A Statement Regarding the Taino/Arawak Language Debate….

Takaji

With RESPECT for my ancestors, with my ancestors beside me, I share with you these words.

Many of you know me through lenses filtered through what can be inferred from a computer screen. Some of you know me from the most recent attacks directed to my family’s name as a result from a recent call in of two individuals.

For context, My family lineage can be traced back to the island of Borikén for generations. Every year I go “home” I visit the resting places of my ancestors and thank them for my existence. Like many of you reading this, I was born in New York and am a child of the diaspora of people who were first touched by colonialism in 1492/3.

My Grandmothers taught me our native ways and like many of you experienced when walking the red road, those things that we were taught such as, drinking “hot chocolate” known as “Cacao” with guayaba, galletas, and laughter to celebrate our departed are “things” we do after a funeral.

Later in life with great sadness and pride, I realized that due to colonization, what we do after a funeral is actually called “ceremony” and due to colonialism, that “ceremony” or “death rite” was so protected by our ancestors they dropped everything and anything that related it looking like ceremony and served hot chocolate (cacao) with milk (the Spanish way) instead of hot chocolate (cacao) with water (the Taíno way) still kept guayaba, and who knows when the galletas and cheese were included to further protect the way our ancestors celebrate a family member who has left the earth.

I digress.

In 2019 after many years of being on the red road of connecting with my roots I was intrigued to go deeper and learn the language spoken by my ancestors as on one of my journeys, an elder once told me, “you really think your ancestors speak English?”

It hit me hard, newage thinking invites the idea that when people cross over, they can speak any language in the world as they have “transcended” “all human limitations”. Which I have come to find out is absolute bullshit.

While the newage narrative is beautiful in thought. That line of thinking has allowed colonizers to go to marginalized indigenous communities in South and North America, rename traditional medicine people “shaman”, and further the harmful effects of colonialism by once again taking away the language of the people by imposing a new word on their medicine person- “shaman”. All the while claiming they can communicate with “the ancestors” who are not of their blood lineage on the regular, and even have the audacity to use someone else’s ancestors as a way to “take” from a culture they have no intent of giving back to.

A good example is non Taíno claiming to know Taíno culture more than the people of it, even using the narrative we are not as indigenous as people on the island against those of us who are in the vast diaspora of direct blood lineage Taíno- as a way to divide and diminish.

As many of you know, I am a proud and humble member of a powerful women’s group called the Bohio Atabei Jaguar Warriors.

After many years of floating from elder to elder, being abused by elders, being used as a way to legitimize ceremony as the only actual native there, or worse, used as a shield to protect against misconstrued appropriation, it was a breath of fresh air to be invited, vetted, and welcomed into such a powerful group of women who are doing the work to elevate Taíno culture, ceremony, connection of ancestors, retribalizing, reMEMBERing, re indigenizing, and defending the sacred.

We participate in ceremonies such as the well known Peace and Dignity Run, a ceremony that fulfills a prophecy to unite the Eagle and the Condor. Through the work of Bohio Atabei Jaguar Warriors, the Hawk (the Caribbean) is now represented in the run.

Through the work of a collaborated effort of several Taíno organizations, the word Taíno was vindicated in the Webster’s dictionary, and the narrative was corrected to remove any indication of us Taíno Peoples being extinct out of the dictionary.

One of our respected elders in our Taíno community, Ata Bibi Inaru started the “Children’s Areyto” due to so much focus on adult retribalization, she, in her wise elder self, realized, it is the children that need to be raised with our traditions for when you have identity, when you have lineage, when you have the stories that have been taken away, yet, were never gone, there is a strength that is unbreakable that happens in a person. When one is connected to their roots in such a deep way, in such a powerful way, that energy is equally respected and feared.

When one is honoring the real story of one’s ancestors, the stories that have been passed down, told in ceremony, and held by wisdom keepers that are still living, stories that can not be found in a book, there’s a level of personal empowerment that happens there are no words for, and something I have no doubt that all blood lineage Taíno people have, will, or is yet to experience in their life.

There is something that happens in the process of re indigenizing, in the process of uncolonizing. It’s a remembering of what is real and a recognizing of what is not. It’s a fierce warrior like energy that comes up to defend the sacred in all ways, whether that be as small as reclaiming cacao ceremonies for our death rites or as big as challenging narratives that have become so distorted, people who are blinded by the filters of colonization let go of all critical thinking and latch on to the loudest person in the room. (a trauma response to the european bluster that to this day, is used to break spirits and incite violence as seen in the recent insurrection).

The warrior energy that happens in re indigenizing — when people have have been stripped out of, raped away from, made to assimilate out of the beautiful culture, traditions, and language, we carry in our bones waiting for us to wake them up in a different way, in a way that honors and doesn’t diminish, in a way that receives instead of take, in a way that is humble instead of aggressive, in a way that is strong and not dominating, in a way that makes our ancestors proud and not silenced anymore through us, is the fanning of an eternal flame that was never able to be fully extinguished.

In the past few years I have seen the rise of something that deeply concerns me in our people and due to such a deep level of unhealed, unspoken, unpacked trauma that the behavior itself has sadly become normalized.

