Friday, April 28, 2017

Jennifer Cassar is new Carib Queen

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she has what it takes: Incoming Carib Queen Jennifer Cassar at the Carib Centre, Arima yesterday. —Photo: Curtis Chase

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AUGUST 6 will signal a new chapter in the history of the Carib community.

On that day, Jennifer Cassar, 59, will walk out of the Santa Rosa RC Church in full Carib regalia, as the new Carib Queen.

The event is expected to draw supporters and members of the indigenous community bearing the traditional halekebe (crocheted poncho).

Cassar will take her place among her predecessors including Dolores MacDavid, Maria Werges, Justa Werges and Valentina Medina.

  Her inauguration next month will be the first time in more than a decade that the community has elected a titular head.

For 11 years Medina served as Carib Queen until she succumbed to breast cancer in April at the age of 78.

Carib queens are elected based on their maturity and their vast knowledge of Carib history, practices, customs, way of life and oral traditions.

To say that Cassar is knowledgeable of her heritage would be a big understatement.

Since she was a child, Cassar was groomed in the indigenous customs, so much so that today she is like a walking encyclopedia on indigenous history. 

"Although my mother was around, I also grew up with my grandparents and they lived a strict Carib way of life, this involved all aspects of Carib life. My grandmother was involved heavily in the Santa Rosa festival, I had to be part of the the procession with her. I made a commitment before she died that the lifestyle she had, I would emulate. I have to carry the mantle of my ancestors," said Cassar as she sat in the Carib Centre at Arima, surrounded by life-sized wooded sculptures, palm fronds and hand-woven baskets.

Cassar's appointment was based on more than her knowledge of the indigenous community. President of the Santa Rosa Carib Community, Ricardo Bharath-Hernandez explained that Cassar's cultural activism and her public service made her an obvious choice for Carib Queen.

For more than 20 years, Cassar has been involved in Carnival related activities, and has been the main organiser for the regional Carnival committee of the National Carnival Commission.

It is hard to imagine that this wife and mother of two, who is reserved by nature, is also a coordinator for stick-fighting competitions.

 She has also spent 40 years as a public servant.

For the past five years, Cassar has also been a member of the Cabinet-appointed Amerindian project committee and has participated in a seminar on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples for the Caribbean.

"Cassar has what it takes," said Bharath-Hernandez, to take the Carib community further.

 Cassar made it clear that her role would involve more than simply being the face of the Carib community. 

Her duty as Carib Queen will include supervising the Santa Rosa Festival, one of the major highlights on the local indigenous calendar.

She will take on the responsibility of cleaning and decorating the church in preparation for the festival.

Cassar will also take the lead in the procession and offer prayers and she is tasked with passing on Carib traditions to members of the community.

There are burning issues which Cassar says need to be addressed as a matter of priority.

"We want to ensure that the land that was promised to us by the last Government comes to fruition, at least during my lifetime, and to ensure that the people of Amerindian descent become actively involved in the Santa Rosa Carib Community, because there are a lot of them out there who do not want to be identified as Carib or indigenous, so we want to create projects to woo young people and also go out there on a campaign to encourage them to come to the community," said Cassar. 

One of Medina's unfulfilled wishes was to see a united indigenous community.

Cassar says she is committed to making this a reality as she paid homage to her predecessor: "She was a very pious individual, very devoted to Santa Rosa, she was like a matriarch. Even though I have a lot of experience in many areas, I am a simple person, very approachable and open to any idea anyone may have on how we can take this community forward."