Beginning of the End: The Kalinagos last stand

Quoted from:
Beginning of the End

For modern Grenada, the ultimate defiance, when a group of Kalinago leaped off of the cliff at Sauteurs has become a symbol of heroism, a legend of nationalism and yet another local story with which to embellish the "tourism product". A French historian of the Caribbean writes that "The episode of Morne des Sauteurs, or as the English call it, Caribs Leap, is material for the as yet unwritten epic poetry of the Caribbean." (Roberts: 1971:55) He, like many others, makes the mistake of saying that the very last of the Kalinagos on Grenada jumped off that cliff. But others survived to carry on the fight in other parts of the east coast. Even some 350 years ago the French priest and writer Du Tertre ticks off another Frenchman Rochefort, for being similarly ill informed on the capture of Grenada.

Contact and culture exchange in both trade and war between Europeans and the Kalinago was in progress long before the first permanent settlement was established on Grenada by Du Parquet in 1650. As in the days before Columbus, the island had been in the centre of the route between the islands and the mainland and the Kalinago of Grenada were already fighting off the threat of the European advance into their territory. A combination of trade and armed resistance had been the most obvious Kalinago approach to Europeans from the time of first contact.

The earliest impact on the Kalinago of Grenada was slave raiding. On 30 October 1503, the Queen of Spain was persuaded to issue an order proscribing capture or injury for any Indians, whether living on the islands or the mainland, but making an exception of "a certain people called Cannibals" who could be captured and enslaved (Sauer 1966:161). More specific orders were given in the cedula of 23 December 1511 which granted Spanish colonists the right to capture and enslave Kalinagos on:

The Islands and Mainland of the Ocean Sea discovered up to now, as well as to any other Islands that may be discovered, to make war on the Caribs of the Island of Trynidad, Varis, and Domynica, and Mantenino, and Sancta Lucia, and Sant Vincente and Concebcion, and Barbudos, and Cabaco and Mayo (from a translation by Harriet de Onis, appearing in Jesse 1963:23.)
There were other edicts issued on 7 November 1508 and 3 July 1512 granting similar liberties against the Kalinagos (Beckles 1992:1). They justified this action because of the Kalinagos "resistance to Christians" and for "making war on the Indians who are in Our service, and taking them prisoners, they eat them, as they really do" (Jesse 1963:27). Together these cedulas gave permission to wage war upon, enslave and sell duty-free any Kalinagos on these islands and were aimed not only at providing slaves but at the same time clearing the islands of dangerous neighbours.

For years during the Spanish settlement of Puerto Rico the Kalinagos harassed the east and south coasts of that island in order to prevent further expansion southwards into the Virgin Islands. In the southern islands in 1569, 300 Kalinagos from Grenada in 14 canoes were attacking Spanish settlements along the Venezuelan coast near Carabelleda (Oviedo Y Banos 1987:210). In the Orinoco region Kalinagos from Dominica also attacked Spanish colonising parties as they moved along the Guarapiche River from Trinidad (Whitehead 1988:83). On islands such as Grenada the ethnographers were given accounts of the alliances with "the Galibis of the Guyanas or the Savage Coast" with which the Kalinagos would join forces in their attacks (Davies 1666:207). Together, these raids on Puerto Rico, the Guianas and Venezuela, show the extent of the Kalinagos’ three-pronged offensive against encroachment into the islands and the alliances that existed with tribes in those regions on the islands and Tierra Firme. They even fell on loaded Spanish vessels in mid-ocean. The warfare they practised was swift and fierce and initial efforts to control the Kalinago assaults proved useless. The continuous and determined movement between South America and the islands, either for hunting, gathering, trade, war, or retreat from Spanish slave raiding, was recorded well into the seventeenth century (Breton 1665:379; Davies 1666:7; Du Tertre 1667: Vol.II:VII:I:385) and it was to confound the Europeans during the period of indigenous resistance.

On 1 April 1609, three shiploads of English settlers arrived in Grenada but were attacked by Kalinagos as soon as they disembarked. Within a few months the whole undertaking was abandoned but the idea remained that Grenada could be used as a base for trade and attack on Spanish interests in Trinidad and the mainland (Williamson 1926:19). So active was the movement in and around Grenada, it was one of the reasons Thomas Warner rejected it as a place for settlement. It was too close to the Spanish in Trinidad and Venezuela and there was far too much Kalinago traffic passing by between the mainland to and from the northern Windward Islands (Williamson 1926:12). It was against this background of over a century of cultural and physical contention that the net was finally being drawn around the Kalinago control of Grenada.

