This past Monday, MUSKRAT had the honour of co-presenting the Indigenous Caribbean screenings as a part of the Caribbean Tales Film Festival (CTFF). CTFF is held annually in Toronto, Barbados, and New York City and is the only platform in North America where filmmakers from the Caribbean can exclusively showcase their work.
Monday’s screenings included three short films and one feature documenting the various forms of vibrant Indigenous culture that still exist throughout the Caribbean. The films were: The Amerindians: written and directed by Tracy Assing (Trinidad and Tobago), Punta Soul: written and directed by Nyasha Laing (Belize), Potato Nose: written and directed by Emmanuelle Pantin (Trinidad), and the feature of the evening Yurumein/Homeland by Andrea Leland. It was a beautiful evening of storytelling that explored what it means to be an Indigenous person from the Caribbean, the history of European genocide in the West Indies, and the music and traditions that have survived in the aftermath of colonization.
It is interesting to note that the commonly used term “Carib” is actually a name that was given to this group of Native people, as they were thought to be cannibals. The term comes from the Spanish word Caríbal that means cannibal. The true name of these people, as they called themselves, is Kalina or Kalinago.
As a person of Indigenous Caribbean descent, I was chosen to represent MUSKRAT and to introduce the opening short film The Amerindians, and felt truly grateful for the opportunity. It was the first time I was able to speak about the Kalinago side of my heritage, and to publicly identify as a mixed person of Indigenous descent.
Growing up I was always exposed to the foods, arts, and language of the Kalinago people without even knowing it. It was only a few years ago that I became aware of and interested in connecting with this very important part of my own history. I used to eat cassava and “provisions” (which are starchy root vegetables, like potatoes—traditional staple foods); I used to see carved calabash for sale at the airport (traditional split and dried gourds, then carved and sometimes dyed to make purses, utensils, bowls, and decorative items); I used to use the words of the towns in Trinidad like Arima (“Giant sized, poisonous root”), and Tunapuna (“Upon the water OR upon the river”). My grandmothers used to talk about “bush baths” (a plant-based bath made to cleanse a person of bad energy, or to cure sickness), and we always danced to the Calypso drum. I had experienced my own Native culture before ever having known its origin, and I wonder how many people are the same as me?
Much like our North American Indigenous brothers and sisters, Caribbean people are working to reclaim the forgotten Indigenous knowledge that connects us not only to each other, but to all living things. Quite often, we are a forgotten people—by ourselves and by others. Through my own research, and by becoming a part of the Aboriginal community in Toronto, I have been able to slowly reconnect to an important part of my own history as a Caribbean person; an indefinable part of me that I always felt was missing. As well, I have been lucky to meet so many others who identify as First Nations and to share in their cultures, traditions, and stories. It is important to me that we remember our history because we are still here—we are not dead. In Trinidad there are just under 1,400 Kalinago people remaining, in Dominica there are approximately 3,000—not to mention the other islands of the Caribbean that still have Indigenous populations: Taino/Arawak from Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic and the Greater Antilles—known as “Lucayan” in the Bahamas—the Ciboney of Cuba, the Garifuna, and many more. The Caribbean Indigenous diaspora is even larger with tens of thousands of us living away from our homelands.
All of the films were brilliant in their unique exploration of the natural knowledge and medicines still in use within the Kalinago community; the twisted relationship between Native spirituality and Catholicism; and the struggle for identity and cultural reclamation faced not only by the Kalinago and Garifuna, but all Indigenous people around the world. In the years to come I will be working to bridge the gap between our Nations and to foster more acceptance and understanding—united we stand, divided we fall.
I would like to leave you with a quote that really stood out for me from The Amerindians:
“On the one hand, we are Indigenous because of our family history, but on the other hand we also feel Indigenous because of our love for the land, because we feel so connected to the land—we love the land, and the land loves us back.”
Caribbean Tales Film Festival runs through September 13, 2014. Tickets can be purchased here.
THE AMERINDIANS by Tracy Assing
“The only real Caribs are dead Caribs.” In this revealing film, Tracy Assing seeks to put to rest that historical saw. Assing was raised a member of the Santa Rosa Carib Community, the only recognised group representing Indigenous descendants in Trinidad and Tobago. Until now, Amerindian descendants have depended on the stories of their grandparents and great-grandparents for their history, while the Indigenous story of survival has been written out of the history books. Assing walks us through her own exploration of the history of the Santa Rosa Community and, as her great aunt, the Carib Queen, prepares to join the Great Spirit, ponders an uncertain future.
PUNTA SOUL by Nyasha Laing
Punta Soul is the inter-generational story of am inspiring musical journey. Through its intimate portraits of Garifuna musicians such as Andy Palacio, Punta Soul chronicles the evolution of popular Garifuna music from Belize. The Garifuna, an Afro-Indigenous people exiled from the Caribbean to the coast of Central America in 1798, have carried on a rich and vibrant culture whose expression is found in the electric sound called “punta rock” and the more soulful “paranda.” Punta Soul explores the role of the music in Belize’s cultural awakening.
POTATO NOSE a digital story of mixed ancestry by Emmanuelle Pantin
YURUMEIN/HOMELAND by Andrea Leland
An untold history of the Indigenous Caribs on St. Vincent: their near extermination and exile by the British 200 years ago, and return of some in the Diaspora to reconnect with those left behind. A powerful, untold story of Caribbean Resistance, Rupture and Repair in post-colonial St. Vincent.