Island Caribs

Last updated
Carib indian family by John Gabriel Stedman.jpg
Carib family (by John Gabriel Stedman 1818)
Total population
4,000 [1] [2]
Regions with significant populations
Flag of Dominica.svg  Dominica and Flag of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.svg  Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, formerly throughout the Lesser Antilles and South America
English, Dominican Creole French, formerly Island Carib
Related ethnic groups
Garifuna, Black Carib, Taíno
Drawing of a Carib woman (1888) Dibujo de mujer caribe.jpg
Drawing of a Carib woman (1888)

The Island Carib, also known as the Kalinago [3] or simply Caribs, are an indigenous people of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean. They have descended from the Mainland Caribs (Kalina) of South America . [4] the men spoke a carib pidgin language of Karina origins. [4]

The indigenous peoples of the Caribbean included the Taíno, the Island Caribs of the Lesser Antilles, and the Guanahatabey of western Cuba.

Lesser Antilles Archipelago in the Southeast Caribbean

The Lesser Antilles is a group of islands in the Caribbean Sea. Most form a long, partly volcanic island arc between the Greater Antilles to the north-west and the continent of South America. The islands form the eastern boundary of the Caribbean Sea with the Atlantic Ocean. Together, the Lesser Antilles and the Greater Antilles compose the Antilles. When combined with the Lucayan Archipelago, all three are known as the West Indies.

Caribbean region to the center-east of America composed of many islands and of coastal regions of continental countries surrounding the Caribbean Sea

The Caribbean is a region of the Americas that consists of the Caribbean Sea, its islands and the surrounding coasts. The region is southeast of the Gulf of Mexico and the North American mainland, east of Central America, and north of South America.


At the time of Spanish contact, the Kalinagos were one of the dominant groups in the Caribbean, which owes its name to them. They lived throughout northeastern South America, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, the Windward Islands, Dominica, and possibly the southern Leeward Islands. Historically, it was thought their ancestors were mainland Caribs, known as the Igneri. The Igneri had conquered the islands from their previous inhabitants. However, linguistic and archaeological evidence disputes the notion of a mass emigration and conquest; the Island Carib language appears not to have been Cariban, but Arawakan, like that of their neighbors, the Taíno. Irving Rouse and others suggest that a smaller group of mainland Caribs conquered the islands without displacing their inhabitants, eventually adopting the local language but retaining their traditions of a South American origin. [5]

Spanish colonization of the Americas Overseas expansion under the Crown of Castile

The overseas expansion under the Crown of Castile was initiated under the royal authority and first accomplished by the Spanish conquistadors. The Americas were incorporated into the Spanish Empire, with the exception of Brazil, Canada, the eastern United States and several other small countries in South America and The Caribbean. The crown created civil and religious structures to administer the region. The motivations for colonial expansion were trade and the spread of the Catholic faith through indigenous conversions.

Trinidad and Tobago Island country in the Caribbean Sea

Trinidad and Tobago, officially the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, is a twin island country that is the southernmost nation of the West Indies in the Caribbean. It is situated 130 kilometres south of Grenada off the northern edge of the South American mainland, 11 kilometres off the coast of northeastern Venezuela. It shares maritime boundaries with Barbados to the northeast, Grenada to the northwest, Guyana to the southeast, and Venezuela to the south and west.

Barbados country in the Caribbean

Barbados is an island country in the Lesser Antilles of the West Indies, in the Caribbean region of North America. It is 34 kilometres in length and up to 23 km (14 mi) in width, covering an area of 432 km2 (167 sq mi). It is situated in the western area of the North Atlantic and 100 km (62 mi) east of the Windward Islands and the Caribbean Sea; therein, Barbados is east of the Windwards, part of the Lesser Antilles, roughly at 13°N of the equator. It is about 168 km (104 mi) east of both the countries of Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and 400 km (250 mi) north-east of Trinidad and Tobago. Barbados is outside the principal Atlantic hurricane belt. Its capital and largest city is Bridgetown.

