Learning about Indigenous Kalinago Culture and History in Dominica

This 'Ajoupa' is a traditional shelter and welcoming landmark at the Kalinago Barana Aute in Dominica.

This ‘Ajoupa’ is a traditional shelter and welcoming landmark at the Kalinago Barana Aute in Dominica.

On the Sunday morning of my weekend at Beau Rive   near Castle Bruce, I eagerly drove through the Kalinago (Carib) Territory to revisit a very

Kalinago guides, Ms. Frances and Ms. Paris take Gwendominica and 25 visitors on a tour of the model village in English, French and Creole!

Kalinago guides, Ms. Frances (l) and Ms. Paris took Gwendominica and 25 visitors on a tour of the model village in English, French and Creole!

important cultural site in Dominica. After 20 minutes on the road, I arrived at the Kalinago Barana Aute, which means Kalinago (Model) Village by the Sea. I was greeted by my guide named Ms. Frances with ‘Mabrika!’ which translates to ‘Welcome!’ in English.

She then took me into a room where the  walls  were lined with maps, charts and photos.  Ms. Frances proceeded to explain a considerable amount about Kalinago history and culture.  I wish I had taken a notebook with me!  However, it is possible to learn more about these indigenous people through various informative web sites, including this article by local historian Dr. Lennox Honychurch, found here.

The Kalinago people paddled  from South America through the Caribbean islands over 1,000 years ago. When they first glanced at Dominica’s mountainous topography, they called her ‘Waitukubuli’, which means ‘tall is her body’. Guide Frances emphatically stressed that it was not Columbus who “discovered” Dominica when he sighted the island on his second voyage in 1493: the Kalinagos were already here!

Dominica was accurately named  Waitukubuli by the Kalinago people when they first saw the mountainous island over 1,000 years ago.  It means 'tall is her body'.

Dominica was accurately named Waitukubuli by the Kalinago people when they first saw the mountainous island over 1,000 years ago. It means ‘tall is her body’.

During British colonial rule, a tract of land (almost 4,000 acres)  in the northeastern part of Dominica was given to the Kalinagos in the early 20th century.  It was  then called the Carib Reserve, but is now called the Kalinago Territory, as it was the Europeans who referred to these indigenous people as ‘Carib’.  Today about 3,000 inhabitants live in eight villages in this specific  area.

One of the panels in the interpretive room at Kalinago Barana Aute.  The baskets, made from a grass called larouma, all serve specific purposes.

One of the panels in the interpretive room at Kalinago Barana Aute. The basket is made from a grass called larouma. There is a traditional hunting bow on the far left (blue) and a drum (centre right).

I was extremely impressed that they have preserved their culture very well, and continue with traditions such as canoe-building, basket-making, carving, pottery-making, farming, fishing, dancing, drumming and

Teresa weaves a basket from the larouma reed.  These vessels have a variety of functions.  They are available for sale throughout the Kalinago Territory

Teresa was weaving a basket from the larouma reed. These vessels  are crafted in various shapes ans sizes and have a variety of functions. They are available for sale throughout the Kalinago Territory

herbal medicine.  When Ms. Frances finished describing the content of the graphically detailed wall panels, she suggested that I have a look around in the crafts area while we waited for the large group to arrive. There, I casually chatted with the attendants, and (unsurprisingly) the subject of chikungunya came up! As these  are people very familiar with the healing powers of many of Dominica’s plants, I sought their advice about natural remedies for the arthritic-like pain that persists with this illness. An elder lady immediately

recommended pure bay leaf oil mixed with virgin coconut oil.  I purchased some from her and am delighted to say with faithful application to my tender joints,  it has alleviated the pain considerably.  I am able to walk with less of a limp now – soon I’ll be back on the hiking trails again!

Then I sauntered over to the canteen area, as I felt a  little refreshment would energize me for the  guided walk around the grounds.  The kitchen staff was busy preparing lunch for the organized tour that  I was waiting for, and didn’t have any juice made yet.  However, they offered me the juiciest, sweetest,  fresh pineapple slices that really ‘hit the spot’!  I had just finished this tasty treat when the French visitors appeared.  Ms. Frances sought me out and I returned to the interpretation centre.  This time, Ms. Paris gave the presentation in French and Creole.  It was the perfect situation in which to practice my French comprehension skills. Besides, I had already been through it in English and by now had a thorough grasp of pertinent details about Dominica’s first people.

