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The Carib Indians of Dominica and their rumored cannibalism

By Thomson Fontaine
August 12, 2012 4:52 P.M

Carib Territory, Dominica (TDN) -- British naturalist Symington Grieve who visited Dominica at the turn of the twentieth century wrote: “Dominica….is one of the most delightful and charming countries in the world. It is beautiful in the extreme, and I have heard of those who had travelled the world over in search of health, who only found it, and discovered that life was worth living when they reached a haven on the crown lands of Dominica.”
carib king and queen
In this 1905 photo taken by Symington Grieve Carib King Ogis poses with the Carib Queen before their hut.

The famed explorer spent several months on the island in 1905 reporting on its people, fauna, birds, wildlife and history. One of the places he visited was the Carib Reserve where he met King Ogis and his wife the queen of the Carib people.

Grieve reports that the Carib King may have had as long a pedigree as his own King of England, “even although his forebears have been cannibals.”

Another French explorer Jean Baptist Labat (Jesuit priest Père Labat) who lived extensively among the Carib Indians s in the late seventeenth century mentions that although human flesh was not their ordinary food, they ‘boucanned’ or dried the limbs of the warriors they killed in battle and at special feasts these were handed out and gnawed upon.

This often repeated view of the Carib Indians as cannibals have been very much a part of the official history of a people whose descendants are still to be found solely on the island of Dominica.

There are those who believe that the seeds for this story were planted as early as Columbus’s first voyage to the Caribbean when he was told by the inhabitants of the island of Hispanoila that there were cannibal islands further South.

On his second voyage he charted a more Southernly course from the Canaries compared to his first voyage and came across La Deasada, Guadeloupe, Marie Galante and Dominica

Others believe that this reputation of eating human flesh was pinned upon the Carib Indians after they refused to surrender to the Europeans on Dominica, but rather used the mountainous interior of the island to maintain their independence for over two hundred years.

Whatever the genesis of this retelling of history it does have some resonance today. When Disney announced that as part of its filming of Pirates of the Caribbean II: Dead Man’s Chest, in Dominica that it would reenact a scene of Carib Indians roasting human flesh over an open fire this led to a storm of local and international protests.

In the end, the scene was edited out of the movie. But, the message was clear. A significant number of people around the world and especially Dominicans simply don’t subscribe to the view that the Carib Indians were cannibals and that they somehow ate their weaker Arawak challengers to oblivion.

What is apparent though is that the people who gave the Caribbean its name and who survive to this day in the beautiful island of Dominica chose self preservation by refusing to give in to the Europeans when their very existence was being threatened.

I suspect that even Grieve who described the Carib descendants as a mild-featured and law abiding people would not disagree with this assertion.

In this first installment of TDN history we take a brief look at some of the more intriguing and fascinating aspects of Dominica’s history.
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