12 March, 2002
The Leap at Sauteurs: The lost cosmology of indigenous Grenada.
by Lennox Honychurch
"We find some difficulty to know ourselves, so different are we grown
from what we were here-to-fore..." Kalinago man to M. du Montel 1665
"What is to happen to the poor Carib. Is he to go and live in the sea
with the fish?" Kalinago man to Fr. Beaumont 1660.
As colonizing forces advanced across the Grenadian landscape in the 17th century,
the indigenous Kalinago people were routed. Past histories have focused on the
human and physical loss occasioned by the genocide. But this paper focuses on
the loss of the indigenous cosmology, their perception of their place within
the environment of this island world. It shows how the process of contact and
cultural exchange had begun years earlier and that by the time a group of Kalinago
jumped to their deaths over the cliff at Sauteurs in northern Grenada, their
world had been turned upside down. Their culturally structured place within
the cosmic and ecological pattern of this archipelago had disappeared and their
lives no longer made any sense within it. Since then, the Kalinago perception
of the Grenadian environment, and its people's place within the cycles of this
tropical oceanic island, has been wiped out. An alien vision of this environment
has been imposed over the period of the past four hundred years. This paper
explains the Kalinago concepts of their island, Kamahone (Grenada). It studies
the island's relationship with the continent to the south and discusses its
role as the indigenous gateway from the mainland to the islands. It shows how
relevant the indigenous concepts of the environment still are today. It argues
that elements of this cosmology need to be regained and more widely understood
if we are to come to terms with the balance needed in the human ecology of neo-colonial
The Cultural Ecology of Indigenous Grenada
For the indigenous explorers who set out from Lowland South America some five
thousand years ago, the island of Grenada, known to its last Kalinago (Carib)
inhabitants as Camaghone (Kamahone) (Breton 1665) was the gateway to a new world
of volcanic islands. Trinidad and Tobago were continental, but Grenada was the
first oceanic island of the chain, born from the seabed in a series of violent
Distinct styles of pottery, divided into successive ceramic series extending
along the island chain from the mouth of the Orinoco River, have formed the
basis of theories on regional systems and chronological frontiers of settlement
and culture. Following the course of the South Equatorial Current as it curved
up into the Caribbean, and aided by the close proximity of the islands to one
another along the chain, various groups of mainland people moved from the Orinoco
delta northwards. How these groups integrated or succeeded each other has been
a hotly debated issue in Caribbean archaeology. Wilson (1994) represents the
most recent view that historical and archaeological evidence from the Lesser
Antilles suggests that there was more cultural heterogeneity than had previously
Although speculative, I feel it is more likely that the prehistoric and
early historic Lesser Antilles contained a complex mosaic of ethnic groups which
had considerable interaction with each other, the mainland and the Greater Antilles.
As now, the individual islands and island groups would have become populous
Trading centres or isolated backwaters according to the abundance of their resources,
the strength of their social and political ties with other centres, and their
unique histories of colonisation and cultural change (Wilson 1994).
That there was a 'complex mosaic' composed of popular trading centres and
isolated backwaters at the time of this immigration is supported by Allaire
(1977). "Warlike Caribs" wiping out "peaceful Arawaks" is
an outdated theory. Trading, raiding, intermixture between groups and a transfer
of knowledge across the islands and to and from the mainland between all groups
is now accepted. As Grenada's richly varied archaeology has shown, the island
was in the midst of this moving mosaic of Amerindian culture. The Kalinago people
(called Caribs by the Europeans) were inheritors of what had gone before.
The study of Amerindian interaction with their specific island environments
along the chain of the Caribbean archipelago are enmeshed within the human ecology
of the indigenous people before and after contact with Europeans. Kalinago life
was linked to the geology, climate patterns, vegetation and maritime features
that influenced the ways in which the islands' natural environment was utilised
(Krasniewicz 1978). Comparative studies of such practices as ethnobotany, sources
of raw materials for tools and other technology, knowledge of hunting and gathering
areas, fishing grounds, routes of navigation and mythical geography are dependent
on a comprehensive understanding of the geology, geophysics and natural history
of the island. Such an exercise requires us first to revisualise the region,
stripping it to a purely geographical entity, seeing it from the perspective
of the cultural interaction of a horticultural and hunter-gatherer people and
the human ecology of their survival within the natural environment of these
The Lesser Antilles is made up of two volcanic island arcs adjacent to one another.
