visit to Dominica in 1994 Aragorn Dick-Read, a Tortola-born artist, had a chance meeting on a bus
with a Carib artist and activist named Jacob Frederick. Shared interest in the
art and history of the Carib people created a new friendship, which was soon to
trigger an unusual cultural adventure.
Since he was a young boy, Jacob had a dream of building a large dug out canoe in the traditional Carib way, and retracing the journey of his ancestors, who hundreds of years earlier, had sailed north from the Orinoco basin in South America and settled in the southern Caribbean The devastation of the Carib tribe caused by the colonial period has left isolated groups of Carib’s through out the region. To unite these people, at least symbolically, Jacob knew would give their culture a chance of survival. For Aragorn, a student of tribal arts and culture, this offered a unique opportunity to collaborate with the Carib people. From this the Gli Gli - Carib Canoe Project was born, named after the sparrow hawk , an ancient Carib totem for bravery.
After obtaining the necessary permission from the Chief and Carib council, the master canoe builder of the Caribs, Etien Charles, known as ”Chalo”, was engaged to oversee the canoes construction. Their first task was to seek out the two large gommier trees needed to build the canoe, one for the hull, the other for the boardage, the large planks for the sides to raise the free-board of the ocean going canoe.
December 1995 the first of the trees was felled high in the rainforest of the
Carib territory. A gang of craftsmen, with adzes and saws, transformed the raw
log into the hull of a sleek canoe. Three weeks later forty men gathered for
the two day task of dragging the rough-cut vessel down the precipitous forest
hillsides to the village of Salybia, still a thousand
feet above the sea.
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In Salybia the canoe was “opened out” with heavy rocks and fire, ribs were added, and the ‘boardage’ attached. 35’long with a beam of 6 ½’ she was the largest canoe built in Dominica in living memory. Then late in November 1996 Gli-Gli was trucked down to the port of Marigot to receive the traditional Carib blessings – to be encircled with gommier smoke and sprinkled with coconut milk - prior to the ceremonial launching.
By May 1997 sufficient funds had been raised, and everything was ready for the historic voyage south with the chosen, mainly Carib, crew. Accompanying her across the open waters was the beautiful Dominican schooner ‘Carmela’ acting as the ‘mother ship.’
By prior arrangement, celebrations were held with Carib and Arawak communities in all the islands south of Dominica en route to the Orinoco delta in Venezuela. Having sailed through the delta, the voyage would take them up the Barima and Pomeroon rivers deep into the heart of Guyana
On Monday July 7th Gli-Gli arrived safely in Guyanato the acclamation of the local Amerindians, and numerous official celebrations.
The purpose of
the journey had not been to break any records, or to try to recreate ‘times
past’ in detail, but to reawaken a sense of community and brotherhood that had
long since been lost among the fragmented Carib and Arawak communities of the
region. In this the Gli-Gli expedition was supremely successful, and the hope
is that at some future date, if resources can be found, a second expedition may
be launched, westward from Dominica in a second canoe to be called ‘Sisserou’
– to link up with the remaining Amerindians in the Greater Antilles and Central