Tag: Kalinago

10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Culture of Dominica

The Caribbean gets sold as a single location, especially¬† by the cruise industry, and this is a major disservice to the region and all its beautiful cultures. Dominica was the first place I ever traveled in the Caribbean, and as a hiker, it is my favorite island so far (although, they are all amazing!). This island nation is special for more than just its natural beauty, however, because its people are warm, artful, and part of a resilient society. Strap in and get ready to learn 10 things about the culture of Dominica that you didn’t know before.

culture of Dominica

(c) ABR 2014

Dominican Culture and History

(1) Most people in Dominica are Roman Catholic, and a small number of people also have a unique set of beliefs called Obeah that is a mix of African, European, and Kalinago traditions.

(2) The national dress of Dominica is called wob dwiyet. Women primarily wear this during celebrations, and includes a colorful scarf worn on the head. The dress itself has a white, collared shirt with beautiful embroidery as decoration.

culture of Dominica

(c) ABR 2014

(3) Dominica is serious about taking Sunday off. Almost everything on the island is closed on Sunday except for hotels. If you need to go grocery shopping for the weekend, be sure to go on Saturday, but go in knowing that the lines will be out of this world. The longest grocery lines I have ever seen were in Dominica.

(4) Dominica is home to one of the large medical schools that US and Caribbean students alike attend. Traditional remedies are also still practiced by a few. These address the presence of evil spirits, called jombies, and makes use of medicinal plants.

culture of Dominica

(c) ABR 2014

(5) Dominica was passed between France and Britain for a long time, and this struggle is evident in the mix of French and English names on the island. Shortly after Britain abolished slavery in 1834, Dominica was the first of its territories to have a black legislature. It goes without saying that African traditions and resilience have played a key role in the unique character and culture of Dominica.

culture of Dominica

(c) ABR 2014

Kalinago Culture and History

(1) The Kalinago people once lived throughout the Caribbean, but retreated to Dominica when European colonization and war decimated their population. The mountains of Dominica protected them from the colonists for a long time and the island is now home to the world’s last community of Kalinago people. Although native cultures aren’t often acknowledged in outside materials about the Caribbean, the culture of Dominica and the region were founded on their civilizations.

culture of Dominica

(c) ABR 2014

(2) The Kalinago people make up a little less than 1% of Dominica’s population, but they have their own region of the island. They offer some very genuine tourism experiences, as well as traditional handicrafts.

(3) Kalinago society was far more egalitarian than European culture. Women held as much power as men, and although both genders did different work within their civilization. In the past, they were governed by a chief, but they now have a council that helps run their communities.

culture of Dominica

(c) ABR 2014

(4) The traditional Kalinago religion held the volcanic peaks of the Caribbean to be the source of life for the islands of the region. The people created statues out of stone and conch shells which were called zemis and represented the peaks. Volcanic peaks are, in fact, the heart of these islands, having formed them. The Kalinago people also believed that it was essential to maintain the balance between good and evil in the world, and maintain the close relationship between humans and nature.

(5) The Kalinago people were expert navigators on the water and originally colonized the Caribbean from the Orinoco River Basin of South America. They were also powerful warriors that fought against the Taino people that had built a civilization in the Caribbean before the Kalinago arrived. They also fought valiantly against European colonists, but they were greatly disadvantaged by smallpox and other “old world” diseases.

culture of Dominica

(c) ABR 2014

Learn More About Kalinago Culture

Experts on Kalinago Culture:

Karina Cultural Group

Karifuna Cultural Group

Lennox Honychurch

List of References for Further Reading

Chances for Travelers to Learn More From the Kalinago People:

Kalinago Homestay Programme

Experiential Learning

– Living Village Experience at Touna Kalinago Heritage Village

For more information on travel in Dominica, be sure to read through our guide.

