Home | Contents | Photos | News | Reviews | Store | Forum | ICI | Educators | Fans | Contests | Help | FAQ | Info

Cannibals of the Caribbean

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

Preliminary protests

Disney accused of bad taste over Carib cannibals in pirate movie

By Tom Leonard in New York
(Filed: 15/02/2005)

The filmmaker Disney has angered the chief of a tribe of Carib Indians over plans to portray his forbears as savage cannibals in a sequel to Pirates of the Caribbean.

Work on the film, which will see Johnny Depp reprise his role as a pirate along with a guest appearance by the Rolling Stone Keith Richards as his father, is expected to begin next month on the island of Dominica.

However, the chief of the former British colony's Carib community has demanded that the script be rewritten to show the Caribbean's indigenous inhabitants in a more positive light. The Caribs – the warlike people who dominated much of the eastern Caribbean before the arrival of the Europeans – have long denied that their ancestors practised cannibalism.

The accusation first surfaced when, upon landing in Guadeloupe and entering a nearby Carib village, Columbus's crew inspected the contents of a bubbling cauldron and made a grisly discovery.

Charles Williams, the chief of Dominica's 3,000 Caribs — the last remaining community in the Caribbean – claimed that recent discussions with Disney executives had disclosed "that there is a strong element of cannibalism in the script which cannot be removed."

Mr Williams added: "Our ancestors stood up against early European conquerors and because they stood up … we were labelled savages and cannibals up to today. This cannot be perpetuated in the movies," he said.

Disney, whose output has long toed a progressive line in matters of political correctness, has not commented on the row.

The government of Dominica has said the producers plan to film for six to eight weeks on the island. Several hundred Dominicans from the island's 70,000 population have applied to be extras, including some Caribs.

The Dominican government has been doing everything possible to secure the filming and believes it will boost its economy significantly.

Leaving aside the delicate issue of dietary requirements, the consensus among historians is that while the Caribs were fierce pirates, far from being savages, they were accomplished seafarers who roamed the Caribbean in huge dug-out canoes.

Most of them were killed by disease and war during the colonisation of the Caribbean in the 17th century.

Mr Williams said he had received support from other indigenous groups around the world but admitted that some of Dominica's Caribs, including members of his own council, did not share his stance. He said the latter did not "understand our history", adding: "They are weak and are not committed to the cause of the Carib people."

The first Pirates of the Caribbean film, The Curse of the Black Pearl, took $305 million (£160 million) at the American box office, making it the second highest grossing film in 2003.

The new film, Dead Man's Chest, will also star the British actors Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley and Mackenzie Crook, who appeared in the original.

Depp reportedly based his character, the mercurial Capt Jack Sparrow, on Keith Richards and is credited with persuading the guitarist to join the cast for the new film.

© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2005.


Disney's Carib Indian cannibals deserve boycott

© Indian Country Today April 14, 2005. All Rights Reserved

Posted: April 14, 2005

by: Editors Report / Indian Country Today

Walt Disney Pictures is premising its sequel to its film "Pirates of the Caribbean" on the supposed cannibalism of Carib Indians. This is disgusting. It is a bit beyond the time when the present-day children of the Carib people of the Antilles need to be hit in the face, one more time, with the wanton and highly-disputed idea that they descend from cannibals.

Leaders from at least three communities of Caribs — Salybia in Dominica, Santa Rosa in Trinidad and a community in St. Vincent — have registered their strong objections to Disney executives, who have not responded in any positive way to the critique. Scholars and others are adding their voices to the challenge.

While the controversy over the Caribs' alleged cannibalism is as old as the conquest of the Americas, most observers agree that the Disney movie, slated for worldwide audiences, is beyond the pale as a vehicle to inculcate the historical stereotype upon even more generations of Carib and Caribbean children.

Filming of the sequel is scheduled to begin this month in Dominica. Its predecessor, the first production in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" series, was a 2003 blockbuster that grossed $653 million worldwide. Some 3,000 Caribs live in the Carib territory on the island of Dominica, which has a population of 70,000. Tens of thousands of Carib descendants, now known as Garifuna, live on the coasts of Belize, Honduras and Guatemala, as well as in the North American diaspora.

