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Title: Galibi  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: History of French Guiana, History of the Caribbean, Guinea pig, Carib people, Kourou, Carib language, Maroni (river), Dipteryx odorata, Sinnamary, Arawakan languages
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Schoolchildren of the Kali'na community at Bigi Poika in Suriname.
Total population
21,714 [1] - 21,714 [2]
Regions with significant populations
 Venezuela 4,000–5,000[2]
 Suriname 2,500[2]
 Guyana > 475[2]
 French Guiana 3,000[2]
 Brazil < 100[2]
Animism, Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Other Carib peoples

The Kali'na, also known as the Karib, Kaliña, Galibi,[1] Kalina, Karina, Carina, Kalinha, Kariña, Kari’ña, or Karinya people,[2] are an Indigenous ethnic group found in several countries on the Caribbean coast of South America. They speak a Cariban language and are culturally Cariban as well.


The origin of the name given them by Europeans, Galibi, is unknown. They prefer to be called Kali'na tilewuyu, i.e. "true Kali'na", partly to differentiate themselves from the half-blood Maroon-Kali'na inhabitants of Suriname.[3] Use of the name "Kali'na" has only recently become common practice in publications.


Lacking a written form of language before the arrival of Europeans, Kali'na history was passed down orally from one generation to the next through tales of myth and legend.

For a long time, the few Europeans studying the history of the Amerindian people of this area did not distinguish between the various Caribbean tribes. Once the period of exploration was over, interest in the study of these people dimished greatly and did not re-emerge until the end of the 20th century, when a few French expatriates, notably Gérard Collomb, became interested in the Kali'na, and the Kali'na themselves began to relate their history, in particular Félix Tiouka, president of the Association of Amerindians of French Guiana (AAGF), and his son Alexis.

For the reasons given, historical information regarding the Kali'na is rare and incomplete.

Pre-Columbian era

Making up for lack of written records, archaeologists have to date uncovered 273 Amerindian archeological sites on only 310 km² of the land recovered from the Sinnamary River by the Petit-Saut Dam. Some date back as far as two thousand years, establishing the antiquity of the Amerindian presence in this area.[4],[5]

The weak historical clues available indicate that before 1492, the Kali'na inhabited the coast (from the mouth of the Amazon River to that of the Orinoco), dividing their territory with the Arawak, against whom they fought during their expansion toward the east and the Amazon River.[6],[7]


The Palanakiłi arrive

In their first contact with Europeans, the Kali'na thought they were dealing with the spirits of the sea, Palanakiłi, a name they use to this day when referring to whites.[8],[9]

One of the first consequences of the arrival of the Palanakiłi, as in the case of many other Native American peoples, was a decrease in population due to diseases brought over by the Europeans. The Kali'na quickly succumbed in large numbers, because their immune systems were not adapted to the viruses and bacteria of the Old World.


Amerindians in Paris

The second half of the nineteenth century saw the heyday of World's Fairs, in which European countries were displaying their wealth with colonial "villages" representing the colonized cultures. Although the World's Fairs of Paris did not have "Amerindian villages," public curiosity was such that Kali'na were sent to the capital twice - once in 1882 and again in 1892 - to be exhibited at the Jardin d'Acclimatation.[10],[11]


Fifteen Kali’na, all members of one family living in Sinnamary and Iracoubo, were sent to Pau:wa ("The Land of the Whites") in July 1882.[10] Almost nothing is known about them, except their names[12] and the fact that they were housed in huts on the lawn of the Jardin d'Acclimatation. The trip lasted four months, including three in Paris and a month's journey by boat (round trip). They were accompanied by a Creole who acted as intermediary and, presumably, interpreter.[13] There are several portraits of them, taken by photographer Pierre Petit.[14]

The Kali'na today

Geographic distribution

The part of South America where the Kali'na live is very sparsely populated. However, this ethnic group is such an extreme minority in all of the countries in which they are well established that locally they are a majority only in certain very secluded areas. Their current geographic distribution covers only a small fraction of their Pre-Columbian territory.

  • In Brazil, they are especially localized in São José dos Galibi, a village founded in 1950 on the right bank of the Oyapock River opposite Saint-Georges in French Guiana by several families who came from the region of the Mana River. They are also in the capital of Amapá, Macapá, and in Pará, in Belém.[15]
  • In French Guiana, they are still present in significant numbers in their original territory, the region between the Maroni and the Mana rivers (in particular, the communities of Awala-Yalimapo, the only one where they are a majority, Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni, Mana and Iracoubo), and the Amerindian village of Kourou as well as, in fewer numbers, the island of Cayenne.
  • In Suriname, they are a strong presence on the left bank of the Maroni River and on the banks of the Coppename River.
  • In Venezuela, the country where their numbers are the greatest, they can be found in two distinct zones: in the llanos of the Orinoco river valley and on the Cuyuni River valley part of which is in Guyana.


They use mostly percussion instruments. Their sanpula (or sambula) is a large drum with two skins stretched over either end of the shell by hoops pulled together with cord and is played with a mallet. They also have two kinds of maracas, called a kalawasi (or kalawashi) and a malaka.

Their flute, the kuwama, is still made but is more and more often replaced by the European flute. There is also a terra cotta horn called a kuti.


Main article: Kali'na language

They speak Kali'na, which belongs to the family of Cariban languages. This language is currently still spoken by more than 10,000 people in the coastal strip that stretches from Venezuela (5,000 speakers) to Brazil (100) passing through Guyana (475), Suriname (2,500) and French Guiana (3,000 people).

Thanks to the relatively significant number of speakers, it is one of the most likely Amazonian languages to survive. Some experiments with written transcription were undertaken in Guyana.[16] Linguistic standardization of a Kali'na writing system however is plagued by the diversity of the many different forms of the written language currently in use, which have been influenced by the languages of the colonists of the countries in which the Kali'na live, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French and English. Thus, even as far as their ethnonym is concerned, Kali'na, there are no fewer than nine different writing systems. Kali'na therefore remains a primarily oral language.



  • (French) Gérard Collomb and Félix Tiouka ; ISBN 978-2-84450-068-7
  • (French) Gérard Collomb, Félix Tiouka and M.P. Jean-Louis ; Pau:wa Itiosan:bola : Des Galibi à Paris en 1892 ; Awala-Yalimapo, December 1991
  • (French) Gérard Collomb ; Kaliña. Des Amérindiens à Paris. Photographies du prince Roland Bonaparte. ; Éditions Créaphis, Paris, 1992.
  • (French) Jean Hurault ; Français et indiens en Guyane. 1604-1972 ; Paris, 1972 ; Guyane Presse Diffusion, Cayenne, 1989.
  • (French) Jil Silberstein ; Kali’na : Une famille indienne de Guyane française ; Albin Michel, 2002 ; ISBN 2-226-13300-3
  • (French) Serge Mam Lam Fouck ; ISBN 978-2-84450-163-9
  • (French) Other works of Gérard Collomb, researcher at CNRS and specialist in Kali'na culture.

Template:Ethnic groups in Suriname

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