SUMMARY REPORT OF THE RESEARCH CARRIED OUT ON THE GLI GLI CARIB CANOE PROJECTS RECENT EXPEDITION FROM DOMINICA TO GUYANA.
“Gli Gli” was the name chosen for the 35 foot Carib canoe that sailed from Dominica on May 13 for a two month voyage down the island chain through the Orinoco delta to Guyana. “Gli Gli” is the Carib name for the sparrow hawk, a bird that was once revered by the ancient Carib warriors as a totemic symbol of bravery.
The idea to construct the canoe and under take the expedition was conceived by two Caribbean artists Jacob Frederick of the Carib territory, Dominica and Aragorn Dick-Read of the British Virgin Islands, who both feel that there is an important need to maintain and research into the Carib culture, not only for the Carib people but for all the people of the region. Gli Gli took one year to build, with the help of master canoe builders Etiene Charles, Hyacinthe Stoute and Prince Hamlet, the project team constructed the largest canoe to have been built in living memory. The canoe, which was dug out of a Gommier tree (Dacryodes Hexandra), measures thirty-five feet in length and seven feet in width and is powered by a twenty-five square meter sprit rigged sail or eight oars. It was with this vessel that the eleven Caribs and multi-national crew sailed to Guyana, accompanied by the 120 foot Dominican schooner “Carmela. ” The expedition, which was described by the Carib chief Hillary Frederick as “the first in 500 years, ” was primarily a symbolic gesture to reconnect the Carib tribe of the Southern Caribbean. It was also an ideal opportunity to research into the conditions of the surviving Carib groups in the region, particularly in the field of language, dance, games, traditional medicine and canoe building, as well as to look into the impact the Carib culture has had on the present day inhabitants. Through out the journey we were able to help dissolve a lot of the negative myths about the Carib people that have arisen over the past 500 years, most importantly the cannibal myth, which seems to have developed out of exaggerated early Spanish reports, that were designed to discredit the Caribs, in order to justify their enslavement or extermination to the European public.
The Gli Gli’s voyage served to remind people that voyages of this nature were regularly undertaken in the same type of canoes before and during the early colonial period. The success of the journey has proved the suitability of the Carib canoe design for the sea conditions of the region as well as the enduring quality of this pre -European boat design.
The entire project was filmed on digital and Hi8 video, under the direction of Eugine Jarecki, an independent film maker from New York. David Fanning, Director of PBS’ Frontline Documentary series is acting as the Executive Producer, helping to advise and steer the film through the television industry in Europe and USA.
Partial funding for the Project was provided by a grant from the C. T. Robbinson bequest Trust, to assist in the research in the Carib culture. Day to day expenses on the expedition where supplemented by the sale of Carib craft work and T-shirts.
Note on the use of the word “Carib”: The word Carib has developed as a collective name for the Amerindian inhabitants of the Southern Caribbean and North coast South America. It has at times been used to describe any tribe that was considered warlike and aggressive towards European expansion. This is wrong, misleading and has come to bring to mind connotations of cannibalism. The Island Caribs in fact called themselves the Kalinago and the mainland Caribs called themselves the Karynia. For the purposes of this project and report we are using the word Carib as it is currently the most common way of identifying the Amerindians who had a shared language and history throughout the region.
Dominica is home to the largest surviving Island Carib society, numbering approximately 4000 people, 3000 of whom reside on 3000 acres of land reserved for them by Dominican law. They pay no tax and live under the leadership of a chief and council who are elected every four years. The greater part of the population has some Negro blood and even the purer Amerindian families are probably a mix between Arawak and Carib blood stock. Traditional belief systems have long given way to Christianity, and the ancient languages replaced by French-English Creole, testimony to the waves of foreign influence to which the Island Caribs have been subjected. Despite this advanced state of a-culturisation, farming (bananas, coconuts, citrus, ground provisions, peppers and cassava) and fishing (bottom fish, dolphin and flying fish) are still the primary occupations in the Carib Territory. Traditional crafts such as basketry, calabash work and wood carving, have survived, and in fact are going through something of a renaissance as the banana industry declines and the quality of their craft gets better known in the tourist markets through out the region. Canoes are still made in the traditional design, dug out from the trunk of the Gommier trees high up in the forest The canoes are constructed using a blend of ancient and modern techniques where the chain saw is as important as the hand adzes, gommier gum as galvanized nails . They are either used for fishing or are sold out side the territory. The normal size ranges between 13 and 22 feet in length, any larger and they are very difficult to pull up on the rocky coast line. It was for this reason that Gli Gli was launched in Marigot, five miles north of the Carib Territory.
