following is an excerpt from the book "Understanding The Connections
between Black and Aboriginal Peoples"
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
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.
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.
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.
managed to get to a shopping center where I was told Hualapi Indians
came to shop and therefore existed the chance of a ride.
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.
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.
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
A group of Hualapi Indian youth garbed in a colourful variety
of reggae paraphernalia were skanking with wild abandon to the
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.
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.
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!!
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.
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.
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
Havasupai walked around with boom boxes that were blasting reggae.
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!
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.
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."
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 mentality
the time has come for every Indian to know himself and fight against
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".
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
understand the significance of the original aboriginal inhabitants
of Jamaica I spoke to Afua Cooper a Jamaican dub poet, and historian.
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.
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
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".
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.
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:
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."
dub poet Oku Onuora takes this point a step forward with his contribution
to the Blakk Indian recording project, Dancing on John Wayne's Head.
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!"
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.
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.
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.