I had a really great Thanksgiving this year. Usually I prefer the later holidays but I felt truly thankful to be with my husband and my parents for Thanksgiving. First of all, the food was kickin'. I told Mami that she made her best meal ever this year and I meant that. I will always remember Mami's Thanksgiving '07. But the real feast was the warmth that I was able to share with the family. I felt totally relaxed being out of school for a few days and it was great to laugh and share silly stories with everyone. My parents believe in deep, long laughs - es lo mejor, yo! There are other things to be thankful for, too. I've found a really great mentor in Dr. Sonja Lanehart, a linguist who writes about African American Language, the words and inflections and mad multidimentional meanings of what some call Spoken Soul. She has helped me a great deal out here. Dr. Wendy Barker has been way cool to me, too. She's my creative writing teacher and she brought cool peeps to town like Kimiko Hahn and Benjamin Saenz. Her support has meant a lot this semester. And I am always thankful to the Hispanic Leadership Program, the folks who fund my crazy ass. Furthermore, I couldn't be doing all this without Vincent, my patient and generous husband.
But understand, this experience has really broken my heart, too. I am discovering so many things that I was not taught in school. I'm looking at stuff in new ways and exploring my heart and DNA in ways that connect me to the earth so deeply. I am so grateful for this opportunity. So you can understand how hard it must be when two out of the three Latino professors who I've taken here have deemed my work unsatisfactory at one point or another. I was so excited about coming down here. I thought, "Whoohoo! I'm studying with MI GENTE!" I've quickly found out that some of the people down here who I felt connected to do not feel connected to me or my ideas. Well, that's not exactly right. They like my ideas but only if they are spoken by someone other than me. At least that is what it seems like. Perhaps I am just too sensitive a person.
So, this semester I've been working on a paper about how the Caribs have been represented in formal correspondence. I cried when I found some of the documents that I cite in this text. I cried because I had never seen any documentation about this part of my ancestry before. However, those tears of joy have been truncated by tears of misery because apparently my scholarship is not up to par, according to one professor. Fine. So maybe I'm not a scholar, but maybe my work can be useful to someone. I'm posting the paper here. It is very long but maybe you'll have time to read it. It connects the indigenous populations and African populations of the Caribbean and calls for a unity between peoples who were separated by the colonizers different languages. People in the Caribbean have always intermingled but colonization separated the people into different linguistic groups, color categories and unspecific names. The letters I examine show the resistance to this separation that has always been present. It also calls out the racist depiction of the Caribs in "Pirates of the Caribbean." I hope you can see some use for it. (Sorry about the screwy formatting.)
Grisel Y. Acosta
Essay – 11/20/07
“It’s Just a Movie” or It’s Unjust Propaganda: Carib Revolt Represented by Colonial and Corporate Correspondence
Obscured History: We Cannot Know Ourselves If We are Not Shown Ourselves
My earliest memories of my extended family members in Colombia were very confusing to me. I have cousins who look like Americanos (White), others who look like Negros, and still others who look like they might be from the Middle East. In school, information was not provided to explain this mix. My history classes gave me a couple of paragraphs about the Alamo and another paragraph about the Bay of Pigs. In college, I took a Caribbean studies class to learn about my history; it was disappointing because I did not learn much about the different populations that were present in the Caribbean. When I went back to school for my Masters in Education, there were no Latino professors to learn from. I, then, tried to learn about my ancestry through literature and other creative works. I’ve obtained bits and pieces of information about my ancestry – about myself – through random conversations that I’ve had with people. This type of dialogue is not enough to sustain a clear identity for the mass of people of Caribbean origins that exist in the Americas, so we end up having a population that knows very little about its past. This leaves one wondering where one comes from and who in one’s past contributed to what. I see the same frustration in the eyes of my Latino students, many of whom do not know their own indigenous and/or African roots. The depiction of Latinos in popular culture is one of a monolithic raza and an explanation of how that race was formed is rarely provided. My decision to return to graduate school is influenced by the desire to fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle. Because I am a Caribbean Latino, this is a multicultural endeavor. For this study, I focus on the Carib population – one that is severely neglected in history books – and I have found that even if one tries to focus on one population in the Caribbean region, the direction will nonetheless point towards connections to other populations.
The Search Begins: Anthropologists , Correspondence and Theoretical Framework
Looking for my past is not an easy endeavor. Much of it is buried under jungle or has been kept confined within the halls of the privileged class that tried to dominate my ancestors during colonization. It is clear by the sheer difficulty of finding information about the populations in the Caribbean that persons in power find it dangerous for Caribbean descendants to know their history. Furthermore, the information that is available is largely written by English, French and Spanish White men. Fortunately, I have found a format that allows the voice of the Carib population to be heard – and it also reveals the condescension of the colonizer which is often hidden under the guise of authority in anthropological studies. I have found that letters (actual and fictionalized) on behalf of the Taíno/Arawak/Carib/Garifuna population are forms of dialogue that formulate an easily understood postcolonial timeline, something which is simply not available in most of the schools where Caribbean Latino students reside. Furthermore, the rhetoric in the letters can be examined for the “Carib/Garifuna, etc.” palimpsest. In this case, the palimpsest does not just have multiple meanings; multiple words are also used interchangeably. That is, words like Carib, Garifuna, Taíno, and others, are used interchangeably to point to the population that mixed before colonization, as attacked during colonization and has reconnected after colonization. The palimpsest reveals these intentions about the original colonizers and it connects the United States to being a colonizing force by highlighting its similar behavior. The Carib palimpsest is no longer of interest to the original colonizers. Instead, its layers are now being manipulated by the United States, despite the common assumption that the U.S. is not a colonizing force. The letters reveal that the U.S. continues the Carib/Garifuna colonization in terms of intellectual property. The words “Carib/Garifuna” and connected terms are used as intellectual property that is off-limits to the people represented by the words themselves. Some community leaders (in the letters) have attempted to create a space for credible Carib/Garifuna intellectual property, but the ownership of this space is under attack within the letters I examine. In effect, even though the actual Carib population is next to extinct, the idea of the Carib and what it represents is still under the auspices of colonization, which implies that the fighting Carib are still very much alive.
