebuilt the fortifications, and motivated the remaining men. Several months later he was forced to give up,  as many of his captains left to seek the riches of Peru with Pizarro. On the 27th August, 1534, Sedeño left Trinidad and never returned.
Sir Walter Raleigh, in search of El Dorado,
captured the island of Trinidad
from the Spanish Governor Don Antonio de Berrio.
After his victory over the Spanish forces,
Raleigh set free the five Caciques
who had been put into irons by de Berrio.
Their names were Wanawanare, Caroaori,
Maquarima, Torropanama, and Aterima.
Like many others he was  to be taken in by the legend of El Dorado and after gathering yet another following, he set out for the South American mainland in search of gold. Sedeño was poisoned in 1538 ‘down the Main’ by a Carib slave girl. Thus died Trinidad’s first designated governor.
The legend of a golden man who ruled a city of gold had its origins in the tales told by the earliest travellers and explorers who had heard from the Tribal People of fabulous cities far into the deep forest of the mainland, or Terra Firma as it was called. These stories gained  traction as the news of the success of the conquistadors, Cortes and Pizzaro, in Mexico and Peru became known. The idea that a third great, rich and vulnerable empire lay somewhere in the higher reaches of the Orinoco river became an obsession in the minds of many.
This was to shape the future of Trinidad and have a deadly effect on the Tribal People of Iere. Trinidad became the launching-pad for expeditions of no return. Don Antonio Sedeño’s tenure as governor was followed by Don Juan Ponce who arrived in 1571. His stay was short as he was met with hostility.  He suffered the loss of most of his men as a result of illness and the attacks by the Tribal People on his encampment at Cumucurapo. Nevertheless his tenure as governor of Trinidad lasted until 1591.
The third Conquistador, Don Antonio de Berrio y Oruña, inherited from his wife María de Oruña, the maternal niece of the adelantado Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada, his many estates in what is now Venezuela. This included properties in Trinidad. He was appointed governor here in Trinidad in 1592 and held this title until his death 1597. His goal in life was to discover the fabulous city of El Dorado. He established the town of San José de Oruña on the banks of the Caroni river, as Port-of-Spain was little more that a fisherman’s hamlet in which lived Tribal People who had survived the depredations of the recent past. San José de Oruña was de Berrio’s base camp for the several expeditions mounted in his quest to find El Dorado, which he of course never did.
Upon his death in 1597 he was succeeded by his son Fernando who, like his father, quested for El Dorado. On these journeys, first to Trinidad and then into the vast and intractable interior of the South American hinterland, their obsession for gold and their cruelty to the Tribal People was met, at times, with terrible revenge.

Tribal People pouring molten gold into the mouths of a conquistador. Re-drawn by Peter Shim from an early 16th century engraving by de Bry. At first the Tribal People thought the Spaniards immortal, until a Cacique by the name of Brayoan decided to have one drowned. After submerging him for some time, they pulled the drowned man out of the water and, still unconvinced of his mortality, offered apologies for their actions. When after several days the body proved putrefied, they were convinced that the strangers were mortal men like themselves, they readily entered into a general conspiracy to destroy them. (Washington Irvin, companion of Columbus)
E.L. Joseph tells us in his “History of Trinidad” that, “On hearing of the resistance of the Indians of Trinidad, the King of Spain summoned a Junta of Clergy and Professors of Theology, and put the question to them whether he could lawfully make slaves of the Indians of Trinidad. This learned body declared that it was lawful for the King for the King to make war on the Indians of Trinidad as well as on the Carib Indians, because the former were idolaters and enemies of the Christians, and had killed several subjects of his Catholic Majesty. The pious junta kept out of view, or were probably not aware of the miseries inflicted on the poor Indians of Trinidad by those Christians who used the land for the purpose of enslaving its inhabitants. It is lamentable that the Aborigines of Trinidad had no advocate–the venerable Las Casas could not be everywhere.”
Bartolomé de las Casas, 1484–1566, was a 16th-century Spanish historian, social reformer and Dominican friar. He became the first resident Bishop of Chiapas, and the first officially appointed “Protector of the Indians”. His extensive writings, the most famous being ‘A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies’ and ‘Historia de Las Indias’, chronicle the first decades of the Spanish colonisation of the West Indies and focus particularly on the atrocities committed by the colonisers against the indigenous peoples. Professor Bridget Brereton in “Book of Trinidad” tells us that “With the foundation of San José de Oruña, St Joseph, in 1592, Trinidad had been given the formal structure of a Spanish colony.” Little is actually known about the condition of the Tribal People in the decades that follow the arrival of the conquistadors and slave raiders. It was believed at the time that “the conversion of the Indians is the principal foundation of conquest.”
Dr. K.S. Wise of the Trinidad Historical Society tells us in the foreword to “Hyarima and the Saints’”, a play by F.E.M. Hosein (1976),  that “The old historical records still in existence give full sanction for the existence of the great Nepuyo Cacique, Hyarima, for his failure to obtain armed assistance from the Dutch at Tobago in 1636, for the deep desire to rid Trinidad of the hated Spaniards and for placing his village on the site now occupied by the town of Arima.” The Arena massacre or Arena uprising took place in 1699 at the mission of San Francisco de los Arenales in east Trinidad. It resulted in the death of several hundred Amerindians, of several Roman Catholic priests connected with the mission of San Francisco de los Arenales, of the Spanish Governor José de León y Echales, and of all but one member of his party.
The Tribal People were pursued by the Spaniards who overtook them at Comcal and drove them to Cocal. Many dived into the sea in preference to being captured. Eighty-four rebels were captured and sixty-one of them were shot. The surviving  Tribal People were interrogated via torture. Many of the tortured revealed that they were often beaten by the priests for not attending church services. The twenty two identified as ringleaders were hanged on 14th January, 1700, at San José de Oruña, the capital of the colony, and their dismembered bodies displayed. The women of the tribe were distributed among the Spanish households as servants.