The outer arc, lying to the east, is older, having been formed in the pre-Miocene.
Because of their age, the islands of this arc are more severely eroded and their
peaks have been worn down to less than 1,000 feet above sea level. Coral reefs
have developed upon the coastal remnants and the accumulated sediment, creating
white coral sand beaches. These older islands of the Lesser Antilles are: The
Virgin Islands, Anguilla, St. Martin, St. Barthelemy, Barbuda, Antigua, the
eastern wing of Guadeloupe and the island of Marie Galante. Some islands to
the south are composed of a combination of the two geological periods. Evidence
of the older arc appears in the southern part of Martinique, the northern coast
and southern tip of St. Lucia, the islands of the Grenadines and the southern
tip of Grenada (Multer et al. 1986).
Map of the Antilles (click on image to see larger version)
The inner, younger arc, is characterised by islands or parts of islands, with
high volcanic peaks rising to almost 5,000 feet above sea level, rugged, sharply
falling coastlines, black sand beaches and the remnants of volcanic activity
in the form of sulphur springs, boiling craters and intermittently active volcanoes.
There is evidence that pre-Columbian settlements have been affected by volcanic
eruptions at various times and were in some cases entirely covered by ash and
pyroclastic flows (Allaire 1989). This inner arc was formed in the later Miocene
and Pliocene and comprises: northern Grenada, St. Vincent, central St. Lucia,
northern Martinique, all of Dominica, western Guadeloupe and all of Montserrat,
Redonda, Nevis, St. Kitts, St. Eustatius and Saba (Martin-Kay 1971: Vol.10:172).
The combination of features of two major periods of geological activity at different
parts of the same island, as in the case of Grenada, St. Lucia, Martinique and
Guadeloupe, resulted in markedly different ecological areas within those islands.
With human occupation, these zones were utilised in contrasting ways according
to the resources which they provided.
The cosmology of the Kalinago, their perception and understanding of the world
they lived in, had been inherited from generations of islanders before them.
It had been transferred through tribal elders in story and song, by instruction
and ceremony so that it gave them order to the chaos of the world. It was aimed
at achieving balance between good and evil. It anchored the society in a symbiotic
relationship with nature. It gave structure to their lives. This relationship
was based on observation and a deep knowledge of their environment. The Amerindian
in the islands was an integral part of the natural cycle, and the spirits which
held it all in place had to be understood and placated. Without this, the people's
access to, and use of, the natural resources available for gathering, hunting
and horticulture would be greatly hindered.
The move to the islands meant a cultural transformation from a continental
world to that of an island world. The geophysical structure of the islands determined
a very different flora, fauna and marine ecology from what existed along the
rivers and coastline of the continent. The cosmology had to change as well.
It was not only the techniques and resources of hunting, gathering and horticulture,
which had to be restructured. The main characters that made up their mythology
had to be transformed. There were no jaguars, tapirs or anacondas here and so
the protagonists of the island mythology gradually took on the guise of bat,
frog, gecko, owl and boa constrictor. These were important inn placing men and
women's roles into the orderly cycle of life's work and the group's survival.
For the Lesser Antilles, the umbilical cord to the mainland was the Orinoco
delta region and the river that rises in the hinterland beyond it. The river
and its tributaries had been the primary means of communication for the pre-Columbian
settlers of the Caribbean. Their river and forest cultures had long existed
within a cosmology tied together by mythologically encoded perceptions of rivers,
water currents, canoes and star lore (de Civrieux 1980; Wilbert 1993; Taylor
1946a). To give an example, the landmass of South America had previously extended
much further north than at present and included all of the island of Trinidad.
