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The Caribbean islands have enthralled the European imagination since the advent of colonization in the region. As literary and visual depictions of the Caribbean circulated throughout western Europe, a set of enduring myths about Caribbean island geographies and inhabitants developed, including an association with the paradoxical concept of "Paradise." The region has been portrayed in equal parts as being Edenic and serene, inhabited by peaceful, indolent people and as wild and threatening, home to primitive man-eaters. Rooted in European political, economic, and religious motivations, these stereotypes were propagated via countless "ethnographic" reports and fictional adventure stories. Centuries-old myths of Caribbean cannibalism have been especially resilient and continue to appear in mainstream Euro-American media. As a result, indigenous Kalinago and Garifuna communities throughout the Caribbean and Central America are still working to overcome these malicious characterizations.

Drawing on the discursive analytic framework developed by Ella Shohat and Robert Stam (1994), this article situates current stereotypes about the Caribbean within colonialist discourses of the past five centuries, and contextualizes them within ongoing socio-cultural narratives. My analysis is couched within a comparison of two filmic representations of Indigenous Caribbean people and geographies: Walt Disney Pictures' Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006), which employs the full gamut of negative stereotypes about Indigenous Caribbean people, and documentary filmmaker Andrea E. Leland's Yurumein: Homeland (2014), which seeks to dismantle these same stereotypes and to highlight Indigenous Caribbean historical narratives and identities. By analyzing the ways these two films engage with longstanding Euro-American historical narratives about Caribbean geography and Indigeneity, the article speaks to cinema's potential to perpetuate or contest stereotypes of historically marginalized peoples and places, to foreground or disregard Indigenous voices and experiences.


In the spring of 2005, documentary filmmaker Andrea E. Leland was on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, gathering footage for the follow-up to her award-winning 1998 film The Garifuna Journey. The new footage culminated in the film Yurumeiti: Homeland (2014), which expands on The Garifuna journey by delving into the spiritual and historical significance of the islands of St. Vincent and Baliceaux to Afro-Indigenous Garifuna communities. It documents the experiences of Garifuna men and women as they pilgrimage to the islands seeking spiritual connections to the land of their ancestors. They also visit St. Vincent with the goal of introducing their culture to a closely related Indigenous people, the Kalinago, who have largely lost the language and customs of their ancestors. By documenting these interactions, the film shows both Garifuna and Kalinago working to articulate a positive cultural identity and overcome destructive stereotypes about their people. (1)

While Leland was completing her work in St. Vincent, the second of Walt Disney Pictures' Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy was also being filmed on the island. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006) features the Pelegostos, a fictionalized Indigenous people who dwell in the lush, forested mountains of an unnamed Caribbean island. Within the narrative of the film, the Pelegostos function as a formidable, yet comical, threat to the lives of British adventurer Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), pirate Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and his crew (see figure 1). The Pelegostos, while ostensibly fictitious, strongly remind informed viewers of the historical Kalinago people in terms of their guerrilla warfare tactics, dress, physical appearance, and (alleged) practices of cannibalism. Their appearance in Pirates of the Caribbean deeply offended many members of the Kalinago and Garifuna community, as these characters embody archetypes of primitive, cannibalistic Caribbean natives that have been perpetuated for centuries in Euro-American popular media.

For nearly three decades, Leland has been producing documentary films that explore the history and culture of Caribbean island communities. Her approach to filmmaking is what she calls "insider/outsider collaboration," a dialogic methodology that prioritizes the voices and aesthetics of local culture-bearers (Leland 2018). In Leland's films, social, artistic, and political actions are placed within the context of their culture, imploring the viewer to confront old myths and discover new perspectives. Thus, as Leland's latest project continued to actively confront and dismantle longstanding stereotypes about Kalinago/ Garifuna people, Walt Disney Pictures was reinforcing them. As she filmed a group of Indigenous people working to reclaim and celebrate their history and culture, Disney was appropriating this same culture for the purpose of campy, multi-million dollar entertainment.

While these two films are vastly different in terms of genre, budget, and intended audience, I place them in conversation with one another for several reasons. First, their narratives both touch on historical interactions between European and Indigenous Caribbean peoples, either in a sensationalized way (Pirates) or in order to foreground the Indigenous experience in these interactions (Yurumein). Second, the two films engage with the same set of stereotypes about Caribbean Indigenes, albeit from opposing directions. Third, they were being filmed on the small island of St. Vincent at the same time, so the production and release of Pirates and Yurumein impacted many of the same Kalinago/Garifuna communities and individuals. Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, the contrasting reactions of Kalinago/Garinagu to each film (shame and outrage toward Pirates juxtaposed by pride and appreciation for Yurumein) raise questions about audience interpretation of film, the responsibility of filmmakers in the representation of subaltern people and cultures, and the potential of film to create spaces for productive discourse about the stereotyping and marginalization of Indigenous peoples. Due to its postcolonial lens and collaborative filmmaking process, Leland's work serves as a valuable counterpoint to films like Pirates of the Caribbean by troubling dominant images of the Caribbean and its inhabitants. Yurumein is an example of how film can be used to combat neo-colonialism by revealing the perspectives, geographies, and histories that were left out of the Disney frame.

My perspective on this topic is that of an ethnomusicologist who has been studying Garifuna music, history, and religion among Belizean communities since 2009. Since 2014, I have also served as the outreach coordinator for Leland's film Yurumein. In my teaching and research, I seek to provide nuanced historical and ethnographic accounts of past and present music-cultures, advocate for the continued reclamation and transmission of Garifuna culture, and produce scholarship that is multivocal in that it foregrounds Garifuna voices, experiences, and historical narratives.


This article compares two filmic representations of Indigenous Caribbean people and geographies by outsiders (Andrea Leland and Walt Disney Pictures). I am interested in the ways that these two films engage with longstanding historical narratives and stereotypes about Caribbean geography and Indigeneity in Euro-American literature and film, and the ways in which they highlight or disregard Indigenous voices and experiences. I begin my analysis with a description of the relevant scenes in Pirates of the Caribbean and a discussion of the Kalinago/Garifuna community's reactions to the film. Next, the article explores the five-century history of Euro-American fantasies about Caribbean geographies and people, focusing on the socio-political reasons for "othering" Indigenous Caribbean people, and then discusses the ways these stereotypes continue to play out via neo-colonial dynamics. Following, it offers a brief history of Caribbean stereotypes in Hollywood film, and situates and problematizes Pirates of the Caribbean's stereotyping of Indigenous Caribbean communities within this cinematic history. It then contrasts the representation of Caribbean islands and Indigeneity in Pirates of the Caribbean with that in Leland's documentary film Yurumein. The final section of the article discusses why the continued use of stereotypes in film is detrimental to both those being represented and to viewers, and ponders how film can be used to trouble discourses and stereotypes about Caribbean people and lands.

