April 27, 2017

Of History and Heritage

Damon Corrie preserves, practises Lokono-Arawak history and heritage

Damon Corrie is a man on a mission to empower and improve the lives of indigenous peoples worldwide. Founder and current president of the Pan-Tribal Confederacy of Indigenous Tribal Nations, Damon Gerald Corrie has exceptionally strong roots in Guyana as the grandson of Hannah Mariah Corbin nee DeWeever (now 97 years old), sixth child and fourth daughter of Princess Marian Luckie, who is said to be the daughter of Chief Amorotahe Haubariria (Flying Harpy Eagle), the Fourth Hereditary Paramount Chief of the Lokono (Arawak) Eagle Clan of upper Demerara River; several of whom could be found today in St Cuthbert’s Mission, originally called Pakuri village before the arrival of Anglican missionaries.

Family history

The Corrie family

Chief Amorotahe Haubariria died in 1899 during an epidemic of measles and smallpox in the Upper Demerara region; while Princess Marian, his only surviving child, met and married a young Dutch businessman and adventurer, Vivian Arnold DeWeever, (De-Wever) in 1906. After living some years in Georgetown, DeWeever moved his family of seven (wife Marian, three daughters and three sons; the eldest daughter and third child had died at four years old) to Barbados in 1925 to establish businesses there.

But sadly, Marian’s story does not end happily ever after. Arriving in Barbados, she faced extreme prejudice and discrimination for her indigenous heritage, in contrast to her simple acceptance and integration into Georgetown society. Unhappy with her ill treatment by Barbados colonial society and the later abandonment by her husband, she died just three years after arriving on the island, and was buried in Westbury Cemetery in Bridgetown, Barbados.

Vivian DeWeever took his eldest son David to England when he left his wife; and the remaining children, despite their mother’s untimely death, grew up to establish families in Barbados, or immigrated to other lands and established other generations.

DeWeever himself died in 1960 at age 75, and was buried in Barbados next to his estranged wife.

Baptised as Marian Luckie by an Anglican missionary priest, Marian was the last surviving nobility of the Eagle clan and the first to convert to Christianity. She was also the first to obtain a Western education, and the first to marry outside her clan.

She was bestowed the honorary title of ‘Princess’ Marian after being introduced in 1921 to King Edward (at the time His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales) by the then governor of British Guiana, as “Princess Marian – daughter of the last Arawak King”.

Damon’s story

Damon Corrie was born on November 12, 1973 to the third daughter of Hannah Corbin – Audrey Cecile.

Described as the fourth-born of the fourth generation maternally descended from Fourth Hereditary Paramount Chief Amorotahe Haubariria, Damon Corrie has maintained a keen interest in his heritage, but not without controversy.

Damon drinking piwari at St. Cuthbert’s Mission. He is also Caricom Commissioner of the Indigenous Commission for Communications Technologies in the Americas ICCTA

Acknowledging the acrimony he has received over the years despite his efforts to improve international awareness of indigenous rights, Damon notes that he is often criticised for focusing on his Guyana Lokono heritage because he was not born in Guyana but Barbados, and is of mixed descent. However, for Damon, the importance lies not in those facts but in the fact that his indigenous heritage is as much a part of his being as his Western culture. “I live a happy blend of both cultures, wearing body tattoos and genipap paint with pride to celebrate my heritage, and a suit and tie when I am doing OAS or UN work,” he declared in an interview with Guyana Times Sunday Magazine. An annual August vacationer to many countries since he was 11, Damon’s trips to Guyana became a significant milestone that began when he was 18 years old and at the time more interested in the night life Georgetown had to offer. A chance meeting led to a journey to Pakuri village the following day, where Damon immediately felt a sense of belonging, though at the time he was unsure of its significance.

Returning to the village almost four months later, Damon stayed at the home of Elvira Simon, where he met and within nine days married Shirling Simon, a 17-year-old full-blood Lokono-Arawak niece of Elvira’s husband Edward Simon. A few days after the wedding, Damon’s ticket expired and he returned to Barbados to announce to his family, “By the way, when I was in Guyana, I got married.” It was later revealed that Shirling is a descendant of the Semechi (Holy Man) of Chief Amorotahe Haubariria. The Holy Man, Koyaha Maka (Macaw Spirit) had three surviving sons from the measles and smallpox epidemic that claimed most of the Eagle Clan leaders, who were given the surname ‘Simon’ by the missionaries and had migrated to Pakuri.

Maintaining a proud heritage

In his interview with Sunday Magazine, Damon is resolute about maintaining his heritage. “I am proof that one can have the best of both worlds; there is no need to become an imitation European and turn your back on your own ethnic heritage,” he stated. “I am not saying I want to return to the way our ancestors lived 500 years ago. What I am saying is you can live a modern life and still honour your ancient traditional heritage at every opportunity to do so. I am living proof of that.

“I am learning and practising the Arawak language, Arawak spirituality; reviving Arawak traditional practices that have ceased to be practised due to colonialism and neo-colonialism.” He also took aim at those who may have rejected their heritage, noting that while many claim to be “proud” to be Amerindian, they do little to nothing to illustrate their pride. “I have met many who look biologically pure as Amerindians, yet mentally, culturally and spiritually they are as far from their Amerindian identity as a hawk is from the moon. And this is a sad state of affairs… as Brother Bob Marley said, ‘you must emancipate yourself from mental slavery’,” he noted.

Putting indigenous peoples in the international spotlight

From left, Damon, Desrey Fox, Eugene Isaac, Geddes Corrie in 1995. Desrey, Damon said, was his mentor

Along with his own indigenous heritage, Damon is also quietly continuing his work with the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues at the United Nations, and his work in the Indigenous Caucus at the Organization of American States (OAS) where, he pointed out, he has maintained “a good relationship with the diplomatic representatives of the Guyana government, whom I must say are a dedicated, hardworking small group of professionals.” At the OAS he is one of about 30 persons selected from the entire western hemisphere for official sponsorship (since 2000) to be a member of the Indigenous Caucus. They negotiate with the diplomatic representatives of every OAS member state to achieve points of consensus on a draft declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of the Americas that has been in progress for more than a decade.

The declaration, he said, would ensure that Indigenous Peoples of the Americas will have a declaration enshrining their rights that is even stronger than the one recently created by the United Nations for Indigenous Peoples of the entire world, and which the government of Guyana has already ratified at the United Nations General Assembly along with most progressive-minded countries of the world.

Family

Damon and Shirling are parents to 5 children; though tragically, the second child and eldest girl, Aderi (Little Dove) died in 1994 at three days old. She was born in St. Cuthbert’s and is buried there. The surviving children are Hatuey (1993) – the firstborn and first son; Tecumseh (Panther’s eye that shines in the night), second son (1996); second daughter Sabantho Aderi (Beautiful little Dove) in 1999; and last child and third daughter Laliwa Hadali (Yellow Butterfly of the Sun) in 2007.

Sabantho Aderi is the only child born in Barbados; the others were all born at St Cuthbert’s here in Guyana.