Kalinago People

Beez Neez
Skipper and First Mate Millard (Big Bear and Pepe)
Fri 6 Mar 2009 23:55


The Kalinago Barana Aute




After a picnic on the coast we went in search of the Carib Village.




Bear in the car as Roger, Sasha and I went off to talk to a lady about the differences between plantain and banana, she introduced a new species altogether, the cockqui, we left her even more confounded. A couple of wrong turns asking various people we met along the way, eventually we found it. The Kalinago Barana Aute (The Carib Cultural Village) which offers an opportunity to see and learn the authentic heritage of the last remaining Kalinago People of the Caribbean. We had a young tour guide who showed us around. We saw basket weaving, cassava bread baking, fish being smoked and various medicinal plants and trees were pointed out with their uses explained.





Dominica was the name given to 289.8 square  miles of land by Christopher Columbus, when he landed on the island on November 3rd 1493. On the north eastern side of this beautiful tropical rainforest island is 3782.03 acres of land set aside known as the Carib Territory. It is situated between two villages, Atkinson to the North and Castle Bruce to the South. It is the home of approximately 2208 Kalinagos (Caribs), the remaining survivors of the first inhabitants of the island. The people called the island Waitukubuli (tall is her body), and they referred to themselves Kalinagos. The Europeans referred to them as Caribs.




Before we entered the village we saw this Carib lady on the cliff road baking. The cassava, cassada, yuca, manioc, mogoor mandioca (Manihot esculenta) is a woody shrub of the spurge family native to South America that is extensively cultivated as an annual crop in tropical and subtropical regions for its edible starchy tuberous root a major source of carbohydrate. Cassava is the third largest source of carbohydrates for human food in the world, with Africa its largest centre of production. The flour made of the roots is called tapioca. In the islands of the Eastern Caribbean, cassava is traditionally peeled and boiled and served with flour dumplings and other root vegetables like potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes and dasheen. The softly boiled root has a delicate flavour and can replace boiled potatoes in many meals, or deep fried it is rather like chips. Cassava leaves are a good source of protein if supplemented with methionine despite containing cyanide. We bought two breads, very heavy, with the texture of rough coconut, quite chewy but pleased we tried it.




The Karbet or men's quarters. Inside beautiful construction. A small hut or Mwina.

The Caribs and Colonial forces. For more than two centuries, colonial forces attempted to gain control of the island but the Kalinagos met them with fierce resistance. Due to the inaccessibility of the coastline and the rugged terrain of the island, the Kalinagos managed to repel the invaders. The island changed hands many times but still the Kalinagos defended their lands. In 1748, under the treaty of Aix-La- Chapel, Britain and France recognized the Kalinago domination of the island and declared it to be neutral and left it under Kalinago control. This treaty was short lived. The British continued to wage war on the Kalinago people but due to their courage and bravery they survived. In 1763, the British gained full control of Dominica. The Kalinagos were given 232 acres of mountainous and rocky shoreline in Salybia. In 1903, the amount of land was expanded to 3700 acres and was called the Carib Reserve; in addition the Carib Chief was officially recognized. Before the arrival of Christopher Columbus the Kalinagos were self-reliant people. They survived mainly by fishing, hunting, and farming. They were skilled craft people and made canoes hewn from Gommier trees; which were used to travel to and from the neighboring islands. The Caribs also weaved baskets and were famous for their herbal medicine. They spoke their own language and worshipped the Spirit of their ancestors. The Carib Council officially has the custody, management and control of the Reserve, for and on the behalf of the residents of the Reserve. The first chief was Jules Benjamin Corriette from 1916 to 1926. The chief was allowed twelve wives all other men six, by arranged marriage with one of the other seven villages.





If the villagers are suffering from bad dreams, the chief comes down to where the river and sea touch. He bathes in herbs and the dreams abate. It is believed that the Kalinago people transported the Larouma plant to Dominica from South America over 1000 years ago. As part of the culture of the Kalinago people, the plant was passed on from past to present generations and they nurtured the skills and creativity to weave extremely beautiful, valuable and functional craft from it. These products include: bottles, baskets, caps and hats, sifter, squeezer, mats and finger traps today still weaved by hand. The calabash have creative and traditional carvings on them which were made by the Kalinagos. The calabash can be used for eating utensils or for decorations, like on St Lucia the fruit is inedible. Calabash is widely used by the Kalinagos and Dominican in general.




