Royal agricultural and commercial society of Briti.

Timehri: the journal of the Royal agricultural and commercial society of British Guiana online

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other dwellings but ships. They believe now that we are
from a different world, and that our God, who made the
sky and earth, but not their lands, is not theirs.
As they knew not that there were other countries besides
theirs, the first time that they saw ships and heard
guns, they believed that these were devils, and that the
men and ships had come from out of the sea to convey
them away and occupy their land. They ran away
and hid in the bush. They found out that they
were mistaken in one of these points, but right in
the other ; and they wished that we had never put foot
on their land ; and, whatever they may pretend, they
hold us in great aversion, though they are no longer
to be feared, for many have been killed. I think
there still are about 4000. Of the twenty or thirty
islands which they once possessed, they now only
occupy two or three. They are now mostly subject to
the French, Spanish, English, or Flemish. The first
time they saw a man on horse-back, they thought that

* To this day the men of the Carib tribes in Guiana call us " Para-
nikeri."— Ed.

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History of the Caribs. 331

cider and horse were of one piece, that the man was
part of the beast. They did not dare approach it. There
are some at St. Vincent who have never yet seen

They call the Sun Ruler of the Stars, and think that it
is his bright light which prevents the shining of the
stars by day. Yet they believe that the stars retire and
come down in the night. Lightning is caused by Sava-
COU, when he blows fire out of a large gun. COUALINA
is captain of the Chemeens : LlMACANl is a comet
sent by the captain to cause evil when he is vexed.
JOULOUCA, the Rain-bow Spirit, lives on fish, lizards,
pigeons, and humming birds, and is covered with fine
feathers of all colours, especially on the head. He is the
rain-bow which we see ; the clouds prevent us from
seeing the rest of the body. He makes the Caribs ill
when it finds nothing to eat above. If this fine Iris ap-
pears when they are at sea, they take it as a good omen
of a prosperous journey. When it appears to them while
they are on land, they hide in their houses and think that
it is a strange and masterless spirit which seeks to kill

Of their Chemeens and of Maboia, who are their good
and evil spirits, and of some of their devilish supersti-
tions. — As a proof of the bestial nature of the Caribs, it may
be told that they are never willing to go and enjoy the
delights which they say are above, because they must first
die ; and, as, they have no other desire but those of the
present life, they get angry when they are spoken to
about going to Paradise. They are altogether unwilling
to leave their present goods for future ones, quit
what they possess for what is unknown to them, or

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232 TlMEHRI.

leave the pleasures that surround them for eternal de-
lights which they cannot see. They take great care of
their health, and fear death so greatly that they objeft
to any one speaking about it, fearing to hasten it.
In order to live longer they would give them-
selves up with pleasure to the devil ; they never men-
tion the names of the dead, fearing that it may oblige
them to think of death and that this would make them
ill. They say The husband of so and so is dead, or The
wife of is dead.

There are certain woods, with the heart of which they
would not dare rub their skin or face : they say it would
cause the beard to grow and make them look old before
their time.*

They believe themselves never to get ill, but to
be bewitched ; and, simply for a head-ache or stomach-
ache, they kill or cause to be, killed, those whom
they suspeft to have given it to them. It is gene-
rally a woman, since they dare not openly attack a man.f

But, before killing her, they ill-treat this unfortunate
person most cruelly. Their parents and friends go and
fetch her, she is then made to search in the earth in
different places, and ill-treated, until she finds what they
believe her to have hidden ; and, very often, the woman,
in order to deliver herself from her executioners, con-
fesses what is not true, picking up some pieces of shell,
Burgares, Lembies, Erabes or fish bones. Butgos
are a sort of shell very common in the Antilles and on
the mainland ; it is found on the sea side.

* Our Guiana Caribs call even young men if bearded u Amoko"
which means ' old man.' — Ed.
t A quite undeserved charge of cowardice, I believe. Ed.

