The Indigenous Caribbean was inhabited by peoples who spoke Arawakan and Cariban languages, with loan words from Warao, Tol, and Chibchan and Tupian languages. The European colonizers and later scientists used names such as Arawak/Taíno and Carib to erroneously label the peoples of the islands as peaceful versus warlike. But we know now that these labels, still present in schoolbooks, are incorrect and misleading.
During colonization, Indigenous peoples from Mesoamerica and the mainland Caribbean were translocated and enslaved. Together with the displaced population of the islands and enslaved Africans they were forced to work in the pearl fisheries and goldmines, and made to cultivate fields and build towns and forts for the Spanish colonial enterprise.
Indigenous societies were gradually destroyed and their social networks disrupted. However, survivors resisted and managed to integrate into the colonial system. The Indigenous world is still remembered and forms a shared legacy within today’s multicultural landscape.
Members of the Trinidad and Tobago Santa Rosa First People’s Dance Group performing an offering. Trinidad, 2018 (photo: Zara Ali).