Carib of Dominica - Orientation

Identification. The Carib of Dominica constitute much of what remains of the Native American occupants of the Lesser Antilles at the time of Columbus. Having migrated from the South American mainland, they were in the process of replacing the Arawak when European interference ended their Caribbean expansion. Presently living within the Carib Territory (formerly the Carib Reserve), the Dominican Carib constitute a distinct ethnic minority within the largely Creole population of this West Indian island. Dominican Carib are a mixed-race population, as are many other Dominicans. "Carib" are those Dominicans who have at least one Carib parent and are affiliated with a Carib Territory residence.

Location. The Carib Territory, with an area of less than 16 square kilometers, is located on the east coast of Dominica. Prior to the coming of English and French settlers to the region, this mountainous island was not considered particularly attractive as a Carib home base. As Carib were displaced from other islands, they found a haven in the rugged topography of Dominica, where very few Whites had settled. The Carib sought to avoid detection and attack by European soldiers by establishing settlements and gardens on the isolated windward coast. As a result, the Carib Territory contains no flat land nor any of the island's several rivers and bays, and its shoreline consists mostly of cliffs. By 1900 Dominica was the only island containing a significant number of Carib, and a reservation was established by the English governor at that time to protect this declining ethnic enclave.

Demography. The 1992 population of Dominican Carib was approximately 3,000. They are generally in good health and expanding rapidly, having increased from less than 2,000 in 1975. In the 1930s only about 400 people occupied the Carib Reserve. At the beginning of the twentieth century, there may have been as few as twenty Carib families in all of Dominica. The Carib have been increasing in numbers far more rapidly than has the predominantly Creole population of Dominica.

Linguistic Affiliation. The traditional language, Carifuna or Garifuna, has been retained by Carib populations in Venezuela and by Black Carib in Belize, Honduras, and Guatemala, but in Dominica only a few words have been retained by some individuals or reintroduced. There have been no Dominican speakers of the native language since about 1920. All but a few of the oldest residents of the Carib Territory now speak English, and nearly everyone speaks both English and a creole French patois. The usual pattern is that children first learn what is locally called "broken French" and in school learn English, the language of instruction. The French patois, generally understood throughout rural Dominica, is also commonly spoken in the neighboring French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe.

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