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History of the Caribs. 233

Letnbies are large shells seen sometimes behind the
show glasses of Paris apothecaries. These Letnbies
serve for two purposes, as trumpets by means of which
they signal from great distances. They have different
sounds by which they make known their wants, the suc-
cess of their enterprises or of war, of hunting or fishing,
and in accordance with which often one or two hours
before their arrival the women prepare the kettle or
boucan or the necessaries to dress their wounds. One
will not be sorry to learn here that the fabulous patience
of GRISELDY is surpassed by theirs in the fabrication of
certain necklaces with which they ornament their heads
on days of ceremony. They call them Clibat ) and the
savages of Canada, Pourcelaine. These are of small
pieces of these Letnbies, which they rub on stones until
they have become round and about two lines in diameter
and \ line in thickness in a necklace of ordinary size ;
as several rows are worked in, there are 3 to 4 thousand
of these pieces in a necklace, and they could not make
one piece to perfe&ion and pierce it with the tools that
they use in less then 3 days : it is a faft that amongst
the whole number not one will be found varying by
the thickness of one hair.

They also make these kinds of necklaces from the
seed of the black palm. These glisten like jet when pol-
ished. These pieces are a trifle longer and are less in
diameter, and are notched at the extremities.

When the women who are accused as witches pick up
these different shells they say that ic is the remains
of what the bewitched had eaten, which the pretended
witch had buried in the ground. Many incisions are
then made on her body. She is hanged by the feet ; a


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234 TlMEHRI.

kttid of vefy strong pepper, called Piman,* is then rub-
bed in her eyes, and she is left for some days without
food, until a drunken executioner arrives and puts an
end to the unfortunate being by breaking her head with
a club. I know all this from having saved two of these

They adopt the Chemeen that they like best as their
good spirit. They consult the Devil through their Con-
jurors or Piaye Do&ors, as to their recovery from sickness,
as to their whereabouts at sea in bad weather, as to the
issue of their wars, or to learn the names of those that
have bewitched them. Each Piaye has his particular
Chemeen (spirit), or familiar devil, and they are gov-
erned by the evil counsel of these detestable sorcerers,
also known by the name of Eocheiri.

To know the cause of their illness they send for a Piaye
Boyi) or sorcerer, at night, who orders all the lights in
the house to be put out and turns the suspefted persons
out : he then retires into a corner, where the sick person
is brought to him, and, after smoking a piece of tobacco,
he mashes it in his bands, and blows it in the air, shak-
ing and flipping his fingers. They say that the Chemeen
always comes on scenting the odour of this incense, and,
being interrogated, he answers with a clear voice,
but sounding as from a distance. The sorcerer then
approaches the sick person repeatedly, feels, presses, and
manipulates the suffering part, always blowing on it, and
extra&s sometimes from it, or rather appears to extraft,
some thorns, or small pieces of cassava, wood, or bones,
making the sick person believe that this was the sole
cause of the pain. Very often he sucks the painful part

* PeetHi is applied to all kinds of u red peppers," *'.*. capsicums. Ed'.

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History op the Caribs. 235

and immediately goes out of the house to vomit what he
calls the poison. The poor invalid is thus cured, more
through imagination than anything else. It is to be
noted that he cures no fevers, or wounds, caused by an
arrow or knife. At these meetings, the profoundest
silence must reign.

They present to the Ckemeen and the Piaye, oiiicou, .
and cassava, on a mat out ou, leaving it there the whole
night. The matoutou is a small kind of table one or
two feet square and half a foot high. They so regatd the
offerings, called aiakri, that only old men, and the most
distinguished amongst them, can take it. They have
asked rrte some times to drink of it, and I have done so
just to try and change their superstitious ideas, one of
which is to drink of this ouicou before eating, otherwise
you die, and purposely I ate first before drinking : another
is to keep the cup straight so as not to spill the con-
tents, otherwise the eyes would run water everlastingly.
I purposely spilt some, and held the cup crooked. If a
patient recovers, a feast is given to the MABOIA, at which
the piaye is always present. Towards the end of the
feast the convalescent is darkened with junipa apples*
and rendered as handsome as the devil. They offer to
the C heme ens the first fruit of their fields, without any
ceremony. When they have a great feast they always
put aside a goglet, or some calabashes for the CAemeens.
They regard bats, which they call boulliri, as Chemeens
(or spirits) guarding them, and think that whosoever kills
these will get ill. They have a great number of boule-
Bonum, which means bad omens. A Piaye (sorcerer) is

* The fruit of Genipa Americana, in Guiana called " lana" and
still used by the Caribs to dye their skins of a dark biue-bfack colour.

