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Voices from the past

In February 2006, the local Carib Council launched the Kalinago Barana Autê a Carib cultural village within the Carib Territory, where visitors can get a glimpse of their ancestral roots, especially from their crafts, canoe building and traditional culinary activities.

It’s hard not to be intrigued by the diversity of indigenous communities that exist throughout the islands, each with a unique mix of cultures, customs and traditions. And yet how much do we really know about our ancestors and the communities of their descendents still living in the Caribbean and struggling to preserve their traditions and way of life?

In the Beginning
The Carib Indians (Kalinago) and Arawaks were among the earliest indigenous inhabitants of the Caribbean, having arrived here nearly six thousand years ago from Central and South America. Over the years the two nomadic groups invaded each other’s spaces and often the Kalinagos took control of the islands they populated. As a result, cultures and languages became fused and their simple hunter-gatherer lifestyle continued peacefully for hundreds of generations before the Europeans arrived. The appearance of the Spanish in the Caribbean in 1492, was the beginning of the decline of the indigenous peoples.

The Kalinagos and the Arawaks were gradually wiped out by the Europeans, with the peaceful Arawaks suffering the greater loss. Because of their ability to defend themselves, the Kalinagos were the last defenders of the resistance against the European colonisation of the islands. A mere 400 Kalinagos had survived the struggle by 1686.

Five hundred years later we have come to know about the Caribbean’s indigenous people through the descendants of those who did survive and who continue to honour their rich heritage and pass it on to forthcoming generations. Dominica is the only island with the last remaining tribe of Carib Indians. However, there are several hundred ethnic Caribs in St Vincent, Trinidad, Guyana and in South American countries such as Venezuela, Guatamala, Colombia, Brazil, French Guiana and Suriname.

Human cultures are constantly changing and the Carib heritage is no exception. Advancements in technology and communication, modern medicine and other developments have altered their way of life tremendously, and many aspects of the indigenous culture have either disappeared or are in serious danger of extinction. However, there are members of each community who are determined to uphold and preserve their traditions and culture.

At present approximately 3000 Kalinagos inhabit a 3700-acre territory on the north-eastern coast of Dominica. For many years, the Kalinagos lived a simple life in their respective communities, carrying on the many traditions of their forefathers.

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