Jamaicans celebrate Taino New Year
As the sun set in the west, a group of people circled a small bonfire on the black sands of the Copacabana Beach at Bull Bay, St Thomas. At 5:45 p.m., they shouted, "Happy New!", and danced around a circle, which they had entered after being cleansed with smoke from burning white sage leaves.
It was also the first day of Spring, and the activity on the beach was organised to coincidence with the Spring equinox, the beginning of the Taino New Year. It was to remember the Tainos at the setting of the sun. So, from minutes to five, people started to gather. A bonfire was built on the sands, around which a circle with a portal was created.
In addressing the gathering of more than 25 people, Carol Miller, organiser of the process, said, "Part of what we try to do in the various activities in which I participate is to try to bring to us an awareness, a consciousness of our Taino ancestors, that they also need to be honoured, need to be loved, need to be appeased, need to be invoked, need to be told the problem of the country, need to be asked to fix the problems of the country".
Miller also said she was not concerned about whether she was connected to the Tainos by blood, it was about recognising them as ancestors who brought so much to the island. "The Tainos as indigenous peoples, played a part in the shaping of this country, making it what it is today. They are ancestors of this land, if they are personal ancestors, I do not care," she said.
Some of the things Miller said the Tainos had bequeathed us are the food they brought to the island which Jamaicans still enjoy, and even the barbecuing and jerking of meat. "From that point of view I have engaged a number of different kinds of activities to honour them, to recognise them, because for a long time we didn't.
"A few people started, I am joining those who have gone before, hopefully it will get bigger and bigger," Miller explained.
Among the participants was Dr Cecile McCalla who claims biological Taino ancestry. She is a longtime campaigner for national Taino Day observance. "I have been feeling this for years, as I've told Carol, I want to agitate for September to
be made Taino Month, because we are a funny people ... the people who started our civilisation have no recognition ... We are busy recognising national heroes who were created a hundred years ago," she told the group, " ... I am totally fazed by this."
It was an evening of rituals, but there was also an educational component by way of a presentation by Leslie-Gayle Atkinson, research manager at the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT).
She gave a learned and informative talk on the history and customs of the Tainos, after which she fielded questions from members of the rapt audience. Atkinson herself has adopted a Taino name which means Sweet Water Flower.
One the highlights of the evening was the reading of a message by Miller from Roberto Mukaro Agueibana Borrero, president of the United Confederation of Taino People. Borrero has already visited Jamaica.
Among others things he said, "Your energy joins with all other ceremonies taking place today and over this weekend across the islands into the diaspora ... To Taino people, these moments are important not only for our individual selves, but for our collective well-being, including the environment and our ancestors."
After the formalities it was time for the sharing of communal food, including fried fish and bammy, and roasted sweet potatoes. By then it was dark, and the roar of the waves accompanied the drumming of Philip Supersad and company. And near the dying bonfire was a plate of food to feed the ancestors, to honour them, to celebrate their New Year.