Maximilian C. Forte, 1999, 2006
ARIMA AT A GLANCE:
AREA: approx. 4 square miles
POPULATION: 35,000 to 60,000 (depending on whether Maloney and La Horqueta are included)
DISTANCE from PORT OF SPAIN: approx. 16 miles
ALTITUDE: 800 feet above sea level
STATUS: Borough, by Royal Charter of 01 August, 1888. Established as a Mission in 1786. GOVERNMENT: Arima Borough Council — Mayor (chosen by the directorate of the political party winning the most seats), Deputy Mayor, Town Clerk. Seven elected councillors and two appointed aldermen compose the Borough Council.
Introduction: The Gens d’ Arime
Those who get to know the Borough of Arima, Trinidad, even briefly, discover that many people in this place still maintain a special pride and identification with the history of Arima, as expressed by the French phrase, “gens d’Arime,” or “Arima Folk.” Arimians express their identity with reference to some basic landmarks or recurring motifs common to the perception of history held by members of the older Arima families and maintained by the Borough’s key institutions such as the Catholic Church, the Borough Council, schools, local personalities, and the parranderos.
The Beginnings of Arima
Interestingly, and perhaps ironic, apart from the name Arima itself, Lord Harris Square, the centre of the old Mission of Arima is the only landmark in Arima today still retaining the name given to it by the Amerindians. Lord Harris, a British Governor in the mid-1800s, had developed a “special” relationship with the Amerindians, patronizing the Santa Rosa Festival, and providing them with small gifts. The Amerindians developed a liking for Lord Harris and decided to name the park after him. Through customary use, this has now become the park’s official name. In recent years, the Catholic church unilaterally decided to rename the square, “Santa Rosa Park,” thereby sidelining its colonial Amerindian history. The church recently retracted this decision.
Arima was settled by Amerindians before the arrival of Columbus, and artifacts from that period can be viewed at the Museum of the University of Florida in Gainesville and the National Museum in Port of Spain, Trinidad. In general there is little that is truly known about Trinidad’s pre-Columbian inhabitants since they had no written records and accounts by early colonial settlers, missionaries and conquerors are often coloured by the agendas, ideologies and assumptions of the day. What we do know in greater detail is that Columbus sighted Trinidad in August of 1498 and that the first solid colonization effort began in 1592. The Mission of Arima was established in 1786, under Father Reyes Bravo, and lasted until the mid-1800s even though it was never dissolved under the law. It was from the Mission experience, added to the influx of Venezuelan immigrants, that Arima gained its Parang heritage, the autonomous religious rituals of individual households, and adherence to Santa Rosa (St. Rose of Lima, patron saint of the New World and the Philippines).
Arima: What’s in a Name?
Unfortunately, given that still too little is known about the earliest Amerindian inhabitants, a lot of gaps are filled in by guesswork. One of the most common assumptions is that the name “Arima,” means “land of plenty water,” possibly because there is a river running through the Arima valley (and this assumes that Amerindians used only one word for all kinds of water, whether salt-, fresh-, river-, or sea-water). This would not explain “Anaparima,” or what is known today as Naparima Hill in San Fernando since there is no water on that hill, yet, the word “arima” forms part of that word. One of the translations of “Anaparima” that has gained currency is “Single Hill.” That the word “arima” should mean “hill” seems plausible given the fact that the old centre of Arima is overshadowed by a foothill of the Northern Range, today called Calvary Hill. In studying dictionaries and word lists of the Cariban language from Dominica and the Lokono language in Guyana (an Arawakan language), the word “arima” makes no appearance in either case. This poses a problem. It might be the case that the word “arima” is, by elimination, a Warao word (Warauan being the third major language family of the Orinoco delta region). Anaparima was also a major ritual centre for Waraos (also known as Warrahoons in Trinidad, or Guaraunos in Spanish) from north-eastern Venezuela, and this seems to further the possibility of a Warao base to some of the names in Trinidad. However, it might also be a mistake to overstate the ethno-linguistic differences between the Warao, Arawak and Carib groupings, having lived in close proximity to each other for many centuries. Indeed, word lists from Trinidad, a major thoroughfare and transit station for Amerindian groups from across the Orinoco delta and the Amazon, may simply reflect the presence of a lingua franca. However, what remains implausible are the long repeated notions that Amerindians in Trinidad expressed entire sentences in single words, such as the famous belief that the Amerindian name for Trinidad was “Iere” (also erroneous), and could be translated as “land of the humming bird.”