In my analysis, I employ ethnomusicologist Thomas Turino's notion of Indigenous as "people and lifeways that are part of cultural trajectories with roots predating the colonial period or that, in terms of ethos and practice, provide local alternatives to cosmopolitanism" (18). Rounding out this definition is James Clifford's concept of "articulated sites of Indigeneity," which asserts that Indigeneity does not merely encompass ancient laws or unchanging traditions, but rather, involves "pragmatic, entangled, contemporary forms of Indigenous cultural politics" (472). These two definitions of Indigeneity capture the complex web of tradition, history, and cosmopolitanism that make up Indigenous identities, lifestyles, and communities today. Indigeneity in the Caribbean is articulated and expressed in countless ways; it is not a monolithic way of being. By referring to the Kalinago and Garinagu as Indigenous people, I am acknowledging three things: the pre-colonial origins of their communities, histories, and culture; their self-identification as Indigenous people; and their present-day efforts to reclaim, celebrate, and identify with this heritage in the context of an increasingly globalized, interconnected world.

The work of Ella Shohat and Robert Stam (1994) provides two productive frameworks for analyzing colonial stereotypes in mainstream media: historicized stereotype analysis and discursive analysis. As they argue, simple "stereotypes and distortions" analyses, which seek to "correct" misrepresentations and reveal the "truth" of a people or culture, are limited (179). Truth is always subjective and elusive, especially when the truths we are looking for happened centuries ago, as is the case for the historical narratives and cultures explored in this article. However, Shohat and Stam add, "although there is no absolute truth, no truth apart from representation and dissemination, there are still contingent, qualified, perspectival truths in which communities are invested" (179). Using this framework, I aim to situate stereotypes about the Caribbean within colonialist discourses of the past five centuries, and ultimately to link the discourses presented in Pirates of the Caribbean and Yurumein "not with an inaccessible 'real' but with other socially circulated cognate discourses forming part of a continuum" (Shohat and Stam 215). This work adds to the literature on "paradise discourse" (Strachan 2002; Sheller 2003) by exploring its presence in film, and is situated within the larger area of tropicalization studies, which seeks to understand the history and implications of Euro-American narratives of the Caribbean as a tropical paradise.

While the purpose of this article is to analyze films about Indigenous Caribbean communities produced by non-Indigenous filmmakers, it bears mentioning that Indigenous-produced Caribbean cinema is currently on the rise. Several feature-length films have been produced by Garifuna filmmakers in recent years. Each of these films deal, on some level, with questions of Garifuna cultural identity in a globalizing world. Garifuna in Peril (2012), directed by independent filmmaker Ali Allie and Honduran Garifuna educator Ruben Reyes, is the first feature film with the majority of dialogue in the Garifuna language. It tells the story of a Garifuna-American family as they struggle to maintain their cultural traditions and ties to their Honduran homeland while living in Los Angeles. Garifuna filmmakers Maria Jose Alvarez and Martha Clarissa Hernandez's documentary Lubaraun (2014) follows an elderly Garifuna man as he travels to Honduras, the land of his ancestors. Wayunagu (2016) by Christopher Miles is an action film that tells the story of a Garifuna-American kickboxer who, upon his return to Honduras, faces cultural disorientation. Moreover, in 2012, the Garifuna International Indigenous Film Festival (GUFF) was founded in Los Angeles with the mission to "support the preservation of all indigenous cultures in the world through art and film" ( The analysis of Garifuna filmmaking-as-activism is outside the focus of this article, but certainly deserves scholarly attention as it continues to take on an increasingly important role in the international Garifuna cultural renaissance.


In Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, the Pelegostos people first appear about twenty minutes into the film, when the British Will Turner is caught in a snare by a group of Pelegostos men. These men are camouflaged in full body paint, with necklaces, earrings, armbands, and anklets of bone, shell, and feather adorning their bodies. Many have large nose piercings and sharpened teeth, and all carry deadly pointed spears. As Turner hangs upside down from his trap, he is shot with a poisoned dart and passes out. When he revives, he is tied to a bamboo pole carted by two men in feathered headdresses and loincloths. These men carry him across a rickety bridge to a barren mountain-top with stunning views of the surrounding mountains and sea. There, Turner spots Jack Sparrow sitting placidly on a throne constructed of bamboo, human bones, and palm fronds. Adorned in the garb of the Pelegostos--a large headdress of cloth and colorful feathers, face paint, and a heavy necklace of bone and severed human digits--he has been crowned their king.

In this scene, the weaponry and apparel of the Pelegostos bear a striking resemblance to those of the Kalinago seen in historical prints and paintings, and appearing in written descriptions (compare figures 2 and 3). Colonial-era European writers described Kalinago weaponry as including spears, clubs, tomahawks, harpoons, and bows and arrows, which were sometimes poisoned (Hulme and Whitehead 150, 266). In a 1674 description, the Jesuit priest De la Borde reported that the Kalinago wrapped their hair in cotton and decorated it with brilliant feathers and shells, wore necklaces of large beads and stones, and placed delicate bits of metal through pierced ears, nostrils, and lower lips. Across their chests, men wore sashes of animal teeth and claws. Both Kalinago men and women wore loincloths and strips of fabric around their legs and arms, often dyed red with annatto juice, and painted their bodies with red, yellow, black, and white dyes (Hulme and Whitehead 136-153).

Back on the mountain top where Sparrow sits on his throne, Pelegostos men beat large barrel drums while a whooping, singing, dancing throng gathers around a large fire pit. The sonic and visual cacophony in this scene signals the beginning of a ceremony in which Sparrow will be barbecued. For a moment, viewers leave Sparrow as the film cuts to another location: a cage made of human bones hanging above a deep ravine, in which Sparrow's crew members are imprisoned. There, one of the pirates explains Sparrow's situation: "The Pelegostos made Jack their chief ... See, the Pelegostos believe that Jack is a god in human form, and they intend to do him the honor of releasing him from his fleshly prison. They'll roast him and eat him ... Jack's life will end when the drums stop." This fictional ceremony, together with its explanation, echoes historical Kalinago ceremonies in which drumming, singing, and dancing formed the basis of rituals to commune with spirits and celebrate the release of the spirit from the body at death (Hulme and Whitehead 120).

The striking similarities between Disney's Pelegostos people and the historical evidence about Kalinago culture extend beyond mere coincidence. The Pelegostos use the same types of weaponry, play a similar type of drum, wear the same type of clothing and body adornments, and are phenotypically similar to the historical Kalinago and their living descendants. This last parallel is undeniable, given the fact that many of the extras who play Pelegostos in the film were Kalinago people who lived in St. Vincent and Dominica. Perhaps more significantly, the Pelegostos embody a specific set of negative stereotypes--primitivism, unintelligence, and most pervasively, cannibalism--that have plagued Kalinago and Garifuna people for centuries. For Disney to claim that the Pelegostos are "imagineered" undermines and belittles the cultural identity of Kalinago/Garifuna communities who have spent centuries trying to overcome these malicious characterizations.