A Carib coulecure or manioc strainer with weight hung on it.

Carib pannier or basket.

A Carib mace or club.

The Mission in Arima in 1837, drawn by Captain Wilson. Founded in 1757 by the Capuchins of Aragon province of Spain as an Indian mission, it was dedicated to the first of the New World saints, Santa Rosa de Lima. The Tacarigua, Caura and Arouca missions were placed under the guidance of Padre Reyes Bravo, who later rose to the position of vicar of Trinidad.
The Encomiendas 
By the 1650s the Tribal People of Trinidad were being parceled out in encomiendas. The encomienda was a labour system, rewarding conquerors, conquistadors, with the labour of a specified number of natives from a specific community, with the indigenous leaders in charge of mobilising the assessed tribute and labour. The Spanish encomenderos were to take responsibility for instruction in the Christian faith, protection from warring tribes, suppressing rebellion against Spaniards, protection against pirates, instruction in the Spanish language and development, and maintenance of infrastructure. In return, the natives would provide tributes in the form of metals, maize, wheat, pork or any other agricultural product. In the first decades of the Spanish presence in the Caribbean, Spaniards divided up the natives, who in some cases were worked relentlessly.
The old Spanish families in Trinidad, that is, those dating back to the time of the conquistadors, had been granted large tracts of land in which villages had been established. The first encomiendas were Acarigua, San Juan, Arauca, Arouca, Tacarigua and Caura. An excerpt from a report by Don Domingo de Vara to the Spanish king in 1595 says: “The Indians for their labour will gain instruction in the matters of Our Holy Faith and shelter and protection, as though our children, so that they may recognise and appreciate the great work which our Commander does in bringing them to the obedience and protection of His Majesty. From this, those who wish to go will learn that we intend to populate these lands and not to depopulate them; to develop them and not to exploit them; to control them and not to destroy them. Those who do not accept this are warned that they will suffer the anger of God who has clearly shown that those who rob and maltreat the Indians, perish in the land they try to desolate, and their riches, acquired by deceit and tyranny, are lost in the sea and their families perish and are forgotten.”
Brereton tells us, “Outside of the encomiendas, where some six hundred Indians may have been living in 1712, there were many more living in the forest in independent settlements.  To bring these ‘wild Indians’ under Christen influence and Spanish control, Capuchin missionaries were given the task of converting them between 1687 and 1708, and they established mission settlements, some of which survived as Indian villages well into the 1700s. The missions of the Catalan Capuchin priests (1687-1708) were at Acarigua, Tacarigua, Arouca, Arena, Montserrat, Savonetta, Mayaro, Guayaguayare, Naparima, Savana Grande, (Princes Town), and Maruga. Those of the Aragon Capuchin priests of Santa Maria (1758-1837) were at Port-of-Spain, Toco, Arima, Salabia, Matura, Acarigua, Tacarigua, Montserrat, Savonetta, Naparima, Savana Grande (Princes Town), and Siparia. The missions were abolished in 1708 and the encomiendas in 1716, but by then the great majority of the island’s Indians had become ‘Hispanised’; that is Christian, Spanish speaking, and organised into villages under some control of the church, of the Government, and of Spanish settlers who used them as laborers on the estates. By 1765 Trinidad’s population was estimated at 2,503, with 1,277 of these Christianised Indians.” And from Dr  K.S. Wise we learn (op.cit.), “So also the historical records attest that Nepuyo Indians were collected in 1784 from Tacarigua, Caura and Aruca and added to the Mission at Arima under their own Corregidors,  that this Mission became the principal one in the north where the devotion and unceasing labours of the Fathers brought to these Carib Indians the spiritual advantages of divine origin”.

The Cocoa Pañols
In Daniel Hart’s “Historical and Statistical Review of Trinidad”, the Tribal People’s presence averages between 1,200 to 1,500 persons between 1797 and 1817,  with a high point of 1,804 in 1812. Then there is a steady decline to 571 in 1836, with none recorded by 1861.
There is evidence, however, such as in the writings of Dr. Pedro Valerio, who wrote in the 1900s, that shows that there was intermarriage and or miscegenation between the remnant Tribal People and other persons of various backgrounds. His father, he tells us was a mixture of European and  Indian and his mother was of mixed Carib and African descent. 
There are as well oral traditions collected by my father, Joseph Besson and myself. Joseph lived  at Arima at Mauxica estate in the 1930s and after, and knew of the Carib community at Calvary Hill, and of the existence of several families who were of almost pure Carib descent living in Arima and its environs in the 1950s. Their relatives lived and worked on the cocoa estates on the north coast of Trinidad and were in contact, on a regular basis, with relatives in Venezuela. (This separate from the annual visits of the Warro people to Maruga). In fact, the Venezuelan connection between people with Carib ancestry and what would become an important aspect of the island’s agricultural economy in the latter part of the 19th century, the cocoa economy, is of interest to the historian. The emergence of cocoa as an important crop has a great deal to do with the lingering First People’s presence and their “Down the Main” connections.
Cocoa is indigenous to the new World and had always been cultivated in Spanish Trinidad. But around 1850 it was quite insignificant as an export crop. Its take off into a period of rapid expansion can be dated to around 1870 .
As Dr. Brereton tells us in The Book of Trinidad, “ As eating chocolate, and cocoa as a beverage became items of mass consumption in the industrilised countries; demand for cocoa in Europe and North America expanded tremendously, and this was the most important single reason for the expansion of cocoa in Trinidad.” The opening up of Crown Lands facilitated this, but it was the people, the mixture of Carib and other races, who would become known as Cocoa Panoles, who would be the actual pioneers of this important addition to the local economy of the time. The most common method employed by a great many planters, most of them in this period were French Creoles, was to get a grant of Crown lands and to allow a Cocoa Panole farming family with experience of cultivating cocoa, often with Venezuelan connections, where the crop was grown, to start cultivating it in the high woods. The clearing of the forest in such a manner that the correct mixture shade and light, moisture and protection from the vagaries of the weather, would over a period of some six to eight years, form the core of what would become a cocoa estate. This was the job that was given to this group. In such a manner communities were formed around the estates in the valleys of the northern range, central and deep south which would eventually become villages.  The demand for the high quality bean grown in Trinidad would remain high. Exports had averaged around eight million lbs. a year in 1871-80 ; by the decade 1911-20 they averaged fifty-six million lbs per annum, a seven fold increase. The return of the  original natives to Trinidad, now more or less mixed with other races, Hispanised, that is Christian and Spanish speaking, would become an important element of the overall population. They would revive the Spanish / Carib traditions in festivals such as parang at Christmas and breath a new life into the Santa Rosa celebrations at Arima. But most importantly they would stay close to the land and not forget from whence they sprung.

