Cultural Dissonance?

Note:  The following post is a long one. I hope you feel like reading!   ~N

I am a modern Caribbean Indian woman; a mixture of Taino, European and African descent.  However, it is my Taino Indian heritage that I choose to follow, learn and endorse.  The existence of my Taino ancestry has been covered up, denied for many years because of greed and genocide.  This cover up is pernicious and has infected not only the familial roots of my Nation but has disowned our indigenous heritage  on a grand scale.  Society wide- to the point where in school I was taught that the Taino people became extinct due to poor constitution and laziness;  and world wide- because although many know that Columbus reached the Caribbean Islands in 1492, few recognize the Taino people as the Indians he met there.

Recent studies have shown that a good percentage of the population tested (in PR)  not only carry Taino genetic markers, but that in fact,  carry most of the DNA material inherited via  Taino female bloodlines.  I find this very appropriate since the Taino have traditionally been a matrifocal society.  Additionally, there has been more extensive study of Spanish documents, census taking and log keeping.  This history is now being looked at as written by very human people who were not above a little underhandedness…  So, scientists and historians are now finding that the Taino did not become extinct as has been propagated, but survived; having chosen invisibility over death, and blended blood,  religion and culture to what is present in the Caribbean islands today.

These scientific and historical findings have engendered a grand movement.  For some time now, there has been a resurgence of people reclaiming Native Caribbean Indian ancestry and identity.  Hand in hand with this resurgence comes a strong desire to unite as a tribe and create community.  Folks are meeting in cafes and parks,  fairs and powwows, museums and  kitchen tables to discuss the reclaiming  of our Taino heritage.  Websites have been put up,  groups and organizations have been created to promote union and sharing, teaching and learning.  Some have assembled family groups, clans and tribes, others have organized and incorporated; all with different purposes but the same idea- to join with others of like mind.

However, like in many dysfunctional families, what starts out with the best of intentions can end up becoming a mass of maladjusted, destructive, spiteful, critical, divisive behaviors that leave only pain, disharmony and bitterness in it’s wake.  It’s discouraging that this should happen,  and yet I understand that any big changes in life will bring it’s share of pain;  especially growth.

Of late, I’ve been considering both sides of certain particular issues,  swinging back and forth, from one point of view to another.  This wavering reminds me of Fiddler on the Roof and Tevye, discussing rationalizations with God.   “On one hand…”; I tell myself , “but then on the other…”

Curiously, I have noticed a conspicuous incongruity that I can only imagine must cause all involved incredibly painful cognitive dissonance reactions.  Just thinking about it kills me!  I’m amazed at the way the human mind can hold two contrasting ideas, both as absolute truth, and not notice the conflict.  Or how well we lie and ignore ourselves, so as not to challenge our internal status quo;  preferring to rock someone else’s boat rather than our own.

The issues I am examining center around Taino reenactors, performers, theatrical groups; what they do, the kind of pressures they fold to and  the possible damage they do to the Taino movement.   There are also disagreements  regarding the reorganization of the Nation; tribes, organizations and incorporations, as well as what seems to be a reaction to traditional dress,  tribal status and the inevitable personality conflicts.  Following are the arguments, as I have gathered from different conversations, against these issues, folks and their behavior.  Some of the comments may be verbatim, but most are the objections as I understand them.

On one hand…

Theatrical groups are portraying the Taino as they were 500 years ago, effectively freezing us in time and space.  The Taino of today is not being recognized nor are these performances providing for the growth and change of the people.  They are not representing the people as we are presently.  We are much more complicated than our ancestors 500 years ago, we live in a bigger world and are exposed to different cultures and ideas.

These groups also encourage stereotyping by wearing horse hair wigs, dyed pitch black and kept straight, effectively pigeonholing ideas of what an “authentic” Taino Indian looks like instead of celebrating the variety provided us throughout the Taino diaspora.  “It agrees with the extinction myth by forcing others to succumb to the staged lifestyle of a ‘Real Indian’, it also implies a lifestyle that we do not follow as indigenous people in the here and now”.

To emphasize this stereotyping, a story was shared where a Dine child was to give a report on culture and when it was suggested he speak with the Grandmother the child responded “Grandma is not Indian, she doesn’t wear feathers!” or something to that effect.  This shows that even Indian children are confused by these stereotypes and don’t know what it is to be indigenous!

