During all the talk of reparations in the Caribbean, and the plight of it’s
African descendants, it is easy to forget that we stand on ground that once belonged to someone else. It’s easy to forget that we have usurped this land from others, when we are so occupied with squabbling over breadcrumbs. It is easy to forget them because for 500 years the Arawak Nation has been a deposed minority with a stifled voice.
These days though, that voice is starting to get louder and unashamedly angrier.
Three years ago, when I interviewed Damon while still a cub reporter for this very magazine, I got a very personal story. We talked of his family, and the death of his first daughter. How his title as Fifth Isau of the Bariria Korobahado Lokono (Eagle Clan Arawaks), came down to him through his great grandmother, the last Arawak Princess of the Eagle Clan Arawaks in Guyana (1879-1928), before Damon’s new blood and fire came along.
Then he was a 23-year-old man, whose passionate idealism and activism on behalf of all Guyana’s Amerindians would lead him into both dangerous situations and court the displeasure of governments that would rather activists like him not shake the status quo. He was one of the few who had taken up the reins of leadership to help create a Pan-Tribal Confederacy that was proud of it’s heritage and to fight for full recognition by the countries that sprung up around them of the Amerindians’ inalienable right to self-government.
When you first meet him, he strikes you as a quiet almost shy man. He speaks so softly sometimes, it belies the gritty steel of what he has to say. His people are hungry, they are poor, they are denied access to their own vast natural resources which could provide all 50,000 of them with tertiary level education and full employment; and the governments of the Caribbean do not care.
The genocide that wiped millions of Amerindians from the face of the Caribbean, is barely a murmur when talk of reparation and justice are being bandied about and the last remnants of a once massive population are yet to be treated with dignity and concern.
Damon cannot wait for the enlightenment of the masses, the truly gross injustice that continues to this day has forced him to take action. He has clothed himself in a history that that reaches far into antiquity and obscurity, and taken the burden of Amerindian suffering upon his shoulders. He does not preach anti-government vitriol, his concern is for the human rights of his people.
He is 26 years old now. A telephone call from Brazil earlier this week confirmed that he is the only candidate who came forward to take the post as Sovereign Chief of the Pan-Tribal Confederacy, and his election to the highest post in the what is poised to become the traditional government of the first autonomous Amerindian state in the Caribbean – is a foregone conclusion (the formal election will take place on December 31st).
His family is growing. He has a new baby daughter, Princess Sabantho Aderi (Beautiful Little Dove) who is the first Arawak born in Barbados in over 500 years, and who joins brothers Hatuey and Tecumseh, Damon’s father still thinks he needs to get a ‘real’ job; his mother still worries about him when he is dancing the fine line between diplomacy and open rebellion, but he is still a warrior.
He is still fighting against the myopia of a region that refuses to acknowledge their defrauded Amerindian landlords’ presence. In that respect we in the Caribbean are no better than cold, callous America, who has wiped out entire cultures in pursuit of a pie in the sky and greed.
May the world fill up with people who illuminate the truth, and who are right to do so. May Damon’s fight end one day when the human race no longer disenfranchises ethnic groups merely because they don’t fight back or can’t. Until then the Amerindian struggle (and Damon’s) is our struggle.
First Published: December 4, 1999