This geographical condition existed until 6,000 years ago, when the Caribbean
Sea was at a lower level (Nicholson 1976:4/2; Hodell et al. 1991). Significantly
this geophysical phenomenon remains registered within the mythic geography of
the Warao who now live on the Orinoco delta. Their oral history, encoded in
creation myths, speaks of a time when the Serpent's Mouth was dry and Trinidad
was connected to the mainland (Wilbert 1993:7). The ancestral memory of a period
so remote does suggest the remarkable resilience of tribal history contained
The Volcanic Peak
The most definitive element of the landscape that represented Grenada and the
islands to the north for the indigenous groups was the volcanic peak. So unusual
were these high summits to the people of the delta region that in the mythology
of the Warao, Naparima Hill in southern Trinidad was considered to be a pillar
holding up the sky on the edge of the Warao world (Wilbert 1993).
Coming from the flat river banks and delta region it was the volcanic peaks,
rising out of the sea in a gently curving arc along their route northwards which
became the main symbol in their mythic geography once they reached the islands.
These peaks gave the islands life and they were the source of all the natural
resources that the islands contained. The image of the volcano became the centrepiece
for the cosmology of the successive waves of island-based tribes that followed
the first agricultural and pottery making people now known as the Saladoid.
From their arrival in the islands at the beginning of the Christian era, the
volcano was represented in shell, stone and clay in the form of a religious
object called a zemi. Because these particular zemies are cut, carved or moulded
into the shape of the triangle of a volcanic peak, they are called "three-pointers".
The Saladoid had found a natural object with which to make these first "three-pointer"
zemis of the volcano. In the waters around these islands lives the distinctive
Strombus gigas or conch and its shell provided an image not just of single volcanic
peaks as determined by Olsen (1974) but if studied carefully, the entire shell
provides a rough three-dimensional map of the volcanic island cones of the Lesser
Antilles. Not only have individual pieces of the points on the conch shell been
found to have been cut off from the main shell and carved, but even when these
are reproduced in stone or clay they are given a concave base which replicates
the concave indentation underneath every conical peak on the conch shell. With
the peaks on the conch representing the peaks of the islands then the giant
opening of the mouth of the conch may have been interpreted as the bocas of
the Orinoco River from which successive groups of indigenous islanders had come.
Various zemis (click on image to see larger version)
Once on the islands, these people were well aware of the power of the volcano.
Saladoid sites in Dominica and Martinique have been found covered in volcanic
ash. They would have witnessed the periodic swarms of tremors, earthquakes and
the eruptions themselves. Along the chain there were fumeroles and smouldering
craters and crater lakes as here in Grenada. In Kalinago myth, which was handed
down through other previous occupants of the islands, there was a time when
all the land was hot and soft and rose out of the sea (Taylor 1952). Animals
came upon these soft islands led by the island version of the South American
anaconda in the form of Antillean boa constrictors. These arrival points were
geological features called dykes, where volcanic forces have split the bedrock
forcing the lava through the crack horizontally.
The three-pointer volcano zemis represented the spirit that gave fertility
to the land. It made things grow, it brought rain just as the mountain peaks
caused rain to fall. It balanced the dry season with the wet. It was in effect
the whole bounty of the island. Small zemis of this type were buried in fields
to make crops grow, larger ones of stone were carved with the earth spirit at
their base holding the volcano on the back. "The earth was an indulgent
mother who furnished them with all things necessary to life" (Davies: 1666:277).
"Our gods have made our country and cause our manioc to grow", the
Kalinago told Christian missionaries. To the zemis they make offerings of cassava
and their first fruit (Davies: 1666:278-79).