The costumes these people call “regalia” barely covers their bodies so they walk around half-naked.  The  bits of cloth they wear are so scant that the group ends up entertaining, not teaching. The spectators comments inevitably focus on the lack of clothing, and these comments can get nasty.  The bit of cloth that is supposed to be regalia, which is always white or beige, cotton or muslin,  is decorated with Taino petroglyphs, which they wear without even knowing what these stand for.

And those who make outfits that are decent, promote stereotypical behavior;  ie. everything  an Indian does is done from the spirit, and thus is sacred; if you are making anything, especially regalia, it’s sacred and should be honored as  such; all that we make should follow the norm of the day 500 years ago: materials available, appropriate colors, feathers and seashells, etc.

These groups cheapen us by dressing up for tourists and putting on a dog and pony show for non-natives.  By these actions they are wasting time trying to prove they are native, when they should  be focusing instead on developing our language, spirituality, music, history, art and philosophy.

The movement is full of self proclaimed leaders that grab titles like “Cacike” or “Bujiti” with absolutely “no right” to do so.  As well as exploiting the Taino image to make money in post cards, t shirts and commercial sales.

We, as a people, should be more socially focused and not have to wait around for self appointed Cacikes to do something about environmental, cultural, political and other Caribbean activism issues.

And the saddest comment, to me, has been the accusation of misappropriation of North American native practices, like those of the “poor Lakota who always get misappropriated”.

On the other hand…

Stereotypes

There are many points these folk bring up that need serious consideration and the most important, in my opinion, is the impropriety of stereotypes.  We are a multicultural amalgamation and thus among us you will find all colors of hair and eyes.  Our pigmentation runs the gamut between black as coal and white as the driven snow.  I myself, glow in the dark, while my sibling’s skin (same parents) is much darker.  Although there are some who fit the stereotypical Taino Indian “look”, some of us don’t and the propagation of the idea that we are supposed to look a particular way, always speak gently, and think and behave reverently, does incalculable damage. It’s an incredibly unrealistic image and it sets ourselves and our children up for eventual failure.

I cannot defend the use of wigs.  We are red headed, brunette and blonde; straight, wavy and nappy; and every combination in between.  I cannot defend the use of bronzer to darken the skin.  Again we come in all colors!  I cannot defend the practice of placing the stereotypical looking folk in the front for all to see while hiding the “red-headed stepchild” in the back. It echoes the old Puertorican attitude of strutting the socially preferred skin color while hiding grandma in the kitchen.  “Y tu abuela, ¿dónde está?”

And above all, I cannot defend stereotyping behavior.

My feelings on the stereotyping of behavior is that it can lead to deep,  spiritual and emotional damage.  It attacks the person’s very essence to have to fit into a standardized mold of who, what, how and why one is supposed to be.  How destructive is it to our self-respect to attempt to stuff ourselves into the limited confines of a made up identity, and start spewing platitudes because this is the way we’ve been typecast?  It skews our ability to live an authentic life and, to me, there can be no worse damage than that!  Again, I ask, isn’t this one of the things that the Taino Resurgence is supposed to be opposing?  We are Indian already without having to fit into a preconceived notion of what characteristics that identity should possess.

Just as realistic as us being all colors, we have to accept that we also have all kinds of people… from those who have grown up surrounded by books to those who may not be able to read very well.  We have kind and loving people who speak gently and we have others who find nothing good to say about anything.  We have people who work hard and those who hardly work, there are folks who have dedicated their lives to Spirit and others who don’t bother with a prayer except when they find themselves in a bind.  This sounds like your average human being, donnit?  You know why?   Because the Taino today is no different from any other human being walking this planet and is subject to the same faults and virtues.  To expect something different, to pretend something different, is unauthentic.

And as for the Dine child, I wonder who was teaching this child about themselves and where they came from?  It sounds like much of his learning was coming from the media.  If that is the case, he’s got a lot of misconceptions to unlearn, not only about Indian cultures, but about life in general!  If the child was from a traditional family, he would have seen them do  ceremony, been taught the significance of feathers and how they are used.  If the child came from a non-traditional family, I can see how he would interpret the grandmother’s lack of feathers, but I still have to ask; did no one bother to teach this child anything about his heritage and the varieties that can be found therein?  No, Indians don’t wear feathers all the time and there are some who don’t wear them at all, but they are still Indian.  In this case I would fault not the media for selling a stereotype, that is its function.  I question those responsible for teaching that child.  They are the one’s not doing their job.  This is a sad example of neglect and not faulty theatrical presentations.  The world will not give our children truth.  Our children will run into lies time and again, isn’t that part of what this Resurgence is all about?  The truth of  our heritage, blood, customs, and spiritual and cultural variety will only come from the child’s family, not the media.

