Where the past intersects the present
Map courtesy of
The Indigenous Peoples of Trinidad and Tobago
by Sidney Mejia

The Caribbean islands of Trinidad and Tobago have been inhabited for
7,000 years. The earliest inhabitants were believed to have travelled
down the Orinoco River in Venezuela to Trinidad and Tobago. Two
groups, the Arawaks and the Caribs or Kalinago arrived sometime
between 1200-1300 AD. (1)

According to UNHCR (The United Nations Refugee Agency), “Trinidad is
considered to be the earliest-settled part of the Caribbean. The first
inhabitants of both Trinidad and Tobago were pre-agricultural indigenous
groups from the Orinoco Delta of South America. Until the 15th and 16th
century Trinidad was home to a number of Arawak (Taino) and Carib
(Kalinago). (2) Other related groups include the Nepoya/Nepuyo,
Suppoya, Galibi, Yaio/Yao, Chaima, Warao, Kalipuna, Carinepogoto,
Garini, and Aruaca.

According to Kim Johnson “there are people living in Guyana today
called Arawaks. These same people, however, if you enquire, call
themselves 'Lokono'. (That is a word which, in their language, means
"the people." Many, perhaps most, of these tribes call themselves "the
people" in the words of their language. (3) Wikipedia defines the “Arawak
people (from aru, the Lucayan word for cassava flour) are some of the
indigenous peoples of the West Indies. The group belongs to the
Arawakan language family… The Arawak people include the Taíno, who
occupied the Greater Antilles and the Bahamas (Lucayans); the Nepoya
and Suppoya of Trinidad, and the Igneri, who were supposed to have
preceded the Caribs in the Lesser Antilles…” (4)

The Caribs are a people often referred to by the English as “'Caribbees'
'Charibs' or 'Caribs', the French used 'Caraibes' and, for those on the
mainland, 'Galibis'. Fr. Raymond Breton, who lived amongst the Indians
in Dominica from 1641 to 1655, said, however, that the men called
themselves 'Callinago' and the women called themselves 'Callipunam'.
Today, among anthropologists, the favoured name is 'Kalina' but those
still living in St. Vincent call themselves 'Garifuna'.” (3)

Not much is known about the other groups (indigenous people) of
Trinidad and Tobago. K. Marie Josephs article entitled, "Indigenous
Languages of the Caribbean," states that  the Nepoya/Nepuyo, Suppoya,
and Yaio/Yao languages have been classified by linguist Douglas
MacRae Taylor as "ghost" languages because virtually no trace was left
of them.” (5) I urge readers to visit Ms. Josephs’ website at www. for a look at her compilation of words from the
languages listed above. Native speakers of these languages should
assist her in her valiant effort to record and preserve these languages.

According to Ms. Josephs, “Galibi is a Cariban language spoken in
Venezuela, Brazil, French Guiana, Guyana, and Suriname…The Galibi
people also inhabited the islands of Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago pre-
European invasion and the Galibi language was the dominant language
of Trinidadian Amerindians. The Galibi people served as a major link in
trading between the Kalinago people and the various Cariban-speaking
groups on the South American mainland.

The last name is one of the reasons Galibi is known as "true Carib"
because the word Caribe (and eventually Carib) is a corruption of the
word Galibi.” (5)
The Yaio or Yao is yet another Cariban “ghost language” once spoken in
Trinidad and Venezuela.  K. Marie Josephs has listed 52 words
“recorded by Dutch geographer Joannes de Laet in 1640. (5)

Next: The Chaima, Warao, Kalipuna, Carinepogoto, Garini, and Aruaca.
1) (2011), Carib People, December 13, 2011,
2) World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Trinidad and Tobago : Overview, December 13, 2011,  http://www.unhcr.
3) Lokono, story of the Caribs and the Arawaks, The December 20, 2011,
4) (2011), The Arawaks, December 26, 2011,
5) Galibi (True Carib), December 26, 2011,
DUMUREI.COM is the online resource for the preservation of the cultural heritage of the Garifuna/Kalipuna/Carib people and others residing in our shared
communities of St. Vincent, Dominica, Guyana, Trinidad, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Belize, the United States, Canada and England.

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Word-of-the-day September 2012
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