Ever wondered where the Caribbean got its name?
A quick glance at a history book (or Google) will tell you that this collection of islands straddling the equator below the USA is named after its original inhabitants – the Carib people.
But a longer look into the history reveals a very dark past submerged beneath the beaches and cocktails and laid back reggae style you find on the islands. The Caribbean is soaked in blood and much of it was spilled from Carib veins.
The discovery of the islands and the spices they contained whet appetites in Spain, France and Britain. All three countries conquered the islands one by one, brought in slaves and displaced the Caribs – also known by their proper name of ‘Kalinagos’ – until no more than a sliver of their original population was left throughout the region.
The island with the largest Carib community is Dominica where the British set aside an exclusive territory for them in the early 1900s. They call themselves ‘Kalinago’ and there are only around 3,500 living on the island. We had the opportunity to visit the reservation – but first we had to get there.
Hiking the Waitukubuli trail
Waitukubuli is the traditional Carib word for Dominica and a few years ago the government began a project to construct a hiking trail that goes from one end of the island to the other. It is called the Waitukubuli trail and it covers 115 miles of track.
Walking from one end of a small island to another sounds easy until you actually see Dominica. It’s known as ‘the nature island’ but it should really known as ‘the island covered in immense mountains and ravines and thick jungles and roaring rivers’. No wonder the Caribs took refuge there.
We had already walked several of the Waitukubuli trail’s sections and on the day we were to visit the Carib territory we waited at the beginning of segment 7 for our guide. He was a very friendly fellow who loved cricket and I had a good chat to him about Australia’s 5-0 pasting of England in the recent Ashes as we slithered along the muddy track. And – he was Kalinago.
We walked down a steep hillside into a valley that opened right on the coast where huge Atlantic waves pounded a rock beach. Our guide told us in years gone past the Kalinagos would load up canoes with trade on this beach and row them to neighbouring islands like Martinique. Traders from those islands would also beach their canoes there and swap items. It’s all done by ship and ports now but it was an impressive sight – simply dipping your toe in the water there looked hazardous so trading must have taken immense skill.
Preserving Carib Culture
TheCarib/Kalinago Terrioty was made on the Atlantic side of the island where the ocean pounds the shore and the soil is much thinner and poorer than on the volcanic Caribbean side. But the Kalinagos made the best of it and have lived independently from the rest of the island for nearly a hundred years with their own chief and self-sufficient lifestyle.
We were welcomed by another guide who took us on a tour of a village that had been built by the Kalinagos to show what their society looked like in days gone by.
Our first stop was a long hut made from wooden beams and thatched with dried grass. Inside it a small group of Carib boys and girls put on a dancing display for us, showing off the traditional dances Kalinago people used to entertain each other, worship their Gods and celebrate their culture.
Carmen’s Mum Vanessa joined us and was thoroughly impressed with the dancing. The young people who put it on for us were very shy and sweet but also proud of the culture they were displaying.
It must be hard in these modern times to resist the lure of TV, video games, the internet, fashion and the movies to embrace a traditional culture. The Kalinago language has been lost but the people who remain are determined to hold on to whatever trace of their ancestors they can and pass it on to new generations.
Do it yourself
We were shown many ingenious things the Kalinago people constructed and used in every day life. They made leaning shelters that protected them from the sun with one facing east and the other west so the arc of its light could always be blocked.
Their huts are cleverly made with wooden posts tied together with reeds and thatched with long grass. Their food and medicine is all taken from the jungle and the sea so they are completely self-sufficient and want for nothing. The best bush doctors are to be found on the Carib Reserve and more than 300 plants can be used to cure sickness and injuries.
The view from the cliff tops of the surging Atlantic was breath taking and the constant crash and rush of the waves made me think of Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe and Pirates of the Caribbean. It really was like visiting a film set.
Our tour ended in the village where a group of women were making handicrafts like baskets and mats. Their work was very beautiful and intricate and we bought several items. The weaving women laughed and joked and swapped stories as they worked and it struck me how happy the Kalinago people are despite all the hardship that’s been inflicted upon them.
Every Kalinago we met was friendly and proud of their history. These days most of them live modern lifestyles and the reservation’s village is a recreation, something they can look at and know was once theirs. It was sad yet inspiring to visit and, instead of challenging my fitness like most of Dominica’s tourist attractions, this one challenged my mind.
Our visit to the Carib Reserve was organised by Discover Dominica but as always our views are our own.
What you need to know:
Cost – A day pass is required for the Waitukubuli trail at US $12 or you can get a 15 pass for $40 if you want to do more hiking. Entrance to the Carib Reserve is by donation.
How to get there – We hiked on the Waitukubuli trail to get to the village and got a taxi to the drop off point. Taxis and buses to the reservation can be taken from anywhere, though the capital Roseau or the port of Portsmouth are the main hubs.
When to go – Dominica is great to visit at any time though the rainy and hurricane season hits between June and November.