I am also witnessing the trauma be weaponized to justify inhumane treatment of our women, elders, and each other.

I, as you are reading this, am the target of such weaponization and this statement I hope will clear up any questions of who I am, the depth of my integrity, and why I am being targeted in such a vicious way by a small group of people who would rather attack than collaborate to help all of us in the diaspora rise together, instead of perpetuating colonialism by tearing each other down every chance we get.

This is also a statement to bring awareness to the forces who have no interest in our Taíno relatives on the island and our Taíno diaspora relatives off the island joining together with shared narratives as if we did — we as one nation, of many tribes, would be a force so strong, our beloved island would see no corruption, see all government officials held accountable for feeding their friends as our most valued elders are left starving.

An example we all witnessed in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria with the Mayors of some municipalities leaving food to rot instead of distributing it to the people who were devastatingly impacted across the island.

On Turtle island, a united Taíno Nation can be a loud voice in the protections of our relatives, such as the Cherokee. There is evidence of our existence amongst Cherokee historical records dating back to pre contact, through petroglyphs and even an existing street name Toccoa Taquohee Trail next to Toccoa Lake in Georgia where it is quite possible our people had a settlement, a trading post to bring Tobacco, Wampaum, and more to the Cherokee People pre-contact.

This is evidence that can be found, that can be seen, that can be traced back to “The Ancient Peoples” who “spoke a unique language” who “disappeared when the white man came”.

I share this information from the perspective of a puritist, as a descendant of people who have lost nearly everything, including the majority of our language that can still be found in the modern lexicon such as hammock (hamoka) and BBQ (barbacoa). Which I bring up whenever anyone tells me that our language is “dead”.

For those of you who are unaware, we Boricua’s have hundreds of words and phrases that have lasted through the past 600 years of colonialism, our language is not dead nor is it hanging on by a thread.

Linguistic studies of our mother vernacular have been vast and deeply embedded in academia filtered through a colonial lens.

Misunderstandings and misinterpretations, have given room for incorrect narratives to develop. To make things worse, with the amount of misinformation being promoted, contrarian tricksters who wish to see us divided capitalize on misunderstood narratives to grip into the minds of people who are raw, and looking for an identity.

The methods used are based in the erasure of our people by suggesting our language is something that it is not. By suggesting our language is dead, by suggesting that anyone that disagrees is anti-black and must be diminished by all means (erasure to protect an incorrect narrative)….

These are tools mi gente, used by the colonizers to maintain the systems of oppression among our people while they continue to colonize, create narratives based in erasure, as our people stay confused, searching for an identity, and in fear of being attacked by those who say they know and really have no clue.

This statement is to do a few things, first, to correct a narrative. Second, to clear my family’s name, and third, to expose people who are doing the work of the colonizer by using colonial tactics based in erasure to oppress, divide, and destroy the Taíno community our elders have worked so hard for the past 30+ years to revive and protect.

A few years ago, a couple of people began to create the narrative that Garifuna and Eyeri hold the key to our Language revival. To impose that narrative, these individuals have purported that the language our ancestors spoke are “dead”.

Our language is NOT dead.

These two individuals have created a community of people who have fallen hook, line and sinker for the Garifuna narrative and Garifuna people seeing a chance to collaborate with Taíno people, have signed off on the collaboration from a place of grace and collective unity.

There’s a few things that are glossed over in this collaboration.

The two individuals who are leading the propaganda campaign have only been doing this work for a couple of years, they are not linguists, and this work is primarily done in New York and not with community elders in the Caribbean from both and/or many islands.

The narratives promoted are unchecked as well as unbalanced and have manifested in a way that is now causing harm to our Taíno community instead of elevating it. And with the amount of damage I have seen as a result, is the root of this important statement.

For clarity, the narrative that Arakawk is the language our ancestors spoke is partially correct.

Arawak is a family of languages and each tribal group under the umbrella of Arawak languages spoke a unique version of Arawak that is specific to the community itself. To say that Arawak is the language we spoke is like saying Native Americans speak Native American.

Saying that all Indigenous Peoples spoke “Native American” in Turtle Island is a statement based in erasure as it creates the impression that all Nations in Turtle island speak the same language while erasing the unique differences and similarities of each nations sacred vibration…language.

For the Caribbean and South America, we have a distinct family of languages under the umbrella of what is known as Arawak.

Locono is the related spoken language closest to the original language of our ancestors and Locono word cognates are found throughout each island. Research has shown that some of these words are not ONLY embedded in slang; they are a part of our modern lexicon..

Locono is under the umbrella of the Arawakan linguistic group and it is not Arawak in and of itself….although, if you are in Guyana and Suriname, when referring to Arawak you are generally speaking about Locono.

The term “Arawak” itself is a term used by other indigenous language speakers to describe Arawakan Peoples. The english colonists adopted this and it has remained today, much like Souix is still used to describe Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota Indigenous Peoples.

We have much to learn from the Garifuna, as the language they have maintained since the 1600/1700’s is a mixture of the diverse Arawakan languages, as well as Spanish, French, and British English.

