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Aspects of
Carib/Kalinago
Culture

Carib was a name used by Europeans to describe those people who inhabited the islands of the Lesser Antilles at the time of Columbus' second voyage in 1493. This was not what the people called themselves. The repeated use of the name for over five centuries however, has made it widely adopted even by the descendants of the people themselves. The French missionary Raymond Breton, visiting Dominica in 1642, recorded that the "Caribs'" name for themselves was Callinago in the "men's language" and Calliponam in the "women's language", while Callínemeti was "a good peaceful man". This has now led to the adoption of the word Kalinago and Karifuna by cultural groups, anthropologists and historians to describe the Caribs. The "Black Caribs" of Belize, who are descended from ancestors in St. Vincent, call themselves the "Garifuna".

Kalinago: The Carib word for the Carib people. As Father Breton, who lived among the Kalinago in Dominica off and on between 1642 and 1653 says in his dictionary: "This is the real name of the Caribs of the islands." He wrote it as "Callinago", but the usual phonetic writing today is "Kalinago". "Kalinemeti" means "A good, peaceful man".

Carib Reserve: A district on the north east coast now more popularly called the Carib Territory. It is an area of some 3,785 acres bordered roughly on the north by a ravine called Big River, to the west by the centre of the Pagua Valley, to the south by a line leading inland from the Aratouri Ravine and on the east by the Atlantic Ocean. This was the rugged unoccupied part of the island to which the majority of Caribs retreated after the colonisation of the rest of Dominica by the French and British. However many other Caribs remained in their previously occupied zones and mixed with the newcomers. For years during the 19th century the district was known as the Carib Quarter. In 1902 the British Administrator Henry Hesketh Bell, influenced by Victorian anthropology and a personal desire to preserve "the last of the tribe", persuaded the British government to give him permission to declare the area as reserved for the Caribs. This was done on 4 July 1903. The plan of the Reserve was based on a tracing of the Byres map of 1776 but no actual survey was ever carried out and there has been continuous controversy over the boundary lines. Bell officially recognised a Chief of the Caribs. In 1952 local government introduced a council system and in 1978 a Carib Reserve Act was passed to further formalise the affairs of the Territory.

Carib: As a place name, there are some areas outside of the Carib Territory that are called Carib as a result of being places which were occupied by Caribs during the colonial period. Pointe Carib between Bagatelle and Stowe was one such place, known to the Caribs themselves as Ouycala. Others were Carib at Pennville and Carib at Delices and Point Carib at Boetica. The Indian River near Portsmouth is so named because of a well-documented settlement of Caribs that existed on the upper banks of the river.

Kaire, (Acaera): For many years this was mistaken to be the indigenous name of Dominica. It is also claimed by Trinidad. It is the Arawakan word for "an island". The mistake arose during the second voyage of Columbus when the Spanish first sighted and named Dominica. When they reached neighbouring Guadeloupe (Karouacaera), a writer on the voyage, pointing across to Dominica, asked one of the women what was the name of the first place that they had sighted. She apparently replied in Carib, "acaera", which, like kaire in Arawakan, simply means "an island". In his journal the writer noted down "Ceyre…is the first [island] we saw but did not visit". This report, based on a mistake, led to the belief that the island, Dominica, was called Kaire. Some one hundred and fifty years later Father Breton found out that the Carib name for the island was actually Ouaitoucoubouli, now written Wai'tukubuli.

Ouaitoucoubouli: The original spelling of the Carib name for Dominica used by Father Raymond Breton in 1665, but now more popularly spelt: Wai'tukubuli. It means, "Tall is her body", alluding to the mountainous nature of the island. The construction of the word is as follows: ouaitumti = it is tall. nocoubou = my body. li = her, (Tall-body-her). If you were an inhabitant of Dominica, you were a Ouaitoucoubouliri.

