Kalina people

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Kalina schoolchildren from Bigi Poika, Suriname, 2002.
Total population
Regions with significant populations
 Venezuela33,824 (2011)[1]
 Suriname3,000 (2002)[1]
 Guyana3,100 (2020)[2]
 French Guiana3,000 (2002)[1]
Various local languages
Animism, Christianity, Native American religions
Related ethnic groups
Island Caribs

The Kalina, also known as the Caribs or mainland Caribs and by several other names, are an Indigenous people native to the northern coastal areas of South America. Today, the Kalina live largely in villages on the rivers and coasts of Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, and Brazil. They speak a Cariban language known as Carib.[4] They may be related to the Island Caribs of the Caribbean, though their languages are unrelated.


The exonym Caribe was first recorded by Christopher Columbus.[5]: vi  One hypothesis for the origin of Carib is that it means "brave warrior".[5]: vi  Its variants, including the English Carib, were then adopted by other European languages.[5]: vi  Early Spanish colonizers used the terms Arawak and Caribs to distinguish the peoples of the Caribbean, with Carib reserved for indigenous groups that they considered hostile and Arawak for groups that they considered friendly.[6]: 121 

The Kalina call themselves Kalina or Karìna [kaɽiɁnʲauɽaŋ], spelled variously.[7] Variants include Kali'na, Cariña, Kariña, Kalihna, Kalinya; other native names include Maraworno and Marworno. Kalina may distinguish themselves as Kali'na tilewuyu ("true Kalina"), partly to differentiate themselves from the mixed Maroon-Kalina inhabitants of Suriname.[8] Use of "Kalina" and related variants has become common practice only recently in publications; many sources continue to use "Caribs" or associated names.[7]


Map indicating the current geographic distribution of the Kali'na population

Lacking a written form of language before the arrival of Europeans, Kali'na history was passed down orally from one generation to the next through tales of myth and legend.

For a long time, the few Europeans studying the history of the Amerindian people of this area did not distinguish between the various Caribbean tribes. Once the period of exploration was over, interest in the study of these people diminished greatly and did not re-emerge until the end of the 20th century, when a few French expatriates, notably Gérard Collomb, became interested in the Kali'na, and the Kali'na themselves began to relate their history, in particular Félix Tiouka, president of the Association of Amerindians of French Guiana (AAGF), and his son Alexis.

For the reasons given, historical information regarding the Kali'na is rare and incomplete.

Pre-Columbian era[edit]

Drawing of a Kali'na ritual.

Making up for lack of written records, archaeologists have to date uncovered 273 Amerindian archeological sites on only 310 km² of the land recovered from the Sinnamary River by the Petit-Saut Dam. Some date back as far as two thousand years, establishing the antiquity of the Amerindian presence in this area.[9],[10]

The weak historical clues available indicate that before 1492, the Kali'na inhabited the coast (from the mouth of the Amazon River to that of the Orinoco), dividing their territory with the Arawak, against whom they fought during their expansion toward the east and the Amazon River.[11],[12]

They were prolific travelers even though they weren't nomads. They often traveled by land and by sea as far as the area around the Orinoco river to visit family, trade, and marry.[13] They often went to the area surrounding the Essequibo river (now in Guyana) to collect pebbles of red porphyry (takuwa), which Kali'na women prized for polishing their pottery.[14] The term takuwa also refers to jade, which was often traded in the Americas in general.[15]


The Palanakiłi arrive[edit]

Kali'na weapons and tools.

In their first contact with Europeans, the Kali'na thought they were dealing with the spirits of the sea, Palanakiłi, a name they use to this day when referring to whites.[16][17]

One of the first consequences of the arrival of Europeans, as in the case of many other Native American peoples, was a decrease in population due to violence inflicted by European soldiers genocide, and diseases brought over by the Europeans. The Kali'na quickly succumbed in large numbers, because their immune systems were not adapted to the viruses and bacteria of the Old World.

