Are Dominica’s indigenous people, the Caribs, were one of the original inhabitants of the island and reside on the Northeast coast of the isle. They are more properly known as the Kalinago, a Carib word derived from “Kalinenmeti,” meaning “a good peaceful man”.
Around 500 years B.C., a group of Amerindians, the Arawaks, left their homes on the banks of the Orinoco River in South America. They traveled by rafts in dangerous seas, taking with them small animals, plants and seeds. One of the Caribbean islands they landed on was Dominica. Here they lived peacefully for almost 1,000 years until they were invaded and conquered by another group of Amerindians, the Caribs. Over the years the two cultures and languages became fused and their simple life-style based on fishing and the sea continued peacefully until the fifteenth century, when a new set of conquerors from Europe discovered the Caribbean.
Slowly the Caribs began to trust the Europeans sufficiently to begin to trade with them. Plantain, cassava, fruit and tobacco were exchanged for beads, knives, glass and tools. However, this all took place over a period of 200 years.
As with many indigenous peoples throughout the world, they were not impervious to European diseases and many Caribs were subsequently wiped out. By 1686 the Carib population, weak from illness and battle fatigue, had dwindled from 5,000 to a mere 400 people. In the interim period all traces of Amerindians had been eradicated throughout the rest of the Caribbean. Amazingly, from such a tiny handful of people the Caribs survived and even began to flourish, co-existing peacefully with the Spanish, Portuguese, English and French settlers.
The Kalinago Territory is a district on the Northeast coast with an area of some 3,785 acres. Approximately 3,500 Caribs currently reside in this region. It is bordered roughly on the North by a ravine called Big River, to the West by the center of the Pagua Valley, to the South by a line leading inland from the Aratouri Ravine, and on the East by the Atlantic Ocean (the land is in fact owned by the Kalinago Council, thus ensuring an element of independence for Dominica’s native people). This was the rugged, unoccupied part of the island to which the majority of Caribs retreated after the colonization of the rest of Dominica by the French and British. For years during the 19th century the district was known as the Carib Quarter.