- Stewards of Their IslandRastafari Women’s Activism for the Forests and Waters in Trinidad and Tobago—Social Movement Perspectives
Introduction—Background to the Current Study
In 2005 cultural anthropologist Diana Fox was teaching and doing research on a Fulbright Scholarship at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, on the island of Trinidad. She was working with the University of the West Indies’ Institute for Gender and Development Studies on a research project exploring the role of women as community organizers for water democracy. Water is abundant in Trinidad, but only 14 percent of the population receives piped water to their homes seven days a week for twenty-four hours a day. The rest struggle to meet their water needs through a number of strategies, ranging from simple rainwater collection tanks to locally engineered dams and lobbying their parliamentary representatives for access to piped water.1 As part of this research, Fox attended a Caribbean Water Network conference, where she first met Akilah Jaramogi, the regal Rastafarian cofounder of the Fondes Amandes Community Reforestation Project (facrp), who is heralded as the Wangari Maathai of Trinidad and Tobago.2 Akilah lives on land that she and her community have reforested over a period of three decades, transforming the ecology and refurbishing the Fondes Amandes watershed. Akilah has noted of this lifelong effort that “certain ravines that were once dry or just had ground water . . . you can see water in the ravine now and that’s because of the forest cover. We have a big river, the Fondes Amandes River and then we have some [End Page 142] springs and so on around the hillside that we maintain.”3 The community, she says, has also “set up check dams and small ponds where we can slow down water, where we can trap water on the land. We have a system where we set up to have this rainwater for watering plants for even drinking.” Akilah has no formal university education, but she is trained in agroforestry by the Forestry Division. Moreover, she has sent four of her six children to university, and they are now actively involved in the facrp. This story of the metamorphosis of her community’s lands and the community members themselves from marginalized villagers to ecoactivists offers wider insights into the potential that small-scale community activism can have for the region and beyond.
Accepting an invitation to visit this village-based ngo (nongovernmental organization), Fox’s first trip to the urban forest of Fondes Amandes, just a half-hour walk outside the center of Port of Spain, Trinidad’s capital, initiated an ongoing collaboration with Akilah and the facrp. The collaboration has resulted in a documentary film about the community that the facrp uses in its educational and activist efforts; friendships with Akilah, her family, and community members; still-emerging institutional relationships among Fox’s home university of Bridgewater State in Massachusetts, the facrp, and the University of the West Indies; and other joint efforts over the last decade.4
This article describes the facrp itself—its history, vision, and related activities—which we give context to through the lens of multiple social movements.5 These include Trinidad’s Black Power movement and its ongoing women’s movement, both of which drew on ideologies and activism in the United States and Canada but spoke specifically to island-wide conditions. In addition, the rise of the Rastafarian movement in Jamaica, which spread throughout the Caribbean, including Trinidad, informed the initial worldview and actions that led directly to the creation of the precursor to the facrp, the Jaramogi Family Reforestation Project, by Akilah and her late husband Tacuma in 1982. At this time, they “devised a plan to fight the dry-season fires that had been ravaging the Fondes Amandes watershed every year.”6 Since then, the facrp has become a multifaceted community organization with intersectional objectives and philosophies of activism. We also draw from insights into direct-action movements to help to elucidate the complexity of the facrp.
A central goal of this article is to illuminate the intersectional features of the facrp. Intersectionality theory emerged out...