The Carib territory of Dominica is one of the regions poorest communities, where only a small percentage of homes are electrified and most house hold water come from roadside taps. To compound the increasing problem of poverty, alcohol has a “traditional” and devastating grip on the community, being the cause of an increasing crime rate and destabilized families .
Traditional medicine is still widely practiced, though allopathic medicine is the normal treatment, provided by the Government health clinics.
Education only goes up to primary school level, of which there are three schools in the territory. The syllabus is the same as all Dominican schools and does not include any specific teaching of Carib history or culture.
A number of cultural groups keep music and dance traditions alive, mainly to perform for tourists. They have also served to rekindle an interest in preserving the culture and a healthy element of Carib pride through out the population.
The Caribs of Dominica are linked with other indigenous groups in the Caribbean, through the Caribbean organization of Indigenous People (COIP). An organization intended to help improve the situation of the regions indigenous population, and to assist with social, cultural and land rights issues. Through this organization there are links with world wide indigenous peoples movements.
It was from the villages of Cyr and Salybia that the group of eleven Caribs, nine men and two women, accompanied by a multi-national crew of equal numbers, set out on an unusual cultural adventure to reconnect the Carib people of Dominica, with the surviving members of the tribe throughout the Southern Caribbean.
The Gli Gli expedition was hosted during its week long stay by the Martinique Tourist Board, co-ordinated by Jacque Bajal and the Gommier racing Club personnel Anne Marie Le Oiseaux, Emile and Emillion Largen.
Although once a thriving community in pre-Columbian time, there are only a few Carib descendants living on Martinique, a lot of these have moved here from Dominica. No distinct group or region remains that is recognizably Carib. Although there are numerous archeological sites and petroglyphs, around the island. The most enduring Carib trait in contemporary Martinique society is the island wide use of Carib style canoes both as coastal fishing boats and as racing canoes. These unique vessels are long and narrow (up to 30 feet long) and moved by enormous sprit rigged sails. The canoes carry no ballast, but are balanced by the ten crew hiking out on poles. These high -tec Gommiers are made from a dug out hull, usually towed over from St Lucia, and the sides are built up from local wood and epoxy resin. The art of canoe building is dying out as fiberglass hulls come in and the local supplies of wood are quickly disappearing.
The Gli Gli was met and hosted by the St Lucia National Trust, co-ordinated by Mrs Patricia Charles and Mr Eudoxie.
St Lucia, which was once a major strong hold for the Island Caribs, now has very few remaining descendants, mostly living around the region, on the southwest coast. Even so traces of Carib features can be seen in many St Lucians.
The legacy of Carib culture can be seen in many walks of life through out St Lucia, primarily in the production of cassava, basket work, dug out canoes and pottery. Many of these skills were passed on to the newly arrived African population in the early days of colonization.
The construction of canoes in the Carib style is strongest in the region of Pralin, in the lagoons of the southeast coast. The art has survived here due to its proximity to the remaining Gommier trees in the high forest, though these are becoming scarce and fiberglass boats have become the norm.
The most flourishing of the surviving Carib craft is the production of clay pots, done by mixed blood Carib descendants in the Choiseul region. Here coal pots, cooking ware, and models are hand formed and fired in an open fire. Although not as ornate as pre Colombian ceramics the technique and the clay remains the same.
Elder Caribs in Choiseul used to make canoes before all the trees were finished. They would regularly cross the channel to visit fellow Caribs in St Vincent, fishing or smuggling. The south west is one of St Lucias poorer regions, where it is not un common to see people living in wattle and dorb, or trash houses, another practical technique handed down from the Caribs.