I examine the letters using the principles behind Max Weber’s social stratification theory, Noam Chomsky’s propaganda theory, and critical race theory (as it is applied to education by Ladson-Billings and Tate). I use a hybrid of social stratification theory and critical race theory to examine how the idea of the indigenous Carib has been stratified within history. Max Weber stated that, “The primary significance of a positively privileged property class lies in the following facts:…[t]hey may control the opportunities of pursuing a systematic monopoly policy….[t]hey may monopolize opportunities for the accumulation of property through unconsumed surpluses….[t]hey may monopolize the privileges of socially advantageous kinds of education….” (425). I use these statements in order to analyze how the privileged property class has monopolized the intellectual property of the Caribs and their descendants. Not only is it currently difficult to find any information about my ancestors, but when information is provided about the Caribs/Taínos/Garifuna, it is either controlled by the privileged class and therefore distorted, or it is presented as a direct response to the monopoly that must be fought. Ladson-Billings and Tate, in “Toward a Critical Race Theory of Education,” claim that schoolchildren of color have not been given access to intellectual property that would further their understanding of themselves and of the world. They state, “curriculum represents a form of ‘intellectual property.’ The quality and quantity of the curriculum varies with the ‘property values’ of the school” (54). I apply this idea to the Carib/Garifuna race. It has not been allowed the right to present its intellectual property – facts about its history – in a meaningful manner. Furthermore, its intellectual property has been deliberately stolen and distorted in order to influence the actions of future generations, much like land is stolen in the process of colonization. That is, without access to the correct and accurate intellectual property, there is no way that anyone – Carib or non-Carib – can make informed decisions about the current or future Caribbean region and population. That action is a colonization of this intellectual property, a siege of history and of the future. I use Chomsky’s propaganda theory in order to examine how Carib descendants and their supporters must work within the confines of propaganda. The propaganda “filters” include: ownership, or proof that the media outlet is a large, moneyed organization, such as a monarchy or a corporation; funding, or proof that the entity is indebted to funders above any other persons affected by its policy; sourcing, or proof that the entity has a monopoly of information and can pick and choose what information to release (usually information that will not harm the entity); flak, proof that the entity has the power to chastise or ignore anyone who questions it; and anti-ideologies, or proof that the entity will exploit public fears, whether real or imagined (“Propaganda Model”). I argue that the letters create a framework for propaganda and imply the authority of the colonizers and the weakness of the Carib population.
My guiding question asks how representations of Carib correspondence present aspects of the colonization of intellectual property and how these letters might be used in the classroom in order to counteract propaganda. My thesis is that through the representation of Carib correspondence, we can see a timeline of the colonization of intellectual property and this can be used within classrooms to address multiculturalism, critical media studies and historical discrepancies within Caribbean history.
A Correspondence with the Past: Fiction Is Better Than Fact
The first letter I am looking at is actually a representation of a letter. That is, it is a letter represented in a fictional story. Author Haydée Reichard de Cancio takes bits and pieces from history and constructs a story around a letter from “The King” to Chief Agueybana (1-3). Agueybana, which means “the large sun,” was the chief of the Guaynia village in Puerto Rico during the late 1400s and early 1500s (Pérez). Although the story does not include the name of the king of Spain at the time – it is left out of the letter – Ferdinand II was ruler in 1512, which is the year the letter is dated. The story begins with Agueybana fretting over how the conquistadores have treated his people. Words like Yucayeque, batey, and Areyto are used by the Chief as he painfully recalls how the center of town once belonged to the indigenous population, and how it now belongs to the Spaniards. The author writes Agueybana’s thoughts:
“What will become of my people…! We cannot go on like this; we are nobody; day after day the white men abuse us and draw us apart from each other…. A metallic sound brought him back to reality” (1). Agueybana is visited by Don Cristobal, who brings him the letter from the King. Reichard de Cancio could be referring to the Don Cristobal Sotomayor who founded a sector by the town of Aguada between 1508 and 1510 (Vasquez). She is clearly giving the reader a history lesson. This history lesson is a direct response to what a critical race theory reading reveals.
The legend of Agueybana is not taught in schools and this is to keep those of us who have indigenous blood ignorant as to the legitimate resistance that the Caribs met the conquistadores with. Reichard de Cancio is also responding to the propagandistic tools that are used in colonization. She sets up the reader with vital information about Agueybana and his people before the letter is read so that the reader will understand what a farce the “business letter” is. Some might assume a business letter to be a necessary tool to conduct important transactions, but before the colonists arrived in the Americas, such transactions were done by word of mouth. The business letter is a tool of propaganda in that it is used to make certain words from certain people seem more powerful, credible and truthful than they really are. Reichard de Cancio is poking at the usefulness of this tool while at the same time leading the reader to an important name in history. All of this is done to address the stratification of the Carib population and its descendants.
The story continues as Don Cristobal reads the letter to Agueybana; he imagines that the Chief cannot comprehend what the letter even is. The letter is from Tordesillas. This invokes the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas, which gave Spain control of lands west of the 50 degree West meridian and Portugal control of lands east of the meridian (de la Cova). Barely a paragraph long, the letter tells Agueybana that the King is sending a couple of men in his service and Agueybana is to learn from them and do as they say. The scroll is then handed to the Chief. He quickly goes to the bonfire at the end of the town’s center and throws the scroll in the fire. An onlooker asks Agueybana what he is doing and he replies, “Burning a dry leaf from tree that is almost dead” (2). Then he thinks to himself, “We know now that they are not gods. Soon we will get rid of them….” (3). Upon reading this, one might assume that this story is a sad tale about how the Chief could not foresee how powerful the colonizers would be and how he would soon be destroyed. In actuality, he does foresee, upon noticing that the colonizer’s documents can be destroyed without reproach, that the indigenous population can destroy its foe. If we look back to the Villa de Sotomayor, history shows that this town was destroyed 1511, in an uprising by the indigenous population. Uprisings continued for years. A monastery was built there five years later and was then destroyed twelve years later in another indigenous attack (Vasquez). Reichard de Cancio is pointing out that the indigenous populations of the Caribbean fought and were quite brave, despite the common depiction that there was a quick genocide due to Spanish swords, guns and disease. She is attempting to address the palimpsests that have been created for the words “Carib,” “Caribbean indian,” and “Taínos.” She is remembering what has been Whited out.
