The commitment, through acculturation, to be part and parcel of religious processes is evident in the Kalinago community. In this regard, the population is one which is predominantly Christian. There is very little visible evidence of any form of traditional Kalinago religious practices.

The people understand a religion be an organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to an order of existence. The people appreciate that many religions are realized to have narratives, symbols, and sacred histories that aim to explain the meaning of life, the origin of life, or the Universe.

The Kalinago have joined many other people worldwide who appreciate that they may derive morality, ethics, religious laws, or a preferred lifestyle from their beliefs about the cosmos and human nature.


Before the intrusion of colonialism, the Kalinago people share the religious experiences of their many brothers and sisters all around the world. It is important to note that these indigenous religions in themselves rarely have written sacred texts.

More importantly, the indigenous beliefs focus on dances, costumes, masks, ritual traditions, and sacred artifacts (material objects). These practices are part of a people’s cultural identity and help them forge a sense of connection with their world.

Indigenous religions transmit wisdom, cultural values, and history, not through formal education but through myths, storytelling, drama, and art.

Indigenous people tend not to rely on silent meditation or individualized experiences but on ritual activities that bind people to the community. Many of these rituals mark important occasions, such as planting or gathering a harvest.

Nonetheless, in many indigenous religious traditions, people seek wisdom of their own through vision quests and similar private rituals.

Earlier scholars, such as Hartley B. Alexander (1920), emphasized differences between Island Taino (Arawak) and Island Carib religions. This tradition continued in the work of scholars such as Fred Olsen (1974) and Charles A. Hoffman (1980), for example, who postulated strong Maya influence on the religious systems of the Greater Antilles. Later, scholars paid greater attention to the similarities in Arawak and Carib belief systems—for example, the many parallels in Arawak and Carib shamanism—than to their differences.

Both the Island Arawak and the Island Carib originally migrated from the South American mainland (Rouse, 1964). The Island Arawak settled in the Greater Antilles at about the beginning of the Common Era and were followed several hundred years later by the Carib, who claimed to have begun their migrations into the Lesser Antilles only a few generations before the arrival of Columbus.

The Island Carib asserted that they conquered the Arawak of the Lesser Antilles, killing the men and marrying the women. Douglas M. Taylor (1951) suggests that the women’s language prevailed, because the language spoken by the descendants of the Island Carib belongs to the Arawakan family of languages. Of course, another possible explanation is that all the peoples of the Lesser Antilles were of Arawak origin.

It should not be assumed that the Island Arawak of the Greater Antilles and the Arawak of the South American mainland are members of the same ethnic group. The Island Arawak and Arawak proper did not speak the same language. Irving Rouse points out that their two languages were “no more alike than, say, French and English” (Rouse, 1974).

Moreover, inhabitants of the Greater Antilles thought of themselves not as “Arawak” but as members of local chiefdoms, each of which had its own name. Since each chiefdom was totally independent of all others, the group we know as the Island Arawak had no need for an overall tribal name.

In 1920, Hartley Alexander suggested that the sea must have been a tremendous barrier to cultural transmission in the Caribbean. Contemporary archaeologists, however, recognize that water did not constitute a barrier for these peoples.

Therefore, archaeologists no longer study individual islands in isolation. This has many implications for the study of aboriginal Caribbean religions as it becomes increasingly apparent that religious developments on one island were likely to have affected religious developments elsewhere in the region. Various island groups seem to have been in constant contact with one another.

Archaeologists have since established a firmer and more comprehensive chronology for the Caribbean region (Rouse and Allaire, 1978). They also have discovered much greater variation in religious artifacts than was previously thought to exist, which in turn hints at a greater variation within the religious traditions of the Island Arawak and the Island Carib than was previously supposed. Arawak and Carib traditions, for example, may have differed from settlement to settlement on the same island.


Both the Island Arawak and the Island Carib possessed a notion of a high god, though, as the chroniclers’ reports make clear, their high god differed conceptually from the God of Christianity. We know, too, that aboriginal high gods were thought to exert very little direct influence on the workings of the universe.

Many of the early chroniclers, including Fray Ramón Pané, Gonzalo F. de Oviedo, and Raymond Breton, refer to Arawak and Carib high gods as kinds of deus otiosus; that is, they are inactive gods far removed from human affairs and concerns.

Neither the Island Arawak nor the Island Carib conceived of their high god as creator of the universe, and it is unclear how powerful the high god was thought to be.

Was it that their high god was able to interfere directly in world affairs but chose not to do so, or was he thought to be totally ineffectual? Chroniclers differ somewhat on this. Pané suggests that the high god was a powerful deity who chooses to be inactive.

Other chroniclers stress the inactivity of the high god and the lack of attention accorded him. The bulk of the evidence, including what we know of other American Indian religions (Hultkrantz, 1979), supports the latter interpretation.

Contemporary Practices

The Roman Catholic Church established itself within the Kalinago community as the first western religion. This condition was facilitated by the missionary enterprise of the French monarchy through the colonial enterprise.

The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with more than 1.25 billion members worldwide. This religion is one of the oldest religious institutions in the world; it has played a prominent role in the history of Western civilization.

Headed by the Bishop of Rome, known as the Pope, its doctrines are summarized in the Nicene Creed. The Catholic Church is notable within Western Christianity for its celebration of the seven sacraments.

Catholic Church

Subsequent protestant denominations followed in the latter part of the 1970’s.

Some of the people of the Kalinago community understand Protestantism as a form of Christian faith and practice which originated with the Protestant Reformation. This was a movement against what its followers considered to be errors in the Roman Catholic Church.

The protestant denominations include Baptiste, Pentecostal, Seven Days and Seventh Day Adventists.