Many Kalinago/Garifuna people were infuriated by Walt Disney's negative representation of Caribbean Indigeneity in the form of the Pirates of the Caribbean's Pelegostos people. By seeing their own history and culture represented--however obliquely--in the film, Kalinago/Garifuna communities were confronted with what Albert Memmi calls "the mark of the plural" in which subaltern people are regarded as part of a homogenous mass, wherein "any negative behavior by any member of the oppressed community is instantly generalized as typical, as pointing to a perpetual backsliding toward some presumed negative essence" (Shohat and Stam 183). Marginalized groups' powerlessness to control their own representation leads to a continuum of sensitivity that is dependent on the group's history and current social status. Reactions to stereotyping in media can range from mild distress to "prejudicial social policy and actual violence against disempowered people" (183). This was the case for Kalinago and Garifuna communities, whose eighteenth-century genocide was viewed as justified, at least in part, by Europeans' pervasive representations of them as subhuman cannibals.

Early in the filming process on the island of Dominica, Walt Disney Pictures contacted Chief Charles Williams of the Dominica Carib Territory, asking if members of his community would play the roles of the Pelegostos in the film. Disney contacted Williams only after settling on a script, which is disappointing given the fact that for other films (specifically Pocahontas [1995] and Moana [2016]) Disney consulted with culture-bearers as plot and characters were being developed. Williams reported that his initial interactions with Disney proceeded as such: "The discussions went on and we were told that the film is a fiction movie, something to do with ghosts, it has strong element of cannibalism in it, they cannot hide it, they cannot change it, they must film the movie, they will dress us beyond recognition and we will not be mentioned" (2005 n.p.). Disney's desire to have Kalinago men and women represent cannibalistic Indigenous people made Williams uneasy, so he sought counsel from a number of leaders in Dominica. Chief Williams organized a series of council meetings in Carib villages and also met with the Prime Minister of Dominica, members of Parliament, and the Ministry of Tourism. To Williams's dismay, his people were not as united in their opposition to Pirates of the Caribbean as he had expected. In an official statement on the situation, he wrote:
   We have to understand that we
   through our ancestors were the
   ones whom the pirates encountered
   in the 15th 16th and 17th century
   when they came, and we were labeled
   savage cannibals because we
   stood and fought for our rights, and
   this is documented in every history
   book around the world that speaks
   of the Caribbean history, we are stigmatized
   up to this day as cannibals
   [...] Today Disney wants to popularize
   that stigma once more, this time
   through film. And to my amazement
   councilors whom the people trusted
   as leaders, councilors who served in
   the office of Kalinago chief, councilors
   who have served for several
   terms as leaders of the people, councilors
   who took an oath to serve the
   Kalinago people are betraying their
   own blood brothers and sisters and
   rallying them to participate in a
   film that so unjustly discriminates
   against us. (2005 n.p.)

The motives of the Kalinago who supported the project were simple: they wanted the chance to say they had acted in a Hollywood film, and they wanted to get paid. On small islands like St. Vincent and Dominica, steady paying work is extremely hard to come by. Vincentians were hired to clear areas for filming, construct and clean sets, or were cast as paid extras in the film, while local entrepreneurs set up shop near the shooting sites to sell snacks and trinkets. Many non-Kalinago islanders also supported Disney's presence because it brought business to local hotels, resorts, shops, and restaurants. All around, the project was a boon for the local economy, but as Chief Williams wrote to his constituents, "for a few dollars you all are betraying your own flesh and blood [...] money is not always the answer, love and cordial respect is worth much more for peace and tranquility to prevail in the world we live in" (2005 n.p.).

Meanwhile, the National Garifuna Council of Belize (NGC) sent a letter to Walt Disney Pictures explaining why the proposed film was offensive to Garinagu and other Indigenous Caribbean communities. Michael Polonio, president of the NGC, wrote:
   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 [sic], the ancestors
   of the Garinagu (as we refer to
   ourselves in our language) are portrayed
   as cannibals. We understand
   that preparations are underway to
   commence filming in Dominica in
   April of this year. We note on your
   website that Walt Disney has portrayed
   itself as a company which
   upholds the highest Business Standards
   and Ethics in the conduct of
   its affairs, and, therefore, are at odds
   to understand why you are involved
   in the perpetuation of this brutal
   and unjust myth and wrongdoing
   against the Calinago (the Caribs)
   and their descendants. There is no
   credible scientific evidence or reliable
   report that the people in question
   were cannibals [...] If the Walt
   Disney Corporation is indeed about
   integrity and truth, then we ask that
   you desist from filming this movie
   as currently scripted and that you
   hold honest, truthful, respectful and
   constructive consultations with the
   living descendants of the Calinago
   (Caribs) in Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua,
   St. Vincent (known as Yurumein
   in our language) and Dominica.
   Ours is a story of epic proportions
   that needs to be told and we would
   not mind collaborating with your
   company in honestly and truthfully
   relating the Calinago/Garifuna/Carib
   story. (2006 n.p.)

The response they received from Walt Disney Pictures was simply that the script could not be altered. Following this response, the Garifuna American Heritage Foundation United (GAHFU) of Los Angeles organized a peaceful protest at the film's Disneyland premiere in Anaheim, California. Prior to the protest, GAHFU's founder and president, Cheryl Noralez, issued a press release that outlined her organization's motives:
   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.
   (2006 n.p.)

All of this outcry went unheeded by Disney and the script remained unaltered. This incident calls into question the ethical practices of major media industries like Hollywood and illustrates the power that they have in dictating global representations of marginalized groups. It is an example of an Indigenous community bravely speaking out against the perpetuation of negative representations in mainstream media. It also raises questions about our social responsibility not only as consumers of film, but as directors, critics, and educators.


The Caribbean islands have provided fodder for the imagination of Europeans since Christopher Columbus set foot in the Bahamas in 1492. Tales of verdant jungles, dramatic vistas, and pure-white beaches caressed by crystalline azure seas have enchanted Europeans for centuries. As literary and visual depictions of the Caribbean circulated, the region quickly became associated with the concept of "paradise," which Ian Strachan defines as "the prelapsarian, pre-civilized Garden of Eden, the Paradise on Earth inhabited by humanity at the time of Creation" (5). Due to its tropical climate and isolation from the mainland, the Caribbean islands and inhabitants perfectly embodied this fantasy for Europeans. However, conceptions of paradise were complex and, at times, contradictory. Strachan explains:
   At various periods in the past five
   hundred years, paradise has been
   associated with notions of the primitive,
   innocence, savagery, and a lack
   of civilization, as well as of ignorance
   and nakedness, health and happiness,
   isolation from the rest of the
   world and humanity, timelessness,
   nature's beauty and abundance, life
   without labor, human beings' absolute
   freedom and domination over
   nature as God's stewards on Earth,
   and connections of paradise with
   concepts of wild pleasure, perpetual
   sunshine, and leisure. (5)

Just as larger European conceptions of paradise were often paradoxical, the European impulse toward Caribbean land was dualistic, as the hostile desire to forcibly subdue nature constantly competed with the desire to gaze upon idyllic, untouched wilderness landscapes (Strachan 18). In European literature from the colonial era, these contradictory views appear in equal measure. Writings about the Caribbean islands' fertile soils, abundant, exotic fruits, and beautiful vistas coexist with accounts of biting insects, tropical diseases, intense heat and impenetrable, shadowy jungles.

