Architecture of the Kalinago by Lennox Honychurch

All materials used by the Carib/Kalinago people came from the land around them. Their houses were of several types.

Ajoupa: The basic ajoupa, which was a shed-like or “lean-to” structure made for sheltering a cooking or cassava making area of a shelter easily put up in the forest as a camp for hunting and canoe construction. This was made of about four stout posts anchored in the ground and held up by two other posts and a cross-beam. Thin laths of wood were placed across this frame which then was covered with balizier leaves or various types of forest palm leaves. The buildings were tied together with maho bark rope.

Maho: The Caribs grouped plants according to their uses and any plant with a bark capable of making rope was described as a “maho”. The French took the word and wrote it in their own way: “mahaut”. Since there were no nails or wire or bolts, everything was tied together with maho. House posts, roofing thatch, hammocks, head straps for carrying load, for attaching things to canoes, anchor ropes, net ropes and for hauling, all depended on maho. As Father Breton writes in his Carib Dictionary, “In short, I do not think that they could exist without maho”. In Western scientific botany the Mahaut is found in divers plant families: Cordia (Boraginaceae), Pavonia and Hibiscus (Malvaceae), Triumfetat (Tiliaceae) and Sterculia (Sterculiaceae).

Karbay: Also written in French as “Carbet”. A term used by the French to describe the main meeting house and settlements of the Caribs. The Caribs themselves called this house “Taboui”, but the French settlers had picked up the name “Karbay” when they had lived among the Tupi-guarani tribe of Amerindians in Brazil. The French had also brought many Tupi-guarani people from Brazil to work for them in Martinique, Dominica and Guadeloupe. These people used their own language to describe familiar things that they saw in Dominica. Several words that today are passed off as Carib have their origins in the Tupi-guarani language. This word “Karbay” is one of them. It was used so often in the new French/Carib/Tupi-guarani/Creole language that was emerging, that succeeding generations of Caribs abandoned their own word “Taboui” and adopted “Karbay”. It has been used for so long by the Caribs, that today it is considered by them to be a Carib word.

The Karbay was a large building, in most cases about 60 feet long and thirty feet wide. It was made of tall round wood posts and was of an oval shape with a tall steep roof. The posts which supported the roof were also used to tie hammocks for sleeping. The roof was thatched with palm leaves or the leaves of “roseaux” reeds.

Roseaux: (Arundo saccharoides) Wild Cane in English. This tall reed grows throughout tropical America. It is found on Dominica mainly along stream banks and its French name was given to the capital of the island. Among the Carib/Kalinago people the name was bouleua, “arrow, pierce” and mabulu. It was used in numerous ways. The hard main stem was used as wattle work for the sides of houses and for lathes or thatching rods for the roof. The fan-shaped leaves were used as thatch.

The young shoots of unopened leaves were used for shampoo. The light, straight, mature upper stems on which the flowers grew were used for the shafts of arrows. The young main stem was stripped and used in certain parts of basket making. The midrib of the leaf is also peeled, bleached and sun-dried to be plaited and sown for the making of hats. Recently, some people have returned to using the main stem of the roseaux reeds as decorative work in hotels, bars and guesthouses. Much could still be made of this product today. The Karbay was divided into different zones for family hammocks, visitor hammocks and a central place for gatherings and for eating and feasts
To learn more about Kalinago Shelters, view this PDF or click on the image at left.


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