A recent article in Calgary’s Metro News features Touna Village in Dominica’s Carib Territory. The villagers, led by former Carib Chief Irvince Auguiste, welcome visitors to an authentic, neighborly glimpse into the daily life of the Kalinago people. I spent the day at Touna Village earlier this year with a group of Vassar students and find that the description below perfectly describes the pleasant and informative day we spent enjoying their hospitality.
The stylized huts look rather familiar. “They’re from Pirates of the Caribbean II — the cannibal village,” says Irvince Auguiste, project manager of Dominica’s Touna village. “Nineteen people from our village were in the film, and they gave the huts to us afterwards.”
Touna is not a cannibal village, but the tribe that inhabits it is fascinating in a different way. The inhabitants are Kalinago — or Caribs, as they are better known to outsiders.
Despite giving their name to the Caribbean Sea and islands, there are very few Caribs left. Their days were numbered soon after Columbus discovered the region in 1492. The Spanish Crown gave settlers and explorers a free rein to take the inhabitants of the islands as slaves, but the Caribs resisted.
Island by island, they were wiped out or forced to retreat until there was only Dominica left. They were saved by the mountainous, rainforest-covered terrain. It became their hideaway as the Spanish thought it not worth fighting over.
Following French, then English takeovers, the Caribs were left with a tiny territory of less than 200 acres (later increased to 3,783). But a small population survived — and now just under four thousand Caribs live in the territory.
Touna is home to a remarkable project which aims to show visitors a living Kalinago village. All 70 or so villagers have a stake in the project, and they are opening their homes to visitors.
The homeowners give demonstrations of traditional skills, such as basket-weaving, extracting juice from sugar cane or making cassava bread, but around them, life goes on as normal. Dogs wander around wanting their tummies tickled, children protest as mom brushes their hair and guests can chew the fat with residents in one of the traditionally-thatched outdoor living areas.
The idea is that everything is interactive. There are plans to let visitors stay in spare rooms and hammocks, while guests are also encouraged to try making their own baskets or sugar cane juice.
Each villager does what they can for the common good. Some organize gentle floats down the river in inflatable rings, some cook, some give explanatory walks round their herb garden.
Strolling through the valley between the houses, guests are encouraged to pluck guavas from the tree. Cocoa plants, breadfruit trees and pineapple bushes are pointed out and the villagers identify the plants used to make canoes and thatched roofs.
Auguiste, who is also one of the six members of the Kalinago tribe council, says that it is only in the last five years that the Kalinago have really started to realize the benefits of tourism. “In a way, we have been working in tourism for hundreds of years,” he says. “No one knew the island as well as us, so we were used as guides. But now the people are realizing the value of the traditions and are studying them again.”