Race and marriage in modern Kalinago culture

Many Kalinago have multiracial identities, yet marrying non-Kalinago remains controversial

Members of a Kalinago cultural group perform for tourists during the tour of the Barana Autê model village. Costume designs are modern creations  (Photo by Ruane Remy) 

Interracial unions have been happening in the Caribbean for generations. Many Dominicans possess African, European and Kalinago ancestry. For the Kalinago, with a population fewer than 4,000 people, multi-racial identities can be viewed as a threat to the overall indigenous identity.

On one hand, interracial unions have contributed to maintaining the population. Yet, they have changed the physical attributes of the average Kalinago person. This begs the question: is one more Kalinago than another based solely on appearances? And for the sake of maintaining a distinct identity, where genetics can’t be preserved, can culture come to the rescue?

The general consensus in the community is that the only way to preserve the traditional Kalinago person and society is to encourage Kalinago men and women to marry within the community. But even individuals who look typically Kalinago do not identify as typically Kalinago because of a mixed family heritage. A child of an an interracial union is considered Kalinago if that person has one parent who is Kalinago. The future children of this child would also be considered Kalinago.

There is also a double standard within the territory. Marriages between Kalinago men and non-Kalinago women are more acceptable than female Kalinago who marry men from outside the community. If women bring in non-Kalinago men to live within the territory, these men are not easily welcomed under the idea that they should be able to take care of their wives elsewhere instead of encroaching on communal land.

Watch the videos below to hear from the community

Hon. Ashton Graneau says the Kalinago people are racially mixed and such “intermingling” cannot be stopped, especially with Afro-Dominicans. He hopes Kalinago will procreate within their ethnicity, but predicts that one day Kalinago people will not be able to be identified by their physical features. Traditional Kalinago features include long hair, high cheek bones, a light brown or red complexion, broad shoulders and a shorter stature.

Chief Garnette Joseph does not want to dictate who people should develop relationships with, but says the traditional thinking is that women who develop relationships with non-Kalinago men should leave the territory.

Irvince Auguiste encourages people to find their soul mates within the territory if possible because tourism is linked to the preservation of a Kalinago nation.

Katherine Jno-Lewis is mistaken for being “pure Carib.” The benefits of sticking within the Kalinago community include carrying on traditions for generations, but leaving the community has benefits as well.

Sylvanie Burton says if her community is to preserve the Carib person, then they have to encourage Kalinago to marry Kalinago.

Next: The Polygamy Debate

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