Ruins of Absence, Presence of Caribs
(Post)Colonial Representations of Aboriginality in Trinidad and Tobago

Maximilian C. Forte

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"A fine-grained case study of the historical and contemporary construction and reinterpretation of Carib traditions in one community in Trinidad, and an important contribution to the study of
indigenous identity politics. The linkages between theory and ethnography and between past and present identity formations are admirably developed."--Beth A. Conklin, Vanderbilt University

This study of a contemporary indigenous culture documents the vitality of a number of self-constructed "indigenous" Carib communities in the postcolonial Caribbean. These small groups, which have asserted their presence through folklore, tradition, and ceremony, have received recognition and support from the state, attention from national media, and a privileged place in historical discussions of the figure of the "Carib."

The Caribbean is typically thought of as having no precolonial survivors. Maximilian Forte demonstrates that this is not the case. He convincingly argues that an indigenous presence has persisted in Trinidad and Tobago--as an actual demographic presence and a symbolic force--since the colonial period. Focusing on the Santa Rosa Carib Community in Arima, Trinidad, he explores how "Carib" has come into being as a meaningful category in Trinidad, how it has been challenged and reengineered, and how it affects the relationship between colonial political economy and modern identity formation. He also explores two previous resurgences of Amerindian community and identity in Trinidad, in the 1820s and again in the 1870s to the 1920s.

Balanced between history and contemporary ethnography, this book ranges from the analysis of the forces of globalization to the performance of local rituals. By tracing notions and labels--Carib, Arawak, Indian--through time, Forte shows how indigeneity is deeply enmeshed in historical processes and has deliberately been constructed from the time of the first encounters between Europeans and Trinidad's native peoples up to the present. He maintains that the social position of "Indian" is created by various agents, including culture brokers or intermediaries, as well as by institutions such as the church and by organs of the state. Using the individual biographies of activists in Arima, where he conducted fieldwork for nearly four years, Forte also shows how intracultural diversity looks at the ground level. In addition, his historical analysis offers a fascinating commentary on attitudes toward African, European, Asian, and Venezuelan peoples and heritages and on the flow of images and information between the Americas and the Caribbean.

Maximilian C. Forte is assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Concordia University.

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"Ruins of Absence sheds more light on this country's [Trinidad's] Amerindian history than any other work I have come across."
--The Caribbean Review of Books

"This is fascinating, well-researched, and properly historicized ethnography."
--New West Indian Guide

…a sustained political economy of indigeneity…
--Social Anthropology

…a deeply rewarding fieldwork study of the Caribs of Arima, carefully researched, well informed, and written with intelligence and sensitivity.
--Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

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