What was the Kalinago language

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“Rawk! Don’t eat me! No! Don’t eat me! " the parrot gives off on the screen and skilfully lands on William Turner's shoulders, who has just arrived on the Isla de Pelegostos in search of Captain Jack Sparrow. Turner still has no idea how his feathered friend from Sparrow's pirate crew came up with these words. It is very likely that the audience of Pirates of the Caribbean 2 has not yet fully grasped the previous allusions: the unwillingness of the sailors to approach the island; the ambiguity in the words of the shrimp fisherman who trades in spices for the preparation of “delicious long pork” on the island; and finally the parrot's new vocabulary.

But at the latest when you see the throne adorned with numerous skulls on which an unusually panicked Captain Sparrow is forced to direct the macabre painted island people his own preparation, it slowly dawns: The island's inhabitants are not just murderous savages, but practicing cannibals ! “Delicious long pork” is an unusual, but in this context quite understandable euphemism. And even the tribe name Pelegostos sounds clearly to the Lusophones among us, as if it were about people who 'like skin'. The beautiful William, on the other hand, has meanwhile been made docile by the natives with a poison blowpipe and dangling from a carrying pole, is a proven armorer and not a Romanist with a sense for rhetorical means. Fogged by the toxic effects of the arrowhead, it takes a little longer than the Hollywood audience to realize what the Pelegostos are up to.

The film scenes described here were shot in 2005 on the Antilles island of Dominica. Its volcanic-mountainous topography, overgrown by lush rainforest, and its uncomfortable rocky beaches do not exactly resemble the Caribbean image of the "Raffaello" advertisement, which stressed and frozen Central Europeans like to think of when they hear the word Antilles. With its impassability, its dense jungle, the high mountains and breathtaking gorges, it serves as inspiration for completely different ideas: Dominica looks like adventure, danger, wilderness, tension and indomitable nature. So the decision was certainly not difficult for Walt Disney Productions and Jerry Bruckheimer Films to make the small island with its around 70,000 inhabitants and 750 km2 the main filming location for the meeting of die-hard pirates and Caribbean natives.

According to the local newspaper The Chronicle, a crew of around 600 arrived for the filming, which was supported by around 450 local employees for security and catering, drivers and extras. The latter, as a young man tells me at the market in the capital Roseau, were hired directly in the 'Carib Reserve'. As early as 1903, the United Kingdom “handed over” the hitherto unpopulated, remote and relatively barren area of ​​15 km2 as collective property to the descendants of the pre-Columbian population. The area has since been under the care, administration and control of a Carib Council and the Carib Chief, and is the only one of its kind in the entire Caribbean. When Dominica gained political independence in 1978, this was confirmed by the Carib Reserve Act. I am told that living there is mainly allowed for the islanders who have been categorized as 'Caribs' or their children.

Roseau's market place is empty. It's late afternoon during the week; There are only two young men standing there with their off-road vehicle, the loading area full of green and yellow coconuts, opposite the Kentucky Fried Chicken, which greets all visitors at the entrance to the city with a drive-through and the unmistakable smell of deep-frying fat. I ask the two of them for a “jelly”, as coconut water is called in Dominica, while I sullenly note the stately presence of the American fast food restaurant. Pleased with the change, one of the men introduces himself as James and the colleague as his cousin and engages me in one of the usual conversations among strangers: where I come from, what I'm doing here. I'll let him guess and I'm curious to see where his suspicions lead. But James is at a loss: I'm not from the cruise ship like most of the strangers who usually meet him and ask him for 'coconut water'. And obviously I don't belong to a foreign film or documentary team either, walking around alone as I do here.

James asks me whether I've already been to Kalinago Territory and hands me the coconut that his cousin opened with a machete and provided with a white straw. No, I answer truthfully and understand that the two are from there. Kalinago Territory, that is the more worthy name of the Carib Reserve; Kalinago is what the residents call themselves, in contrast to the name Carib, which was established by Europeans. I have an excuse: the place is not easy to get to by public transport, it is exactly on the other end of the island, and the focus of my ethnographic observations is elsewhere. On a short exploratory trip to prepare for a longer research stay, one should concentrate on the essentials. I can't get around to explaining this to James, however, as his cousin suddenly joins the conversation in a lively manner. James shouldn't lure the nice tourist into the poorest and most deplorable area of ​​the island, why not suggest that I visit the nine locations of Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and 3, which I have certainly already seen in the cinema. You can easily find them on the roadmaps that are available free of charge at the tourist office. They are marked with small pirate flags on the map.

A short, but unusually irritable discussion flares up between the two men about the question, which for me seems quite banal, which excursion destination would be the better. But the verbal exchange of blows points to a deeper-seated conflict that still divides James' family into two camps to this day. It turns out that this conflict began around a decade ago after it became known that Disney asked Kalinago Chief Charles Williams to speak - and why. In the planned episode of the blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean, the chief learned during this conversation, Caribbean natives were to be portrayed. And even if no blood and no concrete consumption of human flesh were shown, the strong cannibalic element in the scenes in question cannot be denied.

