August 23, 2011

Consciousness of Taino: Explorations of Identity

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Jose Barreiro @ 11:56 pm

In the Greater Antilles, Taino is in the mind. Taino is nation and movement, ancestry and identity. Taino, the term, is mentioned in the early chronicles of conquest, recorded to mean “the good people” or the “noble people.”

The English referred to the indigenous Caribbeans as the Arawak, and “arahuaco” has some usage in Spanish. But in the quest for a descriptive term that could encompass the understanding of indigeneity in the Caribbean, “Taino” superceded all others. Among indigenous descendants in the large islands of Hispaniola (home of the Dominican Republic), Cuba and Puerto Rico, in the past 40 years, the term Taino has been a unifying force.

A derivative, ni-Taino, describes indeed the circle of noble families that led the chieftainships or caciquedoms. Literature and archeology adopted “Taino” to describe the largest and most widespread unilingual indigenous population of the Caribbean and of the Greater Antilles.

A gathering of scholars and culture-bearers on the subject of Taino and its meanings—in the ancestral culture and in today’s Caribbean societies and their populations in the United States—convened August 23 at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, DC.

The gathering explored the indigenous legacy of the Caribbean and thus began to assess the indigenous quality (and, conceptually, indigeneity) in the contemporary life of the Caribbean. It asked participants to focus their thoughts on what might be the elements of a research project and museum presentation that can give expression to the reality of this theme and its ramifications in the life and culture of the Greater Antilles.

The conference explored and contextualized the growing attention to indigeneity currently emerging from the three Ibero-connected islands of the Greater Antilles. “Consciousness of Taino” (Conciencia de Taíno) as title and concept offers a layering of inquiry and presentation in the antiquities gathered by archeology; the textuality that begins with Columbus; the geography in the language, the oral tradition of remote communities where the “Indio” identity has persisted through documented history; the evidence of a Taino DNA trail in the current population; the active Taino resurgence movements emerging throughout the region and its diasporas. This movement has asserted itself in important areas, including the management of cultural patrimony and international indigenous representation. The consciousness of Taino in the spiritual culture, popular culture and the arts of the islands has a long history and has come under more intense popular scrutiny in recent years; so has the consciousness of Taino language in the Caribbean Spanish. There is also a questionable but quickly growing consciousness of Taino in tourism development. A growing construction of “Taino” narratives in tourism development is resulting in varieties of representation in “Taino villages,” pageantry and performance, and the phenomenon of archeological and pictographic sites presented as museum. These all evidence “Taino” as a growing tourism attraction. This makes for interesting contestation of space and narrative.

In the case of the Caribbean, and certainly in the Greater Antilles, the term “extinction” has been applied liberally to assert that the indigenous peoples from the islands (el sentido de gente autoctona natural), the peoples who greeted Columbus and underwent subsequent wars, enslavement, cimarronaje, mestizaje, that this people, or this culture, within our contemporary Caribbean peoples, ceased to exist, was extirpated from the face of the earth.

But as scholars who study the subject will discuss, there is actually considerable legacy from the indigenous ancestors in the Caribbean: in the material base and reading of tangible cultural patrimony found in stone, conch, wood; in genetic continuities found in the people; in strains of oral tradition and assertion of identity by remote mountain communities; in the surviving of Taino language embedded in Caribbean Spanish. The continuity persists in certain blended but very natural spiritual practices relative to fertility, natural healing and good fortune, some, as from Cuba, prescribing connectivity to natural forces, such as wind, sun, moon, water, the earth, the stars, in dreams and ceremony.

In Cuba, the well-documented, “in-situ” (in place) indo-descendant community in the Guantanamo mountains is the subject of consistent historical and ethnographic comment and research. This population sustains many agricultural and herbal practices, traditional World-alive (so-called animistic) spiritual lifeways and orations, music and social organizational frameworks of substantial autochthonous quality. Similar practices, perhaps less concentrated, are found throughout other “monte or campo” populations in Cuba, Quisqueya and Boriquen. Significantly, the foundational similarities among the three countries—including many agricultural and herbal practices, language markers and important currents of both popular imagination and social polemic—are found in their common Taino origins, practices linkable to the Taino cosmological complex described by early chronicles.

Additionally, the explosion of interest in the Taino past is generating the regrouping of Taino-identified families in associations under the aegis of various local identifications of Taino. This topic is particularly intense because it weaves personal identity with national culture and history. Discussion of people’s individual and group sense can be sensitive space, and when politicized, it invokes a challenging panorama. Some people claim a Taino identity and work to reconstruct community and nation. Others deny such a thing is possible, that it can not legitimately exist; they point to the long history of assertions of extinction. Yet still, a lot of people, regardless of or beyond personal or group sense of identity, celebrate the legacy, feeling linked, intrigued and motivated by the topic.

