The issue of spiritual leadership in our Taino resurgence has quite a history, all the details of which you may not be aware of.
Since we are a widely dispersed community, it is impossible for the members of our resurgence to learn the existence of a prson that he or she might look upon as a spiritual leader, let alone approach them for service in the quiet personal manner that you suggest in the following statement in your last post: "It's interesting that Juan mentioned that his grandmother was a healer, yet we don't see her parading around with a title. My dad has such a wealth of traditional herbal knowledge, yet he's not going around with a title. Same for the many indigenous healers and medicine people in the Caribbean today. They'll never be famous but they do awesome work regardless".
How does a Taino in Seattle find out that there is a Tano spiritual leader in upstate New York who is capable of helping him or her with questions that he or she may have about Taino spirituality if that leader in upstate New York does not somehow identify her existence in some public way. I suppose that would constitute "parading around with a title" Do you not feel that in all this talk about respect you should not review these, your own words and assess if they show any repect for the people that you are referring to? How can the Taino in Seattle take advantage of the "awesome work" of the person in Upstate New York if he or she never finds out that this person exists. Please don't suggest that the Seattle person find someone nearby. Taino spiritual leaders (despite popular misconseptions) are not a dime a dozen. You dont just walk down the street and find one locally.
I hear a lot of talk about "romanticizing" but is it not a bit "romanticized" to expect all of us Tainos to have access to some quiet curandero working unobtrusively in our community in the way that a Navajo has access to the medicine man in his community. We don't live on a reservation. As you can see by participating in this online forum, our only mode of communication with each other is the much maligned internet. Our spiritual leaders are inspired by the spirits ( the only true and legitimate arbiters of what is truly genuine) as to what ritual objects they should use, what regalia they should wear, what words they should say, what ceremonies they should perform. As I said earlier, If a person is in agreement with that tradition then by all means that person should join it. If a person is not, I suggest that he or she respectfully walk away and seek one that suits him or her better. To what end does someone sit in judgment of something that one is not a part of.
The situation concerning the African-American spiritual leader who offended all of those Africans is, in my humble opinion, not a very good comparison to what is happening in our resurgence. First of all, going by the description that you offered us I think I can tell that he was attempting to speak a language which to those Africans was their native language. I assume that to him it was a second language that he was using badly, and his ineptitude in their language offended them. There is no Taino presently, no matter how long he or she may have been studying the Taino language that can claim that it is his or her "first tongue". All of us speak Spanish or English first (albeit thoroughly mixed with Taino words and phrases). Furthermore In reading your description I am led to believe that this person may have been performing the ceremony from a perspective heavily tinged by the diaspora experience. I am from Cuba where a very healthy Afro-Cuban spiritual tradition has survived these four hundred years. I have known many Africans who grow very irritated by the differences that exist in the way that the tradition is practiced in my country as opposed to the way that it is practiced in theirs. This also may have played a role in the reaction that you saw at that event. I can understand the irritation of these purists in whose countries the tradition has been maintained fairly constant over the centuries when they experience something that to them appears not genuine. I don't particuarly agree with their lack of open mind but I understand.
On the other hand in spite of my agreement with you that Taino healing practices have survived among our people (I have made a point of studying these traditions among my own family, the family of my wife and many others with whom I come in contact) It is also true that a lot was lost, and needed to be reclaimed. We have at our disposal many tools for the reclamation of that tradition and there are some among us who have dedicated their lives to that task. And what happens after they have reclaimed the wisdom? Do these people just sit in an out of the way corner and wait for those who hunger for this wisdom to somehow magically come to them and request that they share it? Do these people that have gone through the trouble of doing decades of research then just hoard it to themselves and serve only those who are right there near-by like the healers that you mentioned? Does that not sound a bit "romanticized" to you? We have to step back a little bit from this romantcizm and realize that we don't all live close together where people can just walk to the next hogan and get services. We are spread across a huge diaspora and the teacher needs to let the community know in very prominent manner that he or she is available to them.
