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Relation d’un voyage infortuné fait aux Indes occidentales par le capitaine Fleury avec la description de quelques îles qu’on y rencontre, recueillie par l’un de ceux de la compagnie qui fit le voyage

Anonymous author

Handwritten text


Inguimbertine Library, Carpentras (France)

N° 590

A freebooter travel in the Caribbean Sea

Part 2

Description of some natives of the West Indies

 Translated by Alan Ringer, revised by Georgia Lumbreras.

Linguistic notes by Sybille de Pury  


 The dwelling place of these natives of the Indies, called Caribs or Balouy, is located between the second parallel after the equator stretching to the tropic of Cancer, or, to make it easier, between the two parallels lying between the equator and our tropic, around 313 or 314 degrees of longitude and of latitude about from the 12th to the 16th or 17th. That is how they are marked on maritime maps. They are called Dominica , Martinico, Santa Lucia, Marglianto. They are also two other groups called Guardeloupe and Saint-Vincent, which I will not mention at all, although they are inhabited by the same natives who call them in their own language : la Dominica Holotobouli, la Martinica Joannicaira, Santa Lucia or Sainte-Allouzie Joannalau, Marigliana or Cotton land Aulinagan, la Guardeloupe Caroucaira, Saint-Vincent Joalamarqua. There is also la Grenade, that they call Carnar, Saint-Christophe Jomaricca and Montserrat Ariogan. The climate is very hot there during the day and very cool at night, which makes the air very healthy. Dawn and dusk are sudden with very little twilight. At noon the sun is so hot that it is necessary to quit work and look for some shade, it is then impossible to walk on the rocks and sand along the shore. In all seasons the trees are green and there is only one season and no winter.

Sometimes there are heavy and sudden rains which last for periods of nearly six weeks. They only last an hour and end quickly. They are not regular and they begin and end from hour to hour, in all seasons, and especially during the new and waning moon. They are subject to such strong winds that they rip up trees so big that four men would have trouble holding them. They begin around the month of august and last until the end of September, sometimes sooner and sometimes later. The sea is then wild and not at all safe, especially close to a land named Houragano. Very often the Indians are forced to leave their huts because the water passes underneath but they are so well made that they are never destroyed by the wind and the water can't get in.

The natives

The natives of the islands, called Caribs, whether male or female, are always naked, wearing their hair down to the waist in the back and down to their eyebrows in the front. They pull out their beards by the root and when the beard is too thick, they shave it with a certain reed, which being dampened and folded, shaves as well as a barber's razor. They rub themselves every morning with a red paint called couchieue[1] which, being soaked in coconut oil, keeps them cool and protects them from the sun. This is also for them a beautiful decoration, without which they wouldn't dare visit each other. They are rather short but very skillful and strong. Both men and women have beautiful faces which are not subject at all to those natural defects found elsewhere: the lame, the hunchback and the blind (unlike those who swaddle and wrap their infants so tightly that they render them deformed, similar to cynocephalus or dogfaced baboons formed by a tying to which nature becomes accustomed so well that all are born naturally this way). They almost never turn bald or gray, nor rarely does one see a white hair in their beards, which they attribute to the application of coconut oil, which darkens the hair. They are quite spontaneous, whether in love or in hate, which is why they eat their enemies, grubs, lice and fleas which get into their feet. And if something that they can't burn or throw it into the sea makes them angry or hurts them, which frequently happens at night when they run into one of their house posts or some rock which hurts them or against some knife or piece of metal which cuts them, then, often having thrown it on the ground, they get very angry and will spend a quarter of an hour swearing. And extending the right arm as far as they can towards the left, they move forward and strike the left hand under the right armpit while repeating this insult over and over: ollibation, ou, ou[2]. They are very curious to learn the languages and the customs of foreigners. They ask all the time about our way of doing things and if we do the same things that they do. In order to better understand us, they make us spit in their mouth and ear, believing in this way to learn French quicker, asking us what we called each thing and telling also what it was called in Carib, exhorting us to learn their language and telling us: « learn it well and when you know it, you will go about naked like me, you will have yourself painted red, you will wear your hair long like me, you will become a Carib, and you will no longer wish to return to France. And I, speaking like you, will take your clothes and go to your father's house in France and I will call myself by your name and you by mine. » Most of them named themselves after their French guests. We took their names, even to the point of making some kinship alliances with them and we only used names such as father, brother, child, and so forth. But many of those who had guests preferred to call them banari, that is, compadre or friend rather than some other relationship, saying that it was a finer name than father or child, and so we usually called them compadre or in their language banari. When we first arrived among them, they made us understand what they meant in two ways: the first, using some word in Spanish or French and the second, using sign language. It was often necessary to guess and sometimes it would take a long time before we actually understood what they meant. Moreover, a child learning their language must learn two at once, that of the men and that of the women. If you ask them the reason for this, they answer that the difference is a result of their different natures. And so the men call the moon nouna[3] and the women cati[4]; in order to say « hello, son », men say maboiqua immouru[5] and the women say mabiorgnora hi; in order to say « come here », men say accabou ou ou[6] and the women acquietos, and so forth so on with many other words. This difference exists in the language but also in many other superstitions, the men abstaining from sitting in chairs made for women, and women from those made for men, the women sitting instead on the ground. Likewise, they never help each other at all, although they are sometimes very much hindered by this whenever they run their errands; for instance when the husband and wife go up in the mountains in search of manioc or fruit. The women ordinarily hold their infants. It is one of their superstitions that only women may carry a basket and so coming back they are loaded down like mules, carrying their load on their backs, attached and piled high in a little basket which is supported in the back by a strip of bark which passes over the forehead like a headband, about which I will say a word later. And loaded like this, they also carry their infants in their arms and travel in this way on paths so rough and difficult that when we later went there, we had to use our hands as much as our feet, especially when it had rained. However, their husbands return comfortably, before or after them, playing with a knife or chewing on a piece of sugar cane, and even if the women collapse under the weight, they wouldn’t at all relieve them, not even taking their infants from them. And arriving back at their little house, they wouldn’t help them to unload. Even their children would not help them because it is something only girls must do. As for me I did help my hostess unload and, if she were carrying something good, pineapple, potatoes, sugar cane or some other fruit, it was mine because she was so happy to be helped with her load.