For James, the mention of the locations is obviously a red rag; he fiddles with his t-shirt angrily. “I was on Chief Carlos' side,” he grumbles, and then tells me how posters were used to search for extras of the indigenous phenotype. While his sister and another 150 of the approximately 3,000 residents of the Kalinago Territory had applied equally enthusiastically and successfully to "run half-naked after Johnny Depp and play the ogres" for the equivalent of three euros an hour, the Kalinago chief called for a boycott wrote an open letter. At a later point in time I research his critical opinion on the Internet: The film reproduces a stigma that has weighed on the Kalinago since colonial times; there is no evidence of cannibalism in Caribbean history; Disney consolidates a European colonial myth; the fight against this false image must be kept alive. In a comment in The Chronicle on February 25, 2005, another committed opponent even spoke of a 'national issue': “They cannot, on the one hand, call the people to national pride and respect for national symbols and, on the other hand , endorse a hideous caricature of the oldest surviving people in our commonwealth. "

Indigenous representatives from all over the region have also spoken out: The National Garifuna Council in Belize condemns the depiction, the Carib Community in Trinidad is outraged, the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Historical and Archaeological Society calls for a boycott, and the news platform Indian Country Today accuses Disney of racism in its editorial. Historians from West Indies University are immediately interviewed about whether the ancestors of the Kalinago were really cannibals or were just bellicose. But the public debate does nothing to change that: Most of the islanders on Dominica are happy about the foreign currency pouring into the country through the filming, the tourism and marketing officers are delighted with Disney's indirect advertising, the film team praises the excellent work ethic of the locals, and James' sister is happy to accept the extremely crooked house blessing.

The film scenes in the village of the "Pelegostos" are actually reminiscent of colonial depictions of cannibalism, modern engravings by Theodor de Bry or travel reports from the 16th century such as that of Hans Staden. Since the early colonial times, these have nourished ideas about the people of the 'New World' and served the powerful to justify violent colonization. On his first trips, Columbus already reported on the rumors about the monstrous anthrophagic raids of the people from 'Cariba' or 'Caniba', who settled in the Antilles from the South American continent and would terrify their new neighbors. Little by little, words like the Caribbean and the Caribbean, as well as the concept and meaning of the word cannibal, established themselves in the vocabulary and 'knowledge' of Europeans. Whether forms of anthropophagy actually existed as a ritual practice in the Caribbean seems to be disputed in scholarship. The fact that the ancestors of the Kalinago knew how to defend their land against others in an extremely resilient and martial manner for a long time is seldom questioned. Theft of women, trophaeization of body parts of brave opposing warriors as well as the storage and sacralization of bones and skulls of the ancestors are possible triggers of a 'cultural misunderstanding'. A larger role was certainly played by the fact that the colonizers and colonists were already using the mere assertion that they were dealing with cannibals in order to 'legitimize' their exploitation and incapacitation. Around 1700, that is comparatively late, the ancestors of the Kalinago were finally forcibly pushed back to the most inaccessible areas of the islands of Saint Vincent and Dominica by the French and English colonization.

James looks contemptuously at his cousin at first, then at me challengingly: What would you have done if Hollywood made millions selling your family to the world as cannibals? Would you have participated as an extra like my sister? I feel very clearly: this is not a rhetorical question. James wants me to put myself in the shoes of the Kalinago, and James wants me to take a stand, his at best. I haven't seen the movie yet, I have to admit, and I hope that's enough to avoid the question. It is not enough. James is still looking at me waiting. I pull on the straw indecisively, but the jelly is no longer useful. I would need to know more about the case to be able to answer the question with a reasonably clear conscience. So first I ask counter-questions: Are the Caribs or Kalinago mentioned by name? Does the film make it clear that it is the island of Dominica? Do the actors speak the language of the Kalinago? James ‘cousin laughs out loud. That would have been the very first time, he chuckles, that he would have heard a Kalinago speak anything other than English. James ‘look darkens again, but he lets himself be distracted. I hand his cousin the empty coconut, and while he opens it for me so that I can scrape out the pulp, I realize that my questions may not matter at all.

Pirates of the Caribbean 2 is obviously a fairy tale full of spooks and action, made up ghosts and characters. The Pelegostos, their island and their language are also fictional. Nevertheless, the film suggests a historical stage and traces an image that carries the colonial “curse of the Caribbean” into the 21st century as cannibals to be stereotyped. How bad one should find the whole thing, however, apparently can also be debated in Kalinago families.

Pirates of the Caribbean 2 grossed over a billion dollars worldwide, making it one of the most successful movies of all time.

Corinna Angela Di Stefano studied regional studies for Latin America at the University of Cologne and specialist translation at the Universidad Córdoba. Since October 2014 she has been a research assistant and doctoral candidate at the Professorship for Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Konstanz. In her PhD she deals with the border regime of the European Union in the French Caribbean.


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