In the early colonial period, the Caribs had a reputation as warriors who raided neighboring islands. According to the Spanish conquistadores, the Carib Indians were cannibals who regularly ate roasted human flesh. [6] There is evidence as to the taking of human trophies and the ritual cannibalism of war captives among both Carib and other Amerindian groups such as the Arawak and Tupinamba. Today, the Caribs and their descendants continue to live in the Antilles. The Garifuna or "Black Caribs", a group of mixed Carib, Arawak and African ancestry, also live principally in Central America.

Cannibalism act or practice of eating the flesh or internal organs of its own beings

Cannibalism involves consuming all or part of another individual of the same species as food. To consume the same species, or show cannibalistic behavior, is a common ecological interaction in the animal kingdom, and has been recorded in more than 1,500 species. Human cannibalism is well-documented, both in ancient and in recent times.


The Caribs are believed to have migrated from the Orinoco River area in South America to settle in the Caribbean islands about 1200 AD, according to carbon dating [ citation needed ]. Over the two centuries leading up to Christopher Columbus' arrival in the Caribbean archipelago in 1492, the Caribs mostly displaced the Maipurean-speaking Taínos by warfare, extermination, and assimilation. The Taíno had settled the island chains earlier in history, migrating from the mainland. [7]

Orinoco river in South America

The Orinoco River is one of the longest rivers in South America at 2,140 kilometres (1,330 mi). Its drainage basin, sometimes known as the Orinoquia, covers 880,000 km2 (340,000 sq mi), with 76.3 percent of it in Venezuela and the remainder in Colombia. It is the third largest river in the world by discharge volume of water. The Orinoco River and its tributaries are the major transportation system for eastern and interior Venezuela and the llanos of Colombia. The environment in the Orinoco's basin is extremely diverse; it hosts a wide variety of flora and fauna.

Christopher Columbus Italian explorer, navigator, and colonizer

Christopher Columbus was an Italian explorer, navigator, and colonist who completed four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean under the auspices of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain. He led the first European expeditions to the Caribbean, Central America, and South America, initiating the permanent European colonization of the Americas. Columbus discovered the viable sailing route to the Americas, a continent that was then unknown to the Old World. While what he thought he had discovered was a route to the Far East, he is credited with the opening of the Americas for conquest and settlement by Europeans.

Greenstone ceremonial axe. From shell midden, Mt Irvine Bay, Tobago, 1957. Tobago jade ceremonial ax.jpg
Greenstone ceremonial axe. From shell midden, Mt Irvine Bay, Tobago, 1957.

Caribs traded with the Eastern Taíno of the Caribbean Islands.

Taíno The indigenous people of the Caribbean

The Taíno were an indigenous people of the Caribbean. At the time of European contact in the late fifteenth century, they were the principal inhabitants of most of Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, The Bahamas and the northern Lesser Antilles. The Taíno were the first New World peoples to be encountered by Christopher Columbus during his 1492 voyage. They spoke the Taíno language, an Arawakan language.

The Caribs produced the silver products which Ponce de Leon found in Taíno communities. None of the insular Amerindians mined for gold but obtained it by trade from the mainland. The Caribs were skilled boat builders and sailors. They appeared to have owed their dominance in the Caribbean basin to their mastery of warfare.

Silver Chemical element with atomic number 47

Silver is a chemical element with the symbol Ag and atomic number 47. A soft, white, lustrous transition metal, it exhibits the highest electrical conductivity, thermal conductivity, and reflectivity of any metal. The metal is found in the Earth's crust in the pure, free elemental form, as an alloy with gold and other metals, and in minerals such as argentite and chlorargyrite. Most silver is produced as a byproduct of copper, gold, lead, and zinc refining.

Juan Ponce de León 16th-century Spanish explorer and conquistador

Juan Ponce de León, commonly known as Ponce de León, was a Spanish explorer and conquistador known for leading the first official European expedition to Florida and the first governor of Puerto Rico. He was born in Santervás de Campos, Valladolid, Spain in 1474. Though little is known about his family, he was of noble birth and served in the Spanish military from a young age. He first came to the Americas as a "gentleman volunteer" with Christopher Columbus's second expedition in 1493.