Chief Charles Williams of the Carib community in Dominica has denounced the concept of his people being depicted as cannibals. This stereotype has "stigmatized" Caribs for 500 years and is still used both as a form of personal insult and as justification for mistreating his people, Williams said; the movie will further "popularize" the historical insult against his people.

Among other Native leaders, the chief of the Carib community at Arima in Trinidad, Ricardo Bharath, also strongly condemned the planned movie. He was joined by Adonis Christo, the community's shaman or medicine man. The oral tradition among their people doesn't support cannibalism as a historical fact, they asserted.

"Do you want to know who the real cannibals are?" Bharath asked the Inter Press Service. "They are the ones in modern-day society who are eating down our mountains, raping the environment, polluting the waters," he said. Stated Christo: "Our people defended their families and friends. They defended their homes. They defended their lands."

There are early references by Europeans to ritual cannibalism among the first encounters with the Caribs. But Brinsley Samaroo, head of the History department of the St. Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies, is among those who believe the claim is largely a European invention of "manufactured history."

In the historical record, one finds a letter from a Dr. Chanca, who accompanied Christopher Columbus during his second voyage to the Caribbean. Chanca speculated that some young men held prisoners by a Carib group were being fattened to the slaughter for feasting.

Neither the wanton killing and rape by Spanish colonists of the first group of Caribs encountered — recorded during the same trip by others on the ship — nor the Caribs' fierce, valiant defense of their territories and people are apparently proper subjects for a Disney movie.

The St. Vincent and the Grenadines Historical and Archaeological Society has called for a boycott of the sequel by moviegoers if Disney does not modify the script. Paul Lewis, the society secretary, charged that perpetuating the image of Caribs as cannibals sets back a serious effort in the region to provide a more "honest share of [Caribbean] history" to the indigenous people.

The governments of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Dominica, who will benefit somewhat from the production activities in their countries, have not objected. In fact, the tourism minister of Dominica has defended the proposed film, which would bring some economic benefits to people on the island and which is, as he put it, only a "work of fiction."

Some Caribs, as can be expected, have applied for work as extras in the movie, a fact that has made some crow that this somehow exonerates Disney for its production. But that is all just public relations. Reality is that a huge company like Disney should know better in 2005 than to besmirch a living people with its most negative historical stereotype.

Clearly, Disney moviemakers need to consider the negative impacts of the dramatic storylines they choose to project to such a huge audience. It is not acceptable to create and recreate villains out of Native people while exulting and romanticizing the lives of pirates who in real life were murderers and thieves without regard for anyone. Call it what you may, "fiction" or dramatic or poetic license, it smacks of racism to us.


A Spat Over a Spit

The sequel to 'Pirates of the Caribbean' has Johnny Depp roasting over a fire. The imagery gets the film in hot water with a local tribal chief.

By Carol J. Williams
Times Staff Writer

April 25, 2005

BATAKA, Dominica — Sabers rattled and epithets rang across this lush tropical island long before the first crew arrived this month to film the "Pirates of the Caribbean" sequel.

Somewhere in the middle of the movie, natives are supposed to capture Johnny Depp's character, Captain Jack Sparrow, and spit-roast the swashbuckling pirate with fruits and vegetables "like a shish kebab," said Bruce Hendricks, the Walt Disney Pictures executive in charge of production.

"It's a funny, almost campy sequence," he said of a film also populated by ghost pirates and zombies. "There are a lot of silly moments in it."

But some of Dominica's Carib inhabitants are offended by what they consider an insinuation that their forebears were cannibals. They've called on the 3,500-strong population that is the last surviving indigenous group in the Caribbean to choose between fleeting fame and tribal honor. Chief Charles Williams asked his community to boycott the project, but most have welcomed the financial infusion.

To those Dominicans who see the economic benefits of the film shoot, it is a frivolous spat over a fantasy story. To others such as Williams, it is a blotch on the image of the Caribs. The group is a minority on Dominica, whose 70,000 people are mostly of African descent.

Disney argues that the film is fiction, but Williams says it draws on history.

"Pirates did come to the Caribbean in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries," he said. "Our ancestors were labeled cannibals. This is being filmed in the Caribbean."