As for the matter of regalia. I don't know for sure if the Africans at the gathering that you witnessed had some objection to the clothing and horse-hair switch that this individual was sporting on that particular day. What I do know is that I have experienced thousands of very legitimate and traditional African ceremonies, performed by Africans from Africa and respected by many followers in which the ceremonial leader is dressed in traditional regalia very much like the one you described (complete with horse-hair switch) and nobody seemed to mind. It seems that the real problem was that the man doing that ceremony on the day that you were there did not have the appropriate accent, he was just an "American playing African". May I ask you sincerely; Who was disrespecting whom?
There does not need to be any such issue in our Taino resurgence. None of us has any more claim to legitimate regalia than anyone else because we ALL lost the traditional regalia, and now are trying to reclaim that. The legitimate regalia tradition of the Taino resurgence is whatever we, the Taino people say it is, because it is OURS. In the same way that Seminoles now wear patchwork clothing that in no way resembles the traditional garb of even as recently as 1700's Are you going to go to the Mikasukee reservation in Florida and tell the chief there that he is disrespecting his people's culture because he is wearing patchwork? We have the same right to re-invent our traditional regalia in any way we see fit. Why shouldn't we? It may seem like a stereotype to you but to the person who is wearing that regalia it represents a link with his or her heritage and I don't think anyone has a right to take that away from anybody else. This is something that goes way beyond what is harmless of innocuous and what isn't. If we don't make a genuine attempt at reclaiming these lost things, if we don't make honest mistakes along the way then what's the use of having a cultural revival anyway?
Do we sometimes misrepresent the traditional regalia of our ancestors in the theatrical re-enactments? Perhaps in some cases, but I believe it is a sincere effort to represent something that others have put down and ignored for centuries. Who is doing the real disrespecting of our culture?
There is another statement that you make in your post that I must address. You mentioned:
"Now I have not seen anyone being outright rude and I don't think that generally is the case. I think people have been quiet and polite for a long time about this. For me it puts me in an odd position because I'm Kalinago"
If you are talking about opinions concerning the wearing of regalia and the actions of the leaders in our community, I am going to have to politely disagree with you. I am glad that you have been spared the incredible amount of bitterness, rudeness and venom that has been expressed these past twenty years or more by certain individuals when they refer to the issue of the leaders of our Taino community with whom they disagree and the regalia that we as a people wear. This attitude of disrespect is, unfortunately very widespread and all-consuming. it includes the most vile form of name-calling, references to people's race, their close relatives (including mothers and fathers), and offensive epithets of all kinds. i pray to the Great Spirit that the discourse in this forum never sink to the levels that I have experienced in other places on the internet in the name of "defending the tradition" and taking a stand against "self-appointed" this or that.
I guess I just have to respectfully agree to disagree.
With blessings to all
Miguel Sobaoko Koromo Sague
My story about the African healer was to make the point that he thought he was doing something good, but he offended a whole bunch of people. I wouldn't have been able to tell if what he was doing was real or fake but he was obviously misusing African culture since he made so many people angry. I am not talking about regalia, or language here. To my eyes he looked perfectly fine.
I have no problem with someone saying "I heal" or "I am a medicine person" just as I have no problem with someone saying " I am a doctor" but when people try and demand respect because of their title. I'm sure many of us has met an arrogant doctor or two, one who thinks you are stupid because you don't have MD after your name. Sometimes their arrogance can have a real effect ton how they diagnose you, treat you etc. This has happened to me in the past. I knew something was wrong but the doctors dismissed me.
This is what I feel with *some* medicine people. I get a nagging feeling in my heart that it's wrong. It's just what I feel. And I never say anything because I think "Who am I to say anything?" but I'm sorry I have this real strong feeling of "wrongness". My spirit says "Something about this is not right". I'll continue to listen to it.
"I hear a lot of talk about "romanticizing" but is it not a bit "romanticized" to expect all of us Tainos to have access to some quiet curandero working unobtrusively in our community in the way that a Navajo has access to the medicine man in his community"
I never meant that, I was using romanticization in a different context.
Ok lemme explain: It is clear that in United States as well as in many parts of the world people have set notions of the way American Indians must dress, behave, talk etc.
