Dominica Carib People: Kalinago War and Warners
Issue 2. History & Carib Warner
In this, the second article on the Kalinago
people of Dominica,
we take a deeper look at the history and the story of Carib Warner. The articles
are in historical context with many suppositions. It is not known what Carib
Warner thought as a boy, but there are writings that allude to his growing up
with a feeling of derision in his own home. His own half-brother Philip is said
to have felt embarrassed to have a half-cast as a brother. It can only be
imagined how Carib Warner (also called Indian Warner) felt as being the bastard
son of Sir Thomas, growing up in an environment of racial prejudice against his
mother’s culture. He became a prominent man against all odds, but it is fair to
imagine that he was not easy with his British heritage. It is fair to imagine
that he overheard disparaging talk in the British house and across the Island of St. Kitts where he grew up.
While his farther may have truly loved his mother and respected her culture, it is clear that not all British people did. It is fair to imagine that he learned to survive by playing both ends, and fair to suspect that his loyalty was to his mother’s people: the Kalinago of Dominica. We can only imagine how his mind worked and how he managed to maneuver among French, British and Kalinago.
For more like this, see the first issue at http://BookingsDominica.com/Dominica-carib-kalinago-people.cfm
Migration and the War Canoe
I have been to Dominica a dozen or more times over the last 40 years. In the 60’s I loved running its rivers and hiking up volcanoes. It was, and it still is, an unexplored wilderness. I came across the Kalinago Territories in those early days of exploration and jungle adventures, and I recall sitting on the beach, watching Kalinago fishermen paddling out over breaking waves in sleek dug-out canoes. They seemed to measure the waves and know exactly when to launch through them. Like surfers of today, they rode the canoes back to shore, surfing the waves, while returning from fishing in the ocean.
I learned that it takes two large Gommier trees to make a large canoe: one for the hull and another for the two planks along the sides (boardage) which raises the free-board of the ocean-going canoe. In these vessels, the Kalinago paddled to the Caribbean in pre-Columbian times, traveling from the Orinoco Delta in Venezuela and down the Barima and Poeroon rivers from Guyana.
They crossed the Dragon's Mouth, a formidable passage of strong currents, funneling the water of the Gulf of Paria into the Caribbean. Using tides, wind and manpower, they glided, sailed and paddled into the islands and settled on the lands they met. There are traces of them even in Barbados, which was prized for the red clay from which they made pottery urns and cooking utensils.
At its height, the population of the Kalinago in the Caribbean is estimated to have been in the hundreds of thousands. Today there are about 10,000 Kalinago people in the Caribbean. The largest community, of about 4,000, lives in Dominica. St Vincent is the next largest community of some 2,000 people, locally called Callinago. They share a common history with Dominica in putting up a fierce resistance to the invading Europeans in the Carib Wars of the late 1700’s. But it was Dominica that became the Caribbean Fortress for the Kalinago people.
Early Kalinago Settlement in Dominica
A 30 foot War canoe can carry 30 fighting men. Powered by square rigged sail and 30 paddles, it out-ran the lumbering giant galleons of the invading Europeans. It could be deployed in an instant to ferry men around the island of Dominica to fortify a harbor that might be attacked, or to speed off and warn another island. It was fast, silent and agile.
A network of lookouts across in the islands acted as sentries of the canoe messaging system. Like the pony express of the wild west it delivered warning and news. Dominica, lying south of the invaders, had the advantage of being forewarned. As we have noted in our previous issue, Dominica became the Kalinago fortress for these reasons and because it was a natural fortress of mountains and valleys in thick forest. It had few harbours and the Kalinago were the masters of the land. They used its geography, its foods and poisons to live and defend themselves (see Dominica & Carib Culture, in links at end).
The Dominica Kalinago were not confined to defending Dominica only. War-canoes foraged into other islands to avenge and disrupt the invaders who were taking Kalinago lands. They were a thorn in the flesh of the British and the French, who both ceded control of Dominica to the Kalinago in exchange for a peace in the islands.
The Saga of Carib Warner
In 1660, the 30-year-old Carib Chief named Carib Warner was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Dominica by the Governor of Barbados, Lord Willoughby. For years following, many treaties were signed with the Dominica Kalinago, but sugar and the pursuit of wealth continued to cause the French and English to fight for control of the seaways, ports and islands. Dominica stood out as a strategic position between the two French islands of Martinique to the south and Guadeloupe to the north. Treaties were repeatedly violated.
Carib Warner was murdered by his own half-brother Philip Warner, who was then the Governor of Antigua. There are stories of jealousy and resentment between the brothers. They both had the same father, Sir Thomas Warner, Governor of St. Kitts, but the brothers had different mothers, and very different perspectives and loyalties.
Philip was British by birth; Carib’s mother was a Kalinago from Dominica. He had grown up in St. Kitts among both French and English, and he had been a witness to the prejudice that many had to his mother’s people. He had heard the conversation about the need to subdue these people and knew that many Kalinago and Tanio people were being wiped out in wars and raids. He was just a child in St. Kitts when, in 1626, hundreds of Kalinago were killed in the genocide at Bloody River.
Bloody River Murder in the Season of the Batman
It was in January, the middle dry period called Season of the Bat Man. Kalinago gathered in St. Kitts at this time to appease Bat Man and welcome in Frog Woman, the wet season. It was rumored that the Kalinago were also planning to attach the settlers who were making St. Kitts a strategic fort from which to take over their lands. The news leaked out, and the French and English combined forces to launch a surprise attack, killing a hundred Kalinago leaders while they slept. Thousands of Kalinago took up arms against the Europeans in retaliation. They were beaten by superior weapons and forces. The dead Kalinago were piled in a mound on the beach. Their blood ran for days, it is said, into Bloody River at the place now called Bloody Point.
