Before the arrival of Columbus and other Europeans, the Caribs—or Kalinago, as they call themselves and prefer to be called—dominated many of the Caribbean islands. A nomadic, fishing and farming people from South America, the Kalinago also knew how to build a solid canoe, and they spread north for centuries looking for good fertile soil to grow their crops as well as rivers and bays for fish and shellfish. In Dominica, they fought long and hard against European settlers, and the rugged mountains of Dominica became the site of their last stand in this region. Today, some of the last remaining Kalinago in the Caribbean (about 3,500) live in a semi-autonomous territory on the east coast of the island, 15 mi/24 km southeast of Portsmouth.
A visit to the Carib Territory can be one of the cultural highlights of a trip to the island, or it can be a letdown to visitors who may be led to believe that they're going to see "real Indians" living as they did in Columbus' time. In reality, the Kalinago are very much part of the modern world and are, in some ways, indistinguishable from other villages on the island. You'll find examples of ancient Kalinago dwellings and a large carbet (meetinghouse), but the people there live in houses similar to the ones you see elsewhere in Dominica. Still, the Territory is a good place to support local craftspeople while getting good buys on Kalinago crafts. The baskets they weave using larouma reeds are unique to Dominica and you will find nothing like them elsewhere in the Caribbean.
In Crayfish River, near the main village of Salybia, visit the Kalinago Barana Aute (Kalinago village by the sea) which is a historic representation of how the Kalinago would have lived when Columbus and the Europeans arrived. A walk around Kalinago Touna Aute (Kalinago village by the river) near the village of Concord is a great way to see how Kalinago combine their cultural heritage and skills to live in the modern world. A walk or a drive in a four-wheeler, along Horseback Ridge from Salybia to Bataca, offers outstanding views of the Territory, the villages, its farmlands and the rugged volcanic coastline. L'Escalier Tete Chien (snake's staircase) is a volcanic formation on the coast near the village of Sineku that, according to Kalinago legend, was created when a huge boa constrictor emerged from the ocean and crawled up the land to a secret cave in the mountains. There's a visitor center there, and you can also buy local crafts.
Look out for Israel Joseph and his wife, Victoria, on the main road near Mahaut River. Israel is a great exponent of tree fern carving, and his masks and plant pot holders make fabulous and unique souvenirs. Victoria is a traditional basket weaver. Their little shop is a real treasure trove.
The drive to the reservation also makes a great introduction to the island's rugged windward side. Within the reserve, the road runs along a "horseback ridge," offering sweeping views down to valleys on either side.
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