There was an awareness of the variation of geological resources on different
parts of the island and across the island chain. Specific geological areas for
obtaining the types of stone needed for a variety of uses were mapped in the
Kalinago mind. Flakes of jasper, for instance were necessary for making graters,
takia kani, for shredding cassava tubers. The identification of jasper deposits
on each island was crucial for this process as were types of rock best suited
for making into particular tools and other objects. Some of these are recorded
by Breton with their Kalinago names and are identified in some cases to have
been common to particular islands (Breton 1665:195):
tebou - stone
couléhueyou - firestone, for lighting fire
coyébali itágueli - smooth stone
taoüa - white stone
coyláya - black stone
ouroúali - pumice stone, with which they polish their 'auirons'
cherouli - pumice stone from Marie Galante
méoulou - pumice stone from Martinique
teukê oúbao - precious stones
tlimáparacola balou balou - green stone for the men
tácaoüa, tacoúlaoüa - green stones which serve
as jewels for the women
macónabou - counterfeit green stones (Breton 1665:291, 292).
Extending these parameters even further afield, there is evidence of goods being
traded along the islands from as far as South America and northwards to Puerto
Rico (Rodriguez 1991; Cody 1991) that compliments the archaeological work done
by Boomert (1987) on trading "green stones" from the Amazon along
the Guiana coast and through the archipelago. The French missionaries report
that green stones were still an important trade good from the mainland even
while the French and English were beginning colonisation (Du Tertre 1667: Vol.II:VII:I:385).
Marine resources which were prolific on low, coral-encrusted islands would
have been complimented by forest resources and volcanic rock materials available
on adjacent mountainous islands. In considering the exploitation of these zones
and the relationships which were stimulated by this activity among groups inhabiting
the islands, one is led to assess the likelihood of continuous inter-island
movement of people and goods.
Ethnohistorical and oral information on the ethnobotany of the Kalinago further
informs the search for surviving areas of natural vegetation where such resources
would have been available or are still in existence (Multer et al. 1986). Seasonal
migrations, trade routes and inter-island patterns of fishing and gathering
would have been developed according to the location of such resources (Wing
1968; Wing & Reitz 1983).
In Grenada as with the rest of the Windward Islands, several varied faunal
habitats and vegetation zones were juxtaposed within close proximity to each
other as a result of geophysical and micro-climatic diversity. These ecological
micro-zones were observed with interest by the early French settlers: "what
is remarkable in these isles, and it is very curious to observe, is the points
of the fauna's habitation: a zone for frigates, for grand gosiers, for mauves,
for iguanas, anoli [lizards], soldier crabs, white crabs, purple crabs"
(Du Tertre 1667: Vol.II:I:15). Davies reports that the inhabitants of Grenada
had good fishing and hunting "in and about the islands called the Grenadines
lying north east from it" (Davies 1666:7). The Kalinago of the northern
Windward Islands went as far as the beaches of Tobago to hunt for turtles and
manatees (Davies 1666:7).
Cross section of the island showing different vegetation zones and thereby different
levels of natural resources used by indigenous people for housing, canoes, medicine,
consumption, farming, basket making, etc. (click on image to see larger version)
The Cycle of the Year
Horticulture had to be even more carefully controlled and understood than hunting
and gathering for food and materials for tools. Knowledge of the seasonal changes
on this tropical island was crucial and it was also anchored by myth. Every
year planet Earth goes through its seasonal cycles as it tilts backwards and
forwards in its continuous journey around the sun. For thousands of years, all
over the planet, groups of human beings have patterned their lives and their
beliefs on this cycle of the seasons. Agricultural people, herders of livestock,
hunters and gatherers all created religions to give order to their lives and
to explain the world around them and their place within it. Most of their religious
festivals were, or still are, based on these seasonal changes and apparent movements
of the sun. Winter, spring, summer and autumn are the marked seasons of the
temperate regions of the northern and southern hemisphere. When colonizers arrived
in the Caribbean from Western Europe, they brought their own seasonal and religious
perception of the temperate, Christianized world with them. As the conquerors,
this "world view" was omnipotent and it was superimposed upon the
tropical environment and the people who were found here.