The Antique Saints of Trinidad
Our Lady of Montserrat
(Cambridge - Paria Archives)
Probably the oldest and most valuable statues that Trinidad possesses are rare devotional figurines dating from Spanish times. Few genuine relics survive from Trinidad’s Spanish period. One of them is to be found in the church dedicated to Our Lady of Montserrat.
This little wooden figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary, known as the ‘Black Virgin’, is said to be a copy of a statue of Our Lady in a shrine in Montserrat, Spain.
“In Tortuga, the ‘Black Virgin’ is placed in a side chapel reserved for its veneration,” writes Sister Marie Therese in her excellent book Parish Beat. “People come from all parts of Trinidad to pray at her feet, beseeching favours. At a date close to September 8th, her feast is celebrated. No one knows, really, when the little wooden figure of the ‘Black Virgin of Montserrat’ was brought to Tortuga, but it is presumed that it came through  a Capuchin missionary from Spain.”
It is interesting to note that the earliest missionaries, the Catalan Capuchin priests, first arrived in 1687. The last Aragon Capuchin came in 1758. This serves to give an idea of the age of the ‘Black Virgin of Montserrat’.
Another remarkable figure of veneration is that of La Divina Pastora at Siparia. Sister Marie Therese relates in her “Parish Beat”: “Siparia was one of the missions of the Spanish Capuchins who came from the Santa Maria province of Aragon in 1756–1758. Devotion to the divine shepherdess is centuries old, originating in Spain. It is said that in 1703 Our Lady appeared to a Capuchin known as the Venerable Isidore. In this visitation he was instructed to spread devotion to her under the title of ‘Our Lady, Mother of the Good Shepherd’. This devotion was introduced in Venezuela in 1715 and the first church was built in her honour in an Amerindian mission.”
The date  of when the devotion to her was introduced to Trinidad is not known. There is, however, a parish record that states that the statue of La Divina Pastora was brought from Venezuela to Siparia by a Spanish priest, who said that the statue had saved his life. This record dates from 1871.
The statue may well be over 100 years older than that date. Perhaps it had travelled from Spain to Venezuela in 1715, perhaps it had been taken into safekeeping by the priest in those turbulent years of Venezuela’s past revolutionary period, when much of the church property was destroyed in the wars.
Santa Rosa de Lima was canonised in 1671. She was born in Peru of Spanish parents and became a nun in the Dominican order. She devoted her life to the sick and the destitute, and is remembered even today by the tribal people of the high Andes.
La Divina Pastora (Cambridge - Paria Archives)
In 1757, the Capuchins of Aragon founded a mission at Arima and dedicated their work to this first New World saint, Santa Rosa. Some 30 years later, this mission was enlarged to accommodate the tribal people who had been displaced from Tacarigua, Caura and Arouca.
Dating from an early period, a figure said to be that of the saint was brought to the church. It had been discovered by villagers in the high woods, and has been the focus of veneration ever since.
Sister Marie Therese records the words of Fr. Thomas:
“In 1813, the youthful [Governor of Trinidad] Sir Ralph Woodford attended the Santa Rosa festival. On this joyous occasion, the church is decorated. During the service, a cannon was discharged at intervals. At the end of the mass, ceremonial dances were performed in the church to the accompaniment of the cuatro and the chac-chac. The four leading Caribs of the mission bore the statue in procession, immediately followed by the Carib queen, who was dressed like a bird of paradise.”
According to L.A.A. de Verteuil (“Trinidad”), the king and the queen of the Caribs in the early 19th century were usually young people. The church was elaborately decorated with produce, and people came from afar to view the ceremonies.

Map of Missions in Trinidad (from "Parish Beat" by Sr. Marie Therese)

Saturday 21 October 2017

The First People of Trinidad & Tobago (Part I)

Photo: Kurt Jessurun/
The place of the silk cotton trees. The  city of Port-of-Spain and its environs was once distinguished by the large quantity of Ceiba pentandra, Silk cotton trees, that grew there, giving rise to the Amerindian name for it, Conquerabia, Camocorabo, Cumcurape and Cumacarapo now called Mucurapo. There several villages were founded, mostly on the banks of the rivers that flowed seaward through the forest: The Ariapita and Tragarete, now the Saint Anne / The Dry River in the east and the Maraval river in the west.
Legend has it that a great battle took place in ancient times in or near where Port-of-Spain now stands. The fight was between two rival tribes of Arawaks.

James Stark in a guide book to Trinidad, 1899, records that present Woodford Square was once called “Place des Ames” or place of souls by some, or “Place des Armes” place of arms by others, in commemoration of the battle.

The memory of Trinidad & Tobago’s First People lies as lightly on our consciousness as this morning’s mist in the folds of Mon Repos. Their history, long forgotten, as a book, is closed, but it is not altogether lost.
Their words, now become place names, are as huge petroglyphs that read Tarcarigua, Tunapuna, Caroni, Guanapo, Tamana, and so many others. These are scattered across our landscape and stand as markers, like mileposts from another time, marking places where they lived and died.
Then there are the remnant First People themselves, embedded in families, some still close to the land, who have managed, through many generations to maintain a sense of identity, a belief in belonging to a community of the spirit, the spirit of the ancestor.