Karifuna: (C) The Carib word for Carib women. Father Breton says: "The women are called Calliponam". Some linguists say that this is the name of the Caribs "in the women's language". There is also confusion over the pronunciation of the letters "L" and "P" in the Carib language. In many cases these letters were actually pronounced as "R" and "F" respectively, so Breton's Calliponam may actually be Carifunam, which became Karifuna. The Black Caribs of St. Vincent who were expelled by the British in 1797 to Rautan Island off Belize, and who now live in southern Belize, call themselves the "Garifuna". The main Carib cultural group in Dominica, established in 1978, call themselves The Karifuna Cultural Group.

The main indigenous art forms of the Carib people in Dominica were:

Architecture

All materials used by the Carib/Kalinago people came from the land around them. Their houses were of several types.

Ajoupa: The basic ajoupa, which was a shed-like or "lean-to" structure made for sheltering a cooking or cassava making area of a shelter easily put up in the forest as a camp for hunting and canoe construction. This was made of about four stout posts anchored in the ground and held up by two other posts and a cross-beam. Thin laths of wood were placed across this frame which then was covered with balizier leaves or various types of forest palm leaves. The buildings were tied together with maho bark rope.

Maho: The Caribs grouped plants according to their uses and any plant with a bark capable of making rope was described as a "maho". The French took the word and wrote it in their own way: "mahaut". Since there were no nails or wire or bolts, everything was tied together with maho. House posts, roofing thatch, hammocks, head straps for carrying load, for attaching things to canoes, anchor ropes, net ropes and for hauling, all depended on maho. As Father Breton writes in his Carib Dictionary, "In short, I do not think that they could exist without maho". In Western scientific botany the Mahaut is found in divers plant families: Cordia (Boraginaceae), Pavonia and Hibiscus (Malvaceae), Triumfetat (Tiliaceae) and Sterculia (Sterculiaceae).

Karbay: Also written in French as "Carbet". A term used by the French to describe the main meetinghouse and settlements of the Caribs. The Caribs themselves called this house "Taboui", but the French settlers had picked up the name "Karbay" when they had lived among the Tupi-guarani tribe of Amerindians in Brazil. The French had also brought many Tupi-guarani people from Brazil to work for them in Martinique, Dominica and Guadeloupe. These people used their own language to describe familiar things that they saw in Dominica. Several words that today are passed off as Carib have their origins in the Tupi-guarani language. This word "Karbay" is one of them. It was used so often in the new French/Carib/Tupi-guarani/Creole language that was emerging, that succeeding generations of Caribs abandoned their own word "Taboui" and adopted "Karbay". It has been used for so long by the Caribs, that today it is considered by them to be a Carib word.

The Karbay was a large building, in most cases about 60 feet long and thirty feet wide. It was made of tall round wood posts and was of an oval shape with a tall steep roof. The posts which supported the roof were also used to tie hammocks for sleeping. The roof was thatched with palm leaves or the leaves of "roseaux" reeds.

Roseaux: (Arundo saccharoides) Wild Cane in English. This tall reed grows throughout tropical America. It is found on Dominica mainly along stream banks and its French name was given to the capital of the island. Among the Carib/Kalinago people the name was bouleua, "arrow, pierce" and mabulu. It was used in numerous ways. The hard main stem was used as wattle work for the sides of houses and for lathes or thatching rods for the roof. The fan-shaped leaves were used as thatch.

The young shoots of unopened leaves were used for shampoo. The light, straight, mature upper stems on which the flowers grew were used for the shafts of arrows. The young main stem was stripped and used in certain parts of basket making. The midrib of the leaf is also peeled, bleached and sun-dried to be plaited and sown for the making of hats. Recently, some people have returned to using the main stem of the roseaux reeds as decorative work in hotels, bars and guesthouses. Much could still be made of this product today.

The Karbay was divided into different zones for family hammocks, visitor hammocks and a central place for gatherings and for eating and feasts.

