THE COLONIAL PERIOD - Caribbean: The Lesser Antilles - Insight Guides

Caribbean: The Lesser Antilles - Insight Guides (2016)


When Christopher Columbus came upon the islands of the Caribbean, he threw names at many of them as he sailed past. The colonists arrived 100 years later.

Accounts by Spanish historians and other European travelers tell of a vibrant Indian civilization which existed before the arrival of Columbus at the end of the 15th century. In fact, most of what is known about the Indians comes from these accounts.


Christopher Columbus landing in the West Indies.

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However, such observations have to be read with care because, with the single exception of the Dominican monk, Bartolomé de Las Casas (1474-1566), the defender of the Indians in the early 16th century, they were filled with the hubris of European men who saw the native inhabitants as savage children hardly fit for missionary enterprise. Alternatively, some of the accounts presented the inhabitants of this new world in Utopian terms, in contrast to the decadence of European life. Beatriz Pastor, in Discurso narrativo de la Conquista de América, has shown how these psychologically conditioned responses oscillated between two opposite pictures: savage cannibalism or romantic primitivism. European visitors saw what they wanted to see. More recently, archeological investigations have allowed us to fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge.

Amerindian immigrants

The earliest known settlers of the Lesser Antilles came from the Orinoco region of South America through Trinidad and up the island chain from the south (for more information, click here). The first period of migration was around 5000 BC. The Indians Columbus found in the Lesser Antilles were referred to as Caribs, who had absorbed the supposedly more peaceful Arawak people, killing the men and breeding with the women. They were described as warlike, aggressively conquering other islands as they expanded their fiefdoms and even sacrificing and eating their prisoners. It is from them that the words Caribbean and cannibal are derived. However, their descendents, still living on Dominica today, refer to themselves as Kalinago, not Carib, and suggest that the practice of keeping the shrunken heads or bones of their ancestors in their homes may have misled the Spaniards into thinking that they were sacrificial victims.


A family of Charibbee Indians, indigenous to the Lesser Antilles, in 1802.

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Much of this Indian civilization disappeared under the pressures of European conquest and colonization. English and French soldiers and settlers undertook what were in effect genocidal wars against the native populations of the islands. The rest died of the common cold or smallpox, against which they had no immunity. They returned the favor by giving Columbus’ sailors a form of syphilis, which became virulent in Europe at the end of the 15th century.


Battleships - a constant sight around the islands during the 1700s.

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Colonial rivalry

The 17th and 18th centuries were the major formative period of the Lesser Antilles, marked, successively, by war and rivalry between European nations, the establishment of settlements and colonies and introduction of a sugar economy, the organization of the slave trade, the implantation of chattel slavery, the rise of white superiority, and slave rebellions.

The early Spanish claim to the Caribbean islands was not challenged by its European rivals - England, France, Denmark, and Holland - for over a century, by which time the Spanish hegemony was anchored mainly in the Greater Antilles - Cuba, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico - where there was real treasure, although there was a brief Spanish episode in Trinidad.

Because they were the first ports of arrival for the invading European fleets, the Lesser Antilles bore the brunt of the inter-state rivalry. It was a period of almost uninterrupted insecurity for the region, when the political ownership of any island could suddenly change. The native populations could wake up on any morning to discover that they had a new set of masters. West Indian historian and politician, Dr Eric Williams, called it a condition of “in betweenity”. The island of St Croix (now part of the US Virgin Islands), for example, changed sovereignty at least seven times in a period of less than 100 years, including a brief rule by the Knights Templar of Malta.

The European powers saw their new tropical possessions as an opportunity for enriching the emergent state systems of post-Reformation Europe, both Catholic and Protestant. And they wanted to weaken Spain’s influence in the New World. Throughout much of the 16th century Spain had dominated the high seas, plying to and from the Caribbean with treasure. In an attempt to break their monopoly, Sir Francis Drake had become the first official pirate, reaping the rewards for the English queen, Elizabeth I.

“If our number is small, our hearts are great; and the fewer persons we are, the more union, and the better shares we shall have in the spoil,” Henry Morgan told his men after a raid in 1668 yielded 250,000 “pieces of eight.”

Pirates and buccaneers

European chancelleries and war ministries continued to use pirates and buccaneers - fugitives from justice - to harass the Spaniards in the 17th century. Sir Henry Morgan (1635-88) started his infamous career as a British licensed privateer. Dutchman Esquemiling wrote The Buccaneers and Marooners of America in 1674: “…from the very beginning of their conquests in America, both English, French, Dutch, Portuguese, Swedes, Danes, Courlanders, and all other nations that navigate the ocean, have frequented the West Indies, and filled them with their robberies and assaults.”


