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The Kalina (Kalinago, Galibi, Karib or Caribe) are an Amerindian indigenous people from the Caribbean coast of South America.

They believe that the grandfather’s soul announces the death to the family and the villagers through the intermediary of the thunder.

The news is followed by a long, plaintive cry throughout the village. The inhabitants immediately stop their activities and gather together around the hut of the deceased. Messengers are sent to announce the death to the people from other villages.

The family and community members spend the first night in the deceased’s house and show their sadness.

Funeral songs resound in the evening, throughout the night, and part of the morning. Their weeping accompanied by lugubrious songs help the deceased in his travel to the afterlife.

The participants present, one by one, a funeral oration in the deceased’s memory by telling his exploits or detailing his qualities. They blame the defunct’s enemies or the evil spirit who has caused his death.

They consider that as long as the body is not buried, the soul and his murderer’s soul remain dangerous for the community. The soul’s journey has to take place in the best conditions. That explains why the body is prepared quickly, according to ancient well-defined rules.

Kalina at "Jardin d'acclimatation" in Paris - 1892

They wash the body with water in which a creeper bark has been put to macerate in advance. This practice aims to protect the community from the soul’s evil influences. One of his feet is painted red then he is dressed and adorned with feathers and party ornaments.

The husband sometimes keeps a strand of his dead wife’s hair. They prick the heel of the deceased with a needle to help the soul to leave the body. Then they introduce an insect into his nostril that aims to guide the soul, on his way, to the afterlife world.

Kalina man

Thus prepared, they submit the body to different natural actions such as the burial or decomposition (for eight days or even a month) or artificial actions such as the preservation of the whole body, the mutilation, the passive or the active defleshing, the mummification, the boiling, the incineration.

The body’s preservation is a rare practice, and most often it is associated with simple burials, such as the abandonment of the body or the primary burial.

In case of natural death, they practice the burial. For this purpose, they use a vegetal container in an empty space, such as a shroud made of a hammock, a basket, a mat, fins, bamboo, pieces of bark, a pot of cassava beer, a hollow tree trunk, or a pirogue. Those containers are usually closed by a bark plank. For a man, they add his tools and weapons, and for a woman, her ceramic objects and her domestic tools. Sometimes they can dig a tomb about 1.6m deep next to the deceased’s hut or inside it. Then the earth is compacted by dancing on the grave.

For those killed by a spirit, they practice the cremation, basically inside the deceased’s house. On that occasion, they build a specific log to avoid any contact with the ground. They dig a round, superficial pit, and install the crouched body wrapped in his hammock, in the position of a child in the mother’s belly. Afterward, they add very little soil and left the fire burn for fifteen to twenty days.

Then after a complex preparation of the body, they perform the ritual of the body’s rub with the deceased’s remains. The corps is often left to decomposition, then burned, and the crushed bones are diluted in water. The participants have to vaporize themselves with this liquid.

Body chipped in river where the flesh is eaten by predatory fish or Piranhas

The precious objects, such as teeth and coral necklaces or the weaving, are sometimes kept for some time before being sold.
Several food bans are imposed and certain activities are suspended.
The mourning lasts at least one year for adults and six to eight months for children. After having shaved their heads: the daughter, the sister, the mother, the husband, or the wife of the deceased no longer allowed cut their hair during that period. Before the mourning’s lifting and a few weeks or months after the burial, they organize a new ceremony.

The significant mourning ceremonies include musical rituals such as the men’s singing accompanied by big drums, where all the participants can dance. Another musical ritual is the women’s singing, represented essentially by mourners. They can dance and rhyme with rattles on spades.

These two musical and choreographic rituals happen simultaneously. One of the most important moments in the mourning ceremony represents their transition to one common dance.

The ghost occupies the body at the time of death, its shadow lives an independent life. It is distinct from the soul and can disturb the living.

They leave the village when there are more than four or five adult graves. They bury the newborn during a night ceremony.

The soul of the dead can reach heaven only after the body’s burial otherwise the soul is sent back to earth. Those returned people have described heaven to the living.

Some souls cannot reach heaven:
-The murderers are expected by their victims to be killed.
-Those who have abused animals, especially toads, and dogs, are punished by animal protectors. If someone has killed a dog in its lifetime, a gigantic dog devours his soul or drowns it in the river he has to cross.
-The big fishermen are swallowed by the protector of the fishes

The shaman’s spirit can reincarnate into another person who later becomes a shaman.

Sources :

Bernard Grunberg, Les indiens des petites Antilles, Des premiers peuplements aux débuts de la colonisation européenne,


Jean-Michel Beaudet, Polay, Uwa : danser chez les Wayãpi et les Kalina. Notes pour une
ethnographie des danses amérindiennes des Basses Terres d’Amérique du Sud

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