Betrayal at Massacre
Carib Warner trusted no European. In 1664, with 600 Caribs and 17 canoes, he had seized French settlements in St. Lucia. This had won him the admiration of Lord Willoughby, and led to his appointment as Lieutenant Governor in Dominica. Lord Willoughby saw in him a resource to challenge the French and favour the British.
Carib Warner’s sympathies may have been British, but his loyalty was to his people. In 1674, the Kalinago on the leeward side of Dominica, who were more sympathetic to the French, raided the British island of Antigua. Carib was diplomatic in appeasing the British, while firm about his people’s rights and concerns about colonization and the settlements moving into native lands. It was clear to Carib Warner that the Europeans wanted their land, even the fortress Dominica was vulnerable. They were a threat to the Kalinago way of life and its existence.
He had negotiated a peace treaty with the British in 1668, but European treaties were simply a way to take a break, it seemed to him. Not real contracts, they were dispensed with easily, and in this case, he knew the settlers in the leeward islands were not content with the status quo, they wanted it all. What is a treaty worth if one party keeps taking your lands? He could not ignore it.
The Kalinago will prevail by cunning, courage and perseverance, he told his people, just as they had against the Spanish. As they had in 1502, when they defeated Antonio Serrano on his way to take command of Dominica and neighboring islands. And as they continued after that, to route the Spanish and make settlement impossible for them. Antigua was not immune from Kalinago raids if something had to be avenged or a statement made, even if his own half-brother Philip, was the Governor there.
The British in Barbados and Antigua were divided on the issue of Carib Warner. Philip was angry with his brother's disrespect. The Antiguans were afraid that he had too much power and was dangerous to their cause. It was agreed that Philip Warner should sail to Dominica ostensibly to hold talks with his half-brother. He is said to have lured Carib onto the ship, plied his party with drink and murdered all. Philip’s men then massacred the entire village, now called Massacre.
A Royal Disgrace
Philip was jailed in the tower of London, tried in Barbados and acquitted, but stripped of his role as governor. The most influential Antiguans pleaded his case, saying he was dispatched to Dominica to defend the crown and did not go there on his own to murder his half-brother. It was a plausible defense, as rumors had painted the Dominica Kalinago as a war-hungry tribe, who would annihilate them all. The rumors were propagated by those who wanted most to take their lands. From the time of the Spanish, the invading Europeans had influenced sentiment against the inhabitants, with claims that they were an unfriendly and bloodthirsty people ready to attach for no cause.
Lord Willoughby and his followers were incensed at the trial’s outcome. Secretary Coventry in Britain had previously written to the courts in Barbados, saying that “His Majesty was highly offended" by the Massacre and ordered justice be done. There had been talk of heads rolling in Antigua to appease the Kalinago.
The Massacre was a turning point for the Kalinago. They had lost a brilliant leader, diplomat and warrior. No one could take his place, and no other Kalinago leader had his privileged upbringing as the son of a Lord, living with both French and English. The Kalinago continued to defend Dominica for years, as the British and French fought to colonize all of the Caribbean. Dominica was always difficult to take, and in 1686 the French and British declared Dominica neutral. But the Kalinago fortress was slowly being overtaken by Europeans' "peaceful" colonization: building their plantations, homes and military forts in the islands. By 1750, the Leeward Coast Kalinago were forced to retire to the rocky Windward side of the island, in what was to become the Kalinago Territory.
Dominica Basket Weaving
The Kalinago Territory, in the North East of Dominica, in an area of approx. 3,700 acres. About 3,000 Kalinago live on the territory, another 1,000 lives outside the Territory. All Kalinago by birth are entitled to live in the Kalinago Territories. Many move out to find jobs and work in towns and tourism location throughout the island. In the Territory, they farm bananas, coconuts, citrus, ground provisions, peppers and cassava. They grow herbs and use them in food and medicine and well-being. They fish and make crafts like baskets, calabash and wood carvings. Dugout canoes are still made from the trunk of the Gommier.
The traditions and beliefs of the Kalinago, their language and even their names have been mostly lost to cultural influences of the Europeans, African and Creole. But they hold to a spiritual belief in an afterlife and spiritual connection infused with nature. Their beliefs are cloaked with Christianity, and many Kalinago respect and attend church. But their beliefs are deeply infused with nature, nature itself is omnipotent. As noted in the previous issue, “They are one with nature and fit into the Dominica landscape as naturally as the birds and animals of the jungle. They are spirits of the jungle: unmatched in agility, stamina and natural knowledge. The Kalinago knowledge of herbs and plants is exceptional. It is said they use over 300 different herbs for medicine are some of the best bush doctors in the Caribbean.”- Irclay article.
There has been little attempt over the years to share and celebrate this majestic culture and its knowledge of nature. As Kent Auguiste told me on my last trip to Dominica, “Secondary Education was not an option for us. We had to travel over mountains to Roseau; the trip was impossible on a daily basis. We had to rent accommodation in the city and no-one could afford that”. Only 3 Kalinago had attended secondary school, back in the 1960’s, when Kent went to school in Roseau. For years, there was no education for the Kalinago. And for many years there was no Kalinago culture or history studied in the schools.
The decision to officially change the name from Carib people to Kalinago underscores a need to rediscover its roots, to rejuvenate the culture and instill some sense of ownership in a distinct and unique society, with pride in itself, its beliefs and its special place in the world.
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