The following is an excerpt from the book “Understanding The Connections Between Black & Aboriginal Peoples: The Links Between African-American, Black , Native American and Indigenous Cultures”
….For a second I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had just passed the slogan “Roots, Rock, Reggae” spray-painted on a huge boulder, yet I wasn’t in Jamaica or any of the better-known reggae strongholds. I was in the Grand Canyon about to enter the most isolated aboriginal reservation in the United States. After a long journey I realized that I was suddenly very close to meeting what has been described as one of the most intriguing set of reggae fans in the world: the Havasupai Indians.
….Flipping through the pages of a Reggae Beat magazine, I had come across an article reporting on the first reggae concert held on the Supai reservation. The reaction of the residents, the Havasupai, to reggae was depicted in such overwhelmingly enthusiastic terms that I wanted to find out more than what was in this brief article and to see for myself if these reggae fans were indeed a reality.
….A few months later I arrived in Phoenix, Arizona and then took a bus to Kingman. I was immediately provided with an insight into the racial climate of Arizona (a state which at one time fought against having a day to honor Martin Luther Kings birthday). Shortly after my bus pulled into the town an elderly aboriginal man stopped me at the door of the bus station and asked me for some money for food. As I gave him some change a burly white man charged out of a Salvation Army office and started screaming at me for giving the old man money. I told him to chill out and continued on my way.
….As I stepped on the famous Route 66 highway, white state troopers pulled up, roughly threw me up against a wall and told me in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t welcome there.
….I managed to get to a shopping center where I was told Hualapi Indians came to shop and therefore existed the chance of a ride.
….After several hours without seeing any possibilities of a lift, I was very surprised to see the same old man I had given money to, appear on the scene. He offered to find a ride for me. Sure enough fifteen minutes later the two of us were riding in the back of an open pick up truck. After fifty-five miles of traveling through a torrential rainstorm while being pelted by hailstones the size of golf balls, we both got off at Hualapi reservation located at Peach Springs.
….It was very a tiny reserve containing a restaurant, a gas station and general store. The man who had gotten me the ride told I could spend the night at his house, a small bare wooden shack on the reserve.
….In an attempt to dry off I went for a walk. After a while I thought I heard the sounds of the reggae group Black Uhuru, somewhere in the distance, but I couldn’t be certain. As I turned the corner, I realized their distinctive sound was indeed booming in front of the general store. A scene reminiscence of what I had often witnessed in Jamaica was happening. A group of Hualapi Indian youth garbed in a colourful variety of reggae paraphernalia were skanking with wild abandon to the reggae music.
….As I came closer someone spotted me and the group all turned around to check out the person with dreadlocked hair coming towards them. At first they were cool and aloof. But after someone asked me where I was from, the ice broke and I was literally mobbed by people who wanted to touch my dreadlocks and welcome me there.
….The next morning my host arranged for me to be taken to a point where all cars going to Supai would have to pass. When I was dropped off, I found myself in the middle of a vast arid but breathtaking Arizona landscape complete with blowing tumbleweeds. I waited for the greater part of a day here and just as I was getting worried about being stranded; a car pulled up and gave me a ride to the Hualapi hilltop, which was the entry point to the Havasupai reservation.
….The hilltop was completely deserted and the only thing I could hear was the sound of the wind blowing fiercely. In front of me was a spectacular view of the Grand Canyon with all of its copper coloured rock formations. As I looked around I noticed some of the ochre coloured boulders on the hilltop had Bob Marley song titles spray painted on them!!
….The serenity of the mountaintop was broken by the sound of the movements of a mule. Sitting astride the mule was a Havasupai youth wearing a red headband, a Bob Marley T-shirt, red, gold, and green armbands and a variety of reggae buttons pinned to his jean jacket. He greeted me with the words “Irie” a common greeting in Jamaica. He offered to take me on the fourteen-mile journey to the bottom of the Grand Canyon where Supai was located.
….I climbed on the mule behind him and popped a cassette of reggae dub music into the portable tape player he was carrying. The heavy drum and bass sounded stupendous as it bounced off the walls of the Grand Canyon. Every other second it seemed like the mule was about to plunge off the very narrow and precipitous trail. However it quickly became apparent that the mule was well acquainted with the twists and turns of the trail, so I decided to just enjoy the beautiful scenery and the accompanying dub soundtrack.