According to Floyd, "The question arose in Columbus's time whether Indians could be enslaved and Queen Isabel had ruled against it. At about the same time, however, Ojeda, Bastidas, and other explorers voyaging along the Spanish Main had been attacked by Indians with poisoned arrows - all such Indians were considered Caribs - which took a considerable toll of Spanish lives. These attacks and the evidence some of the perpetrators, at least, were cannibals, provided the rationale for the decree authorizing enslavement of Caribs." On 3 June 1511, king Ferdinand declared war on the Caribs. [8] Island Caribs nevertheless mostly succeeded in keeping their islands unoccupied by Spaniards.

In the 17th century, Island Caribs were displaced with a great loss of life by a new wave of European invaders: French and English. Most fatalities resulted from Eurasian infectious diseases such as smallpox, which they had no natural immunity to, as well as warfare.

In 1660, France and England signed with Island Caribs the Treaty of Saint Charles that stipulated that Caribs would evacuate all the Lesser Antilles except for Dominica and Saint Vincent, which were recognized as reserves. However, the English would later ignore the treaty and ended up annexing both islands in 1763. [9] To this date, a small population of around 3,000 Caribs survives in the Carib Territory in northeast Dominica.

The 'Black Caribs' (later known as carifuna ) of St. Vincent (St. Vincent has some "Yellow Caribs" as well) were descended from a group of enslaved Africans who were marooned from shipwrecks of slave ships, as well as slaves who escaped here. Chief Kairouane and his men from Grenada jumped off of the “Leapers Hill" rather than face slavery under the French invaders and have served as an iconic representation of the Caribs spirit of resistance. [10] [11] [12] They intermarried with the Carib and formed the last native culture to resist the British. It was not until 1795 that British colonists deported the Black Caribs to Roatan Island, off Honduras. Their descendants continue to live there today and are known as the Garifuna ethnic group. Carib resistance delayed the settlement of Dominica by Europeans. The Black Carib communities that remained in St. Vincent and Dominica retained a degree of autonomy well into the 19th century.


Distribution of Cariban languages in South America. CaribanLang02.png
Distribution of Cariban languages in South America.
Carib Warrior (Mixed Media Sculpture by artist George S. Stuart) CaribWarriorbyGeorgeSStuart.jpg
Carib Warrior (Mixed Media Sculpture by artist George S. Stuart)

The Kalinago of Dominica maintained their independence for many years by taking advantage of the island's rugged terrain. The island's east coast includes a 3,700-acre (15 km2) territory formerly known as the Carib Territory that was granted to the people by the British Crown in 1903. There are only 3,000 Caribs remaining in Dominica. They elect their own chief. In July 2003, the Kalinago observed 100 Years of Territory. In July 2014, Charles Williams was elected Kalinago Chief, [14] who succeeded Chief Garnette Joseph.

Several hundred Carib descendants live in the U. S. Virgin Islands, St. Kitts & Nevis, Antigua & Barbuda, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Dominica, Saint Lucia, Grenada, Trinidad and St. Vincent. "Black Caribs," the descendants of the mixture of Africans live in St. Vincent whose total population is unknown. Some ethnic Carib communities remain on the American mainland, in countries such as Guyana and Suriname in South America, and Belize in Central America. The size of these communities varies widely.


The Caribs are believed to have practiced polytheism. As the Spanish began to colonise the Caribbean area, they wanted to convert the natives to Catholicism. [15] Currently, the remaining Kalinago in Dominica practice parts of Catholicism through baptism of children. Although, not all practice Christianity. Some Caribs worship their ancestors and believe them to have magical power over their crops. One strong religious belief Caribs possess is that Creoles practice dangerous witchcraft. [16] Creole people are Caribs mixed with those who settled the island. An example of said people are Haitian Creoles, who speak a mix of French and the native Carib language. Many Caribs dislike the impurities that are perceived to be present in the Creole population. [17]


