Participants in a tour to Siparia hosted by the National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago were privy to the far-reaching potential of one of the most important heritage sites in the country, the Banwarie Trace Archaeological Site.
So far, the true impact of this site has not been recognised and developed for its worth by successive governments though the groundwork has been done by a local archaeologist and the Trinidad and Tobago Historical Society.
The Minister of National Diversification and Social Integration Clifton De Coteau, who was present on the tour is poised to take action in ensuring the posterity of the site at local, regional and international levels.
He is the first Minister of Government to embark on a plan of action for national heritage sites and the first to announce a specific plan to develop and promote the Banwarie Site.
"We go to Europe and other far off lands and show appreciation for such historical places but we have such sites right here in Trinidad and Tobago. They say that the findings on this site are even older than those of the Mayan civilisation.
"At present we have over 300 heritage sites in Trinidad and Tobago but we have yet to get them officially listed.
"The problem now is that until this is done, anyone can damage, break or demolish national heritage property as has been happening recently. We intend to address this especially with the introduction of domestic tourism. We must claim what is ours."
The Banwarie Trace Archaeological Site in its present state does not appear as a national monument to visitors. Even the people in Penal were not aware of its existence in their area. There is no signage at the site. The site has been so neglected over the years that bushes have overgrown most of the immediate area.
The Siparia Regional Corporation erected structures on the site that are not in keeping with the specifications of a heritage site. This situation will have to be rectified.
Historian and writer Louis B Homer, who conducted the tour, gave the group some history of the site.
The Banwarie Trace Archaeological Site is said to be the oldest in the Western Hemisphere. In November 1969, the remains of a human skeleton in a crouched position were discovered in a shell midden on the site. It was later identified as Amerindian. The skeleton has since been called 'The Banwarie Man'.
In 2004, the site was named in the World Monuments Watch by the World Monuments Fund.
According to Shamshu Deen, genealogist, our country is a transient one because of the numbers of people that have passed through. South Trinidad was one of the first stops in the migration of our First Peoples from South America north to the other islands of the Caribbean. This is a very important historic site not only for the descendents of our First Peoples here but for Trinidad and Tobago.
A hole dug at the top of the shell midden serves as a marker to the true spot where the remains were found. The actual site of burial is located some feet downhill of the mound. Around the walls of the hole, a profuse amount of oyster shells have been exposed. This indicates that the First Peoples gathered oysters from the nearby Oropouche Swamp. The shell refuse covers the burial site. The remains of the skeleton have been housed at the University of the West Indies Life Sciences Museum.
In his new action plan, Minister De Coteau has included the Banwarie site as top priority. 2013 is being dedicated to religious sites. Historical mosques, mandirs, churches, tombs and a number of ancestral burial grounds such as the Banwarie site are included.
Minister De Coteau went on further to announce his commitment to encourage the population of Trinidad and Tobago to become more aware of the dynamics of its ancestry.
"In 2014 we will facilitate a year of home coming based on family reunions. I have recruited the esteemed Mr Shamshu Deen, local genealogist, as my adviser on these matters."
This proclamation was met with loud cheers from the touring party. It was obvious from the growing numbers of participants in Natural Heritage Trust tours that the Minister's plan of action for national diversity and social integration will take sturdy root.