….After a few hours of riding we arrived at the bottom of the Grand Canyon and entered Supai. It’s lush green fields and small houses lined up along the pathways reminded me of rural Jamaica. The sound of a waterfall could be heard in the distance and people were hanging about or traveling around on horseback. As I made my way through the village practically every house I passed had some kind of reggae music coming from it and several Havasupai walked around with boom boxes that were blasting reggae.
….Supai was so isolated that some food supplies had to be flown in by government helicopters. When I entered the community general store I was really struck by how much of the supplies brought in was junk food! Later on a nurse in the community told me that obesity and diabetes had become a major health problem with aboriginal people in the region. This problem had become prevalent when the government started shipping in cheaply priced junk food, which had displaced the traditional diet. I was reminded of a parallel example in Canada where on some reservations government subsides had made it cheaper to buy alcohol than to purchase milk!
….The Havasupai really made me feel welcome and I spent a lot of time conversing with a Havasupai reggae fan called Benjamin. Like most of the Havasupai that I met, Benjamin had listened to so much reggae from Jamaica that he spoke Jamaican patois. Another common practice in Supai was people to quote reggae lyrics in order to make a point! Benjamin as a result of listening to reggae had become a Rastafarian. He explained how the Havasupai loved the Rastafarian colours red, gold and green because for them red stood for the people; the earth and the red canyon walls; green represented the trees; and gold the sun. Benjamin told me that Bob Marley had been the first reggae artist to be heard in Supai.
One story told was that some aboriginal people from California were listening to Bob Marley’s Positive Vibrations album on the Havasupai hilltop and gave a copy to a Havasupai who took it down to Supai. Supai’s residents made copies and it spread like wildfire! It was easy to tell that Bob Marley was the most popular reggae artist in Supai and his impact on the Havasupai is something that cannot be underestimated. One of the most amazing pieces of information that I learnt first hand by being in Supai was that Havasupai prophesies state that legendary resistance fighter Chief Crazy Horse would return in the form of a black man. The Havasupai believe that Bob Marley is the fulfillment of this prophesies!! As the Havasupai battle against destructive uranium mining on their territory, Bob Marley’s lyrics are often quoted as inspiration for their anti-mining struggle. For example on several occasions I heard people saying, “none but ourselves can free our minds” which is a verse from Marley’s Redemption Song. The affinity the Havasupai have for Marley’s song was perfectly illustrated by the following account that was told to me by Havasupai activist.
….”Bob Marley has been a very inspirational figure to the Havasuapi, to the young people to the little people to the older people. I walked into a room once where there was an eighty year old listening to Bob Marley singing and she was in tears.
….The music was Redemption Song. I said, “What’s the matter?” and she said, “I like the words here. It reminds me of the prayers of the old people -the way they used to pray. It reaches down into the soul -the spiritual soul -way down in there.” I said to her “I’m glad you are crying because I feel the same way every time I hear it.”
….Many Havasupai relate to reggae lyrics because of the similarity of oppression faced by black and aboriginal people. One Havasupai reggae fan informed me “we feel really close with the music of reggae because we are struggling and striving as much as the black people who have been afflicted by the governments that have taken over their homelands. I feel that the same afflictions and prejudice that has happened to black people have happened to the American Indian people. Reggae music brings our people, the black and American Indian people together.” Misuse of the land is a common concern among the Havasuapi and reggae lyrics. Jamaican dub poet Mutaburuaka has stated black and aboriginal people have similar problems and this “is because of the land which was taken away from both sets of people. You’ll find the lyrics necessarily catch on because the sentiment there is the same. The quest for control, for ownership of the land, the quest to be free in your own place, to be able to control your own destiny and environment.”
….On his album, The Mystery Unfolds, Mutaburuaka notes in America, “The true owners of your nation are forced to live on a reservation.” When Jamaican artists Michigan and Smiley performed on the nearby Hopi reservation the audience responded enthusiastically when they changed the words of their song “black awareness” and instead sang:
‘ There was a time in Indian history there was no slavery or brutality No sadness and no misery no confusion no sick mentalitythe time has come for every Indian to know himself and fight against downpression. We call it Indian awareness.’
