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The objective of this successfully completed expedition was to sail the Carib Canoe “Gli Gli” with a crew of 12 Dominican Caribs from Antigua to the Virgin Islands, via Nevis and St Kitts, St Eustatia, St Barths, St Martin and Anguilla then across the Anegada passage to Tortola during May of 2007.

The voyage was undertaken to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Gli Gli’s creation and to continue the mission of her 1997 expedition from Dominica to Guyana, by symbolically reuniting the Carib descendents of the Leeward Islands.The expedition drew attention to the role the Carib tribe have played in the regions history and culture and to promoted recognition of the Caribbean’s largest surviving indigenous tribe Through out the expedition the crew presented slide and video shows about the Gli Gli Carib canoe project and presented traditional musical performances for schools and heritage groups.

Following in the spirit of the 1997 Gli Gli expedition, which was documented in the BBC film “The Quest of the Carib Canoe”, the Leeward Island Expedition was recorded to produce a short documentary film for regional and global TV markets. The focus is on the adventures of Gli Gli and her crew as she sailed up the island chain and an introduction to the history of the canoes and journeys of the Carib tribe. The completed film will be produced under the guidance of David Fanning of PBS.

THE “GLI GLI “It's History 

On a visit to Dominica in 1994 Aragorn Dick-Read, a Tortola-born artist, had a chance meeting on a bus with a Carib artist and activist named Jacob Frederick. Shared interest in the art and history of the Carib people created a new friendship, which was soon to trigger an unusual cultural adventure.     

Since he was a young boy, Jacob had a dream of building a large dug out canoe in the traditional Carib way, and retracing the journey of his ancestors, who hundreds of years earlier, had sailed north from the Orinoco basin in South America and  settled in the Caribbean The devastation of the Carib tribe caused by the colonial period has left isolated groups of Caribs through out the region. To unite these people, at least symbolically, Jacob knew would give their culture a better chance of survival. For Aragorn, a student of tribal arts and culture, this offered a unique opportunity to collaborate with the Carib people. From this the “Gli Gli” - Carib Canoe Project was born, named after the sparrow hawk , an ancient Carib totem for bravery.

After obtaining the necessary permission from the Chief and Carib council, the master canoe builder of the Caribs, Etien Charles, known as ”Chalo”, was engaged to oversee the canoes construction. Their first task was to seek out the two large gommier trees needed to build the canoe, one for the hull, the other for the large planks for the canoes sides ,used to raise the free-board of the ocean going vessel.

In December 1995 the first of the trees was felled high in the rainforest of the Carib lands. A gang of craftsmen, with adzes and saws, transformed the raw log into the hull of a sleek canoe. Three weeks later forty men gathered for the two day task of dragging the rough-cut vessel down the precipitous forest hillsides to the village of Salybia,in the heart of the Carib Territory.

In Salybia the canoe was “opened out” with heavy rocks and fire, ribs were added, and the ‘boardage’ attached.  At 35’long with a beam of 6 ½’ she was the largest canoe to be  built in living memory. Then late in November 1996 Gli-Gli was trucked down to the port of Marigot to receive the traditional Carib blessings, encircled with gommier smoke and sprinkled with coconut milk - prior to the ceremonial launching.

By May 1997 sufficient funds had been raised, and everything was ready for the 800 mile voyage south, down the islands to Guyana. With a 10 man, 2 woman Carib crew and a multi national support crew, the expedition set off to reconnect the Carib people of the southern Caribbean for the first time since the European conquest.. Accompanying the Gli Gli was the ‘Carmela’ , a beautiful Dominican schooner which acted as the ‘mother ship.’

 Celebrations, emotional meetings and cultural research were undertaken in the Carib communities along the way. The Gli Gli and its crew made an important historical gesture, drawing high profile media attention to the cause of indigenous peoples in the region and high lighting the plight and marginalized conditions of many the formerly great tribe’s direct descendants.  The voyage was to reawaken a sense of community and brotherhood that had long since been lost among the fragmented tribal communities of the region. In this the Gli-Gli expedition was supremely successful.

Returning safely from the Guyana, first to Dominica and then to the Virgin Islands, the Gli Gli has continued to enthrall and intrigue the people of Caribbean and our visitors. For school children and adults alike the canoe has become a first hand link with an ancient and barely visible past. Seeing the Gli Gli sail and meeting her Carib crew brings alive a history that has been all but destroyed by colonial education. For many it stimulates for the first time an understanding that the” Caribbean” is in fact the land of the Carib people.  

The BBC documentary “The Quest of the Carib Canoe” captures the magic and the moments that made the journey such an unforgettable experience for all those that the Gli Gli came into contact with. The world wide exposure on the BBC, HBO, Discovery Channel, the Native American Film Festival ,numerous museums around the world, including the Smithsonian and most recently at the Antigua Classic yacht regatta, has given the Carib people  unprecedented recognition and respect from the global community .

Now 10 years after Gli Gli’s historic expedition to Guyana, the Gli Gli and her crew are preparing to sail again. This time up the Leeward Islands , from Antigua to the Virgin Islands.

Titled the “Leeward Island Expedition “,the new journey continues in the spirit of her 1997 expedition , as a cultural voyage to symbolically re-unit the Carib descendants of the Leeward Islands and to draw attention to the importance of the Carib legacy in contempory Caribbean culture. Though no distinct Carib communities have survived in the Leewards, the islands were once the domain of a thriving indigenous culture. The Carib people and their predecessors had established a closely integrated tribal society using canoes as their primary means of transportation.

As late as the 1750’s the European planters in Antigua and St Kitts were living in fear of Carib warriors raiding coastal estates in fleets of canoes that setout from the tribal heart land of Dominica.

The Leeward Island Expedition will be the first time a Carib canoe has sailed in these waters since the subjugation of the seafaring tribe by the European navies. In late October of this year the “Gli Gli” will set sail from Antigua , manned by a crew of 12 Caribs from Dominica, to connect Nevis, St Kitts, St Eustatia, St Barths, St Martin , Anguilla and the Virgin Islands, with the spirit of the Carib nation. Along the way the Gli Gli ‘s crew will be presenting slide and film shows to the public as well as presenting performances of traditional music, dance, basket weaving and calabash carving.

Accompanying the expedition will be a classic topsail schooner "Fiddler's Green" owned by Doug Watson. The journey will be documented for the local and global market, by Timothy Wheeler and Johnny Tattersall, under the guidance of David Fanning executive producer of PBS Front Line Documentary series.

Funding for the expedition is being undertaken through a grant from the Robinson Bequest Trust and sponsorship from local companies, sales of Gli Gli merchandise and crafts as well as donations from the public. Your donations are greatly appreciated.

To follow the fortunes of the Gli Gli and her crew check the regular updates on our website at

Site Photography by Alison Langley