But for those descendants of tribes who had inhabited the islands of the Caribbean
for some 4,500 years previously, there was another perception of reality, another
"world view". It was based on the accumulated ancestral knowledge
of a tropical island world. Here in the Caribbean, the main annual changes are
marked by the wet season and the dry season.
The Kalinago people, like their other Amerindian ancestors who lived on the
islands before them, divided the year into these two seasons. One half of the
year was male, the other half was female. The male was dry. The Female was wet.
The men were represented by the image of the bat and the women by the image
of the frog. The dry season was the time of the Bat Man. The wet season was
the time of the Frog Woman. The time of the Bat Man begins on December 21 when
the sun appears to be at its furthest point south, while the time of the Frog
Woman begins on 21 June when the sun appears to be at its furthest point north.
Up and down the Antilles from Grenada to the Greater Antilles, images of the
bat and frog are found in pre-columbian archaeology. They are carved on rocks
in the form of petroglyphs, they appear on decorated pottery and are crafted
into shell amulets used as jewelry. To keep track of the movement of the earth
in relation to the sun, natural and manmade markers helped the Kalinago, and
those before them, to observe the change in its position. When carved as petroglyphs
they often face east or west towards the rising or setting sun. Examples can
be seen at Caguana ball courts in central Puerto Rico, in St. Kitts, Guadeloupe
When considering the Bat Man who represents the dry season, one may well point
out that December, January and February are not dry months. But they are leading
up towards it. Halfway through the time of the Bat Man, the sun is over the
equator and then over the Lesser Antilles causing the climax of the dry season
to set in. So from December 21, the Bat Man warns us to get prepared for the
dry season. It is time to select land in the forest for new gardens and time
to cut clearings, so that at the height of the dry season the men can burn the
fallen wood. It is time to cut trees for canoes and house posts watching also
the right phases of the moon, for moon cycles must be followed within the cycles
of the sun.
The bat likes to be dry, he goes out hunting and then comes back to his shelter.
Men mostly spend their time abroad, but their wives keep at home and do all
that is required around the house. The men fell timber for the houses and keep
them in repair... men go hunting and fishing, women prepare the food (Davies
Bat Man and Frog Woman (click on image to see larger version)
By June 21, the Summer Solstice, the dry season is coming to an end, the fields
are ready and on that day we enter the time of the Frog Woman. The wet season
is beginning. Frogs come out when it rains. They produce many eggs. The Frog
woman represents fertility. She is always depicted in stone, shell and clay
as half frog, half woman: her hands and feet are webbed; she faces us with her
arms and legs splayed apart like the limbs of a squatting frog. Her navel is
prominent at the centre of every image made of her. Her vagina is exposed. She
is ready for sex. The Amerindians were frank about such things before the influences
of colonization introduced the concepts of shame, cover up and sexual hypocrisy.
The Frog woman was fertile and her time, from June 21 to December 21, was the
time to plant. The rain is falling, the soil is rich with moisture. During the
dry season the men had done their work and now, in tune with the cycle of the
seasons it was the turn of the women to plant. Under the spirit of the Frog
Woman that was their task, for only through their hands would the slips of cassava,
yam, tannia and sweet potatoes prosper of the peas and corn bear fruit.
Women take care of everything for the subsistence of the family... Women
get in the manioc, prepare the Cassava and Ouicou, dress all the meat... set
the gardens, keep the house clean... paint their husbands [with roucou, annatto,
bixia] spin cotton. Their work is never at an end... so they are rather to be
accounted slaves than companions (Davies 1666:294).
As the sun was seen to pass south over the equator once more, halfway through
the time of the Frog Woman, it was the peak time (in modern day mid September)
for the fearful spirit Huracan to make his appearance. With powerful winds he
tears the forests to shreds, destroys houses and raises ocean waves. The women
had to have their plants safely under the ground by the time that the sun had
marked its halfway path over the equator, for this marked the time of Huracan's
most powerful wrath. The Kalinago festivals of December 21, at the end of the
time of the Frog Woman also celebrated the end of the season of Houracan.