Thus “Taino,” in the people and in the consciousness of Caribbean life, calls for a reconsideration of the term “extinction” when describing the fate of the Caribbean indigenous people and cultures that greeted Columbus. As the intense reawakening to indigenous roots increasingly generates interesting and culturally revealing polemics, how is it influencing the popular cultural arts and the public discourse on culture, history and environment? As classic Caribbeanist scholar, Dr. José Juan Arrom, once put it: “The Taíno is in us and around us.”

Jose Barreiro directs the Office for Latin America, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. He is a former Senior Editor at Indian Country Today.

Read more @ Indian Country Today Media Network.comConsciousness of Taino: Explorations of Identity - Indian Country Today Media Network.com.

October 26, 2011

Where the Future? Greed in America Old Song for Indians …

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Jose Barreiro @ 7:43 pm

Social agreement, like a treaty—or even as the trustworthy word of an honest human being—must be kept. Once broken, dissonance ensues, and conflict is sure to follow.

The American Dream, the sense that although flawed (as with everything that exists) the working people of our country have a chance at a decent living wage and the opportunity to educate and launch their children into prosperous futures, appears broken.

What the general public has sensed, that the economic system “as a whole” has been intensely managed in favor of a very small percentage of Americans, is now more keenly examined. The upward transfer of wealth, the continued impoverishment of the working population, the middle class and the poor—the story of greed and deception as practiced in so-called high finance—is out.

We can credit the occupiers at Wall Street for elevating these discussions into the public channels. The largely spontaneous movement signals a most powerful fact-pattern that is locking in for a substantial majority of American society. Given the deepening impacts of social media in political action, common thought travels wide and deep, and quickly, these days, and this particular message—that the system has gone top-heavy—resonated increasingly across the country and the world. (Some eighty percent of Americans say it is so).

The message out of the Occupy Wall Street is one that questions greed as the driving social value, and seeks to have a better moral (and competent) compass steer the path of a more equitable and commonly comprehensive society. Where the sense of the Commons? Where the Pluribus Unum? Where the social safety net? Where the future generations?

This kind of perception has been signaled over the American centuries by the traditional Indian elders, whose sensitivities toward the earth as a living being could tell them, long before Western scientists saw it, that it can be made fragile and can be damaged by the behavior of the human being. A people who highly value reciprocity and generosity in the extended, in-place community, quickly sizes up humans strictly driven by greed and deception. Much of what came at the Indian nations in the expansion of the new American republics was spearheaded by very raw greed. It’s an old story—not yet well told.

Recognizably, as a people, Americans have formed the most generous country on earth. The history of Indian treaties, as flawed as it became, began in some measure of principle and honesty. Things might have gone much better between Indians and the new polities that came to the hemisphere; that they went so awry is largely due policies driven by the greed of acquisition and confiscation of Indian property (lands), in various forms, by the new governments. Again, this is an old song, and there has been much experience, both positive and negative. One lesson is that greed will have its way, unless its ultimate incapacity to lead is clearly understood.

This new old song surfaces, and forcefully, in the contemporary national discourse as a large cross-section of American society feels the same pain of progressive dispossession of a “way of life,” squeezed increasingly out of existence by power social forces. Is the treaty of the country with its own citizens now also broken?

John Mohawk, the renowned Native philosopher from the Seneca Nation (Haudenosaune, d. 2006), encapsulated what might be a good message to the Wall Street Occupiers and a good addition to the larger discussion generated by the protests. Globally, the earth-bound, locally productive traditions of the indigenous peoples are severely threatened. Yet, the indigenous traditions join other knowledge bases of local-regional agricultural and small industry production that could model new social concepts of good human life and development of sustainable practice in energy and natural resource consumption.

Traditionalist, author and university scholar, Mohawk was and remains one of the deep thinkers of the Native world. Trained by parents from a clan of farmers, herbalists, longhouse ceremonial leaders, then emerging a modern intellectual and persistent activist, Mohawk focused a discourse of economic independence among and by the Native nations and communities. The prescription included business and trade, but also a deep attachment to land and the proportional growth of economic activity generated at local and area levels, including high attention to local, indigenous food and medicinal production and protection of water bases.

Mohawk acknowledged that his indigenous prescription is modeled for a people who already come from a land-based culture, who can recover their own knowledge of how to produce from small farms. But he would offer that the main principle—accountability of scale—has applicability at all levels of planning and production. On a larger scale, even on national and even international levels, the notion that the whole country and world could greatly benefit from smaller (not necessarily small) rather than bigger and biggest operational structures (such as “too big to fail”) becomes an increasingly appreciable principle.

Mohawk’s thinking is not a bad point of departure for a discussion on bottom-line, safety-net economics in North America.

As the Seneca philosopher liked to say, “The question, ‘when is enough, enough?’ is worth asking, and should be asked.”

Jose Barreiro serves serves in the scholarship group at the National Museum of the American Indian – Smithsonian. His 2010 book, Thinking in Indian: A John Mohawk Reader (Fulcrum Publishers), compiles the early essays of the Seneca professor.

Read more @ Indian Country Today Media Network.comColumbia University Native American Council Objects to Columbus Day Views - ICTMN.com.

Blog powered by Wordpress