Another Erasure?

I am tired of my own Arawak children and other Amerindian children in Barbadian schools (some 40 children in all) being told by mis educated or ill-informed teachers that the tribe to which they belong ‘no longer exists’ so therefore they cannot possibly be who they say they are. For the information of these ’educators’ there are almost 20,000 Arawaks STILL in Guyana, 2,000 in Suriname, about 1,000 in French Guiana, and around 200 in Venezuela to this day! Also for the record – we do NOT call ourselves ‘Arawaks‘, it is not even a word in our language, we call ourselves ‘Lokono’

(Damon Corrie, from the Bajan Reporter

“Settlers: The West Coast Experience” is a heritage tourism project which will feature Taino themed moonlight costume revelry along Barbados’ platinum coast culminating with “Rayz: The Sunrise Arieto” breakfast after-party- two unforgettable events in less than 12 hours! (From the Settlers website

As Damon Corrie notes, there has been a sustained attempt at erasure of the indigenous people and their history in Barbados which began with British colonization and empire and continues into the present.    In other Caribbean countries where there is a more numerous and distinct indigenous population their marginalization by the independent Caribbean state has been pervasive.  Recently the University of the West Indies sought to recognise this history of marginalization by offering scholarships to indigenous students.

I’ve been seeing advertisements on facebook for a new National Cultural Foundation-sponsored carnival “Settlers: The West Coast Experience”.  It is the brain-child of a group of young entrepreneurial Barbadians.

According to the Bajan Reporter:

Managing Director of SWCE, Toni Thorne, explains that it is SWCE’s vision for the carnival be held annually; each year paying homage in order of settlement to the cohoblopot of peoples who represent the cultural makeup of the island. The inaugural theme, ‘Arieto’ represents Barbados’ indigenous people, the Taino. ‘Arieto’ is synonymous with extra curricular activities and celebrations within the Taino culture (more commonly known as the Arawaks).

Is such commodification, commercialization and cultural appropriation heritage tourism?  Given the attempt at erasure of indigenous people and their heritage in the Caribbean, is this offensive, even if not intentionally so?  What do you make of the involvement of the National Cultural Foundation? Does their endorsement of this carnival suggest that they will be spearheading a more broad-based attempt at educatiing Barbadians of the history of the first people to inhabit this island?  Can a premium, all-inclusive jump-up really serve as the appropriate vehicle for delivering such an education?

What do you think?  Harmless fun?  Good business? A creative cultural tourism product? Offensive and insensitive cultural appropriation? Another erasure?

The intention here is not to berate the organisers–they are indeed a group of young, creative Caribbean talent and we need to see more of that in the Caribbean.  I just want to open a discussion about cultural appropriation, Caribbean heritage, cultural policy and heritage tourism.

You can learn more about the Settlers Carnival here:


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