To understand the preamble to the famous incident at Sauteurs, Du Tertre is in most cases the most reliable informant. The governor of Martinique, Du Parquet, seeking to extend French domination of the Lesser Antilles arrives on Grenada and begins negotiations with Chief Kairouane, bringing the usual gifts of bill hooks, razors, glass, knives, "eau de vie" and other such trade goods. In exchange for this, Du Parquet, with the agreement of the Kalinago in this district, ordered the clearing of land and the commencement of a large plantation where he first directed the growing of food crops, rather than cash crops so as to provide subsistence for the new settlers.

As had happened in the other Windward Islands, there appears to have been a difference of opinion between south-west coast Kalinagos and north-east coast Kalinagos as to the wisdom of inviting colonization. It was one thing to make an agreement to obtain trade goods, but it was quite another to witness the process of colonization as the clearing of land and erection of settlements became visible. In response, the general majority of Kalinago became alarmed and reacted. By then Du Parquet had returned to Martinique and had left his cousin Le Comte in charge of Grenada.

The Kalinagos planned an attack on the French settlement, but Le Comte got news of this in advance and raised a force of 300 men "to take the war to their Carbets and force them to leave the island." In response to this threat, the Kalinago of Grenada sought the help of those in Dominica and St.Vincent to attack the French. The ensuing guerrilla war raged along the coast and across the hills of Grenada. One group of Kalinagos was cornered while making a final stand on the now famous headland at Sauteurs and they leaped over the cliff edge to their deaths rather than surrender.


Communal Suicide
Anthropological studies of suicide have been profoundly influenced by the French sociologist Emile Durkheim’s pioneering study (1897) which distinguishes two types of suicide: the altruistic and the anomic. The latter is characteristic of modern society and is an individual response to situations around one. Altruistic suicide on the other hand, was found to be more common in traditional societies such as the Kalinago. This form of suicide is seen as an expression of commitment to social and cultural norms. When these norms, these long established patterns of living and beliefs are in the process of collapse through defeat in war or natural disaster or unexplained epidemic, a communal sense of hopelessness sets in. Suicide may in these terms be a prescribed or expected response to extreme situations affecting an entire group.

Communal suicide among the native people of the Caribbean in the face of European expansion in the region was not unique to Grenada. It had been practiced over a century before by groups of Taino people on Hispaniola and Cuba during early Spanish settlement of those islands. It is significant, that in line with the practice of altruistic suicide, the Kalinago also practiced euthanasia in the belief, as Rochefort puts it, that by easing the terminally ill into the afterlife with the use of herbal poisons "they did a good work, and rendered them a charitable office, by delivering them out of many inconveniences and troubles which attend old age" (Davies 1666:347).

Kalinago society was one where the world of the here and now and the world of the spirit interwove with each other like the fibres of their basketwork. The shaman or boye practicing his piai and consuming local narcotics travelled out of this world and returned with solutions to the problems of the present. Armed with this perception of continuous life in different zones of reality, the Kalinago were more than a match for Europeans. Western domination relied on the concept that the enslaved person would do everything possible, including forced labour, to continue living regardless of the conditions. Faced with a society that was prepared to die rather than surrender, the colonizers conquered land but found it impossible to control the living people.

Kalinagos not involved in the mass suicide re-amassed in the mountains along the east coast but Le Comte discovered this also and raised another 150 men to continue the war. He embarked on a scorched earth policy to deal with those Kalinago who remained along the Windward coast, burning houses and fields.

What made French victory complete, according to Du Tertre, was that the French found the Kalinago canoes and pirogues in a river mouth and destroyed them, thereby preventing the Kalinagos from escaping or getting help from St.Vincent. Despite his victory, Le Comte died by drowning when the canoe he was riding in overturned. His replacement as governor, De Valminiere, engaged a company of 100 Walloons, previously fighting for the Dutch in Brazil, to defend Grenada against Kalinago assaults. From time to time in the years that followed, Kalinagos attacked outlying French houses and settlements, but the colony was growing quickly and soon the indigenous people gave up their offensives. By the 18th century, those few Kalinagos who survived on the islands had become transformed in the European mind from "warlike cannibals" to romantic remnants of the "noble savage" living on the fringes of colonial plantation society.

In Reflection
Two groups of continental people eventually took over the lands of the Kalinago: the African and the European. Each group arrived under different circumstances, but the societies that they attempted to establish on Grenada were far removed from the Amerindian quest to maintain an integrated balance with the land itself. The dominant religion that one group had brought with them and which was imposed upon the other was Christianity. It came originally from a culture of the desert pastoralists of the Middle East. The Judaic roots of the religion had grown out of a culture, which was tied to a harsh and violently contested land. There man had to control nature in the name of, and with the divine sanction of, a god who placed them above the beasts of the earth. The circumstances of colonialism, slavery, territorial division on land and sea, cash crop plantations and market forces in world trade, left little chance for recreating even the Kalinago perception of Man’s place on the islands.

