Skipnav
National Flag Of Suriname

Suriname Amerindians Tribes

We could not go on to the rainforest without mentioning the original inhabitants of this coastal area: the Amerindians. There are two tribes in the coastal region. The Arawaks and the Caribs. The Arawaks are the oldest inhabitants of Suriname, and invented agriculture there. Long before the Europeans came, the Caribs had arrived, and pushed the Arowaks from their best grounds.

The strength of the Caribs was their invention of the sailing ship. Their largest settlement, capital if you want, is on the mouth of river Marowijne. This place is called Galibi: the word that Europeans later corrupted to "Carib" (the settlement actually consists of two villages: Christiaankondre and Langamankondre).

These proud and taciturn people live in spatial houses, that stand, well separated, in a long row along the river. The Indians here are still roughly 75% self-supporting: producing their own food, cloths, tools, etc., although, of course the influence of western culture is strong: they are Catholics now, and their children go to school.

The main occupation is fishing (on the ocean). They decided to do a bit of over-production here: a co-operative business was formed, and they sell the surplus catch in town. This way the Galibians hope to stay in control of their own future, and not become a tourist attraction. For themselves, they like their fish smoked.

This goes down nicely with a 'beer' (sr: kasiri), which they make from the poisonous sap of the Cassava root. A perfect combination - if you have the stomach for it... These people invented the sail (and they roamed the Caribbean sea with it), but the wheel was unknown to them: they don't even use it for pot making.

Even so, they do make nice pots, as you can see here, using different kinds of clay. There are regular agricultural fields (Cassava is a major crop), and between the houses are several useful plants, like this Papaya tree. This tree, with its ornamental leaf-scars, shows that it is not only Monocots like Palms that have this habitus: longs stems with few branches and a whirl of large leaves in top.

I was honoured with an invitation to a marriage ceremony in Galibi. There was some heavy dancing going on. The whole village attended, and there were many guests. The picture shows a very stately row dance, to the rhythm of a large drum (85 Kb), whose sound could be heard for miles around.

The source of this information and other amerindians of suriname pre-history can be found at the web.archive.org.