By the 1780s momentous changes began to occur in Trinidad. After a succession of European peace treaties, Trinidad decided to open its doors to French Caribbean immigrants and their slaves in an effort to revitalise the Trinidad economy by entering into lucrative sugar production and thereby also increasing the island’s population. These French immigrants were also seeking to flee from wars and uprisings affecting various French territories in the Caribbean. Hence in 1783 the Cedula de población was promulgated, stipulating that the new arrivals should be members of the Roman Catholic faith and bring property or assets with them (namely slaves and capital). These transformations would have immediate impacts on Trinidad’s Amerindians, as similar European treaties of 1783 would have on Caribs in the wider Caribbean and on Indians in the United States, which consisted primarily of schemes to place aboriginal groups on reservations and to institute Christianisation and assimilation campaigns (see Gregoire & Kanem 1989:52; Strong & Van Winkle 1993:12).

By 1785, the last Spanish governor of Trinidad, José María Chacón, consolidated the northern villages of Tacarigua, Arauca and Cuara, at Arima (Leahy 1980:102). The Amerindian population of Tacarigua was 193 people and that of Arauca was 297 (Noel 1972:97). A total of 632 Amerindians, led by the Venezuelan Father Pedro Reyes Bravo, were transferred to Arima (Moodie-Kublalsingh 1994:13).

The reason for amalgamating in Arima the Indians from the quarter of Tacarigua/Arouca was probably twofold, argues Leahy, a Trinidadian historian who belongs to the Dominican Order: “to give their lands to the new colonists, and to segregate the Indians, for their own good, from the newcomers” (1980:102). Earlier historians provide support for Leahy’s conclusions (see Wise 1938:40 and Collens 1886:115).

Arima was to be the place of the Amerindians. One historian, who lived in Arima during its Mission days as a youth in a local elite planter family, attested to the location of the mission:

Soon after the (1783) settlement of the colony, these Indians had been formed into two missions at Tacarigua and Arima. But as the formation of ingenios, or sugar estates, was proceeding eastward, they were removed to the quarter of Arima, where a village was formed, and houses built by them, on about one thousand acres which has been granted for the formation of a mission, along the right bank of the river, and as the full and unalienable property of the inhabitants. [De Verteuil 1858:299-300]

A painter of the time also produced a valuable visual record of the Mission of Arima, as shown in Figure 1 below. In lieu of a photograph, this is perhaps the most concrete evidence we have of the layout of the mission, and especially of how land was used. In spatial terms, the Mission of Arima, like most missions, was structured around the Church. A central square dominated the Mission, with the Church located on the eastern side (where the sun rises), and the homes of the Amerindians located along the other sides, along with orchards, a small market, and later schools. The remnants of this spatial organisation are still evident in Arima, in Lord Harris Square, located just about two hundred metres north of the modern centre of Arima.

Painting of the Mission of Arima, by Jean-Michel Cazabon (1813-1888)

Cazabon’s painting, circa 1850, and seen from the vantage point of Calvary Hill to the north of the village, shows the Hill to be pasture grounds. In addition, one can see the Church of Santa Rosa de Arima, at the left of the painting, situated on the eastern side of Lord Harris Square, which, one can gather, appears to be thickly wooded. There are also what appear to be the rooftops of small homes lining the square on its south side, towards the top of this picture. The southern slope of Calvary Hill, shown in the foreground here, is clearly being used for pasture.

Collens, a travel writer of the late 1800s wrote that “each head of family [had] his own conuco or allotment” of land to cultivate (1886:115). The Mission of Arima was dedicated to the first saint of the New World, Santa Rosa de Lima, born in 1586 in Peru, of Spanish parentage (Rétout 1976:46). Various authors give different dates for the founding of this new settlement (ranging from 1784 to 1786), with few disagreeing with the proposition that it was formally established in 1786, on the 200th Anniversary of St. Rose’s birth (Rétout 1976:46). The first entry in the baptismal register is for 15 January 1789; Father Reyes Bravo was in charge from 1786 until 1819 (Rétout 1976:46). As was the case with all the other missions in Trinidad, festivities were held on the feast day of the patron saint of the mission, thus the Santa Rosa Festival was born.

Trinidad’s Spanish élite was the primary sector that had interests in the Amerindian missions of the late 1700s and in the early years of British rule. Governor Chacón himself is said to have taken a personal interest in the formation of these new missions, having personally named the mission of San Juán de Aricagua (Rétout 1976:6). Don Cristóbal Guillén de Robles, a Royal Officer of the Treasury who had been in office from the 1750s to the 1770s (Noel 1972:45), was responsible for granting land for the mission of Arima. Don Manuel Sorzano, who had held the post of Contador de ejercito, or Treasurer of the Military chest, under the Spanish Government (Fraser 1971 [1896]:15), is said to have actually founded the Indian Mission in Arima, and acted as corregidor (administrator) of the Indians until 1815 (see Governor Woodford in Fraser 1971 [1896]:101). His son, Martin Sorzano, was also Corregidor of the Indians (Joseph 1970 [1838]:102), under the British colonial government. Spanish families in Trinidad retained, along with a paternal interest in the welfare of Amerindians (their workforce), significant tracts of land devoted to cocoa production, with a concentration of these in and around Arima.

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