Performances and Identity

Regarding the opinions on presentations, I found them somewhat hollow, especially since those complaining about the “dog and pony” show were willing to put one on themselves for the right company; namely academia and public events organized by non-Indians.  I see no difference between dressing in regalia to put on a show for non-natives and tourists and dressing up for “parades, colleges and each other”; it all amounts to the same thing!  A show is a show is a show; one reason to give a show is not better than another.  Unless you are dressing up to walk around in your basement all alone, you are still doing it to be seen.  Besides, part of the Resurgence is a re-education of all of society to our presence.  Some of the lost ones out in the diaspora are coming home as tourists, mixed with other cultures and believing they are non-natives.  These events reach a lot of people and a “dog and pony” show may be just the event that wakes in them the desire to seek out their heritage!

The movies Dances with Wolves, Dreamkeeper, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, The Trail of Tears and Apocalypto are films that most of us have seen.  We realize they are an interpretation of history- a story.  Some of the actors in these films, also acted in movies that portray modern native life: Smoke Signals, Dance Me Outside, Powwow Highway and Edge of America among others.  Although these movies show modern native people and present issues,  they do not portray all native people today.  This goes back to the matter of stereotyping.  Although we do not want to support stereotypes the truth is, they are out there already and, like any other stereotype, they do have some base in reality.  Are the  powwows held presently promoting stereotypes?  the sweat lodges?  the Native American trading posts? Native American Artists?

I find it utterly absurd that our spirits can move us to support Inter-tribal dog and pony shows, while we take our own nation’s dog and pony to the sausage factory.

Another point we may consider is the attention these “dog and pony”  shows have brought to the conqueror’s version of history.  The people out there who are open minded and inclined to thinking, both native and non-native, then question the information they have grown up on.  Granted, you will have your fair share of ignorant gawkers, those are everywhere, even academia.  Something is bound to stick!

Putting that aside, these folks are out there doing something that reaches out to others.  I think it takes a set a brass ones to get up in front of a group of people who have been brainwashed into believing our nonexistence.  To stand before people who jeer at you and make you feel less than takes a  strong sense of self.  Those performers are being of service to the movement in their own way.  We are not all scholars, philosophers and craftsmen.  If we can teach the Taino is still alive while entertaining, why not?  This is a teaching technique used by professional educators.  Personally, I admire those who get out there and do something, take action; those that have the gumption to risk embarrassment and offer SOMETHING as opposed to sitting back and verbally tearing others apart from their living room couches.  Criticism is too easy a sport.

It was suggested that we portray the Taino as we are “in the here and now”  This idea is positive and will definitely educate all to our inherent variety.  However, I see  a huge  limitation with this idea, namely  the fact that the Taino in the here and now don’t know themselves to be Taino!    Consider the amount of people who go to Caribbean fairs, festivals and parades.  With this in mind, consider how many of them have been through the public school system and “KNOW” that the Taino are extinct?  The mayohuacan has been replaced by congas, bongos and pleneros, the Taino dances have been replaced with salsa and merengue, the nudity and naguas have been replaced with jeans and guayaberas, the shamanic religion has been replaced with Judeo/Christian/Islamic/Yoruban syncretism and the Taino have been replaced with Hispanic Africans and Spaniards!  This is what the Taino are in the here and now: Puertorican, Newyorican, Cuban, Dominican, Caribbean… and anything other than Taino!

The 2000 US Census shows that there are almost 300,000,000 Hispanic/Latino in the country of which little over 3,000,000 are Puertorican and 1,000,000 are Cuban.  How many of these people identify as indigenous?  With 1.6% of the Hispanic population identifying themselves clearly as being from Caribbean origin, how many of them compose the .9% of the US American Indian population?  Keep in mind that the US census is based on self-identification, not legal status.  I may be a little lost here, but I have yet to see 3 million self identifying Indians in one place.  Just as an interesting aside, not even the native population in all of Alaska adds up to 3 million people.  However, if you add the Puerto Rican, Cuban and all the Caribbean people who identified as “Other” you will find that the Caribbean Native American is the largest indigenous group out there.  Wanna go further?  If you add the 21,000,000 Mexican mestizos, the Spanish conquered Native American population  is the largest Nation in the US.  This leads me to believe that, more than anything, we need to reach out and educate our people.  Only then will we have enough folks to work on our language, arts, philosophy and so on.