Folklorist Mito Sampson captured a fascinating memory of the First People, perhaps the last recorded – that reached back into the 1830s or 40s, in his study of the Jamette culture of East Port-of-Spain during the 1930s and 40s, which was published in the Caribbean Quarterly’s special Carnival edition of 1957. Mito Sampson was able to tap into a rich vein of oral history that had been maintained and passed on as tribal history embroidered into the fabulousness of myth.
And what is myth? One source simple states that myth is a traditional story consisting of events that are ostensibly historical, though often supernatural, exploring the origins of a cultural practice or natural phenomenon.

In writing this article, which is in commemoration of Trinidad & Tobago’s First People being recognised, officially, as a component element, in fact the foundation member of the national community, I have chosen, in the first instance,  Mito Sampson’s paper as a start in the capturing
of their oral tradition.

Conquerabia which became Marine Square, now Independence Square Port-of-Spain in the 1920s. 
It was during this period that characters such as Jo-Jo, Ofuba the Slave and Thunderstone as well as personalities like Cariso Jane and Surisima the Carib would have made up the town’s Jamette society.
It is from this source, which is the crucible, so to speak, of the Creole culture that gave us Calypso, Carnival and the Steelband from which Mito Sampson drew his information. The Jamette society of the town were those who lived beyond the diameter of the inner circle of polite society, they were notorious for being absurdly scandalous, vulgar and in a way amusingly obscene.

The Raconteur from Ruby Finlayson’s 1900s collection of Port-of-Spain personalities.

Words spoken, a story is told, as a gift given. It is a legacy to pass on, a precious thing that had been handed down through what? two hundred years, since the time of the Spanish rule, in this remnant community. It was like a fossil to  the eager young researcher with the notebook.  Mito Sampson’s informant called himself Jo-Jo. He may be placed in history as being born, perhaps in Port-of-Spain in the 1830s or 40s.
Sampson records that “Jo-Jo was a son or nephew of Thunderstone, Chantwell to the Congo Jackos band, who lost his wife Cariso Jane to Surisima the Carib. Jo Jo became a jamette in his early twenties, and later a wayside preacher. At times he was reluctant to give the salacious details, but would yield under pressure, though he thought it was a waste of time to probe into what was best forgotten. He was strong on African slave legend, and gave me calypsoes from Ofuba the Slave and his son Possum.
“If it were not for Jo Jo, the information concerning Surisima the Carib and the legends and folk traditions of the Caribs would have been lost; Jo-Jo’s father knew Surisima personally, and had taken part in the ceremony known as “the burning of Caziria”. Jo Jo was over 92 when he died.

Illustration from "Sk)etches of Amerindian Tribes 1841–1843"
 by Edward Goodall (British Library Board. Goodall
was the official artist accompanying
Sir Robert Schomburgk on a expedition into the Guyanas
and has left for us a valuable record of the Tribal People of the area.
“According to the legends passed on by Surisima the Carib, a well known Calypso singer of the mid nineteenth century, the word Cariso, by which the term Calypso was known, prior to the 1890s, is descended from the Carib term “Carieto”, meaning a joyous song. Surisima was famous also as a folklorist and raconteur. People would pay him to come to their homes and enlighten them on long forgotten events. He was a wayside historian, and wherever he spoke, people gathered. Surisima recreated much of the old Carib tradition, which is still remembered today.
Carietos, the joyous songs of the First People, were used to heal the sick, to embolden the warrior and to seduce the fair. It is said that under the great Cacique Guamatumare, singers of Carieto were rewarded with special gifts of land, and that next to the tribal leaders they also owned the love of the fairest ladies.
In the time of the Cacique Guancangari, the two great singers were Dioarima, tall, powerful and extremely handsome, and, an undersized weakling.  Their voices were capable of arousing cowards, invigorating the jaded and placating the delirious. Dioarima had two beautiful daughters who were guarded night and day. One night a singer hid in the bushes, and sang a series of haunting songs which had the two girls uneasy. The following night they escaped from their guards, and met the singer in the woods. He took them to Conquerabia (now Port-of-Spain) and lived with them in regal splendour until he was killed in battle. Guandori, a great stick-man of the 1860s, was the last of their descendants.
When the Spaniards heard of these miracle singers, whose voices spurred men on to battle even in the face of fearful odds, they used bribery and clever manipulation, and finally ambushed the two through the treachery of the Carib slave-woman Caziria. The singers were subjected to unspeakable tortures and molten lead was poured down their throats.
With the death of Casaripo and Dioarima, the Carib forces rapidly disintegrated, and were eventually conquered by the Spaniards.  Surisima himself used to organise a procession of Carib descendants from the city of Port-of-Spain to the heights of El Chiquerro where a huge effigy of Caziria, the betrayer, was belabored and burnt after drinking, feasting and singing obscene songs. The only song remembered is:
‘Cazi, Cazi, Cazi, Caziria
Dende, dende. dende dariba’.

“Shifter Brathwaite reported to me his father’s assertion that when these people sang they actually felt the pain and sorrow experienced by the Caribs when Casaripo and Dioarima were betrayed, and sang with real hate and rancour towards Caziria and just as they finished singing that song they began to belabour the effigy, then burn it. On one occasion Surisima the Carib tried to carry on that ceremony in the city but police “ran” them, and they were all brought to court.
In 1859, Mr. William Moore, an American ornithologist, came to Trinidad. He gave a lecture on birds and he had cause to make allusion  to the Cariso, saying that many of the Carisos are localised versions of  American and English ballads. When Surisima the Carib heard that he was annoyed. Two days later he went to Mr. Moore’s hotel with a crowd of followers and he lampooned him viciously. The lampoon is preserved to this day. This is what he sung: ‘Surisima: Moore the monkey from America! Crowd: Tell me wha you know about we cariso!” They kept on singing like that creating a furor until the police intervened.”
Thanks to Mito Sampson the authentic voice of folk tradition was passed on, carrying with it the traces of a mythology that speaks of the inner memories of a people, of beauty, love and betrayal; of revenge, and of the celebration, in a forgotten ritual, of the memory of a time when our country was young.

