Who Were the Caribs and the Arawaks?

The Caribs and the Arawaks were the original inhabitants of the island of Trinidad. When Christopher Columbus arrived in Trinidad in 1498, both tribes of people were enslaved or killed or died off from various diseases.

The Carib and Arawak tribes are widely believed to be the primary original native peoples of Trinidad. The native people, collectively known as Amerindians, called the island Ka-ire or I-ere, but when Columbus arrived, he named it Trinidad after the Holy Trinity.

According to Caribbean Beat, it is believed that Columbus viewed the Arawaks as a peaceful tribe, helpful to the Spanish settlers and willing to convert to Christianity, while the Caribs were viewed as war-loving savages who had worked their way from island to island, killing other tribes and eating the men. However, mainstream belief as of 2014, according to Trinidadian journalist Kim Johnson, is that the Arawaks were actually the Taino people, and there is no archaeological evidence that the Caribs were cannibals.

Queen Isabella passed a law that no native person could be enslaved, so it is believed that Columbus justified enslaving the native people who resisted the Spaniards, the Caribs, by claiming they were savage cannibals based on flimsy evidence or a misunderstanding of cultural rituals. Queen Isabella later passed another law allowing any native person to be enslaved to replace the native people dying in the gold mines of Cuba.