Spotlight on the Carib People of Guyana

Spotlight on the Carib People of Guyana

The Carib people of Guyana are an Amerindian tribe that populate northern coastal regions of South America. In this article, we explore the Carib’s history, religious beliefs, and culture as well as the vital contribution Caribs make to Guyanese society today.

Also known as the Kalina or Karina, there are just under 22,000 living Caribs.

Carib people mainly inhabit coastal and riverside villages in Guyana, Suriname, Brazil, French Guiana, and Venezuela.

The Carib have their own language.

Anthropologists believe Guyana’s Caribs may be related to Island Caribs of the Caribbean region, although the two tribes speak unrelated languages. The Carib language belongs to the Cariban language family. It is a highly endangered language today, with just 7,400 speakers worldwide.

Carib incorporates several regional dialects, namely: Guyanese Carib; French Guianese and Eastern Surinamese Carib; and Venezuelan Carib. In addition to their native language, many Caribs speak English, Dutch, Spanish, or French, since these have historically been important languages in the countries Caribs inhabit. Some Island Caribs have adopted Arawakan languages, since the two tribes have intermarried throughout the centuries.

Carib people are famous for their mastery of pottery and painted ceramics.

Caribs are known for their artistry, weaving reed baskets; making pottery; carving wood; jewelry making; and creating elaborate gourd carvings.

Carib nations consisted of several chiefdoms.

Rather than relying on a central government, communities were ruled by local chiefs, known as a “cacique.” Caciques were usually a previous chief’s son or nephew, but in communities without a family line, religious leaders were responsible for selecting the cacique.

Caribs are famous for their canoes.

Like many other Amerindian tribes, the Carib traditionally travelled by dugout canoe. They utilized Guyana’s expansive network of natural waterways to navigate the impenetrable rainforest. Carib canoes are impressive constructions, with some large enough to hold up to 50 passengers.

Carib people traditionally consumed a variety of food types.

As accomplished fishermen, Caribs often take their long canoes out to sea, where they catch fish, crabs, and a variety of different seafood. Carib fishermen customarily relied on wooden traps and sometimes nets. Caribs are also proficient hunters, shooting birds and other small game. Carib hunters traditionally used blowguns and bows and arrows.

Some Carib communities throughout Guyana concentrate heavily on agriculture. They grow a variety of different fruits and vegetables, including peppers, squash, cassava, and beans.

Different bands of Caribs often fought each other in order to establish their bravery.

The Carib are often depicted as a warlike people, who at times raided settlements of neighboring tribes, particularly the Arawaks. In combat, Carib men either fought with traditional bows and arrows or heavy wooden clubs.

Nevertheless, there is a long history of Carib people living peacefully with their neighbors, trading with them rather than attacking them. Indeed, amongst European traders, the Carib were known for their hospitality.

Traditional Carib attire consists of breechcloths for men and skirts for women.

Since the Carib people tend to inhabit warmer regions, they do not require much in the way of clothing. In some Carib tribes, women customarily wear beaded necklaces and belts. Tribe members usually go barefoot.

Caribs do not wear war bonnets like other Amerindian tribes, such as the Sioux. Rather, in Carib communities, caciques and other important men wear headbands decorated with colorful parakeet feathers. Women traditionally use flowers to decorate their long hair. For festivities or battle, Carib people often paint their bodies and faces in bright colors.

Today, Carib attire varies greatly from one community to the next. Some tribes continue to dress in traditional styles, with others adopting a more Westernized style of dress.

According to Carib mythology, Caribs are descended from celestial beings.

Carib religion teaches that, in the beginning of time, Carib people lived in a bright land that we recognize now as the moon. As the Carib looked down at the Earth, they found it dismal and dark. The Carib grew determined to come down and clean it, and make it as bright and beautiful as the moon.

They experienced no difficulties descending, climbing down across the clouds. But when the Carib tried to climb back up to the moon, they found that the clouds had all disappeared without trace. The Carib called frantically to their Gods, but their prayers went unanswered.

As the Carib wandered, they became hungry. They found fruit trees, but soon tired of the taste. They called on their Gods, who sent them plantains, yam, banana, potato, cassava, and maize. These are the fruits of the Earth that the Carib tribe now cultivate.

Traditional Carib homes consist of simple straw huts.

Since Caribs inhabit temperate regions, they have little need for insulation. Traditional Carib dwellings consist of a wooden frame, draped with palm fronds and leaves. Caribs customarily slept in hammocks rather than beds. In some areas of Guyana, Caribs continue to live in these traditional straw huts to this day.

As Guyana’s oldest bank, GBTI supports all of Guyana’s indigenous peoples. The organization facilitates a special Women of Worth loan program, supporting single mothers who wish to start new businesses. It provides small business loans of up to $250,000.