At that time, the Kali'na knew only stone axes and hardwood machetes. These men brought with them axes and machetes of iron, they showed that they cut much better ... This time, the Palanakiłi had brought good things.[18]

Amerindians in Paris[edit]

Kali'na man in Paris in 1892 holding a putu, or wooden club.

The second half of the nineteenth century saw the heyday of World's Fairs, in which European countries were displaying their wealth with colonial "villages" representing the colonized cultures. Although the World's Fairs of Paris did not have "Amerindian villages", public curiosity was such that Kali'na were sent to the capital twice - once in 1882 and again in 1892 - to be exhibited as oddities at the Jardin d'Acclimatation.[19],[20]

Portrait of the Kali'na exhibited at the Jardin d’Acclimatation in Paris in 1892.

Fifteen Kali’na, all members of one family living in Sinnamary and Iracoubo, were sent to Pau:wa ("The Land of the Whites") in July 1882.[19] Almost nothing is known about them, except their names[21] and the fact that they were housed in huts on the lawn of the Jardin d'Acclimatation. The trip lasted four months, including three in Paris and a month's journey by boat (round trip). They were accompanied by a Creole who acted as intermediary and, presumably, interpreter.[22] There are several portraits of them, taken by photographer Pierre Petit.[23]

The Kali'na today[edit]

The part of South America where the Kali'na live is very sparsely populated. However, the people of this ethnic group are such an extreme minority in all of the countries in which they are well established that locally they are a majority only in certain very secluded areas. Their current geographic distribution covers only a small fraction of their Pre-Columbian territory.


The Kali'nas in Brazil are localized in two groups.[3] The Galibi do Oiapoque can only be found in São José dos Galibi, a village founded in 1950 on the right bank of the Oyapock River by several families who came from the region of the Mana River.[24] The Galibi Marworno or Uaçá Galibi mainly live along the Uaçá River further land inwards. The main settlement is Kumarumã. The Galibi Marworno were originally from French Guiana, but mixed with the Arua and Marworno Amerindians. The term Galibi Marworno is a recent self-designation of the group.[3]

French Guiana[edit]

Still present in significant numbers in their original territory, the region between the Maroni and the Mana rivers (in particular, the communities of Awala-Yalimapo, the only one where they are a majority, Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni, Mana and Iracoubo), and the Amerindian village of Kourou as well as, in fewer numbers, the island of Cayenne.


Kali'na girls in Suriname in the village of Bigi Poika.

Kali'na are a strong presence on the left bank of the Maroni River and on the banks of the Coppename River. A large proportion of the population lives in the Para District often in villages shared with the Lokono people. The main settlements are Bernharddorp, Wit-Santi, Galibi, Powakka and Bigi Ston.[25] The Kali'na lived in the same area as the colonizers, and have a peace treaty with Suriname since 1686.[26] A Kali'na member of the National Assembly, Sylvia Kajoeramari,[27] successfully led efforts to recognize the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples as a public holiday in Suriname.[28]


In Guyana, Kali'na are stereotyped as the most "proud, aggressive, and warlike" of the Amerindian groups. Kalina were paid by plantation owners to capture indigenous slaves as well as recapture African slaves who escaped.[29] One of the smaller indigenous groups in Guyana, Kali'na are settled on the Barama and Pomeroon Rivers, and in the Northwest of the country.[30]

Malaria has had a detrimental impact on the population of Kalina in Guyana, and is exacerbated by hinterland mining that creates still-water pools that serve as vectors for the disease. Many Kalina are also employed in the mining sector.[31]


The country where their numbers are the greatest, Kali'na can be found in two distinct zones: in the Llanos of the Orinoco river valley and on the Cuyuni River valley part of which is in Guyana. See also Chimire, Venezuela.


Kali'na village.

