Canoe Building

kalinago canoe

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Modern kalinago canoe

The canoe is a significant part of the material culture of the Kalinago people and important to the economy. It was the vessel that was initially used to commute from the Southern Continent and among the islands.

A large majority of boats used in the fishing industry of Dominica are Kalinago canoes crafted out of the rain forest Gommier trees. These vessels were made on the island long before the arrival of the European colonizers.

This is conceivably one of the biggest contributions to the development of Dominica because fishing in these boats provides a great source of protein for the nutrition of Dominicans. Additionally, the industry is a significant part of the national economy.

The Kalinago also contributed many techniques and tools of fishing to modern Dominicans. A type of net, the Cali, and the club used for killing large fish called the batu still bear their Carib names


The economic exploitation of fishing as an industry, by the historic seafaring Kalinago, has not been able to be undertaken within the borders of the Kalinago Territory and only existed for subsistence. This was based on the fact that such an enterprise would have had to include various activities concerned with catching, culturing, processing, preserving, storing, transporting, and the eventual marketing or selling fish or fish products.

These operations have not been present in the Kalinago community and are based on the primary fact that the community is bordered by the island’s east (windward) coast, where the rugged topography made access points to the Atlantic Ocean very difficult. Moreover, access to the land via the ocean was even more treacherous with the few landings accessible only in favourable weather.
The commercial utilization of fishing as a business by Kalinago is done out of the Marigot Fisheries Complex because the major landing in the Kalinago Territory are the precarious L’anse St. Marie in Salybia which had a more sheltered harbour, while there is the  smaller Aywasi, along with Bishleine in Gaulette River and Madjini in Sineku.

The lack of safe anchorage proved to be a major deterrent to the development of a viable fishing industry even though the Kalinago are renowned seafarers. Although a viable sea trade network existed previously within that sphere, it was primarily based on the dire need for survival and not done under pleasurable circumstances.  Without access to a sustainable industry, the Kalinago resorted to subsistence fishing using the line and angling techniques. Since the basic characteristics of fishing was an activity involving catching fish which are normally caught in the wild, the Kalinago also incorporated hand gathering techniques which made it possible to catch aquatic animals such as molluscs, cephalopods, crustaceans, and echinoderms. The People also utilized spear fishing methods which were practiced both along the seashore line and along river banks which were attracted by light especially during the night.

More importantly, the Kalinago fishermen were predominantly anglers with fishing usually done from a dugout canoe or from protruding rocks along the shoreline. Compared to fishing from the land, most of the people preferred fishing from a boat as it allowed more access to different fishing grounds and different species of fish. Boat angling as a method of fishing by means of an “angle” (hook) was utilized by the people who proceeded to use metal hooks rather than bone as in a previous time. The fishing line was any cord made, but predominantly nylon was utilized, and there was the important consideration of the lines length and weight. The hook was usually attached to the line, and was sometimes weighed down by a sinker of lead so it could be sunk in the water. This was the Kalinago archetypal “hook, line and sinker” arrangement, used in angling by their ancestors who always baited with fresh water fish or crabs.

The Kalinago also utilized what is considered “hand casting” along the shoreline; which was generally the act of throwing the fishing line out over the water. The fishermen are seen to propel the line forward using a vertical a clockwise spinning motion before release. This was especially an important technique because huge waves and rocks were expected to be avoided along the harsh waterfront. Many of the sheltered coves and inlets where such fishing was done are still utilized in the present where the tradition is carried out by a few Kalinago.

All the evidence suggest that although the economic exploitation of fishing as an industry was not undertaken within the Kalinago community, the activity remained a significant part of the subsistent economy.