GG 2

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236 TlMEHRI.

trained from his youth to the work ; he is made to fast
for five months on bread and water in a small hut, where
he sees no one ; his body is scraped with acoury teeth,
he is made to drink tobacco juice until he faints, and,
when they say that his spirit has gone to the Chemeen,
they rub his body with gum and cover it with feathers to
allow him to fly to the Chetneen. He is taught how to
operate on a sick man by feeling, sucking, and blowing
on him. They do not fear the Chetneen, because he is good
and does not harm them ; but they fear MABOIA who
harms them ; and I believe that it is in order to coat him
that some wear a hideous figure of him round their neck,
or carve it in front of their canoes. They told me that
it was to frighten their enemies, when they went to war,
who when they saw this horrible figure with open mouth,
were afraid to be devoured by it, and remained so
terror-stricken that they could not paddle any more, and
were consequently easily caught.

The Arawaks are a nation settled towards the
borders of the Orinoco river, and are everlasting
enemies of the Caribs and Galibi. * The Indians
have often very fearful dreams, in which they seem
to see the devil. At night I have heard them, some-
times two at once, complain, cry, wake with a start,
and tell me that the devil wanted to beat them. They
went on screaming when quite awake, and really made
enough noise to drive the devil away. Their melancholic
temperament evidently contributes to these visions.
They sometimes put the hairs, or some bones, of their
deceased parents into a calabash. They keep these in

* Galibi is merely another form of the word Caribi, but seems only
to have been used of the Caribs of the mainland.

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History of the Caribs. 237

— —?

their huts, and use them for some sorcery. They say
that the spirit of the dead one speaks through these and
forewarns them of the designs of their enemies. They
believe that they have several souls. The first near the
heart, called Gonanni or Lanichi ; the second at the
head ; and the others at all the points of the body where
there is pulsation of arteries. Only the first-mentioned
goes to the sky after death ; and changes into a young
and new body, the others remain on earth changed into
beasts or in Maboia. All these spirits are of different
sexes and multiply.

The Caribs have a sad temperament, and are dreamy
and melancholic. Sometimes they remain a whole day
on one spot, their eyes fixed to the ground, without
saying a word. Fishing, laziness, and the air, must
contribute very much to this temperament of theirs ; and
they are never jolly but when they have drunk a little
too much. They are very splenetic, and get vexed ;
they have no wit, though they believe themselves to have
more than any other nation, as also that they are the best
made. They laugh at us when, while walking we stop
to speak. They get offended when they are called
savages, and, told that they live like beasts, and they
answer that we are just as bad in their estimation,
because we don't live according to their fashion : that
they have their wav of doing things and we have ours.*

When they want to make friends, they ask for our
names and give theirs. To show affeftion and friendship
they want us to exchange names, and, to get very

* Some two centuries after La Borde wrote this, we still have not
sufficiently realized that the uncontaminated fashions of the Red Man
were not altogether ignoble or savage.

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238 TlWEHRI.

intimate, little presents are continually sriven on botfi
sides. Never let them leave without giving them a
small gift : they even expeft payment from those who
want to make them Christians, for their trouble m

They are V£ry inquisitive ; and when a box is opened
they waiit to' see every thing in it; otfieiWise they get
vested. I find them ungrateful, because, if you begin to
be kind to them and stop, they forget the past ; and, if
you reftise the smallest demand they try to harm you.
They last better than we do : the old men do not get
gray, and live longer, f The reason is, I believe, that
they eat little but often, and have neither anxiety, ambi-
tion, nor trouble. They take their food when they are
hungry : even at night they will get up to eat, and only
think of the present. If you want to get a haihmock
from them cheap, you must buy it early in the morning,
when they forget that night must come and that then
they will require it. When making bargains they prefer
glass and crystal to gold and silver.

We eat fruits, but the Caribs drink these. % They say
to drink a melon, figs,|| bananas, plums, pine apples,
etc., in fact, they drink more than they eat, even dry
fruits like the courbaly. They are very uncleanly in
their habits ; they never eat salt, because they believe

* An Indian may even now-a-days be induced to undergo baptism for
a shirt or a drop of rum.

f This is certainly no longer the case in Guiana.

