Venezuela, T&T and the First Peoples connection
Photo courtesy the Santa Rosa First People's Community.
Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela have long shared a history of mixed cultures and people, going back thousands of years.
In fact, the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community says most of Trinidad and Tobago’s First Peoples are originally from Venezuela.
The association said to LoopTT that they attended a series of sessions under the CEDAW (The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) committee, which were designed to help build understanding among citizens of Arima for the plight of Venezuelan refugees.
The group said due to Arima’s historic connection with the indigenous people of Venezuela, these ties are active even to this day.
“Most of the First Peoples are descendants of First Peoples from Venezuela, and can trace their lineage to family members in Venezuela. Most First Peoples surnames are in Spanish.”
The group said when new-comers arrived under the Cedula of Population in 1783, they took the lands that the First Peoples had already cultivated in cocoa, cassava, coffee, maize, arrowroot, cotton – the backbone of the economy at the time.
(Photo dated September 2017 shows a performance by an Amerindian descendent. Photo courtesy the Santa Rosa First Peoples.)
The colonisers therefore had a head start and went on to build wealth at the expense of the First Peoples.
“Prior to and at the time of conquest, our Venezuelan brothers and sisters brought not only their labour, but many skills and practices which are enjoyed today as a part of Trini culture.”
“For those who love the Parang and the May Pole, it is the indigenous people of Venezuela who nurtured and maintained these cultural practices here in Trinidad,” the group said.
The group said the Celebration of the Cruz de Mayo/The May Cross is another cultural practice, which they enacted in May this year.
For the group, the May Cross event which took place on May 29 was both an act of tradition and an act to make Venezuelans feel at home in this shared cultural practice.
They said the Venezuelans, recognising the festival, shared in it joyfully.
The group is also assisting a small group of about six refugees and says if they receive the assistance they are willing to do more.
(Photo courtesy the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community)
Providing refuge in times of need
The Santa Rosa First People’s Community said that helping Venezuelans fleeing violence and starvation in their country is important, as the situation could easily have been reversed.
“It is extremely important (to lend support). We must always remember that circumstances can change, therefore we do not know how our own situation can change, and we find ourselves in similar circumstances that lead us to migrate.”
“Many Trinidadians have left our shores in search of a better life. While attention must be paid to national responsibilities, we are citizens of one world.”
“Although our Community has limited resources, we are actively assisting six migrants. We will continue to do so as far as our means would allow, and will do more should resources become available,” they said.
The group said through these sessions, many members of the group gained a deeper understanding of the Venezuela crisis and the need for support for refugees.
Editor’s note: This series is done through collaboration with the UNHCR and United Nations Trinidad and Tobago office for World Refugee Day.
About Trinidad and Tobago’s First Peoples
Amerindians have existed in Trinidad and Tobago for as long as 6,000 years before the arrival of Columbus.
Trinidad being the closest island to Venezuela, separated by just seven to eight miles at its closest point, was the first transit point through the Caribbean islands.
Trinidad was populated by several tribes, as it was a transit point in the Caribbean network of Amerindian trade and exchange. Amerindian tribes were referred to as Kalipuna, Carinepogoto, Carine, Arauca.
Amerindian words and place names survive into the present: the Caroni and Oropouche rivers; the Tamana and Aripo mountains; places such as Arima, Paria, Arouca, Caura, Tunapuna, Tacarigua, Couva, Mucurapo, Chaguanas, Carapichaima, Guaico, Mayaro, Guayaguayare.
The Amerindians developed the canoe, the bow and arrow, and the ajoupa.
Many Trinidadians enjoy Amerindian dishes such as cassava bread and farine, warap, barbecued wild game, corn pastelles, coffee, cocoa, and chadon beni.
Parang music, which is popular at Christmas time in Trinidad, is a hybrid of Spanish and Amerindian musical styles.
Refugee versus migrant: What’s the difference?
Refugees are defined by the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees as someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of persecution for reason of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion” is unable to return to his home country.
The definition was widened under the 1984 Cartagena Declaration to include “persons who have fled their country because their lives, safety or freedom have been threatened by generalized violence, foreign aggression, internal conflicts, massive violation of human rights or other circumstances which have seriously disturbed public order”.
By contrast, a migrant is defined as someone who chooses to move mainly to improve their lives by finding work, or in some cases for education, family reunion, or other reasons.
Refugees are defined and protected in international law: the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol as well as other legal texts, such as the 1969 OAU Refugee Convention, remain the cornerstone of modern refugee protection.