Caribs kărˈĭbz [key], native people formerly inhabiting the Lesser Antilles, West Indies. They are also known as Island Caribs; their Domincan descendants called themselves Kalinago. They seem to have overrun the Lesser Antilles and to have driven out the Arawak about a century before the arrival of Christopher Columbus The name by which the Caribs were known was recorded by Columbus as Caribes and Canibales, and the latter is the origin of the English word cannibal.

Extremely warlike and ferocious, they allegedly were cannibals—they may have practiced ritual cannibalism—and took pride in scarification (ritual cutting of the skin) and fasting. The Carib language was spoken only by the men, while the women spoke Arawak. This was so because Arawak women, captured in raids, were taken as wives by the Carib men. Fishing, agriculture, and basketmaking were the chief domestic activities. The Caribs were expert navigators, crisscrossing a large portion of the Caribbean in their canoes.

After European colonization began in the 17th cent., they were all but exterminated. A group remaining on St. Vincent mingled with black slaves who escaped from a shipwreck in 1675. This group was transferred (1795) by the British to Roatán island off the coast of Honduras. Known as the Garifuna, they have gradually migrated north along the coast into Guatemala. A few Caribs survive on a reservation on the island of Dominica. The Carib, or Cariban, languages are a separate family. Carib-speaking tribes are found in N Honduras, Belize, central Brazil, and N South America.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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