A map showing Central America and the Antilles Islands of the Caribbean Sea, mid-to-late 1750s.

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European governments eventually agreed to dispense with these motley forces when they became too much of a nuisance to their own ships. Governor Woodes Rogers’ suppression of the pirate stronghold in New Providence in the Bahamas in 1722 marked the end of piracy.

Naval warfare

By 1700, the four great powers of Caribbean economic and military aggression - France, Holland, Spain, and Britain - had established flourishing island colonies when the Atlantic seaboard colonies of Massachusetts and Virginia were hardly beyond their first stages of settlement. The colonization of the islands and Spanish Main produced cities rivaling those of Europe in size and magnificence.

Stretched like a line of watchdogs across the route between Spain and her New World empire, the islands were perfectly positioned for the establishment of naval stations, like Nelson’s Dockyard in Antigua. If, as the saying goes, the Battle of Waterloo (1815) was won on the playing fields of Eton, then it is equally true to say that the Battle of Trafalgar (1805) was won in the naval stations of the Lesser Antilles.

Some of the most decisive battles were fought here, most notably when Admiral Rodney destroyed the French fleet in the Battle of the Saints off the Windwards in 1782. He then destroyed the commercial port of St Eustatius, a supply center of arms for the anti-English forces in the American Revolutionary War. Even today, Statians recall Rodney’s sack of their island, known as the Golden Rock, just as Southerners recall Sherman’s burning of Atlanta in the American Civil War.

The governments of mother country and local colony were forced, often at ruinous expense, to build defenses, such as the Brimstone Hill fortifications on St Kitts. For the populations of the time, life must have been marginal and precarious. St Croix alone, the island center of the Danish West Indies, was occupied in 1650 by three different European war parties. Such warfare continued until the Napoleonic Wars, when the political map of the region was eventually settled by the 1815 Treaty of Vienna.

Chains of slavery

Slavery provided labor for the sugar plantations and allowed European colonists to prosper while their workforce suffered.

For 300 years, slaves were transported across the Atlantic from West African ports to the Caribbean, Brazil, and North America. Estimates of the total number range from 11 million to 20 million, of whom more than half were shipped in the 18th century. They landed from ships in which they had been packed together like sardines in the hold for the months-long voyage from West Africa, each of them chained down to prevent any chance of rebellion or suicide.

The horror of the slave ships

Conditions in the ships were just sufficient to keep the enslaved people alive, although many died on the journey. Those that became ill with diseases that rampaged through the holds, such as smallpox and dysentery, were thrown overboard. That so many survived is due to the slave traders choosing only the strongest, healthiest-looking men and women.

Once off the ships in the Caribbean, in trading islands such as Curaçao and St Thomas, the slaves were sold to plantation owners. They became property - part chattel, part real estate - that could be sold or traded against debts.

Plantation life

On the plantations, living conditions were abysmal. Slaves were housed in floorless huts, with barely enough food to keep them working for 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. Historian Karl Watson has written that slaves in Barbados started their day at half-past five in the morning, when the plantation bell summoned them to the main estate yard to receive instructions. After being given ginger tea, they were divided up into gangs of 20 to 60 and sent out to dig cane holes, to manure, or to cut and crop mature cane under a burning sun until dark.

The work discipline was relentless, as John Luffman reported in the 1780s: “The negroes are under the inspection of white overseers…subordinate to these overseers are drivers, commonly called dog-drivers, who are mostly black or mulatto fellows of the worst dispositions; and these men are furnished with whips which, while on duty, they are obliged, on pain of severe punishment, to have with them, and are authorized to flog wherever they see the least relaxation from labor; nor is it a consideration with them, whether it proceeds from idleness or inability, paying, at the same time, little or no regard to age or sex.”

The slaves were given their food weekly. A typical weekly ration consisted of 28lbs (13kg) of yams or potatoes, 10 pints (5 liters) of corn, 8oz (225g) of fish, and 1.75 pints (1 liter) of molasses. The yearly ration of clothing would have been a jacket, shirt, a pair of trousers, and cap for a man, and a jacket, gown, petticoat, and cap for a woman.