Currently, the Latino Caribbean writer trend is to use the palimpsest form to expand notions of memory. Myrna García-Calderón states, in Current Approaches to Hispanic Caribbean Writing: An Overview, that, “Contemporary Hispanic Caribbean literature…has been particularly interested in exploring multiple notions of memory” which include the “rethinking of historical memory” and “the notion of cultural memory, often opposed to official history and canonical views of studying the past” (65). García-Calderon asks about the subaltern’s ability to voice alternative ideas about history and how this rearticulates memory (66). Reichard de Cancio uses facts that can direct readers to important points in history, but then she also uses fiction for, I would argue, two reasons. First, she must disguise her story as a simple story of failure. The story was published in the United States and in the U.S., the story of the Caribbean Latino is usually one of failure unless his/her roots are decidedly European. This is a form of propaganda that Latinos must assume as a sort of “disguise.” Any quick reading of this story will show the failure of an indigenous community to plan for its success, something that is acceptable to those in power in the U.S. A deeper reading that connects to the history between the lines is what reveals the memoria that the author intends to share. The reader of this tale, if he/she is uneducated about Carib history, simply will not know what is really going on in the story. S/he must do his/her homework. One can look at this as a form of signifying, as explained by Henry Louis Gates. In signifying, there are two meanings for two audiences. The uninformed White and/or mimic audience will not see the history in the tale, but the population that the story is truly meant for will understand the map to Carib roots that the tale sketches out. Second, she also uses fiction so that her words will not be scrutinized in the same way factual texts might be scrutinized. This way, the history is, indeed, in her hands. This creates ownership of the material, which, ironically, does not exist for Caribbean Latinos when it comes to the recorded factual history of the region. Most of the factual texts have been written by the English or the Spanish colonizers. One can also point to Chela Sandoval’s differential consciousness when looking at what Reichard de Cancio is doing. According to Sandoval, “practitioners of the differential mode of social movement develop and mobilize identity as political tactic in order to renegotiate power: identity is both disguised and not disguised in a form of differential consciousness that thrives on oscillation. The positional subject is not living a lie, then, but rather a disguise” (145). Reichard de Cancio is disguising the facts within a simple-minded tale and disguising herself as a children’s storyteller when, in fact, she is a historian.
Of course, there are limits to this. For example, if this were used as a history lesson in a classroom, not every teacher would even know that the story is based on fact. It is presented in a way that makes the tale appear mythological and mystical. Furthermore, it is difficult to understand, just by what is in the story, that Agueybana went on to be a great leader. The short story would have to be accompanied by factual information, much of which is not readily available. What could also happen is that it could open up the idea to fictionalizing history, which is already done in terrible ways by persons such as Oliver Stone, who has no problem creating confusing and lie-filled filmic histories about important events that need to be presented truthfully. This tale of Agueybana could open up the door to less accurate fictionalized depictions that keep Caribs/Taínos in the same intellectual property deprived boat. The hope is that Reichard de Cancio can be a historian that is able to share the best pieces of information with Carib descendants in order to create an informed population of people who know what their ancestors did.
Official Letters: One Voice Is More Official Than Another
The next letters I examine are “factual” ones. The first is titled “Waitukubuli Kalinago petition of 10 August, 1930,” (see Appendix A) and the second is titled, “Douglas Taylor to Noel Teulon Porter, 25 September, 1930” (Campbell 7-9). These letters document the struggle for survival by the Carib population in Dominica roughly 400 years after the letter in Reichard de Cancio’s work is dated. “Thomas John, Chief of the Caribs, and all the Caribs of Dominica” demand from King George V a “restoration of our ancient rules and privileges” (7). The letter also states that previous letters were sent but went unanswered and that the Carib population, while having been cooperative, has been reduced to a state of poverty and possible extinction. Here is an excerpt:
“WE, Thomas John, Chief of the Caribs, and all the Caribs of Dominica greet and
express their loyalty to His Most Gracious Majesty George V, King of Great Britain,
of Ireland and the Dominions and Colonies over Seas, Emperor of India, and humbly
submit to His Majesty's Gracious consideration this our petition.
WE beg His Majesty to grant us:-
1. The restoration of our ancient rules of privileges, where perpetual continuance was
graciously accorded us by Her late lamented Majesty Queen Victoria and which have
unlawfully and unjustifiably been taken away from us since the year 1926” (Campbell 7).