The Land of the Hummingbird

Perhaps the oldest recorded anecdotes of the First People are to be found in Edward Lanza Joseph’s History of Trinidad, 1838. In an ethnographic study it mentions an enduring Creation Myth, how the wrath of the great spirit of Trinidad, who in defense of the beauty of the hummingbird, caused the destruction of an invader and the creation of the Pitch Lake at La Brea.
Joseph writes in his description of the flora and fauna of the island, “I now come to the smallest, but to me the most interesting of the feathered tribe, called hummingbirds, because we have here such a number of species, such endless varieties of these graceful and resplendent creatures as to justify the aboriginal Indian name of Trinidad, viz. Iere, that is to say, Land of the Hummingbird.

“The aborigines treated these darlings of nature with religious veneration, calling them beams of the sun, and supposing them animated by the souls of the happy...
“Formerly (say the Indians) the spot on which stands the Pitch Lagoon was occupied by a tribe of Chaimas, who build their ajoupas (huts) here, because the land abounded in pineapples, and the coast in oysters and other shell fish; the finest turtle and fish were here taken, and its limpid springs were frequented by countless flocks of flamingos, horned screamers, pauies (wild turkeys), blue ramiers and humming-birds.
The inhabitants of this Chaima encampment, by wantonly destroying the humming-birds, which were animated by the souls of their deceased relations, offended ‘the Good Spirit’ who, to avenge their impiety, made one night the whole encampment sink beneath the earth with all its sacrilegious inhabitants; the next morning nothing was perceived of the Chaima’s village, but instead the Lagoon of Asphaltum appeared.”

It was out of this myth, traditionally narrated by a person called Mr. Trinidado, that emerged the notion that Trinidad is the Land of the Hummingbird.

Sketches of Amerindian Tribes
1841–1843 by Edward Goodall.
“The ground heaved up, the Earth moved and the golden sands vanished. The golden pineapples, the sweetest, juiciest in the world, were gone, taking with them the new comers who had arrived on the wind from the Orinoco, a new tribal people who had come over the sea and who, with an astonishing rapaciousness, had decimated the singularly most beautiful object on the island.
The hummingbird became their object of game. The tiny creature was used by the newcomers for decoration—their iridescent feathers in startling blue, magenta, aquamarine, turquoise, yellow, green, and other shades no longer in existence, were turned in to hats and capes, wallets and walking sticks.
It is reported on the best authority that the Great Spirit of Trinidad, the “Land of the Hummingbird”, Iere, arose from his millennium slumber and moved. This move swallowed up the newcomers, plunging them into his very bowels, only to be regurgitated as a lake of steaming pitch. The First People have a story that after dying, the souls of the children of Iere return as hummingbirds, perhaps giving rise to the fable that this island is the Land of the Hummingbird.”

Two hummingbirds appear in chief on the coat of arms of Trinidad & Tobago and are prominent on the insignia of the Trinidad & Tobago Police Service and the defense forces of Trinidad & Tobago. They, as institutions of the state, protect us, the hummingbirds, as the great spirit of the island once did.
Moriche palms at Waller Field, Trinidad.
The remarkable Moriche Palm was first documented by English navigator and poet Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618). In 1595, when he explored the coast of Trinidad and took its old capital, St. Joseph, Raleigh observed that it appeared that the tribal people had built fires in the palm tops. In fact, the Amerindians had strung their hammocks high between the tops of the Moriche Palms and had lit fires beneath for warmth and to drive away mosquitoes.
German naturalist and traveler Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), from a more scientific point of view, observed that the palm, called the “tree of life” by the tribal people, did in fact possess many life-sustaining qualities. The bark, for instance, contains a sago-like flour that may be used in various forms of cooking. The fruit is not only edible, but could be made, when fermented, into various sorts of drinks, some alcoholic, a sort of wine. From the large fan-shaped leaves a thin, ribbon-like pellicle is taken and rolled on the thigh or chest into a string.
From these strings, in some instances dyed into brilliant colours, hammocks were woven.

An  Amerindian  photographed in the 1890s
quite likely in Guyana for the travel book,
“Stark’s Guide and History of Trinidad.”
Humboldt collected yet another interesting creation myth when he asked the Tamanac Indians for an account of how the human race survived the great deluge that was known by them as the “age of water”. They said that “a man and a woman had saved themselves on a mountaintop called Tamanacu and, casting behind them over their heads the fruits of the Moriche Palm, they saw that the seeds contained in their roots produced men and women who re-peopled the earth”.

A creation myth (or cosmogonic myth) is a symbolic narrative of how the world began and how people first came to inhabit it.  While in popular usage the term myth often refers to false or fanciful stories, formally, it does not imply falsehood. Cultures generally regard their creation myths as true (the Bible, for instance). In the society in which it is told, a creation myth is usually regarded as conveying profound truths, metaphorically, symbolically and sometimes in a historical or literal sense. They are commonly, although not always, considered cosmogonical myths – that is, they describe the ordering of the cosmos from a state of chaos or amorphousness. (Source: Wikipedia.)

The Tribal People of Trinidad & Tobago

Moriche Palms are unique to this part of the world,
and found only in Trinidad and on banks of the
Amazon, the Rio Negro, and the Orinoco in South America.
The Moriche Palm was named “Mauritia flexuosa”
by Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus.