Along with writings about the Caribbean geographies, "ethnographic" accounts and fantastical stories about Indigenous Caribbean peoples circulated widely during the colonial era. Tales of peaceful people who fished, gathered succulent fruits, and spent their days lounging in hammocks were matched by accounts of a primitive, man-eating race of warriors. Starting in the fifteenth century European writers published travelogues, articles, and adventure novels, set in all corners of the world, that included encounters with cannibals. The cannibals of the Caribbean have had a strong hold on the European imagination since that time; in fact, the word "cannibal" is a corruption of the names "Kalinago" or "Carib" (Roessingh 212).

During the late colonial period, adventure literature was an incredibly popular genre in Europe and North America. This literary genre effectively solidified the tropes of Caribbean cannibalism, savagery, and religious primitivism in the European imagination; authors created sensational stories about encounters with man-eating Caribbean cannibals that were voraciously consumed by people from all sectors of society (Brown 11). One "non-fiction" seventeenth century book explained that "[t]he Caribbeans have tasted of all the nations that frequented them, and affirm that the French are the most delicate and the Spaniards are hardest of digestion" (Rochefort in Hulme and Whitehead 266). A 1776 publication confirmed that "The French particularly are so positive in relating these matters that they have assured us, with an air of Triumph, that the Caribs had declared the Flesh of one of their Countrymen eat much better than that of a Spaniard, and with a more delicate flavor" (Senhouse 185). Doubtless, the idea that Caribs not only ate human flesh, but had opinions about the tastes and textures of various nationalities, was thrilling to European readers.

But the origins of derogatory stereotypes about Carib (and later, Kalinago and Garifuna) people are found much earlier, in the writings of Christopher Columbus. In a 1493 letter he wrote, "[i]n these islands I have so far found no human monstrosities [...] except of an island which is Carib, which is the second at the entrance to the Indies, which is inhabited by a people who are regarded in all the islands as very ferocious, [and] who eat human flesh" (qtd. in Hulme and Whitehead 14-15, italics in original). In his journal, Columbus described the Caribs as "bloodthirsty pagans and fierce cannibals" (qtd. in Mills 876). In stark contrast, of the Arawak people Columbus wrote, "the natives love their neighbors as themselves, their faces are always smiling, their conversation is the sweetest imaginable, and they are gentle and affectionate" (qtd. in Mills 876).

There does exist evidence that throughout the fifteenth century, Caribs--a semi-nomadic people known for their skill in warfare and fishing--migrated north from the edge of South America, raiding Arawak villages throughout the Lesser Antilles, enslaving or killing Arawak men, and taking women as wives (Hulme 3). However, there is scant archeological or anthropological evidence that anthropophagy was routinely part of these raids; the larger goal of the Caribs seemed to be assimilating Arawak women and children into their society. By the sixteenth century these two ethnic groups had intermingled to the point that they were recognized as one people, known to Europeans as the "Island Caribs" and to themselves as Kalinago (Mohammed 119). The Kalinago dwelled mainly on St. Vincent and Dominica in the Lesser Antilles. (2)

During the seventeenth century, Africans became integrated into St. Vincent's cultural milieu, and by the mid-1700s Africans and Kalinago had commingled to the point that Europeans began referring to them as another distinct cultural group, the Black Caribs (or Garinagu) who quickly overpowered the island's Kalinago inhabitants. They became the chief protectors of the island against European invasion, and successfully kept their foes at bay for nearly two centuries. The British were terrified of the Black Caribs not only because of their military prowess, but because they feared the Black Caribs' love of liberty would infiltrate St. Vincent's slave plantations and cause an uprising. (3)

Ultimately, the British took drastic action to permanently rid St. Vincent of the "Black Carib threat." Following the two-year Black Carib War (1795-96), more than 4,000 Black Caribs surrendered to the British after the death of their great leader, Chatoyer. These people were detained on Baliceaux, a small island several miles south of St. Vincent, to await their fate. At Baliceaux, nearly half of the group perished due to disease, lack of food and water, and overcrowding. In March 1797, over 2,200 Black Caribs were boarded onto a fleet of British ships and deported to the island of Roatan, Honduras (Young 35-36). From there, groups of Garinagu migrated up the coast of Central America, with settlements established in Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Belize. This transnational Garifuna community has kept the Garifuna language, spirituality, and culture alive until today.

Given the long history of resistance and armed conflict between Europeans and Kalinago/Garinagu, it is not surprising that European narratives perpetuated negative stereotypes about these Indigenous peoples. The question is, was there any level of truth in these stories of cannibalistic Caribs? Archaeological and anthropological evidence of anthropophagic practices is scarce, and European texts from the colonial era must be read with a critical eye. The majority of early accounts of cannibals come from Spanish sources, starting with those of Columbus. Most scholars agree that the Spanish had compelling socio-political and economic reasons for quickly perpetuating these myths; namely, in order to legitimize their own murderous conquest of the New World and the enslavement of Carib people. Accounts from other Europeans seem to be more nuanced, and some even make an attempt to understand the social functions behind cannibalistic practices. In these types of accounts, notes anthropologist Neil Whitehead, "the notion that the Caribs ate human flesh as a means of subsistence is firmly rejected, while the prevalence of endocannibalistic funerary rites and the exocannibalism of war captives, or itotos, is shown to be common among other Amerindian groups, not just the Caribs" (7677). (4) Whatever the case, travelers and anthropologists who spent time in Kalinago communities unanimously reported that practices of cannibalism had ceased by the end of the eighteenth century (Hulme and Whitehead 327-334).

There have been many assertions regarding European motivations to construct and disseminate stories about cannibalism. Overwhelmingly, scholars position these narratives as part of efforts to promote the religious conversion, cultural assimilation, and political domination of Indigenous people (Brantlinger 2011; Jahoda 1999; Porter 1999). Portraying peoples from colonized lands as less human, less intelligent, and less advanced bolstered support for missions to "save" and "civilize" savages by any means necessary--or simply to kill them. As Whitehead writes, "[a]n accusation of cannibalism in colonial South America functioned much as the epithet 'terrorist' does in modern Europe: i.e. to place groups of people beyond the normal political process and in this way be able to justify various forms of extraordinary violence against them" (76). By adhering to the idea that non-Europeans were less human and perhaps a different species altogether, Europeans were able to more easily support centuries of genocide, exploitation, and oppression at the hands of their national governments, militaries, and churches (Brown 19; Brantlinger 9-11).

