The Kalinago- The History of the Dominica Carib Indians
The Kalinago – Carib history people dates back to as early as 1000 B.C. This indigenous tribe, along with several others who inhabited the Americas, is believed to have originally migrated across the Bering Strait when the level of the oceans decreased, forming a bridge between Alaska and Siberia. These Indian tribes headed towards North America and eventually down through Central and South America, particularly along the Orinoco River.
The Kalinago – Carib Indians has had a history of their consistent pursuits of the Arawak Indians, a tribe identified by its dark brown skin color and docile nature. Brutal settlement raids, the killing of men folk and theft of wives bring excitement to the several tales that form part of the history of the Carib Indians, who also were often referred to as cannibals, as one of their traditional practices included tying the limbs of their enemies onto the bows of their canoes as trophies of victory. In fact, these indigenous people were given the name “Carib” by the Europeans because this was not they called themselves. According to one source, the historical Kalinago – Carib name for the men was “Karina” and the women “Karipona”. The Kalinago of Dominica was referred to as Caribales by the Spanish settlers, from where the tem “cannibal” originated.
Although the Caribs were said to be of greater stature than the Arawaks, they were an equally beautiful, graceful, smiling and well-shaped people with long straight black hair. They generally wore no clothes but often times tied a strip of cotton fabric around their loins, and daily rubbed themselves with the red dye “roucou” or Anatto plant, while drawing patterns on their skins. Often times, the men wore a headdress of feathers with ornaments through their lips and necklaces of coral and bone, while the women wore tightly woven bands around each leg. Unlike the Arawaks, the Dominica Kalinago lived in thatched roof rectangular houses.
The Kalinago – Carib’s history includes religious practices that involved the worship of ancestors, nature and the belief in “Maboya”, the evil spirit, who they had to satisfy. The chief function of their priests or “Boyez” was healing the sick with herbs. Magic was used, and generally the Boyez were little more than sorcerers. The Carib Chief in Dominica usually became head man by right of birth, but sometimes a chief might be chosen for being an outstanding warrior. Their judicial system was very simple; those who were wronged righted their wrongs by taking revenge on the law breaker.
Though the Caribs in Dominica were bred for war they practiced agriculture and lived on provisions such as cassava, yam, sweet potatoes and fried fish and fruit. They also grew crops of tobacco and spun and wove cotton. With the entire islands to themselves, the Caribs of Dominica were free to plant crops wherever the pleased and made their gardens some distance away from their settlements. The men burned the trees and cleared the land while the women planted. The ground was broken with a pointed stick and dug with implements of stone and shell.
Hunting was done with bow and arrow as a sport as well as a necessity. For this, non-poisonous arrows made from roseau reed and tipped with sharp wooden heads were used. For war, arrowheads of sharp fish bone with the tips smeared with poison from the manchineel tree were used. Sometimes, the Dominica Caribs fixed blunt plugs on the arrows to stun birds wanted alive. They captured parrots and tamed them as pets. Agouti was the only meat they ate besides birds and fish.
However, more important to the Dominica Caribs than hunting and agriculture was fishing in the sea. Here they excelled. They had some knowledge of the stars and could use them for navigating in the open sea. Today, models of the canoes used by the Caribs hundreds of years ago can still be seen. Carved out of whole tree trunks, there were two kinds. The smaller, called “couliana”, was at most twenty feet long and pointed at both ends. This type was only used for offshore fishing and could hold few people. The bigger craft was called “canoua”, the word is still used today, and the more important of these were up to 50 feet long and could carry 30 to 40 people.
These vessels were dug out of logs stretched by fire and soaked with water after which the hulls were kept in position by wooden ribs. Planks were fastened on by drilling holes and lashing them in place with fibre rope. Today, nails are used by modern canoe builders who work along the north-east cost of Dominica.
The complete equipment of the early Carib canoe included paddles shaped like shovels, a long pole for navigating over reefs, rope made of “maho” bark, and a stone anchor. It was in the large canouas that the Dominica Caribs went to attack other islands and made long voyages and fishing trips. They also constructed rafts and “Bois Canot”.
The history of the Carib Indians in Dominica is also full of numerous tales and Legends. For example, as related by Lenox Honeychurch, for early Caribs, the moon was a man with a dirty face. The story is that once upon a time, a Carib girl was visited during the night by an unknown man and became pregnant. Therefore, her mother found someone to keep watch on her daughter and that night the guard lay waiting for the lover to return. However, because it was very dark the guard decided to take the juice of the genip fruit ( a small round fleshy fruit with a sturdy green shell) and smear it on the lover’s face so that he could be recognized the following day.
In the morning, they found out that the girl’s lover was her own brother and people mocked him so much that for shame he withdrew to the sky. There he is seen as the moon, his face still dirty with genip stains.
The child who was born of this union was called Hiali and it was believed that he was the founder of the Carib nation. While Hiali was still a baby, a humming bird was chosen to take him to the sky so that his father might see him. As a reward for this service the humming-brid was given his beautiful feathers and the little cap he wears on top of his head.