Arima has a far deeper history than its commercial facade would suggest, as it’s home to what’s left of Trinidad’s Amerindian (Carib) community, most of whom live around the crucifix-strewn Calvary Hill, a precipitous thoroughfare that overlooks the town from the north and connects to the Arima–Blanchisseuse Road. Many are distant relatives of the Carinepogoto tribe who once inhabited the Northern Range, and family names such as Boneo, Campo, Calderon, Castillo, Hernandez, Martinez and Peña are common. Though the community has dwindled over the years, there have been efforts of late to preserve Carib traditions and heritage.
The main festival in the local Carib calendar is the Feast of Santa Rosa de Lima, held over the last weekend of August. The oldest continuously celebrated event in Trinidad, having been inaugurated in 1786, it’s also the only one in the island that honours the first canonized Roman Catholic saint of the “New World”. Following a morning of church services, the year’s Carib King and Queen are crowned, and a white-gowned statue of Santa Rosa is paraded through the streets, the procession bedecked with white, yellow, pink and red roses. Rum flows, and traditional Amerindian foods such as pastelles and cassava bread are eaten. The origins of the festival are somewhat murky, but in true fairy-tale style, Carib elders relate that three hunters chanced upon a young girl lying in the woods, and brought her back to Calvary Hill. She disappeared three times, only to be returned to the community. A local priest told the Caribs that this was no normal child but the spirit of Santa Rosa, and that they should make an image of her while she was still with them, for if she vanished again, her physical body would never be seen again. They made the statue, and the girl duly disappeared, leaving only a crown of roses where she had first been discovered. Ever since, Santa Rosa has been the patron saint of Arima’s Carib community.