X Indians usually boil down or merely pound, all sorts of fruits into
a pap.

H These figs must be fig bananas, a small kind of banana called by
our Indians kokerites, to distinguish them from the larger kinds which
are called " bacoobas."

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History of the Caribs. 239

it be unwholesome, but, instead of salt, they use a great
quantity of pepper. * They will eat jiggers and lice,
because, tbey say, these insects bit them.

When they eat, they never invite anybody to join them.
The stranger, if hungry, must take a seat near them, of
his own accord, and eat and drink with them, as if he
belonged to the house.f

They never speak or drink during meals : their con-
versation afterwards is generally about fishing, hunting,
travelling, etc. They are very vindi&ive and will nurse
a hatred not for one year only, but for life, and do
not rest until the enemy is killed : often for very little
cause, such as for broken arrows, for a knife, for a word.
Sometimes on account of their wives, with whom tbey
Cohabit in numbers, and without distinftion of parentage.
I have seen some that took their daughters for wives,
and left them whenever they pleased. There is no
nation more inclined towards drunkenness, and, it is
when intoxicated that they slay one another.

They are quite independent, and this is a great obsta-
cle in trying to convert them. They do not obey their
father, and the father does not command his child.

The captain of a boat will never order his men to pull,
they work as they like. It is not the duty of the captain
to steer, he has only to bale the boat.J

* Indians now are very fond of salt and will go long distances to pro-
cure it The peppers used are, of course, capsicums.

f According to the Red Man's Code of hospitality, the stranger in the
house is, in the fullest sense of the words, at home.

% This custom, strikingly different from anything to be seen among
the Indians of the mainland, must have been a peculiar adaptation to
the sea-going habits of the Redmen of the West India Islands.

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240 TlMEHRI.

They were believed to be very chaste, but I can
affirm the contrary. * * * * Though

they have several wives there is not much jealousy
amongst them. They have women in different places,
when changing from one spot to another. This is ano-
ther obstacle to their conversion. Our Caribs have as
much shame in being clothed as we have in being naked ;
but if any of them do dress they are vain enough to
want thtjinest and whitest stuff.

Their Occupation and Work. — Their first occupation
before day-break is to bathe in fresh water. They
believe that sea water would make them stink, and
would encourage bile. The women take the hammocks
into the next hut, and then bring fresh casssava and
Taumaly. This Taumaly is a kind of soup made out
of crabs, meat or fish, with plenty of peppers. They
pass the day in making baskets which are used to keep
tools, such as a looking-glass, cotton thread, a razor, etc.

They also occupy themselves in pulling out their
beards with their nails, or with the point of a knife.
Some play the flute, others extraft jiggers, or dream or
sleep in their hammocks. When lying down they
always have fire under them, and gather round it at
night to converse.

The men would rather die of hunger than make cas-
sava-bread, boil the pot, or do any work whatsoever.*
The women must search for and split wood for the fire.
The men will accompany them, but it is only to
protedl them, and very often they will not even help

* I have before pointed out that, at least in Guiana, the division of
labour between the sexes, though at first sight unequal, is in reality very
fair.— Ed.

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History op the Caribs. 241

a poor woman enceinte to discharge her load of wood;
If the women have not prepared food when the men
happen to be hungry, the latter simply go and eat with
the others ; similarly with regard to painting and combing-,
if the wife is not there to help them, they expefil others
to render them these services. While the woman plants
the cassava and cleans round the house the man will look
after the children.

After getting one or two crops from the field, they
abandon it and make a new one. The trees are cut
down ; only the small branches and leaves are burnt, the
stumps and roots remaining in the earth, and the women
plant their cassava, sweet potatoes, plantains, etc., wbere-
ever it happens that there is room.