The slaves that acquired skills fared better than the field workers, sometimes becoming overseers of other slaves (many rebellions were thwarted through slaves informing on each other) cattle keepers, carpenters, blacksmiths, and tailors. Domestic slaves - maids, cooks, and butlers - were also more trusted and better treated than the field workers.

However, the white owners generally regarded their slaves as lazy, irresponsible, grossly sexualized, potentially rebellious, and intellectually and racially inferior. But often, the only way slaves could resist was through quiet, covert protest such as malingering, feigning illness, working slowly, sabotaging property, and even, in extreme cases, poisoning their masters.


Slaves planting sugar cane, 1826.

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Profits of paradise

However, the history of the New World, called the Enterprise of the Indies, was not just war. War was simply the prelude to trade. Once the European powers had more or less settled their respective “spheres of influence” - Trinidad, for example, was finally ceded to Britain in the 1802 Treaty of Amiens that ended the Seven Years’ War - the Lesser Antilles settled down to its socioeconomic-cultural development as peripheral economies of the European states. That meant the development of sugar as a staple crop and the sugar plantation economy, supported by the slave trade, which lasted some 300 years from the 16th to the 19th centuries, supplying a large, cheap labor force capable of heavy, unremitting work under brutalizing tropical conditions.

Welsh Royalists, Dutch Jews, Cromwell’s prisoners, Puritan merchants, Catholic friars - all kinds of people traveled to the Antilles. Some sought adventure, others refuge, but many were banished there for a variety of misdemeanors.


French soldiers in Guadeloupe, circa 1807.

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Island patterns

From north to south these islands shared a common pattern of colonialism and slavery, deriving prosperity from the sugar economy, either producing sugar or developing as commercial trade centers. For example, in the north, St Thomas, under Danish rule, developed as an important commercial trade center as it was too hilly for sugar, while St Croix, also ruled by the Danes, developed as a sugar plantation economy. Of course, there were differences between the islands. For instance, Barbados was English and Guadeloupe French. In the south, Trinidad emerged as a Franco-Hispanic Catholic society while Tobago became an English-speaking Protestant society of small farmers and fishing folk. Antigua became a sugar colony while mountainous Dominica had little to do but develop an infant lumber industry. In the French Antilles, Martinique early on developed a small creole middle class consisting of the professional elite, while Guadeloupe remained mainly agricultural. This distinction survives to the present day.

In the Dutch Antilles, Curaçao became another commercial trade center as it was too arid for sugar, while Bonaire developed a small salt-pond industry and became a prison for rebellious slaves. Even the Lilliputian islands of Anguilla, Barbuda, and the Grenadines, as dependent wards of large sugar islands, were affected by the sugar economy.

The triangular slave trade

As demand for slaves grew on the islands in the 17th and 18th centuries, the leading merchants in the profitable trade were mostly from Britain, Portugal, France, and Holland. Traders ensured that their ships never traveled empty, by sailing from Europe with manufactured goods, guns, and ammunition, which they sold to African rulers in return for slaves. These slaves were then transported across the Atlantic in the Middle Passage and sold in the Americas: the Caribbean islands, Brazil, and North America. The homeward leg of the journey found the holds full of sugar, rum, cotton, coffee, cocoa, and other produce from the colonies.

The slave trade

As a consequence of Europeans’ seemingly insatiable taste for sugar, the islands, with few exceptions, became arrival ports and slave markets. The triangular trade, between the European ports, African trading posts and the Antilles, laid the foundations of slavery as a domestic institution. Richard Ligon described in his book A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbados (1657) how the smallholdings of early lower-class white immigrants were replaced with large-scale sugar plantations manned by slaves.


Caribbean market in the 19th century.

Jamaica National Library

Later, the British dramatist and politician Richard Sheridan’s study of the rise of the colonial gentry in 18th-century Antigua showed how no entrepreneur in that society could hope to survive unless he was also a planter-merchant.

The entire house of Antillean society was built over this slave basement. It became a strange melting pot of white colonists, black slaves, indentured servants, freed Indians, Catholics, Protestants, heretics, Jews, transported political prisoners, felons, “poor whites,” all mingled in a fascinating exoticism under tropical skies. It was a picaroon world of all colors and creeds, slowly learning to co-exist with each other.

Naturally enough, it was a society of ranking status in three tiers, composed of upper-class whites, mixed-race people (known contemporaneously as mulattos) or freed persons of color - the consequence of the Antillean miscegenative habits - and then slaves at the bottom of the pile.

