Maroni Carib

ETHNONYMS: Cariña, Galibi, Karaïb

The Maroni Carib are Carib speakers who live near the mouth of the Maroni River, which separates Suriname from French Guiana. They live in several villages (5° to 6° N, 54° W) on both sides of the river, and their population totals approximately 2,400.

Prior to contact the Carib shared the area with Arawakan people, with whom they frequently fought. Spaniards who wanted to establish a colony were the first to contact the Indians of the region, and thus relations between them were hostile. British and Dutch explorers, however, had peaceful relations with the Indians, because their only concern was to locate gold. In 1667 the Dutch took control of a sugar plantation, which was attacked several times by the Carib until a peace treaty was concluded in the 1680s; this treaty also gave protection from enslavement to all Indians in Suriname, causing the Carib to raid other Indians for their slaves. Later, the Carib assisted the Dutch in the latter's control of their Black slaves; the Carib were concerned about the rising population of escaped slaves in the forests. By and large, however, Whites allowed the Carib to pursue their own interests. Exceptions were the efforts to convert the Carib to Christianity. For many years these attempts failed, but at the end of the nineteenth century Roman Catholic missionaries began to succeed. In the twentieth century the Suriname government recognized and paid Carib chiefs, imposed Suriname law, and gave the Indians schools and medical services. Presently, the Maroni Carib are acculturating and beginning to assimilate.

The Maroni Carib depend greatly on both fishing and swidden horticulture, and to some degree on hunting. Traditionally, fishing was done with bows and arrows and poison, but today is done primarily with several types of nylon net. Fishing is now for both subsistence and commercial purposes; in the 1970s, a day's catch could be sold for enough food to feed a family for a week (20 to 40 Suriname guilders). The Maroni Carib swidden is used to grow bitter manioc (their staple food) bananas, plantains, sugarcane, pineapples, peppers, sweet manioc, yams, sweet potatoes, taro, watermelons, pumpkins, and maize. They clear forest (both old and new growth) in August, leaving the trees where they fall and burning the garden in October and again in November just before the rains. The Maroni Carib also gather mangoes, breadfruit, cashews, guavas, and maripa- and awara -palm fruits; they get coconuts from trees planted by missionaries.

Each village has its own chief. He acts primarily as a liaison with the national government, although he also mediates disputes and reports crimes to the police. Chiefly authority depends upon personality, and followers who disagree with a chief may not obey him or may even leave to establish a new village.

Puberty is recognized with a ritual for girls, but boys are not considered mature until they marry. A young man initiates the marriage process by informing his parents of his intentions. The parents then offer a cigar to the prospective bride's father; if he smokes it, he demonstrates that he is in favor of the marriage. Later, the groom gives the bride some fish, and she reciprocates, after which the bride removes the groom's hammock to her house, and after the couple sleeps together they are considered married. Later residence may be virilocal, neolocal, or remain essentially uxorilocal. Divorce is easy, and most who divorce remarry. Women have their children in the corners of their houses. Children are named some time after birth. The deceased are washed, dressed, and waked. Previously, they were buried in or near the house, although today cemeteries are used.


Ahlbrinck, W. (1931). Encyclopaedie der Karaïben. Amsterdam: Verhandelingen der Koninklijke Akademie van Wetenschappen.

Kappler, A. (1886). Surinam; sein Land, seine Natur, Bevölkerung und seine Kulturverhaltnisse mit Bezug auf Kolonisation. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer.

Kloos, Peter (1971). The Maroni River Caribs of Surinam. Assen, Netherlands: Van Gorcum.

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