The Kalinago Language

Words and Expression

Language is the primary means of perpetuating culture.

Its presence is a living representation of a people’s way of life. The disappearance or destruction of a language usually signals the replacement of one cultural system by another.

The most devastating impact on the Kalinago culture by the invasion of the European was the Kalinago language. Within four decades of Columbus’ landing, the entire Caribbean had been renamed. The flow of European immigrants, along with forced labour imposed on the indigenous people, helped diffuse the language and culture.

Until the 1920s, few Kalinago could speak or remember the language, while much emphasis was placed on learning the white man’s strange behavior. The Kalinago language was rapidly replaced by a French Kwéyol and, to a lesser extent, English.

Today, most Kalinago say they can’t speak a word in their native language. But many Kalinago names and words are in common use today.

Many villages in Waitukubuli have retained their Kalinago names:

  • Berricoa
  • Bataca
  • Calibishie
  • Layou
  • Coulibistrie
  • Toucarie

Additionally, Kalinago words are used for plants, fruit, animals and everyday objects.

Traditional Kitchen Utensils:

  • Couis – Calabash
  • Cou-Cou – Type of Calabash
  • Kaim Bouk
  • Pikan – Small stick used to take out from the Canari

Fresh water and salt water fish

  • Coulirou
  • Cacador
  • Humma
  • Book
  • Lipi
  • Chatou
  • Laursh
  • Té Ta

Trees and Plants

  • Acajou
  • Balata
  • Cachibou
  • Manioc
  • Simarouba
  • Mapou
  • Cacao
  • Karata

Buildings

  • Ajoupa
  • Mwena
  • Karbet

Fruits

  • Cachiman
  • Papaya

Animal

  • Agouti
  • Manicou
  • Anoli
  • Mabouya

Birds

  • Fou-Fou
  • Gli-gli
  • Si Si Zeb
  • Si Si Rou
Kalinago Word List
My Body Na Nocobou
Head Ichie
Nose Icherie
Ear Aricae
Face Isubu/Icibou
Teeth Ari
Breast Touri
Penis Huera
Eye Acou

 

Expression
Mabpwika Greeting
Ni Lamaha Tina I am hungry
Ita Bia How are you
Aitina Kalinago I am Kalinago
Irufu Tina I am Good
Ka Yamatetina I have a basket
Itali? What is the matter
Tiamatu Teiha She is pretty

For more on the Kalinago people, please visit the Ministry of Carib Affairs website.

Article by Prosper Paris