Integrated into these cycles of the sun, were the phases of the moon. The movement
of stars were also linked with seasonal movements of wildlife. Each Kalinago
constellation had its own story to explain its place in the sky. The shift of
the north-east winds during the year. The movements of pelagic fish and the
use of herbs from different levels of the island's vegetational zones all formed
part of this wider cycle of natural events. The destruction of the Kalinago
meant the eradication of this knowledge from the face of the island. Those who
took over had to start from scratch, and to a large extent they were unable
to retrieve the balance.
Quoting a French settler's conversation with two Caribs who were "considering
the degradation of their countrymen", Rochefort records one of the Carib's
statements which concisely sums up the psychological state of their people at
the middle of the seventeenth century. It could also have been spoken by an
enslaved African or an East Indian indentured servant in the centuries which
followed, for it expresses the psychosis of colonisation and the process of
Our people are becoming in a manner like yours, since they came to be acquainted
with you; and we find it some difficulty to know ourselves, so different are
we grown from what we were here-to-fore (Davies 1666:250).
Beginning of the End
For modern Grenada, the ultimate defiance, when a group of Kalinago leaped off
of the cliff at Sauteurs has become a symbol of heroism, a legend of nationalism
and yet another local story with which to embellish the "tourism product".
A French historian of the Caribbean writes that "The episode of Morne des
Sauteurs, or as the English call it, Caribs Leap, is material for the as yet
unwritten epic poetry of the Caribbean." (Roberts: 1971:55) He, like many
others, makes the mistake of saying that the very last of the Kalinagos on Grenada
jumped off that cliff. But others survived to carry on the fight in other parts
of the east coast. Even some 350 years ago the French priest and writer Du Tertre
ticks off another Frenchman Rochefort, for being similarly ill informed on the
capture of Grenada.
Contact and culture exchange in both trade and war between Europeans and the
Kalinago was in progress long before the first permanent settlement was established
on Grenada by Du Parquet in 1650. As in the days before Columbus, the island
had been in the centre of the route between the islands and the mainland and
the Kalinago of Grenada were already fighting off the threat of the European
advance into their territory. A combination of trade and armed resistance had
been the most obvious Kalinago approach to Europeans from the time of first
The earliest impact on the Kalinago of Grenada was slave raiding. On 30 October
1503, the Queen of Spain was persuaded to issue an order proscribing capture
or injury for any Indians, whether living on the islands or the mainland, but
making an exception of "a certain people called Cannibals" who could
be captured and enslaved (Sauer 1966:161). More specific orders were given in
the cedula of 23 December 1511 which granted Spanish colonists the right to
capture and enslave Kalinagos on:
The Islands and Mainland of the Ocean Sea discovered up to now, as well
as to any other Islands that may be discovered, to make war on the Caribs of
the Island of Trynidad, Varis, and Domynica, and Mantenino, and Sancta Lucia,
and Sant Vincente and Concebcion, and Barbudos, and Cabaco and Mayo (from
a translation by Harriet de Onis, appearing in Jesse 1963:23.)
There were other edicts issued on 7 November 1508 and 3 July 1512 granting similar
liberties against the Kalinagos (Beckles 1992:1). They justified this action
because of the Kalinagos "resistance to Christians" and for "making
war on the Indians who are in Our service, and taking them prisoners, they eat
them, as they really do" (Jesse 1963:27). Together these cedulas gave permission
to wage war upon, enslave and sell duty-free any Kalinagos on these islands
and were aimed not only at providing slaves but at the same time clearing the
islands of dangerous neighbours.