Stratification is clearly demonstrated here and John is also forced to work under the rules of stereotypical propaganda. The letter format is simply ridiculous when addressing such rights issues; it forces moral issues to be dealt with in a format that was originally used in the context of theft and pillaging. That is, the letter has traditionally been used by the colonizers to let indigenous populations know that they no longer own their land, for example. Rolena Adorno cites Guaman Poma’s frustration with colonial rhetorical forms in “From Story to Sermon,” and demonstrates the usefulness of the sermon as a cross-cultural tool (57). The colonial letter was useful to the colonists in that it presented an authoritative, factual, faceless entity on the side of the colonial force. In this case, the Caribs are attempting to use the letter for their own means, but this cannot entirely work because the letter has already been established as a tool of propaganda. The Caribs are attempting to work within a differential consciousness, what Chela Sandoval calls a “weaving structure [that] permit[s] alliances between varying oppositional ideologies” (153). The Caribs are mimicking the colonial business letter while at the same time seeking power for themselves. The Caribs have taken on the colonizer’s language and writing format – something that Agueybana did not do, as he did not respond to correspondence with words/letters but with fire. Furthermore, the Caribs are implying that they have cooperated with the British and are in need of their help, which makes the indigenous population sound passive and somewhat weak. This creates more dimensions in the Carib palimpsest because now we have the idea of passivity counteracting the idea of the fierce and uprising-prone Carib. This is a stereotype the Caribs have assumed in order to bargain with the colonizers. It is their disguise. The Caribs clearly know that the letter format is weak and this is underlined by the fact that the King refuses to acknowledge their letters. In other words, the colonizers try to maintain power by refusing to acknowledge a letter as legitimate. This works for them in one sense, but it also works to undermine the letter format itself. It doesn’t show the colonizers as reasonable people who simply don’t acknowledge unreasonable correspondence; it shows the colonizers as persons who must withdraw in order to “win” this sort of attack. The only option left to the colonizer is to give up because if they respond in writing – within their own form of propaganda – they know the writing will show them to be the imperialists that they are. The propaganda meant to make the colonizer look strong is starting to work against the colonizer. It shows a repeated pattern of lying, manipulation, theft, greed and bigotry. The colonizer has to stop writing letters lest he incriminate himself.
The “Douglas Taylor” (see Appendix B) letter adds even more to this notion. Douglas Taylor appears to be an advocate for the Carib population in his letter to Porter, as he asks that help be given to preserve the Carib race. He mentions how the Caribs live on a reservation – a connection to other indigenous populations in the Northern Americas – and that they are “quite pure” (8). Here is a section of that text:
“The Caribs themselves, of whom there must be at least 250 quite pure (the chief himself
puts it at 400 out of a total of 500, but I think he is optimistic) are small and wiry, the
women sturdy and well formed; olive to light copper skin though which the blood shews
red, high cheek bones, slightly slanting eyes, broad flat foreheads with tendency to recede towards the top, coarse black straight hair, hands and feet small, the latter with very high
arches. A peculiarity is that men and women have little or no hair on the face and body.
In character, they are much less exhuberant [sic] than the blacks, almost melancholic, soft
voiced and extremely shy with strangers. Their language is almost extinct, only the old
men remember some of it, the current language is Creole French and of course the young
ones learn a certain amount of English in school. The rest of the population of the island,
black and white, look upon the Caribs much as we look upon the gypsies [emphasis added]
- as a lazy good for nothing lot. In point of fact they are not lazy but as long as they stay on
the reserve, they can only work for themselves. I think this suits their temperament best,
and it is sure that if they went to work on the big plantations the race in it’s pure form would soon be extinct. At it is, many of the girls leave to marry half-caste or niggers, and the chief himself has a pretty half Carib wife” (8).
He implies that the purity is the reason why they are deserving of attention. This is demonstrated when he tries to create sympathy by stating that “the government…is trying to starve them into absorption [sic] with the nigger population” (9). If we connect this to the earlier statement that, “In character, they are much less exhuberant [sic] than the blacks” (8), it becomes clear that Taylor is implying that Black Caribs are much more likely to participate in an uprising, therefore it makes sense to help the “pure” Caribs. Again, the idea of the Carib is problematic because we know that earlier uprisings took place among “purer” Carib descendents. Furthermore, the idea of a “pure” Carib does not work, either. According to Walter E. Roth’s study of the indigenous populations of South America (which he connects to populations that traveled to the Lesser, Greater Antilles and Mexico), the Caribs had always mixed with other tribes such as the Warrau and Arawak/Taínos (107). In fact, he connects the Semis, or idols, used by the Arawak on the South American mainland to the Cemis or Chemin of the island Arawak and Caribs (168-169). The significance of this connection is that the mainland and island Caribs/Arawak were always in communication and there was always movement in and out of the lands. These people were connected before the colonizers separated them into different nations that were forced to communicate differently, through separations in language and/or culture. Therefore, Caribs have traditionally been multicultural, or mixed, and they have traditionally fought against enslavement. The “Douglas Taylor” letter, as seen here, is clearly being used as a tool of propaganda because it sets forth an image of the Carib population that is false and it seeks to spread that image far and wide. It perpetuates the idea that certain Caribs are not connected, certain Caribs are prone to violence more than others (the darker they are, the more they may fight us), and that the letter format can be trusted as a tool of authority. Douglas Taylor does not attempt to corroborate what he believes with anyone else. He states it as fact and even expects investment to come based on his word. What is especially disturbing is that the Carib population is not only stratified in such writings but in this one, Douglas Taylor attempts to further stratify the population by separating it into different groups based on skin color. Furthermore, the Carib as a population that must be helped is reinforced once again. In the Reichard de Cancio story, the King is sending a magistrate to “help” the Carib/Taíno population; in the 1930 petition, the King is asked to help the Caribs; and here Douglas Taylor is asking a colleague to help the Caribs. Within all of these requests for help, the possibility of violence always looms although it is always implied that the violence will occur on the part of the Caribs. The Agueybana story (not the letter in the story) and the Carib-written letter are the places where the violence towards the Caribs is addressed and this is one way in which the Caribs have attempted to own their intellectual property in terms of their history.
