Garífuna Pre-Columbian History: The Island Carib Ancestor

Garífuna history begins in South America with an Amerindian people known as the Arawak. The Arawak first settled in Guyana, Surinam and Venezuela, where they built a subsistence culture based on hunting, fishing, and the gathering of root and fruit crops. Perhaps due to overpopulation and food shortages, the Arawak embarked up the Orinoco River and migrated to the Greater Antilles Islands around 160 A.D. In this uninhabited land, the
Arawak forged a new life based on hunting, fishing and yucca farming.

Our story now takes us back to the Orinoco Delta. There, we encounter the Carib Indians, legendary warriors who soaked their arrows in poisonous fruit juices and may have consumed their enemies' flesh to assume their virtues. Following in the footsteps of the Arawak, Carib men abandoned their settlements and seized the Lesser Antilles in 1220 A.D. They traded with Arawak islands and raided their villages, killing or enslaving the men and capturing the women as their wives. The interbreeding of Carib and Arawak races produced the Calinago, commonly known as the Island Carib. They are one of the two forefathers of the modern-day Garinagu.

The Island Carib settled predominantly on the island of Saint Vincent. The men's primary occupations were hunting, fishing and warfare. They also slashed and burned fields for planting and bartered with neighboring islands. They were skilled craftsmen, who carved wooden canoes and wove baskets to extract poisonous liquid from yucca, a staple food in Island Carib diet. The women in turn tended the harvest, cared for domestic animals, and sold crops at local markets. Island Carib men and women spoke different languages since the daughters were raised by their Arawak mothers and the sons by their Carib fathers. Today, Arawak forms the basis of Garífuna language. Visit our Garifuna cultural history link and discover the rich cultural legacy that the Garinagu inherited from their Island Carib ancestors.

Credit: text written by K.Stevens, Stanford Center for Latin American Studies, 2/17/00.
Cayetano, Sebastian R. Garífuna History, Language & Culture of Belize, Central America & The Carribbean. pp. 18-22.

Flores, Justin. The Garífuna Story: Now and Then. California: 1979. pp. 3-4.

González, Nancie. The History of the Garífuna People: Past and Present. Tegucigalpa, Honduras. pp. 59-60.

-----Sojourners of the Caribbean: Ethnogenesis and Ethnohistory of the Garífuna.

Palacio, Myrtle. The First Primer on the People Called Garífuna: The Things You Always Wanted to Know. Glessima Research & Services: 1993. pp.1.

Glossary of Terms

Related Links:

Garífuna World:
Carib Customs
Garinagu Early History

Los fuertes lazos ancestrales
Origen de la población de Honduras

Indigenous Peoples Latin American Resources. LANIC.
The World Wide Web Virtual Library: Indigenous Studies. The Center For World Indigenous Studies.