Of any three canoes that they begin to make, two
always get rotten or spoiled before they are finished, on
account of their laziness ; and, though their fields are
generally not large, they take such a long time over
them, that very ofteft one end is spoiled before the other
is finished. This is true also of their houses and of all
their work. The thatch on one side is often worn and
spoiled before the other side is ready for the leaves.
The old men always do the hardest work, and cut down
the biggest trees. They only work one or two hour s
daily, and never two days running. They are all very
indolent, and it is not difficult to get them to observe
GOD'S commandment prohibiting work on Sunday.
Every day they ask when Sunday will come. After
returning from work they wash immediately and are

The women are not so lazy as the men, and are like
slaves to them ; they plant the cassava, not with spades


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242 TlMEHRl.

as we do, but with long, pointed sticks. They weed the
fields, make bread, and cook the meat. They spin their
cotton, not with a spindle, but on their thighs, make
hammocks, get fire wood, make palm oil, etc. The men
make the houses and canoes, but the roofs are made
by the women. The hammocks are made on frames
resting against the posts of the hut. When finished the
hammock is dyed ; that is, if it is for their own use, but,
if made for a European, they leave it white. The orna-
mentation is generally a kind of waved work,
in which the pattern is made as duly and exa&ly
as though they had used a rule and compasses.
The women are just as dirty as the men in all
they prepare ; in making their common drink, which
is prepared of boiled cassava or sweet potato,
they not only pound these fruits in a mortar, but also
chew them to facilitate fermentation. Besides this
beverage they make other kinds out of Carib cabbages,
pine-apples, figs, bananas, but these beverages are so
thick that they are rather to be eaten than to be
drunk. Their meetings to drink this ouicou are
their great festivities and debauches. Two or three
families are invited, and, they will drink 10 to 12
barrels in a day and night without eating. These
feasts always finish by someone getting killed or
wounded, because, towards the end, men, women and
children are all drunk. When the women make ham-
mocks they place at both ends a small parcel of ashes.
Unless this ceremony is observed the hammock would
not last. Should they eat figs when they have
a new hammock, they think it would get rotten. They
take great care also, not to eat of certain fish with sharp

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History of the Caribs. 243

teeth. For this would cause the hammock to be soon
torn. These beds, or hammocks, are generally 8 to 10
feet wide, and 4 or 5 long, and are hung at a little dis-
tance from the ground, to forked sticks. They are painted
with roucou, diluted with oil, in so many different ways,
that one seldom finds two alike.

Calaia* oil is made from palm seeds and serves to oil
their hair.

Roucou is a red paint which they rub on their body.
It is made with oil and the seeds which grow on a tree
like the cotton tree.t

Their canoes are made of a tree, which is hollowed by
means of fire and a hatchet, about 25 to 40 feet long and
5 to 6 broad, capable of conveying 30 to 40 persons.
While being burnt out, sticks are placed across so
as to enlarge it. If a woman did but touch it
with her fingers, they believe it would split. They
never go to war without first having a great drink.
There they deliberate and decide all state questions.
Their war consists of attacks on the enemy, never
openly, but by hiding in the bushes and trying to sur-
prise the enemy. After killing a person or burning a
hut they hastily retreat. If they are discovered, or if
even they hear the barking of a dog, they will not follow
out their purpose but return without doing any thing.
They carry away their dead, and it is then that they
lose most of their people.

A savage of St. Vincent showed me the foot of an

m ., .... . .

* Calaba oil, is I suspect crab oil, which is prepared from the seeds
not of a palm but of a tree called Caraba (Carapa guianensis) ; or
possibly the Indian word Carapa is applied to any oil tree.

t The tree is Bixa Onllana, called by the Indians of Guiana, Faroah
HH 2

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Arawak which be had in his basket. They only eat the
Arawaks now, savages from the Orinoco. They say that
Christians would give them stomach ache, nevertheless
UPt a year ago they ate the hearts of some Englishmen.

Many negroes live just as the Caribs, especially at St.
Vincent where they have their stronghold. Some of
these are escaped prisoners in war by the Caribs and
are called Tamons ; but most of them came from a
Flemish or Spanish ship which was wrecked near these

Their (Caribs') arms are bows and arrows, the club,
and the knife. The boutan is a kind of club made
out of gireen-wood or hard brasiUwood, massive, heavy,
2 and 3 feet long) and carved according to their custom.
With one blow they kill a man. The arrows are always

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Online LibraryRoyal agricultural and commercial society of BritiTimehri: the journal of the Royal agricultural and commercial society of British Guiana → online text (page 18 of 25)