Corporate Correspondence: The New Colonizers
Caribs have always fought for ownership of their land but the fight has changed. The difference of the fight in modern times is that now it is one of intellectual property and ownership of it. We see the Caribs fighting for ownership of how they are represented and the right to manipulate said representation to their benefit. The colonizers attempt to divide the population along racial lines, but the next letter shows how they fight that attempt, as well. Ben Palacio highlights a letter from Michael Polonio, President of the National Garifuna Council of Belize, to the CEO of the Walt Disney Corporation (see Appendix C). In the heading of the article, Palacio defines the population represented by Polonio as “Garifuna, garifuna, GARINAGU, garinagu, Kalipuna, Caribs, CARIBS, Seine Bight, An Indigenous Culture.” Here, many of the layers of this palimpsest are brought together. Now, the population is not just Carib, but it is Garifuna, or the mixture of Caribs with Africans. On the “Garifuna History” page of the Seine Bight website (a website dedicated to the village in Belize) where the letter is posted, the reader is informed that a population of shipwrecked Africans adopted the Arawak language and customs of the Caribs and mixed with the population, and the tribe later evolved into the Garifuna population. All of these cultures are connected as one and the Garifuna do not believe in separating them; all of the words refer to one indigenous population, as far as they are concerned. The palimpsest is given a complexity that Douglas Taylor completely missed. Taylor insisted on separating the Carib and Black Carib populations and viewing them as having different characteristics. The various colonizers in Europe – the French, the Dutch, the English, the Spanish – made agreements with each other to split the Caribbean lands and separate the people who were once unified. The different cultures and languages that exist there now are not an accident; it was planned so that the Caribs would not feel unified after a generation or two. This is something the Carib descendents are responding to. Jorge J. E. Gracia, in Individuation of Racial and Ethnic Groups, is also responding to the outdated desire of separating peoples who have shared history. He looks to W.E.B. Du Bois’ “familial-historical” view of race, which states that a race shares a history. This causes problems if we look at the history following the naming of the race because many people within a race will have different resulting histories. For example, if we say that a Latino is only someone who speaks Spanish, we are separating two populations of people who share a history, so that definition of individuation does not work. If we look at the history around the time the term was created, that can also cause problems because different people in different countries, for example, will have different histories. However, if we look at the history that leads up to the creation of the term, this is the shared history that connects the family tree best. In other words, “Latino” was not created before the Spaniards arrived in the Americas and it was not created for a long time after that, but the history that took place after 1492 is the shared history of Latinos that connects all of them, whether they speak Spanish or not. This is the argument that Gracia poses (78-100) and the Carib/Garífuna population is currently using a similar method to connect all indigenous peoples and their descendants in the Caribbean, regardless of any mixing that took place with Africans or Europeans. The Caribs are reconnecting and re-membering what was strategically disconnected and dissected by all the European nations that colonized the Caribbean. This can be seen in the aforementioned letter to Walt Disney.
In the letter to the unnamed Walt Disney CEO (which echoes the unnamed King in the Agueybana tale), Polonio calls the indigenous population shown in Pirates of the Caribbean 2 “Calinago” and terms them “ ancestors of the Caribs and Garifuna” and, in fact, equates the words Carib and Calinago at various points. Polonio is connecting the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean together because they are connected, as history shows. The population is multicultural and this view creates a clear timeline, in terms of colonization, and it connects the original colonization to the current corporate colonization of the Carib/Garifuna intellectual property. The Walt Disney CEO at the time of the letter was Michael Eisner, who had actually announced his resignation three days before the letter was dated (“Robert A. Iger Named Chief Executive Officer of the Walt Disney Company” ). Although, the resignation would not be effective until September 30th of that year, the letter – like the one sent by the Carib population of Dominica to King George V – was responded to by no one. The letter to Eisner asks the Walt Disney Corporation to change the script, which depits Caribs, or Calinago, as cannibals. It reminds Walt Disney Corp. that it claims to embody high business standards and integrity and then informs the corporation that there is no factual evidence proving that Caribs were cannibal. This excerpt addresses the idea of the cannibal:
“The myth about cannibalism was started because the Calinago were not intimidated by the European invaders and waged war in the defense of their territory and way of life. For 30 years they held back the British Army, the most modern fighting forces of the world at the time. After the eventual defeat the British suppressed and attempted to wipe the Calinago/Garifuna and their culture off the face of the earth following the conquest of the island of St. Vincent in 1796. Fortunately for mankind, our people and our culture have survived, against all odds, among the descendants of the Garinagu (the Black Caribs) who were forcibly exiled and abandoned on the mainland of Central America in 1797.
If the Walt Disney Corporation is indeed about integrity and truth, then we ask that you desist from filming this movie as currently scripted and that you hold honest, truthful, respectful and constructive consultations with the living descendants of the Calinago (Caribs) in Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, St. Vincent (known as Yurumien in our language) and Dominica. Ours is a story of epic proportions that needs to be told and we would not mind collaborating with your company in honestly and truthfully relating the Calinago/Garifuna/Carib story” (Palacio).
A history lesson about the race is given, demonstrating that the Caribs and their descendents were simply protecting their families and land, and that this should be the reasoning behind any violent action that might be depicted by the Caribs in the film. The letter is signed by ambassadors and officials from Belize, Honduras, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Dominica. The Garifuna work within the confines of the colonialist letter dialogue, which places them within the confines of a propaganda-prone enterprise, as we have already established. In the end, the same script was used, but what is interesting to note is that the indigenous population shown in the film is depicted as Black Caribs, which echoes the ideas that Taylor had about the Black Caribs in the earlier letter. Again, the Caribs are the main course in the propaganda dish. They are depicted as the cannibalistic Black Caribs that eat people for no reason instead of being shown as strong people who have always tried to defend themselves – whether they were “pure,” whether they considered themselves Taíno or Garifuna, or whether they commiserated with African peoples. This letter, to a corporate entity – depicted as a “nameless” CEO like the King in the Agueybana tale – has taken up where the colonial correspondence left off. Chomsky’s propaganda theory applies here because not only are the Garifuna working within the colonialist enterprise of letter writing, but they are also forced to view themselves as cannibals in the film, anyway, even though they addressed the issue. The propaganda remains and this creates stratification in terms of intellectual property.