….Freddie McGregor also played at that gig which was held on June 6, 1984. It was the first reggae concert to be held on a Hopi reserve. In an interview with Hein Marais he remarked “The first feeling I got was that they were very similar to Jamaicans in their mood and vibes. What I have learnt is that they share the same struggle that we are going through and that’s what makes them very close to us”.
….While I was in Supai one of the things that really caught my attention was the large number of Havasupai who had a deep appreciation for the experimental dub music of Rastafarian, Augustus Pablo. Most of the Havasupai I spoke with told me what drew them to his music was “the very spiritual vibe” they felt that was coming from his music.
….When I arrived in Jamaica one of the first things I did was to contact Augustus Pablo. The legendary musician is known as a very reclusive figure. I had first become acquainted with him when we collaborated on a project in support of indigenous rights. Knowing Augustus as deeply spiritual person who was very supportive of the struggles of aboriginal peoples I was eager to tell him about my experience in Supai.
….Later, I met up with Augustus at his home where he was reasoning (Jamaican slang meaning to philosophize and to discuss), with another Rastafarianelder Cudjoe. Augustus was very happy to hear that the Havasupai had tapped into the spiritual
feeling of his compositions since that was the key to his music. As we were discussing the Havasupai the elder told me a story that put Bob Marley’s relationship with aboriginal people in a new light. Very few people know that Bob Marley arranged for one of the great grandsons of the famed aboriginal resistance leader Chief Joesph to come to Jamaica to reason with Rastafarian elders. Chief Joesph’s great grandsons stayed at Cudjoe’s house.
….Cudjoe recounted how one night his guest woke up and stated he was unable to sleep and that he had felt the spirits of his ancestors who were crying out for a proper burial. I decided to do some research on the existence of aboriginal peoples from Turtle Island being present in Jamaica. What I discovered looking through archival documents was the fact aboriginal people from Turtle Island had actually been sold into slavery in Jamaica! In particular after the Pequot English war in New England, many aboriginal prisoners were enslaved and sold in the West Indies. From 1670 onwards the British in South Carolina regularly engaged in the slave trade, sending tens of thousands of aboriginal people to the West Indies and other markets. It had been documented that in 1674 a group of Cherokees was sent to Jamaica and in 1693 a Cherokee delegation at Charleston unsuccessfully requested the return of their relatives who had been taken to Jamaica.
….Cudjoe’s account had led me to information about the presence of aboriginal people from Turtle Island, which was simply unavailable to the general public especially since most information on slavery is focused on the African slave trade.
….While I was in Jamaica I had a conversation with a Blakk Indian artist Colin F. who was of African and Carib Indian ancestry. One of the topics we discussed was the total lack of reference to the original inhabitants of Jamaica, the Arawak Indians. Typically in Jamaican schools the only reference made to the Arawarks is they existed in Jamaica till the arrival of the Spanish colonialists who wiped them out. Afterwards African slaves were brought in to replace the exterminated Arawaks, is the history taught in schools. The implication being that Africans and Arawaks had no contact with one another. Yet I spoke with some archaeologists working with a historical institute in Jamaica who had made what they described as a landmark discovery, which contradicted this theory. These archaeologists had found a Maroon (run away African Slaves) village way in the hills of central Jamaica.
In this village they had found Arawak pottery but they also used the term ‘syncretic’ to describe the pottery, meaning it was a synthesis of two cultures; Arawak and Maroon. The pottery they found indicated that the Arawaks and the Maroons had lived together and influenced each other to the degree that they had created a new form of pottery. They also found in a cave three Arawaks spiritual masks and one of these masks had African features on it. Evidently there was a greater degree of intermarriage and cultural exchange that we had ever been led to believe. One of the probabilities that this points to is that there is also a number of Jamaicans who have both African and Arawak Indian blood.
….To understand the significance of the original aboriginal inhabitants of Jamaica I spoke to Afua Cooper a Jamaican dub poet, and historian.
