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Tribes Without Tribes - 1

Tribes Without Tribes - 1

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Published by Christopher Carrico

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Published by: Christopher Carrico on Nov 23, 2010
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TRIBES WITHOUT TRIBES: RACE AND TRIBE IN THE CONSTRUCTION OFAMERINDIAN HERITAGE IN GUYANABy Christopher Carricohttp://ccarrico.wordpress.com/ A different version of this article was printed in
Guyana Times
, 6 September 2009In this article I will address the significance of µrace¶ and µtribe¶ in the publicconstruction of Amerindian heritage in Guyana. It is an ironic but familiar story incolonial and post-colonial histories, that the main categories that organize the publicconstruction of identity have more to do with the ideologies of the colonizers than theyhave to do with the traditional forms of indigenous self-identity. Race has been the mostobvious and insidious of these categories since the early modern era, and has taken itscurrent biological and µscientific¶ form since the time of the European Enlightenment.The notion of µtribe¶ has also been one which European colonizers imposed upon theindigenous social formations of Guyana, of the Americas in general, and of much of thecolonial world.RACEAs a biological term, the overwhelming scientific evidence of the past hundred years hasindicated that race is not a useful biological concept when applied to the human species.Race in a biological sense refers to a sub-species, a population that is genetically distinct,and genetically isolated enough from other populations that these separate groups are
to speciation (becoming separate species). Nothing like race in this biologicalsense can be said to exist among modern humans. Based on anatomy, physiology, andintelligence testing, scientists such as Alfred Binet and Franz Boas began arguing over ahundred years ago that it is impossible to divide the human species into discrete, fixedraces with distinct physical and/or mental characteristics. More recently, humangeneticists have validated the conclusions of these earlier observers of the human mindand organism. Particularly since the 1970s and 1980s, the science of genetics has produced clear evidence that all living humans are very closely related to one another,and are all descended from common ancestors who lived in sub-Saharan Africa less than200,000 years ago.All of the things that make us human (having large brains, walking upright, using tools,using complex language and forming complex social bonds, creating art, music, andreligion, and forming beliefs about the cosmos, the afterlife, and the meaning of humanexistence) were characteristics first developed during our shared pre-history in Sub-Saharan Africa. These traits are universal in the human species, and are shared by allliving human cultures. Conversely, the characteristics that are used to categorize human beings by race are all easily observable physical characteristics whose genetics are notwell understood, but clearly bear very little relationship to a person¶s overall geneticmake-up. Differences in skin color, hair texture, or shape of a person¶s eyes are all recentand superficial differences that are adaptations to the various environments into which the
human species has moved. These traits also do not help us to define discrete races, because the existence of these traits varies gradually across geographic space, rather than being neatly contained into clearly defined populations that we can indentify as races.However, while race
oes not 
have any biological reality, race
have a very powerfulsocial and cultural reality. Despite the fact that Henry Lewis Gates, Jr. is just as likely to be closely genetically related to someone from Denmark or Korea, or to the officer thatarrested him, as he is to be genetically related to Barack Obama, this was irrelevant to thewoman who had been Gates¶ neighbor for many years and called the police because anon-white person was fumbling with the lock at his home in a predominately white andwealthy neighborhood. That race does not have a biological reality also did not matter tothe police officer who charged Gates with disorderly conduct when he became upsetabout being arrested for ³breaking and entering´ into his own home.Similarly, consider the situation of the Amerindian in Guyana who is discriminatedagainst or not given opportunities because he or she is considered to be a µstupid buck.¶Whether this is explained as being a result of nature or of circumstance, it does not matter for this individual that in a biological sense, there is really no such thing as theAmerindian µrace,¶ but only the
race. For the person categorized as raciallyinferior, race is
because it has
effects in that person¶s life.THE PEOPLING OF THE AMERICASThe indigenous peoples of the Americas are descended from the same common ancestorsas all other living human beings. The best available archaeological and biologicalevidence indicates that the main migration of indigenous Americans into the hemisphereoccurred across the Bering Land Bridge which connected Siberia and Alaska until aroundthe end of the last ice age. There are artifacts that clearly date a major migration into theAmericas from around 12,000 BC. Some archaeologists, however, speculate that earlier and smaller migrations took place across the Bering Straits as early as 18,000 BC, andsome geneticists have claimed that the colonization of the Americas may have begun asearly as 40,000 years ago.The earliest Amerindians (often referred to by archaeologists as µPaleo-Indians¶) probably came to the Americas following herds of megafauna (very large animals like thewooly mammoth) that they relied upon for subsistence. The mastodon, and the giantsloth whose fossil was recently discovered in the Bartica area, are examples of megafaunal species that were around at the end of the Pleistocene, and were probablyhunted by Guyana¶s first Amerindians. Some archaeologists suggest that once Paleo-Indians reached the Americas, they very quickly moved throughout North America, and perhaps as far south as South America within a few generations after crossing the BeringLand Bridge. As soon as a century or two after walking from Siberia, it is likely thatPaleo-Indians were already living in what is today Guyana.Paleo-Indians throughout the Americans probably first lived in small (25 ± 50 persons)egalitarian hunting and gathering bands, and many probably nomadically followed herd
animals while collecting plants and other animal sources of food along the way. Theymoved throughout the Americas following megafauna, but whether because of overhunting, climate changes, disease, other reasons, or a combination of the above, their occupation of the Americans was soon followed by a massive extinction of themegafaunal species.Throughout the Americas, Paleo-Indians adapted to the megafaunal extinctions by becoming more diversified foragers: fishing, hunting, and gathering a wider variety of  plants and animals than they had previously. Among the early settlers of the Guyanacoast, Paleo-Indian foragers diversified the kinds of marine resources which theycollected, and some of the earliest evidence of continuous human settlement in theGuyana can be seen in the shell middens of Guyana¶s North West, where people haveused shell fish as a source of food for thousands of years, and the shells which are therefuse from their meals form enormous mounds. Fishing also took on greater significance in Guyana: very large stone fish hooks found along Guyana¶s riverbanks areamong the oldest surviving artifacts in the region.WAROAN, ARAWAKAN, AND CARIBAN MIGRATIONSOf the Amerindian groups that live in Guyana today, the group whose ancestors seem tohave come here first is the
 From around 5200 BC there is evidence that early Waroan peoples lived along the coastof Guyana¶s North West and in the Orinoco River Delta area of neighboring Venezuela.They subsisted by gathering plant materials, such as the Ite palm, and by exploitingmarine resources such as oysters, conch, lucines, mussels, netirites, crabs and snails(Williams 2003: 86). After around 3300 BC they began making canoes, and a widevariety of stone tools that were used in canoe manufacturing (130-148). There was also adivision of labor between communities, as the skills and resources were unevenlydistributed between Waroan groups. Canoes most likely lead to an increase in the productive capacity of fishermen and collectors of marine resources, and there was aresulting increase in population density (145).The language of the Warau people is not closely related to any of the other languagesspoken in Guyana. It forms its own language family.Speakers of 
languages, and
languages came to Guyana at a later date. The Arawakan languages that are currently spoken in Guyana are Lokono(commonly simply called ³Arawak´ in Guyana) and Wapishana. The Cariban languagesare Carib, Arekuna, Makushi, Akawaio, Patamona, and Wai Wai.Sometime around 1600 BC, the peoples inhabiting the mouths of the Orinoco andAmazon Rivers developed horticulture. According to Jennifer Wishart (1995), the firstfarmers to move into Guyana were the ancestors of modern-day Lokono Arawaks, who

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