People Laugh At Old Fashioned But Religiously Follow The Trend Dominica Carib People: A Culture on the Edge

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Dominica Carib People: A Culture on the Edge

A culture at the top of the fountain

Kent Auguiste was my host and the driver of Carib Taxi. A Caribbean by birth and by nature, he spends hours learning about Caribbean folk, and the experience of growing up a Caribbean in Dominica. It is not a happy story, they are deprived of education and their value has been robbed by the religious doctrine, he says; “We all become Peter, Paul and Mary. The names of our ancestors of Kalinago are now lost, it is a sad fate for the first people of this land, who have been here for 5000 years.”

Kent was prefect for Work. He was a good teacher, patent and knowledgeable and very good. His brother was the President of the Caribbean people and was friends with everyone. We met the new president Garnett Joseph and we talked about history, education, culture, religion and beliefs, about health, prejudice, the state of the nation and the future. All in one day, traveling from Roseau to the Carib Lands and back via Jungle Bay. We picked up a couple of people along the way, one a Caribbean woman who was going to the regions and another a young and sweet Caribbean guy who was project manager of a forest area for an American executive. At our stops we met and chatted with all kinds of beautiful Caribbean people.

Here is my story from that day, what I learned, saw, thought about and then researched and wrote about for several months. My words, except I have not mentioned others, such as Kent’s personal accounts. It is based on my observations and insights which are completely personal and not intended to speak for the people or their culture.

I am very afraid of writing about other people and cultures that I am not a part of. I agree with the fact that we can all think, observe and have understanding and information. We have a right to an opinion and sometimes we have a right to share it.

Dominica; a Caribbean fortress

Dominica’s history is Caribbean history with a distinct difference – Dominica was a fortress unlike any other island. It withstood countless attacks and became the Kingdom of the Caribbean people.

Dominica’s Carib fortress was difficult to penetrate with its jungle, steep mountains and few harbors. Caribbean people; fearless, resourceful and completely natural, they were tireless in defending their island. “They were the lord of the fort on the island of Dominica,” Kent tells me. “African, French, English and Spanish conquerors thought that the Caribs of Dominica were superhuman spirits. A Carib would appear 20 paces ahead of you, suddenly disappear like a ghost in thin air.”

A network of lookouts and inter-island communication (canoe) kept them informed of the rulers, men with shiny heads and the sun in their hands. They came in from the north in large tall ships bound for Dominica, powered by the wind in large square sails.

Columbus is thought to be the first European to land on the Caribbean coast and his accounts of friendly and hospitable people.

Columbus and his crew, who landed on an island in the Bahamas on October 12, 1492, were the first Europeans to encounter the Taíno people. Columbus wrote:

They traded with us and willingly gave us everything they had.. they enjoyed our entertainment very much. they neither kill nor steal..Your elder may believe that there are no better people in the whole world..They love their neighbors as themselves and have the sweetest words in the world, and are gentle and always smile.“wikipedia

But those who followed Columbus had more in mind than discovery. They were after gold, control of the seas and sugar. Every invading nation; The Dutch, British, French and Spanish fought to take the islands and make them their own. Indigenous peoples were enslaved in many cases. The groups of sailors, released on Iand for the first time after several years, looted the village, arrested the women and killed the men, according to reports. The atrocities committed are well known.

Dominica, located further south, had the advantage of hindsight. The Arawak people who lived in the north got this message. They signaled in relays, from Island to Island and signal post to post, warning their neighbors to the south what to expect. Several invading forces were ambushed and ambushed on the exposed beaches of Dominica, fired by invisible spirits from a jungle area.

The Dominican Caribs were so successful that both the French and the British handed them control of the island at different times.

Caribbean Rule

In 1660, Governor Willoughby of Barbados appointed a 30-year-old young Carib chief named Carib Warner as Governor of Dominica. Carib Warner was a Carib of mixed race, the son of Sir Thomas Warner, the English colonizer of St. Kitts, for whom Carib Warner’s Dominican mother worked. Carib Warner lived in the owner’s house until he was 13 years old.

He was a shrewd diplomat and fluent in English and French, earning the respect of his people and Willoughby. But the British were also divided, controlling the sugar wealth in Barbados and the unincorporated island of Antigua and St. Sir Thomas Phip Warner’s real son conspired to change the situation and landed in Dominica in 1674 and under the pretense of friendship murdered his half-brother Carib Warner and massacred his village (now called Massac). It is a sad story of English conspiracy and betrayal that lasted for decades. Despite several treaties declaring Dominica to be part of Kalinago until 1748, greed for sugar riches led the French and English to fight over the island.

Betrayal

The Caribs are a very treacherous people. Folk legends betrayed that Kents friends were afraid to go to his village if they were eaten. “We were not cannibals, but not knowing our way and character, we condemned it.” says Kent. They were betrayed by contracts that had no meaning, by opportunity, by jealousy, and finally by negligence.