The ancient language is no longer spoken, replaced long ago by Creole and English. Traditional dances and games have long been forgotton, though herbal medicine is still common in a reduced form.
The Gli Gli expedition was hosted by the St Vincent tourist board and the Carib community of Sandy Bay, in the North of the island.
The present day Caribs or Callinago, as they correctly call themselves, number approximately 2000 people. They live on the steep northern coast, where they held their final defense against the invading British in the Carib Wars of the 1780s and 90s. During this time, an inspired leader of mixed Carib and Negro blood, called Chatoyer led a strong resistance to the colonists. His guerrilla style tactics caused havoc for the British for many years. When the invaders finally overcame, they deported 5000 Carib prisoners to the colony of Belize, where their descendants have survived to day, as the Karifuna tribe.
The St Vincent Caribs became mixed with Negroes in pre colonial times (some people suggest that Africans were here before Columbus)having absorbed many shipwrecked and fugitive they are known as the “black Caribs. ” Even so there are still a number of “yellow Caribs. ”
Only a few of the elders know words from the ancient language and some of the old dances and ring games, though for the most part their children do not practice the customs. There is however a revival underway, with young men wearing hair styles of the ancient Caribs and trying to learn what they can of the language. Musical traditions such as drumming, chanting and story telling are kept alive by cultural groups led by Pat Frazer and Malakhi Edward-John.
Canoes are no longer produced, due to the scarcity of Gommier trees and the difficulty of landing canoes on the rough windward shore. Elders recall them being made up to twenty years ago, though now the art has sadly died out. Baskets are still produced for the tourist craft markets and home use. The Screw Pine, which grows well along the coast is the most common material used.
Indigenous crops, such as Cassava, Arrowroot and Ground nuts are grown in abundance on the steep slopes. Mostly for sale in Kingstown.
Traditional medicine is still in use for minor ailments.
Although a lot of ancient knowledge has been lost due to the continual disruptions from the colonialist and frequent volcanic eruptions, the Caribs north of the Dry River remains a tightly knit community that maintains a separate and some times defiant identity.
St Vincent has a number archeological sites and petroglyphs, most note worthy are those in the Yambu valley.
The expedition was met by the Government representative Mr Sylvester, Tom and Sally of Compass Publishing and Ottmar of the Old Fort Hotel.
Here the Carib legacy is up held with pride. Though not an organized community, there are a number of Carib descendants in Bequia, most of whom have originated from St Vincent, either fleeing from the oppression of the colonial system or more recently to avoid the discomfort of volcanic eruptions.
No distinct elements of Carib culture remains intact, however the influence of the Carib canoe can be seen in the double ended fishing boats that are still constructed here.
There are a number of archaeological sites around the island, evidence of its importance in the pre colonial era.
During our stay, the expedition was fortunate enough to see the unique collection of petroglyph rubbings belonging to Ottmar at the Old Fort Hotel. These full scale images were taken off the carved rocks of the Yambu valley in St Vincent. incised designs depict mythical faces and symbols. Their exact significance is not fully understood, though their proximity to water sources suggest that were important in some form of fertility worship. Other research carried out by the late Barry Fell, suggests that some of the dot markings are in fact boundary markers written in the Tiffinac script. What ever their original purpose they are masterpieces of pre Colombian design that have a striking impact.
The Gli Gli only spent one day at this somewhat depressed island. The Carib legacy has been wiped out, except for sporadic ground nut farming and conch harvesting. All that is left are buried remains. We did however encounter a group of about 30 Carib descendants from Sandy Bay in St Vincent, who are working on the Italian financed construction project being undertaken on the island. These Caribs, proud of their heritage, no longer practice any distinct cultural activities, having become fully assimilated with the working population of St Vincent. There was something of a tragic feeling amongst these workers, who regularly dig up their ancestor's artifacts on the construction site. Most of which are quietly whisked away by the Italian foremen.
The Gli Gli project was hosted by the Carriacu Museum.