Garifuna music from the Garifuna people, the descendants of Caribs, Arawak and West African people, is quite different from the music in the rest of Central America. The most famous form is punta. Its associated musical style, which has the dancers move their hips in a circular motion. An evolved form of traditional music, still usually played using traditional instruments, punta has seen some modernization and electrification in the 1970s; this is called punta rock. Traditional punta dancing is consciously competitive. Artists like Pen Cayetano helped innovate modern punta rock by adding guitars to the traditional music, and paved the way for later artists like Andy Palacio, Children of the Most High and Black Coral. Punta was popular across the region, especially in Belize, by the mid-1980s, culminating in the release of Punta Rockers in 1987, a compilation featuring many of the genre's biggest stars.

Other forms of Garifuna music and dance include: hungu-hungu, combination, wanaragua, abaimahani, matamuerte, laremuna wadaguman, gunjai, sambai, charikanari, eremuna egi, paranda, berusu, punta rock, teremuna ligilisi, arumahani, and Mali-amalihani. Punta is the most popular dance in Garifuna culture. It is performed around holidays and at parties and other social events. Punta lyrics are usually composed by the women. Chumba and hunguhungu are a circular dance in a three-beat rhythm, which is often combined with punta. There are other songs typical to each gender, women having eremwu eu and abaimajani, rhythmic a cappella songs, and laremuna wadaguman, men's work songs, chumba and hunguhungu, a circular dance in a three-beat rhythm, which is often combined with punta.

Drums play a very important role in Garifuna music. There are primarily two types of drums used: the primero (tenor drum) and the segunda (bass drum). These drums are typically made of hollowed-out hardwood such as mahogany or mayflower, with the skins coming from the peccary (wild bush pig), deer, or sheep.

Also used in combination with the drums are the sisera. These shakers are made from the dried fruit of the gourd tree, filled with seeds, then fitted with hardwood handles.

Paranda music developed soon after the Garifunas arrival in Central America. The music is instrumental and percussion-based. The music was barely recorded until the 1990s, when Ivan Duran of Stonetree Records began the Paranda Project.

In contemporary Belize there has been a resurgence of Garifuna music, popularized by musicians such as Andy Palacio, Mohobub Flores, & Adrian Martinez. These musicians have taken many aspects from traditional Garifuna music forms and fused them with more modern sounds. Described as a mixture of punta rock and paranda. One great example is Andy Palacio's album Watina, and Umalali: The Garifuna Women's Project, both released on the Belizean record label Stonetree Records.

In the Garifuna culture, there is another dance called Dugu. This dance is a ritual done for a death in the family to pay their respect to their loved ones. In 2001, Garifuna music was proclaimed one of the masterpieces of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity by UNESCO.

Ancestral honor

The Island Carib word karibna meant "person". It became the origin of the English "cannibal". [18] Although, among the Caribs, it was apparently associated with rituals related to the eating of war enemies. There is evidence as to the taking of human trophies and the ritual cannibalism of war captives among both Arawak and other Amerindian groups such as the Carib and Tupinamba. [19]

The Caribs had a tradition of keeping bones of their ancestors in their houses. Missionaries, such as Père Jean Baptiste Labat and Cesar de Rochefort, described the practice as part of a belief that the ancestral spirits would always look after the bones and protect their descendants. The Caribs have been described as vicious and violent people in the history of the people who battled against other tribes.

Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano was killed and said to have been eaten by Carib natives on what is now Guadeloupe (French West Indies) in 1528 (before called Karukera by the Amerindian people which means “the island of beautiful waters”), during his third voyage to North America, after exploring Florida, the Bahamas and the Lesser Antilles. Historian William Riviere [20] has described most of the cannibalism as related to war rituals.


