Amerindian Smoke Ceremony to commemorate ancestors


The Amerindian community in Trinidad and Tobago celebrated Amerindian Heritage Week last week with a series of events in St. Joseph, Arima, Penal and at the National Museum and Art Gallery in Port of Spain. The commemorations included a Smoke Ceremony held in San Francique, Penal , last Friday, an example of an important ritual being developed by Trinidad’s Caribs. The President of the Carib Community points to the ritual as one that provides them with a religious space independent of the Catholic Church. The Smoke Ceremony is designed as a series of offerings and invocations with the intent of praising the earth and protecting its spiritual and physical integrity, remembering the ancestors, blessing the families of the Caribs, and asking for the blessing and guidance of the “Great Spirit,” or “God.”
Incense is burned, corn is offered to the fire and a feather is used to fan smoke to the male-only participants. Tobacco is burned and a cigar is smoked by the shaman who then puffs smoke toward the foreheads of the participants. The shaman will also hold the heads of those he has participating and press his forehead into theirs and close his eyes. Cassava bread and water in a calabash are spatial and symbolic features as well. The ceremony embraces the elements of earth, air, fire and water.
The rituals involved in performing the Smoke Ceremony mirror a growing trend among people of mixed heritage who identify with an Amerindian ancestry to either alter their names or choose new ones and a trend to develop traditional-looking wear. Also worn at these special ceremonies is Amerindian-styled jewelry.
The smoke ceremony resembles ceremonies of the Shango/Orisha faith in Trinidad, which is of Yoruba origin. Certain elements recall the Hindu puja, such as the incorporation of cloth into the makeshift altar, or the burning of food as an offering, and the participants’ waving of smoke onto their faces.
For the complete story by Nicola Joseph go to

Photo by zseike.

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