History books still cast the Caribs as cannibals during the time of the European settlement of the Caribbean that began in the 15th century but didn't reach Dominica, a tiny island in the eastern Caribbean, until 200 years later. But the indigenous people, the chief argues, were simply defending themselves.

"Today, that myth, that stigma is still alive," Williams said, denying that the Caribs ever ate those they vanquished. "Today, Disney wants to popularize that stigma one more time, this time through film, and film is a powerful tool of propaganda."

He recalls watching Western films as a boy in the 1960s and cheering for the embattled white settlers rather than the displaced indigenous people. "They were the stars of the film," Williams said. "They were the ones being attacked."

As newly elected chief of the Carib Territorial Council, Williams was approached by a delegation of Disney executives in October to discuss Carib collaboration on the film, for which about 400 locals have been hired as grips, caterers, drivers and extras. When the chief learned of the scene depicting Depp's character on the barbecue spit, he said the Caribs would boycott the production.

"For me, a good name is better than riches," Williams said. "Shame on us that for a few dollars we are betraying our flesh and blood."

Other Caribs say the chief is taking offense where none was intended.

"He didn't have the right to make that decision for the entire community," said Christabelle Auguiste, the only woman on the seven-member tribal council. She regards the filming of a potential blockbuster in her homeland as an opportunity to show off the island's stunning natural attractions and to raise international consciousness about the Caribs and their traditions. The first "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie grossed more than $650 million worldwide.

"Throughout the years, there's been this picture painted of us as cannibals. The fact that some people might have had an arm or a leg in their homes didn't mean they ate people. They were kept as tokens of war," Auguiste said of her ancestors and their clashes with European invaders.

Like the majority of Dominica's Caribs, Auguiste is of mixed heritage, her family having intermarried with the island's Afro-Caribbeans. The Caribs migrated from South America a millennium ago and share the mahogany skin and facial features of the indigenous peoples of that continent.

The six-week filming will not only provide short-term employment for Caribs and a boost in service-industry revenue, but it "will also clear the air," said Auguiste, a tour guide who has been offered a minor role in the sequel.

"It took 250 years for Dominica to be colonized after the arrival of Christopher Columbus," she said. "Dominica is the only country Columbus would recognize now if he revisited. This is something the Carib people should be proud of."

The Carib Territory in the northeast of the country is an enclave of poverty belied by the bounty of banana, breadfruit and guava trees along the road. Lush fern groves are abloom with ginger lilies, birds of paradise and orchids. The thickly forested parks and mountains rustle with monkeys, iguanas and brightly plumed parrots.

From thatched huts that have changed little over centuries, Carib women weave mats and baskets from reeds and men carve canoes from tree trunks. Those crafts, along with fishing and farming, are their main source of income.

Auguiste said her community would only lose by being uncooperative because Disney executives had made clear that they would film the sequel on St. Vincent, the location for the original, if they were thwarted on Dominica. Some scenes of the sequel were shot on St. Vincent in early April.

At the urging of Caribs who wanted to work with the moviemakers, the council convened in January to debate the Disney project and voted 6-0 to overrule Williams' unilateral decision. The chief abstained from the vote but has continued to denounce the project. He won't allow any of the production crew that began arriving in mid-April stay at the seven-room hotel he operates in the territory.

Tourism Minister Charles Savarin said the film, due in cinemas in summer 2006, could put Dominica on the international map.

"We've been seeking to create tourism to diversify our economy from its total dependence on agriculture," Savarin said, noting that the market for Dominican bananas has been shrinking drastically. "This film provides us with an opportunity to showcase the island in a film that millions of people around the world will see. The island is not well known now. It's often confused with the Dominican Republic. This will expose us to the international community in a way we have long been pursuing."

The immediate economic benefits are obvious, he said, with construction workers deployed to build sets, taxi drivers shuttling camera crews to remote filming sites and hundreds of others getting work as grips and extras from both the African and Carib communities. In the longer term, he said, other moviemakers could be sold on Dominica's natural backdrop of mountains, rain forest and waterfalls, and moviegoers could be enticed to book vacations.

