Over the Years
Who are the Arawaks?
The Arawaks are a group of indigenous peoples of South America. In the Caribbean, they were historically known as the Taíno, a term meaning “good” or “noble”, that some islanders used to distinguish their group from the neighbouring Island – Caribs, who in contrast to their neighbours had a reputation of warriors. Arawak people had a beautiful culture. They were aware of a Divine presence whom they called ‘Yocahu’, and to worship and give thanks was a major part of their lives. They had a social order that provided them leaders and guidelines by which they all lived. They hunted, fished, cultivated crops and ate the abundant fruits provided by nature. They were clever and had everything they needed to survive. They had traditional ceremonies held at various times – birth, death, marriage, harvest, naming and coming of age, to name a few. They had special reverence for the Earth Mother ‘Atabey’ and had respect for all living things knowing that all living things are connected. There was little need for clothing due to the tropic heat, but upon reaching puberty both males and females would wear a small woven loincloth. Puberty was also the time at which they were considered old enough to be married. The population estimates for the Taino people at the height of their culture in 1492, are as high as 8,000,000.
Our story starts in 1492 with the arrival of Christopher Columbus and the beginning of the Spanish colonization. Our family had farmed cacao for over three hundred and fifty years, initially as day labours on the plantations of others and then on their own estate. Our grandmother and her parents were of Arawak and Peon descent from Arima and Sangre Grande in northeastern Trinidad. With the abolition of slavery in the eighteen century, our heritage was fortified with the arrival of the indentured labourers to work on land given by the colonial office. The disruption and misfortune caused by colonization were to continue through the French and in turn British colonization of the island. These were periods of great pain, struggle and the destruction of many Arawak families as the then political masters demanded more, both in terms of political power, and commodity-driven profit. In the 1890’s our great grandfather’s father bought more land and began to enlarge and develop our much-loved cacao estate. With the success that increased cacao cultivation, bought during the golden age of cacao, our family bought a townhouse in Arima alongside a country house on our Estate in Cumoto near Sangre Grande.
Our prosperity lasted for about forty years, but as cacao fell from grace with the impact of the great recession of 1929, our fortunes began to change. As family members inherited land, the large estate was broken up, leaving ourselves with a much smaller one. Our fortune was no longer favouring us, and the post-war economics saw the status of those farming cacao diminished.
By the nineteen fifties cacao production was in decline and the younger generation, our parents at the time were being called up to the old colonial home Britain to work in the jobs that no one wanted to do at the time. The cacao plantations were to suffer as our grandparents were left to fend for themselves. The strength of the Arawak’s in our family has been its women, and it is to this that we pay homage too and the last of those Arawak’s who have handed down the 2000-year-old family recipes of our products.
The Italian explorer, Christopher Columbus, who was acting as an agent for Spanish Monarchy, discovered the island of Trinidad in 1492. He was greeted warmly by the peaceful Arawak people who had never before seen white men or fully clothed people and considered this arrival as a heaver sent. Columbus’ intent was not so much Godly as tyrannical. He started setting about gold mines on the Caribbean islands and enslaving the indigenous people. When they were not able to supply enough gold they had to supply cotton or cane sugar and often their value came in the form of slave labour, where they would be shipped to Spain and sold. These ancient tribes were also vulnerable to European diseases, to which they had built up no defence against. By the end of the 16th century, the Taino/Arawak people were eradicated, yet after DNA studies were carried out in the last century, it was determined that 62% of people in Puerto Rico have direct-line maternal ancestry to the Arawak people.
Educating our cacao farmers
Traditionally cacao farming methods would have be handed down by generations of parents, from grandparents who would teach the importance of love and care for their scared cacao and mother earth. Today’s rushed and output-driven methods are a result of farmers growing for the chocolate industry. The disjointed family structures mean that growers lack any appreciation for their crop and lose a lot of their traditional skills and wider social incentives. And when working for a dollar a day why should they care? The world’s five million smallholder cocoa farmers, most of whom are already struggling with economic hardship, are also contending with the effects of climate change: hotter temperatures, unpredictable rainfall and a shift in growing seasons. Educating farmers about their heritage and farming sustainability is essential to us, to grow our nutrient-rich cacao knowledge of traditional organic farming methods are critical and in turn stabilization of our micro-climates will occur.