The Caribs

History Study Notes

The Arawaks

      Those people were of middle height, plump in build, and had straight black hair which they usually wore long, and decorated with parrot feathers. Their foreheads were flat and sloping, for like the Maya, mothers bound their babies' heads between two boards in order to create this shape, which they found beautiful.

        They reached the Greater Antilles, and made their largest settlements on the islands of Cuba, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica. There, they lived an untroubled life, fearing nothing but drought and hurricane.

        The Arawaks lived in small scattered villages, sometimes near the sea, sometimes on a hill a few miles from the sea. Here they were ruled by their cacique, or chief, who was their law-maker, their judge, and their chief priest. The cacique inherited his position and was greatly respected by his tribe, whom he ruled with gentleness, courtesy, and firmness, for all villagers had to obey his commands. If he left no heir, the eldest son of his eldest sister would become cacique.

        The Arawaks had few laws, however. They owned most things in common except personal possessions like stone tools, clay pots and canoes. The greatest crime among them was theft, for which the penalty was death by impalement (being pierced with a sharpened stick and left to die). 

The cacique's main duties were to organize the work of the village. This was done on a cooperative basis, with everyone sharing in the work to provide the tribe's needs. The cacique decided when the fields should be planted, and when new ones should be cleared. The mitaymos, or nobles, supervised the work, while the commoners cleared the bush, or cut down the trees for the all-important canoes. The cacique also decided whether or not to attack a neighbouring tribe, for the Arawaks were not always peaceful. Above all, he led his people in the many festivals and religious ceremonies.


Their clothing...