As for keeping the Taino frozen in time, the fact is that we have been frozen in time.  We have not had the opportunity to evolve as a people, in any of the social areas.  I agree that we need to work on our  culture, however, to expect to skip 500 years of evolution and grow a society out of a vacuum is utterly ridiculous; we have to start somewhere!  It only makes sense to pick up where we left off, use what we know is ours and go forward from there.  We have lost a lot of what is our own,  but we can fill in the blanks with what is similar, blend what we know based on history and indigenous kinship or just create something new using the additional cultures that we have blended into the Taino!  It’s ours to do so!  But we have to start somewhere and, more often than not, the best place to start is at the beginning.

“My heritage and culture cultivates the reflections of who I am.  By cultivating my heritage, I must start from the beginning…the finished work takes a spirituality brought together by culture and understanding of who I am.”

~June Cree Medicine LaDue

Regalia

The critique on the people’s choice of dress reflects the morality of the conqueror’s Judeo/Christian/Islamic beliefs which focuses on the shame and punishment of the body and it’s carnal needs.

“Before the coming of the Christians the men wore no covering for their organs of shame…” ~Fernandez de Oviedo, Cronica del Las Indias ~

This has influenced almost all indigenous societies of the Americas and because of this,  the countries and communities we live in find nudity offensive.  However, the Taino people had no qualms regarding the naked body and, according to Columbus’ logs, were naked upon their arrival.  Looking at our cousins in South America you will find them living life as they did for thousands of years… granted, some have modern effects, but by and large, they are still not worried about nudity.

This having been said, the regalia is something that, to date has no consensus.  At this point in time we are still recreating our society and pretty much anything thrown together by a person who calls themselves Caribbean Indian can be considered an appropriate representation of the regalia of that Nation.   We don’t have rules and regulations with regards to this and anyone that pretends to be an authority in the matter is pulling the muslin over your eyes.  If you want to be historically accurate you will have to walk around in loincloths or in the nude!

“The married women, or the women who had had sexual relations with men, wear a kind of nagua (skirt) wound around their bodies from the waist to the middle of the thigh: the virgins wore nothing at all…” ~Fernandez de Oviedo, Cronica de Las Indias

Presently, we are making an attempt to create this regalia.  This is a good thing, and still folks take the opportunity to make it a reason for contention.  There are opinions as to the materials, colors and designs to be used on the cloth and, as mentioned earlier, the style and cut it should have.  There are opinions as to the materials that should be used as adornment, how much is too much skin to show, whether or not that skin should be decorated and even what colors it should be decorated in!

Yes, we may want to use the shells and feathers available from our islands but what of those from the diaspora?  What of those who were not born on the islands or haven’t lived there for a long time?  What of the experiences they have had, that have shaped who they are?  What of the mixes in their blood?  Yes we should honor our ancestors, but we need to honor our own being, too.  Any fashion or outfit is worn for either a purpose or an expression, and even those worn for a purpose is still tweaked to reflect the wearer!

Feathers and seashells, seeds and bones, beads, muslin, leather, rayon or polyester… Is the regalia cotton? Muslin?  It must be.  Are the feathers from indigenous birds? They must be.  Are the shells from our beaches, or at least the same kind of shells? They must be.  Are the seeds and the beads from indigenous plants? They must be.   Are the designs recognizably Taino?  They must be, they must be, they must be!

Must, even should, are such a strong words!

In my own view, I don’t believe the Taino from 500 years ago, living today, would limit themselves to muslin,  two or three colors of paint and seeds or wooden beads.  The Taino exchanged with our cousins across the Caribbean and learned from other people.  And later on we mixed more than just blood with the Europeans and the Africans .  This too,  needs to be acknowledged.  Exchange comes from connections with other cultures and this flexibility is inherent in our blood, it was the very basis of our survival.  We changed and adapted and we survived.  We can connect with our past by bringing it to the present and with this celebrate our presence!  We would, by no means be the only Nation to do this.