Fruit of the Moriche Palm. Herbarium , UWI
E.L. Joseph writing in the 1830s tells us . . . “that according to tradition and letters, preserved amongst old families in Trinidad there were two races inhabiting the island; they were called Aruacques, or, as the English write the word, Arawaaks, and Chimas. In another account to which he refers a warlike race of Indians, which he calls Caribes, but who called themselves Carina, Calina and Callingo, came from Florida, invaded the Windward Islands, exterminated the male inhabitants, and possessed themselves of their lands and women–hence the custom amongst the Caribe islands of the women and men speaking different languages. The Caribes were a bold  warlike race of Indians, and according to the concurrent testimony of many Historians, they were cannibals; in fact, the word cannibal is said to be a corruption of Caribe.
“The larger islands, that is to say, Haiti (St. Domingo), Cuba, Jamaica, Bariguen (Porto Rico), and Iere (Trinidad) – Cuba, Haiti and Jamaica retained their Indian names – were inhabited by less ferocious tribes. Perhaps, as it has been conjectured, the Caribes easily made themselves masters of the smaller islands by exterminating the male inhabitants, but could not obtain the mastery over the larger ones. This cannot be ascertained at present; but that the Caribes had no footing in Trinidad, may be learned from Las Casas. I am aware that the learned Humboldt is of the opinion that the tribe called Jaoi of Trinidad were a section of the Caribe family; yet I am rather inclined to follow older authorities and traditions, because it appears that such enmity existed between the Caribes and other races, that they never could have resided in the same island.”

A lithograph of Mount Tamana by M.J. Cazabon
where according to the First People the world was began anew after the great flood.
A romantic view of life in the high woods. Hahn 1983
Sketches of Amerindian Tribes
1841–1843 by Edward Goodall.

“Of the Arawaaks, and inhabitants of the larger islands generally,” E.L. Joseph continues, “ the friends and companions of Columbus give us a rather favourable report (vide P. Martye, Oviedo, Herrera, Las Casas, and Ferdinand Columbus). They were as fully advanced towards civilization as were the in habitants of the South Sea Islands during the time of Cook. They built commodious dwellings, manufactured vessels of clay, equal, according to Las Casas, to the best made in Spain; they had the art of spinning cotton into cloth, and were by no means destitute of agriculture ; they made canoes of surprising capacity; they made cordage and hammocks from fibers of the coco palm and other trees. Most of those who describe them during the first thirty years of the discovery  of these islands, speak highly of their mode of life, domestic economy, and general benevolence; but we should not allow the  exaggerations of the early travelers to deceive us; for after a long and to them dangerous voyage, they were apt to colour too lightly the joys of the savage state they beheld. That possessed  the art of weaving cotton into cloth, of dying the same beautifully, cannot be denied; but in general they went in a state of very near to nudity– the chiefs wearing only a short tunic, the rest merely a guayacco ; and according to Bartholomy Columbus, his father found the women of this island in ‘statu naturali’.
“Their diversions consisted of public and private dances ; the first was a kind of warlike amusement. Herrera says that 50,000 men and women used through the night to dance together, keeping time with wonderful precision; they accompanied them with historical songs; these entertainments were called ‘Arietoes’. “
(Note that in Mito Sampson’s account the word used by the Tribal People for joyous songs was “Carieto”).
An Amerindian burial photographed in the 1890s
quite likely in Guyana for the travel book,
“Stark’s Guide and History of Trinidad.”
E.L. Joseph writing in the 1830 when seminal records were still extant tells us that. . . “Their private dances were licentious – the dances of all peoples in a low state of civilization are licentious or warlike. Their musical instruments consisted of a rude drum and different sized conch shells.
“The rest of their diversions consisted of a game of ball played between two parties, called ‘Bato’. According to Oviedo, they displayed surprising agility in this game, frequently repelling the ball with the head, elbow, or foot.
“Their agricultural instruments consisted of a long picket of hard wood and a kind of rude spade of the same material, with these they cultivate manioc and maize.
“Their warlike implements consisted of a bow and arrow, the latter often dipped in poison of remarkable acuteness, Sometimes they used pieces of cotton at the end of their arrows; these were saturated with inflammable resinous matter, and when fired, served to burn their enemies’ village. By way of defensive armour, they had wooden shields–the shields, I believe, were peculiar to the Indians of Trinidad.
“Their governance was absolute. Their chief was called a Cacique: his dignity was hereditary, but did not descend from father to son, but the eldest child of the Cacique’s sister succeeded to his uncle state.”
This petroglyph is embedded in the upper flank of El Cerro del Aripo, at 940 metres (3,084 ft). It is the highest point in Trinidad. It speaks to us in a language long forgotten. Some petroglyphs might be as old as 40,000 years. Many hypotheses explain the purpose of petroglyphs, depending on their location, age, and subject matter. Some many be astronomical markers, maps, and other forms of symbolic communication, including a form of proto-writing. Petroglyph maps may show trails, symbols communicating time and distances traveled, as well as the local terrain in the form of rivers, landforms, and other geographic features. (Above. Photograph of a tribal person taken in Guyana in the 1900s. Below: From a photograph of the Aripo petroglyph taken by Tom Cambridge in the 1940s.)

“After his famous 1492 voyage of discovery, Christopher Columbus was commissioned to return a second time, which he did with a large-scale colonization effort which departed from Spain in 1493. Although the second journey had many problems, it was considered successful because a settlement was founded: it would eventually become Santo Domingo, capital of the present-day Dominican Republic. Columbus served as governor during his stay in the islands.
The settlement needed supplies, however, so Columbus returned to Spain in 1496.”

Historian and professor of literature Christopher W. Minster goes to tell us; “Columbus reported to the Spanish crown upon his return from the New World. He was dismayed to learn that his patrons, Ferdinand and Isabella, would not allow the taking of slaves in the newly discovered lands. As he had found little gold or precious commodities for which to trade, he had been counting on selling native slaves to make his voyages lucrative. The King and Queen of Spain allowed Columbus to organize a third trip to the New World with the goal of resupplying the colonists and continuing the search for a new trade route to the Orient.
Sketches of Amerindian Tribes 1841–1843 by Edward Goodall.

