The University of Leiden should be congratulated for tackling the contentious issue of Island Carib ethnicity. This people has long been a subject of academic disagreement and misrepresentation in Caribbean popular history. In his introduction, Neil Whitehead does not give a synthesis but highlights the main research problems. He warns against the ideological content of “first” sources, the lack of an interdisciplinary approach, the inadequate knowledge of Amazonian ethnography, and the negligible Amerindian input.
Four papers in the volume reconstruct cultural history. Jalil Sued Badillo proposes real Island Carib-Taino relationships. He exposes the colonial ideology underlying the terms caribe (enslavable enemy) and guatiao (ally) through economics. Close kin relationships are based on protohistorical archaeology and ethnography. Badillo’s argument, however, is weakened by contact data on vassalage and by our knowledge of the Amazonian practice of protection in exchange for women.
Berend J. Hoff reconstructs Island Carib language development. His command of linguistics is impressive. He clearly defines the language and explains mainland occurrences of the self-name Karipuna. A factual basis in Kariña and Trio oral tradition leads him to base his reconstruction on the Island Carib story of Kariña warfare and marriage. Disappointingly, however, he excludes other interethnic strategies, particularly marriage alliance and trade partnership, which imply inmarriage of Kariña women to senior males.
Arie Boomert identifies Island Carib archaeological ethnicity and tests the oral tradition. Multiple attributes relate seventeenth-century Island Carib vessels to the unexcavated Windward Island Cayo complex, appearing circa 1250 A.d. These attributes also place Island Carib, Cayo, and present-day Kariña in the Koriabo tradition of Guyana, appearing circa 900 A.D. The Cayo evidence supports Kariña migration to the Windwards, but on a small scale and following a long period of contact. It does not suggest war. The significance of Koriabo to Kariña ethnicity is not discussed.
Whitehead selects data from history, ethnography, linguistics, oral tradition, and archaeology to challenge previous thinking, hypothesizing an Island Carib-Kariña alliance after 1600 A.D., when the colonial Kariña developed power. The oral traditions of Kariña conquest and immigration are viewed as ruling lineage inventions. Cultural continuity is suggested between Island Carib and Taino or Lokono, and cultural difference from Karina. This is a stimulating paper, despite its omission of conflicting data, lack of historical sorting, and disregard of implications such as the linguistics of a post-1600 Kariña alliance. But Whitehead’s Windward Island archaeology misrepresents the principal researchers and is actively misleading.
Three papers deal with Amerindian ethnicity. Peter Hulme illustrates the problem of one society describing the ethnicity of another: late nineteenth-century accounts of the Dominica Carib mainly describe the culture of educated Euro-America. The major Amerindian needs, economic viability and cultural respect, are revealed only in two short letters from illiterate Carib leaders. Readers will appreciate the footnotes placing each author in ethnocultural context.
Jay B. Haviser’s study shows changing ethnicity in present-day, multiethnic Bonaire. The dominant perceived identity is Amerindian. Responses from three generations suggest a shift from factual, personal Amerindian descent to romantic, collective belief. Haviser’s interpretations leave room for debate and might benefit from thoughtful Amerindian participation. Charles Gullick observes how Carib descent is communicated in group and externally in multiethnic St. Vincent, but he hardly touches the key Carib concerns of economic viability and cultural recognition.
In terms of clarifying Island Carib ethnicity, this book achieves mixed results. Language is defined, archaeology is identified, although excavation of a Cayo site is needed for a fuller picture. The ideological content of the oral history is suggested by Cayo archaeology, but consensus is lacking. The book includes no paper on Amazonian interethnic strategies, whether recent, colonial, or contact. This knowledge is urgently needed to guide archaeological, linguistic, and ethnohistorical interpretation. Ethnic plurality is not shown as claimed; on the contrary, selected data are advanced to suggest cultural similarity. Despite the stress on ethnicity, the book is not addressed to Caribbean peoples of Amerindian descent.
In terms of defining Island Carib research strategy, however, this book makes a much-needed and major contribution. First, colonial and Indian ideological content must and can be identified. Second, the reconstruction of regional cultural histories in the protohistoric-to-colonial periods needs multidisciplinary competence in linguistics, archaeology, history, and Amazonian ethnography—or interdisciplinary collaboration. Third, Island Carib descendants must participate in defining their own ethnicity.