KALINAGO TOUNA AUTÉ (TOUNA VILLAGE)
By Paul Crask, author of Dominica published by Bradt Travel Guides
Dominica’s Kalinago live in a communally owned mountain and coastal area on the east of the island known as the Carib Territory. The Kalinago’s ancesters were Amerindian adventurers who migrated northwards from the Amazon River Delta along the Lesser Antilles island chain long before Columbus chanced upon the region in the 15th century. Having assimilated into the islands and developed their own identity, the Kalinago became known by Europeans as Island Caribs, or simply Caribs.
The Kalinago are proud of who they are and where they have come from. Unique to the region, Dominica is the only island where pre-Columbian settlers still cling on to a piece of their home and actively maintain their culture, skills and heritage. Traditional larouma basketware is sold from roadside stalls and craft shops throughout the island and the Kalinago Barana Auté, a model village constructed as both a tourist site and memorial to how Dominica’s indigenous people used to live, is very popular with visitors.
Former Kalinago Chief, Irvince Auguiste, decided to take the concept of the Kalinago Barana Auté one step further. Instead of a model village dedicated to the past, he would build a living village dedicated very much to the present and the future. Located along the banks of the Pagua River on the northern boundary of the Carib Territory, Touna Auté is an original and fascinating experience. From the moment you enter this village, you realise this is a place with a difference. The premise of Touna Auté is that it is a real village, with real people living in it, who willingly open up their homes and share their life experiences with visitors. In fact it is actually a requirement of living here.
A warm welcome is followed by a tour of the village – to the home of a family of basket weavers for example. In their small garden they have a wooden bench beneath a thatched shelter where they create basketware products for a living. Watch them at work or even try it out for yourself. At another home the Kalinago family prepare and sell fresh local fruit juice. They also have a traditional wooden sugarcane press in their garden and visitors are welcome to crush some themselves for a refreshing glass of juice. At a third house, the owner is a keen gardener and herbalist. His home is a living encyclopaedia of tropical flowers, plants and natural medicines. Visitors are encouraged to take their time, stop for a chat, learn something new, relax and feel part of the village. You can even stay overnight with a Kalinago family – enjoy their hospitality, share a meal with them and swap stories. A walk to the river side brings you to the village carbet, a traditional and functional thatched structure that is used for meetings and to welcome visitors. Irvince’s own home, where his daughter has constructed a cassava bread oven, is also a hive of activity.
Touna Auté is an evolving, dynamic and living project that successfully combines past with present, and introduces travellers to the every day existence of Dominica’s indigenous people. It is a respectful coming together and an ingenious way of preserving and promoting the Kalinago way of life. I recommend every visitor to Dominica should take some time to visit this marvellous place.