How Dominica's Native Kalinago People Preserve Their Culture
Photo Credit: Kalinago Tours

Photo Credit: Kalinago Tours

How Dominica's Native Kalinago People Preserve Their Culture

black owned business , Caribbean , Dominica
Nasha Smith
Nasha Smith Apr 22, 2021

Dominica is the Nature Isle of the Caribbean, known for its mountainous terrain, gorgeously lush vegetation, and natural hot springs. The island is also the home of the Kalinagos, an indigenous people of the Lesser Antilles originally known as the Caribs. They live in the northeast of Dominica and are the descendants of the original first group of inhabitants who settled on the island and other parts of the Caribbean.

Currently, there are approximately 3000 people who live in Dominica’s Kalinago Territory, which is a communally held area of land managed by a six-member council headed by a chief. The territory was officially established by British colonial leaders in 1903 and is spread across 3,700 acres.

Kalinago Tours is the only full-fledged tour company that provides authentic, immersive experiences in the territory as a means of keeping the culture alive. It also helps to generate income for the community, which is one of the most socio-economically deprived areas of Dominica.

Kalinago handmade craft pieces are among some of the most sought-after items on the island. According to Kalinago Tours manager Kevin Dangleben, the people are heavily dependent on agriculture and craft for economic survival. The intricately woven baskets and calabash plant trinkets are unique to the territory and their sales also ensure the preservation of the Kalinago heritage.

“The demand is pretty good at times because it’s very authentic as opposed to a lot of what we find in parts of Dominica and the Caribbean, where you find almost everything that is “souvenirs” are made in China,” he told Travel Noire. “So, this is something which is helping our folks to become more appreciative of the value of the craft because they realize that if the cultural patrimony can be used in a prudent way — tie it to the tourism sector nicely — then that in itself can assist in the preservation of the cultural heritage. While at the same time providing much needed additional income for the residents of the community.”

The Kalinago Territory has featured in other tourism excursions before but never to this extent. Rather than a simple drive through the community, Dangleben says that visitors are searching for a “rich and unique, very authentic experience.”

“They want to sample the cuisine, they want to hear the songs, participate in the dances and get involved in some activities with the artisans and meet the people in their environment and not necessarily a staged event just for visitors.”

Kalinago Tours has collaborated with the members of the territory and some leading properties in Dominica to give the people what they want. They offer three hours to full-day programs. On a typical day, after meeting up in the territory with a tour guide, guests spend some time with cultural icons from the community.

“The visitors would be greeted with a nice traditional Kalinago drink, just a taste, and then they tell them about their work as cultural icons and why it is so important to them and the community,” shared Dangleben. “After this, the visitors interact with them, ask them questions, then they would do a short drumming and song presentation.”

Courtesy of Kalinago Tours

Herbs are a part of everyday life for the Kalinago people and visitors may meet with an herbalist to sample different teas and learn the benefits of using various herbs in cuisine. Guests also have the privilege of learning the intricacies of Kalinago craft — a skill passed down through several generations — firsthand from an artisan. Besides learning the process, the visitors get a chance to construct their own handmade keepsake. Of course, food is always an integral part of any culture and the Kalinagos are no different. The local foods are prepared in traditional ways.

“The food will be roasted, and it will be placed on the warmed balisier (Heliconia) leaf opened up in a basket, and it’s almost like a buffet style. We will prepare foods like crayfish with coconut milk or roasted fish or smoked meat. There is no rice, there is no chicken, and no bacon because what we’re trying to do is whenever the visitors leave the community, they leave with strong memories that whatever they took part in had to do with the Kalinago culture.”

Guests can also sample cassava, sugarcane, coconut tablet, and drink ouicou, a juice extracted from the grated cassava.

Courtesy of Kalinago Tours

For those who want a bit more than just a slice of life, Kalinago Tours offers two types of homestays in the territory. Visitors can spend a night or two with a Kalinago family in more conventional housing and accompany them during their daily activities. Some locals live in modern housing but have traditional huts or ‘ajoupas’ made from wood and leaves on the premises. Guests are welcomed to sleep in the ajoupas during their stay but share everything else on the property with the family.

“Whatever the family intends to do for the day, they have a choice if they want to get involved in it. If you want to try other activities, we also facilitate that as well.”

Kalinago Tours also organizes educational trips to the Kalinago Territory for local schools and exchange programs. It’s just another step towards ensuring that the culture continues to flourish.

For more information visit the Kalinago Tours website.