The Carib population of Carriacu has all but disappeared, with the exception of one family that is descended from a Carib woman that migrated here at the beginning of the century from the Orinocco region of Venezuela. The grand child of whom joined the Gli Gli expedition in a bid to trace his ancestral heritage.
Carriacu is a Carib word meaning “the land of many reefs. ” Carriacu was once a major center for Carib and pre Carib populations, being a fertile island with rich conch and fishing grounds. It served as a stepping stone in the network of inter island trade and annual religious migrations that took place before the arrival of Europeans.
The island is rich with Amerindian archaeological remains, from which an amazing amount of ceramic, stone and conch shell artifacts have been recovered. Some of which are on display at the Carriacu museum in Hillsborough.
In Grenada the project was hosted by Edwin Frank of the Grenada tourist board, The Grenada Yacht club, The Museum and Patrick Browne owner of the Portofino restaurant.
As with all the small islands south of St Vincent the Carib culture on Grenada has become extinct, except for a few families of mixed blood descendants.
The Caribs had held strong in Grenada or Camerhogne as they called it, until a century after the colonial invasions began. The high hills, fertile land and abundance of water made it very difficult for the various waves of Spanish, English and French invaders to get control of the land. However their defense finally broke down, much weakened by the new diseases and the overpowering influence of European guns. A group of warriors under the leadership of a chief called Kaierouanne, in a state of defeat had retreated to the North of the island, where they collectively committed suicide by jumping over a cliff. These brave yet futile acts were sadly very common in the region as the Caribs refused to accept the humility of surrender and the inevitable slavery that would follow. Whilst visiting the cliff, now called Sauters, the Gli Gli crew performed a small ritual, chanting and burning Gommier gum, in remembrance of the bravery of their stoic ancestors.
Like other islands once occupied by Amerindians, Grenada has numerous petroglyph sites displaying mythical faces and symbols, again believed to be associated with fertility worship due to their proximity to water sources. Grenada also has many archaeological sites of Carib and Arawak remains, where an abundance of decorated and sculpted ceramics are found.
The Carib culture has left its mark on the island by the continued production of indigenous crops such as cassava and groundnuts, as well as the production of basket work and ceramics. Canoes where still built in Grenada until recent times, but the craft seems to have died out due to the scarcity of Gommier trees and wide spread use of fiberglass fishing boats.
The Gli Gli expedition was hosted by the Carib community of Santa Rosa in Arima, co-ordinated by Ricardo Hernandez-Bharath and Christo Adonis, The United Nations agency ELAC, coordinated by Izola Garcia and Trinidadian Artist Johnny Stollmeyer.
The Caribs of Trinidad form a significant part of the “melting pot” of cultures that make up the present day inhabitants of Trinidad and Tobago. Those who maintain the separateness of their identity now live in the Carib community of Santa Rosa in Arima. Here about 500 Carib people live, on lands originally set aside for them by the Catholic church. This community are descendants of a mix of Amerindian tribes that survived the Spanish colonizers who had been slaughtering and slaving their people through out the early colonial period. The Amerindian history of Trinidad is rich with accounts of their brave attempts to repel the invaders, often with the help of the mainland tribes and Island Caribs from Dominica and St. Vincent. On many occasions Caribs chose to commit suicide rather surrender to slavery and Christian indoctrination.
The current population do not speak the Carib language, however research is being carried out by Ricardo Cruz, a descendant of the Karinia Caribs of Venezuela, who was born in Trinidad. Ricardo speaks Karinia and has compiled an extensive word list of the language. Music and dance traditions have been kept alive, largely through the works of the Santa Rosa “Parang” group, who perform regularly. The style of the music, dance and instruments is heavily influenced by Spanish music of the colonial times, though the songs often recount tales of Amerindian origin.
Traditional rituals are not performed any more, having been stopped by the missionaries, however a revival is underway through the work of Christo Adonis and Ricardo Cruz, who have begun performing “smoke ceremonies” in respect of the ancestors.
Traditional medicine is not practiced to the same extent as the in the past, even so there are many people through out the island who continue to use it. It appears to be increasing in importance due to the expense and general dissatisfaction with modern medicine.
