Anthropological Outlook

From a cultural anthropological view, there were forms of Kalinago social structures which included governance with all the trappings of leadership and succession and which were also inclusive of cultural and traditional beliefs, modes of education and the development of basic infrastructure. In this regard, this reaffirms that Kalinago existence was part of the long standing indigenous population of the archipelago for an extensive period of time. And so, in light of an emerging consciousness as to the importance of the Kalinago right to self- determination and development, an understanding of the society in existence before the invasions is important. Cultural anthropology is essential as a worthy course in understanding Kalinago existence because as a branch of anthropology it focuses heavily on the study of cultural variation among different peoples. A variety of methods are part of anthropological methodology, including participant observation or fieldwork, interviews, and surveys.

The general logical evolutionary structure of the Kalinago would define them as primarily operating under the classification of band societies, which would eventually evolve into tribal societies, and toward the end resulting in chiefdoms. Garry Ferraro offers this social development as a critical and logical movement of a people and this sort of explanation for the organizational structure is applicable, for in general understanding the first wave of Kalinago promoted a loose form of organization indicative of a band based on a manageable number. It is further presented by Conrad Phillip Kottak that a band society is the simplest form of human society, for it generally consisted of a small kin group, no larger than an extended family or clan and so one definition sees a band as consisting of no more than one hundred (100) individuals. The power structure is one that is generally egalitarian and has informal leadership. To such an end, Andrew Whiten and David Erdal suggests that the older members of the band are generally looked to for guidance and advice, and decisions are often made on a what is understood to be based on consensus.

Another important factor expressing the categorization of the early Kalinago as a band is the condition where there are no written laws and none of the specialized coercive roles typically identified in what is considered to be more complex societies. Furthermore, based on the absence of a written language, due to its practical irrelevance to a nomadic people, bands’ customs are almost always transmitted orally. It is also recognized that like bands, the Kalinago operated under a circumstance where formal social institutions were few or non-existent. In the realm of spirituality and the supernatural, religion is generally based on family tradition, individual experience, or counsel from a shaman. As new comers to the Caribbean Archipelago, the Kalinago shared similarities with all known band societies who hunt and gather, to obtain their subsistence.

As the Kalinago expanded their reign throughout the Lesser Antilles, a natural impulse to settle leads the grouping into organizing into a tribal society.  Like tribal societies around the world the Kalinago people united their ties based on descent from a common ancestor, along with a bond identified through customs and traditions, which at the end resulted in adherence to the same leadership. As the communities evolved such an organization was cemented because tribes are more permanent than bands. And so, like all other developing social entities, although many tribes are sub-divided into bands, a band can cease to exist if only a small group split off or die.

Historically, the material condition of the Kalinago qualifies them as having such an organization as some tribes were formed from bands that came together from time to time for religious ceremonies, hunting, or warfare. With a growing population, the Kalinago social structure broadened naturally and so the former bands became clearly distinguished from tribes in that tribes are generally larger, consisting of many families. This tribal setting allowed for more social institutions and the allocation of political and spiritual leadership such as a chief, big man, or a body of elders. Although there were village chiefs and military leaders, there were no large states or multi-tiered aristocracy like the brothers and sisters of the central lands (Mesoamerica). The local self-government unit may have been the longhouse dwellings populated by men or women, typically run by one or more chieftains reporting to an island council.

In a general sense, the Kalinago transformation into a qualified chiefdom was never achieved due the colonial enterprise especially since a chiefdom is understood to be a form of hierarchical political organization in non-industrial societies usually based on kinship, and in which formal leadership is monopolized by the legitimate senior members of select families or ‘houses’. Mary W. Helms posits that these elites form a political-ideological aristocracy relative to the general group. Furthermore, it has been realized that this type of structure differs from tribes and bands in that they integrate a number of local communities in a more formal and permanent way and also involves communities that differ in rank and status. (Ferraro) That category of social configuration was forced on the Kalinago by the colonial powers as a means of population control which eventually lead to contempt especially as the position was given on the basis of an individual’s willingness to work with the colonial administrators.