Plantation profits were sent to the absentee owners in England, who wasted them on a lifestyle of such prodigality that it disgusted even 18th-century observers.

White plantocracy

Each group had its own pride and prejudices. The white plantocracy was arrogant, racist, and socially gross. In fact, much of its ancestry in the islands was suspect: the 18th-century Jesuit Père Labat noted in Martinique that his slave-owner neighbors were originally engaged as servants. These observations hardly made Labat popular in those old creole communities and explains why, after some 14 years, he was recalled by his superiors and never allowed to return.There were, however, many members of the aristocracy who traveled to the West Indies to make their fortunes out of sugar. Younger sons who didn’t want to join the army or the church often opted for the colonies, and this new family money paid for the construction of many of the grand 18th-century houses with their beautiful landscaped parks that still grace the English countryside. Regency architecture in cities such as Bristol and Bath was paid for by the slave trade. Even in fiction, it was accepted that sugar plantations funded a way of life, as in Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen, when her patriarchal character, Sir Thomas Bertram, goes off to Antigua for a year to sort out problems on his sugar estate. But the resident wealthy, aristocratic owners were a minority; most preferred to stay at home and reap their rewards in absentia. Fortunes made in sugar and slavery were then invested in the industrial revolution, first in Britain, then in the rest of Europe.

The islands at this time were overcrowded not only with African slaves, but also with the white riffraff of Europe who hoped to escape their lowly origins. Their skin color gave them a new status in the islands. In this sense, the social history of the islands during this period is in part the sexual exploitation of black women by white plantation males, whether overseers, accountants, indentured servants, or even masters. Better, after all, to be a grand seigneur in Martinique than a lowly serf in Provence.

Few visitors failed to note the ostentatious display of wealth and the extravagant style of entertainment practiced by the planters, one of the causes of their perennial indebtedness.


Slave plantation, Antilles, circa 1667.

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Gens de couleur

A history of interracial breeding produced the second group in Antillean society, the “free coloreds” or gens de couleur - a highly significant group who occupied a marginal position between whites and slaves. The whites saw them as social upstarts, presumptuously claiming to be “white when in fact they were black.” Also, their numbers were growing rapidly while the numbers of whites was in decline. After all, it was a rare white man who did not father colored children, except for the descendents of the Scottish-Irish “poor whites” of the 17th century, known today as “Redlegs” in Barbados.

The history, then, of the Antilles during much of this period was the story of this mixed-race’s group’s struggle for social status and for political and civil rights. The first breakthrough in political rights occurred in the late 18th century in Antigua, when free persons of mixed race possessing the necessary property qualifications were allowed to vote at elections.

Social respectability

This long drawn-out rise of the people of color was important for two reasons. In the first place, though hardly a revolutionary movement, it did revolutionize society. Like the whites, the “mulattoes” had important interests in slave holding. They resented their own subordination, but did not resist the social structure of which it was a part. They needed the white group as a role model in their search for social respectability, and the white populace needed them as allies against slave unrest and, even worse, slave rebellion. In the French Antilles the official Code Noir of 1785 reflected the negrophobia of the time, listing some 128 grades of color, by which every person in the colony was awarded a status. The free coloreds had to stay on good terms with the white governments, both local and abroad, in order to gain concessions for themselves.

The free coloreds responded to those concessions by developing their own extravagant lifestyle - wearing precious stones and silk stockings, holding masked balls, and adopting the use of ceremonial gunfire at funerals. Social snobbery thus supplanted common racial brotherhood, and the Antillean free coloreds, at least in the formative 18th-century period, became known as a group given more to lavish social display than to mental activity and academia. Lafcadio Hearn wrote in his book on Martinique, although it applied to all the islands, “Travellers of the 18th century were confounded by the luxury of dress and jewelry displayed by swarthy beauties in St Pierre. It was a public scandal to European eyes.” Finally, a remarkable royal edict of 1831 in the Danish Virgin Islands permitted the legal registration of colored persons as white citizens, on the basis of good conduct and social standing.


The horrors of slavery.

Elizabeth Saft, Courtesy of New York Public Library


Mulattoes enjoying a dance.

Jamaica National Library

The slave population

The slaves generally came from West Africa. Philip Curtin, in his definitive book, The African Slave Trade, estimated that from its beginnings in the early 16th century to its termination in the 19th century, some 12 million Africans were brought to the New World by means of the triangular trade. Others have estimated the total at up to 20 million. Only some 3 percent of the transatlantic trade took place in the 16th century, mostly by the Portuguese to their colony in Brazil, but it started to pick up in the 17th century, when around a quarter of the trans-location took place, and became a huge enterprise in the 18th century when more than half of all slaves were shipped to the Americas.