Culture Highlight: The Kalinago of Dominica

karina2

Karina Cultural Group (c) kalinagoterritory.com

Culture: Kalinago

Other Names: Carib

Resident Area: Dominica (Current)

Dominica_Kalinago_Territory_Map

Map of Kalinago Territory (c) kalinagoterritory.com

Population: ~2,208[3]

Language: Kalinago [4]

Religion: The historical Kalinago religion is believed to have stressed the importance of balancing good and evil in the world, as well as maintaining close, healthy relationships between people and the natural world. [5]

Volcanic Peaks: The Kalinago people once believed that the volcanic peaks of the Caribbean gave life to this islands. Beautifully carved conch shells and stone statues called “zemis” were made by the Kalinago to represent these peaks, and they represented the spirit of fertility. Some of the small zemis were buried in fields in order to help crops grow [5].

Yearly Cycle: Unlike the Western world view, which emphasizes four seasons, the ancestral Kalinago people, like many people living in tropical areas, followed a yearly cycle with only two seasons- the dry and wet seasons that characterize the tropical world. The wet season is represented by the Frog Woman, and the dry season was represented by the Bat Man [5].

firstcosmo4

(c) Lennox Honychurch

Culture: Historically, the Carib people had standard gender roles, but the women of their society were highly revered, and held as much socio-economic power as males [1]. They had a fairly egalitarian society, and their government consisted of a chieftain who consulted with a tribal council [1]. They were skilled at fishing, hunting, and farming, and their ability to the navigate the Caribbean Ocean on their canoes allowed them to explore many of the islands in the Caribbean, long before the arrival of the Europeans [3].

Examples of Kalinago Myths

Government: The Kalinago Territory is governed by the Carib Council. This council is tasked with managing the territory, and settling disputes between residents. Currently, there are five members of the council, and elections are held every five years. [2]

History: The Carib people originated in the Orinoco River Basin of South America, and eventually explored and settled the southern Caribbean islands. During the process of colonizing, the Caribs fought with the Taino people, and eventually displaced many of the older Arawak communities [1].

The Caribs were well known for their skill in warfare, and when the European people invaded the Caribbean islands, the two fought eachother, although the Carib people were disadvantaged by the Smallpox infections that the European people brought with them [1]. Despite this, there were able to hold Dominica from both the French and British forces for nearly two centuries. Eventually, however, the island was taken by the British, and the Kalinago people were relegated to 232 acres of eastern Dominica. In 1903, this area was expanded to 3700 acres and would become the Carib Reserves that is still home to the Kalinago people today [3].

Experts on Kalinago Culture:

Karina Cultural Group 

Karifuna Cultural Group

Lennox Honychurch

Further Reading

Chances for Travelers to Learn More From the Kalinago People:

Kalinago Homestay Programme 

Experiential Learning

Living Village Experience at Touna Kalinago Heritage Village

References:

[1] http://www.avirtualdominica.com/caribs3.htm

[2] http://kalinagoterritory.com/the-territory/the-carib-council/

[3] http://kalinagoterritory.com/the-territory/history/

[4] http://kalinagoterritory.com/culture/language/

[5] http://www.lennoxhonychurch.com/article.cfm?id=388

[Map] (c) Kalinago Territory Website (http://kalinagoterritory.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Dominica_Kalinago_Territory_Map.jpg)

[Seasonal Image] from Lennox Honychurch’s website (http://www.lennoxhonychurch.com/article.cfm?id=388)

Disclaimer: One of the reasons that I love traveling is that I get to learn about other ways of life, and new ways of seeing the world. I feel that my spirituality and understanding of the Earth has much to gain from other cultures, and I definitely think that my own culture can only provide me with a very limited view of the universe around me. Due to this, I think it’s appropriate for my blog to not only showcase my travels, but some of the cultures that I come in contact with along the way. That being said, before I post the first of these, that I am no expert about any of the cultures that I am posting about. I will do my best to provide links and references to actual experts, and places to learn more. I am also hoping to promote any efforts that people from the cultures that I am discussing to preserve their way of life, as well as share it with others. In any case, I am open to suggestions for improving these highlights, as well as any concerns about misrepresentation.

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