Monday, August 5, 2019

Tragic legacy of conquest renders astonishing diversity on South America's northern coast today

The Guianas (ArnoldPlaton, CC BY-SA 3.0)
I spent time this summer exploring the Guianas--Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana, on South America's northern coast--and Trinidad and Tobago, an island nation just off the coast of Venezuela.  This is a lesser visited part of the world, to be sure, though it boasts a rapidly developing touristic infrastructure that might be the envy of Caribbean and Brazilian neighbors in the decades to come.

As guides and new friends patiently explained across a mind-blowing array of geographic and historical sub-contexts, the story of this southern basin of the Caribbean is a tragedy of colonial conquest, yet yields today a triumphant range of blended cultural traditions.  Mixed ethnic backgrounds deriving identities from dramatically different parts of the globe informed the experience of the people I met more often than not, rendering a picture of diversity--and moreover of peaceful co-existence--like none I have seen elsewhere in the world.

Ruela Goedewacht is head of the Johannes Arabi primary school in Nieuw
Aurora, Suriname (CC BY-SA 4.0). The Peace Corps painted this world map,
and the school features many beautiful murals for the kids to enjoy.
European possession of these lands was itself a shifting game of Old World thrones, with the British, Dutch, French, and Spanish variously laying claims.  The Europeans then sought to exploit their possessions on the backs of slaves and indentured servants, who arrived in waves from China, India, and Africa.  All of these newcomers mixed violently and not, as usual in the Americas, with the people who now identify as Amerindians, themselves a diverse array of nations to begin with.  Later, in the twentieth century, America found ways to insert its cultural and political presence with the avowed aim of regional security, jumbling cultural allegiances yet again.
Anthony Luces of Trinidad Food Tours at left (CC BY-SA 4.0). At center
is my security officer and virtual nephew, Casey Bius.


As a result:  Churches, mosques, and temples of various kinds take up residence adjacently to one another.  Public calendars are speckled with holidays and cultural traditions, whether Ramadan, Christmas, Holi, or the solstice, which enjoy a surprising embrace of mutual observance--not to mention the universally beloved Carnival.  Many people are fluent in multiple dissimilar languages, from Marroon and Amerindian tongues traceable to African and indigenous tribes, to the curving script renderings of the Far East, as well as unique Creole blends of native and European tongues.  And to my mouthwatering delight, the food traditions have produced unprecedented and delectable blends, such as South American-cultivated beef (Western) in a cumin-rich sauce (Indian/Hindu), or pork ribs (Eastern) upon flatbread (Indian/Muslim).

Dino Ramlal of Travel the Guianas, center. At left is one of my steadfast
travel companions, Debby Merickel, who blogs at the Aging Adventurer
(CC BY-SA 4.0).


Ordinarily I travel independently.  But that's not easy in the Guianas.  Developing infrastructure makes local knowledge and a network on the ground essential, unless you have ample time to burn with missed connections.  If you wish to explore the Guianas, I cannot say enough about Dinesh "Dino" Ramlal and his team at Travel the Guianas.  Sign up before Dino realizes how much more he should be charging for his hard work.  Also, I am especially indebted to Anthony Luces, owner and guide of Trinidad Food Tours, for his mind- and  mouth-enriching street food tour of Port of Spain, Trinidad.  To tell you more would spoil the surprises.

Charcoal ice cream on the streets of Port of Spain (CC BY-SA 4.0).
OK, three words:  Charcoal ice cream.

I've said too much.

1 comment:

  1. Great overview....hope it encourages more people to explore these lands with their rich cultures and amazing people!

    ReplyDelete