What the incorrect narrative is, is that Garifuna or Eyeri is the actual language spoken by our ancestors of Borinquen and Kiskeya.

This narrative is not only based in erasure, it also is detrimental to the people who have been doing the work to put together our ancestors’ language for decades.

In the past two years, these two individuals have managed to convince people that not only is Garifuna our mother tongue, that Eyeri is the closest language spoken that can be traced to our ancestors that is still spoken today.

These two individuals, with no linguistic evidence, who have not spent extensive time with elders across the Carribean, with no scholarship in academia, and who lead with domination and force instead of education and empirical evidence has managed to convince a group of people that the work that has been done for decades by people devoted to lineage based connections to our ancestral tonal vibrations, is invalad though tactics used by the colonizer to diminish, silence, and further erase any legitimate connection to our true blood history.

Furthermore, what really concerns me, is the false narrative they push that Africans pre date all Indigenous people in the Caribbean and South America.

In the circles of Indigenous activism I am in, we have been in battle with correcting the narrative that implies Africans pre-date all Indigenous people in MesoAmerica.

This narrative is a massive conspiracy to claim unceded land though the furthering of manifest destiny only this time it’s not coming from the Christians… All the while diminishing the reality of the sophistication of our Indigenious empires.

The narrative that Africans pre-date Indigenous people in MesoAmerica shows up in ways that are egregious beyond words and causes division amongst our people using methods based in domination and diminishing. This is often seen in online conversations by (mostly) men (some) women who come from a place of attacking and convincing instead of education and collaboration.

The narrative, that is rooted in an Alt Right agenda, is being promoted by Individuals online and off, and they have gone through great lengths to veil the narrative by using Taíno as a shield while promoting the Alt Right narrative at the same time. The online groups the two individuals have started, consistently promote a false narrative of Garifuna and Eyeri being our mother language which is based in the erasure of Taíno people while actively attacking anyone from holding them accountable or questioning exactly how they came to their conclusions.

I have three folders of screenshots of a small group of people engaging and promoting this methodology and am deeply concerned not only for the safety of our people, but for the minds and souls of our most vulnerable identity seeking people of the Taíno diaspora and on the island.

This is a time mi gente, that we must do everything to protect from the maboia that are trying to steal the souls of the descendants of the first people touched by Columbus. Our ancestors made sure we have at least one thing in our lives that can be traced to pre contact. What is that for you? That is your work to connect with and that can only be done with people who are doing the work to defend the sacred, by gathering in circles with elders, and learning about our stories, our language, the trauma that we carry so that we, together as one nation can heal the wounds of colonialism instead of infect them further with the tools used to create them.

I encourage all of you to seek beyond the surface and do the work of connecting with an elder who is doing the work in a good and honorable way.

Anyone can buy some feathers, make a headdress, and call themselves Taíno. Colonizing cultural appropriators do that all the time.

Due to the depth of colonization the Caribbean as a whole has endured and continues to be impacted by many people who present themself as Taíno without doing the deep work of earning the title. Many people call themselves Taíno without knowing the duty and responsibility it takes for us to honor our culture and our ancestors and all with respect for mother earth and all life on her in a society that does not support it. Many people use the word Taíno as a way to legitimize an identity that is not necessarily thiers. Our way of life is not a religion, our way of life is spiritual, we walk our talk, we’re spiritual people. When done in a reverent way, when carried in an honorable way, when held with grace, and compassion, brings seneko kakona beyond our wildest imaginings.

I will end with this.

When you see people doing the work of the colonizer using methods based in domination, attacking one’s personal character, silencing, or creating false narratives based in erasure…Challenge them. Challenge them so hard that when they show you a photo of them accepting an award in a headdress shaking hands with someone who is not aware they are being used to legitimize a false narrative, challenge them.

Ask them, how did they earn those feathers, what rituals did they do for each of those feathers?

Ask them, if the award existed before them, and if so who was awarded that award and what did they do to earn such an accolade?

Ask them, if they believe that African pre-date Indigenous people in Borikén and when they tell you yes, ask them to name anything on the island that can be traced to pre contact with an African name. What land mass has a Garifuna name, what fish or animal exists in St. Vincent that has a name that can be connected with any fish or animal name of the same or strikingly similar name from the Island of Borinquen.

Linguistically, there are a few words that have cognates in Garifuna for example- guatu, guei..it must be noted that these are not the same as the Locono. Also there are a few Garifuna and Locono words that are not the same in Taíno- for example, tabako..

Like the elder I walk with tells me all the time — think intelligently. This is a time where it is VITAL to think intelligently as so many people are doing everything in their power to make sure we Taíno people have none.

Thank you all for doing the best you can in these times of trouble and change. This age of information though digitization is one that can be used as a tool to empower or a weapon to destroy.

Please, use it wisely and learn how to discern when a person is using the same tool as a weapon of destruction or as a tool to protect our vast Taíno diaspora from further harm and division by forces based in domination, entitlement, and erasure.

Together we rise, we are our ancestors wildest dreams come true.

Indigenous Activist, Influencer, Humanity Healing Facilitator, Author

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