Powwow in the Bronx

October 17, 2022

On September 25, ELA was invited to table at the annual Bronx Native American Festival in Pelham Bay Park. For over 25 years, master of ceremonies Bobby Gonzalez has led the celebration, inviting a number of musicians, dancers, and storytellers to share traditions from a wide range of Native cultures. Indigenous representation ranged from Taino to Shinnecock to Unkechaug, unifying tribes for a day honoring Native history, arts, and even language.

Throughout the festival, the Thunderbird American Indian Dancers performed a number of intertribal songs and dances, as well as an Eagle Dance originated by the Hopi tribe. Storyteller Tchin shared Blackfoot and Narragansett legends about the origins of animal relationships, playing songs on his nose flute between stories. Attendees were invited to join in a Taíno dance, featuring rhythms native to the Indigenous Caribbean people. Given New York’s significant Puerto Rican and Dominican populations, a number of whom identify as Indigenous, Taíno culture and history were prominent throughout the festival.

Among stalls selling blankets, jewelry, and crafts from tribes like the Kiowa, and Oneida, Jorge Baracutei Estevez displayed his work on Hiwatahia, a new language born from Taino roots. Estevez, an Arawak linguist, began efforts with a list of 3200 documented Taino nouns. With the help of Taíno friends and linguists, Hiwatahia worked on a standardized orthography and a new set of grammatical rules. The mission of Estevez’s Higuayagua group is not to revive Taíno, acknowledging that records of the language are too sparse to determine its original form; rather, the team seeks to reconstruct a new and autonomous Taíno language, blending elements of Arawakan languages like Wayuu, Lokono, Baniwa, Wapishana, Tariana, and Garifuna. In his efforts to bring Hiwatahia to life, Estevez teaches children the language and holds weekly classes to expand Taíno culture in New York City. (Post by Matthew Malone)