The great, great, granddaughter of Pedro Lopez, the last King of the Nepuyo People (Caribs) became the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community’s seventh Queen last weekend.
Nona Lopez Aquan’s selection as Carib Queen was marked with indigenous rituals at the First Peoples’ headquarters in Arima. Other activities during the week were planned.
Last Saturday, the mother of two sons and grandmother of three was inaugurated at the 6 p.m. Mass at Santa Rosa RC Church, Arima.
La Romaine parish priest Msgr Christian Pereira was the main celebrant, with Bishop Emeritus Malcolm Galt CSSp and priest of the Santa Rosa/Malabar Cluster, Fr Kizito Ameloko VC concelebrating.
Members of the First Peoples and representatives from other Caribbean territories with indigenous peoples occupied the front pews with invited guests, including former Arima Members of Parliament Rodger Samuel, and Trinidad and Tobago’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Penelope Beckles-Robinson.
In his homily, Msgr Pereira said it was an important day “in the journey of reconciliation, communion and fellowship”. Connecting the weekend’s Gospel (Lk 17:11–19) with the inauguration, he said in the past the First Peoples were sometimes treated like lepers by society:, they were “outcast and despised”. But it was by their “faith and perseverance they survived the discrimination and rejection so that today they can praise and honour God”.
Reflecting further on the passage, Msgr Pereira said Jesus reached out to the ten lepers, healing them without touching them, but the Samaritan leper was the only one who returned to thank Jesus.
Msgr Pereira said the Gospel reminded and emphasised the importance of saying ‘Thanks’, “of gratitude, or recognising our blessings”. He recalled that as a child, his mother taught him the most important words were ‘Please’ and ‘Thanks’.
He said it was “a privilege to know how to be grateful and appreciative, because too many of us today don’t understand the concept of please and thanks”.
“We live in a world devoid of genuine and true humanity because this world doesn’t know how to say ‘Please’… we live in a culture that says, ‘This is mine, and I deserve it’.”
He continued, “As a people who have forgotten thanks and gratitude, we have lost our dignity…,” he said, and when we lose our dignity we can become fragmented “and lose communion with each other.”
Msgr Pereira said the “lack of gratitude is so pathetic that it affects our faith life”, and sadly some Catholics do not understand that Eucharist means Thanksgiving. “When we have lost the spirituality of gratitude and giving thanks, we have lost our connectivity with Mass.” He reminded that the Eucharist means ‘thanksgiving’.
He hoped that celebrating the Eucharist will rekindle in us thanksgiving because . “When we learn the art of thanks, we become noble, upright people”, and can build community. “There is nothing more powerful than saying thanks…This celebration is saying thanks to our ancestors.”
Msgr Pereira concluded hoping that “our faith will grow, our capacity to say ‘thank you’ increase, and our dignity as men and women in communion with each other will rise.”
After the homily, Dr Hilary Bernard gave a historical background of the Office of the Queen of the First Peoples. She noted that in the years of leadership vacuum, the queen added “a matriarchal element” in the late 1870s that prevented the decline of the First Peoples, as the queen acted as the keeper and teacher of traditions.
Chief Bharath Hernandez then presented Aquan to the congregation, saying her selection will fill the vacuum left by her predecessor Jennifer Cassar who died July 19, 2018.
Aquan formally accepted the Office of Carib Queen and was anointed with blessed oil by Msgr Pereira. She was then presented with the banner of the Santa Rosa First Peoples and Chief Bharath Hernandez signed the certificate of inauguration.
According to her short bio, Aquan was born in Port of Spain to John Aquan and Lucy Calderon Galera Moreno Aquan. She has nine brothers (one deceased) and three sisters. She attended the Rhode Island School of Design on a scholarship and completed her Bachelor of Fine Arts.
Aquan spent several years travelling the world in her time off from her career, meeting with hundreds of people across the world, learning about their history and honouring their heritage and culture.
She has also worked with native communities in the United States like the Lenape People and alongside the Azteca tribes and the Taino People from Puerto Rico among several others.
SUCCESSION OF CARIB QUEENS
Dolores MacDavid nee Medrano aka ‘Ma Gopaul’ (1875–1908)
Maria Fuentes Werges Ojea aka ‘Ma Werges’ (1908–1962)
Edith Martinez nee Werges (1962–1974, 1975–1987)
Adolphine Werges (1974–1975)
Justa Werges (1988–2000)
Valentina Medina aka ‘Mavis’ (2000–2011)
Jennifer Cassar (2011–2018)
By Raymond Syms