He has no qualms about the human barbecue scene — a peril from which Sparrow apparently escapes, because production has already begun on a third Pirates movie. "The Caribs are not being portrayed as cannibals, because it's not a story about the Caribs," the tourism minister said. "To my mind, this is as much a mythical story as 'Batman' or 'Superman' or 'Dracula.' "

Carib historian Prosper Paris applauds the council's decision to let people decide whether they want to take part in the film, saying that is the democratic approach — and a pragmatic one for a community that suffers as much as 70% unemployment. But he worries about long-term implications for harmony among the Caribs.

"This is creating animosity inside. When people live in a deprived society, they need employment and will turn a deaf ear to the negative image the work might involve," he said. "I worry that there will always remain a stigma" toward those who work on the film.

"This is a way to make money but you have to think about your principles, pride and culture," said Kathleen Jno-Lewis, school principal for the 94 students in this village that serves as the seat of the Carib Territory, the self-governing reservation on which most of the community lives. "No 'Pirates of the Caribbean' can pay us for this legacy."

Lorna Dalsan, curator of the Dominica Museum, said the distorted accounts of the Carib population in school history classes here as recently as the 1980s kept the Caribs isolated and feared by the majority of Dominicans.

"When I was a child, they were not so integrated. They had a more warlike image and we were told they were fierce," recalled Dalsan, who is of African descent. "I know the Caribs were not happy with this portrayal, but it's what we were taught. It was in the history books, which came from England."

European settlers who brought in African slaves to work coffee and fruit plantations in the late 17th century may have cast the indigenous people as savage cannibals to scare their captives out of trying to escape, Dalsan speculates.

For the locals being paid almost $100 a day to give the film a more authentic ethnic backdrop, there is tolerance for literary license.

"It's just a movie," said Annmarie Valmond, a 45-year-old fruit farmer who has been hired as an extra. "It's the kind of picture you look at and say, 'Well, that's obviously not real!' "

Aaron Aubigny makes his living as a drummer in the Karifauna cultural group that puts on shows of native dance and music for tour groups shuttled in from the cruise ship pier in Roseau, a 90-minute drive west. He has been hired to appear in the film and brushes off suggestions that the spit-roasting scene will besmirch his people.

"I don't remember ever eating flesh," the 32-year-old musician said. "If it was true that our people did that, I would be feeling it in my blood."

Disney's Hendricks argued that the controversial scene, which he said will be less than five minutes in a two-hour movie, should be taken in the context of the movie's other bouts of surrealism and camp.

"This is a big fantasy. There is no sense of reality or any idea that this is how the Caribs' life was in the 17th century," Hendricks said. "I think when people see the movie and its fantasy and comedic elements, I'm optimistic no one is going to be offended by it."

Natives stand in solidarity
Posted 6/27/06:

UCTP Stands in Solidarity with our Kalinago, Carib, and Garifuna Relatives

Taino'ti Guaitiao (Greetings relatives):

On behalf of the Taνno People and Nation represented by the United Confederation of Taνno People (UCTP), we are urging all our relations around the world to stand in solidarity with a peaceful protest against Walt Disney Pictures and their upcoming release of "The Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" for its erroneous depiction of Caribbean Indigenous Peoples as savage cannibals.

From the time Christopher Columbus arrived on our shores, it is well known that these "cannibal" images were used as propaganda to enslave and murder Natives Peoples throughout the hemisphere, and beyond.

Therefore, We, the Taino People have united our voices with our Kalinago, Carib, and Garinagu relatives to bring attention to this injustice, racist portrayal of Indigenous Peoples.

With our future generations in our minds and hearts, we urge all our relations to BOYCOTT THIS FILM AND ALL DISNEY PRODUCTS until this company recognizes the injustice and the multi-generational trauma this type of imagery has and continues to inflict upon on our communities, especially our youth.

All people of good conscience should be appalled at these denigrating, stereotypical portrayals attempting to be disguised by DISNEY as humor and entertainment.

In advance, we say Bo'matum (thank you) for your support.

