Return Of A Voice From The Past

The Warao Outlines their Case For Rights, Respect

By Rabina Shar
Spokesperson of the Elders Council of the Warao Community in the Southwestern Peninsular of Trinidad and Tobago

I write with the permission of my Elders Council which recognizes that all our people have been indoctrinated for over 400 years.
The Warao way of life, our religion, our traditions and eventually our freedom to determine our destiny, have been forcefully taken away from us. The political resources of our lands have been captured and controlled by foreign invaders. Our history has been painted as cannibalism, ignorance and dead warriors who lost their birthright against a superior race and military power. Those among our people who betrayed our dignity and joined the ranks of the European invaders have been heralded as our heroes. Most of our oppressed survivors have been converted to Catholics under the Jesuits and Capuchin Priests who inducted our female saints like La Divina Pastora and Santa Rosa De Lima into the church. In the twentieth century most of our people were led to believe that they had been transformed into Spaniards by virtue of interbreeding with the Spanish.

The Inherent Nobility of Man (1962), a mural by the artist Carlisle Chang at the Old Piarco Airport. It was infamously destroyed by instruction of the Government of T&T to make way for new construction. The painting depicts the stream of people for whom Trinidad has been home, beginning with the native people followed by successive waves of immigrants. According to the Art Society of T&T the “right lower corner depicts the pressures and restrictions of society on the efforts of the individual for self realisation and features the man that succumbs to the environment and recreates himself through a return to the womb to recreate in turn his environment in a resurrection (left section of mural).” (http://artsocietytt.org/changC.htm.)

This scenario in which our children of the Warao Community have been made to exist hides the truth of who we are, who we were and who we shall be in the future.
Our Elders Council has been the conscious witnesses of this historical phenomenon. We have decided to research the traditions of our Ancestors and to tell the truth to our children. Our Grand Chief Mr. Lawrence Gervais, a retired school principal from Rancho Quemado, says I, Rabina Shar, the youngest of the Elders should become the Voice and the Opinions of the Elders. That I should enlighten our people with the oral history and research of our great traditions, religion and the human values of our civilization.
We thank Ms. Michelle Goldwasser, anthropologist from UCLA for the research she has done on our people and has shared with us. Our Elder Felix Voisin Jones has been the host of this Great lady and Friend. He is the heartbeat of our allegiance to the development of our resurgence as the First Nation in the habitat of both Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago, part of the South American continent.
Our Elders Council is comprised of Mr. Franklyn Richards (Vialva), Mr. Mc Kenzie George, Mrs. Ignatia Neverson (Hospedales), Mrs. Petronila Mendoza, Mrs. Anna George, Mr. Roy Baldeo and Mr. Bernard Aguilera recently deceased. Our next memberships are: Mr. Sancho Del Pino, Mr. Francis Gervais, Mr. Gilbert Roach, Mr. Joseph Cardinal and a host of others.
According to Johannes Wilbert author of “Mystic Endowment ” among other books and our oral traditions, around 5000 years ago Trinidad and Venezuela was one land mass. Nature has since separated Trinidad from the mainland by sea. The Warao people are the original inhabitants of these lands situated near the mouth of the Orinoco River. Our habitat extended to Guyana and lands now under the sea in the East.
Our cosmological world is bounded by four mountains at the cardinal points: In the South by Cerro Manoa in Venezuela, in the North by Naparima Hill in the city of San Fernando in Trinidad, in the West by mountains in Guyana, in the East by a mountain sunken within the Atlantic Ocean. These mountains or hills are the abode of our Earth Gods who are our earliest Ancestors who left the knowledge and sciences of our civilization to be passed down through our Shamans or high Priest and Priestesses.
The Northern Earth Gods hold the realm of the Sanctuary (Naparima Hill), which our First Father “Haburi” used to meditate in order to access the universal or Heavenly Realm. Little has been researched by scholars in this regard that has come to light. The destruction of this hill and transformation of the Holy Cave by Europeans into underground sealed buildings is a protected environment by the State which has it under its control.
The concept of power versus truth is the struggle our Elders Council is facing today.
The crime is clear. On 13 September 2007 the United Nations declared the Rights of Indigenous People. Yet they have not created a criminal court to deal with these issues.
Instead, they have put the “Aboriginal Case” before the very nations that have been given power; by the colonizers, and are the beneficiaries of the colonial inheritance.
Our struggle, already outlined in our proposal to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, is a simple one. Know that for 7000 years and more the Warao People have known this land and this land has known their descendants. For this reason, the Spirit of our Ancestors have requested:
[1] That the Constitution of this land acknowledges the recognition of our descendants as the First People and the First Nation of these Lands
[2] That our people’s right to serve our Earth Gods in the Northern End of our Cosmological World at the Naparima Hill in San Fernando be recognised
[3] That the burial ground of our Ancestors be granted to our People so that we can pay respect to our Ancestors in accordance with our traditions.
[4] That our Holy City of Siparia be open to our brothers and sisters to pay respect unto our Mother Goddess, known to you as La Divina Pastora.
[5] That our people be eligible for part of the national resources which belong to us by virtue of our right to our lands over 7000 years of occupation as the First Citizens of this Land.
[6] That our descendants be they described as Caribs or Arawaks be identified as First People, registered as First People and allowed to be organized into groups with the principle of freedom of association
[7] That funding be appropriated for the purpose of Research and Development of religion, traditional governance and economic development. That scholarships and visits to Venezuela and Guyana be given to advance the knowledge and culture of our origin.
[8] That all artefacts that were taken out of our land be returned and that any further exploitation of same be discontinued by enforcement of implementable laws
[9] That an Alliance between the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago and their government be arrived at, with a view to becoming One Nation with respect for the rights of Aboriginal People, an equation which has been excluded in the formation of our Constitution.
[10] That the existing Amerindian Project Committee be revisited and efforts be made to legalize the status of the First People, leading up to the formation of a Ministry of First People that shall represent the Assembly of First Peoples of Trinidad and Tobago at the Parliamentary level
[11] That groups of First People be formed and organized as an Assembly run by representatives of their choice guided by Traditional Governance.
[12] That historical rights of our people within the Republic of Venezuela be recognized in good faith

We have tried for eleven months to gather our people from the Santa Rosa Carib Community and Partners for the First Peoples Development, the Cumaca Community and, representatives from Rio Claro, among others.
Our efforts have substantially depleted our personal resources. The Government has failed to appreciate our proposals and has treated us as a political interest group. We understand their misunderstanding and failure to meet and treat with us.
Perhaps the pressure to deal with crime has caused their misjudgment of the crime committed against our People by the colonial masters whom, it would seem, believe their tales of our extinction. We assure them all that we are very much alive and challenge their conscience to pay attention to their history of violations to our human rights.
We remain peaceful in our undertakings as we struggle against all odds for justice.

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