Monday, August 21, 2017

First Peoples lament scarcity of Timite palm

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DESTROYED: Quarrying has destroyed much of the natural vegetation of Tapana. —Photo: Heather-Dawn Herrera

Mark Fraser


Many of us only see the Timite palm when its leaves cover the roof of the Benab of the First Peoples. To locate growing Timite you have to travel to such areas as Tapana and Matura where there is soil that is poorly drained and swampy. This is the true habitat of the Timite manicaria saccifera

The leaves of the Timite are harvested by our First Peoples to thatch their Benab, a large conical hut or shelter used as a meeting place.

Cristo Adonis, Pyai of the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community, formerly known as the Santa Rosa Carib Community, has been harvesting Timite leaves since younger days.

“Sankarali Trace in Tapana was always the place where Timite grew profusely. The wet soil conditions supported an abundance of this palm. Some people wonder why we use the Timite and not carat as other groups do.

The Timite leaf is one of the largest in the palm species. This means that it covers a wider area and you use less leaves as a result. It is also preferred because of its durability, coolness and water proofing.

This is an example of how the First Peoples practise sustainable use of their natural environment. When we harvest the Timite, we collect the larger leaves on the outside, then a few of the younger leaves closer on the inside. The younger leaves are used for the top of the Benab and the larger for the sides. We do not harvest all the small leaves because you need to leave them for the palm to continue healthy growth. We clear away the vines that might be threatening to fester the palm. Again, this is our way of living sustainably.”

What Adonis and the other men of the community now find when they go to harvest the Timite is that there is an alarming scarcity.

“We now have to search further for the Timite because most of the areas where this palm used to flourish are now being quarried on a large scale. We also find that not only quarrying is causing the destruction of these habitats but an influx of ad hoc gardens. People have entered the area and cut down large tracts of native vegetation. Permits are issued to us by the Forestry Division to harvest the Timite but I doubt that these gardeners get permission to use the land in like manner.

What these people don’t know is that when they clear these areas, this leads to the drying out of these habitats. The resident vegetation cannot survive in drained soil. They need swampy conditions for successful growth. We now see a scarcity of the Timite. We see one Cocorite palm here and there fighting to survive but of the Timite, there has been significant loss.

Timite grows by the seed and if there are no bearing trees to disperse seed into the water for new plants to grow then this is the beginning of the end for this palm that is so important to us First Peoples. It takes three years for the Timite to be mature enough for harvesting and six years for us to get those really large leaves

Twenty five acres of land have been returned to the First Peoples by the State. This land is in an area where the eco-systems are vastly different from that that supports growth of the Timite. We therefore cannot transfer the Timite to this area because it would disturb the balance of the hilly natural environment.

What might be possible and more feasible is for the State to grant us at least five acres of land at Tapana where we can maintain a thriving Timite plantation. We see this as saving that part of our landscape from certain desertification, preventing the total disappearance of the Timite palm, and ensuring the continuity of our intangible heritage.”

“Some people don’t care about maintaining a clean environment. They are making the Tapana area the alternative dump to that of Guanapo. It is shameful to meet all types of garbage dumped along the roadway into the area. We need to preserve this part of Trinidad and not destroy it.

When these habitats have been destroyed and the Timite has been lost forever, then the First Peoples way of life will be seriously impacted. The art of sewing the Timite for thatching is not generally known outside the community and we are in the process of passing this information on to those who are interested. This is all part of our intangible heritage and we fear that this might soon be lost if the present rate of destruction of landscapes continues.”