Imagine 5 million indians occupying the Caribbean islands and Europeans just all of a sudden sailing their ships across the ocean and taking over land, culture, lives, administration and leaving a steady decline in the number of Carib indians or Kalinago people as they call themselves. Originating from South America the Kalinago was once a strong culture, that spread to the whole Caribbean. Some of the islands like Cuba and Bahama still carry indigenous indian names.
Today, the last and only Kalinago territory can be found in Dominica – or Wai’tukubuli as the Kalinago used to call their fruitful mountaneous island. Wai’tukubuli in original Carib language means “Tall as her body”. Out of the total 72 000 inhabitants of Dominica, about 3 500 live in the territory that was dedicated to Kalinagi in 1903 and expands about 15 km along the coast line and a few inland. Chief of the people still administrates and lives in the territory.
More and more Kalinagos are mixed as marriages with others are approved. Youngsters leave to explore the world and parents send their kids to get education elsewhere. The original indian language has suffocated and almost all are Christian. Persistent families hold on to some of the traditions and maintain their heritage.
The Chief lead his people from a common house Taliba. Everyone entering the territory had to visit the Chief first. After a slaughtering Carib War in 1930’s this quite an isolated territory was granted self-governance and again in 1978 when Dominica gained independence from the Commonwealth of Great Britain. The Carib Council, elections for five members every five years, still represents Kalinago in Dominican governance.
The indigenous Kalinago men could marry six wives. Women and men in Kalinagi tradition have their own tasks. Tasks have been divided for centuries and can still be seen to some extent. Men handcraft canoes out of gommern trees and make their own tools to carve them from. Canoes were used for wishing and visiting other islands – obviously. Women take care of the families, meal preparations and basket weaving for example.
We met an old member of the Council, who nowadays describes the heritage in words to books and visualizes in into art work – carvings on non-eateable fruit shells. Arts and crafts, pottery making, cassava processing and basket weaving with special larouma reed are still strongly present. Terroitory’s main income today comes from tourism: guided tourings in the property with ceremony performances and crafts sales.
Kalinago people have always been very self-succicient in their isolation. Chicken, cows, goats, sheep, pigs were and partly still are farmed, however, modern world is present with everything available. Some traditions still carry: for example growing of the noni fruit. Noni fruit is not eatable, but instead used for medicine to treat diabetes, high blood pressure and ever cancer cells.
Climb across the mountain to get there
We took a bumpy ride through a World UNESCO Heritage Site – a national park in which clouds surrounded tallest peak of 4400 m Morne Trois Pitons and serpentine roads ran through thick rainforests. The ride from capital Roseau on Caribbean side to Salybia on the west side of the isle on Atlantic is only about 45 km, but as he “highway” is near to a dirt road in many occcasions and the pavement is full of wholes, too narrow for cars to pass each other or the desruption of storm Erica has made parts of the road collapse. On the way back we saw the road actually being fixed as well as on several occasions men at work to clean road sides clear of plants and grass.
The ride costs only 10 EC on a local minibus, though. Minibuses are small vans that take about 7 passengers each and there’s no fixed route or schedule. They go “that way”. Bus “stations” are at different sides of the town of Roseau, depending on whether you want to go up North, down South or across the island. Prepare for some movement nausea, if sensitive to it. It’s like a roller coaster going up and down but in a breathtaking scenery!
One suggestion though, check out the cruise ferry days by Whitchurch wholesale – an attraction like this is best visited when there are no big tourist groups…
All in all, a visit to Kalinago cultural heritage site gives you some perspective. What we often consider “old” (as dating back a few hundred years ago), Kalinago people have explored the Caribbean islands as hunters and gatherers already 3000 BC and settled as pottery and agriculture people in 200 BC. Imagine that!
The attraction site is located by the seafront. To reach it you take a very steep hill road down. On top of the road are the bus stop for minivans, a little refreshment store (yellow one), some local crafts selling booths and the local police station.