Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Dominica or the Dominican Republic?

Discovering the hidden past of the Caribbean with Khadene Harris

Dominica or The Dominican Republic? Both nations are in the Caribbean, and both share parallel, but different histories.

The CAS May 2018 speaker, Ms. Khadene Harris, will cast new light on Dominica a region so close in miles but distant in understanding.

Ms. Khadene Harris is a current Ph.D. candidate at Northwestern University in the department of anthropology. (She will defend her dissertation this forthcoming summer.) Trained in Caribbean history and archaeology, Ms. Harris has conducted research in Jamaica, Nevis, Dominica and the Chesapeake Bay, (See map below for Dominica location.) and has taught at both Northwestern and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Her virtual travel destination to Dominica, one of the Windward Isles, will encapsulate a time and place heretofore alien to the CAS.

Dubbed the 'Nature Isle' for its soaring peaks and various micro-climates, Dominica boasts a long and complex history that has only recently garnered attention from archaeologists. In her talk Ms. Harris will give an overview of Dominica's archaeological past, starting with the islands first inhabitants - The Kalinago- and ending with focus on her latest research on the colonial period. She will also discuss findings from her research that explored the cessation of slavery in 1838, among Dominican laborers and subsequent generations.

Carib Territory

Although immigrants into the Caribbean from South America shared common cultural attributes, the new geography of the Caribbean allowed for the emergence of cultural subsets.

Dominica was the name given to 289.8 sq. miles of land, by Christopher Columbus, when he landed on the island on November 3rd 1493. On the north eastern side of this beautiful tropical rain-forest island is 3782.03 acres of land set aside known as the Carib Territory. It is situated between two villages, Atkinson to the North and Castle Bruce to the South. It is the home of approximately 2208 Kalinagos (Caribs), the remaining survivors of  the first inhabitants of the island. The people called the island Waitukubuli (tall is her body), and they ued to wage war on the Kalinago (Carib) people but due to their courage and bravery they survived. In 1763, the British gained full con-trol of Dominica. The Kalinagos were given 232 acres of mountain-ous and rocky shoreline in Salybia, Dominica. In 1903, the amount of land was expanded to 3700 acres and was called the Carib Reserve; in addition the Carib Chief was officially recognized.

The Kalinagos before the arrival of Columbus

Before the arrival of Christopher Columbus the Kalinagos (Caribs) were self-reliant people. The Kalinagos (Caribs) survived mainly by fishing, hunting, and farming. They were skilled craft people and made canoes (hewn from huge trees and dug out) which were used to travel to and from the neighboring is-lands. The Caribs also wove baskets and were famous for their herbal medicine. They spoke their own language and worshipped the spirits of their ancestors.

More than 1,500 years ago, the Ara-wak people of South America began to migrate northwards, eventually navigating the Orinoco River and exploring what is now the Caribbe-an and the Antilles. This migration would continue for hundreds of years, until there was a presence of Arawaks on most Caribbean islands including Dominica.

Although the tribes descended from the Arawak went under different names like Lokono, Lucayan, Carib or Ciboney, the Taino, which stood for "the good people" in Arawak, was the largest indigenous group under the umbrella of Arawak Indians, and would be the first group of indigenous Indians to make contact with European settlers.


When Columbus landed on what is now the Dominican Republic, in 1492, there was a vibrant and flourishing civilization already present on the island of Haiti (this was the Taino name for what Columbus re-named Hispaniola).

The Taino
The Taino had dark golden-brown skin, similar to that of their distant South American relatives, and were average in stature with dark, flowing, coarse hair, and large, slightly oblique eyes. Though modern depictions of Taino Indians at the time of Columbus's arrival are of savage Indians parading around naked, the Taino were, in fact, highly skilled at weaving cotton and clothing. Clothing, or lack thereof, was used as an identifier of class and rank within the society.

Men generally went naked or wore a loincloth, called a nagua. Single women walked around naked, and married women covered their genitals with aprons made of cotton or palm fibers, the length of which was a sign of rank. Both sexes painted their bodies on special occasions, and wore earrings, nose rings and necklaces, which were sometimes made of gold.

Taino Kingdoms

The Taino Indians lived in organized, hierarchically arranged kingdoms. Communities were divided into three social classes: the naborias, who were the working class, the nitainos or sub-chiefs and noblemen, which included the bohiques or priests and medicine men, and the Caciques or chiefs. Each Taino kingdom was ruled by a Taino Cacique, or chieftain, and at the time of Columbus's arrival there were five Taino kingdoms on Quisqueya (Haiti).

Though the Taino kingdoms were ruled by Taino chieftains, it is a little-known fact that Taino societies were matriarchal in nature. The reasoning behind this fact is that though men wielded a considerable amount of power in the communities, it was the Taino women who actually chose the Caciques in the particular kingdoms. In this regard women were important because unlike men, the Tainos could trace royal line-age through women. It was only after Columbus's arrival that the family structure was to change drastically.

The Caciques

The Caciques, chieftains, carried boldly carved scepters and daggers of polished stone as symbols of their authority. Caciques were also polygamous, and formed political alliances by marrying women from other kingdoms. Spanish records attest to the Caciques' power over almost every aspect of Taino socie-ty. "They controlled the collection and distribution of food and trade goods; they organized community festivals known as areytos; and they decided when to go to war. In addition, caciques functioned as spiritual leaders who contacted the supernatural through hallucinogenic trances and to ensure the well being of the community."

Caciques also acted as the main intermediaries between people and the supernatural realm. Before ingesting such hallucinogenic mixtures, Caciques and shamans fast-ed and purged themselves with vomiting spatulas of wood and bone, in order to consume the "pure foods" of the spirits. Then, they inhaled their concoctions from small vessels and trays, using delicately carved snuffers of wood and bone.

To some extent Dominica's natural rugged geography protected the Kalinagos from the European invaders and their disease carrying fellow travelers as it may have held the Caribs at Bay.

Nevertheless the fate of the Do-minican Kalinagos Indian was sealed on that day in 1492, when the Tainos, fellow Americans, first encountered Christopher Colum-bus. For more about the peoples of the Caribbean open https://www.salybia.org/the-kalinago.html .



Or better still, come to Ms. Khadene Harris’s virtual journey to Dominica. 3:30pm, Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Avenue-—and bring a friend! Remember all meetings to the CAS are free and open to the public. 

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