The Santa Rosa First Peoples Community is the only organized area of the Amerindian Survival in Trinidad and Tobago. The Community was formally recognized as representative of the Indigenous Amerindians of the twin-island state by the National Government in 1990. The community’s historical continuity is remarkable. The Santa Rosa First Peoples existed as a community since the early Spanish period, and before that, archaeological and proto-historical data indicate almost 5000 years of settlement in the island. This extraordinary continuity despite the extraordinary rupture of Spanish Conquest and Colonisation is the fundamental factor in the Community’s continuing and powerful indigenous self-identification.
The Community based in Arima. All members are identified on the basis of lineage and residence. The lineage component is the most significant marker of belonging and elders in the Community have a remarkable genealogical memory. Certain family names are associated with those of Amerindian ancestry- BBorneo Campo, Calderon, Castillo, Hernandez, Lopez, Martinez, Peña and Belcon.
The Community is essentially egalitarian in its governance and decision-making. It has always had a Council of Elders who are seen as bearers of traditional knowledge. The Council is led by a Chief, Ricardo Bharath Hernandez, the Carib Queen, presently Jennifer Cassar, and a Pyai, Cristo Adonis.
The most important event in the life of the Community up to the present, is the annual celebration of the Festival of Santa Rosa de Arima/ Lima, the Patronal Feast of the Parish. This event is central to the Community’s sense of historical continuity and unique ethnic construction. It has been celebrated since the establishment of the mission in 1785 and in fact has the distinction of being the oldest, continuously celebrated feast in the island’s history. It has direct antecedents in the celebrations of the Patronal Feasts of the Nepuyo encomiendas of St. Joseph, Caura, Tacarigua and Arima which were amalgamated at the Arima Mission.
These celebrations allowed indigenous spiritual and cultural elements to survive in an almost pristine form within an over Catholic Spanish mode. It therefore exerts a strong normative influence on the Community. The Santa Rosa Festival and the Community’s central involvement in it is seen by members as the most fundamental expression of their continuing existence and survival in the face of extraordinary change. Throughout the recent history of the community it has also been the vehicle for ethnic revitalisation.
There is a body of knowledge and skill that is distinctive of the Carib Community. Their lifeways have been hispanised, but with recognisable Amerindian cultural survivals. The most important of these are the knowledge and use of indigenous flora and fauna, traditional agricultural activity, basketry, distinctive house-building skills associated with thatching and tapia, the planting and processing of cassava and to a lesser extent, maize (corn). However, centuries of Spanish and Catholic cultural influences have also brought about cultural transformation within the Community.
Consequently the Santa Rosa First Peoples, formerly called Caribs, after the name of the indigenous tribe Karina, are also distinguished by Spanish language survival; parang, Spanish surnames, as well as a strong and enduring Catholic belief system especially among the older generation. Today the First Peoples are descendants of the ancestral tribes of Nepuyo, Locono, Tainos, Karina, and Warao.