THE FINAL REPORT:
GLI GLI Leeward Island Expedtion
HERE FOR PHOTOS OF THE
reports from onboard GLI GLI
the GLI GLI Booklet
from all over the Caribbean during the Expedition
Caribs of the Islands by Neil Whitehead
of Support by Dr. Maximilian C. Forte
CARIBS OF THE ISLANDS
The Island Caribs are famous as one of the first peoples encountered by
Columbus, but their own history stretches back at least another 500 years
to the time when various divisions in native society and culture were
becoming more apparent throughout the Caribbean.
In this process the Caribs were distinguished from the societies of the
Greater Antilles by their emphasis on the extended family and its obligations
to others of the same village or island, their seamanship and fearlessness
in war, and the alliances they had with other Carib groups on the South
Everyone things they know at least one thing about the Caribs: that they
were cannibals! But in fact this is a mistake. The first Europeans who
came to the Caribbean confused rituals for the dead and to celebrate success
in war, with the habit of eating human flesh for food. The Caribs were
certainly fearsome warriors and in the past had grim ceremonies - but
so did the Europeans!
Another often quoted idea about the Caribs is that they had a deep dislike
of the Arawaks, who were their neighbors both to the north, the Tainos
of the Greater Antilles and to the sound, the Lokono of Guyana and Surinam.
In fact the Island Caribs also had an Arawak language and again it has
been the confusion of the Europeans that has caused this common mistake.
It is certainly true that the Island Caribs, although born speaking their
own Arawak language, had close political relations with the Caribs on
the mainland, like the Karinya in Venezuela. As a result they leant many
words and phrases, which the men then used at home in the islands as a
way of keeping their affairs secret from their women-folk and children.
Still the traditional enemies of the Caribs were the Taino and Lokono,
but warfare was not meant to completely destroy the enemy, only to take
revenge and prove that your own group was no less fierce than others.
But when the Europeans arrived they exploited these differences, and so
made the conflicts between Caribs and Arawaks much more deadly, since
they passed out guns to both sides.
the Europeans had the metal to make guns and other useful things like
machetes, cooking pots and so on, which the Caribs were eager to trade
for as they only used precious metals like gold - the Europeans could
not better the Carib canoe. For a people living on islands the practical
importance of a canoe is obvious, but the Caribs did much more than simply
visit among the islands, they also went on long journeys to South America,
even reaching and settling near the mouth of the Amazon. They may have
also travelled to Florida and the Bahamas but their connections with Venezuela
and the Guianas were far stronger.
a result of the practical importance of canoes for both daily life and
connections to South America, it is not surprising that the symbol of
the canoe and particularly the relationships of the men who sailed them
were among the most important in Carib culture. For example, the crew
of a Carib canoe each had designated roles and titles - such as Tiouboutouli
Canaoa, or Nhalene, which meant "Captain of a vessel" and "Admiral
of a fleet" respectively.
we have few visual records of the design and construction of Carib canoes
but they were certainly very much like the large 60 foot canoes that are
still made by the Warao and Ye'cuana in Venezuela. It also seems likely
that the Caribs, as good practical seafarers, adopted some ideas from
European shipping. Perhaps instances of using sails or using planks in
the construction of canoes, rather than using a large log to create a
dug-out, are a reflection of this borrowing of ideas.
the Caribs have at least a 1000 year history in the Caribbean, the arrival
of the Europeans in the fifteenth century signalled a period of difficulty
and disaster, in which the Caribs nearly disappeared from the islands.
But their traditions of cooperation with each other, and the resistance
to the outsiders, has meant that they still endure to this day and that
their canoes still proudly ply the azure waters of the Caribbean.
Author of Wild Majesty
Department of Anthropology, UW - Madison
Site Photography by Alison