What we can surmise is that publications which suggest that Arima was named after Chief Hyarima of the seventeenth century are mistaken. First, the name of the area predates the appearance of the chief. Also, it is not plausible that the Spanish authorities would willingly accept naming a town after a rebel who had “murdered” Spaniards. It also seems odd that the name would be shortened to just “Arima.” Moreover, “arima” also appears in the name of Chief Maquarima, one of the five chiefs freed from imprisonment by Sir Walter Ralegh in his raid on St. Joseph in 1595, so it does not seem that “arima” is a word peculiar to Chief Hyarima.
It might be the case that Hyarima is a compound word, combining “Hiari,” the poisonous root used by Amerindians to kill fish in rivers, also a very tall plant, and “arima” meaning “hill.” The symbolism then is that of a warrior who kills Spaniards like mere fish in the river, and a man tall and broad like a hill overshadowing a small village. Very roughly then we would have a chiefly name that underscores attributes of prowess and skill as a warrior, which we might translate imaginatively, not to mention crudely, as “Poison Hill,” or, “Mountain Root” (a foothill might also be seen as the “root” of a mountain), amongst other possibilities. However, this is plain speculation.
The less exciting possibility is that “Hyarima” is another result of modern Trinidadian linguistic creolization, in this case the Spanish name “Hierronima,” since there is nothing to say that “Hyarima” might himself have been an ex-Mission Indian who had been given, or had adopted, a Hispanic name, like so many other Amerindians living in Missions or in close contact with Spaniards. In addition Hyarima comes to us from Dutch sources, opening up the possibility of multiple mispronunciations and incorrect transcriptions occurring along the way, much the same way that caniba became caribal then cannibal and Carib and so on.
Two of Arima’s most prominent cultural landmarks are those pertaining to its Amerindian and Mission history. The first is symbolized at by the statue of Chief Hyarima, erected at the western entrance to Arima, next to the Velodrome (one of Arima’s modern landmarks). The second is embodied in the figure of St. Rose, renamed locally as “Santa Rosa de Arima.” St. Rose is often hailed as “La Divina Patrona de Arima” — Arima’s Divine Patron.
King Cocoa and the Making of Modern Arima
The modern history of Arima, that is, that period of time in which Arima began to look more like what it is today, was a history very much shaped and directed by the flux of fortune and failure marking the cyclical price of cocoa on the world market. Cocoa had long been a staple export of colonial Trinidad. In 1725, the cocoa industry suffered its first major collapse due to blight. While by the end of that century cocoa had recovered ground, sugar was by far the most valuable agricultural commodity on the world market. In order to turn Trinidad into a sugar exporter, the 1783 Cédula de población invited Roman Catholic immigrants from other parts of the Caribbean to relocate in Trinidad, along with their slaves. The intent was to attract sugar planters from the French Caribbean, then undergoing a series of wars and rebellions.
In order to clear lands for sugar cultivation, a variety of Amerindian tribes were concentrated into Mission villages, such as those of Savana Grande, Siparia, and Arima, all of which continued to exist into the 1840s. Arima itself has long been the hub of the cocoa growing north-eastern region of Trinidad, an area still thickly populated by the tell-tale “Imortelle” trees used to shade cocoa trees. Even when sugar became king, Arima and its surrounding region, especially the hills and mountains, continued to grow cocoa and to use Amerindian labour on lands belonging to the few remaining Spanish plantocrats (i.e., Sorzano, Farfan, Hospedales).
