According to Coleridge (in Besson & Brereton 1991:123), the Amerindian population of the Arima Mission in 1824 consisted of 278 people alone, comprised by 60 men, 77 women, 81 boys, and 60 girls. Martin Sorzano, the Corregidor, stated to the Burnley Commission that the Amerindians in the Mission, “never exceeded 600, and have now [1841] fallen off to less than half that number” (in Burnley 1842:109). From my own research of the Baptismal Registers of the Santa Rosa RC Church, I compiled statistics on the number of people identified as “Indian” who were baptised during the period 1820-1852, as shown in Table 1. It must be noted that these statistics can only give one a rough impression, at best, of what the total Amerindian population of the Mission might have been, assuming that all children born were also baptised. What is also noteworthy is that the priests involved always noted the ‘race’ of those baptised. The designation of Indio for Amerindians continued to be written in only until the start of the 1850s, when it abruptly disappeared, roughly at the same time as the Mission of Arima was undermined, thus when this group of people lost their legal status as was assigned to classes of laborers who were ordered in terms of the racial hierarchy. Figure 2 in fact demonstrates some samples of these entries in the Registers.

Indio meant that the person had a legal right to live in the Mission, bound to it by law, with free use of inalienable land, and without the requirement of paying taxes. Unlike African slaves and indentured East Indians, their labour was not to be forced. Mestizo meant that the person was part Amerindian, part Spanish in parentage, no longer legally bound to the Mission. Their labour was still free, but they were also required to pay taxes. Race, in colonial Trinidad, was tied to rights, or the lack thereof. Specific peoples were assigned to particular categories of labour, and sometimes to particular crops (i.e., Africans and sugar, Amerindians and cocoa).

Table 1 – Baptismal Statistics for Amerindians in the Arima Mission, 1820-1852

TIME PERIOD

TOTAL # OF FORMALLY CLASSIFIED AMERINDIANS CHRISTENED

TOTAL # OF PEOPLE CHRISTENED

AMERINDIANS AS A % OF THE TOTAL

1820-1835

192

1511

12.71%

1835-1840

51

497

10.26%

1840-1852

7

1446

0.48%

Sources: Baptismal Registers of the Mission of Santa Rosa, Arima: Book 1 (1820-1835), Book 2 (1835-1840), Baptismal Register of the Church of Santa Rosa, Arima: Book 3 (1840-1852)

 

Sample of an entry in the Baptismal Register

This entry is of interest for its notation “Indians of this Mission” in the year 1840, a time when the mission was in the process of dissolution. The complete entry reads: “On the 4th of June of 1840, I the undersigned Curate of the Mission of Santa Rosa de Arima, certify that on this day I baptized in this Church a boy child who was born on the 4th of May, of this year, to whom was given the name José Ysidro, legitimate son of Domingo Dias and of Juana Pascuala, Indians of this Mission. His sponsors were Juan Martin and Juana Felippa, with faith, Joaquín Sanchis”.

In Table 2 below, we see the total number of people registered as Amerindians in the entire colony, meaning all those individuals who were formally and officially classed as such, and normally resident in established Missions. However, we must also keep in mind that large bodies of Amerindians resided outside of the Missions, especially those with ongoing contacts with relations in Venezuela, where they traveled to and from freely until the start of the 1900s. The Warao from the Orinoco Delta are a case in point, with populations moving between the mainland and the south-western areas of Trinidad around Siparia and Naparima, as well as the Central Range (see Massé 1878-1883; Cothonay 1893; De Verteuil 1995; Goldwasser 1996).

Table 2 – Trinidad Amerindian Population Statistics, 1782 – 1838

YEAR

AMERINDIAN TOTAL

TRINIDAD TOTAL

AMERINDIANS AS % OF TRINIDAD TOTAL

1777a

3433

1782g

2082

1784a

1495

1786a

1391

1787a

1414

11533

12.26%

1788a

1428

11722

12.18%

1789a

2200g/ 1432a

13053a

10.97%a

1790a

1408

13247

10.63%

1791a

1398

12009

11.64%

1792a

1195

14009

8.53%

1793a

1268

14744

8.60%

1794a

1144

15519

7.37%

1795a

1078

15279

7.05%

1797g,b

1082

17718f

6.11%

1799g

1148

1800g

1071

1801g

1212

1802g

1166

28477f

4.09%

1803g

1416

1804g

1416

1805g

1733

1806g

1697

30043f

5.65%

1809d

1647

32095f

5.13%

1812e

1804

1819d

850

39935f

2.13%

1821e

956

1824c

893

41120f

2.17%

1828d

727

41020f†

1.77%

1838e

520

39328f

1.32%

 