The Santa Rosa Carib community was in many ways one of the most organized of the Carib groups that we met. They have constructed a community center, where cultural performances and work shops are regularly put on. Every year they celebrate the Festival of Santa Rosa, an event originally organized by the church. These days it serves as an annual Carib gathering, where there is music, dance and traditional foods. Since 1990 they have organized an annual “Amerindian heritage week” that now attracts representatives from Guyana, Belize, Dominica and St. Vincent. Being a leading member of the Caribbean Organization of Indigenous Peoples(COIP) the Santa Rosa Caribs have done a great deal to correct the commonly held belief that indigenous people are extinct in the Caribbean. Through their work they are claiming their basic human and civil rights, reinforcing a positive self image and fostering exchange amongst indigenous peoples, to correct the inequalities and deprivations that is traditionally meted out to minority people. They now have contacts with other indigenous people's organizations in the USA, Canada, Central America and South America.
The Trinidad and Tobago government are generally supportive of their efforts and provide an annual grant of 30, 000$TT for the community. However a long-standing request for the return of a portion of Carib land, for the creation of a new village, is continually ignored.
The Gli Gli crew gained two more members in Trinidad, Fay Patrick, a woman of Carib descent and the artist Johnny Stollmeyer.
Sadly due to the restrictions of time and money, the Gli Gli was unable to visit the surviving Carib groups of the middle Orinoco, known as the Karinia. This tribe is the last remaining group of Caribs that once dominated the Orinoco and the Guyanas, prior to and during the early colonial period. Their skills in war and trading made them very difficult to subdue. They regularly invaded Spanish settlements and missions, often assisted by Dutch and English forces who used the Caribs as “allies” to harass Spanish colonies. The trade in European goods that arose through these alliances served to reaffirm the Caribs dominance over the region, and made them the most feared of tribes. The Caribs where however eventually “reduced, " by warfare, new diseases, and the continued effort of the missionaries.
The present day Karinia do still speak the Karinia /Carib language as well as Spanish.
Whilst in the Orinoco the Gli Gli expedition spent some time with various different groups of Warao people. These small scattered groups of people live in much the same way as they did in pre-Columbian times, except for metal tools, torches and the occasional out board motor. They live in open walled, thatched houses that are raised up on stilts to stay above the tidal floods of the river. The only transport is the canoe, which are dug out in much the same way as the Dominican Caribs, though they do not have the “pince” and the boardage of the ocean going canoes. They some times use sails, which in earlier times where made of cotton or palm fiber materials, now are made from scraps of plastic sewn together or the original sail the palm frond is still as practical as ever.
The Waraos live by fishing and farming small seasonal plots, growing traditional crops. Alot of groups still migrate with the annual flood season for fishing. They produce basket work and hammocks, mostly for home use, as there is very little access to markets Traditional medicine is in common use, made from forest plants and cassava juice. Still there is a lot of suffering from cholera, malaria and snakebites. They are very poor in terms of the Venezuelan economy, and suffer from classic indigenous people's land rights disputes with the government and multi-national oil companies, who are in the process of discovering huge new oil reserves in the delta. The towns on the upper delta have increasingly large squatter towns developing on the riverbanks, where conditions are drastic.
The Waraos generally speak their own language as well as a bit of Spanish. We did not encounter any distinctly Warao music, although Spanish style quatro playing is common.
The Gli Gli expedition was hosted by the Carib community of the upper Pomeroon coordinated by captain Charles Thomas, Jennifer Wisheart of the Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology and Minister Desuza of the ministry of Amerindian Affairs. An escort was provided by the Guyanese Military and Coast guard.
Guyana is home to the largest surviving groups of Carib people in the region with an estimated population being about 4000 people, centered around areas of the upper Barima river, Barama river and the upper Pomeroon. These communities are descendants of what was once the most powerful tribe in the Orinocco and Guyana region. Due to the transformations of the colonial period it cannot be said that these people are all ethnically pure Caribs. Their involvement in the slave trading of other Amerindian tribes and the mixing of tribes that resulted from the European intrusion has resulted in a mix of tribal blood that renders the Caribs of today little different physically and sociologically from other tribes in the region. However the Caribs are historically considered to be of lighter skin, even “white” in comparison to the Arawaks and Waraos. In general they inhabit the interior of the north west region, and are still considered more “wild” than the coastal Arawaks, who were more easily overcome by the missionary influence.