Projecting the fantasy of cannibalism onto the Caribs, Mimi Sheller argues, also reflected Europeans' fear of being "consumed" by the Caribbean itself; that is, going native, becoming creolized, or worse--participating in miscegenation. A common narrative from colonial era literature is one in which "Europeans visit the colony and promptly die, go crazy, go native, drown in alcohol or sex [...] It seems that Westerners are only safe if they strictly maintain their position of colonial or racial authority" (Root 44, qtd. in Sheller 118). Fear and fascination with the idea of becoming "tropicalized" was especially prevalent in Europe during the Victorian Era, when "the ideologies of racism and imperialism were powerfully symbiotic and often indistinguishable from each other" (Brantlinger 6). It appeared in literature and visual art in which the European (man) has been "re-formed by his tropical environment, even corrupted by the substances he ingests and the slaves he sexually possesses" (Sheller 116).

Ideas about biological differences between the "races"--and the extreme fear of miscegenation--had been percolating in the minds of Europeans since the advent of the colonial period, but they crystallized in the nineteenth century with the emergence of "scientific racism." This line of thinking espoused the idea that different societies (or races) had fundamental, immutable biological differences. Many in this pseudo-scientific field supported the theory of polygenesis, which proposed that different races developed from multiple species, rather than sharing a common ancestor. The result of these differences, the logic went, was that the races had attained varying levels of civilization (with white Europeans, of course, at the top of the hierarchy).

One of the first works to thoroughly develop the theory of scientific racism was The Inequality Among the Races, published by the French Count Arthur de Gobineau between 1853 and 1855. Gobineau argued that there were three races (or classes) in the world: the conquering race; bourgeoisie; and the commoners, which "came about in the south through miscegenation with the Negroes and in the north with the Finns" (Gobineau 120, in Brantlinger 113). Gobineau was not the first to conflate race and class in this way; rather, his work simply affirmed widespread, pre-existing (if nebulous) notions about the connections between the color of one's skin and one's potential as a human being. A plethora of writers, particularly in England and the United States, expounded upon these ideas from the nineteenth to mid-twentieth century. (5) This logic normalized the human rights abuses of the colonial project, gave Europeans a framework through which to comprehend the cultural chasms between them and the Indigenous peoples they encountered abroad, and justified genocide, assimilation, and enslavement.


Although the theories of polygenesis and biological racial differences have been thoroughly debunked, remnants of this thinking still exist in the forms of neo-colonialism, neo-racism, Eurocentrism, and Euro-American white nationalism--all of which stem from notions of unbridgeable cultural differences, often coupled with the idea that one's own group is culturally superior. Traces of scientific racism, in the form of racial and ethnic stereotyping, also continue to appear through Euro-American socio-political and economic policies, educational and justice systems, dominant historical narratives, and popular media.

In the Caribbean, this underlying mindset is made manifest through neo-colonial policies that shape the economy, environment, education, and national cultures. Belize, Jamaica, and the Virgin Islands are three Anglophone nations in which neo-colonial dynamics are particularly visible. Though Belize is not an island nation per se, its location at the edge of the Caribbean basin, extensive archipelago, and significant linguistic and cultural links to Anglo-Caribbean islands lead me to include it as a point of comparison here. U.S. control in Belize extends to trade policies, currency, national politics, NGOs, media, and popular culture. The United States' efforts to insert itself into these varied sectors of Belizean government and society, the intertwining of Belize's currency and economy with that of the United States, and its rapidly increasing dependence on North American tourist dollars have created a deeply neo-colonial relationship between these two nations, placing the economy of Belize in a vulnerable and dependent position.

Similar dynamics can be seen in Caribbean island nations such as Jamaica and the Virgin Islands, where local economies have become increasingly dependent on foreign dollars. In Jamaica, foreign developers have bought up formerly public beaches, heavily restricted water access to locals, polluted fishing areas, harmed fragile coral reefs, and modified the marine landscape with little accountability. Jamaican activist filmmaker Esther Figueroa explores this trend in her 2008 documentary Jamaica for Sale, which looks at present-day consequences of the centuries-old Euro-American imaginary of "Caribbean as Paradise," on which the Caribbean tourism industry continues to heavily rely. In order to meet tourist expectations of perfect sandy beaches, happy locals, and unspoiled views, developers have literally bulldozed local communities away from beachfront land and inflated property values, which often results in locals being relegated to inferior living conditions. In the film, she also argues that government corruption has enabled the neo-colonial dynamics that have led to Jamaica's environmental and economic plight. For example, laws to regulate development along Jamaica's shores do exist, but they tend to go unenforced. Instead, under-the-table transactions and bribes between foreign developers and elected officials are common. As a result, it is international investors and corporations who control the majority of the island's tourism and service industry, which comprises over 70% of the island's economy (CIA World Factbook)

In St. Vincent and the Grenadines, as in many other Caribbean nations, neo-colonialism appears in school curricula which, until recently, included few (if any) lessons about Kalinago history or culture. This lack of Indigenous history in schools is common throughout the British Caribbean. Instead, students receive a highly Eurocentric education that focuses on European history, literature, and "the Queen's English" while denigrating other languages and local patois dialects, marginalizing the history of Indigenous peoples and the transatlantic slave trade, and discarding traditional wisdom about the region's terrestrial and marine life.

Films like Pirates of the Caribbean promote neo-colonialism in Caribbean nations in two ways, if only indirectly. First, many Caribbean-set films present island geographies as pristine and unclaimed--as paradise. This idea of the Caribbean islands as a timeless, undeveloped Eden is problematic because it suggests that the land is there for the taking and ripe for development by foreigners. This dominating gaze is a continuation of the nineteenth century Romantic idea that the tropical places are wild and verdant--and in need of Euro-Americans to cultivate and capitalize upon them (Sheller 38). The idealization of the Caribbean means that in the Euro-American imagination, it "exists beyond the realm of the real and therefore is not subject to the rules and laws of humanity and reality. The Caribbean can be subjected to 'intensive and ruthless economic exploitation' because it is viewed to be paradise" (Strachan 20). This perspective is still prevalent not only in film, but in the rhetoric and imagery of the Caribbean tourism industry, in the history books of Caribbean school children, and in popular media. In reality, for centuries Caribbean caves and beaches, plantations, mangrove swamps, and mountaintops have met myriad spiritual, social, agricultural, and economic needs for Indigenous, African, and European communities alike. The history of this region is, in fact, so complex and multi-faceted that many Caribbean scholars, myself included, concur with Trinidadian-British author V.S. Naipaul that "the history of these islands can never be satisfactorily told" (qtd. in Strachan 261).

Second, by perpetuating racial and ethnic stereotypes such as that of Caribbean islanders as primitive, indolent people who seem to have no interest in developing the land, the implication is that foreign development and investment (both historically and presently) is justifiable and even beneficial to Caribbean islanders. Since at least the turn of the twentieth century, there has been a popular belief among U.S. capitalists and entrepreneurs that "the incapacity of the tropical island-dwellers to take their own economy and government in hand calls for and justifies paternalistic U.S. intervention" (Sheller 60). This imperial gaze has appeared in films since the birth of cinema. It has been used in the same way as world fairs, which "exoticized and dehumanized the non-European world," under the guise of "putting the empire on display" (Batson-Savage 6). It also perpetuates the narrative that black and brown Caribbean bodies are to be abused or disregarded as (white) interlopers see fit.


