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Indigenous Resurgence in the Contemporary Caribbean

Amerindian Survival and Revival

Maximilian C. Forte

Views of the modern Caribbean have been constructed by a fiction of the absent aboriginal. Yet, all across the Caribbean Basin, individuals and communities are reasserting their identities as indigenous peoples, from Carib communities in the Lesser Antilles, the Garifuna of Central America, and the Taíno of the Greater Antilles, to members of the Caribbean diaspora. Far from extinction, or permanent marginality, the region is witnessing a resurgence of native identification and organization. This is the only volume to date that focuses concerted attention on a phenomenon that can no longer be ignored. Territories covered include Belize, Cuba, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, French Guiana, Guyana, St. Vincent, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Puerto Rican diaspora. Writing from a range of contemporary perspectives on indigenous presence, identities, the struggle for rights, relations with the nation-state, and globalization, fourteen scholars, including four indigenous representatives, contribute to this unique testament to cultural survival. This book will be indispensable to students of Caribbean history and anthropology, indigenous studies, ethnicity, and globalization.

«A collection of fourteen remarkably diverse and stimulating essays, this book represents a new milestone in scholarly research and writing about the Caribbean. These authors are not armchair specialists, but the people who have collected the evidence from first hand experience. They are the participant observers of indigenous population persistence, a phenomenon reluctantly recognized by many traditional scholars and regional governments. ‘Indigenous Resurgence’ reports on the most recent and current data and concepts in a subject field that has assumed global significance, and sparks a variety of controversy.» (Helen Hornbeck Tanner, Senior Research Fellow, The Newberry Library, Chicago)
«The indigenous peoples of the Caribbean are widely supposed to have been extinct since shortly after Columbus’s arrival in the area. Despite a huge loss of population, they never were extinct, just ‘persisting in quiet remembrance,’ as one contributor to this book memorably puts it, but over the last twenty-five years their presence has been increasingly felt. Now, at last, in this volume, we have a project that charts their resurgence in fourteen varied and fascinating chapters. Expertly marshaled by editor Maximilian C. Forte, these chapters range across the entire Caribbean, from Cuba to Suriname, from the Dominican Republic to Belize, from Trinidad to Dominica. Their authors explain the various reasons for the growing contemporary understanding of indigenous survival in the Caribbean over the second half of the twentieth century: how colonial practices erased indigenous identities as a matter of political economy; how, in matching fashion, indigenous resistance often adopted the tactic of avoiding the state; how local creole practices (domestic and agricultural) are now being better understood as indigenous cultural survivals; and how the new understanding of descent given by DNA analysis has taken over from crude accountings of blood quanta. Contemporary indigenous identity has changed over five hundred years just as much as other cultural or ethnic identities have, and this book offers an excellent guide as to how transformation should be thought of as survival rather than loss. The general cultural and intellectual climate has changed dramatically in recent years. There is now a better appreciation of the possibility of multiple personal identities relating to multiple ancestries, and censuses now tend to work through self-ascription rather than ‘expert’ opinion as to someone else’s ethnicity. While some of the stigma of being indigenous in the Caribbean has disappeared over recent years, the actual advantages are still zero, so it’s intriguing that some of the pride in being so has returned, or at least begun to become more public, as Caribbean indigenous peoples begin to draw on material and symbolic resources from a broader world culture in order to reproduce their indigeneity in some of the ways so well analyzed here. But there is more than just scholarly analysis: throughout this volume resonate the voices of three particular indigenous leaders, Panchito Ramírez Rojas (eastern Cuba), Ricardo Bharath Hernandez (Trinidad), and Joseph Palacio (Belize), all eloquently testifying to what survival and resurgence might really mean.» (Peter Hulme, University of Essex)