DNA (Deoxyribo Nucleic Acid) testing on descendants of the indigenous peoples in Arima has confirmed very strong ancestral links to Africa and to Native American Indians.
This was the finding of a National Geographic Genographic Project which was conducted on some 25 members of the 600-strong Santa Rosa First Peoples (Carib) Community sometime in July 2012.
With the results just in, president of the community Ricardo Bharath-Hernandez believes it is good for the community’s identity which is sometimes questioned, as to whether it is the real thing.
As he puts it, “We never claimed to be a pure indigenous community, we know we are of mixed descent, but at the same time we are very conscious of where we came from. We can trace our ancenstry.”
The results come at a time when pottery artefacts and bone fragments believed to be of Amerindian heritage dating back to AD 0-350 were discovered by workers doing restoration works at the Red House in Port of Spain about three weeks ago.
The fragments are strongly believed to date back to the Amerindian era and Chief Bharath-Hernandez has already visited the site, which formerly housed the Office of the Parliament, and stands ready to perform the necessary ancestral rituals once it is confirmed that the fragments are indeed Amerindian.
He explained that the community was excited to participate further in the Genographic Project in an effort to trace the paternal and maternal lineages of all of its 600 members.
The results of the project were released to Bharath-Hernandez on March 28 by Dr Jada BennTorres from the University of Pennsylvania, who is responsible for administering the project to the local community.
In her letter, Dr BennTorres thanked the Santa Rosa Karina (Carib) community for participating in the project and explained, “We have completed preliminary analysis of the mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosome (NRY markers). These analyses will tell us about the maternal and paternal lineages of the community members.”
According to her, the findings of the genetic ancestry of the community “indicate a complex ancestry that includes Africans, in addition to a very strong Native American ancestral component”.
She added that all 25 individuals would receive their information at a later date and that more detailed findings of the analyses would be released to the community.
Bharath-Hernandez told the Express that swabs were taken from participants’ mouths and while members were fearful of giving blood, the tests did not involve blood samples. He said a lot of people were scared and sceptical so a mere 25 participated. He, however, hopes to convince more people to test their DNA.
At present Chief Bharath-Hernandez is consumed with plans to construct permanent home for his community on 25 acres of land given to the group by the State last December.
“We plan to construct a modern Indigenous Amerindian Village, meaning we want to keep the village as authentic and traditional as possible but with all modern-day amenities.
“It will comprise a main centre to be used as a meeting and cultural space, which will be located in the centre of the village. Spiritual rituals will also be conducted there. There will also be an official residence for the Carib Queen, Jennifer Cassar; a cassava-processing plant to make farine, cassava flour, cassava bread and casaripe; a craft centre where the people will be doing the indigenous craft, as well as an indigenous museum to display our artefacts.”
The president added that there will be a guest house to accommodate visitors and students who wish to do ethnographic studies.
“The plan is to have ten to 12 families living there permanently and they would be responsible for the management of the place. We are also going to have an agricultural focus, consisting of wildlife and crop farming.
“We intend to conduct eco-tours and nature trails, because the intention is to keep a major portion of land in its natural form,” the chief said.
He spoke of the need for a natural watercourse through the land, which, he said, would have been possible, had the State granted them the 200 acres they requested.
“There is one on adjacent lands, west of the village but that plot is privately owned and we may want to ask for that as well,” he said.
Originally, he said the Amerindians were given 1300 acres of land.
“We have evidence that the Mission of Arima was established and the land was lost to the British, but with the UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples, one of the articles states that governments should work with indigenous communities to redress some of those wrongs.”
He said the 25 acres was long in coming.
“The journey took 40 years to reach here, starting with Dr Eric Williams in the 1970s, who, on a visit to Arima, was approached by then-Queen Edith Martinez for assistance for the Santa Rosa Festival.
He instructed the Arima Corporation to give a grant of $200, which was used to register the community.
“That grant moved to $500 and now stands at $5,000. Successive governments over the years provided some assistance by way of small grants, but the idea of 200 acres of land was first discussed with the Basdeo Panday administration in 1995.”
“In 1990, the NAR government approved a $30,000 yearly grant, but it was in 1995 when then-prime minister Basdeo Panday met with us to discuss a request for 200 acres.
“The idea is that most of the land would remain in its natural formation, because of the importance of forest to the indigenous community, it would not be cleared for commercial use.”
Chief Bharath-Hernandez noted, however, that although the 25 acres were awarded in December 2012, he is yet to receive any official documents.
“We have also not yet discussed under what terms the lands would be given. We are hoping it is not a lease arrangement, but a grant in light of the fact that the community once owned 1,300 acres.
“It has been a long process, about 40-plus years, we are beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel. It may not be finished in my lifetime but a major part would be established, “he said.
The community observes a Day of Recognition on October 14 annually, and Bharath-Hernandez is hoping that with a permanent and spacious home, the community could do more to mark its heritage.
As to how soon the development is expected to start, Bharath-Hernandez said “it could start as soon as tomorrow”.
He spoke of forming partnerships with numerous agencies, including the Ministry of Tourism, “who sees the village as having tourism potential”.
He said the promised lands are now before the Director of Surveys, the results of which will inform the type of development to take place on the land.
Bharath-Hernandez said preliminary discussions are also on with a well-known designer for possible layout of the village.
He added that his members have mixed feelings about the Amerindian Village. “They are excited, but because most of them are old they lament they might not be around to be a part of the development.
“But we are already seeing some interest expressed by the younger ones, because, for the first time, they could have a livelihood and see ways for their own development.”
The newly registered name, Santa Rosa First Peoples Community, has also gone a long way in removing the stigma of the community being associated with an alcoholic beverage, a popular brand name chicken and cannibalism, he said.