When stereotypical representations of Caribbean communities first appeared in films in the early twentieth century, Caribbean activists and artists recognized the danger in their people being exposed to misrepresentations of themselves. Jamaican activist Marcus Garvey "clearly understood that the films were part of the colonial policy to create or foster mythologies that justified its conquests and occupations while fascinating local audiences with images of savage natives and the civilizing power of Europe and America" (Paddington and Warner 94). He even penned plays that attempted to combat these filmic representations before they became too deeply rooted in the psyches of his countrymen. Three main stereotypes of the Caribbean appear in twentieth-century Hollywood films: the Caribbean as an idyllic paradise waiting to be discovered and conquered by Europeans (with brown bodies as silent fixtures in the lush landscape); as exotic arid underdeveloped (populated by uncivilized, ridiculous, and/or unintelligent people); and as dangerous (inhabited by cannibals, devil worshipers, sexual deviants, or, in more recent films, gangsters) (Paddington and Warner 95). Walt Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest employs all three of these filmic stereotypes.

Many films about European explorers, particularly those about Christopher Columbus, tend to valorize handsome, religiously devout Europeans doing God's work by bringing civilization and salvation to Indigenous characters, who are often presented as mute, submissive fixtures in the tropical scenery (Stam 66). For example, in his analysis of a scene in the 1992 film Christopher Columbus: The Discovery that closely mirrors a scene in 1949's Christopher Columbus, Stam writes: "When Columbus arrives on Caribbean shores, the mass of natives spontaneously applaud the conquest of their own land and seem to acquiesce in their own enslavement" (67). The trope of the submissive, non-verbal native is also common in westerns, where it propagates the narrative that white, male Euro-Americans are "conquering heroes" of lands that need to be cultivated and people who need to be saved and ruled (Kilpatrick 131). This stereotype appears in Pirates of the Caribbean in the scene where Jack Sparrow is crowned king of the Pelegostos. Because he is a European man, the film implies, he is viewed by the Pelegostos not as a mere curiosity or even a threat, but as divinely appointed to become their ruler. Here, the "conquering hero among accepting natives" stereotype is conflated with the trope of the Indigenous cannibal, as Jack's "reward" for being appointed king is to be eaten.

The stereotype of the man-eating native is pervasive in filmic representations of Native American and other Indigenous peoples. On the use of this stereotype in film, Native American film scholar Jacquelyn Kilpatrick writes, "these people have no compassion and apparently not much brain. They spend their time whooping, dancing wildly (even when just moving along a path), drinking, killing people, and possibly eating them" (105). This description of the 1985 movie The Emerald Forest also accurately establishes the scene in Pirates of the Caribbean in which Jack Sparrow sits on his throne while the Pelegostos prepare to roast him over an open fire.

Disney also employs the "Caribbean as dangerous" stereotype in the character of Tia Dalma, played by actress Naomi Harris, who appears in the 2006 and 2007 installments of Pirates of the Caribbean. Dalma is a sexually manipulative, vaguely threatening Creole woman who practices obeah from her home in the shadowy mangrove swamps of an unnamed island. She acts as a foil to the films' British heroine Elizabeth Swann (played by Keira Knightley). African-American folklorist Kameelah Martin Samuel posits that the polarization of these two main female characters is "problematic in the way it positions the obeah woman as the unequal counterpart to white womanhood and ranks Tia Dalma's social status as that below scoundrel vagabond pirate. It is precisely her association with African-derived ways of knowing that relegates her to the realm of the grotesque and inhumane" (107). While a full analysis of these characters is outside the focus of this article, this stereotype's presence in Pirates of the Caribbean is worth mentioning. Just as the man-eating Pelegostos contrast the humanity and morality of the British pirates, Tia Dalma--a Creole woman existing on the margins of society--juxtaposes the films' virtuous, white heroine.

There are many films set in the Caribbean, mainly from the latter half of the twentieth century that present the Caribbean as underdeveloped and inhabited by stupid, amusing natives. Sociologist Milton Vickerman argues that these movies extend the filmic stereotype of African-American characters as ridiculous, humorous "coons" (89). A few examples of films that employ this stereotype are Weekend at Bernie's II (1993), Captain Ron (1992), and Club Paradise (1986), all of which feature foolish Caribbean characters who exhibit "simplicity (in the negative sense), inefficiency, lax moral standards, over-aggressiveness, and savagery" (Vickerman 89). This trope also appears in a plethora of films that characterize Native Americans as mentally inferior. As Kilpatrick explains, this stereotype can be implied in a number of ways, one of which is through the use of terms such as "innocent," "primitive," or "unsaved" that suggest inferiority. In more explicit cases, Indigenous people are simply presented as being stupid and inept.

In Pirates of the Caribbean, the Pelegostos are made to embody the "stupid natives" stereotype through (lack of) language and mob mentality. Much of their communication occurs through miming and gesturing; when they do speak, they bark out short, simplistic phrases in an invented language called "Umshoko." They move and act as a mob with little foresight or individual agency, with a few exceptions (most notably, a young Pelegostos boy who looks on in dismay, fork and knife in hand, as Jack Sparrow escapes from his roasting spit). The implication--on which the humor of these scenes is based--is that these Indigenous people are unsophisticated and unintelligent, lacking the ability to capture, keep, and cook the pirates they are chasing around their island. Mental inferiority is also suggested when the rag-tag pirates, who know nothing about the geography of the island, still manage to outsmart and escape the mindless, murderous mob that pursues them.


The stereotypes presented in Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean films show the staying power of a set of erroneous ideas that have, nonetheless, enthralled and entertained the white Euro-American imagination for over half a millennium. While real historical people and communities inform the film's Pelegostos characters, Disney did not develop these characters in ways that are complimentary or nuanced. All the positive potential for Disney to imbue Pirates of the Caribbean with the stories and voices of powerful, interesting, stereotype-defying Caribbean characters was squandered, the opportunity passed over for another gimmicky portrayal of those whose voices continue to be silenced, whose knowledge and experiences continue to be marginalized in popular culture. In the Pelegostos people, Disney conflates several archetypes of the Caribbean and Indigenous people rooted in Eurocentric racism. Yes, the majority of viewers understand this film is meant to be campy and comedic. We understand that this is a historical fantasy film, not claimed by Disney to be historically accurate. We understand that by employing the old stereotype of Caribbean "man-eating natives" Disney has constructed entertaining foes for Jack Sparrow and his pirates to battle. So, what's the problem?

