Dominica’s Past: Exploring the Kalinago Territory

February 05, 2021

When the Kalinago Territory was set aside in 1903, it’s likely no one realized it would eventually become a portal to the past. Of all current 26 Caribbean countries, the only home the 3,000 members of the ancient tribe of the Kalinago have left is Dominica. Of course, they don’t call it that. They call it Waitukubuli, meaning “tall is her body.”

Though the Kalinago were buzzing across all of the Caribbean’s islands—and as far afield as Central America—around the time of Columbus, the centuries-long push of colonialism eventually relegated them to mountainous and volcanic Dominica. The northeastern part of the island, too steep and rugged for agriculture, too wild and windy for a port, was thought to be worthless; back in the 1900s, the Europeans didn’t think to appreciate the area’s flora and fauna...or the million-dollar ocean views.

Today, this is where you’ll find the 3,700-acre Kalinago Territory overlooking the Atlantic, communally owned but governed by a democratically elected chief. Eight villages—Sineku, Mahaut River, Gaulette River, Salybia, Crayfish River, Bataka, Atkinson, and part of Concord—technically make up the territory, though if you visit it’ll likely be to Salybia, home of the model village, or Baruna Aute. Once here, you’ll be greeted by a member of the Kalinago, and they’ll ask if you’d like a guided tour. Say yes, as signage is lacking around the exhibits and historical, wood-and-leaf ajoupas; what’s more, there’s no better way to understand this side of Dominica’s history than to talk to one of her children.

The tour is brief—it encompasses the model structures, a Caribbean-touring art exhibit, kitchen artifacts (including a sugarcane juicer!), and many, many views—but worth the trip. Afterward, you have the option of stopping at the “gift shop,” two modest rooms full of Kalinago crafts: baskets woven with larouma weed and various decorations made of calabash gourds. Much of the Kalinago support themselves this way; if you get one souvenir on your entire trip, it should be here. The artists themselves are hanging around, ready to answer questions—whatever you’re holding will be their handiwork.

Depending on time of year and availability, you could even arrange a homestay with one of the members of the community. Kalinago guides are also available for hikes along the Asulukati river—and its waterfall—and for treks up to the peak of Kabet.

Tips & Details

Ignore your GPS. Head toward the Baruna Aute, and follow the main road as it winds up the mountain. If a suggested turn makes you nervous, it’s probably wrong; don’t take it. If you get lost, just pop your head out of the vehicle and ask for directions; it’s commonplace.

The model village—and the gift shop—accept ECD and USD; tipping your guide is appropriate. Though the tour is under an hour, you may want to bring sunscreen