The Kalinago is somewhat known for their extensive use of herbs for medicinal practices. Today, a combination of bush medicine and modern medicine is used by the Caribs of Dominica. For example, various fruits and leaves are used to heal common ailments. For a sprain, oils from coconuts, snakes, and bay leaves are used to heal the injury. In Carib history, a more extensive use of plant and animal products were used for medicine, but with modernization and discovery of more effective and safe techniques, more Caribs are seen using local hospitals today. [21]

Kalinago canoe project

In 1997 Dominica artist Jacob Frederick and Tortola artist Aragorn Dick Read joined forces and set out to build a traditional canoe based on the fishing canoes still used in Dominica, Guadeloupe and Martinique. The project consisted of a return voyage by canoe to the Orinoco delta to meet up with the Kalinago tribes still living in those parts. On the way a cultural assessment was carried out and ties were reestablished with the remaining communities along the island chain. A documentary, The Quest of the Carib Canoe, was made by the BBC. [22] The expedition sent shock waves through the Lesser Antilles as it made the local governments aware of the presence and the struggles for cultural survival of the Kalinago.

See also

Related Research Articles

The Arawaks were guided to Dominica, and other islands of the Caribbean, by the South Equatorial Current from the waters of the Orinoco River. These descendants of the early Taínos were overthrown by the Kalinago tribe of the Caribs.

Martinique Overseas region and department in France

Martinique is an insular region of France located in the Lesser Antilles of the West Indies in the eastern Caribbean Sea, with a land area of 1,128 square kilometres (436 sq mi) and a population of 376,480 inhabitants as of January 2016. Like Guadeloupe, it is an overseas region of France, consisting of a single overseas department. One of the Windward Islands, it is directly north of Saint Lucia, southeast of Greater Antilles, northwest of Barbados, and south of Dominica.

Arawak group of indigenous peoples of South America and historically of the Caribbean. Specifically, the term Arawak has been applied at various times to the Lokono and the Taíno, all of whom spoke related Arawakan languages

The Arawak are a group of indigenous peoples of South America and of the Caribbean. Specifically, the term "Arawak" has been applied at various times to the Lokono of South America and the Taíno, who historically lived in the Greater Antilles and northern Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean. All these groups spoke related Arawakan languages.

The Garifuna are an indigenous people originally from the Caribbean island of St. Vincent who speak an eponymous Arawakan language.

Black Carib ethnic group descended from Island Caribs and enslaved Africans

Black Caribs are an ethnic group native to the island of St. Vincent. Black Carib were historically referred to as zambos, since they are descendants of Island Caribs and Africans who mixed among themselves pre-coloumbous discovery of the new world in the americas in the 15th century. This population who is referred to as the garifuna still retains Caribbean culture and makes up a small population in the archipelago, representing the 6.0% of the current population of Saint Vincent and Grenadines, furthermore over 5000 black caribs were exiled after the crib wars and peace treaties were made between them and the British, they moved to the islands of Honduras, Belize where they hold a strong presence on those islands and still retain a lot of their culture today. There are also black Carib communities in Dominica and Grenada who migrated from the island. Its also recently revealed that remaining afro-Vincentian who was not exiled also hold traces of the carib ancestry line, the lineage the lineage is also evident within decedents of ancestors who came from St. Vincent but who migrated to some of the other caribbean islands in the 1900s. The history of the Black Caribs is known due to reports from Christopher columbus and the British governor William Young who sent reports to the British crown in the 1500s, in which he explained that whilst exploring the west indies he discovered an extremely populous large established civilisation on the island that consisted of a large population of Black Caribs, and yellow caribs who lived amongst each other and intermarried, and traded goods with other neighbouring islands. The British governor noted that he had no definite evidence of where the Africans came from or how they came to the island, he assumed that they must have come from shipwrecked Spanish ships near its shores. These reports were read and taken as reference by many chroniclers and later historians. However, researchers of history and Garifuna language of the 20th and 21st centuries, such as Itarala, have their own conception of the origin of the Black Caribs. According to them, the African ancestors of the Black Caribs come from other Caribbean islands and migrated to Saint Vincent as refugees to escape slavery and as slaves bought by the Carib Amerindians. The Black Caribs are the people who originated the Garifuna people, when part of their community was expelled from St. Vincent in 1797 and exported to the island of Roatán, Honduras, from where they migrated to the coast of the mainland of Central America, spread as far as Belize and Nicaragua.

