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Dominica’s Carib Territory

Following Nick Marshall’s excellent article concerning the Gomier canoe, Gli-Gli, in the June 2007 issue of All At Sea, here is a closer look at the Carib territory, located on the eastern side of Dominica, where these canoes are built. 

Upon arriving in Portsmouth I immediately called Providence, a most reliable touring company located there.  My guide for the day was Dylan Peter, a handsome and well-informed Dominican, who escorted Dave and me to the Carib Territory where we met our old friend Jacob Frederick, President of the Kerlinergo Heritage Society, whose brother Faustulus designed the new Carib Village.  Here we found an educational site which completely outlines, both by written information and wonderful hiking trails, the history and boatbuilding that so distinguishes the Carib nation.

I have known Jacob since I first wrote about Gli Gli in 1997 for All At Sea and covered their trip from Dominica to their homeland in Guyana, an adventure that was also a feature story for National Geographic that year.  After reuniting with Jacob, who is an artist and weaver, we took a tour of the village, which has been erected to demonstrate to visitors the history and art of the Carib peoples, led by our capable guide John Gabriel.

The history of the Carib nation is long and colorful.  When Christopher Columbus returned to the West Indies in 1493 he saw the beautiful island of Dominica and named it Domingo, the Latin word for Sunday. The Caribs had previously named it Waitikubuli, “tall is her body.” Their ancestors had originated in South America, sailing down the Orinoco river and then up the Caribbean Sea to Dominica.  Although the island has developed, the Carib Territory, set aside for them in 1903, is much the same today as it was then, occupying some 3,700 acres on Dominica’s east coast.

The Carib Territory is made up of eight hamlets with Bataka the largest followed by Sinecou, Salybia, and Crayfish River. The population is very young with 70% under 30 years of age. Most children of secondary school age attend St. Andrew’s Methodist School in nearby Londonderry.
John showed us many of the 300 different herbs that grow in the territory and are used for medicine.  Although their language is only spoken by a few people today, Carib traditions, legends, and culture have been kept alive by the elders through “Story-Telling”.  The active Karifuna Cultural Group is made up of individuals from the Carib Territory who are preserving traditional Carib dance, music and performances.

We enjoyed a thorough tour of the new village where long, meandering nature trails link each site demonstrating the culture and the building of the Gomier canoes.  Larger buildings such as the Meeting Hall have been beautifully crafted by hand showing the excellent skills for carpentry that the Carib people possess.  Seeing the ancient Gomier canoes was a real treat, for Dave and I are interested in the history of boatbuilding in the Caribbean.

Attractions in the Carib Territory include its 16 craft shops, the L’Escalier Tete Chien, Horseback Ridge, and Isulukati Falls, although we did not have the time to see them all.  During lunch at the village restaurant Jacob told me of his plans to set up a museum and art school in the future; he is currently involved in a project of teaching hammock weaving to students, a skill that he developed during his recent return trip to South America.  I was most impressed by the diversity of their crafts and bought several baskets, woven by the artists, as well as carved gourds.  

We enjoyed visiting the territory as much as any trip we have taken throughout the Caribbean islands and highly recommend a visit to Dominica.

New in Dominica, the Indian River retaining wall and embarkation jetty in Portsmouth is available for use of cruising boat dinghies, constructed with funding provided to the Government of Dominica by the European Union for the Eco-Tourism Development Programme.  It was officially handed over on June 7, 2007 in a ceremony attended by European and Dominican ministers.

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