A quick example can be found at any pow wow, look at the dancers.  Study their regalia and you will find that the materials they use  now are not what was available to their ancestors 500 years ago.  Examine it closely and  you’ll find luxury, incredible creativity and an eye focused on beauty, not necessarily the past.  The most opulent outfits are those heavily laden with bead work.  You’ll find designs inspired by either tradition, personality or religion, made in size 16 Czech glass beads,  cut to sparkle and exquisitely worked.  Authentic bead work, although worth every inch,  is an expensive  ornamentation and those who find a good beader and work out a deal, will usually incorporate the same beaded design from head to heel.   Men and women’s regalia machine sewn by expert semstresses made from yards of rayon, gabardine and polyester blend cloths in all colors, including metallic; decorated with miles of yarn and ribbons, sequins and glass, hand painted feathers, metal bells, playing card suit and christian designs- none of this was available 500 years ago.  Why insist on limiting ourselves today?

As for the cut and design and how much skin to show, I again come back to folks not being comfortable with nudity.  Personally, I am a woman of substance- in more ways than one- and I don’t feel quite comfortable having my substance jiggle all over the place.  In my younger (and more petite) days I would probably consider walking around in a bra and loincloth and I don’t begrudge the young women who do so today.  I do, however,  agree with moderation and drawing the line at a certain point.  A particular example that comes to mind is the loincloth.  A loincloth is a piece of cloth that goes between the legs and up over a tong tied around the waist which then creates flaps that hang over the front and back of the pelvic area, the loins.  I have had the experience of seeing a Taino man walking around with nothing but the flaps hanging from a tong- and naked underneath.  I was able to see him in all his Taino glory thanks to a warm, breezy day.  This, in my mind, pushes the boundaries of common sense.  We may be comfortable with nudity, but we must still consider that the society we live in does not.  Also, we may keep in mind that many Nations follow the religious beliefs of the conquerors, and in any native gathering, we may want to offer the same respect for their sensitivities as we would expect for our own.

Titles

Another concern that has been raised is people taking a title: “Cacike” (cheif), “behike” (shaman), “bujiti” (medicine man), Elder, etc.  We all know that any group that has goals, visions for the future and a mission will need leadership. Cacike doesn’t mean smarter, or better than anyone else- that’s an ego reaction-  it only means leader. And if these cacike or spiritual leaders have a following who recognizes them as such, then they are!  Even if you are not part of the group who recognizes them so.   Questioning a person as to how they got this title or judging them without being from their social group is only a projection of one’s own insecurities.  Who gives anyone the “right” to a title?  The people following, that’s who.  There was also an argument that the cacike position was historically inherited and  although this is true, there are a lot of traditions that cannot be maintained and this just happens to be one of them.  A leader picks up the baton and runs with it- title or no title.  If people follow, that’s their leader, regardless of the label they choose to use.

The same goes for taking on historical native names like Agueybana, Anacaona, Caguax, Guarionex, Hatuey and any other illustrious Taino names; it seems to bring about a fierce ego reaction.  It was commented that these were family names and if you cannot prove family ties, how dare you take on the name.  I find this concept ludicrous.  None of our Caribbean or Hispanic communities have limited ourselves to familial ties to name our children.  Jose, Maria, Juan, Pedro, Felipe, Mateo, Tomas, Santiago, Simon, Matias or, the big one- Jesus!  We would be hard pressed to prove familial ties to the Divine Christian family or any of the 12 apostles…

This is a matter of ego reactions and becoming aware of our own.

Reality check: we live in a modern world, communicate via internet, drive everywhere, listen to CDs,  relax in ac, wear clothes made of plastics, eat BK and sip Cokes.  We have a 500 year historical gap of physical and mental genocide, personal and spiritual oppression; we have brothers and sisters spread throughout the world that need to be given the information of their ancestry and the opportunity to embrace it.  With all there is to do in the Resurgence, why are we wasting time bickering over trivial matters?  Instead of engendering hostility against each other we could redirect all that energy and passion into nurturing each other to actualization.

