History of the people of Trinidad and Tobago
Capitalism and Slavery
From Columbus to Castro
A Brief History of the Caribbean
The Black Jacobins
Rituals of Power & Rebellion
The story of the Caribs and Arawaks
In those days the Spanish were very interested in the pearl fisheries at Margarita and Cubagua and they raided all around for slaves to work there. Girolamo Benzoni, an Italian like Columbus, participated in these raids as a young man and described them in his Historia del Mondo Nuovo (1555): "All along the coast, the Indians came down from the hills to the shore to fish. We therefore used to hide ourselves in places where we could not be seen. We often used to wait all day hoping to take prisoners. When the Indians arrived, we jumped out like wolves attacking so many lambs and made them slaves." --------(6)
Already Hispaniola was a wasteland, and the Spanish had turned their
attention to other places including Trinidad. That is why, when Antonio Sedeno tried to settle here, the chief named Baucunar felt obliged to gather together several tribes and give the Spanish a sound licking they would not forget for many years. Writing from Cubagua in 1534 Sedeno told the King of Spain that "No one here will now go to Trinidad which has become hateful to Spaniards." -------- (7)
Nevertheless, nobody was safe from the Spanish, nobody on this Pearl Coast except, for a while, those "friends of the Christians" who dwelt in Aruacay. So while it is true that none of the early chronoclers explain why the Lokono throughout the region began to call themselves "Aruacas" the answer seems to stare us in the face: it was a way of saying to the Spanish, we are the same tribe which feeds you, so give us a break. It had nothing to do with being 'peaceful'. Indeed, according to Antonio Vasques de Espinoza in 1620, "the tribe of the Aruaca Indians is among the most valiant in those parts; feared for their bravery by their neighbors and adjoining tribes." ------(8) And when Spanish gratitude for Lokono ;friendliness' wore thin Espinosa reported that: "for these and other well-grounded reasons they cancelled their fealty to the Spaniards, who had sad need of them; indignant over past abuses, they rebelled; and not a Spaniard dares enter their provinces, under risk of no less than loss of life."
Already, however, there had become fixed in Spanish eyes, two groups of 'peaceful' Indians: the dead Taino and the friendly Arawaks. Strangely enough, though, it took the genius of later centuries to equate the two and label the erstwhile inhabitants of the Greater Antilles 'Arawaks'. Briefly, in 1782 F.S. Gilij, a missionary, studied 39 languages of Venezuela. He identified nine language families including Cariban and Maipuran. Shortly after him another linguist, Von den Steinen, changed the classification 'Maipuran' to 'Arawakan' after realizing that the Lokono spoke a dialect of the Maipuran language tree. When Daniel Brinton in 1871 realized that the dialect of the Taino was also an offshoot of Arawakan, the matter was settled: those living in Guyana were henceforth "True Arawaks" and those in the Greater Antilles "Island Arawaks". But both were 'Arawaks'!
Why not? Aren't Frenchmen, Spaniards and Italians really quite alike and could be equated by their common Latin roots? Ah, but France, Spain and Italy have societies more or less similar in economy and in politics. The differences between the Lokono tribal clans and the Taino chiefdoms were vast, more akin to the differences between India and those other societies which speak dialects of Sanskrit, namely the Latins, the Slavs, the Rus-sians, the Celts and the Gauls. Could you say that an English-man is really an Island Indian?
Lokono | Aruacas | Caribs | Women | Wars and Slavery