“Upon departure from Spain in May of 1498, Columbus split his fleet of six ships: three would make for Hispaniola immediately to bring desperately needed supplies, while the other three would aim for points south of the already explored Caribbean to search for more land and perhaps even the route to the orient that Columbus still believed to be there. Columbus himself captained the latter ships, being at heart an explorer and not a governor. Columbus’ bad luck on the third voyage began almost immediately. After making slow progress from Spain, his fleet hit the doldrums, which is a calm, hot stretch of ocean with little or no wind.
“Columbus and his men spent several days battling heat and thirst with no wind to propel their ships. After a while, the wind returned and they were able to continue. Columbus veered to the north, because the ships were low on water and he wanted to resupply in the familiar Caribbean. On July 31, they sighted an island, which Columbus named Trinidad. They were able to resupply there and continue exploring.
“For the first two weeks of August 1498, Columbus and his small fleet explored the Gulf of Paria, which separates Trinidad from mainland South America. In the process of this exploration, they discovered the Island of Margarita as well as several smaller islands. They also discovered the mouth of the Orinoco River. Such a mighty freshwater river could only be found on a continent, not an island, and the increasingly religious Columbus concluded that he had found the site of the Garden of Eden. Columbus fell ill around this time, and ordered the fleet to head to Hispaniola, which they reached on August 19.”

Christopher Columbus writes into his Ship’s Log:

(Discovery of Trinidad by Christopher Columbus 1498. Selected letters of Christopher Columbus by R.H. Major 1870, Hakluyt Society.)

Contrary to popular belief, the three ships
of Columbus’ squadron were not the Santa Maria,
Niña and Pinta (the flagship of the first voyage,
the Santa Maria having been wrecked
off Hispaniola in 1492). According to
historical sources, the ships of his third voyage
 of 1498 were the Guia (also referred to as El Nao),
the La Castilla (nicknamed Los Vaquenos) and the
Santa Maria de La Gorda (also known as El Correo),
these were the three ships of Columbus’
squadron when he visited these waters.
“I resolved therefore to keep on the direct westward course, in a line from Sierra Leone, and not to change it until I reached a point where I had thought I should find land where I could repair the vessels and renew, if possible our stock of provisions and take in what water we wanted.
At the end of seventeen days, during which Our Lord gave a propitious wind, we saw land at noon of Tuesday the 31st of July. This I had expected on Monday before and held that route up to this point ; but as the sun’s strength increased and our supply of water was falling, I resolved to make for the Caribee Islands and set sail in that direction ; when by the mercy of God which he has always extended to me, one of our sailors went up to the main-top and saw to the  westward a range of mountains. Upon this we repeated the “Salce Regina” and other prays and all of us gave thanks to Our Lord.
“I then gave up our northward course and put in for land; at the hour of complines we reached a cape which called Cape Galera, having already given to the island the name of Trinidad, and here we found a harbour which would have been excellent but there was no good anchorage. We saw houses and people on the spot and the country round was very beautiful and as fresh and green as the gardens of Valencia in the month of march.”
The three ships of Christopher Columbus
appear per chevron on the coat of arms
of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

Douglas Archibald in his historical account of Tobago, “Melancholy Isle”, tells us, “Christopher Columbus, during his third voyage of discovery, sighted the island of Kairi on the31st of July 1498, and he named it Trinidad. Several days later, on the 13th August,Columbus sailed away from the gulf of Paria and Trinidad, through the Grand Boca on a course that was east and north. Some time on that day, before changing that course for a westerly one, he sighted an island to the east and another one to the north : and he gave to the former the name of Assumption, while he called the latter Conception. Those are the islands that now know as Tobago and Grenada.
“In the early part of the 16th century, the explorers and adventurers who followed in the wake of Columbus, such as Ojeda,Vespucci and Juan de las Cosa, would refer to Tobago, on their charts, as Madalena, while they gave to Grenada the name Mayo.”
Over the following decades Dutch cartographers would increasingly use the word Tovaco or Tobago, said to be the name used for the implement in which a herb called cohiba was smoked for this island.
"Two of the chiefs who they took to be father and son, came forward in advance of the mass of people and conducted them to a very large house with facades and not round and tent like shaped as other houses were; in this house were many seats on which they were made our men sit down.”
In “History of Trinidad under the Spanish Government” by P.G.L. Borde we learn, “It occurred to Columbus to try the power of music on them, he had some popular Spanish dances performed on the deck of his ship to the accompaniment of voices and instruments. This met less success than previously for the islanders taking these demonstrations for signs of hostilities, fired off a flight of arrows at them. Columbus replied with a double discharge of crossbows.”
(Sketches of Amerindian Tribes 1841–1843 by Edward Goodall.)

The imagination of the age of Christopher Columbus was characterised by biblical geography, alchemical science and kabbalistic thought. These located the navel of the world in Jerusalem. This island, which Columbus called Trinidad, was in the minds of some a fictional place, a legendary place in the imagination of the Old World, a place of magical monsters: home Leviathan, the great denizen of the deep, where in its Gulf of Paria they did disport themselves.
The Admiral of the Ocean Sea came upon this island in 1498, he tasted the waters in its Gulf of Paria and found them sweet and possessed of the mammalian redolence of the Leviathan. “I have found Mar Dulce,” he wrote into the log of his flag ship, the Santa Maria de la Gorda, “the sweet sea, where the fresh water battles with the salt.”
The Republic (ca. 370-360 BC) by Plato - One of the earliest conceptions of a utopia. Ptolemy had written of the “Fortunate Isles”,  Sir Thomas More for his 1516 book Utopia, described a fictional island society in the south Atlantic Ocean off the coast of South America.
Christopher Colmbus named the ingress to, and egress from, the Gulf of Paria, with kabbalistic terminology Boca del Serpiente and Bocas del Dragon. The great expanse itself; Golfo de Ballina. He had seen them, Leviathan. The great whales, they formed his escort as he entered the gulf through the channel to the south as he sailed the furthest perimeter of the circumference of the world.

