Warao T&T: The Beginning of a New Era

Prayers to ancestors. 
By Lincoln Holder
Trinidad & Tobago Newsday  | Saturday, December 22 2012

THROUGH A CHILD'S EYES: Youngster Joshua Medina,
of the TT Organisation of Indigenous People steals a stare during a prayer service yesterday
by the Warao Indigenous people at Banwari Trace Siparia in South Trinidad. Author: LINCOLN HOLDER

"DESCENDANTS of the indigenous people from the Warao Tribe yesterday staged a prayer ceremony to their ancestors as they called for constitutional rights and official recognition.

The group met on what they claimed is sacred ground where they said their ancestors were buried in Banwari Trace, Penal. The ceremony, according to the Waraos also marked the beginning of a new era and not the end of the world, as some predicted would have happened yesterday following the end of the Mayan calendar.

Chief Elder Lawrence Lloyd Gervais said the history of the Warao has been swept under the carpet. Waraos and other indigenous tribes from Rio Claro, Arima and other districts assembled at the holy grounds forming a circle and offering prayers to their various gods and ancestors.

Elder Rabina Shar, said under the United Nation-declaration on the rights of indigenous people he wants the Warao to be recognised as a sovereign nation within Trinidad. “But this is a new sovereign nation we want the people of Trinidad and Tobago to recognise us as we are the first sovereign nation. And that our sovereignty would be recognised constitutionally,” Shar said.

The Elder said his group has only been getting the runaround as it tries to get recognition. “They are making more excuses to get away from the fact that we are the sovereign nation and we need to be registered as that. We need constitutional recognition.”

Shar said the cradle of the Warao civilisation is at the Naparima Hills where their first father had two children. At those hills the children were taught the foundation and tradition of the Warao.

“This is not something written in a paper that a Judge or a lawyer could talk about. It is something that we live and respect in our hearts as a people,” Shar said.

He said the Warao religion was taken over and indigenous people were divided. Shar claimed that attempts are being made to take away the sacred grounds which is part of their history. He said their sacred grounds was to be transformed into a national heritage site. But the group insists this land is holy and their ancestors’ bones lie buried beneath. “They can’t make this what they want it to be...no heritage site,” Shar said.

In this new era — according to Warao traditional beliefs — he said the Warao, in addition to being recognised, want their holy sites across the country to be returned to them so the Elders can start projects to educate the youngsters, to keep the tribe together and ensure continuity.

Shar explained that yesterday’s prayer ceremony is performed every 494 years to mark the end of eras of time. Young and old participated yesterday in the prayers. A bundle of pieces of wood was placed in the centre of the circle and a fire was lit. Pieces of dried tobacco leaves were placed in the fire by each member together with honey and rice.

Also present was Minister of National Diversity and Social Integration Clifton de Coteau who said he is in full support of the group and added that on Thursday in Tobago, during the weekly meeting, Cabinet approved lands in Santa Rosa to be set aside for use by indigenous peoples." SOURCE

Fixing Banwari site 'a priority'. Assembly of first people in 2013.
By Louis B Homer Trinidad Express | Dec 21, 2012 at 9:57 PM ECT

"Further recognition for the indigenous people of Trinidad is expected when the Ministry of National Diversity and Social Integration convenes its first National Assembly of Indigenous People in early 2013.

The announcement was made yesterday by Minister Clifton De Coteau when he attended a special new year observance of the Warao people at the Banwari historical site, San Francique, Penal.

"My ministry is working on several initiatives concerning the first people and, rest assured, I will be in touch with your organisation during the new year to formulate plans for the assembly," said the Minister.

De Coteau said, "Government is giving priority to the continued development of the Banwari site and plans are under way to set up a management committee to speed up the project."

De Coteau said he was happy that a contingent of supporters came from Arima to join in the Warao's spiritual exercise.

Zachary Medina, grandson of a former Carib queen, took part in the spiritual exercise. He was accompanied by a number of young followers from Arima.

Rabina Shar, spokesperson for the Warao tribe, said they were happy that the Minister was present. "It is the first time a Minister has attended such a programme at the Banwari site."

Shar announced that early in the new year all the groups that comprise the first people will hold a national meeting to discuss the way forward.

He performed the duties of a shamaan (high priest) by offering tobacco, rice, honey and other items to the Warao gods. After his offerings members of the public were invited to do likewise.

Also attending the ceremony was Lawrence Lloyd Gervais, Grand Chief of the Warao tribe.

Gervais said the group has several ideas to present to Government that will benefit the first people as well as the national community of Trinidad and Tobago." SOURCE

A Note From The Gull

I am so glad to see us all coming together. I had always wondered about the silence of the descendants of indigenous peoples in Trinidad and Tobago, apart from those represented by the Santa Rosa Carib Community. It is good to know that the Warao are speaking up about their relationship to this place. I have always been moved by the fact that it is an important part of their mythology and that even when they were located in Venezuela, they would make the pilgrimage to their sacred place at Naparima Hill in San Fernando - which they believed to be one of the pillars holding up the sky. 