SOURCES:

a:Noel (1972:94, 96, 103, 104).

b: “Plan for the Isle of Trinidad made from actual surveys in the year 1797”.
c: The Trinidad Almanac for 1824, quoted by Coleridge (1825) in Besson & Brereton (1991:123).
d: Fraser (1971 [1896]:211).
e: Wood (1968:43-44).
f: Burnley (1842:110).
g: Fraser (1971 [1891]:288, 289).
 figure is for the year 1829

HISTORICAL NOTES:

1797: British capture of Trinidad1802: Spanish cession of Trinidad1808: Abolition of the slave trade1824: Transfer of slaves from one British colony to another was prohibited1834: Emancipation of slaves, start of Apprenticeship1838: End of Apprenticeship

 

In an effort to obfuscate issues of just claims to ancestral properties, sometimes one may encounter those who seek to cast doubts on the veracity of the identity claimed by the descendants of the Mission Amerindians. One way is to suggest that while the contemporary Carib Community calls itself ‘Carib’, the Mission Amerindians were instead Arawaks. In linguistic terms, this is simply false: Amerindians in the Mission of Arima were those relocated from the Missions of Caura, Arouca and Tacarigua, all of whom were formally noted as Nepuyos (see Figueredo & Glazier 1991:238; Whitehead 1988:10; Espinosa 1968:37; Borde 1876:40; and, Wise 1938:87). Yet, Nepuyo is a branch of the Cariban language family.

Others may attempt to argue that Amerindian descendants in Arima are not “true local Caribs”, and may often instead hail from Venezuela or Saint Vincent. In actuality, that has been the normal condition for Trinidad: for several thousand years it has been inhabited and criss-crossed by almost a dozen different indigenous ethnic groups from what are today known as eastern Venezuela, the Orinoco Delta, Guyana, and the Lesser Antilles. “Trinidad” and “Venezuela” are modern abstractions produced by a state-centric perspective that makes no reference to prior indigenous realities; “Trinidad” and “Venezuela”, as separate politically bounded entities, have no meaning within indigenous history. Indeed, if the Arima Caribs possessed only and entirely local origins, that is when one should become suspicious because the realities of population movements, migration, trade, marriage alliances, and so forth, dictate a very different reality. In addition, where the Mission of Arima is concerned, the authorities did in fact seek to settle mestizos and Venezuelan indios in and around the Mission, given the cultural similarities between them and their Trinidadian kin, the need to maintain a sizeable workforce, and the desire to provide the Mission Amerindians with role models of industrious, devout, yet free individuals who were no longer under the tutelage of missionary priests. If the authorities had tried to impede the settlement of individuals and families from Venezuela, they most likely would have failed in any case. Indeed, Arie Boomert found that “throughout the 18th and 19th centuries Amerindian groups from the mainland and Lesser Antilles went to live in Trinidad, with or without consent of the government” (Boomert 1982:37). In other words, flows between Trinidad and Venezuela were the norm; the current situation of linguistic separation, different citizenship, and limited trade between the two territories is abnormal when seen in a long-term historical perspective, and it should not be naturalised and extended backwards into time.

At any rate, one basic point remains unresolved for the descendants of Amerindians in Trinidad: unlike any of the groups of people who in fact possess no aboriginal ties to the land in Trinidad, and who came from distant territories in Africa, Asia and Europe, the Amerindians were to be denied parcels of land. Emancipated African slaves at first formed an independent peasantry with the plots of land that they obtained. Ex-indentured East Indians were given lands at the termination of their contracts. Europeans had little problem in simply allotting themselves land as conquerors. Aboriginal peoples, and their modern day descendants, were the only ones to have lost their nation without having moved, and to have lost lands that ultimately only they could lay claim to.

In terms of the identities of the Amerindians of Arima, what did the Amerindians call themselves? There is not much written evidence to answer this question. The only account is that of De Verteuil, who witnessed the Arima Mission in its last decades and attended its festivals. He says: “The Indians of Arima called themselves Califournans” (De Verteuil 1858:300). This source suggests that these must have been French-speaking Caribs from St. Vincent, where the name Califuna was in use. Califuna, sometimes transcribed as Karifuna, is a cognate of words such as Carib, Cariña, Calina, and Calinago. The presence of Vincentian Califuna in the Arima Mission can be explained as follows. In 1786,

Governor Chacón granted some land to a group of Kalinago (Island Carib) from St. Vincent. They settled in the Salibia area of northeast Trinidad. Most of them returned home in 1795 but other island Caribs came to Trinidad after a volcano eruption had destroyed their settlements in St. Vincent in the early 19th century. They were granted land near the Arima mission. [Boomert 1982:37-38]

Therefore, descendants of these migrant populations also had rights to land, as these had been granted to them. That is not the same thing as saying that all indigenous persons in either St. Vincent or Venezuela can make a claim to land in Trinidad; what it does mean is that those with ties to Trinidad, and who lived here precisely because they had the land that would permit them to do so, would indeed be able to make claims to land in Trinidad.