Sketches of Amerindian Tribes
 1841–1843 by Edward Goodall.
Dr. Arie Boomert, archaeologist, tells us that the imagination and the religion of the Tribal People could be characterized as deeply animistic. There was and is a common belief in a verity of nature spirits, sky, river and mountain deities. There is as well a belief in the spirit of nature, of the forest and the sky, as well as ghost spirits and shades of the dead. The people of the forest perceived a three-tiered universe. The earth, itself was this world and consisted of a vast flat circular disc surrounded by water at the center of which was the village. A huge boa constrictor or macajuel that bites its tail encircles this disc and is known as the ‘Snake of Being’.  The breath of this deity regulates the rising and the lowering of the tides. Below and above the earth, different, but similarly organized worlds are believed to exist: The Sky World and the Underworld. These are thought to represent the good world and the evil world. These worlds meet and interface as rainbows overarching towards the earth.  The central element, the axis mundi so to speak, the central structure that connects the various levels of this world view is formed by the ‘World Tree’, which is often seen as symbolized by the Silk Cotton tree, the tallest of trees in the forest.

A  zemi, from Daniel’s “West Indian History”.
Anthropologist Nicoletta Maestri relates that “. . . a zemí (also zemi, zeme or cemi) is a collective term in the Caribbean Taíno (Arawak) culture for “sacred thing”, a spirit symbol or personal effigy. The Taíno were the people met by Christopher Columbus when he first set foot on the island of Hispaniola in the West Indies.
To the Taíno, zemí was/is an abstract symbol, a concept imbued with the power to alter circumstances and social relations. Zemis are rooted in ancestor worship, and although they are not always physical objects, those that have a concrete existence have a multitude of forms.
The simplest and earliest recognized zemis were roughly carved objects in the form of an isoceles triangle (“three-pointed zemis”); but zemis can also be quite elaborate, highly detailed human or animal effigies embroidered from cotton or carved from sacred wood.”  E.L. Joseph writes that the tribal people believed in a plurality of gods– “the chief of them they called Jocahuna.”

He goes on to source Laet who said that the island of Trinidad was possessed by two parties of Indians: one called Cunucaras, under a chief called Buchumar ; the other called Chacumries, who obeyed a cacique named Maruane. In Daniel’s West Indian Histories we learn that when Antonio de Sedeno, the Treasurer of Porto Rico, was granted Trinidad and attempted to establish a settlement in 1530, some thirty two years after Columbus, the island was described as being divided into two provinces– that of the Chacomares, under a cacique called Maruana, in the south, and that of  Camucuraos, under Baucunar, in the north. The southern people were mild and friendly; and as Chacomer in  an Amerindian language means “sweet potato people”, it has been suggested that they were thus called in derision by the fierce Camucuraos, who repeatedly attacked the Spaniards and endevoured to drive them out. Later writers refer to the constant feuds between the two waring tribes in Trinidad, and frequent reference is made to the warlike Nepoyo  chieftain Hyarima, whose village was where Arima now stands. He it was who assisted the Dutch in their attack on St. Joseph in 1637.


Pierre-Gustave Louis Borde, in his “History of Trinidad under the Spanish Government” and citing Humboldt and Raleigh, tells us that “there were at least seven Amerindian tribes in Trinidad at the time of Columbus’ discovery, namely: the Aruacas, Chaimas, Tamanaques, Chaguanes, Salives, Quaquas and Carabibes; this latter tribe was further divided into four sub-tribes, the Nepoios, Yaios, Carinepagotos and Cumanagotos, the whole thus forming eleven separate bodies.
Nearly a century after the discovery, and in spite of the ravages caused by the Spanish privateers and the wars of the Conquistadores, Sir Walter Raleigh, during his short stay, found the Napoios, Aruacs, Salives, Yaios, Chaimas and Carinepagotos.
“The Tamanaques occupied the centre of the island. There is a small mesa or tepuy there of that name, the English term for which is tableland or table-top mountain. The word tepui means “house of the gods” in the native tongue of the Tribal People. These tend to be found as isolated entities rather than in connected ranges, which makes them the host of a unique array of endemic plant and animal species.  They are found in the Guiana Highlands of South America, especially in Venezuela and western Guyana, and in Trinidad. In Trinidad these may also be also seen at Naparima and at Montserrat in a smaller form. They mirror the most outstanding tepuis on the mainland. These great table-top mountains are the Neblina, Autana, Auyantepui and Mount Roraima. Auyantepui is the source of Angel Falls, the world’s tallest waterfall.”

Borde wrote in the 1850s-60s that “the Quaquas, according to Humboldt, crossed over to the continent with their neighbours the Salives.” He mentions “the Chaguanes, whose name a quarter of the western coast bears; the Pariagotos, a few of whom still exist; and the Cumanagotos, who lived on the eastern coast, since we find there a bay of that name. We arrived at a total of eleven tribes as above mentioned.
“When we remember that Sir Walter Raleigh only explored the south and west coasts of the island, it is reasonable to suppose that this number falls short of fact, and could be increased. The island must have been then well populated at the time of the discovery. Its population must have been at least 10,000 souls; it was divided into a great number of villages, situated  chiefly along the coasts and rivers. Although these different tribes have their own dialects, it seems that Carib was the dominant language in the country; it was spoken in the greater part of Guiana, along the northern coast of the South American continent, in the lower Orinoco and in the Lesser Antilles. It stood in the same relation as Italian does to the Latin languages, being distinguished from the other American dialects by the sparkle and great variety of its sounds; it is easily recognised by the frequent occurrence of vowels and of the syllable ‘car’. A great number of the Indian names which have been handed down to us like: Guaracara, Chacachacare, Tacarigua, Caroni, etc., bear this Carib characteristic.

“All the American dialects being closely allied, it is said that the Aruaca, Chaima, Salive, Quaqua experienced no difficulty in adding to the knowledge of the language of his childhood, that of the common language of the country. It was thus in old Europe, where for a long time a great centralisation and combination of nations took place, it often happened that the language spoken in infancy was not that spoken at a more advanced age.”

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