Anne Petersen characterizes Pirates of the Caribbean--the films and the original ride at Disneyland--as a "closed text [...] one that carefully develops details and connections, leaving readers or viewers little chance for active participation and interpretation" (Stone 44, qtd. in Petersen 66). She argues that unlike "open texts" that allow for variation, change, and dialogue, closed texts effectively reify stories, people, and places. While she may overstate her case in this instance--many different interpretations of Pirates of the Caribbean exist, as evidenced in this article--I agree that the shallowness of Disney's engagement with Caribbean geography and people limits viewers' opportunities for meaningful engagement with the film. Indeed, Kilpatrick asserts that Hollywood must begin to take responsibility for its superficial presentations of Indigenous peoples by "clearing away the cobwebs of misinformation it has strung throughout the last century" (233).

Cannibalism, throughout centuries of European literature and film, has functioned as a metaphor for the inhuman, the damned. It is the pinnacle of barbarism; any person or society who practices cannibalism is automatically understood to be less than human. Therefore, the first problem with Pirates of the Caribbean is the fact that the Pelegostos are presented as a people, not as individuals. They represent an entire culture and, by extension, they represent Indigenous Caribbean peoples of both the past and present. Pirates of the Caribbean does not feature aberrant, murderous individuals like The Silence of the Lambs' Hannibal Lecter, whose inclinations toward human flesh is viewed as abhorent. Nor is the brand of cannibalism in Pirates of the Caribbean one of survival, as in the 1993 film Alive, or even that of Gareth and his "hunters" in the hit television series The Walking Dead, who turn to cannibalism out of crazed desperation in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. Rather, among the Pelegostos, cannibalism is a regular habit and a custom accepted by all members of the society. This fact, as film scholar Jennifer Brown writes, is "a potent means to designate the accused as subhuman" (Brown 5). Pirates of the Caribbean's' presentation of Caribbean cannibals is troublesome on its own, but the fact that Disney employed actual Kalinago people to act out harmful stereotypes about their ancestors created ethical problems on an entirely different level, as evidenced by the protests from the Kalinago/Garifuna community.

The second problem lies in the fact that most children (and many adults) who view the film, while understanding that it is fictional, also know that the tale is rooted in history: pirates did roam the Caribbean, armed conflicts between Indigenous and European militaries did happen, the movie was filmed on a real Caribbean island and features real Caribbean islanders. Building the film's plot--however precariously--upon historical events and dynamics creates the risk that viewers could interpret the film as containing some level of "truth." Given the fact that political correctness in U.S. media is such a hot topic today, viewers expect some level of accuracy, or at least inoffensive portrayals of, subaltern communities (Kilpatrick 154). Importantly, as Kilpatrick notes in her analysis of the animated 1995 film Pocahontas, Disney does not claim to adhere to historical truths in their fictional films. However, she argues, in films like Pocahontas or Pirates of the Caribbean that are rooted in history, "the visual tends to be more immediately, emotionally compelling than the written word, as well as more accessible, and since few people will ever read about Pocahontas, this film's pseudo-history will exist as 'fact' in the minds of generations of American children" (150-151). Indeed, the Caribbean as a region has long been excluded from the imaginary of Western modernity, with the result that most North Americans "lack an informed context in which to make sense of their connections to the Caribbean, both in the past and today" (Sheller 3). Thus, many movie-goers enter the theater with no meaningful knowledge about the region. After leaving the theater, audiences cannot realistically be expected to cross-reference fictional children's films with historical documents and academic literature. Even if they did, Caribbean histories culled from written, oral, and visual sources are multivalent and often shrouded in bias and inaccuracy. Historical "truths" are often impossible for scholars to find, let alone the casual internet researcher. So where does this leave us? How do we productively confront and contest negative stereotypes in popular media?


It was a coincidence that Yurumein and Pirates of the Caribbean were being filmed in St. Vincent in 2005, but the ways in which Yurumein directly challenges the representations of Indigenous Caribbean communities in Pirates of the Caribbean is almost uncanny. Yurumein includes excerpts of interviews with Vincentian Kalinago discussing the continued discrimination they face because of their ethnicity, the derogatory nature of the name "Carib," and the ways that St. Vincent's education system has largely ignored the island's rich African and Indigenous histories. It shows the efforts of Kalinago people to educate themselves and cultivate pride, rather than shame, in their ethnic identity. It also contests the long-held idea that Indigenous cultures are "always already in the past" (Pearson and Knabe 13) by showing, in equal measure, Garinagu participating in cosmopolitan settings and global dialogues as well as enacting traditional cultural elements.

For example, Augustine Sutherland, a Vincentian Kalinago, has made a great effort to educate himself about his ancestry. In Yurumein, he explains, "after understanding what Carib really mean, I prefer to call myself a Black Kalinago man ... they interpret it [Carib] to mean a cannibal, so I decide not to [call myself that] because I am not a cannibal." Throughout Sutherland's childhood, he was taunted by classmates, called a cannibal and a "stupid Carib." Young Kalinago today continue to endure these derogatory remarks by peers. Despite this abuse, Sutherland's commitment to his identity is unwavering. He regularly dons his traditional Kalinago loincloth and jewelry, carries a spear as his ancestors did, and attends cultural events throughout St. Vincent (see figure 4). Sutherland also makes trips to sites that were meaningful to his ancestors, which he learned about through the oral histories of his grandparents. He explains: "One thing that I start to do is go to Dorchester Hill, and to go to other caves that I know. We have a big cave in Ballin, Copper Hole, a huge cave that my grandfather say that some of the people hide [in] during the time of war. That is the history that he have ... the people running from the British, they hide there" ('Yurumein: Homeland). Through visits with Garifuna groups from Central America, he has begun to learn the language, dances, and songs of his ancestors. By reclaiming Kalinago cultural elements and meaningful geographical spaces, Sutherland has cultivated his own sense of Kalinago pride. His goal is not only to enlighten himself, but "to see my people in a different light. So I decide that I going to start something that trigger people's mind" (Yurumein: Homeland).

Yurumein explores the spiritual significance of St. Vincent to the Kalinago/Garifuna people, symbolically reclaiming this land for its Indigenous inhabitants through the narratives of individuals like Sutherland. Yurumein, the Garifuna name for St. Vincent, holds a central place in the minds, hearts, and spiritual lives of many Garinagu today. Often mingled with the concept of sairi--the verdant afterworld of the Kalinago/Garinagu--many Garinagu consider St. Vincent a sacred place. Baliceaux is another deeply meaningful locale for many Garinagu, as this is the island where their ancestors were held captive or perished as they waited to be exiled to Central America in 1797.

In recent years, groups of Garifuna men and women have made pilgrimages to Yurumein and Baliceaux, seeking catharsis and healing from the traumatic events endured by their ancestors over two hundred years ago. Powerful footage from two of these pilgrimages is included in Yurumein. One of the most poignant moments in the film features Lucia Ellis, a Belizean Garifuna author and activist, as she disembarks from a boat on the shore of Baliceaux. Ellis falls to her knees, wailing in the sand and waves as she mourns the suffering and sacrifice of her ancestors. In the film, she recalls, "getting on the beach, I felt pain on the bottom of my womb, the suffering and the agony, the disbelief." Ellis describes the Garifuna genocide and exile from St. Vincent as "a trauma that each Garinagu carries. Whether they want to believe it or not, we each carry it. And doing a pilgrimage like this is an opportunity to heal from that trauma, to recognize that yes, we were put here, but look, [after] 215 years, we can come back" (Yurumein: Homeland).

