Journey to...The Caribbean
  • Journey to...The Caribbean

    Off the coast of the main American continents are a group of islands with their own cultures, histories, conflicts, and stories. Although influences from South America and eventually West Africa, Spain, and France wove their ways into the folklore of the Caribbean, the synthesis of these influences have created a beautiful and sometimes melancholy portrait of the native folk who call the islands home. Our focus will be on the original native cultures and their lives prior to European contact. As always we can offer only a glimpse into the true depth of these cultures, so I encourage you to do your own research.

    The people for whom the Caribbean are named may not have originated in the islands or at the least are related to groups from South America. The Carib, at least some, may have migrated up from the coastal regions of South America to the Lesser Antilles. Often referred to as the Island Carib or the Kalinago, these people had a reputation as being fierce warriors and according to some, also being cannibals. It should be remembered however, that these reputations may have been exaggerated by European settlers or other indigenous rivals of the Carib. The study of their history is still ongoing and any cannibalism may have been discrete and special war ritual as opposed to a broad based consumption of their enemies. However, the Carib do seem to have kept limbs of enemies as war trophies. Additionally, they kept the bones of ancestors in their homes. This seems to be in accordance with a belief system that included ideas of the living gaining some measure of energy or power from the remains of the dead.

    The shaman figure played a role in that belief system as well. Using local herbs they healed the sick and underwent special training to become shamans, as opposed to becoming warriors. One of the primary duties of the shaman however, was to cast spells to keep Maybouya quiet and avoid that spirit from doing harm to individuals. Aside from being great warriors and (apparently) deeply spiritual, the Carib are considered great boat builders and navigators.

    Before the Carib migrations, there was a sub-group of the Arawak people who had dominated the islands of the Caribbean for many hundreds of years or longer. These are the Taino and the time of European contact the Taino dominated the islands of Cuba, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, as well as some others. Generally more congenial that the late arriving Caribs, the Taino were also practiced at farming and hunting animals for food. In fact the Taino practiced a form of shifting agriculture to keep their fields fertile. This helped their culture thrive.

    Taino culture was quite advanced, built around a hierarchical society with hereditary chiefs and several; castes or strata of society. They were artisans, creating pottery and baskets, and tool makers fashioning these from stone and wood. As with many Amerindian cultures they played a game for the purposes of recreation that included a ball and rectangular courts. As with the Carib, the Taino had an impressive cosmology and set of spiritual beliefs. Along with a creator god (Yocahu) and several deities of the sky, the Taino favored Zemi. There are many zemi artifacts and it is believed that if a Taino was in good favor with the zemis, then they need not fear Maboya. Maboya was a night time spirit that wreaked destruction. Although I could not find it in my research specifically, I suspect the Taino Maboya and Carib Maybouya could be related. Certainly after many years of conflict and some cohabitation, the Carib and Taino cultures mixed, especially in terms of spirituality.
    It should be noted the Carib and Taino are not the only inhabitants of the islands, but several tribes have been swallowed up in the sands of time and inconsistent and often ignorant colonial categorization. To name a few:the Igneri, Ciboney, and Ciguayo. I would suggest further reading and investigation if you are interested.

    How would I incorporate the Caribbean peoples into a game or campaign? As mentioned before, I would not relegate them to be mere savages or cannibalistic cultures to be exploited by adventure. In other words, I would not make them objects, I would make them the subjects of the campaign. Several game systems, Fate Core perhaps or HeroQuest could handle a campaign told from the point of view of these tribal folk. A campaign based around spirituality, mythology, and loyalty to one's tribal group would work especially well. Instead of robbing tombs, the characters would carry out important physical hunts and spiritual rituals on behalf of their people. I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.

    ​contributed by Sean Hillman
    Comments 7 Comments
    1. Yaztromo's Avatar
      Yaztromo -
      Great article, thanks!
    1. Polyhedral Columbia's Avatar
      Polyhedral Columbia -
      Cool. Thanks for this.

      I have a couple Caribbean analogues at my D&D Genres webpage.

      • Nuari of the Pearl Islands of Mystara (=Afro-Caribbean analogue)
      • Caymen from AC2: Combat Shield and Mini-Adventure (=Indigenous Carib analogue)
    1. roaminpizza's Avatar
      roaminpizza -
      The islands of the Caribbean Sea or West Indies are an extensive archipelago in the far west of the Atlantic Ocean.
    1. Imaculata's Avatar
      Imaculata -
      I'm still running a pirate campaign that is basically a fantasy-Caribbean setting. The various cultures are basically what the campaign is all about. It is an adventure where the players are both pirates and explorers, making contact with various tribes, forging alliances, and learning all about their culture and beliefs.

      But, there are also cannibals. Because cannibals did exist, and part of running a pirate campaign, is that it should also fill some checkboxes regarding pirate tropes. That is why there is also a ghost pirate captain, because of course there is!
    1. vpuigdoller's Avatar
      vpuigdoller -
      Since I was born and raised in Puerto Rico Inusually tend to include in my campaigns an extra pantheon based on Caribbean indigenous cultures. This article was nice, thank you for it!
    1. johndesmarais's Avatar
      johndesmarais -
      At least once, in any Pulp Adventure game that runs for more than a few sessions, the heroes will end up somewhere in the Caribbean. There's just too much potentially unusual stuff to not.

      btw, I'm seriously digging these "Journey to..." posts.
    1. SMHWorlds's Avatar
      SMHWorlds -
      Quote Originally Posted by johndesmarais View Post
      ...btw, I'm seriously digging these "Journey to..." posts.
      Glad to hear it. We have many more to go
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