Music:

The Carib/Kalinago music was based on percussion instruments made of wood and gourds or calabashes. There were no animals such as goats and cattle with which to make drums and so the main instruments were in the form of wooden gongs made of hollowed out logs of wood, which were beaten with sticks. The shack-shack of small calabashes filled with stones or seeds and with a long wooden handle was also an important instrument. This rhythmic music was accompanied by chants in the same way that tribes in the Amazon region of South America still perform.

Painting:

The pottery of the Carib/Kalinago people was painted with earth-based colours that were grinded from red, ochre, white and other earth-toned rocks. Finely ground charcoal was used to make black paint and to darken other colours. All painting represented mythical symbols associated with their beliefs.

Roucou: (C) (Bixa orellana) Annatto, a shrub native to South America and widespread on the islands. It is used mostly as a vegetable dye for food. In the past, annatto was used by the indigenous people of Dominica mainly as a protective ornamental paint and as warpaint on the body. As a body paint it was sometimes mixed with powdered charcoal to darken its colour. Mixed with oil it also served as a sun and insect lotion.

Baskets:

Oualloman: (C) The reeds used for making the Carib baskets, tables, cassava squeezers and other utensils woven by the Caribs. By the time that the French settlers had Creolized the word, it became l'arouman, the word that even Caribs use today. The scientific name is Ischosiphon arouma. The plant is found from the Amazon River, north to Guadeloupe and was brought to the Antilles by the indigenous people some two thousand years ago. The stems are cut after having grown to a height of 12-15 feet. They are then stripped into four segments during which most of the pith is removed. They are spread in the sun to dry and during this time acquire a reddish brown colour. A black colour is obtained by putting the strands into mud holes for a few days. Creamy white strands are obtained by using the underside of the brown strips. Thus three colours are available for weaving the various traditional basket designs: brown, white and black.

Kaklin: (C) (Clusia venosa). This is the dominant tree of the Elfin Woodland, found on the highest peaks of Dominica's mountains. It is also sometimes found in the Littoral Forest along the east and north east coast clinging to cliffs and to the sides of ravines. It has thick rubbery leaves, which can withstand the wind and almost constant rain or sea spray. It bears a glossy deep purple coloured fruit. Its hanging aerial roots are used to make the frames of certain types of baskets.

Pottery:

Pottery was made out of clay from different parts of Dominica. Different pots were given different names according to their use.

Canari: A large earthenware bowl made by the Caribs to ferment and store their cassava beer called ouicou. The original word was Canalli, which was adapted by the French and Africans to Canari. In Creole it means any large earthenware pot, but the Caribs had many different names for each type of pot according to its use. It is also the name of a stream, Layvyè Canari, at Castle Comfort.

Sculpture:

Carvings were made in stone, wood and bone. Bas-relief carvings were done on the side of big rocks. These are called petroglyphs and are found on many Caribbean islands.

Stone tools:

The types of stone best suited for making particular tools such as mortars and axe-heads, hoücoue, were categorised by uses (Breton,1665:239). Flakes of jasper were necessary for making graters, takia kani, for shredding cassava tubers. The identification of jasper deposits was crucial for this process as were types of rock best suited for making into particular tools and other objects. Some of these are recorded by Breton with their Carib names and are identified in some cases to have been common to particular islands (Breton 1665:195):

tebou - stone
couléhueyou - firestone, for lighting fire
coyébali itágueli - smooth stone
taoüa - white stone
coyláya - black stone
ouroúali - pumice stone, with which they polish their 'auirons'
cherouli - pumice stone from Marie Galante
méoulou - pumice stone from Martinique
teukê oúbao - precious stones
tlimáparacola balou balou - green stone for the men
tácaoüa, tacoúlaoüa - green stones which serve as jewels for the women
macónabou - counterfeit green stones (Breton,1666:291,292).

Dance:

The dances were representative of the spirit world of ancestors and nature. Some dances represented hunting and fishing or the stories of the creation of the Kalinago universe, the constellations of stars and the changes in the seasons. The dances were choreographed in circles and lines of dancers similar to those still danced among the indigenous people of South America today. As they danced they chanted in time with the music and many dancers carried and played shack-shacks as they danced.

