Carib Contribution
The Impact of the Indigenous People

on the Development on the Dominican Society up to 1985


The Carib language is used widely even today in our Creole speech and also in English. This is because many of the names that we use everyday for fish, plants and wildlife are of Carib origin. Of all the people in the Caribbean, Dominicans are the largest users of indigenous words because so many of these words continue to be used from the time that Caribs dominated the island. Examples of fish are balaou, vivaneau, couliou, taza and sibouli. In wildlife we say cirique for the freshwater crab, manicou for the opossum, agouti for the wild rodent which is hunted and Sisserou for the national bird. In plant life there is the zicacque for fat pork, ananas for pinapple, cachima for custard apple, and for forest trees we have acajou, coubari, acouma and balata as examples.


The place names of Dominica are in three languages: Carib, French and English. There has been a major Carib contribution in the place names. Some of these are Calibishie, Bataca, Salybia, Colihaut, Berricoua, Macoucheri, Layou, Mero, Mahaut, Boeri, Taberi, Sari-Sari, and Ouanari. These are just a few of them. Dominica has the largest number of indigenous place names of any Eastern Caribbean country


The majority of boats used in the fishing industry of Dominica are Carib canoes made out of the rain forest Gommier trees. They were made this way from before the arrival of Christopher Columbus. This is perhaps one of the biggest contributions to the development of Dominica because fishing in these boats provides a great source of protein for the nutrition of Dominicans. The Caribs also contributed many techniques and tools of fishing to modern Dominicans. A type of net, the Cali, and the club used for killing large fish called the batu still bear their Carib names.


Cassava was the main food staple for the Caribs and it is still grown and processed in Dominica particularly on the east coast of the island. It is an important source of starch and is made into cassava farine and into cassava cakes called kassav. One of the main contributions that were also handed down was how to grate the cassava roots and remove the toxic poison from it so that it could be eaten by humans.


Knowledge of the use of medicinal plants that grew on the island was handed down by the Caribs to the new African and European arrivals. These had been used for cures and sacred purposes for centuries and the knowledge was transferred.


Carib handcraft is now a very important part of the Dominican small economy especially now that the tourism industry is being promoted and the banana industry is declining. The Carib baskets are unique in the Caribbean because they are made of particular local plants and are produced in a style and with skills handed down before the arrival of Columbus in this part of the world. Baskets are sold to tourists and are used in the hotel industry and exported for sale abroad which helps with obtaining foreign exchange from overseas.


The Caribs contributed methods or agriculture which was adopted by the new arrivals. They had digging sticks which are still used for planting dashine, they had methods of clearing the forest and lighting boucan (a Carib word) to prepare gardens for planting crops. In a variety of ways Carib farming knowledge has helped support small farmers in Dominica over the years.


The people of African and European descent on Dominica have an added identity which other Caribbean national s do not have by pointing to the Carib presence among them and the contributions that they have made to our culture and society. The Caribs themselves have developed a new pride in themselves and their role as Dominicans as they continue to discover more about their past and make use of it to develop themselves in the present, particularly in terms of education and tourism.


Dominica was the last island in the Caribbean to be colonized and so it was able to maintain so much of its natural landscape and the identity of its indigenous people. The Caribs had fought hard to defend the island from being taken away from them by outsiders and this has enabled present day Dominicans to enjoy more access to their island home by greater local land ownership and large areas of virgin land for national parks, forest reserves and water catchment areas. They have contributed significantly towards Dominica being able to call itself the nature island of the Caribbean


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