Kasiri, a cassava-derived beer, is an important part of traditional Kalina celebrations.[32]

For Kalina of the Guianas, the death of family members initiates a period of mourning that can last for a year or more, and is concluded with a celebration known as Epekotono. Preparations are made by a respected member of the village, and can take several months to assemble. Collecting money is a more contemporary addition to the responsibilities. Epekotono is a public event that draws attendance from neighboring villages, including body-painting, music, dancing, and symbolic burning of the deceased's belongings to mark their spirit leaving. At the conclusion, mourning ends and normal social behaviors resume, along with the option for widows to remarry. While non-Kalina can attend as guests, the event serves to reinforce the Kalina identity, marked by explicit use of the Kalina language. Nowadays, the epekotono is the only occasion for such gatherings among the Kalina.[32]


They use mostly percussion instruments. Their sanpula (or sambula) is a large drum with two skins stretched over either end of the shell by hoops pulled together with cord and is played with a mallet. They also have two kinds of maracas, called a kalawasi (or kalawashi) and a malaka.

Their flute, the kuwama, is still made but is more and more often replaced by the European flute. There is also a terra cotta horn called a kuti'


Kali'na boy in a dugout in Paris in 1892.

They speak Kali'na, belonging to the family of Cariban languages, which today is still spoken by above 10,000 people in the coastal strip that stretches from Venezuela (5,000 speakers) to Brazil (100) passing through Guyana (475), Suriname (2,500) and French Guiana (3,000 people).