There are only 3000 Caribs left. They live in eight villages on the East Coast of Dominica and nearby. 3700 hectares is called the Caribbean Region. They have a president and a representative in the council. They are a special and different nation and their culture has not changed much. Today, Caribbeans have a birthright to live in the Caribbean. A Caribbean can farm any available land and thus claim it. They are an agricultural people, relying on nature for medicine, food, warmth and care for the soul and mind. From anxiety to healing the body or mind there is an herb for everything.

Territories

Caribbean territories are often compared to American and Canadian reserves in some respects. But it is different in key areas. The territory was allocated to the Caribbean which was important and unique in the Caribbean. But they were largely ignored and marginalized without any attempt to educate and assimilate as was the case in America. This was both good and bad. They suffered from the indignity of being cut off from their families and boarded in distant schools where abuse and disrespect abounded. But they lacked education, and were therefore disqualified from taking a more active role in the country’s affairs. Over time, Caribbean leaders have spoken out and demanded more: more voice and more involvement in the modernization taking place in Dominica. They wanted schools, roads and electricity.

They are not people who have lost their way, as we see in many Canadian reserves where drugs and alcohol fill the void of a life without hope and expectation. The great experiment in the North robbed some native people of their way of life and gave them little in return. The Caribbean have not lost a way of life. They live off the land, and use it well. They make fishermen, make crafts, build boats and go out to sea in small canoes and ride the waves with the skills of their ancestors.

Assimilation was not the goal but many were neglected in the name of protection. Culture has been largely ignored by both the Caribbean itself and the governments of the time. When Kent went to school, he was one of the only 3 Caribs to ever attend a secondary school. The school in Roseau was several hours away from his home, which meant he had to rent a place to live nearby. The family could not afford this and soon had to drop out of school. For an intelligent person it was a great disappointment, a great insult and rejection. Kent became one of the new radical races who voiced their concerns and criticized the government for neglecting its people. He still talks about all kinds of issues, on the radio and wherever he can.

Myth, Mysticism and Magic in Caribbean Culture

Caribs are very friendly and gentle and they live together respectfully with governments and non-Caribbeans. Demonstrating the ancient art of the Caribs offering fruit and drink to foreigners from another country. This is their way, they are not a coward, but they do not seek conflict and choose a simple life in harmony with nature. They are at one with nature and are as natural a part of the Dominican landscape as the birds and animals of the forest. Like the spirits of the forest, they are unique in their intelligence, patience and natural knowledge. The knowledge of the Caribbean about herbs and plants is extraordinary. They are said to be some of the best wild doctors in the Caribbean, using more than 300 different herbs for medicine.

In Caribbean folklore there has always been a shaman, called the Pyie Man. He treated diseases with herbs, magic and smoke. The smoke is used as in some Christian ceremonies and as used by the Buddhist Shamballa to cleanse and ward off spirits. The Pyie man believed in spirits and invoked the power of nature to heal afflicted souls. Herbal baths were used to cleanse and restore health, it was an herb for every ailment. In some ways the Pyai man is similar to African Voodoo and Afro-Caribbean Obeah and indigenous Shaman.

All belief systems have overlapped and influenced each other over time. Aspects of Christian rituals and sacraments such as the use of sacred oils, herbs, and common fruits were integrated into the beliefs and for decades the Caribbean accepted Christianity as a part of, but not a substitute for, what they believe. Rituals, masks and African rituals also found their way into worship and practice. Caribbean people believe in nature; a society of common knowledge, unity and balance. They believe in unity and balance above all else; knowing that gaining power has a personal and global impact, which enriches all giving. For many Caribbeans, God is the supreme being, as natural, powerful, majestic, eternal, universal and omnipresent.

A Revival Culture

The construction of the Historic Caribbean Village was an attempt to restore or at least document the culture. It is an excellent historical museum, but many people blame it for its inauthenticity. Caribs do not live as they live, nor do they dance in the costumes displayed at tourist festivals. Still, it is valuable and the attention from the outside comes to a sense of a people and a culture that was and should be.

Pride is not characteristic of Caribbean Culture but pride can be the basis of its preservation. The bloodline is slowly dying due to intermarriage, migration and an aging population with a low birth rate. Former Chief Charles Williams suggested that Caribs should only marry Caribs but it went down like a lead balloon.

Some think it’s too late; that the Caribbean is an exception by birth. What should be preserved now is culture and history. Blood alone does not necessarily define a culture. There are many examples in history, Carib Warner, despite being of mixed race, was appointed as the leader of his people and rose as the sun of an English lord. Caribbean culture is a state of mind, it has a purpose and as an example a way of life that should be preserved.

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