It is an urgent imperative to dispel the myths and misinformation about the indigenous inhabitants of the Caribbean. These noble peoples warrant much greater recognition for their tremendous contributions to world civilization. They form part of the FIRST NATIONS of the so-called Americas.
Existing data bases however still do not adequately provide information on the earliest settlers, the SIBONEY peoples ( STONE AGE: 800 -1200 B.C.E. ). Some anthropologists theorize that they may have migrated from the South Pacific via the South American mainland. Descendants of the SIBONEY are who the early Europeans settlers referred to as CARIBS & ARAWAKS. These are misnomers and clarification is necessary.
The TAINO peoples migrated from the YUCATAN, Central America to the Greater Antilliean islands of Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico and Jamaica. The main group of these indigenous peoples refer to themselves as "Jatibonicu" (Great People of The Sacred High
Waters) and currently reside
on the island of Puerto Rico.
LOCONO is the accurate reference for the estimated five hundred South American tribes that form the linguistic grouping wrongfully called ARAWAK. This name is as a result of the FAMOUS MISTAKE of the European arrivants who thought they had arrived in South Asia -aka EAST Indies. They foolishly identified the Locono as SARAWAK though they were the indigenous peoples of the region known today as the Caribbean.
To this day, LOCONO are agriculturists, famed for their hybridization technology. Our palates owe the likes of the Avocado, Papaya (Paw-Paw), String Beans, Cassava, Tobacco and Sweet Potatoes to these industrious people. Cotton cultivation was also subject to Taino / Locono hybridization techniques resulting in the production of a variety of strains; red, brown, white, and yellow. Their pride in art is evidenced through carved stone monuments and pottery.
The GALLABI are erroneously called the CARIBS. This word is coined from the Spanish word for Man-Eater > Cannibal - CANIBALE. They belong to the linguistic group which includes some three hundred tribes of the Amazon basin. They migrated over a period of a century from South American mainland to the lesser Antillean islands where they settled. They eventually encountered the Taino in Puerto Rico during their migration across the region. All this occured place prior to the arrival of the Europeans.
The GALLABI / INERI or Island Charibs as they became to be known hunted, rather than cultivated their food. It was actually believed by some that their temperament was unsuited to agriculture. Thus being nomadic, had little time to produce other than utilitarian tools and crude work.
Unlike the Locono with whom they intermarried, the Gallabi ate the flesh of wild meat and conducted fishing expeditions in their well constructed canoes ( PIROGUES ). For both nations are well known for their extensive sea faring expeditions across long distances in the region.
The idea that GALLABI were 'man eaters' stem from the bias observation of their ritual deification of deceased peers and ancestors. The European arrivants discovered Gallabi's homestead constituted a section where human remains were displayed. This social behaviour is not unlike many other people across the world. Anthropologists do agree that early Europeans conducted similar rituals and that the deification of Christian Saints was forged from such behaviour.
Taino, Locono and Gallabi cultures constitute the bulk of prehistoric patrimony of the region. The SHAMANISTIC religious concept of these peoples is a distinguishing characteristic. They revered the local wildlife ( example--frogs, turtles, deer, dogs, manattee, alligators, cayman, humming birds) in addition to the spiritual force of nature that inhabits rocks, places rivers, trees, caves and mountains.
Art is an expression of their religious belief. Ancestors and great leaders are still worshipped as the concept of reincarnation is a major tenet of their belief system. Cohoba, a narcotic snuff is still used in initiation and other ceremonies. While the ZEMI is understood to be a sacred symbol to the Giver of Cassava- Jocahu, Shaped as a triangle- the points represent various points of reference for these peoples.(Life/ Death and the Creator)
Surviving indigenous peoples are renown for their unique architectual designs. The AJUPA, TAPIA and UMANA-YANA are well known, still gracing the rural districts of Venezuela, Trinidad, StVincent, Dominica and Guyana. Handicraft produced from various grasses, fibres and vines, abound in the region, owing to the inception to the creativity of these peoples.Gourds/ calabashes and clay pottery are still used as household implements to date. The Spirit that bounded these mysterious peoples to these uncaring islands for so many centuries is surely still alive. Their decimation has left a residue of their souls in certain places that have always been considered sacred.
According to recent statistics of the region, Indigenous (Gallabi / Locono) peoples survive in GUYANA (ca 40,000 )Trinidad/Dominica (ca 5,000 ) Belize (ca 25,000 ) and St Vincent (ca 6,000 ). This does not include the KARIFUNA ( in Belize, St. Vincent, Hondoras, and Nicaragua ) who are an assimilation of Afrikan descendants and the Gallabi; nor the BUSH BLACKS another group decended from runaway Afrikan slaves and the Locono in French Guiana and Surinam.
Today their main concerns can be described as enforced culturalisation, miscegenation, patronalism, discrimination, social magininalization, plus systematic denial of their civic and land rights.
Selected Excerpt from:
"ABOUT THE CARIBBEAN "
Dr. Roi Ankhkara Gunapo Kwabena
Afroets Press International Publishers
Six Editions (Revised)