The candle plant - its leaves are stripped and the stalk is placed in the candle holder. Sugar cane crusher, a work bench in a hut.

Carib, Island Carib or Kalinago people, after whom the Caribbean Sea was named, live in the Lesser Antilles islands. They are an Amerindian people whose origins lie in the southern West Indes and the northern coast of South America. Although the men spoke either a Carib language or a pidgin, the Caribs' raids resulted in so many female Arawak captives that it was not uncommon for the women to speak Kalhiphona, a Maipurean language - Arawakan. In the southern Caribbean they co-existed with a related Cariban-speaking group, the Galibi, who lived in separate villages in Grenada and Tobago and are believed to have been mainland Caribs.




The path down to the village. A modern Carib, made us laugh, with her Woolworth grater and mobile phone. Fish smoking in heated rocks and the source of fire for the village.


The Caribs are believed to have left the Orinoco River area in South America to settle in the Caribbean. Over the century leading up to Columbus' arrival in the Caribbean archipelago in 1492, the Caribs are believed to have displaced the Maipurean-speaking Arawaks who settled the island chains earlier in history. The islanders also traded with the Eastern Taino of the Caribbean Islands. The Caribs were the source of the silver which de Leon found in the possession of the Taíno; gold was not smelted by any of the insular Amerindians, but rather was obtained by trade from the mainland. The Caribs were skilled boat builders and sailors, and seem to have owed their dominance in the Caribbean basin to their mastery of the arts of war. The Caribs were themselves displaced by the Europeans, and most were eventually killed in battle, assimilated during the colonial period, or retained areas such as on Dominica

The Black Caribs, Garifuna of St Vincent inherit their ethnicity from a group of black slaves who were marooned in a 1675 shipwreck possibly after seizing power from the crew. In 1795, they were deported to Roatan Island, off Honduras, where their descendants, the Garífuna, still live today. Carib resistance delayed the settlement of Dominica by Europeans, and the Carib communities that remained in St. Vincent and Dominica retained a degree of autonomy well into the 19th century. The last known speakers of Island Carib died in the 1920s.




The humble fern, its underside and having been pressed onto our guides' hand.


The Caribs are believed to have been polytheists (worship of more than one God). That was not known by Columbus, or any other European. The reason for their invasion was to convert the Caribs, whom they thought were Pagans, to Catholicism. The Kalinago religion was a simple adaptation of the ancestor worship of the Taino. They believed in an evil spirit called Maybouya who had to be placated in order to avoid harm. The chief function of their shamans, called boyez, was to heal the sick with herbs and to cast spells (piai) which would keep Maybouya at bay. The boyez were very important and underwent special training instead of becoming warriors. As they were held to be the only people who could avert evil, they were treated with great respect. Their ceremonies were accompanied with sacrifices. As with the Arawaks, tobacco played a large part in these religious rites. 




The Caconier tree grows hollow, the spirits whisper in them and they are used to make drums. Our guide breaking open an almond, soft, succulent and not at all like eating them from a supermarket. The almond tree felled by Hurricane David, but alive and well at a jaunty angle. Sasha has a Bay Leaf tucked in her T-shirt to protect her from the whispering spirits. These Bay leaves have a much stronger aroma of incense than what we grow in the UK for stews.




The white cedar, used for furniture. The young leaf of the tree protects itself by looking dead and deformed. The Noni or Morinda Citrifloia is used for blood pressure, diabetes, prostate trouble and to settle the stomach.


At that time there lived in Salybia two brothers called Maruka and Cimanari, famous for the charms they made. They would go up to the house of the master Tete Chien - the same who when the earth was soft, made the stairway of the Tete Chien at Sineku. He is a giant snake, has a crest of diamonds on his head and crows just like a cockerel. When they found him, they would burn powdered tobacco before him on the blade of a paddle. Then the Tete Chien would vomit - " l'envers caraibe". Then the snake would disappear gradually, and in his place came a young man "sans cullote" (naked). The young man said nothing about  being the Tete Chien, but asked Maruka and Cimanari what they wanted, he then instructed them how to use the l'envers caraibe to make their charms.