In the Spirit of our Ancestors,
Roberto Mϊcaro Borrero,
President and Chairman,
UCTP Regional Coordinating Office

Naniki Reyes Ocasio
Founder, Caney Quinto Mundo,
Boriken (Puerto Rico)

Elba Anaca Lugo,
President, Consejo General de Tainos Borincanos,
Boriken (Puerto Rico)

Don Cesar Serraty,
Fundacion Luz Cosmica Taino,
Quiskeya (Dominican Republic)

Chief Reginaldo Fredericks,
Joboshirima Lokono Arawak Community
Estado Bolivar, Venezuela

*Please review the UCTP Resolution 04/17/05:
"Reaffirming Our Solidarity with Our Carib Relatives" at


Garifuna American Heritage Foundation United
Press Release

Garifuna American Heritage Foundation United organizes a protest against the World Premiere of Walt Disney Pictures' Pirates of the Caribbean — Dead Man's Chest.

Long Beach, California – Tuesday, June 20 2006: GAHFU's President and Founder Ms. Cheryl Noralez announced that on Saturday, June 24 2006 between the hours of 2:00 to 4:00 pm, her organization along with a group of concerned Garifuna leaders in the Los Angeles area will be protesting the premiere of Disney Pictures' Pirates of the Caribbean – Dead Man's Chest at Disneyland in Anaheim, California.

GAHFU, Inc. is a non-profit organization based in Long Beach, California. Our purpose is to preserve the uniqueness of the Garifuna culture, history, language, music, arts & crafts and values by working closely with the Garifuna community not only in Los Angeles County, but throughout the world. We seek to enhance and showcase the image and vision of the Garifuna people through education, music and the arts.

"It has been brought to our attention that the Walt Disney Company intends to film a movie called "The Pirates of the Caribbean" in which the Caribs or Calinago, the ancestors of the Garinagu (as we refer to ourselves in our language) are portrayed as cannibals." These are words from Michael Polonio, President, of the National Garifuna Council of Belize.

We believe that not only the Garifuna people have been wrongfully portrayed in the movie as cannibals but also other indigenous people of the Caribbean who are closely related to us as in the case of the Taino people; therefore, we have invited the Taino community in Los Angeles to participate and they have promptly accepted the invitation to stand united with the Garinagu.

We are inviting all of the indigenous people of the Caribbean to join us in this protest. The meeting place to protest will be at Harbor Blvd.'s front entrance of Disneyland in Anaheim, California starting at 1:30 pm. We strongly urge participants not to bring sticks, drums, shakers or anything that could be used as a weapon to the event. Also, teenagers are encouraged to come with their parents to join us for this peaceful protest.

"Eibugaba lidan ligemeri Inaruni — Walk in the light of truth"
- James Lovell

Cheryl L. Noralez, President & Founder


To: The Garifuna Nation

This is the time and place for the Garifuna Nation to stand together for a peaceful protest against Walt Disney Pictures. The Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest portrays our Ancestors as savage cannibals. Our united voices must be heard to restore the honor, dignity and pride of our people. We have only one week to organize a protest. Please contact me via e-mail or call (562) 366-9396 if you are serious about joining this protest. This is a very important cause. I truly hope that we can get at least a handful of courageous and proud Garinagu to participate in this protest, especially our Garifuna leaders.




View trailer of Pirates' of Caribbean Dead Man's Chest:



What: World Premiere of Walt Disney Pictures', Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

When: Saturday, June 24, 2006

Where: Disneyland — 1313 South Harbor Blvd. Anaheim, CA 28027
(in front of Disneyland main entrance on Harbor Blvd.)

Time: 2:00-5:00 PM


Cheryl Noralez, CEO and Founder

The outcome
One more thought on Pirates
Picking on Pirates  [Rob's review]
Pirates parodies Indians  [Critics' reviews]

More on Pirates of the Caribbean
Aztec curse in Pirates

Related links
Indians as cannibals
Indiana Jones and the stereotypes of doom
Savage Indians
The best Indian movies

* More opinions *
  Join our Native/pop culture blog and comment
  Sign up to receive our FREE newsletter via e-mail
  See the latest Native American stereotypes in the media
  Political and social developments ripped from the headlines

. . .

Home | Contents | Photos | News | Reviews | Store | Forum | ICI | Educators | Fans | Contests | Help | FAQ | Info

All material © copyright its original owners, except where noted.
Original text and pictures © copyright 2007 by Robert Schmidt.

Copyrighted material is posted under the Fair Use provision of the Copyright Act,
which allows copying for nonprofit educational uses including criticism and commentary.

Comments sent to the publisher become the property of Blue Corn Comics
and may be used in other postings without permission.