Now and then an earth tremor or the threat of a volcanic eruption reminds the people of the special nature of the islands they inhabit. The globalisation of the world economy is our new colonization. New demands will be made on the land as we trade off pieces so as to keep abreast of economic demands. In an education system with agendas far removed from concepts of its students’ place in the natural island world around them, the divorce between a holistic relationship with the land widens. In most of architecture, designs related to breeze, heat and sun have been abandoned. Even the long acquired Creole knowledge of forest trees and wild plants and their uses is disappearing and it is now the preserve of dedicated members of departments such as Forestry and Wildlife and other committed individuals. What was lost at Sauteurs and its aftermath in the mid 17th century was more than a people, it was a human relationship with Grenada, Kamahone that was never to be regained.


Quote from:

The Role

The Indigenous Revival

Today indigenous people of the Caribbean are rediscovering their history, reasserting their right to recognition and endeavouring to revive their culture. This istaking place among the Kalinago of Dominica, the Bethechilokono of St Lucia, theKalina of Arima in Trinidad, indigenous groups in Guyana, the Taíno of Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic and the Garifuni of Honduras, Belize and Guatemala. By sharing their culture and language with each other they are putting together a more intact cultural identity.

Many in the forefront of this movement have mixed ancestry. They have chosen to see themselves and frame their identity in terms of their indigenous heritage. Eventually it will become easier for more in the Caribbean to recognise and celebrate their indigenous ancestry in the same way as they do today with the contribution of the African culture to the Caribbean identity. What is true in this statement by Edouard Glissent may also become true with regard to the recognition of the indigenous contribution: ‘Today the (French) Caribbean individual does not deny the African part of himself. He does not have, in reaction, to go to the extreme of celebrating it exclusively. He must recognise it…(in so doing) he has become Caribbean.’

the continuity of caribbean indigenous people

Symbols Of Resistance

Indigenous people also play an important role as representations of unity and symbols of resistance from domination because they were the first to fight against colonialism. Political parties in the Greater Antilles use indigenous symbols as a wayof establishing common ground. Indigenous imagery is often found in a romanticised form – Taíno chiefs feature as national heroes and appear on stamps,coins, phone cards, sculptures, and murals on buildings. Indigenous images appear on commercial products and are used by businesses and advertising.


Tour the Kalinago Barana Autê

huts - The entrance area of Kalinago Barana Autê

gallery (11  Pictures)

The Kalinago Barana Autê offers a unique experience, sharing the history and traditions of the Kalinago people from hundreds of years ago. It is a world of colour and pageantry, where the nation’s first people’s talent and pride are abundant.

Kalinago Barana Autê is located along the banks of the Crayfish-River near the Isukulati Falls in the Carib Territory of the Commonwealth of Dominica. A secondary road with a car park has been constructed from the Salybia post office or police station to the site.

Kalinago Barana Autê consists of an interpretation center, snack bar, and gift shop. To begin the tour of this breathtaking village, a footbridge crossing the river gives way to a circular trail on the northern side and leads to a series of small huts (ajoupas) that are located throughout the site. In the center of this arrangement of small huts is the main Karbet (biggest hut), which is used for cultural and theatrical performances.

The huts (ajoupas) feature traditional activities such as canoe building, cassava processing, basket weaving, calabash carving, and herb collection and preparation.

During the tour, one can learn about the local flora and fauna and its usefulness to the Kalinago people from the certified tour guides. The remainder of the trail throughout this gorgeous village will offer fantastic viewpoints of the rough Atlantic coastline, along with the opportunity to witness the Isulukati Waterfall cascading down into the Atlantic Ocean.

Nestled deep within the forest and coastline of the Crayfish-River valley, the Kalinago Barana Autê, complete with structures inspired by Kalinago architecture, will offer guests a doorway into the culture of the Kalinago people. Demonstration by artisans, traditional canoe building, story telling via cultural performances and interaction with the people of the Carib Territory will contribute to the unique experience visitors will have in the Kalinago Barana Autê.

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5 Responses to Beginning of the End: The Kalinagos last stand

  1. shari says:


  2. R. says:

    my pleasure

  3. justine says:

    O.M.G. dis is exactly wat i needed

  4. Emperor says:

    I am glad that my people are so eager to learn more of their history, keep it coming

  5. coliesha says:

    this need more info

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