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Formerly known as Island Caribs, or just Caribs, the Kalinago are an indigenous people of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean. They may have descended from the Mainland Caribs (Kalina) of South America, but they spoke an unrelated language known as Island Carib.
At the time of Spanish contact, the Kalinago were one of the dominant groups in the Caribbean, which owes its name to them. They lived throughout the Windward Islands, Dominica, and possibly the southern Leeward Islands
It is suggested that a smaller group of mainland Kalinago conquered the islands without displacing their inhabitants, eventually adopting the local language but retaining their traditions of a South American origin. In the early colonial period Kalinago had a reputation as warriors who raided neighboring islands. Early Europeans claimed that they practiced cannibalism – the word “cannibal” derives from a corruption of their name. However, Europeans may have embellished these aspects to rationalise enslaving the Kalinago. Today, the Kalinago and their descendants continue to live in the Antilles; some interact and mix with the Garifuna or so-called “Black Caribs”, a group of mixed Carib and African ancestry, who also live principally in Central America.
The Kalinago are believed to have migrated from the Orinoco River area in South America to settle in the Caribbean islands about 1200 AD, according to carbon dating. Over the two centuries leading up to Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Caribbean archipelago in 1492, the Kalinago mostly displaced the Maipurean-speaking Taínos by warfare, extermination, and assimilation. The Taíno had settled the island chains earlier in history, migrating from the mainland.
Kalinago islanders traded with the Eastern Taíno of the Caribbean Islands.
The Kalinago produced the silver products which Ponce de Leon found in Taíno communities. None of the insular Amerindians mined for gold but obtained it by trade from the mainland. The Kalinago were skilled boat builders and sailors. They appeared to have owed their dominance in the Caribbean basin to their mastery of warfare.
The Kalinago were displaced by the Europeans with a great loss of life; most fatalities resulted from Eurasian infectious diseases such as smallpox to which they had no natural immunity, as well as warfare. Others were assimilated during the colonial period; a few retained areas such as in Dominica. Small populations survive, specifically in the Carib Territory in northeast Dominica.
The so-called ‘Black Caribs’ (later known as carifuna) of St. Vincent (St. Vincent has some “Yellow Caribs” as well) were descended from a group of enslaved Africans who were marooned from shipwrecks of slave ships, as well as slaves who escaped here. Chief Kairouane and his men from Grenada jumped over the “Leapers Hill” rather than to face slavery under the French invaders have served as a iconic representation of the Kalinago spirit of resistance. They intermarried with the Carib and formed the last native culture to resist the British. It was not until 1795 that British colonists transported the so-called “Black Caribs” to Roatan Island, off Honduras. Their descendants continue to live there today and are known as the Garifuna ethnic group. Kalinago resistance delayed the settlement of Dominica by Europeans. The so-called “Black Carib” communities that remained in St. Vincent and Dominica retained a degree of autonomy well into the 19th century.
The last known speakers of Island Carib died in the 1930s, and the language is extinct.