Did you know that The First Peoples Community was only recognized by the Trinidad and Tobago Government in 1990? Did you know that this recognition only occurred because of the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival to Trinidad and Tobago? Well…neither did we.
These uncommon yet important facts formed part of the reason the Sunday Market team decided to honor the ‘First Peoples Heritage Day’ by visiting The Santa Rosa First Peoples Community located in Arima.
The following points capture the fun facts and insights we gathered from the visit.
Hyarima was a GREAT Nepuyo warrior. The Nepuyo are an indigenous group of people in Trinidad and Hyarima belonged to this community. He was born around the beginning of the 17th Century and is believed to have lived north of modern day Arima (his now namesake) after he successfully escaped the encomienda* village near St.Joseph.
Hyarima soon became known as a force to be reckoned with and a threat to the Spanish. In fact, on October 14th 1637 he and his warriors along with Dutch forces from Tobago attacked and sacked St. Joseph, the then capital of the island. In 1665 he raided outposts in Trinidad and in 1667 he executed raids in Orinoco. His revolts were continuous and his last successful revolt was in 1699.
In addition to his title as a ‘great warrior’, The Community also lauds him as the First National hero of Trinidad and Tobago. Unfortunately, his legacy similar to that of many other Indigenous people in Trinidad and Tobago, is belittled on the national level. Despite this, The First Peoples continue to honor his heroism and greatness every year with an early morning smoke ceremony on October 14th.
*The encomienda system was a slavery system which the Spanish enforced on the Indigenous people.
In modern day society, several individuals laud themselves as leaders of the ‘Sustainability Movement’ however, arguably, The First Peoples are the true trailblazers in this field. Their appreciation for Mother Earth combined with their affinity to the land resulted in sustainable farming practices and habitual compensation to Mother Earth for the disturbance to the land. Their methods for sustainable farming are still practiced today and The Community continues to boast of food security.
Fun fact: Even before the arrival of the Africans the Indigenous people had introduced the Spaniards to pigeon peas, cucumbers and balatas, and they shared their hunting and fishing skills.
Land was granted to The First Peoples Community by the last Spanish governor, Don Jose Maria Chacon & Govenor Sir Ralph Woodford but it was seized during Britain’s colonial rule. To this day, The Community continues to lobby for the return of their land. During the interview, Chief Ricardo Bharath Hernandez noted that the land belongs to them and there are foreigners in his land. He also emphasized the need to restore “historical justice” and to recognise him as the sovereign of his land.
The Columbus Statue in Port of Spain
When questioned about the removal of the Christopher Columbus statue, Chief Ricardo Bharath Hernandez stated that the removal of the statue would not answer their calls to action. Similar to the one-off-holiday granted in 2018, these occurrences are simply not enough. Instead they would like the Government to have their causes and concerns, such as the land resettlement issues, realized.
The First Peoples Community laments that their culture has been misinterpreted for too long. The Community continues to be arduous with its effort to ensure their culture stays alive. Their food, medicines, craft and spirituality remain active components of not only their community but also the national society. They are also intentional in keeping their language alive and even hold classes to ensure their knowledge is passed on.
An elder in the community informed us that the First Peoples of Trinidad and Tobago were only recognized by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago in 1990! Whilst they appreciate and note the growing recognition of The Community, they believe several individuals are still ignorant of the culture of The First Peoples and their overall contribution. They lament that individuals continue to view them as uncivilized when in fact, they were a well organized community that formed the foundation of civilization in Trinidad and Tobago. As such, she stated that their culture should be part of the national school curriculum, and efforts are being made by The Community to have this done.
As you can tell, the members of The First Peoples Community hold a wealth of knowledge that is pertinent to the history of Trinidad and Tobago. We hope this journey equips you, our viewers, with a deeper knowledge and understanding of The First Peoples Community. We thank The Community for welcoming us and taking time to impart their valuable wisdom via interviews as well as guiding us through their living museum.