Whatever their social standing in Africa, whether they were princes or paupers, they arrived as unnamed chattel slaves. They were later to be renamed by their slave owners and masters, which accounts for the Europeanized names of their descendents.

The present-day reversion to African names is a phenomenon of the 20th century, since the Black Power movement began to influence black communities in the US, Europe, and the Caribbean in the 1960s and 1970s. The loss of name was, in a psychological sense, important because it was a part of the total loss of liberty that deprived the African of his right to be regarded as a human being, never mind an equal.

African traditions

Yet there was play as well as gruelling work. “Every people,” wrote the political writer Edmund Burke (1729-97), “must have some compensation for its slavery.” And so, from the very beginning, the slaves brought with them their traditions of song and dance. Music played a very large part in their lives; a music that emerged out of a blending and meeting of both the imported European musical forms and the various African song and dance formulations. These encounters gave rise to completely new, exciting forms of dance and music which became uniquely Antillean.

A similar process of creolisation took place, during this early formative period, with language. In the New World setting - planter, overseer, slave, with all of their respective duties and obligations - had to learn to understand each other. The problem was solved, ad hoc, by the invention of creole patois, which differed between islands.

Slave rebellion

The habit of what was called in the French islands petit marronage - of running away from the estate for short periods of time to visit a woman friend, or attend a prohibited church meeting, or just simply to feel a taste of freedom - often escalated into rebellion. Such rebellious attempts, all crushed with severe cruelty, occurred regularly, but most notably in St John in the Danish West Indies in 1733, Antigua in 1736, St Croix in 1759, Grenada in 1795, and Barbados in 1816. Most of the slave-owning class lived in fear of slave rebellion. Danish Virgin Islands Governor Gardelin’s slave mandate of 1733 was typical in its severity of punishments for slaves guilty of bad behavior, not to mention those guilty of rebellious behavior.

Certainly they showed that slaves had a capacity for insurrectionary leadership. There were leaders like Tackey and Tomboy in Antigua, who planned to kill all the white people and set up an Ashanti-type black kingdom on the island. Nanny Grigg, in Barbados, told her followers, according to the official record, that the only way to get freedom was to fight for it. Then there was Daaga, who led, although after Emancipation, a brief mutiny of the 1st West India Regiment in Trinidad in 1837. He told his interrogators, on the eve of his execution, that the seeds of the mutiny had been sown on the passage from Africa.

As a form of rebellion, slaves retained a way of life - in dance, music, and religion - which endured alongside that of the white minority population.


A French soldier training bloodhounds to recognize the smell of a slave.

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Two other forces helped destroy the slavery system in the 19th century. First, the economic factor: slave labor was more costly and less efficient than free wage labor; an over-supply of sugar led to catastrophic drops in world prices; and the West Indian planters lost their privileged position in the British market as the world free-trade policies were established. Second, the influence of the British religious-humanitarian movement, led by William Wilberforce (1759-1833) and Thomas Clarkson (1760-1846), finally convinced public opinion of the un-Christian character of the system.


Archeologists have discovered a lot about the Amerindians, and while no great monuments remain, traces of their heritage are still evident.

Migration and settlement

The first inhabitants of the Lesser Antilles arrived in Trinidad about 7,900 years ago from the Orinoco region of South America. A pre-ceramic (Archaic) people, referred to by archeologists as Ortoroid, they were principally hunter-gatherers, and 28 sites of habitation have been identified, including Banwari Trace, believed to be the oldest archeological site in the Lesser Antilles. A human skeleton found there has been dated to about 5,400 years ago. Stone and bone tools for fishing and hunting have been uncovered, together with grinding stones and pestles for preparing vegetables. From Trinidad they moved up the chain of islands as far as the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, where the earliest Ortoiroid site dates from about 6,900 years ago.


Taino wood carving depicting an idol found in Santo Domingo.

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The Ortoiroid were eventually displaced by the Saladoid, who followed the same route from 2,000 to 1,400 years ago, bringing horticulture (cassava, yucca, and maize) and pottery technology. After them, it is thought that another wave of migrants, the Ostionoid culture, arrived between 1,400 and 1,200 years ago, bringing different pottery styles. They appear to have been more sophisticated, developing permanent settlements with ceremonial centers containing ball courts on some islands.