Antillean Creole is a French-based creole, which is primarily spoken in the Lesser Antilles. Its grammar and vocabulary include elements of Carib and African languages.

Culture of Dominica

The culture of Dominica is formed by the inhabitants of the Commonwealth of Dominica. Dominica is home to a wide range of people. Although it was historically occupied by several native tribes, the Taíno and Island Caribs (Kalinago) tribes remained by the time European settlers reached the island. "Massacre" is a name of a river dedicated to the murders of the native villagers by French and British settlers, because the river ran red with blood for days. Each claimed the island and imported slaves from Africa. The remaining Caribs now live on a 3,700-acre (15 km2) Carib Territory on the east coast of the island. They elect their own chief.

Garifuna (Karif) is a minority language widely spoken in villages of Garifuna people in the western part of the northern coast of Central America.

The Igneri are an indigenous Arawak people of the southern Greater Antilles in the Caribbean. Historically, it was believed that the Igneri were conquered and displaced by the Island Caribs in an invasion some time before European contact. However, linguistic and archaeological studies in the 20th century have led scholars to more nuanced theories as to the fate of the Igneri. The Igneri spoke an Arawakan language, which transitioned into the Island Carib language.

Sir Thomas Warner was a captain in the guards of James I of England who became an explorer in the Caribbean. In 1620 he served at the brief-lived English settlement of Oyapoc in present-day Guyana of South America, which was abandoned the same year. The Dutch controlled most of the territory. Warner is noted for settling on Saint Kitts and establishing it in 1624 as the first English colony in the Caribbean.

Raymond Breton was a French Dominican missionary and linguist among the Caribbean Indians, and in particular the Garifuna.

Languages of the Caribbean Languages of the region

The languages of the Caribbean reflect the region's diverse history and culture. There are six official languages spoken in the Caribbean. The six languages are:

Afro-Hondurans or Black Hondurans, are Hondurans of African descent. They descended from Africans, who were enslaved and identified as Garifunas and Creole peoples. The Creole people were originally from Jamaica and other Caribbean islands and arrived in Honduras between the nineteenth and early twentieth century to work on the export of bananas and in construction.

Island Carib language Arawakan language historically spoken by the pre-Columbian Island Caribs of the Lesser Antilles

Caribs or Island Carib is the name of the native indigenous people of the Lesser Antilles islands called The Windward Islands, which is also called the Islands of Barlovento, which include the islands of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, Dominica, Martinique and Saint Kitts. The Caribbean Sea was named after the Caribs or Island Caribs]] ; The islands form the eastern boundary of the Caribbean Sea with the Atlantic Ocean. The Island Caribs referred to themselves as Kalinago for men and Kallipuna for women. They are an Amerindian people whose origins lie in the southern West Indies. The men either speak a Carib language or a pidgin. The Caribs are believed to have displaced the Arawakan-speaking Igneri people from the southern Lesser Antilles. Their legends say that they killed all the Igneri men and took their women as wives. Anthropologists are divided as to how true these legends are, but the fact that the Island Carib women spoke an Arawakan language gives credence to this idea. The Caribs were skilled boatbuilders and sailors, and seem to have owed their dominance in the Caribbean basin to their mastery of the arts of war which is evident in the numerous Carib wars with the British. The carib community and there decadents are still thriving today in the windward islands, the Black Carib and their descendants are still evident today in the anglophone Windward Islands islands and strongly alive within the Garifuna population, primarily in Central America.

Dominican Creole French is a French-based creole, which is the generally spoken language in Dominica. It is highly mutually intelligible with its much more widely spoken immediate neighbor, Antillean Creole, of which it might be considered a distinct variety.

Afro-Vincentian people of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines of African descent

Vincentians or Vincentians, are residents of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines whose ancestry lies within Africa, especially West Africa. Most Vincentians are the descendants of African people brought to the island as slaves to work on plantations.


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Further reading