Land, Labour, Power, and Colonial Mythology in Trinidad

Focusing on the history of the Arima Mission in the Island of Trinidad, ostensibly a mission for Indigenous people, the documentary below features what was learned from the baptismal registers of the Mission of Santa Rosa de Arima—in conjunction with historical texts, government documents, and official memoranda and reports of the time. What we encounter are four main “myths,” or working fictions: 1) the myth that the Mission was for Indians alone; 2) the myth of “Christian protection”; 3) the myth of assimilation; and, 4) the myth of extinction. The film, and the book on which it is based, argues that a proper understanding of the history of the rise and demise of the Mission has to be in relation to the slave plantation economy. Broadly speaking, we are dealing with a story at the intersection of land, labour, and power under conditions of oligarchic domination and the creation of poverty out of plenty.

Research that went into the book, Arima Born, on which the documentary below was based, became part of my “knowledge repatriation” strategy. This was accompanied by a series of events that, for some, would be examples of “public anthropology”.

First, copies of the book were deposited for free in various key access points: in Canada, copies were deposited with Libraries & Archives Canada, along with an e-book; in Trinidad, copies were deposited in the Heritage Collection of the National Library (NALIS), the Arima Public Library, and the West Indian Collection of the Alma Jordan Library of the University of the West Indies.

Second, free copies of the book were delivered to the Santa Rosa First People’s Community, in addition to providing copies to select members of the Arima community more broadly, including the Santa Rosa Roman Catholic Church.

Third, an offer was made to the leadership of the Santa Rosa First People’s Community to republish and print the book locally in Trinidad, under an imprint of its choice, with the majority of revenues going to the SRFPC.

Fourth, public presentations based on the book were made at the community centre of the Santa Rosa First People’s Community on December 10, 2019, and at the Arima Public Library on January 8, 2020. The slides below accompanied those public presentations, and are being made available for download:

Fifth, awareness of the issues presented in the book, and in the public presentations, was heightened by the publication of three separate articles by different authors in the national media in Trinidad & Tobago:

  1. Arima mission a ‘slave colony’,” in Newsday (Oct. 22, 2019), also available here.

  2. First Peoples want HDC house for Carib Queen,” in Newsday (Dec. 12, 2019), also available here.

  3. Counting ‘Indios’,” review by Bridget Brereton in the Daily Express (Jan. 29, 2020), full text available here.

Sixth, the documentary below is the latest form of public presentation of the knowledge gained from this research. The film is available both on YouTube and Vimeo.

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Comment by Dimitri Freeman on March 20, 2020 at 7:13am

Amazing explanatory and at the moment Trinidad faces many issues due to the cannabis trade bringing investors into the land which causes problems for the locals and the produce which is their sustainability. Indigenous and those spiritual and connected to the communities somehow coming together for the protection of the communities should somehow put in place some form of an indigenous board that can control and is part of the application process decision making as they do in North America, this is to stop the new conflicts of interest which occur during this new cannabis market obsession.

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