By the 1840s, cocoa’s price value again suffered. In 1849 the Mission suffered from British colonial policy as lands belonging to Amerindian families, who possessed no formal titles, were put up for sale by their “special friend,” Governor Harris himself. Given a lack of land and a lack of work, many Amerindian ex-Mission families migrated to regions east and south of Arima. This would lay the basis for a future labour shortage.
From the 1870s to the 1920s, cocoa became king once more, its value far exceeding that of sugar. Suddenly, the Arima area became of importance again. Many of the French Creole planters abandoned sugar estates or diversified into cocoa, thus acquiring lands and setting up estates in the northeast. French Patois would overcome Spanish as the region’s lingua franca. Not enough labour was available in the area, hence the need to relocate labour within Trinidad or import new labour. From the 1870s one sees an influx of families of East Indian origin. Many photos of the early 1900s, showing cocoa estates, give ample evidence of the extent to which East Indians formed a large part of the cocoa work force. Also, in the 1870s, Trinidad began to import 2,000 Venezuelans and West Indians annually to supplement the workforce. The Venezuelans were referred to as “Cocoa Panyols,” and were of mixed Spanish-Amerindian-African rural heritage. Indentured labourers from Africa were also imported, many being teenagers or single adults, and many appearing in the baptismal registers (this is in spite of the fact that many Trinidadians believe that only East Indians came as indentured labourers, and that all Africans came as slaves). By the close of the 1800s then, Arima’s population was already a mixture of South American, Spanish, French, African, Lebanese, Chinese, West Indian and East Indian, like it is today. Arima’s baptismal registers from the time begin to show the kind of variety of names that one finds today in the national telephone directory. Roman Catholicism also came under challenge from the Anglican Church, the first being established in Arima in 1885. In these situations of competition, diverse cultural inflows, and the quest for resources, one can expect certain contests and conflicts to emerge.
Marking Arima: Traditions and Motifs
Arima marks its identity with a number of traditions and landmarks: Parang, the Santa Rosa Festival, the Spanish heritage, “seat of the last remaining Carib community,” the Cannon and its blasting on every August 1st, the Dial, the Santa Rosa RC Church, and even the town hall mark some of the main features of Arima’s history. In addition to this, there are certain achievements and other claims that are regularly emphasized in various Borough events that help to underscore the idea of Arima as a special and distinct place within Trinidad, virtually the capital of another country known as Trinidad’s north east.
Arima’s Parang Heritage:
Arima is one of Trinidad’s main centres of Parang, and possibly the only large urban centre to possess this attribute. Four of Trinidad’s major Parang bands are located in Arima: Los Niños del Mundo, Los Niños de Santa Rosa, Carib Santa Rosa, and Los Tocadores, and there are others. Two of the bands listed were either created by, are linked to, or grew from the Carib Community. Two of them are also located on Calvary Hill. Due to Arima’s distinction as a centre for Parang, the National Parang Association of Trinidad and Tobago (NPATT) located its headquarters there.
One of Arima’s long-standing Parang promoters is the well known Holly Betaudier, who ran the annual “Holly’s Carib Parang Bandwagon” which tours the nation featuring the various Parang bands in the various localities visited, recorded and shown in the past on Trinidad and Tobago Television (state-owned television, now defunct). NPATT also launches its own Parang Festival every year, with a grand opening at the end of September, with events continuing until late December. NPATT stages events in major Parang centres around Trinidad, starting in Arima.
The Santa Rosa Festival
The Santa Rosa Festival, a celebration within the Catholic Church that harks back to Arima’s days as an Amerindian Mission village, is hailed as one of the Borough’s main cultural events, one that marks Arima’s special identity as an area maintaining, to some degree, its Spanish, Catholic, Amerindian and Parang traditions, all intertwined.
