Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Rewind: Kalinago Territory

Rewind! (this post is out of chronological order)

view of the Atlantic near the Kalinago Barana Aute
some members of my host family in the Kalinago Territory
Toward the end of my stay in Dominica, I spent two nights with a Kalinago family. I stayed with Robinson and his family at their home in the Kalinago Territory on Dominica’s east coast. Robinson said he was one of the few Kalinago to still remember how to build the traditional mwina huts. He and his wife had lived in this style of housing (built from bamboo and zermoosh leaves) for many years, but recently built a more modern home from concrete. He kept the traditional houses for visitors and for other Kalinago who may want to learn the building techniques. I slept comfortably, completely safe and dry inside my mwina. Robinson also taught me about the medicinal uses of many plants in his garden. He was a true wealth of knowledge.

me and my guide Justin
I spent the day touring with Robinson’s neighbor and son-in-law, Justin, leader of a Kalinago cultural group specialised in dance. Justin led me to L’escalier Tete Chien (stair of the snake), where legend tells that the snake god emerged from the sea when the land was young and left a track where he climbed into the mountain. Walking around and on this lava plume rock formation (with Justin’s leadership and permission) gave me the very real sense that this was a sacred place. The waves surged up from the drop-off, crashing and spraying dozens of feet into the air, threatening to carry us out to sea.

I heard a few different tellings of the legend of the snake god, but in each one he is alive to this day and capable of granting wishes. None of the snakes I saw in Dominica rivalled the legendary king, but I did see some big boa constrictors while out doing field work with the mountain chicken team! I even got to hold one!

panoramic view of L'escalier Tete Chien where it rises from the sea

L├ęscalier Tete Chien

L├ęscalier Tete Chien: check out those waves!

I also went on a tour of the Kalinago Barana Aute, a model village demonstrating features of life before Columbus and all the subsequent invasions of the island by Europeans. I am sorry to say that I did not much enjoy my tour of the KBA. It was indeed interesting to learn about canoe-building and casava-bread baking and to see some of the traditional structures, but the tour felt very rehearsed and rushed. The experience was further soured when I learned that the admissions fees (it was the most expensive site I’d visited on the island) do not stay in the community.

Although the vision for the KBA was by two Kalinago men, the government took control of the project, and now nearly all the funds that it produces leave the territory. Even a portion of the price to do my homestay goes to the KBA and then to the government. I was unable to learn more details about this, but what I heard from the Kalinago individuals who explained the situation to me indicated a serious usurpation of their cultural identity for very little gain on the part of Kalinago people.

me in a traditional mwina
I do recommend a visit, and an investment in the crafts and stories and future of the Kalinago people and territory, but I recommend doing so through individuals, rather than the official booking agencies. Please email me for contacts.



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