Some Kalinago History

The people of Ouhayo
Prince Rupert's Bay at Portsmouth in the north of Dominica was an ideal setting for the pre-Columbian people of Dominica. It possessed all the requirements of the island-bases tribes who roamed the Caribbean from 5 000 BC: the sheltered bay, fresh water, reefs and fishing banks, land for cultivation and abundant forests bearing all the wood, thatch, bark, fruit and herbs which they needed for their self-sufficient existence. They called the bay Ouhayo and the island Wai'tukubuli.

Hardly any archeological study has made of the area, but through the years visiting experts and enthusiasts have picked up clues which indicate that settlements existing here following the pattern of other Amerindian habitation in the Lesser Antilles. When the Spaniards first reached Prince Rupert's Bay, first without landing in 1493 and then more effectively in 1502, they found the area inhabited by Indians who spoke Cariban, a language, which like Arawakan, is widespread in eastern South America. The material culture of these people belonged to the final pre-Columbian age, or period of development, in the Caribbean area; that age is know as the Neo-Indian. This means that the Caribs, like the Arawaks on other islands, made pottery. They also knew the art of farming and were skilled mariners.

It is probable that bays such as Prince Rupert's were populated by man early as 5 000 BC. We know about the Arawake from their finely decorated pottery chards and also from artifacts on other islands, but about the Caribs of Prince Rupert's Bay we have the more definite reports of Spanish, French and British visitors who called here after 1493.

The Carib villages along the Bay were each made up of a small number of house with the carbet or communal longhouse in the midst of the dwellings. Reports indicate that these dwellings were on firm ground out of the reach of the swamps. Missionaries and other visitors in the 17th century described the giant carbet of the chief of Ouhayo on the bank of the Indian River.

This was a splendid site for a major village. The canoes entered the river from the sea, paddling up to the firm ground some 300 metres upstream. Here, surrounded by smaller dwellings was the longhouse of Ouhayo, the big meeting place where the men assembled. It was 40 to 50 metres long and could hold some 150 hammocks slung from the several stout posts supporting the roof. This vaguely oval building was thatched with cachibou leaves tied down with mahoe bark cord.

The men were the fishermen, hunters, warriors, boatbuilders and basket makers. The women's work was plant, prepare and cook food. They also spun thread, wove hammocks and made clay vessels for holding food and liquid.

This pattern did not change as soon as a single Spanish caravel rounded the Cabrits point November 3, 1493, circled the bay and then sailed out again. Dominica, through the Caribs and its terrain, resisted colonization for a longer period than any other island of the Caribbean. Although many visitors called at Ouhayo during the next 250 years, the Caribs still held sway over the area until about the 1740's

Carib Warner: c1635-1674. The name that was given to the half-Carib son of Sir Thomas Warner, the English coloniser of St. Kitts. Carib Warner's name was also Thomas. His mother was a Carib woman from Dominica who was living in St.Kitts at the time of the English settlement. The boy grew up among his father's family, but at about the age of thirteen, his father died and his English stepmother wanted him out of the house. Along with other Caribs he retreated to Dominica where he rose to be a chief along the west coast in the vicinity of the present day village of Massacre. He used his knowledge of European ways and his Carib ancestry to the fullest, playing the French against the English in an effort to retain Dominica for the Caribs. The English in Barbados favoured him as an ally and the Governor Willoughby made him a colonel and Lieutenant Governor of Dominica. In 1666, Carib Warner was captured by the French and imprisoned. On 9 December the following year, Willoughby procured his release and reinstated him as governor of Dominica. In February 1668 a peace was agreed between the English and the Caribs through the medium of Carib Warner. But the English in Antigua did not see the Caribs in the same light as those in Barbados, and were angry at continued Carib raids on the Leeward Islands. Carib Warner's English half-brother, Phillip, led a force against him from Antigua, murdered him and massacred his village. The French gave the name Massacre to the site.

 




 

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