Photo of Chief Lorenzo Sanford

Chief Lorenzo Sanford

Many times, it is said the younger generation should act more responsibly, display a higher level of maturity and be more proactive. The youths’ rebuttal may be that the more experienced, older generation is not willing to embrace 21st century ideas, but are oftentimes determined to hold on to the things with which they are more familiar. Can there be a meeting of the minds with the young and old collectively contributing towards a meaningful pursuit?

The Kalinago Territory in Dominica has a youthful population, and in 2019, a 22-year-old man emerged with purpose from within the ranks of the youth. His objective was clear. He had the aptitude, intelligence and vision to be a leader, and his goal was to lead his Kalinago people. It was no chance undertaking. Even while attending Castle Bruce Secondary School, leadership qualities were evident.  In 5th form, he became head boy and president of the student council, affording fellow students a glimpse of what was to come.  After completing his education, that young man whizzed around the Kalinago Territory on his bike, visiting people in their homes, holding frequent conversations with the elders, listening, learning, seeking advice on the ways they perceived the Kalingo Territory could be preserved and enhanced. He represented the younger generation, but was wise to identify that the knowledge and support of the older generation was necessary. Identification and acceptance of the benefits to be derived from a marriage between old and new, a willingness to behave responsibly, to display maturity and be proactive resulted in this young man being elected to lead his people. His name is Lorenzo Sanford, and he is the Kalinago Chief.

The now 24-year-old Chief and his team of 6 Council members continue to make the preservation of their Kalinago community, its culture and traditions a priority. As he explained, the entire Caribbean region once belonged to his people and they travelled freely from island to island. Around 1200 AD, they journeyed from Guyana, moving up the archipelago taking from the land only what they needed for survival. When certain things were depleted from the land, they moved on to the next island, again using only what they needed to survive. Where once they had free reign over that region, colonialism arrived and they were forced into settling on one island, Dominica.  This little island was further ‘invaded’ and they were restricted to an even smaller area of a mere 3,782 acres which they now call home.

The Kalinago community of 2,700 is a Nation within Dominica and a Kalinago Act governs the Territory. The Council exists to protect their land, its resources and people. The Chief and his Councilors are guardians of that land which is communal and can only be transferred to a person of Kalinago heritage.  The small area in which the Kalinago now live consists of eight communities. In the past, each of these communities were separated by a river or small stream. The rivers and the trees around it provided food and they were very protective of their catchment areas. Today, only two main streams remain and with global warming, the Chief believes even those two are now at risk.

Agriculture, fishing and handicraft are very important to this community. Craft is tied to their tourism industry which is being severely affected by Covid-19. With the reduction in visitors, craft-making has also decreased resulting in hardship for people whose livelihood is dependent on the sale of their craft. Handicraft has always been significant because it is one of the main revenue generators for a large percentage of the community. Products are all made from the plants and natural resources that live around them – there is no waste, or pollution. Their intricate craft-making skill is traditional, passed down through the generations as taught by their ancestors. The Kalinago are one with nature and their lifestyle embraces and reflects this concept.

The Shaman standing with a lady in the river during the Naming Ceremony

Although the community is heavily dependent on tourism, they have identified that agriculture must now be the area of focus. With the help of the Ministry of the Blue & Green Economy of Dominica, they are being equipped to become more sustainable.  Organic farming has been ramped up and with Government assistance, the Kalinago men and women farmers and concentrating on growing more food, most of which are consumed by their people, but some are also sold outside of the Territory.

The Kalinago wisely plant root crops. When hurricanes or tropical storms blow through Dominica, the above-ground crops get washed away but whatever is underneath the soil remains, ensuring that the people will always have food, and they share. The Territory was built on ‘codmeir’ which means voluntary service. The Kalinagos all help each other and they live in unity. One of the main root crops grown by many is cassava which is very unique to their culture. It is used to make a variety of products including bread, biscuit and also wine. Some of their products were once exported. This was halted for a while but exports to Caribbean islands are currently being explored.

Farming, fishing, legends, myths, codmeir and being one with nature are some of the things central to the Kalinago way of life, but without the involvement of the young generation these are at risk of disappearing into just a mere memory. A Kalinago Cultural Officer was therefore assigned to the district. Via the Strong Bodies, Strong Minds after school program, children are being taught Kalinago arts and craft, creative, cultural dances and the Kalinago language, which they have just started to incorporate in the schools. This is of extreme importance. The Chief explained, “18-25-year olds are being influenced by non-Kalinago culture. Our culture needs to be embraced by our young people, or it will be lost. Our way of life needs to live on, our building styles too – it is like no other community on the island.”

The Creole culture is the most dominant in Dominica but the Chief hopes to awaken a passion for Kalinago culture in children at the primary school level in the Territory. To that end, one of the activities introduced by the Cultural Officer has been one that encourages students to create their own concept of what their unique Kalinago national wear should look like, incorporating yellow and white which are the colours of the Kalinago people. White represents purity and yellow represents the sun. This activity was well received by the students and their results were showcased to the public with the Prime Minister in attendance! There are currently five primary schools in the Territory, but no secondary schools. Students attend high schools outside of the community.

A week of activities dedicated to the Kalinago and well-supported by the general Dominican public is held annually in September. During this Kalinago Week, their yellow and white colours, national and traditional garments are worn with pride. For five days, the community becomes a hive of activity, with the following events taking place each year:

Day 1: Language Symposium

Day 2: Homage is paid to their heroes at the spot where an uprising took place in the 1930’s, during which two Kalinagos were killed by police officers

Day 3: A Queen Show is hosted, showcasing different types of traditional wear

Day 4: A food bonanza

Day 5:  A big festival ends the week of activities

Although the Kalinagos are fully integrated into Dominican society, the Chief shared that the Kalinago people were once treated with derision and called names. However, things have changed, which is in part attributable to the youths who have begun to publicly embrace their culture.

“I am Kalinago,” Chief Sanford said. “I have to embrace my culture. You have your own culture, embrace it, but do not look down on mine.”

Kalinago Customs

Authentic experiences await visitors to the Kalinago Territory.

The charismatic Chief Sanford bids you welcome.