C O U N T R Y F O C U S : commonwealth of dominica
The 'Water Village' of the Carib Indians and All that Creole Jazz - Cultural Pleasures of Dominica
by Deb Andrews
Culture is one of those umbrella words that seems to be all things to all men. Context will change the meaning dramatically so that one’s ‘cultural background’ could mean raised in a wooden hut on an Indian Reserve, whilst an ‘evening of sophisticated culture’ can suggest a night of the best Paris Jazz.
Culture dictates the particular colours painted on the local fishing boat which rolls gently at its mooring in the Caribbean bay on the west coast of Dominica, and equally how the dasheen or cassava is prepared for any Dominican or Carib table. The effect of culture is as elusive as the weather on the peak of Morne Trois Piton, and as heartbreakingly perfect as a moment of an a capella song by Michele Henderson, a internationally acclaimed singer from here in Dominica..
The World Creole Music Festival happens every November in Dominica. Its always a huge success with a star studded programme, and for a few days the country becomes the noisy centre of the junior universe. In recognition of more senior sophisticated tastes, this year a couple of new events with a touch of class were added: The Cocktail launching party was kicked off with a superb presentation by Dr. Lennox Honychurch on “Art in Dominica in the Jazz Ages”, and the second new event was an evening of “Creole and All That Jazz!”
It was not a huge crowd at the Green Flash open air bar, in Loubiere at the waters edge that night. “Creole and All That Jazz’ attracted a faithful, dedicated crowd, and they were so NOT disappointed! Early on, we watched a few groups who were entertaining, but not extraordinary.
Then it notched up a bit and the atmosphere started to intensify.
It became one of those evenings, where the music reaches a peak where it just cannot get any better, and then it does get better, and then keeps on getting better!
And sometimes you don’t even breathe in case you miss something.
The mesmerised crowd one by one, forgot to sip at their Kabuli beers and stood up, moving closer and closer to the place where glorious impromptu, foot-tapping jazz was pouring from the fingers and throats of the musicians. Ronald Tulle was on keyboards with Ralph Thamar singing, both from Martinique. Michele Henderson, a Dominican star with a number of CD releases to her name, was the other maker of magic. She and the drummer were the two home-grown members of the group that night.
Afterwards she told us that she had no time to practice with either Ronald or Ralph, and so it was a truly original jazz jam - an evening of cultural perfection! When Ronald slid into the opening notes of Black Magic Woman, a shiver shot through the crowd, and Michele took it and soared with it. Using her voice like percussion she thrilled out a wonderful Cleo Laine display of clear discordant notes that fell into place atop the supporting melody in perfect harmony.
Her final duet with the seasoned Ralph Tamar brought the house down, and they were not - quite rightly - allowed to leave until they came back for two more songs.
Someone said, “I live in France; I could have been in Paris and not heard better music!”
And then sadly, the night was over and we went home.
But next year, we will be back in greater numbers for the second Creole and all that Jazz.
Save the airfare to Paris and come down to Dominica for a cultural evening with friends, under a clear, unpolluted tropical sky!!
For more information contact Maxine Alleyne at email@example.com
Or call. +1 (767) 449-0300 / 235-3402. Or visit www.oecsculture.com.
The Indigenous Peoples of the Eastern Caribbean are the Carib Indians. They live in the Carib Territory, half way down the island of Dominica on the Atlantic coast. They survive as a people on the edge of oblivion. The waters of the stronger, overwhelming cultures that surround them constantly batter at the walls of their unity and their precious heritage.
UNESCO has shortlisted the area as a possible World Heritage Site, and the Carib Territory continues to be a small, lonely beacon for indigenous peoples throughout the Americas. A cultural island in the centre of a region which has been subject to enormous changes - both in the long term and in the last twenty years.
A unique 'living history' experience, called Touna Village, is just on the verge of opening and is a wonderful example of a small group of people, bound together by an ancient cultural inheritance, coming together with a common goal.
The Caribs of Touna Village ('Touna' means 'water' in Carib) who continue the lifestyle that their great grandparents lived, are opening their homes, gardens, farms and lifestyles to visitors. Live demonstrations of their arts and crafts, husbandry and hunting prowess make the Touna Village Caribs a functional living culture. These rare and ancient skills will continue to put food on the table and educate their children.
We meet Steve, a Touna Village resident, who is one of the few remaining bamboo cane weavers of the Carib Indians in the Eastern Caribbean.
He hopes to start a masterclass to train young people to keep this old craft alive, as he is well aware that this tribal knowledge of his passed down through the ages, dies with him.
We watch his nimble fingers move delicately and strongly across the cane, curving it round, tamping it down.
His old dog lies content in the sun-baked mud yard outside Steve’s quiet little home, the sound of the river confirms the peace which his forefathers enjoyed before him.
The first full-size, authentic ‘long house’ in the Eastern Caribbean for centuries has been reconstructed using a blueprint passed down by word of mouth from father to son. As we walk down the slope in the hot sun following our host Irvince Auguiste, he leads us into the 'Karbet', Carib for 'meeting place'. The tall ones amongst us stoop to get under the roof which is supported on upright wooden poles, and we stand amazed in the cool cathedral of a Carib Indian meeting house.
Gazing up, I am amazed at the complicated yet beautiful structure of wooden beams that hold up the thick, thatched roofing material. It took twenty women from the village, working in harmony, to lash together each of the thousands of grass sections which constitute the enormous roof.
I can't believe how cool the Karbet is, and am told that the thatch acts as a natural air-conditioner. The Karbet is nearly complete and is just waiting to be equipped with long tables and benches, where tour groups will be brought for their initial welcome, to hear the Carib children sing Carib songs, and for a midday meal where visitors will sample real Carib food.
An EU grant is funding nearby washrooms and facilities and these will be complete for the official opening on the 1st of January 2007.
As we walk along well trod paths lined with lush tropical gardens, meeting with villagers who with common cause welcome you into their homes and lives, albeit fleetingly, I wondered at the fragility of it all.
|It’s an extraordinary project, which brings a whole community together - remembering, researching, and documenting all that their forefathers taught them, and presenting it in a palatable format for the world to share and to remember.|
Irvince is a true Ambassador for his nation. If anyone can protect the Carib way of life, whilst offering parts of it in little, beautifully presented packages to those who wish to get a glimpse of it, he can. His reward is to see his tribal agrarian culture kept alive with purpose, his children working beside him to sustain it and give it a future.
But it’s a fine line he treads and he needs all the support he can get.
For more information about the Touna Village Project and Tours contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Or call Irvince Auguiste at +1 (767) 316 7655.