As stated before, the Caribs had emerged as the most powerful tribe in the area as a result of their trading links with the Dutch and English colonists. They secured the monopoly on European goods (such as scissors, axes, cooking pots and firearms). This position allowed them to dominate and capture slaves from other tribes. The slaves were sold to Dutch plantations that were developing in the Esequibo region. The colonist used the Caribs as “allies” to fight the Spanish settlements of the Oriocco. due to their own insufficient numbers and the Caribs skills at this type of warfare. This latter developed into a Carib "police force" that helped the colonists control the interior, through a network of captaincies. They where often used for the retrieval of runaway slaves.
The Gli Gli expedition could not visit the upper Barima Caribs due to their inaccessibility and reports that they are not welcoming to outsiders, even those of their own tribal stock. They live in isolated jungle villages, though still migrate periodically as resources become scarce. Amongst this least contacted of groups they still speak the Karinya language. Hunting, fishing, gardening and forest gathering, continue much as in pre-Columbian times, although as with most interior tribes there is increasing disruption to their way of life, from the encroachment of logging and mining companies. Hence their distrust of outsiders.
The Barma Caribs are still very isolated, but live within the sphere of the St Bedes mission. They speak the Karinya language as well as English. Hunting, fishing, gardening, logging, gold mining and the trapping of forest birds for sale, make up their livelihood. The Caribs of this region are suffering from the increasing intrusion of “coastlanders, " who are coming to exploit the gold and lumber. Apart from the social disruptions caused by the loss of tribal lands to logging companies, that have been given large concessions by the Government, the Caribs are suffering from an alarming increase in malaria an other diseases bought in by outsiders.
The upper Pomeroon Carib community that the Gli Gli expedition stayed with numbers about 800 people, and is centered around the villages of Santa Monica and Karawab. In many ways this community is very similar to the Carib community of Dominica in its level of cultural survival and economic marginalization. The chief and council are elected every four years. They differentiate them selves from the Arawak community that live down river by family and kinship ties, however physically and sociologically they are very similar to their neighbors. Schooling for the children is at Kabakaburi, the Arawak mission six miles down river.
The Caribs generally live a subsistence lifestyle from traditional crops, fishing and the occasional hunting. Logging and work on the gold fields draws a number of young men away for seasonal work, whilest others move to Georgetown or overseas for employment.
Basket work such as the “matapi”(cassava strainer) sieve, fans and little baskets are still made in the traditional techniques. Hammocks are made from twisted palm fiber, hats and ceremonial clothing are made from coconut fiber mixed with gum from the Balata tree, pottery is produced from local clay, fired in open fires and beautiful wicker work furniture is made from forest vines. These crafts are either used domestically or sold to traveling craft buyers who take it to the limited craft markets in Georgetown, though buying it at very low prices. The work is generally produced by the women, who have been encouraged to maintain this aspect of their culture by the church and economic necessity. Canoes are still produced on occasions, but not as much as before due to the availability of planked flat bottom speed boats, that are produced by East Indians, down river. Those canoes that are made are constructed in the traditional dugout method with an ax, adz and fire. The dug out hulls are then fired to harden the wood, paddles are made from forest hardwoods and then painted with a wood ash and tree gum paint. Canoes in the upper river do not apply any boardage, however those in use nearer the coast have ribs and boardage to deal with the rougher water. These canoes are very similar to the Dominican canoes except for the “pince, " which is a characteristic peculiar to Island Caribs. The coastal canoes are often powered by a sail (made from scraps of cloth or bedsheets), either in a sprit or lateen rig.
Other surviving cultural activities include music and dances performed by the community dance group. Although based on traditional dances the music and some of the sequences are heavily influenced by the European style of the last century, which were taught by the missionaries. One of the most unique of these dances is the “monkey dance, " in which the dancing partners scratching each other, in imitation of monkeys.