Saint Rose is honoured as “The Divine Patron of Arima.” There is a legend held by some in the Carib Community concerning the birth of their devotion to St. Rose who is said to have appeared to a group of three Carib hunters when the Mission was founded.
The Maypole Festivities
Some Arimians are also interested in continuing and developing Latin American traditions and connections to the town’s Spanish background and ties to Venezuela. One example of this is the annual Maypole Festival held in Arima where school groups from across Trinidad, and Tobago, participate in a contest to determine the best performers of the Maypole or Sebucán Dance. It is also true that the Maypole is a tradition that can also be found in parts of Europe. In Arima, however, the Maypole is sometimes “translated” as the Sebucán dance, which takes the end result of the ribbon platting to be representative of the Amerindian sebucán, that is, the woven cassava strainer. Another figure present at such festivals is a sight familiar to many Latin Americans, called in Trinidad a “burroquite” (pronounced “burrokeet”) from the Spanish, “burroquito.”
The Amerindian Heritage
Arima, since the early 1970s, has been the seat of a revival of identification with a Carib or Amerindian heritage. This has attracted the attention and interest of the media, researchers, and local politicians. A number of landmarks in Arima have already appeared that commemorate or in some way make reference to the Amerindian heritage of the town, such as: the Amerindian “ajoupas” (or what some call huts) built by Cristo Adonis and members of his Parang band (as well as from the Calvary “Carib descendants”) at Calvary Hill View Park, at other times by the Carib Centre and Lord Harris Square, and the timite palm leaves installed in the fence surrounding the National Parang Association headquarters. Other such features are the statue of Hyarima at the western entrance to Arima, facing the Eastern Main Road. The annual Borough Day/ Emancipation Day on 01 August also features a Smoke Ceremony, previously meant to mark the start of the unofficial “Month of Santa Rosa.” Recently, the Smoke Ceremony has also been performed with the input of guests from the Orisha community (since 01 August is a national public holiday, Emancipation Day).
At 6:00am on each 01 August, the Cannon located on Calvary Hill View Park, is “blasted,” that is, troops from the Regiment install explosives in the hillside beneath the cannon and then detonate them so as to simulate a cannon blast (this one no longer being functional). It is only in recent years that the Cannon has been on Calvary Hill. It is also “blasted” at 6:00am, 12:00pm, and 6:00pm on the day of the Santa Rosa Festival. One Carib Community writer, Jacqueline Khan, explains that the cannon blast symbolizes the “voice of Chief Hyarima calling his people together.” She explains further that in “olden days” the Caribs would be called by a conch shell blast to come together and begin work for the Santa Rosa Festival, and that the cannon blast is a translation of that.
The Cannon’s History
A plaque installed at the base of the cannon reads as follows:
“BLOMEFIELD EIGHT BRASS SIX POUNDER. THIS TYPE OF GUN WAS INTRODUCED IN 1787 AND WAS MANUFACTURED UNTIL 1880. APPROXIMATELY 2000 WERE PRODUCED. THIS GUN, NO. 203, WAS CAST AT THE ROYAL BRASS FOUNDRY, WOOLWICH, IN 1794 BY FOREMAN AND ASSISTANT FOREMAN JOHN AND HENRY KING. THE CANNON WAS SENT TO THE WEST INDIES IN 1795 AND ARRIVED IN TRINIDAD AROUND 1797. IT WAS RELOCATED TO CALVARY HILL, ARIMA, ON 11TH AUGUST, 1994, BY COUNCILLOR MELAN GARCIA. THIS PLAQUE WAS UNVEILED BY HIS WORSHIP THE MAYOR OF ARIMA, COUNCILLOR ELVIN EDWARDS AND HIS EXCELLENCY MR. GREGORY FAULKNER, BRITISH HIGH COMMISSIONER TO TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO, ON 29TH MARCH, 1997, TO COMMEMORATE THE 200TH ANNIVERSARY OF BRITISH ASSOCIATION WITH TRINIDAD.”