Social Focus

No social reform will come without the work, attention and dedication of activists, people who are ready and willing to make the “fight” a large part of their lives.  These folks bring about dynamic changes to society and culture,  they bring awareness to issues, educate the community to new perspectives and put that understanding into practice.  Besides re-educating the world, we want to bring recognition to our people, we want to revive and refine our culture, educate our own into what we have that is ours, we want to save, preserve and nurture the environment, we want to grow as a people.  Let’s face it, we have a lot of catching up to do!

Society is made up of different people, personalities and needs.  Some of us tend to be scholars while others tend to be more  artistically creative, some are linguists and others have more of an attraction to the spiritual; some just enjoy  cooking, creating family and sharing.  Some dance, some sing and some play musical instruments.  We do not all have the same wants, needs or desires.  We do not need to be homogenized to be a viable community.

When it comes to activism, we will not all want to participate wholeheartedly nor will we have the same passion for the same causes, and this is the truth in any society.  Although the support of the community is imperative to reform, ultimately, it is the activists who are the juggernaut of change.

The suffragists brought benefits to all women, but not all women were suffragists.  The Civil Rights movement has benefited all Americans and yet not all Americans at the time were involved and although the US constitution was based on freedom of religion, Native Americans were not afforded that right until 1978- just the other day.  All these changes could have never occurred if it weren’t for those deeply dedicated to bring them about.

Not everyone has that fire in them and not everyone should be compelled to.  A wise man mentioned that we cannot assume perfection from those in leadership positions.  We cannot impose our concepts and values upon them and expect them to be met.  We are setting ourselves up for disappointment when we do this.  Instead, we can be there, voice our opinion and if others don’t move, then we have a choice.   In other words, if your Cacike is not taking action on an issue you are concerned about, then maybe you should bring it up in council, ask it be made a priority, volunteer to get the ball rolling.  And if your spirit burns hot for this cause and the tribe is not moving, then you can take it upon yourself to do something about it.  Someone else’s inability does not mean we must stand still. But if you do take on the responsibility, do so out of the desire of your heart and don’t debase it by putting others down and making yourself out to be a martyr; by doing so you corrupt the good work you’ve done, dishonored the group you belong to and show yourself as a person who needs to criticize and complain.

Spiritual Misappropriation

This is the topic that most disturbs me.  I am one of those with a spiritual bent and have spent most, if not all, of my adult life learning about spirituality and finding ways to put it into practice.

In my search I have studied and learned from spiritual leaders from different Nations.  I have found that there are more similarities among native religious beliefs than differences.  The colors of the directions vary, but you still honor the four corners and you still honor the circle.  Some nations smoke from a Pipe and others roll it, but tobacco is still sacred.  Prayer, devotions and ceremony, sweat lodge, fasting and journeys, sacrifice, honoring our ancestors, Mother Earth, Father Sky, the inner work of the individual and the spiritual relationship building responsibilities… these are the common spiritual threads of our Nations.  The Lakota say it beautifully when they say “Mitakuye Oyasin”, All Our Relations- we all children of the Great Spirit.

I have expressed my feelings on this topic before, but I will recap here:  I don’t believe anyone has a cornerstone on the Creator.  I don’t believe that you have to be of a certain race or ethnicity to worship or follow a spiritual practice.  I don’t believe that Native practices are exclusive to Nations.  And I don’t believe anyone can steal your spiritual devotion.  Yes, there are charlatans out there,  but no one can ruin our spirituality.  Have faith that the Sacred will take care of itself.

Self Awareness

The intriguing part of this whole discussion is that those most negatively vocal seem to be, either doing nothing, or benefiting of the very things they condemn in others, and therein lies the cultural dissonance I speak of.

These folks are active in the community and creative in most of the very same cultural aspects we are seeking to grow in.  But even they have realized, at some level, that we need to step back in time, or even “borrow” from sister cultures, to connect yesterday with today and fill the gaps in our knowledge.  There are some working to revive our language, which has only survived in fragments, but is being brought to life  by the use of similar language syntax from family languages.  Other folk are crafty and draw, paint, sculpt and make jewelry, and yet many of the designs they use are ancient or the images they portray depict our people as they were in the past in color, dress and features.  The very stereotypes they argue against! And other folk balk at some people’s use of an ancient title, like Cacike, but bow respectfully to the words of  a Taino Elder recognized as a Lakota Pipe Carrier, both titles given by another Nation.

These conflicts all reflect a devaluing of the recognition and choices made by the Taino people.