Stratification is seen in this last letter because the historical property of the Caribs is silenced, not valued and cast aside. The Carib population is placed on the outskirts of society by not being depicted properly and not being heard when it voices its ownership of the truth. Critical race theory also comes into play in that the Carib population is responding to this stratification by attempting to address the way the public is being educated – or miseducated – by the Walt Disney film. The Carib population and its descendents are attempting to claim their intellectual property as a response to racism and stratification. Furthermore, the Carib descendents are also attempting to lay claim to intellectual property that divides races instead of unifying them. This is a good tactic for this kind of fight. Walt Disney did not respond to the letter with another letter, a tactic we have seen before, because the company did not want to incriminate itself. Instead, the company responded by simply ignoring the issue. In effect, the lack of a response results in a failure on the part of Walt Disney, because even though the film came out unchanged, the letter by the Garifuna will always be there, poking a hole into the depiction of the Caribs. Ultimately, the palimpsest – the continuing change that occurs surrounding the word Carib and all of its subsets – speaks to the persistence of the Carib descendents. They were known as fighters when the area was first colonized and this fight is now being continued in the information age as a fight over intellectual property.
The palimpsest is a useful tool for the indigenous persons of Carib descent. It allows the Carib descendants to continually add to the definition of who they are, especially if it needs to respond to an inaccurate part of the palimpsest that has been contributed by colonizers. That is perhaps the most problematic part of the palimpsest. However, the use of this tool demonstrates how comfortable the Carib descendents are with multiculturalism, as they use it to connect to the various indigenous populations surrounding the Caribbean Sea. Birgit Faber Morse, in The Salt River Site, St. Croix, at the Time of the Encounter, notes that Taino culture (or Arawak culture) can be seen in the ancient ball courts found on the islands of St. Croix and other Lesser Antilles (45), and Samuel M. Wilson, in Introduction to the Study of the Indigenous People of the Caribbean, shows in a migration map how indigenous populations from Central and South America continually traveled in the circle of the Caribbean Sea (2). These populations were the ancestors of the Caribs, Arawak, Taino, Warrau, and many others. The mixing was inevitable and this is influences the decision to linguistically connect all of these populations in the letter to the Walt Disney CEO. The multifaceted palimpsest is necessary for the Carib descendents, even though it is problematic because its form can also be used inappropriately by persons who do not identify with the culture. It is also problematic in terms of teaching the history, which may explain in part why most of my textbooks refused to tackle the subject. I do believe I have found some answers to the questions I had when I began this study, but I cannot say that I am happy to find that the Caribs and their descendents have a legacy of fighting to uphold, especially in terms of owning the rights to our history. I am proud of our love of multiculturalism, and I am proud of our desire to continue to speak out, but I find it shameful that the Spanish, the English and now the U.S. have all felt the need to silence this history and depict my ancestors as ignorant or barbaric. What these letters end up revealing is the barbarianism on the part of the Kings and, now, the equivalent CEO.
The Letters in the Classroom and Conclusion: “It’s Just a Movie!”
As a model on how to create an effective presentation, I used an excerpt of Pirates of the Caribbean II and presented the letter to Walt Disney to one of my composition classes. The students were very engaged in the presentation and were surprised to find out that anyone had written to the movie company about the film. Some of the responses included phrases like: “But the movie doesn’t specifically call the indigenous population Caribs”; “When I saw the movie, I wasn’t thinking of a specific place or specific people, so I would never associate the tribe in the film with Caribbean tribes”; and the inevitable, “What does it matter – it’s just a movie!” These responses were very interesting to me because I honestly didn’t expect them. I naively assumed that the students would have sympathy for the indigenous population that did not want to be depicted falsely. What this experience revealed to me, however, is that the students were completely unprepared to be sympathetic with the indigenous population because, even though the majority of the students were White, they had suffered from the lack of intellectual property, as well. Not only do the Caribs suffer from not having control over their own intellectual property, but the bourgeois class also suffers from not having access to information that the privileged class controls. Middle class students have no idea what has happened in the Americas and they do not see why they need to know because they are not hungry, they do not lack for education, and they have access to most things necessary for life. They don’t even need to think outside of their own virtual space. Note the student who, despite the location in the title of the film, did not think of the landscape in the movie as a real place with real people.
One student did pose the idea that perhaps if we knew more about the population, if we saw Caribs in our everyday life, then maybe we would care more. I mentioned that their professor has Carib blood, as does J.Lo, numerous baseball players, a former CEO of Coca-Cola, etc. This was quite uncomfortable for the students because they were now questioning what they had been taught. One student said, “We don’t want to know, we don’t need to know, even if words like ‘barbacoa/barbecue’ come from that culture, it’s not like it’s Latin.” In other words, the culture of a land that is thousands of miles away is valued more than a land that is nearby and affects us each day. Despite the welcome frustration that was a result of this presentation, when the students had to create their own presentations, I saw the effects of the original model. One group of students looked at Disney’s “Pocahontas” alongside the diary entries of John Smith and highlighted the extreme differences in the depiction of the stories. Another group of students looked at how little people (persons with dwarfism) are depicted in film and how they are treated in everyday life; one student (the one who said “we don’t need to know”) openly admitted that his feelings about little people had changed from when he started and the project really convinced him of their contributions to society. I was shocked. Another group analyzed junk news and the more important news items that are obscured by stories about Brangelina, for example. I don’t think I need to convince anyone that this type of analysis is critical in the classroom. Bringing in the Carib letters can not only contribute to Carib descendants knowing about their history and maintaining the rights to their intellectual property, but it can also contribute to non-Carib descendants looking at information in an critical way which is currently discouraged within traditional media.