The following is a report produced by the South Western Peninsula of Warao Descendants First Nation of Trinidad and Tobago for the summary that elaborates the Office of the High Commission on Human Rights for the Universal Periodic Evaluation of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
"South Western Peninsula of Warao Descendants First Nation of Trinidad and Tobago
Address: 65 High Street Siparia, Trinidad and Tobago, W.I.
E-mail: waraodescendants.tt@gmail.com
Contact: Mr. Rabina Shar Contact number: (868) 296-8691; 291-5128

1.  We are the elders of the South Western Peninsula of Warao Descendants, First Nation of Trinidad and Tobago, and are Warao Descendants in South Trinidad.

Historically, we are in the Northern boundry of Warao Territory. The Southern boundry is in Karoshimo Mountain in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Seven thousand years now we have inhabited this territory and South America. Our first parents Habori and Wanta are believed to be the progenitors of all aboriginal tribes.

Our governance policy is based upon the respect for our Shamans, Elders and Chiefs who rule with the knowledge of our ancestors. Freedom from fear in

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the performance of our duty to maintain harmony with nature is ours world order. We are a Nation and not an organization, culture group or NGO. Our allegiance is to our people, our territorial habitat of Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela and countries within South America. As Elders, we assume the role as protectors of Aboriginal people’s freedom as trustees within the territory.

Our Earth Gods Wara Waro and Nabarima dwell in the Naparima San Fernando Hills where our progenitors found refuge in a Cave therein: and their spirit dwells. Our family in the Orinoco Delta used to do holy pilgrimages upon this hill until de 1950’s. We are the canoe people. Our travels throughout our world of South and Central America have exposed us to various cultures. Invasion of our territories by Spain, led to the enslavement of our people. This dispersed our people as some returned to the Orinoco and others remained in Trinidad and Tobago.

Years of colonization have divorced us from the wisdom of our ancestors. We have been subjected to the growth of a new society of culture clashes as people from different parts of the world arrived on our shores. This led us the above mentioned Elders Council, to undertake objectives to educate and sensitize our people in order to identify themselves. We have, since then, stepped forward to unite the Nation.

2. Some objectives which could help our people to identify themselves with our brother and sisters worldwide are: - To research knowledge of our Ancestors with a view to find ourselves, educate our people and sensitize them towards their rights.

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- To register and organize our people with the Principle of “Freedom of Association” into an infrastructure of National operational Capability in order to address their needs.

- Recognition as the first Nation of Trinidad and Tobago within the Constitution with a Ministry to address our affairs in Parliamentary Representation.

- Trade and Cultural exchanges among our territory’s family in South American States.

3. South Western Peninsula of Warao Descendants First Nation of Trinidad and Tobago uses this occasion with the Universal Periodic Review of Member States of the United Nations to present this written contribution to the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations on Venezuela. In particular, we hope that our experience will aide in exposing the condition of basic human rights in Venezuela.

Our interest lie in the history of the Warao people whose habitat comprised both countries in respect to our territory. In the Republics recognition of first nation natives within their constitution; we are indeed pleased to recognize such veracity. In the eight articles inserted in the Bolivarian Constitution of Venezuela, the articles 120 and 125 appear to me as challenges.

Article 120 seems to me, to be suggesting that the criteria of informing and consulting with our first nation people is enough to implement state’s exploitation of “our” natural resources. Our rights to consent or not appears to be indefinable.

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The word “Shall be carried out” implies the right of the state over the right of the native.

Seven Thousand years of religious traditional and cultural habitation have preserved the natural resources that are our Gods, mother of the Forrest, mother of food, sacred grounds, sacred animals, sacred spirits, cosmology, and way of life. The Earth knows us; we know the Earth, we are one. To cut a tree requires a sacrifice. Actions that violate the natural order of harmony in nature are crimes of humanity. Justice lies within our hearts, not in Laws or their endorsements. Article 125 speaks of representation in the territories where native population control, in accordance with the law.

4. I recommend that Shamans and Elders of the Venezuelan Warao Community be part of the state’s executive rules and advisors in the administration of State development, planning and implementation.

The advantages of your State lie within its Constitution and how its ideas are implemented and how positively the government has created a Ministry of Popular Power for Indigenous Peoples, to facilitate and promote the strengthening of the communal ancestral indigenous and respecting their values, principles and ancestral customs.

6. We also would like to recommend the Venezuelan Government, to invite us to visit native people of Venezuela, firstly with the purpose of family reunion. Secondly, in order to be appraised of their situation with a view to realistically address our opinion and recommendations because if we will be expose to the root of your culture and you will be expose to the root of ours, then we can learn from

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each other in order to help each other and examine our traditions, culture, religions, etc., with the intention to compare similarities or polar views to get a better analysis of ourselves." SOURCE

"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!