3/30/2005

Arrr, Matey! The Curse of the Racist Sequel?

Published by Inter Press Service, 2/28/05

PORT OF SPAIN - The 2003 blockbuster movie grossed 653 million dollars in theatres around the world, and the producers of the "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" are eagerly gearing up to film the sequels.

Filming of the scenes for the first of two installments is scheduled for April, and like the original, they will be shot in the Caribbean.

However, unlike the original movie, which was filmed in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the first sequel will also involve the Caribs of Dominica, whose ancestors were among the early inhabitants of the Caribbean.

But the project, due to be released on Jul. 7, 2006, is already proving to be a problem, as the descendants of the Caribs, historians and others are objecting to scenes depicting these indigenous people as involved in cannibalism.

Brinsley Samaroo, head of the history department of the St. Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI), dismisses the claim of cannibalism as a "European myth".

He told IPS that it was nothing but "manufactured history" by the Europeans who came across the Caniba, a tribe found in North and South America.

"The Caniba tribe was very hostile, as would be any group whose territory was being invaded. They were resisting the Europeans very stoutly and in order to warn other Europeans about this, the early explorers spread the myth that the Caniba tribe eat people," he said.

"They called them cannibals, derived from the name of the tribe," he explained.

Samaroo is lending his support to those who have publicly called on Walt Disney Productions to remove that aspect from the "Pirates of the Caribbean 2".

Disney has so far made no public statement on the issue, and did not respond to an IPS request for an interview.

The governments of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Dominica, whose impoverished economies would receive a boost from the activities associated with the filming of the sequel, have also been silent on the controversy.

Several of the estimated population of 3,000 Carib descendants in Dominica have applied to be extras in the film, which again stars Johnny Depp, but that has not stopped the Carib chief, Charles Williams, from taking a stand against the project.

Williams contends that Disney executives were insistent on including scenes where Caribs would be portrayed as cannibals, and to appear naked or semi-naked in the movie.

The Carib chief said that Caribs have been "stigmatised up to this day" as cannibals and Disney wants to popularise that stigma through the movie.

He said that this portrayal "cannot be perpetuated in movies," and his condemnation is gaining support from other Carib descendants and organisations across the Caribbean.

The St. Vincent and the Grenadines Historical and Archaeological Society has called on movie-goers to boycott the sequel unless the "grossly offensive" scenes depicting the Caribs as cannibals are removed from the script.

According to the society's secretary, Paul Lewis, perpetuating the image of Caribs as cannibals is totally unacceptable to all Caribbean peoples.

"Caribbean scholars and schoolteachers have been waging a ferocious battle for a long time to give the indigenous peoples of the region a fairer and more honest share of its history," he said in a letter to the local media.

Ricardo Bharath, who heads the Carib community in Arima, the Amerindian word for water and the third largest town in Trinidad, has also condemned the sequel.

"I think it is not right. I want to support the chief (in Dominica)," he told IPS. "In all my involvement in the community I have had no experience of our people being described as cannibals. I have listened to stories from the elders, a lot of anthropologists and archeologists and they all stated they found no evidence of cannibalism of our people in the Caribbean region."

"Do you want to know who the real cannibals are? They are the ones in modern-day society who are eating down our mountains, raping the environment, polluting the water courses," he said.

Adonis Christo, the shamaan or medicine man of the Arima Carib community, insists that "the Caribs were hunters, fishermen and farmers. They were nomadic."

"They defended their people, families, and friends. They defended their homes. They defended their lands," he added.

The Caribs here have been researching their history, preserving and practising traditions of their ancestors, including the annual "Smoke Ceremony" each Aug. 1, where they pay tribute to their forefathers with various offerings including tobacco and farine, which is made from cassava and water.

On Oct. 14, the Caribs observe "Recognition Day", joined by their counterparts in Dominica, Suriname and the Arawaks from Guyana.

"We don't eat people. We only eat wild meat," says Valentina Medina, the titular Queen of the Carib Group in Trinidad. (END)

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