This project has been one of the most liberating experiences for me. I simply never had access to such documents. To be able to see Carib letters and interpret fictionalized Carib tales that depict the colonial correspondence has allowed me to understand part of my history, part of myself, and that is so necessary for someone to feel whole. I don’t know if anyone who has always had access to documents about his/her own history can possibly understand what it feels like to be able to interact with the past in this way. However, the fact remains that the letters themselves are written under the auspices of propaganda and while they do record the fight for actual property and intellectual property, there are still inaccuracies that can occur within the official letter system. This is why the letters should not be taken alone and fictionalized accounts – or stories and other creative works – should be carefully considered, too. Who is writing these accounts will always affect the accuracy. Reichard de Cancio had the idea to share history that isn’t often taught, but if the Carib story does eventually become popular beyond what is depicted in false, cannibalistic scenes, then there will be a greater risk. Oftentimes, stories about the Civil Rights Movement depict sympathetic White men who help the African American community, for example. Once the story is in the hands of the imperial force – and the imperial force wants to put the spotlight on the “real” story – there is a greater chance for subtler propaganda. Pirates of the Caribbean II has blatant propaganda about Caribs. If a future “truthful account” about the Caribs should be created, will the protagonist of the story be a sympathetic Spaniard? Will the Caribs be portrayed as ruthlessly violent and misogynistic, even indulgent, the way the Persians are portrayed in 300? This type of propaganda, which is far more subtle and far more effective, is what corporations have a stronghold on through their acquisitions of publishing companies and media giants. I want the Carib history to be presented, but owning that intellectual property is key. In the wrong hands, it’s just another myth that reminds the imperial force that it is the most civilized and brilliant. This project has shown me that is not the case and I find myself happy to have learned a bit about my ancestry, even if it did have to be through the frame of the colonial letter.
Waitukubuli Kalinago petition of 10 Aug. 1930
WE, Thomas John, Chief of the Caribs, and all the Caribs of Dominica greet and express their loyalty to His Most Gracious Majesty George V, King of Great Britain, of Ireland and the Dominions and Colonies over Seas, Emperor of India, and humbly submit to His Majesty's Gracious consideration this our petition.
WE beg His Majesty to grant us:-
1. The restoration of our ancient rules of privileges, where perpetual continuance was graciously accorded us by Her late lamented Majesty Queen Victoria and which have unlawfully and unjustifiably been taken away from us since the year 1926.
By our ancient rule and privileges, is meant that within the boundaries of the Carib territory the lawfully elected Carib Chief should have power to administer law and justice over the Carib people and that there should be not interference on the part of the British local authorities except at the Chief express request or at the majority of the Carib people MOREOVER, that the Carib people living peaceably in the Carib territory should never become liable to any forms of taxation, other than the duty of keeping open some part of the road within their territory, except by their majority consent or approval.
2. That the Government grant of ten shillings a month at present made to the Carib Chief be raised to a sum compatible with the upkeep of dignity and honour of his position.
WE would bring to His Majesty's notice that a protest and petition made by us some time ago [i.e. in September 1927] to His Majesty's Secretary of State has remained unanswered and unacknowledged.
FINALLY, we would submit to His Majesty's gracious consideration that we, the Carib people, have since the beginning of British rule in this island always lived as peaceable and loyal subjects of His Britannic Majesty, that since the beginning of recorded history these islands have always been our home, and that today, living on a small section of territory in this island we, the last of our race are, through lack of recognition, absence of means of communication and marketing, reduced to a state of poverty in which we can only face extinction, we are convinced that the submission of these facts will suffice to persuade His Majesty of the urgency of taking such measures as will ensure us, His Majesty's loyal Carib subjects, the proper respect, recognition and protection worthy of His Majesty's Government.
(signed Thomas John, Carib Chief)
Douglas Taylor to Noel Teulon Porter, 25 Sept. 1930
I have just returned to France from the West Indies where I spent some time amongst the Caribs of Dominica (not to be confounded with the Dominican Republic or Santo Domingo). I am writing to you, as the only person I know interested in such matters, to ask if you would be willing to help me to preserve the Carib race, of whom only four to five hundred remain, and who are rapidly becoming extinct in the pure form owing to the local government’s trying to ride over the privileges accorded them by Queen Victoria.
Dominica is a island belonging to the British Leeward group, situated 15°N by 61°W between the French islands of Guadaloupe and Martinique, which I also visited. It is the most mountainous and the most wild of the Antilles, about 40 miles by 20, and the only place on earth where pure Carib blood survived. They probably owe this continued existence to the fact that there are no proper roads across the island, whose greater part is still uncultivated and covered with virgin forest.
The Caribs now live in a legally defined Reserve of ample dimensions on the windward and most savage part of the island, under the nominal rule of their Chief. There is no village as we understand it, the houses which are well built of hardwood in a style of their own raised on stakes, and scrupulously clean, being scattered over miles, each one being surrounded by plantations of coffee, cocoa, vanilla, nutmeg, breadfruit, tania, dachine, limes etc. and the whole intervening countryside being covered with bay trees. About then miles inland starts the forest, from which they get their hardwoods, seman, balata, ceder and gommier this latter being used for the making of the native boats, gommiers, which they sell for 25/- the current price at Fort de France [Martinique] being 18 pounds (a good boat takes several men several weeks to complete). This together with carib baskets and limes is their only way of getting money. The only means of communication with the port of Roseau is by sea, in these same gommiers, which means an absence of several days from the Reserve, and considerable danger in the channel of Martinique[.] Salybia, (the Carib Reserve) does not possess either doctor or priest the nearest being about 3 to four hours walk entailing the crossing of a river impossible in the heavy rains.
The Caribs themselves, of whom there must be at least 250 quite pure (the chief himself puts it at 400 out of a total of 500, but I think he is optimistic) are small and wiry, the women sturdy and well formed; olive to light copper skin though which the blood shews red, high cheek bones, slightly slanting eyes, broad flat foreheads with tendency to recede towards the top, coarse black straight hair, hands and feet small, the latter with very high arches. A peculiarity is that men and women have little or no hair on the face and body. In character, they are much less exhuberant [sic] than the blacks, almost melancholic, soft voiced and extremely shy with strangers. Their language is almost extinct, only the old men remember some of it, the current language is Creole French and of course the young ones learn a certain amount of English in school. The rest of the population of the island, black and white, look upon the Caribs much as we look upon the gypsies [emphasis added] - as a lazy good for nothing lot. In point of fact they are not lazy but as long as they stay on the reserve, they can only work for themselves. I think this suits their temperament best, and it is sure that if they went to work on the big plantations the race in it’s pure form would soon be extinct. At it is, many of the girls leave to marry half-caste or niggers, and the chief himself has a pretty half Carib wife.