Thanks to the relatively significant number of speakers, it is one of the most likely Amazonian tongues to survive. Some experiments with written transcription were undertaken in French Guiana.[33] Linguistic standardization of a Kali'na writing system however is plagued by the diversity of the many different forms of the written language currently in use, which have been influenced by the languages of the colonists of the countries in which the Kali'na live, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French and English. Thus, even as far as their ethnonym is concerned, Kali'na, there are no fewer than nine different writing systems. Kali'na therefore remains a primarily oral language.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Galibi do Oiapoque". Socio Ambiental. Retrieved 29 March 2021.
  2. ^ "Carib, Galibi in Guyana". Joshua Project. Retrieved 7 April 2021.
  3. ^ a b c Anonby, Stan (2007). "A report on the creoles of Amapá". Journal of Language Survey Reports: 7–9.
  4. ^ Courtz, Henk (2008). A Carib Grammar and Dictionary. Magoria Books. pp. 1–4. ISBN 978-0978170769. Retrieved May 22, 2014.
  5. ^ a b c Taylor, Christopher (2012). The Black Carib Wars: Freedom, Survival and the Making of the Garifuna. Caribbean Studies Series. University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 9781617033100. JSTOR j.ctt24hxr2.
  6. ^ Kim, Julie Chun (2013). "The Caribs of St. Vincent and Indigenous Resistance during the Age of Revolutions". Early American Studies. 11 (1): 117–132. doi:10.1353/eam.2013.0007. JSTOR 23546705. S2CID 144195511.
  7. ^ a b Courtz, Henk (2008). A Carib Grammar and Dictionary (PDF). Magoria Books. p. 1. ISBN 978-0978170769. Retrieved May 22, 2014.
  8. ^ (in Dutch and French) Wim Hoogbergen, Origins of the Suriname Kwinti Marrons; Nieuwe West-Indische Gids, vol. 66 (1 & 2), p. 27-59. 1992. For a similar case of mixed Afro-Caribbean ancestry see the article Garifuna people. Source quoted in Gérard Collomb and Félix Tiouka, Na’na Kali’na - Une histoire des Kali’na en Guyane ; Ibis Rouge Éditions, 2000 ; ISBN 2-84450-068-4, henceforth referred to as Na'na.
  9. ^ (in French) Stéphane Vacher, Sylvie Jérémie, Jérôme Briand ; Amérindiens du Sinnamary (Guyane), Archéologie en forêt équatoriale ; Documents d’Archéologie française, Éditions de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, Paris, 1998.
  10. ^ Na'na, p. 35.
  11. ^ Na’na, p. 45.
  12. ^ Na’na, p. 41.
  13. ^ Collomb, Gérard. (2000). Na'na Kali'na : une histoire des Kali'na en Guyane. Ibis rouge. ISBN 2844500684. OCLC 937751323.
  14. ^ Barrere, Pierre (1743). Nouvelle relation de la France equinoxiale, contenant la description des cotes de la Guiane. Piget etc. OCLC 880789716.
  15. ^ Boomert, Arie (1987). Gifts of the Amazons: "green stones", pendants and beads as items of ceremonial exchange in Amazonia and the Caribbean. Caracas: Antropologica.
  16. ^ Na’na, p. 31.
  17. ^ There is also a river version of these spirits, Tunakiłi, which appeared in the form of a young woman who overturned canoes and drowned people.
  18. ^ (in French) Oral history of the Kali’na, Na’na, p. 32.
  19. ^ a b (in French) Gérard Collomb, Félix Tiouka et M.P. Jean-Louis, Pau:wa Itiosan:bola : Des Galibi à Paris en 1892, décembre 1991.
  20. ^ (in French) Il y eut aussi des Kali’na et des Arawak du centre du Suriname dans l’Exposition universelle d’Amsterdam en 1883, ainsi que des Noirs Marrons Saramaca et des Créoles.
  21. ^ (in French) L. Manouvrier, Sur les Galibis du Jardin d’acclimatation, Bulletin de la Société d’Anthropologie de Paris, 1882, p. 602-640. Cité dans Pau:wa.
  22. ^ (in French) J. Noutous, Les Galibis du Jardin d’Acclimatation, La vie moderne, quotidien, Paris, 12 août 1882. Cité dans Pau:wa.
  23. ^ (in French) Faisant partie de la Collection de la Société de Géographie de Paris, elles peuvent être consultées à la Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département Cartes et Plans.
  24. ^ (in Portuguese) Galibi do Oiapoque
  25. ^ "Dorpen en Dorpsbesturen". Vereniging van Inheemse Dorpen en Dorpsbesturen (in Dutch). Retrieved 29 March 2021.
  26. ^ Scholtens, Ben (1994). Bosneger en overheid in Suriname. Radboud University Nijmegen (Thesis) (in Dutch). Paramaribo: Afdeling Cultuurstudies/Minov. pp. 19–22. ISBN 9991410155.
  27. ^ Dagblad De West, Ramses Kajoeramari niet meer op lijst ndp, 19 maart 2015
  28. ^ Waterkant, 9 augustus wordt nationale dag Inheemsen Suriname, 27 juli 2006
  29. ^ Edwards, W.; Gibson, K. (1979). "An Ethnohistory of Amerindians in Guyana". Ethnohistory. 26 (2): 168. doi:10.2307/481091. ISSN 0014-1801. JSTOR 481091.
  30. ^ "Indigenous Nations". Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs. Retrieved 18 August 2020.
  31. ^ Forte, Janette (1990). Adams, Kathleen (ed.). "The Case of "The Barama River Caribs of Guyana Restudied"". Social and Economic Studies. 39 (1): 203–217. ISSN 0037-7651. JSTOR 27864928.
  32. ^ a b Collomb, Gérard (2007). "Rituel, performance, politique : un deuil kali'na". Ethnologie française. 37: 89–94. doi:10.3917/ethn.070.0089.
  33. ^ Mounier, Nichole (September 5, 1997). "Une aventure éditoriale en Guyane française : créer, publier, diffuser des livres pour enfants. 1988-1997". archive.ifla.org. Retrieved 2021-03-17.


Further reading[edit]

  • Magaña, Edmundo et Jara, Fabiola. "The Carib sky". In: Journal de la Société des Américanistes. Tome 68, 1982. pp. 105-132. [DOI: https://doi.org/10.3406/jsa.1982.2212] www.persee.fr/doc/jsa_0037-9174_1982_num_68_1_2212