At Obelisk we have the privilege of working with the Amerindian community to commemorate Amerindian Heritage Day on October 14th. This date is significant for the victory of Nepuyo warrior in raising San Jose de Aruna to the ground.
Our Amerindian ancestors trekked from Southern American into Trinidad, many many centuries before any outside settlers came to our region, and even before the land mass of Trinidad had separated from the southern mainland. In Trinidad and Tobago, we can feel enormous pride in the fact that the oldest known survivor of this migratory period was discovered on our soil. Archaeologists have called him Banwarie Man, for he was found in the forested area of Banwarie Trace, San Francique, Trinidad. It is felt that this discovery provides insight not just into the oldest human being in Trinidad, but in the entire Western Hemisphere!
Archaeological research places the burial date of Banwarie Man at around 3,400BC making him about seven thousand years old. Lying on his side in what has been described as a traditional Amerindian crouching burial style, the perfectly preserved skeleton of Banwarie Man was discovered a mere 20cm below the surface.
The evidence found at the burial site further confirms theories of migratory patterns from mainland South America to the Lesser Antilles through Trinidad, in what is known as the Archaic period. This period is represented by the absence of pottery, but the presence of ground stone and shells. Other Archaic sites have been discovered in Trinidad and in Tobago in places such as Poonah Rd., Ortoire and Milford, but Banwarie is the oldest.
These discoveries have helped us to learn something of the way our Amerindian ancestors lived – their various tribes, their rituals and their form of worship – providing mystical and magical glimpses into their ancient world.
Historical research indicates that by the end of the 15th Century, just before the arrival of Columbus, there were about 35,000 Amerindians living in Trinidad and in Tobago. There were a number of different tribes with names such as Kalina in Tobago, and Yao, Carinepagoto and Nepoio in Trinidad.
The viciousness and the greed of the Spaniards who came to our shores led by Christopher Columbus is well documented. Efforts by the Spaniards to enslave our ancestors were consistently resisted, but their insatiable desire to excavate our land for gold lead to the eventual decimation of the Amerindian population.
The Amerindians settled in Trinidad and in Tobago and in other areas of the Caribbean such as St. Kitts, Nevis, Antigua, the Dominican Republic and Cuba where Archaic sites have also been located. Today there are just small pockets of their descendants in areas such as Guyana, Dominica, Suriname and Arima in Trinidad. These surviving Amerindian communities work at preserving their heritage through the making of traditional foods such as cassava bread, and preserving their craft, language and traditional wear.
The celebration of Amerindian Heritage Day each year therefore takes on an added importance as we honour the warrior spirit, essence and memory of our First Peoples.
Stay with us on our journey …