For years during the Spanish settlement of Puerto Rico the Kalinagos harassed
the east and south coasts of that island in order to prevent further expansion
southwards into the Virgin Islands. In the southern islands in 1569, 300 Kalinagos
from Grenada in 14 canoes were attacking Spanish settlements along the Venezuelan
coast near Carabelleda (Oviedo Y Banos 1987:210). In the Orinoco region Kalinagos
from Dominica also attacked Spanish colonising parties as they moved along the
Guarapiche River from Trinidad (Whitehead 1988:83). On islands such as Grenada
the ethnographers were given accounts of the alliances with "the Galibis
of the Guyanas or the Savage Coast" with which the Kalinagos would join
forces in their attacks (Davies 1666:207). Together, these raids on Puerto Rico,
the Guianas and Venezuela, show the extent of the Kalinagos' three-pronged offensive
against encroachment into the islands and the alliances that existed with tribes
in those regions on the islands and Tierra Firme. They even fell on loaded Spanish
vessels in mid-ocean. The warfare they practised was swift and fierce and initial
efforts to control the Kalinago assaults proved useless. The continuous and
determined movement between South America and the islands, either for hunting,
gathering, trade, war, or retreat from Spanish slave raiding, was recorded well
into the seventeenth century (Breton 1665:379; Davies 1666:7; Du Tertre 1667:
Vol.II:VII:I:385) and it was to confound the Europeans during the period of
On 1 April 1609, three shiploads of English settlers arrived in Grenada but
were attacked by Kalinagos as soon as they disembarked. Within a few months
the whole undertaking was abandoned but the idea remained that Grenada could
be used as a base for trade and attack on Spanish interests in Trinidad and
the mainland (Williamson 1926:19). So active was the movement in and around
Grenada, it was one of the reasons Thomas Warner rejected it as a place for
settlement. It was too close to the Spanish in Trinidad and Venezuela and there
was far too much Kalinago traffic passing by between the mainland to and from
the northern Windward Islands (Williamson 1926:12). It was against this background
of over a century of cultural and physical contention that the net was finally
being drawn around the Kalinago control of Grenada.
To understand the preamble to the famous incident at Sauteurs, Du Tertre is
in most cases the most reliable informant. The governor of Martinique, Du Parquet,
seeking to extend French domination of the Lesser Antilles arrives on Grenada
and begins negotiations with Chief Kairouane, bringing the usual gifts of bill
hooks, razors, glass, knives, "eau de vie" and other such trade goods.
In exchange for this, Du Parquet, with the agreement of the Kalinago in this
district, ordered the clearing of land and the commencement of a large plantation
where he first directed the growing of food crops, rather than cash crops so
as to provide subsistence for the new settlers.
As had happened in the other Windward Islands, there appears to have been a
difference of opinion between south-west coast Kalinagos and north-east coast
Kalinagos as to the wisdom of inviting colonization. It was one thing to make
an agreement to obtain trade goods, but it was quite another to witness the
process of colonization as the clearing of land and erection of settlements
became visible. In response, the general majority of Kalinago became alarmed
and reacted. By then Du Parquet had returned to Martinique and had left his
cousin Le Comte in charge of Grenada.
The Kalinagos planned an attack on the French settlement, but Le Comte got
news of this in advance and raised a force of 300 men "to take the war
to their Carbets and force them to leave the island." In response to this
threat, the Kalinago of Grenada sought the help of those in Dominica and St.Vincent
to attack the French. The ensuing guerrilla war raged along the coast and across
the hills of Grenada. One group of Kalinagos was cornered while making a final
stand on the now famous headland at Sauteurs and they leaped over the cliff
edge to their deaths rather than surrender.
Anthropological studies of suicide have been profoundly influenced by the French
sociologist Emile Durkheim's pioneering study (1897) which distinguishes two
types of suicide: the altruistic and the anomic. The latter is characteristic
of modern society and is an individual response to situations around one. Altruistic
suicide on the other hand, was found to be more common in traditional societies
such as the Kalinago. This form of suicide is seen as an expression of commitment
to social and cultural norms. When these norms, these long established patterns
of living and beliefs are in the process of collapse through defeat in war or
natural disaster or unexplained epidemic, a communal sense of hopelessness sets
in. Suicide may in these terms be a prescribed or expected response to extreme
situations affecting an entire group.