We need to realize that the very Taino Resurgence Movement is a reaching out to the past and any connection made is a bridge to today.  The trampling of these immature links to the past only slows down the progress of the movement and this is counterproductive.

We all have the same goals, mainly to grow a healthy, happy, viable Taino Nation that is fulfilling it’s potential as a people.  We want to see our growth in language and the arts, philosophy and spirituality.  We want our children to know where they came from and encourage them to take pride in themselves, grab the cultural ball and run with it.  We want recognition from the world, native and non-native alike; we have been invisible too long.  But most of all, we want to create a united Taino Nation.

However, our behavior reflects anything other than unity.  Instead of nurturing growth we berate each other.  Instead of encouraging others and pointing out what is working we are hemming and hawing on how whatever is being done is wrong and devaluing the efforts those people put into it.  There is no thriving under oppression, our history teaches that.

When this was mentioned, the attitude taken was one of defensiveness stating that differences need to be aired out and discussed.  I agree that open minded exchange is healthy and creates the opportunity to build community; however, this backfires when the dialogue is taken as a chance to judge, criticize and argue.  We must enter into this dialogue suspending our own disbelief, open, willing to listen and see the possibilities of the other’s point of view.  Instead, we  enter into dialogue with an agenda, namely to convince “them” to change their ways.  The respect, open mindedness and goodwill all take second place to the mission of “being right”.

Resistance will engender resistance, attack will generate counter attack, disrespect will only bring about more of the same.  Entering into an open table discussion with an open heart and an open mind requires letting go of our agenda, detaching from the outcome and allowing the space for things to unfold.  Amazing things happen when you allow.

I recently read a post from one of those most critical of some of the issues mentioned above.  She  reposted something she found on the net about Guatiao; what it was and what it meant to our Taino society.  Here are some quotes from that post that I found particularly  inviting:

The relationship of Guatiao is the core bond within NiTaino societies.

Guatiao is a social system based on love, valor, respect, and dignity; and not on greed or guacaciq, or power-lust.

Guatiao and similar systems are the normal, naturally occurring , and healthy social structure for our species. Anything else is a pathology.

I would encourage we keep this in mind when disagreeing with each other: love, valor, respect, and dignity.

Conclusion

What we do in spirit will always be enabled by Spirit.  When we are going the right way, we will find how things seem to fall into place of it’s own accord.  We just need to trust and allow ourselves to be guided.  In the meanwhile, we can consider how our behavior affects others, how our thoughts affect ourselves and how we project our fears and insecurities onto others.  Gandhi said that we needed to be the change we wanted to see in the world and by working on ourselves first, we take part in furthering our Nation’s development as social, philosophical, and spiritual beings.

The Taino have not been allowed self definition in centuries and as we seek one now, we will flounder.  But as we flounder we need to make sure not to impose our own definition on another.  The definitions of who and what a Taino is will be reflected in our children and their children, not us.  We are the ones to do the work on ourselves and the world, so they can grow without doubting themselves and focus on polishing our culture. The sense of entitlement, demands for explanations, put downs and coercions are destructive to the whole, no matter which side of the fence they are coming from, and this is not the pattern of behavior we want to instill.

Nature teaches us many things… As a gardener, one cannot criticize the plant for growing crooked, one cannot insult it into growing a certain way or demean it into becoming the plant we want it to be; the plant we know it could be if it only listened and followed instructions! As a gardener of people, the same applies. The best one can do is nurture and guide, at times even prune; but the plant, like a person, will still grow branches and knots where we may not appreciate them, and it will finally bear the fruit that it CAN produce, not necessarily the fruit we WANT it to produce. We can nurture an apple tree but can’t expect it to bear oranges.

In the meanwhile, we can keep the casualties of friendly fire to a minimum.  We can look forward together and work on those things that matter to us deeply, allowing those working on another project to do their own thing, especially if it is not a project you are willing to take over as well.

We have an incredible amount of work to do, let’s get to it.

(c)  December 2008,  Anita Pagan

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2 Responses

  1. Good day Anita,

    I have taken the time to read the words you have taken the time to write.

    I thank you, I agree with your words.

    Respectfully,

    Tommy Barrios

  2. Thank you for your passage Nanu. I have taken the time to read every bit of it. I will write again and comment you . let me absorb it a bit more and I will share my thoughts.

    Peace
    Guaraguaorix

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