They are at present very unhappy because the government, (the administrator is a man called Eliot) is trying to starve them into absorbtion [sic] with the nigger population. They want on the one hand to levy taxes on boats etc, and on the other hand to bring the Caribs under the jurisdiction of the local coloured magistrate in Rosalie – the nearest village out of the reserve. The shop keepers in Roseau, - a days journey by boat or though the jungle on foot, now refuse to buy their bay leaves, and give less and less for the baskets. A Carib basket is the local form of luggage throughout the West Indies; made to be carried on the head, it is about 3 ft. long and 1 1/2 broad by 3ft. tall, very light and waterproof, made of the bark of a tree called "la rouman" double lined, i.e. one basket made to line another wither [sic] plantain leaves between the two; the design is in black red brown and white. Each one takes about two days to make – after the preparing of the bark – and they sell if lucky, after carrying them to market, for 2/- a piece. Could they be sold in England in quantities to make export worth while?
I enclose a copy of a petition to the King written by the Carib chief. You will see that his complains are rather on the score of prosperity than health. But in my opinion one of the most important things is to preserve the health of the Carib infants a great many of whom suffer from mal-nutrition, which produces a disease called locally "chaws" and which results in a bleeding from the genital organs. Anthropologists and ethnologists like yourself would find a great many things to interest you among these people, and I think it is worth while doing something to ensure the continuation of the race.
Is it worth while sending this petition? Could a campaign be started in the Times (letters) or in some other papers? The chief’s idea is that if he came to Europe and could tell people about the Caribs he could raise enough to start a little local industry for the extraction of bay essence and bay rum. Or they might sell some produce in Europe.
From: Michael Polonio - President, National Garifuna Council of Belize
To: Chief Executive Officer, The Walt Disney Company
Subject: Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and 3
The National Garifuna Council (NGC) is the legally constituted and recognized representative organization of the Garifuna people of Belize, who, along with other Garinagu in Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua, are direct descendants of the "Black Caribs" of St Vincent and the lesser Antilles as we are referred to in the English language. We are also, therefore, descendants of the Calinago, the people you call Caribs. It has been brought to our attention that the Walt Disney Company intends to film a movie called "The Pirates of the Caribbean" in which the Caribs or Calinago, the ancestors of theGarinagu (as we refer to ourselves in our language) are portrayed as cannibals. We understand that preparations are underway to commence filming in Dominica in April of this year.
We note on your website that Walt Disney has portrayed itself as a company which upholds the highest Business Standards and Ethics in the conduct of its affairs and, therefore, are at odds to understand why you are involved in the perpetuation of this brutal and unjust myth and wrongdoing against the Calinago (the Caribs) and their descendants. There is no credible scientific evidence or reliable report that the people in question were cannibals. Our Calinago ancestors were a warrior race who migrated to the lesser islands of the Caribbean from the Amazon region of South America and, as with any warrior race, they engaged in ritualistic practices to encourage fearlessness among warriors. They fought to the death to defend their islands against invaders in the colonial era which followed the arrival of Columbus to our shores, an unfortunate event that changed for the worst the natural evolution and development of indigenous societies of the world in the period that followed. The myth about cannibalism was started because the Calinago were not intimidated by the European invaders and waged war in the defense of their territory and way of life. For 30 years they held back the British Army, the most modern fighting forces of the world at the time. After the eventual defeat the British suppressed and attempted to wipe the Calinago/Garifuna and their culture off the face of the earth following the conquest of the island of St. Vincent in 1796. Fortunately for mankind, our people and our culture have survived, against all odds, among the descendants of the Garinagu (the Black Caribs) who were forcibly exiled and abandoned on the mainland of Central America in 1797.
If the Walt Disney Corporation is indeed about integrity and truth, then we ask that you desist from filming this movie as currently scripted and that you hold honest, truthful, respectful and constructive consultations with the living descendants of the Calinago (Caribs) in Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, St. Vincent (known as Yurumien in our language) and Dominica. Ours is a story of epic proportions that needs to be told and we would not mind collaborating with your company in honestly and truthfully relating the Calinago/Garifuna/Carib story. In May, 2001, the importance of the Garifuna culture (the culture of the Garinagu) to mankind was recognized in the United Nations Proclamation of the Garifuna Language, Dance and Music as Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Walt Disney would be making a mockery of that United Nations recognition with the filming and release of your movie portraying our ancestors as cannibals, the worst categorization and dehumanizing assertion that can be made against a proud people whose culture is a testament to good citizenship and independence of spirit.
The National Garifuna Council associates itself with the sentiments of Carib Chief Charles Williams of the Garifuna Territory of Dominica, who asserted that "our ancestors stood up against early European conquerors and because they stood up. We were labeled savages and cannibals up to today. This cannot be perpetuated in movies." We urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to reconsider your position.
The National Garifuna Council of Belize
cc: Honourable Said Musa, Prime Minister of Belize
Honourable Francis Fonseca, Minister of Attorney General and Minister Education and Culture - Government of Belize
Honourable Assad Shoman, Minister of Foreign Affairs - Government of Belize
His Excellency Russel Freeman, Ambassador, Embassy of the United States of America, Belize
Honourable Roosevelt Skerrit, Prime Minister, Commonwealth of Dominica
Honourable Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister, St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Chief Charles Williams, Carib Territory, Commonwealth of Dominica
Lic. Celeo Alvarez Casildo, Presidente ODECO, Honduras
Hon. René M. Baptiste -Minister of Tourism and Culture , St. Vincent & the Grenadines
Hon. Sylvia Flores - Minister of Human Development, Belize
Her Excellency Ms. Lisa Shoman, Belize Ambassador to U.S., Washington
His Excellency , Mr. Andy V. Palacio, Ambassador for Culture, Belize
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