Communal suicide among the native people of the Caribbean in the face of European
expansion in the region was not unique to Grenada. It had been practiced over
a century before by groups of Taino people on Hispaniola and Cuba during early
Spanish settlement of those islands. It is significant, that in line with the
practice of altruistic suicide, the Kalinago also practiced euthanasia in the
belief, as Rochefort puts it, that by easing the terminally ill into the afterlife
with the use of herbal poisons "they did a good work, and rendered them
a charitable office, by delivering them out of many inconveniences and troubles
which attend old age" (Davies 1666:347).
Kalinago society was one where the world of the here and now and the world
of the spirit interwove with each other like the fibres of their basketwork.
The shaman or boye practicing his piai and consuming local narcotics travelled
out of this world and returned with solutions to the problems of the present.
Armed with this perception of continuous life in different zones of reality,
the Kalinago were more than a match for Europeans. Western domination relied
on the concept that the enslaved person would do everything possible, including
forced labour, to continue living regardless of the conditions. Faced with a
society that was prepared to die rather than surrender, the colonizers conquered
land but found it impossible to control the living people.
Kalinagos not involved in the mass suicide re-amassed in the mountains along
the east coast but Le Comte discovered this also and raised another 150 men
to continue the war. He embarked on a scorched earth policy to deal with those
Kalinago who remained along the Windward coast, burning houses and fields.
What made French victory complete, according to Du Tertre, was that the French
found the Kalinago canoes and pirogues in a river mouth and destroyed them,
thereby preventing the Kalinagos from escaping or getting help from St.Vincent.
Despite his victory, Le Comte died by drowning when the canoe he was riding
in overturned. His replacement as governor, De Valminiere, engaged a company
of 100 Walloons, previously fighting for the Dutch in Brazil, to defend Grenada
against Kalinago assaults. From time to time in the years that followed, Kalinagos
attacked outlying French houses and settlements, but the colony was growing
quickly and soon the indigenous people gave up their offensives. By the 18th
century, those few Kalinagos who survived on the islands had become transformed
in the European mind from "warlike cannibals" to romantic remnants
of the "noble savage" living on the fringes of colonial plantation
Two groups of continental people eventually took over the lands of the Kalinago:
the African and the European. Each group arrived under different circumstances,
but the societies that they attempted to establish on Grenada were far removed
from the Amerindian quest to maintain an integrated balance with the land itself.
The dominant religion that one group had brought with them and which was imposed
upon the other was Christianity. It came originally from a culture of the desert
pastoralists of the Middle East. The Judaic roots of the religion had grown
out of a culture, which was tied to a harsh and violently contested land. There
man had to control nature in the name of, and with the divine sanction of, a
god who placed them above the beasts of the earth. The circumstances of colonialism,
slavery, territorial division on land and sea, cash crop plantations and market
forces in world trade, left little chance for recreating even the Kalinago perception
of Man's place on the islands.
Now and then an earth tremor or the threat of a volcanic eruption reminds the
people of the special nature of the islands they inhabit. The globalisation
of the world economy is our new colonization. New demands will be made on the
land as we trade off pieces so as to keep abreast of economic demands. In an
education system with agendas far removed from concepts of its students' place
in the natural island world around them, the divorce between a holistic relationship
with the land widens. In most of architecture, designs related to breeze, heat
and sun have been abandoned. Even the long acquired Creole knowledge of forest
trees and wild plants and their uses is disappearing and it is now the preserve
of dedicated members of departments such as Forestry and Wildlife and other
committed individuals. What was lost at Sauteurs and its aftermath in the mid
17th century was more than a people, it was a human relationship with Grenada,
Kamahone that was never to be regained.
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This paper explains the Kalinago concepts of their island, Kamahone (Grenada). It studies the island's relationship with the continent to the south and discusses its role as the indigenous gateway from the mainland to the islands. It shows how relevant the indigenous concepts of the environment still are today. It argues that elements of this cosmology need to be regained and more widely understood if we are to come to terms with the balance needed in the human ecology of neo-colonial Grenada.