Native Americans are supposed to be meek, humble and nice and have some innate ability to talk to spirits and animals. "Medicine people" are a large part of this romantic notion. There are sooooo many people out there, not even in the Taino community who are claiming to be Native American "shamans", or "medicine men/women". This is an entrenched belief in many people's mindset. Chief are also another motif, and some people think that chiefs have absolute power in Native American cultures, but I would say the situation is more complex. My Native friends and I talk about this all the time how the stereotypes and romanticization is still very strong. It's unfortunate.
In regards to your comment about Taino regalia, no that's not what I was talking about. I've seen some pretty nice Taino regalia and I know that fashions evolve and change. As long as they're not dressing up in that offensive "Indian maiden" halloween costume! The thing about petroglyphs is that they are just that, writing on rocks to mark special or symbolic places and events. I don't really think it should go on clothes, or at least as widespread as they are being used. Designs fine, but petroglyph symbols I'm not too keen on. This is my personal opinion. Something about it just feels not right to me.
I'm not a mean or rude person by nature and I prefer to live my life with lots of positivity. I hate drama and conflict. I'm glad I got to talk about it but I guess there's really nothing more I can do about it except lead my future children in the right way and protect them against these notions.
When it comes to the spirituality issues, there has been a lot of misinformation there as well... Santeria, Candomble and Vodoun syncretized African, European and Native ideas. Sadly, you see a lot of the native elements credited to the other two cultures...
Reenactors = theatrical entertainment for tourist/ non indigenous people in the name of education, expousing a play set in an alleged 1492 romanticized style Indian, regalia is not used only costumes, usual accessories include fake black straight hair (wigs) and over zealous dramatizations, keeps Tainos in a schema by strapping concepts of what an "authentic" Taino Indian looks like instead of celebrating the continuum of culture through the Taino diaspora past 1492, in other words it agrees with the extinction myth by forcing others to succumb to the staged lifestyle of a "Real Indian" , it also implies a lifestyle that we do not follow as indigenous people in the here and now, so instead of educating we are actually putting on a theatrical show to entertain others becuase we are not being true to our indigenous story as Tainos, After 1492 our Taino ancestors became Jibaros which kept the culture and diaspora alive to the point that today we are able to reaffirm our heritage today, we can not erase our 500 years of history that occurred after the contact, to do so would eliminate our jibaro/ campesino /guajiro grandparents and ancestors, it was them who told us about our indigenous heritage, and they all lived in the here and now, all of them were Indians of there time, We can choose to go back or move forward, however if go back it'll only be to a time capsule- I choose to move forward so I can tell my grandchildren about their Taino Indian heritage and its continuance as my abuela and abuelo did for me.
I find it interesting that in a week this particular thread has gathered 4 pages of responses criticizing others and putting them down in general for portraying whatever they believe being Taino should be or was, and yet 3 days ago there was another discussion posted asking what YOU wanted this resurgence to become, where YOU wanted it to go and what YOU would like to see it offer.
The one posted answer came from a European.
Since that question was posted there have been over 10 posts in this one, continuing the criticism and pointing out what is NOT wanted, but not one post as to what IS desired...
Are we so determined to be RIGHT? Are we so eager to tear each other apart over what boils down to opinions? Where is this going to take us?
If you take the opposites of this thread then you can see what is needed in the movement. People probably needed a place to air their views which is why this thread is so long. I'm not sure who you are talking to though and what thread you are talking about....
This topic has been a long fought out debate that people needed to respond to and speak about, their opinions are necessary. And we are not putting down people by discussing certain directions that the movement has been heading towards and determining together whether they fit into the future of this movement of cultural restoration. There are many aspects to this resurgence and talking about shows for entertainment and how they relate to a movement is very important.
You asked what direction people wish to take but instead you solely focused on 4 pages instead of the entire network. We as Caribbean Indians are speaking about future directions-just take a look at the groups developed in this ning network- environment, language, regalia making, academics and its going to continue to grow.
What is not wanted is just as crucial as what is, especially towards future dynamics of the self identification of indigenous identity within the Caribbean, for me I most definitely look forward to academic developments in Caribbean Indigenous art forms, language, music, environment and all other aspects of culture.
Also breaking down these subjects is an obvious must there is so much to explore and learn we can not simply cover all aspects in one discussion.