In all likelihood, Dominica’s Kalinago represent the last of the “Island Caribs”, a term coined by Europeans for a succession of pre-Columbian tribal groups who migrated from South America and occupied the Antilles. Today, numbering around 3,000, the Kalinago live in a semi-autonomous territory on Dominica’s windward coast. They are known not only for surviving everything European aggressors could throw at them, but also for their traditional canoe-building and basketry skills, for their strong ties with nature, and also for their enduring myths.
The Snake King of the Kalinago recounts one of their most famous legends and is told in their own words by Grade 6 students of Atkinson School, on the northern fringe of Dominica’s Carib Territory.
Bakwa, a giant snake, emerges from the ocean and climbs the volcanic cliffs, creating a “staircase”, known today as L’Escalier Tête Chien (staircase of the dog’s-head snake). Making its home in a mountain cave, Bakwa becomes the guardian of the Kalinago, enriching their harvests and helping them escape the swords, muskets and cannons of European invaders.
Access to storybooks in this region tends to be limited to those written primarily for a UK or US audience and whose content is far removed from the lives and experiences of youngsters here in the Caribbean. This publication helps to break that trend. Beautifully illustrated with colourful paintings, The Snake King of the Kalinago is an original and creative collaboration that will appeal to children, parents and teachers alike.
The Snake King of the Kalinago Children of Atkinson School, Dominica
(Papillote Press, ISBN: 978-0-9532224-6-9, 30pp)