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Book source: Zes Jaren in Suriname (1836-1842), A. Kappler,Walburg Pers, Zutphen, 1983 Introduction Ir. F.C. Bubberman, ISBN: 906011.239.3 Reprinted at request of Suralco.

Subject: [AmerIndians] Kappler, Caribs, Arawaks in 1836


Kappler gives us a detailed description of the Caribs and the Arawak Indians in Suriname in 1836.

Caribs are hot tempered more so than the Arawaks. The Caribs are better in handling a canoe or in fishing than the Arawaks. On the other hand, the Arawaks are better hunters. Caribs prefer the color blue and their women have wrap around skirts of a blue cloth around their hips and legs. The Arawak women wear a kind of apron made of colored beads. Their ear lobes are pierced and also their lower lips where they place a sharp nail size object with point outward sticking. This makes kissing a woman more difficult according to Kappler. The Indian girls wear calf bands which are never taken off which makes their calves somewhat disformed.

Both Caribs and Arawaks practised polygamy. The women had a hut for themselves and the children. When the husband would come home from the forest they would one by one bring him his food on plates. Based on the number of plates around him you could estimate the number of wives he has. Later the women would return one by one to pick up their plate and eat the left overs with their children. All this happens without any exchange of words between husband and wives. Men often abandonned their family and children. Children even as young as 10-12 would run away to stay with friends or relatives somewhere else. Caribs and Arawaks show very little feeling for their elderly parents or older relatives or the sick.

Kappler gives also a description of hut construction, pottery making, weaving,clearing forests and basket making which they all carry on their back with a strap on the forehead.

Kappler is amazed about their hunting and fishing skills as they very seldom come home empty handed. He finds them otherwise lazy as they spend most of their time just lying in their hammocks. Otherwise they make their own canoe which is a time consuming project. Indians like to travel often over sea to visit Paramaribo and the plantations to trade. Thus when the canoe is finished and the women have packed the food stuffs in the canoe the Indian family takes off including the monkeys, dogs, chickens and turtles. When the tide is low they would place wet sods in the canoe and start a fire to cook their meals. Sometimes they place the sods on low branches and start a fire there. As time is not important to them these travels can lasts for a long time. The usual trade was what ever the Indians had to offer for alcoholic beverages. If there were none they would make their own intoxicating concoction of cassave and 'tapana'.

The Caribs and Arawaks do not eat snakes or sea turtles and otherwise are not choosy what they eat. Mostly they eat fish which they catch with hooks, bows and arrow, poison but not with nets. Food spoils easily but surprisingly Kappler did not observe anybody sick. They rarely used European medicine but relied on medicinal herbs and the medicine man (piaiman) who exorcised the evil spirits by blowing smoke from tabacco in the patient's face.

Kappler makes also an interesting observation that the Indians do not tatoo their bodies but spent hours on body painting. Their feet up to their knees are painted a red color. The face is painted with black dots and stripes to blend with the shadows of the rain forest.

Met dank aan Albert Buys

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