Monday, March 5, 2018

The Kalinaga of Dominica



East coast of Dominica, the Atlantic side

“In the year of 1492, Columbus crossed the ocean blue.”  Thus began my childhood American history education. Why was Columbus so keen to sail west? To impress his funding source, Queen Isabella of course, for one thing. To find a shortcut to the spice islands, for another, because frankly, European food was rather bland in those days; but more than anything else, Columbus wanted to find wealth and make a name for himself, the last of which he achieved in spades.  Ergo, Columbus Day.
The leaves of this plant shrivel when
touched

Where did Columbus make landfall and where on earth (literally) did he think he was in those confusing days before GPS? He went ashore first on an island that he renamed San Salvador (to please the Spanish queen, no doubt). 
Hurricane Maria destruction is everywhere

Of course, he thought he had found India, thus the misnomer of calling the people he encountered, “Indians.” That was only the first of several embarrassing blunders by the uninvited guests.
Artist's rendition of earliest inhabitants on
Dominica

An ugly relationship was bound to develop between the pushy white European sailors and the native peoples. The native people probably found the sailors to be dirty and smelly; they rarely if ever bathed. In fact, most sailors couldn’t swim worth a lick.  And, they waltzed around any island they visited, as if they owned the place. Furthermore, the white guys repeatedly took food from the native peoples without asking. Rude guests to say the least. 
Kalinaga village high in the mountains

The people that Columbus encountered called themselves “Kalinaga” or “Kalinarga.” Given Columbus’ penchant for renaming people and places wherever he went, however, he and all those who followed in the centuries to come referred to them as “Carib” or cannibal. It became a very popular, perhaps even titillating, belief back in Europe, that the native peoples of the islands were cannibals.  
Kalinaga home amidst defoliated landscape
from Maria

Research suggests however, that the Kalinaga’s spiritual framework may have led them to believe that they would acquire the strength and power of their enemies by ingesting some of their flesh. Perhaps the reader finds this distinction to be splitting hairs, but to me, this kind of partaking of flesh does take on a different flavor from cannibalism. (Pun intended).
Very steep roads wind through Kalinaga
reservation 

Fast forward a hundred years or so. There were lots of white men (especially military) and a few white women, spread across the islands. They represented all the powerful European nations (Spain, France, Great Britain, Portugal, Netherlands, etc) all vying for domination over the “West Indies.” (They just couldn’t give up on the “Indian” theme, even after they figured out they were not in India. Some people are slower learners than others.) 
Surviving descendant of African slaves
and a wild dog

In addition to the white Europeans, tens of thousands of kidnapped male slaves from Africa were being unceremoniously dumped onto the islands as well, and replenished repeatedly.
Sugarcane windmill, no longer in operation

Why? Sugar cane. Europe was crazy for sugar!  Oh, and rum.  Sugar makes molasses which makes rum which makes money. 
Our excellent guide took us to the ruins
of an old sugar cane processing plant. 
Note massive wheel powered by water.

While those decent Christian Europeans were trying to develop some good, honest commerce in the islands—a place that was clearly ripe for development and domination, the Kalinaga continued to fight them off. 
Reservation land on far mountains

It wasn’t long before the European settlers voted on the question of whether the Kalinaga should be eliminated entirely.  They actually voted! “To kill or not to kill.” (Does it go without saying that there is actually a Commandment that already addresses this question?) 
The Kalinaga are learning to take
advantage of tourists' interest in their
history by selling handmade crafts.

However, not unlike the Nazi decision that would spawn the Holocaust many years in the future, the "final solution” for the Kalinaga was that the islands would be better off without them. Kalinaga were hunted down and systematically exterminated.  (The guys with big guns are traditionally the decision-makers, as we well know).
Steps are cut into the soil where needed.

With two notable exceptions, Kalinaga were “successfully” eliminated. One of those exceptions is on the island of Dominica. 
Home on reservation land

To the Kalinaga’s credit, they managed to thwart the settlement of Europeans on Dominican soil for almost 200 years! The extremely rugged mountainous topography likely contributed to their success. In the end, however, the only Kalinaga to escape slaughter lived where they had retreated, high up in the mountains.
Maria wiped out buildings, foliage and
electricity island-wide

In 1902, the Kalinaga on Dominica were awarded reservation land which is to remain under their ownership into perpetuity.  It is an 8.8 sq km area that is called WaitukubuIi Karifuna. Their land stretches from the water up into the steep mountainsides along the Atlantic coast of Dominica. 
Kalinaga woman's shop

The cultural losses of the Kalinaga have been dramatic, as have the losses of all native groups on this side of the Atlantic. Their native language is lost forever.  A few of their old traditional skills have been preserved, such as water-tight basketry, canoe building from a single log, pottery and carving. 
This woman, Elizabeth "Ma Pampo" Israel
died in 2003 at the age of 128.
*See footnote below for more information.

Physically, the Kalinaga people can sometimes be distinguished from the majority of the island nations’ inhabitants whose roots hail from the kidnapped slaves from Africa. I found it interesting that the Kalinaga facial features bear some resemblance to the peoples of the Orient.  Their eyes are a bit slanted, and their skin color might better be described as bronze rather than black.  
Fruits that grow on Dominica include coconuts,
persimmons, mangos, almonds, cocoa, bananas,
avocadoes, oranges, grapefruit, tamarind, breadfruit,
pineapples, and more.

Modern day descendants of the Kalinaga are welcome to live on the reservation land as long as the father of the family is Kalinaga.  When a Kalinaga woman marries outside the native people, however, she must go to live with her husband off the reservation land.

Most of the island remains without
electricity
Aside from the 3,000 or so Kalinaga living on Dominca, there is another smaller group of survivors that remain on the island of St. Lucia. 
A Primary school on the Kalinaga reservation

The only living members of an entire people and culture unique to the Caribbean islands have been all but obliterated.  I found myself hoping that the Kalinaga we encountered did not know that I sailed from a country that celebrates Columbus Day.  

*On Dominica, families vie for the honor of having an elder over 100 years live with them.  Those who live beyond 100 years receive free utilities, free rent, and many other benefits.  Imagine, a nation where everyone wants to have Grandma live at their house?
How many years will it take for the jungle
canopy to return to the east coast of Dominica?
It is difficult for an island nation to dispose of all the garbage after a hurricane.




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