Identity: From Carib to Kalinago

Still known as Carib Indians, Kalinago People speak out on their name change and racial identity.

Eight headshots of Kalinago men and women varying in facial features (Photo by Ruane Remy)

What’s in a name? The Kalinago council officially announced  in 2010 that their people no longer want to be called Carib Indians, a name given to them by Europeans, choosing to be known as the Kalinago people. The Caribbean Sea was named after Carib Indians.

The name Carib has negative connotations associated with the worst of the worst in society, according to Kalinago Chief Garnette Joseph. This stigma began with historical accounts from the Spanish that claimed Kalinago ancestors were cannibals, which modern historical revisions refute. The change to Kalinago is meant to reclaim and revive pride in the Kalinago identity, an identity some Kalingo have rejected in the past. The word “Kalinago” is what the ancestral male “Caribs” called themselves.

Yet, the name does not change the person. So, who is Kalinago? There are two schools of thought. The first is that the Kalinago identity comes from the heart. The other is that a person is more Kalinago if they look more ethnically so.


Watch below for what the community has to say on Kalinago racial identity

Hon. Ashton Graneau thinks it is wise to reintroduce the Kalinago ancestral name, but “Carib” and “Carib Reserve” are still the legal names of his people and their communally owned land.

Chief Garnette Joseph says there are people who rebuke their indigenous identity because of the stigma attached to the word “Carib.” The name change to Kalinago is mean to combat this stigma, along with a history of assimilation and acculturation.

For Irvince Auguiste, physical appearance matters the most in defining who is Kalinago. In other words, those who look most like they’ve descended from the same Amerindian ancestors are considered to be more Kalinago.

Sylvanie Burton says you are Kalinago (in the cultural sense) if you so choose . Legally, to be considered Kalinago, at least one of your parents must be so or you must be born on territory land.

Gregory Rabess outlines the Carib Reserve Act of 1978, which defines who is allowed to be “Carib.” He says the word “reserve” denotes animals penned in a zoo, so reclaiming “Kalinago” and replacing “reserve” with “territory” has become official policy for the chief and council.

Irvince Auguiste uses the metaphor of renovating a house to describe what people need to do with themselves and the community as a whole along with the move from Carib to Kalinago. Most in the community first heard about the name change on the radio a few years ago.

Winnie Joseph keeps it simple: to be Kalinago, a person must be born in the territory or have a mother or father who is Kalinago.

Next: Race and marriage in modern Kalinago culture 

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