Maruka and Cimanari did not die in Salybia. When they felt old age approaching they returned to the 'other country'. When they reached the shores of the Orinoco River, they plunged into the stream, when they climbed out on the opposite banks, they became two young lads again, on the water where they had been floated two turtle shells. They never came back to Dominica, at last one of them died; but the other is still living there.





On the extremity of a narrow ridge opposite and beyond Bataka is perched a huge rock, 60 feet in height, that overlooks the valley of Pagua, the Ocean and the Reserve. It is a blackish, crumbling rock, on its summit and from its precipitous sides grow vines and plants, a stunted scrub, and a kind of wild orchid. It is known as La Roche Pagua, and is the home of a benevolent spirit about whom many tales are told. The people of Bataka used to go up the Pagua rock in search of charms. There are steps leading to the base of the rock and on its top, a crack that goes through the inside. That is where the Zombie lives, if ever you see him it means someone is going to die soon. On the top of the rock there grew all manner of charms, but in particular a white flower with so sweet a smell, that people passing on the highway at the foot of the cliff may easily catch the fragrance. When it is flowering, a new blossom comes on every hour of the day and every hour another fades and falls. If you are lucky enough to find one of these flowers, you may command whoever you wish. You only have to rub on the palm of your hand, raise your hand in the direction of a person and call their name, however far they may be, they will have to obey and come to you. If you go in quest of the flower, it is wise to take with you a white cock, or at least some powdered tobacco, as a gift to the spirit of the rock.




A canoe maker, a spirit and an ancient relative.


Early Carib culture, as seen from a distance, appears especially patriachal. Women carried out primarily domestic duties and farming, and in the 17th century lived in separate houses (a custom which also suggests South American origin) from men. However, women were highly revered and held substantial socio-political power. The local self-government unit may have been the longhouse dwellings populated by men or women, typically run by one or more chieftains reporting to an island council. Many people seem, however, to believe that the Carib women held no purpose other than to produce offspring. Boys were more hoped for so that they would be able to become a warrior.




This tree provides brooms from tying the leaves together, the fruit makes toothbrushes. Or as Bear said Dentistree. I'll slap his legs later. Ajoupa means sunshade, small sloping - single sided shelters, the first providing cover for the grinder, the second covering a cooking pot.


Instances of cannibalism are said to have been noted as a feature of war rituals: the limbs of victims may have been taken home as trophies. While the Kalinago would chew and spit out one mouthful of flesh of a very brave warrior, so that his bravery would go to him, there is no evidence that they ate humans to satisfy hunger. The Kalinago also had a tradition of keeping the bones of their ancestors in their houses; initially this had been taken as evidence that they ate human flesh. Missionaries such as Pere Jean Baptiste Labat and Cesar de Rochefort described the Kalinago practice of preserving the bones of their ancestors in their houses in the belief that the ancestral spirits would always look after the bones and protect their descendants. Even after Columbus was presented with evidence that the cannibalism of the indigenous people was a myth, the myth was perpetuated because in 1503, Queen Isabella ruled that only people who were better off under slavery (including cannibals) could legally be taken as slaves. This provided Spaniards an incentive and legalistic pretext for identifying various Amerindian groups as cannibals in order to enslave them and take their lands away from them. To this day the Kalinago people fight against what they regard as a misconception about their ancestors. The film Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest was recently criticised by the National Garifuna Council for portraying the Carib people as cannibals.




Bear, Roger, Sasha and our guide stop to take in the view.

On the East Coast of Dominica, the native Dominicans live in peace and harmony. They are the most of their kind living together, the second inhabitants of the island after the Ciboneys. Unfortunately, due to inaccurate accounts written about them, Caribs have been regarded for many years as "fierce and warlike." However, any encounter with the Caribs, would quickly change one's mind. "Gentle" seems to be their generic trait. They are uncomplicated people who rely on the earth and the sea for a living.

When Christopher Columbus landed in Dominica in 1493 with his men and his ships in search of gold and fortune, they were dismayed to find only rivers, rich volcanic soil, mountains and the Caribs! The Caribs had settled on Dominica, but their ancestors had come from South America: down the Orinoco river and then up the Caribbean Sea where they settled on the most rugged of the islands in order to protect themselves from enemies. The Caribs welcomed Columbus and his men and in return Columbus worked them, almost to the verge of extinction.




ALL IN ALL the Kalinago people didn’t mind Columbus landing or leaving, they just weren't pleased to see him back with settlers. A people we warmed to immediately.