….In 1985 on the cassette, Poetry Is Not Luxury, Afua Cooper in her piece “Christopher Columbus” for the first time in recorded Jamaican music described in great detail the genocide inflicted on the aboriginal inhabitants in the Caribbean. Afua felt it made sense that some Arawaks had escaped into the mountains and had shown fugitive African slaves the way to elude the Spanish and to survive on the island. It was Afua’s contention that in the Eastern Caribbean there was a greater awareness of the Carib presence. She had met a lot of artists from the Eastern Caribbean such as dub poet Ras Mo, who were of both African and Carib ancestry and who publicly acknowledged this. Trinidadian musician Brother Resistance is known for one of his compositions, which is highly critical of Christopher Columbus. When I spoke with him he told me it’s important that people become aware of the Holucaust that happened to Native people” unfortunately at this moment the media image of John Wayne and cowboys and Indian movies is what dominates people’s imagination.” Afua felt that it is very significant that when Africans got their freedom on Hispaniola, they renamed it Haiti, which is an Arawak name. They didn’t call their new republic “Little Africa” or “New Congo” they called it Haiti in recognition of the first owners of the land.
….Afua Cooper in the foreword to her poetry book “Memories Have Tongues” wrote that she believed the mythologies of the Arawaks “went underground and later resurface in the words of the present people inhabiting the island”. One of her poems is about the Arawak goddess Atabeyra. Referring to this Afua told me that: “I don’t think I can speak of the history of the Caribbean without making reference to the original inhabitants, who in the case of Jamaica were Arawak people. For me, as an individual who has, a deep sense of history and place acknowledging and recognizing these people who were in these places before the African presence is vital. Black peoples history did not begin with slavery, but slavery was such a crucial point in our history that we keep referring back to it. At the same time the history of Jamaica didn’t begin with Black and European people coming into the island there was a history prior to that.”
….Jamaican dub poet Binta Breeze of Arawak Indian ancestry, very eloquently provides us with some lessons and insights into the position of aboriginal people as caretakers of the land and how that position has been disrespected over the course of history. “On any land that makes up this planet called Earth, there were people that were put there by the Creator and who by the very fact that they were the first people of the land share an understanding of that land, how to tread on that land, how to live on that land without destroying it. How to love that land as something given to one to take care of. So I think that whoever we are, where ever we come from, when we are on somebody’s land, we want to make contact in an extremely humble way with the Native people that the Creator has blessed with the knowledge of that land. Part of our problem is that often when we go onto other people’s land we walk with such arrogance. Sometimes we bring with us a mentality that says because we have certain things we have more power and we misinterpret the humility of the people who know and love that land”.
….Wilson Harris a Black writer from Guyana makes constant references to aboriginal cultures like the Mayan, Aztecs and Arawaks. Guyana was the site of revolt in 1687 where African and Arawak Indians revolted against occupying colonialists. His book “Palace of the Peacocks” set in Guyana has Blakk Indian characters.
….He is another key figure who in his writing has sought to give recognition to the original aboriginal inhabitants of the Caribbean and South America and their subsequent impact on the region. In “Hougan and Shaman” he writes:
….”Now one knows that the New World has written into it many unlawful and alien elements. The very ground beneath us had been stolen. I think that’s why Proudhon wrote his book Property Is Theft. Wherever one looks, we know the land was stolen either from the American Indian, who were decimated and thrust off this land, or stolen from Mexico or whatever. So there are unlawful elements written into our society at the base of our civilization.”
….In his poem “Ohtokin” Oku in recognition of the continued injustice faced by aboriginal people emphatically states, “that there can be no justice on stolen land!”
….Throughout the Caribbean there exists an educational system which is still propagating a colonialist view of history that negates the presence and contribution of both African and aboriginal people.
….Radical people in this region fighting to counteract this have focused most of their energy in reclaiming the African side of their heritage. The lack of knowledge about their aboriginal heritage has affected people’s perception of themselves in countries like Jamaica where people will tend to think of their identity in terms of only their African ancestry instead of being looking at the real possibility that they have a Blakk Indian heritage.
….Until there are more writers and educators like Wilson Harris and Afua Cooper making Caribbean people more conscious of their aboriginal roots it will always be difficult to accurately assess Blakk Indian history and identity in the Caribbean.
Additional Source: Fire This Time