Traditional bush medicine is still in common use, due to the difficulties in accessing modern hospitals. Even so most villages on the Pomeroon have a medical officer of some sort. Serious cases are taken to Charity or Georgetown.
The Karinya /Carib language is spoken by a small percentage of the population, mostly elders and those who have spent time in the interior with other Carib groups. When comparing the Karyina as spoken today with the Carib dictionary that was compiled by Breton in 1666 in Dominica only very few words seemed to be the same. This is probably due to the fact that the Carib language in Dominica had been seriously corrupted by the Arawakan language that was spoken in the region prior to the Caribs arrival. Since the invading Caribs had kept the conquered Taino (Arawak)women, a mixed language developed. This was confirmed when showing the old Carib dictionary to Father Bennett (the author of the most recent Arawak dictionary), who lives at Kabakaburi, who was able to identify an understand many of the Arawakan words. The Gli Gli project also had a copy of Ricardo Cruz’ Karyinia word list, which was compiled in Venezuela. This was much more readily understood by the Caribs of the Pomeroon, though many words that were not understood could be due to regional variations in the pronunciation and the fact that there is no strict rules of spelling, words having been recorded how the informant pronounces them.
The Gli Gli expedition was successful in achieving its intended objectives. The Carib peoples of the Southern Caribbean have been symbolically reconnected by the Gli Gli’s journey and for the first time it has been possible to compile a report on the contemporary situation of the Carib tribe as a whole.
The tribe has undoubtedly suffered immensely through out the 500 years of colonial occupation in the region. The population has diminished from pre Colombian estimates in the hundreds of thousands to present day estimates around 10, 000. This depopulation mostly occurred in the early colonial period as a result of new diseases, slaving activities, collective suicides, military and economic oppression. The ethnic purity of the tribe has been compromised over the centuries, mostly through mixing with the introduced Negro populations. Cultural activities have almost completely been destroyed through the efforts of European powers in the region and the effects of the imported African population. The Carib language is totally extinct in all groups except those in Guyana and a few words (mostly place names )that are kept alive as novelty. Ceremonial and religious activities have long ago been replaced by the Christian faith, forcibly introduced through the missionaries. There is however a renewed interest in researching into and reviving ancient ceremonial practices. Traditional medicine, although still active, due the expense and unavailability of modern medicine, is not as powerful as in the past. This is mainly due to the conscious efforts to debase its value by the practitioners of modern medicine and the church, who associate it with witchcraft. Subsequently a lot of important knowledge has been lost. More research is necessary to record what knowledge remains. Shamanic practices are all but extinct for similar reasons, although there are reports of it surviving in the interior groups of Guyana. Crafts are the strongest surviving Carib tradition, due to their continued importance in daily life through out the colonial period and their inherent value as trade goods in the modern economy. This aspect of Carib culture looks fit to survive into the future, as craft items are still valuable within the local economy and to a greater extent in the tourist markets. Music and Dance traditions remain an important part of community life, however the instruments, music and sequences have been severely effected by the introduction of European folk and church music. Efforts to revive and recreate traditional musical activities, though positive for the community, often only find regular expression in the tourist market, resulting in a clinched pastiche of the ancient traditions. The construction of canoes is undoubtedly strongest in the Carib territory of Dominica, The craft has survived due to the continued importance of canoes during the colonial period for the transportation between the coastal plantations. Today they are still in regular use by fishermen all around the island. The Guyanese Caribs still produce canoes out of necessity, but as with all the groups we met with, fiberglass or planked boats are becoming increasingly common.
To sum up it can be observed that Carib people of the region are still suffering from the usual effects of economic marginalization that minority populations around the world experince. Most Carib groups the Gli Gli expedition encountered were bordering on extreme poverty. The culture and heritage is a continued source of pride that is often mixed with a sense of sadness at the loss of significance it has in the modern world. There is a general feeling of resentment towards the perpetrators of this loss, most often expressed towards the Government. The maintenance of craft traditions and the formation of cultural groups helps to save the identity of the Caribs and connections with other indigenous peoples organizations around the world will help to draw attention to social and land issues.