By Raffique Shah
October 16, 2010
A brief story in the Express last week caught my attention. The report spoke of serious differences between two organisations purporting to represent nationals of this country who have indigenous blood flowing in their arteries.
The first contentious issue is a claim that one group represents only Amerindian descendants who are Catholics. The other was the timing of the “smoke ceremony to the spirits”. One group swears it should be before dawn. The other went ahead “smoking” at 7 a.m.
I do not want to appear to be poking fun at descendants of this country’s indigenous people. Indeed, I lament the fact that there are too few of them remaining, unlike in other Caribbean and Central and South American countries, where they form large communities. Their recent resurgence as powerful forces in the politics of countries like Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia, is reason for celebration.
However, I must confess to chuckling on reading the story. I wondered how many of those claiming to have descended from the Caribs and Arawaks are genuine. Miscegenation over the centuries will have taken its toll on how those with two drops of indigenous blood look today. Some appear to be Africans with more Hausa or Igbo blood than Carib. Others look like red-Douglas, with only a sprinkling among them showing any Amerindian features.
In contrast, the visiting delegations from Guyana, Suriname and some of the islands, looked like the “real deal”. The latter are larger in numbers, so much so, in Guyana there is a ministry devoted to looking after their interests. In Bolivia, they can lay claim to the presidency, through Evo Morales. In Trinidad, except for Ricardo Bharath being a one-time member of the Arima Borough Council, I don’t know of others with indigenous blood who have held influential positions.
One would think that with so few still around, and possibly many imposters infiltrating the clan, they would see the need for strength in numbers, even if they amount to, say 1,000. But trust Trinis to be divisive, whatever organisation they belong to—be it religious, political, social, humanitarian, whatever. In my years of being active in groups of one kind or other, I’ve seen so many splits and fragmentations, I remain shell-shocked. If psychiatrists analyse me, they would probably conclude that I suffer with a rare strain of group-o-phobia.
Let me explain. I welcome healthy discussion on any issue, and for me, no discourse is interesting if everyone holds identical views. People must agree to disagree. But I prefer they air their differences in a civil manner. At the end of the day, or the discourse, we all emerge better informed, and should we belong to a group, that entity becomes stronger, not weaker.
Whether their ancestors smoked the “peace pipe” before dawn of after dusk, is irrelevant to today’s Amerindians. My understanding—I may well be wrong—is that the “peace pipe” contained a heady brew of marijuana, and the leading men in the various communities would draw on it after a day’s hunting or fishing. They would get high, discuss serious issues, laugh raucously, then retreat into their tepees to make love with their wives or simply fall asleep.
Before Bharath and Kendel Reyes come after me, hatchets drawn, ready to split my coconut in two, let me assure them that I do not mean to insult their respective communities. Brothers, I am looking at the bigger picture, at how little things like the timing of the “smoke ceremony”, can lead to major fractures. This seems to be the case with the People’s Partnership Government.
In spite of assurances to the contrary, why do I get the impression that many Partnership members attend Cabinet meetings with daggers hidden deep in their purses or back-pockets? Jack Warner, the most loquacious of the lot, recently suggested something close to the scenario I have painted. He hedged when reporters questioned him about his allegation that “people in my own party are after me” (or something similar).
Shortly after the Partnership trounced the PNM at the polls, even before they formed the Government, I was among several commentators who warned about discordant notes emanating from the highest levels of the new Government. I should stress that any combination of political elements coming together to contest an election, then end up winning big, would necessarily have differences both within its constituent parts, and among the broader coalition. How they handle such differences is what matters.
The Partnership enjoyed its huge win because of two main factors. First, people were disgusted with the arrogance displayed by Patrick Manning and many of his ministers. A spin-off from that was the cloud of corruption that hung heavily over the PNM. Second, people saw hope in a united opposition they expected to deliver good governance. An additional feature was Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s rising popularity just about the time Manning called elections.
None of the parties that form the Partnership can win an election on its own. Partnership leaders must be mindful of that. Besides, they carry a heavy burden of expectations on their shoulders. They should smoke the “peace pipe” now, before they end up in pieces. Anarchy would follow any implosion. The best-organised “alternative” at this time is Criminal Gangs Disunited! Should Warner legitimise this lot, and should the Partnership implode, understand the plight of the nation. We shall end up waist-deep in pig manure.