The Carib Indians of Dominica
The "extinct" Carib Indians are alive and well on Dominica
The Caribs of Dominica
The Inca, the Aztec and the Arawak. All were centuries old Amerindian civilizations that disappeared just a few years before or after the European settlement of the New World.
Many believe that the Caribs also totally disappeared but Gernette Joseph, a former chief of Dominica's Carib Indians, would like to put that myth to rest.
“The Caribs are not extinct. On Dominica there is an existing Carib community that is very much alive. We were able to survive the genocide atrocity,” Joseph affirms.
Indeed, the 3,500 Caribs who live inside Dominica's 3,700-acre Carib Reserve and the other 2,000 Caribs who reside elsewhere on the island make up the largest group of Caribs left anywhere in the world.
Small numbers of Caribs can also be found in Guyana and on St. Vincent, but elsewhere in the Caribbean they have vanished, the victims of the diseases and brutality inflicted by early European settlers. Dominica (pronounced “do-men-e-ka”) represents their last stronghold.
The Caribs once ranged as far north as Puerto Rico and were fierce warriors who resisted slavery to the death. They were such feared opponents that on St. Vincent the cannons at one fort actually pointed inland.
To a great extent the pure Carib bloodline has been mixed with that of runaway slaves, but some direct descendants of the original Caribs can be found on the Reserve today.
The eight Reserve villages extending for nine miles along the east coast traditionally have been among the poorest parts of the island. The Caribs began to enjoy limited benefits of the modern world only recently.
Today, it is up to Gernette Joseph and other Reserve leaders not only to bring their community into a more prosperous 21st Century but also to help the Caribs re-establish their identity.
Joseph explains, “Although the Carib people have always been here, we have been marginalized, on the edge, outside. We still have not been able to find our rightful place in Dominican society.”
He blames most of the Carib's identity problems not on centuries-old events but such modern influences as American media and the attitudes of neighboring Afro-Dominicans.
"We've never had the chance to be Carib, to be proud of our ancestry and our heritage,” Joseph points out. "Even in two schools on the Reserve, Carib history is not taught as a separate subject but incorporated into other classes."