Our History: Nothing That A Coat Of Paint Won't Fix.

Amerindian etching defaced.
Trinidad Express Newspapers | Aug 30, 2012 at 12:53 AM ECT

"When Cristo Adonis, the Pyai of the Santa Rosa Carib Community, took a small tour group to the site of the petroglyphs at Caurita, he certainly was not prepared for the sight that awaited them atop the hill. The surface of the stone that bore the Amerindian etchings had been freshly dressed with oil paint.

Adonis had taken a group that included a teacher and an MPhil student of the University of the West Indies into the hills of Caurita to visit the famous site. According to Adonis, from the start of the trek, he noticed that the previously overgrown trail to the site had been cleared. This told him that people were in the area recently.

As they climbed their way up the hill, Adonis shared his intimate knowledge of the area to the group, describing the healing powers of certain plants, the significance of resident flora and fauna to indigenous cultures and climaxing it all with a dispensation on the Caurita Petroglyph.

When the group reached the site, shock registered on all their faces as they saw the desecration wrought on the surface of the stone. Some one or some people had painted the etchings in stark white oil paint.

According to Adonis, the indigenous community regards this petroglyph as having special spiritual significance and it is a large part of ancestral life that we are now beginning to understand.

"I felt my whole spirit gone!"

Usually when people visit the site they find that the etchings are slightly covered by mosses. This is always cleared away easily so that the figures could be discernible. For photographic purposes, chalk is used to highlight the depictions as this quickly and easily disappears soon after. The oil paint however has permanence.

Adonis had just recently deciphered an important part of the etchings that had previously gone unnoticed. Adonis recognised the hawk. The hawk is of spiritual significance to the Amerindian peoples, so too does the deer.

The more prominent depictions such as the deer, fish, portraits with ceremonial head dress, the waterfall and other figures have all been acknowledged by the indigenous community of present day Amerindian descendants. Etchings of the hawk however went unnoticed until the Pyai discovered it.

This discovery of the hawk by Adonis goes one step further in interpreting the petroglyph as a whole.

"This hawk was not oil painted over because whoever did this did not make it out. Thank God for that!"

The petroglyph at Caurita stands as a monument of special significance to descendants of Amerindian ancestry. The community is at present lobbying for this site to be declared a National Heritage Site.

Adonis has promised to make another trip up to the site to try to clean the oil paint off the stone."

Cristo Adonis, Pyai of the Santa Rosa Carib Community.

A Note From The Gull

When I read the story above about the defacing of the Caurita petroglyphs*, I was dismayed and hastily jumped to one conclusion about the perps. My apologies to CEPEP if I am wrong, but I assumed that that band or some equally energetic administrative sibling, when confronted with the mother of all stones, had proceeded undaunted to whitewash.

I appreciate that the fervour with which the task must have been approached could have been inspired in no small way by preparations for the Jubilee and I'd like to think that the deed was done out of a sincere though misguided wish to "beautify" and highlight a unique and for many of us still mysterious but persistent aboriginal thread in our nation's rich history.

I have seen no follow up story to explain who did this so I remain caught between condemnation and commiseration. While I wait for answers that may never come, I can rant that this is the sort of ignorance/carelessness that should have been eradicated after 50 years!!! but I remember that there are many octogenarians among us who may or may not admit to the fact that they have had an even longer lifetime to fail at eradicating their own flaws.

And then I find myself going completely silent when I look around and ask myself why should I protest the desecration of my ancestors' surviving sacred places as if they are somehow of more importance than any other abused thing - living or inanimate - of great beauty and significance in this place - this place itself that has been consistently whitewashed since its "discovery".

Who can deny that there has been an ongoing project of cultural, social, environmental defacement in the service of alien visions of "beautification", "improvement", "development", "progress", "modernization"? And haven't we observed the subversion of many things that do not bend to these notions and often their eventual incorporation as tools to be used towards the general blanchiment or soul death that is increasingly evident.

One line from our Prime Minister's Independence Address comes back to me:

"What is the purpose of a society in which the landscape appears to be more modern but there is an absence of values?"

We awake, we laugh, we return!

So I will take a deep breath and rewind as I do prefer to hope with our PM that her vision for a transformation of this society becomes a reality. I trust that this "transformation" will be more about allowing our diversity and all that is already true and beautiful and perfect to prosper and increase than about erecting a stifling and one dimensional facade of order via policing and paint.

Thank you, Cristo Adonis, for continuing to care and to share and teach. I know that you will do your best to undo the damage that has been done to this site. To the experts on cultural matters - Do we have something like an Antiquities Act that protects sites like the one at Caurita?

*When I created the banner above I used part of a photo of the Caurita petroglyphs. I choose this banner whenever I am publishing posts which I consider to be hopeful and positive. In this way I continue to pay tribute to the endurance of my Amerindian ancestors and to their living legacy.

Update: 12:03:2013

Heritage sites slip into further disrepair - ‘Trinis too indifferent’. By Zahra Gordon | Trinidad and Tobago Guardian Online | Monday, March 11, 2013.

"Patria est communis omnium parens" - Our native land is the common parent of us all. Keep it beautiful, make it even more so.

Blessed is all of creation
Blessed be my beautiful people
Blessed be the day of our awakening
Blessed is my country
Blessed are her patient hills.

Mweh ka allay!


Maximilian C. Forte said...

"this place itself that has been consistently whitewashed since its "discovery".

Who can deny that there has been an ongoing project of cultural, social, environmental defacement in the service of alien visions of "beautification", "improvement", "development", "progress", "modernization"? And haven't we observed the subversion of many things that do not bend to these notions and often their eventual incorporation as tools to be used towards the general blanchiment or soul death that is increasingly evident.


I very much like this way of speaking of "whitewashing," and I am sorry to admit that until I read your commentary, I had not made such connections myself. I think your argument is valid, and much needed.

Thanks for sharing this.

Guanaguanare said...

Thanks, Max, for visiting and leaving your comment. The persistence of culture is something that often comes to my mind, whether that culture is native or foreign or we have been seduced or clubbed over the head by it. I am aware that there have been proven genetic consequences of catastrophic disturbances and I wonder if there have been studies to examine how long it takes for the adverse effects of a cultural disaster to leave the body politic. Apparently on average, the human body dissipates alcohol at a rate of one unit per hour but how long does it take for a society to dissipate the various poisons introduced throughout its history. There is always a history behind why we do things the way we do but we don't take the time to revisit the logic. That negligence becomes a characteristic of the culture and begins to define us and can lock us into spinning top in mud. The urge to rectify, if there is one, is diminished even further in fluid, stressful situations. What a society might be tempted to do under these conditions is to engage in hyper-denial or to try to impose "order" and "stability" with a fist if necessary, since we have never cultivated consistently over time the habit of respectful, inclusive, communal reflection and assessment. It seems to me that it is "sense of community" that we have to address because without it almost everything is contrived or forced. Even with what we consider to be voluntarily accepted and beneficial adaptations, there has to be constant monitoring and revision because the environment is changing constantly. I say these things only after prolonged examination of my own failures - the pathetic struggle of a chicken to change the egg which is producing it.