Here is a cleverly carved serpent  from natural wood that looks very real to me!

Here is a cleverly carved serpent from natural wood that looks very real to me!

Then we headed out en masse and our guides stopped us at various points along the way.

They explained about the larouma reed which is used in crafting the beautiful baskets. We were also shown vetiver grass, which is dried and used for thatching roofs and making mats.  The traditional dug-out canoe, carved from the trunk of a gommier tree was most impressive.  The sticky ‘gum’ from this tree forms a natural sealant on the wood, making this fishing craft waterproof!

Vetiver grass has multiple uses when dried, including thatch and durable mats.

Vetiver grass has multiple uses when dried, including thatch and durable mats.

This traditional dug-out canoe from a gommier tree is definitely seaworthy!

This traditional dug-out canoe from a tall gommier tree is definitely seaworthy!

In this particular dance, the young Kalinago is moving like a hummingbird, which forms part of a traditional legend.

In this particular dance, the young Kalinago moved like a hummingbird, which formed part of a traditional legend.

The young ladies of this Kalinago dance troupe expressed aspects of their culture with passion and grace.

The young ladies of this Kalinago dance troupe expressed aspects of their culture with passion and grace.

As we walked along the ancient ocean-side ‘Carib trace’, we then entered the communal Karbet, which means ‘meeting place’.  We sat down in front of a small stage. There, the Young Kalinago Dancers entertained us with   graceful movements and strong rhythmic drumming which represented

The methodical drumming accompanied the dancers with precision and energy.

The methodical drumming accompanied the dancers with precision and energy.

traditional stories of the spirit  and animal world as well as  practices such as harvesting and  cassava bread-making .

I did have an opportunity to sample some delicious cassava bread after the performance.  In fact, I bought a large loaf and devoured the whole thing very quickly! Its slightly sweet grainy taste really appealed to me.

This is the wood-fired oven where the cassava bread was baked.

This is the wood-fired oven where the cassava bread was baked (on top).

I did not take a photo while I was eating, but  you will gain an appreciation of how this starchy root vegetable is processed into a nutritious baked good by reading more about Kalinago cuisine here.

There are many magnificent coastal views in the Kalinago Territory.  It is possible to experience numerous wonderful vistas while hiking Segment 6 of the Waitukubuli National Trail.

There are many magnificent coastal views in the Kalinago Territory. It is possible to experience numerous wonderful vistas while hiking Segment 6 of the Waitukubuli National Trail.

We appreciated the magnificent coastal views as we continued along on the  ancient track.  Then the mystical  Isulukati    Falls at the mouth of the Crayfish River took our collective breath away as we watched its rushing waters merge with the rolling Atlantic surf a short distance away.  I was particularly intrigued by a traditional cleansing ritual of these indigenous people.  Our guides told us that on the first Friday of every month, some residents stand in the ‘Mermaid ‘Pool below the waterfall, and face the ocean, thereby washing away any bad ‘karma’ that may have come into a person’s life.  I wished that I could take part!

The Isulukati Waterfalls at Kalinago Barana Aute  are said to have mythical and magical powers.

The Isulukati Waterfall at Kalinago Barana Aute is said to have mythical and magical powers.

A short while later, we came upon some fascinating carvings, which were created to honour some of the past chiefs of the Kalinago Territory.  Their faces adorn this skilled handiwork!

I was very drawn to these outstanding carvings of past Kalinago chiefs.

I was very drawn to these outstanding carvings of  faces of past Kalinago chiefs.

At the conclusion of this detailed and informative tour, I  sincerely thanked Kalinago guides Ms. Frances and Ms. Paris for enthusiastically providing so much background about their culture.  I admired and respected their earnest desire to share the history of their people. The energetic performance of the young dancers and drummers was equally impressive.

Before I left the grounds of the Kalinago Barana Aute, I expressed appreciation for the excellent tour to Manager Kevin Dangleben.  I was delighted to better understand the history and traditions of Dominica’s indigenous people.

I strongly encourage  residents and visitors to spend some time at this extremely important interpretive site on Dominica.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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