History is written by the victors.
Were The Caribs Really Cannibals?
“We're not man eaters and we never were,” Carib Chief Garnett Joseph asserts emphatically. “We are very much part of the human race.”
So how did the story get started? Put it down to wartime propaganda. All warring peoples sling mud at each other and the Caribs were splattered with the cannibalism charge often accepted as fact today.
It was the Europeans who claimed the Caribs were “man eaters” and who invented the term “cannibal,” a corruption of what the Spanish called the Caribs, “Caribales.” Character assassination worked when bullets and swords didn't.
It happened this way. After a long and bloody struggle, the Caribs were the last of the indigenous people of the Caribbean and South America to be conquered (1635).
All Europeans, but particularly the British, tried to label the Caribs as dangerously uncivilized people who deserved to be forced from their lands. But it was the words of the French priest de Rochefort traveling to the Caribbean in the 1600s that made the lasting impression.
He reported that, in their taste test, the Caribs rated different European groups thusly: The French were the tastiest, followed in rank order by the English and Dutch.
The Spanish, too stringy and full of gristle, were considered almost inedible. With tales like this, it was easy to justify rounding up the Caribs from many of the islands in 1797 and sending them away in ships to wherever the fates decreed.
The British hoped it was to the bottom of the sea.
Instead, the cast adrift Caribs landed on Roatan Island in the Bay of Honduras where they impressed the Spanish with both their industriousness and honesty.
They were allowed to stay. Later, some Caribs migrated from Roatan to coastal Central America, where their ancestors live today.
For centuries the Caribs have had to contend with this kind of deliberate misinformation: Victors always write the history books.
It turns out the Caribs were simply the second and most successful wave of Amerindians from South America to settle the islands.
The first were the more peaceful Arawaks, who arrived in 500 B.C. About a thousand years later the more warlike Caribs arrived to conquer and assimilate the Arawak culture.
Often killing all the men, the Caribs kept the women for their wives.
On Dominica, the Caribs were able to survive successfully thanks not only to their fierce resistance but the rugged terrain which made pursuit of them dangerous and difficult.
The French and later the British found it safer and more profitable to develop trade with the Caribs than to fight them.