Every year many ships arrive there with French, Flemish, English and Spanish who sail into these islands in order to stock up with fresh provision, take on water and gather fruit, principally cassava, which is the bread of the Indians. The Spanish only dare spend one day and night there and when the natives deal with them, it is only done with a bow and arrow in one hand and the goods they want to sell in the other. As for the French, Flemish and English, they stay as long as they wish and go where they wish. Still, they like the French above all other people and make a difference between them and other foreigners, whether it be that they had spent more time with them than with others or whether there had been some before us who had put themselves at their mercy, something they had not told us. For sure, they had never received so many French guests, who stayed for such a long time and who ate, drunk and slept like us and didn’t even have a ship in which to return. Those who came to stock up or in order to await the right season to sail to Peru [7] stayed there about six weeks or a month and they ordinarily withdrew to guard their ships day and night. They didn’t know or learn anything about their customs as we did. We never left them for a ten months, following and going with them everywhere, having nothing else to do. They felt comfortable seeing us and would not mind us being there.


At our arrival we were so thin and worn out that they took pity on us, and all of them wanted to take one of us as a guest in their home, and those who had no one at all tried to take someone from those who had several. They would come near us to tempt us and they would say: « out at sea, your Captain Fleury made you eat your shoes from hunger », and we answered yes. They said: « Captain Fleury is no good ». « From what I see » they said, « you must throw him in the sea, since you are so thin », accompanying this with a ridiculous gesture, pulling down the right eyelid (they have got a proverb according to which it is fat which pushes the eyes out of the head. It is actually true that a person worn out by hunger can not have full and smiling eyes). It also showed that they had watched our bodies for a long time and that they knew how thin we were. They showed in their gestures that they were really astonished by it, repeating always these words, which are signs of astonishment, cai, cai, cai, and the women saying bibi, bibi, bibi. After that they gave us something to eat, while saying, « here eat this, it will give you a big belly like mine, and if you want to come to my house, you will find all sorts of food which will soon make you fat. I will also give you a hammock to lie in and every morning my wife will make you cassava as she does for me. » But if someone disagreed, he would tell him: « your compadre has so many Frenchmen at his house that in two or three months he will no longer have any cassava to give you and you will die. » But if some of us agreed to it, they asked him where his old clothes were, that they hastily took at their home in the dugout canoe; and arriving at their house, they put at the feet of their new guest all kinds of food, telling them, « I give you that because you are my compadre» because they felt like they had to give him something as a sign of friendship. The concern of these good people was such that they got up three or four times during the night to feel the belly of their guest, in order to judge if it were still small: and if it was, they woke him promptly in order to make him eat, telling him « my friend, get up and eat some cassava, because you have a small barrique[8] », a borrowed word meaning belly. But if the guest did not want to get up, saying that he was still sleepy and in fact fell back asleep, they would put some food under his bed and even in his bed, like warm cassava with fish or something else so that he could eat whenever he felt like it. Whatever food they ate during the day, they would share it with their compadre taking for granted the warm cassava they that they offered them in the morning, which was enough to fill up a stomach for the whole day. It is worthy to remember that these Caribs were arguing among themselves about who would have the most guests; they called these guests compadre as a sign of great friendship and were given in return some old clothes, shirts and other things that they no longer wore; then the guests were led into their homes where they were provided with all sorts of food without being asked anything in return. At first they suffered bad stomach aches because their guts had shrunk up as a result of being hungry so long, and also being very hungry and then eating a lot without being able to feel full, a few dying and others suffering great pain for which nothing could be done but to sprawl on the beach. Without the use of turtle fat, which allayed the pain in the bowels, few Frenchmen would have been saved and remained alive.