Changes in ceramic styles led to two later phases of the Ostionoid culture being termed Elenoid (1,200-850 years ago) and Chicoid (850-500 years ago). It is these people that the Spaniards called Arawak or Taino Indians. On the Greater Antilles there were large villages of some 1,000-1,500 people with a hierarchical structure, well-defined religious beliefs, and efficient horticultural techniques.

In the Lesser Antilles, however, a few hundred years earlier, a new group of Orinoco River valley migrants had begun to occupy the island arc. By the time of the Spanish arrival, they had displaced the Arawaks on all islands up to and including the Virgin Islands and were engaged in attacking the Taino of Puerto Rico. These people were referred to as Carib, but their few remaining descendents call themselves Kalinago. Within 200 years, genocidal wars, slavery, and disease had eliminated all but a few pockets of Caribs in isolated mountain areas. Today, the 3,000 Kalinago living on a reserve in Dominica maintain some of their old traditions, but only a handful are believed to be of pure blood.

Family and social life

Men and women lived in separate dwellings on a communal basis. Their houses were of timber and thatch and they slept in hammocks. The only complete floor plan of houses in a village has been uncovered in Sint Eustatius, dating from AD 600-900. Here they are round or oval, of different sizes and capable of housing up to 30 people. The biggest houses were supported by large timbers of up to 25ft (8 meters) high, set in deep holes.

The men did the heavy labor of preparing the soil, carving canoes, hunting, fishing, and defending the village, and teaching the boy children. The women looked after the infants and the older girls, cultivated and harvested the crops, did the cooking, wove baskets, mats, ropes, fishing nets, and hammocks, and made ceramic pots, calabash bowls, and other vessels. It is believed that while the Caribs killed or enslaved the Arawak men, the women were more valuable. The resulting surplus of women led to polygamy, but also a very strong Arawak female influence on Carib culture.

Most of the Amerindian (Arawak/Carib) settlements on the Lesser Antilles were by the sea or at the mouth of rivers. They hunted for some of their food, such as agouti, iguana, birds, and land crabs, but fish and shellfish were the main source of protein. These they caught with their hands, baskets, nets, spears, poison, or lines. Cassava was a staple food, and the cassava bread still eaten today is made in the traditional way. They also grew yams, maize, cotton, arrowroot, peanuts, beans, cocoa, and spices as well as herbs for medicinal and spiritual purposes or for face and body paint.

They had no hard metal, but fashioned stones, coral, and shells into tools such as manioc graters, pestles, fish hooks, knives, and weapons. It took months to fell a tree and hollow it out by burning and gradually chipping away at it until they had carved a canoe, some of which were up to 75ft (23 meters) long and capable of carrying 50 people. Canoes can still be seen on Dominica and are used for ceremonial occasions or festival races. In 1997 a group of Kalinago set out from Dominica in their canoe, Gli Gli, and paddled 700 miles (1,125km) to reconnect with the Carib Indians in Guyana, from where their ancestors may have come.

Legacies and lifestyles

Archeological digs, with the involvement of foreign universities, are constantly striving to uncover the gaps in our knowledge of the pre-Columbian people who inhabited the islands. However, there are not many sites of interest to the average visitor. Houses made of timber and thatch quickly disintegrate, while piles of shells and other waste don’t quite have the “wow” factor of a pyramid in Guatemala. There are pictographs dotted around the islands, in caves, or on river banks, where drawings could be made on rocks, but these are the extent of any written heritage.


The cassava root, a staple food in the Carribean.


Islanders have, instead, inherited skills and techniques, some vocabulary, and a way of life. Evidence of Amerindians can be seen in the English words for Caribbean, barbecue, hurricane, hammock, cassava, iguana, savannah, tobacco, and even more that are in regular use in Spanish. In cooking, favorite dishes are still cassava bread (casabe), corn bread (funchi), pepperpot stew, and casareep, while the native vegetables such as squash, sweet potato, and chilli are considered typically Caribbean.

Many of the farming and fishing techniques are showcased at Fond Latisab Creole Park on St Lucia (for more information, click here), where farmers cultivate their plants and trees according to practices handed down to them by their forefathers. They utilize drumming for communication, traditional bamboo pots are used for crayfishing, and cassava flour (farine) and bread (casabe) is made, and sold - the latter a practice that was unknown in pre-Columbian days.


The emancipation of slaves from a plantation, West Indies, circa 1895.