The Identities of the Amerindians

In an effort to obfuscate issues of just claims to ancestral properties, sometimes one may encounter those who seek to cast doubts on the veracity of the identity claimed by the descendants of the Mission Amerindians. One way is to suggest that while the contemporary Carib Community calls itself ‘Carib’, the Mission Amerindians were instead Arawaks. In linguistic terms, this is simply false: Amerindians in the Mission of Arima were those relocated from the Missions of Caura, Arouca and Tacarigua, all of whom were formally noted as Nepuyos (see Figueredo & Glazier 1991:238; Whitehead 1988:10; Espinosa 1968:37; Borde 1876:40; and, Wise 1938:87). Yet, Nepuyo is a branch of the Cariban language family.

Others may attempt to argue that Amerindian descendants in Arima are not “true local Caribs”, and may often instead hail from Venezuela or Saint Vincent. In actuality, that has been the normal condition for Trinidad: for several thousand years it has been inhabited and criss-crossed by almost a dozen different indigenous ethnic groups from what are today known as eastern Venezuela, the Orinoco Delta, Guyana, and the Lesser Antilles. “Trinidad” and “Venezuela” are modern abstractions produced by a state-centric perspective that makes no reference to prior indigenous realities; “Trinidad” and “Venezuela”, as separate politically bounded entities, have no meaning within indigenous history. Indeed, if the Arima Caribs possessed only and entirely local origins, that is when one should become suspicious because the realities of population movements, migration, trade, marriage alliances, and so forth, dictate a very different reality. In addition, where the Mission of Arima is concerned, the authorities did in fact seek to settle mestizos and Venezuelan indios in and around the Mission, given the cultural similarities between them and their Trinidadian kin, the need to maintain a sizeable workforce, and the desire to provide the Mission Amerindians with role models of industrious, devout, yet free individuals who were no longer under the tutelage of missionary priests. If the authorities had tried to impede the settlement of individuals and families from Venezuela, they most likely would have failed in any case. Indeed, Arie Boomert found that “throughout the 18th and 19th centuries Amerindian groups from the mainland and Lesser Antilles went to live in Trinidad, with or without consent of the government” (Boomert 1982:37). In other words, flows between Trinidad and Venezuela were the norm; the current situation of linguistic separation, different citizenship, and limited trade between the two territories is abnormal when seen in a long-term historical perspective, and it should not be naturalised and extended backwards into time.

At any rate, one basic point remains unresolved for the descendants of Amerindians in Trinidad: unlike any of the groups of people who in fact possess no aboriginal ties to the land in Trinidad, and who came from distant territories in Africa, Asia and Europe, the Amerindians were to be denied parcels of land. Emancipated African slaves at first formed an independent peasantry with the plots of land that they obtained. Ex-indentured East Indians were given lands at the termination of their contracts. Europeans had little problem in simply allotting themselves land as conquerors. Aboriginal peoples, and their modern day descendants, were the only ones to have lost their nation without having moved, and to have lost lands that ultimately only they could lay claim to.

In terms of the identities of the Amerindians of Arima, what did the Amerindians call themselves? There is not much written evidence to answer this question. The only account is that of De Verteuil, who witnessed the Arima Mission in its last decades and attended its festivals. He says: “The Indians of Arima called themselves Califournans” (De Verteuil 1858:300). This source suggests that these must have been French-speaking Caribs from St. Vincent, where the name Califuna was in use. Califuna, sometimes transcribed as Karifuna, is a cognate of words such as Carib, Cariña, Calina, and Calinago. The presence of Vincentian Califuna in the Arima Mission can be explained as follows. In 1786,

Governor Chacón granted some land to a group of Kalinago (Island Carib) from St. Vincent. They settled in the Salibia area of northeast Trinidad. Most of them returned home in 1795 but other island Caribs came to Trinidad after a volcano eruption had destroyed their settlements in St. Vincent in the early 19th century. They were granted land near the Arima mission. [Boomert 1982:37-38]

Therefore, descendants of these migrant populations also had rights to land, as these had been granted to them. That is not the same thing as saying that all indigenous persons in either St. Vincent or Venezuela can make a claim to land in Trinidad; what it does mean is that those with ties to Trinidad, and who lived here precisely because they had the land that would permit them to do so, would indeed be able to make claims to land in Trinidad.

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