The good nature of the natives showed itself right from the start when the sand flies invaded our feet and harassed us so intently, finding our soles easier to penetrate than those of the natives, which are as hard as horn. It was hideous to see. They dig big holes both underneath and on the top of the foot into which one could insert the tip of a finger. The bites made our feet so swollen and full of pus that it was impossible for us to stand. And our good Indians were so careful in removing them; it was obvious that they dreaded hurting us. Afterwards the women wrapped our feet in the linen we had given them, after having put some tobacco juice in the holes, which greatly relieved the pain. Others put in the wounds tar oil which also did them some good. And when they bandaged us, they were so afraid of hurting us that at each step they asked us if it hurt. They acted this way because they really loved us and would have liked for us to stay forever. They felt a lot of pleasure being with us. Also they believed the devil never struck when we were with them. Even when they went to their plantations which are high up and at some distance, wanting to take us there, we excused ourselves, saying we couldn’t walk without shoes; and they didn’t take it badly. When going somewhere else or going out to sea, and when we couldn’t refuse, they made us go first and when reaching our destination, they treated us the best way so they enjoyed our company. Therefore, when we mentioned leaving them to rejoin Captain Fleury, they got angry and tried to convince us to stay and prevented us from going. « Don't you have enough food here? They believe that we are born into the world just to eat. “Don't you have enough cassava, turtle, fish, lizards, crabs, agoutis, pineapple and bananas?” They would name an infinite number of other local foods calling them all out one after another for us. They would also tell us: “Don't you have your belly as big as ours? And have you ever been hungry in this country? Why do you still want to return to France especially with this Captain Fleury who makes you eat your shoes while at sea? He has a small boat shaped like a turtle which isn't worth anything and which can't hold much cassava? » Moreover « Chemin, as they call their God, told us that your boat will break apart at sea, that you will die and that we will no longer have compadres from France . Wait a few more months, for Chemin has told us that some large Flemish ships ought to arrive here in two or three moons, which will be loaded down with a great deal of provisions, and so we won't be at all angry that you are leaving, and we will give you many cassavas, potatoes, bananas and other things to keep you from going hungry, and will also give some to the captain of the ship so that he will receive you. But if you go off with Fleury, we will not give you anything at all. » But seeing us resolved and even ready to leave, they withdrew far away in order to see no part of our leaving, so sad they were. We even saw them crying, something they rarely do. They wanted to give us back all the clothes that we had given them, in order to make them feel better, we told them we were going to France just to get some shoes and shirts and that we were coming back. But then they were clever enough to promise that they would make so many gardens that there would be enough of them to sew tobacco in such abundance that they would harvest enough of it to trade with the French and the Flemish for shoes and shirts which they would bring to us here without our having to go and get them. In short they used all means necessary to keep us there, so sorry were they that we were leaving them. We have even learned since, through some Frenchmen who were there since we left, that they spoke of nothing but us, asking them if we were coming back and that they had prepared for us a certain amount of tobacco, hammocks, parrots, bows and arrows and a thousand other things which they refused to sell to them or barter for whatever it was that they offered them, saying that they had kept them for their good compadres who were supposed to return in some moons and that since their leaving they had been tormented by the devil more than before. For my part, I wouldn't know how to remain silent about the favors I received from them, for at our landing, I was put not ashore, there still being three meters to go, since we couldn't land, neither in our ship nor even in our launch, then having hit a few rocks, so that I was forced to get down in the water up to my knees, carrying a small bag and my sword, so that arriving on the beach, I was forced to lie stretched out there and when the tide came in, it had half-covered me without my having the power to move farther back, I being so weak. But in this state I was rescued by many of the natives, one having lifted me up, another relieving me of my bags, another of my sword, another brought me something to eat, another something to drink and at the same time they led me to their dwellings, extending the same hospitality to all our companions.



[1] Garífuna (Black Carib language):  gusewe “annatto; recado, roucou; a red substance used for cooking as well as in ritual”

[2] Garífuna: würibatiun “they are bad”

[3] Kaliña (Carib language from French Guyana) nu:no[n] “moon”

[4] Garífuna: hati “moon; month”

[5] Garífuna: mábuiga “Hello, greeting” / Breton (1665):  Immourou “child, son”. Breton, Père Raymond, Dictionnaire caraïbe-français, 1665, édition présentée et annotée par le CELIA et le GEREC, éditions IRD et KARTHALA, Paris, 1999.

[6] Garífuna: higabu “Come!”

[7]  In the text, Peru refers to the Caribbean Basin , from South of Mexico to Venezuela .

[8] From Spanish barriga