This moment in the film speaks to the historical trauma experienced by many Garinagu. Lakota scholar and social worker Maria Yellow Horse Braveheart developed the concept of historical trauma which can be defined as "the cumulative social-cultural trauma spanning across generations which stems from massive cataclysmic events" (Chang et al., qtd. in Pearson and Knabe 10). Through the experiences of Ellis, Sutherland, and other Garifuna/Kalinago individuals, viewers encounter this trauma, which effectively shatters the fantasies of the "Caribbean as Paradise" and "Carib as cannibal." Rather, audiences are confronted with the pain--and reality--of genocide, exile, and cultural disorientation faced by Garinagu and other indigenous Caribbean communities. Due to its presentation of Garifuna men and women coming to grips with this historical trauma and its poignant portrayal of Kalinago fighting to understand their heritage, Yurumein has sparked deeply emotional reactions in many Kalinago/Garifuna viewers. Recalling the first screening of her film The Garifuna Journey in St. Vincent, Leland writes, "I was unprepared for the reactions I saw. For those of Carib ancestry, the movie provoked intense grieving over the loss of native culture, dance, and language in the homeland" (Poluha and Leland 2014). On more recent screenings of Yurumein, she notes that:

The Garifuna who saw my films commented that they felt proud, finally, to be Garifuna once they saw themselves and their culture portrayed in a film positively. Up until they saw the film, they had only seen negative images of themselves in popular media. This was the first time they saw positive images on screen. The response overall was very emotional. (Leland 2017)

These types of reactions are Leland's inspiration to continue creating and distributing her films; as an outsider who has been allowed access to Garifuna communities, pilgrimages, and ceremonies, she feels an immense responsibility to honestly represent the Garifuna/Kalinago experience.

As her outreach coordinator, I have written a study guide for educational use, taught lessons based on the film in my university classrooms, and organized screenings in Belize in both local and touristic settings. Garifuna collaborators, including Lucia Ellis, are also working to distribute and show the film throughout Central America and the Caribbean; after one such screening for members of the National Garifuna Council in Belize, she reported that, "it was an emotional and impacting experience for all present. The role the diaspora has played in preserving the Garifuna culture is crucial and cannot be overstated. We must all participate in taking the culture back to Yurumein" (Ellis 2014). Yurumein acts as a catalyst for activism and advocacy; it is a call to action for the transnational Garifuna community. As stated by Ellis, widespread participation is vital to cultural reclamation efforts for Vincentian Kalinago (Ellis 2014). (6)

While these actions may seem insignificant compared to the massive distribution and promotional power of high-budget films like Pirates of the Caribbean, I believe that small-scale, grassroots efforts can be effective and powerful. Each screening of the film has the potential to spark interest and care in viewers. Each screening and each classroom discussion can help deconstruct monolithic ideas of "the Caribbean" within the Euro-American imaginary by presenting and contextualizing voices, communities, and histories that are usually glossed over in mass media, tourist discourse, and often in school curriculums. Other courses of action to combat the hegemony of Hollywood, suggested by Shohat and Stam, include the staging of protests (the Garifuna outcry against Pirates of the Caribbean is just one in a long history of minority-led protests against stereotypical Hollywood films); teaching movie-goers to be critical spectators of film; and the cultivation of "culturally prepared audiences" (181). These last two actions fall within the purview of educators at every level of schooling, both in the United States and abroad.

The Garifuna/Kalinago story is not one of savage warfare and primitivism, it is a deep and complex story of perseverance through centuries of sustained attacks on a people and their way of life. It is a story of hope, human resilience, and a celebration of diversity. Postcolonial films like Yurumein and films by Indigenous filmmakers place these complex Indigenous experiences front and center. Viewing and teaching these types of films creates opportunities for multi-directional conversations to occur. They can bring to light historically marginalized perspectives, and cause us to question the mainstream media and subjectivities that pervades our daily lives. As Kilpatrick writes, echoing bell hooks, "for a dialogue to truly exist, the represented subject must be able to talk back" (xvi). This "talking back"--whether through film, scholarship, or social media--is more feasible than ever for communities whose voices have been silenced far too long.


(1) Throughout this paper, I use the name "Kalinago" to refer to Island Caribs and descendants of Island Caribs who dwell in St. Vincent and Dominica today, many of whom call themselves "Carib" or "Kalinago." "Garifuna" [the singular of "Garinagu"] refers to the group historically known as "Black Caribs": people of West African, Central African, and Island Carib descent.

(2) For information on historical and archaeological research surrounding Indigenous Caribbean societies, see Gonzalez (1983) and Reid (2009).

(3) In 1700, Labat wrote of the Black Caribs' nighttime descents from St. Vincent's wooded hills to attack French settlements. He lamented that the Black Caribs' "impertinent manner of making war succeeded so well that not one of them was captured, while many of ours were killed" (qtd. in Taylor 1951: 23).

(4) Historical evidence does suggest that ritual cannibalism in Carib society was part of initiation rites for young warriors and was practiced after military victories, wherein the consuming of Carib enemies had a spiritual, symbolic function. The Caribs' respect for deceased family members' bodies is also well-documented; bodies were generally preserved and buried within the family home, in a crouching or sitting position. As a result, the typical Carib home would have contained a store of human bones beneath its earthen floor. It is easy to see how this may have led Europeans to thoughts of cannibalism. Thus, where reliable accounts do exist in European literature, particularly that of the Spanish, they are often exaggerated or simply grossly misunderstood by European observers. In his controversial book The Man Eating Myth (1979), William Arens argues that accounts of cannibalism were nothing more than racist, political propaganda, wholly meant to demonize people who resisted European domination. He concludes that in regard to actual evidence of cannibalism, "Rumours, suspicions, fears and accusations abound, but no satisfactory first hand accounts" (21) are to be found.

(5) Among the British and American scholars who expanded upon Gobineau's ideas were James Cowles Prichard (1843), Charles Smith (1848), Robert Latham (1850), Dr. Robert Knox (1850), Josiah Nott and George Gliddon (1854), Thomas Henry Huxley (1863), Charles Lyell (1863), Alfred Russell Wallace (1984), and Charles Darwin (1871) (Brantlinger 114-115). The particulars of the work published by these (white) men are well beyond the scope of this paper; my point is that scientific racism was ubiquitous.

(6) Study guides for both The Garifuna Journey and Yurumein are available for download for free at More information about Yurumein can be found at


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Caption: Fig. 1: Jack Sparrow and a captive Will Turner surrounded by the cannibalistic Pelegostos people.

Caption: Fig. 2: The Pelegostos people as depicted in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.

Caption: Fig. 3: The Kalinago people as depicted in Agostino Brunias's painting, A Family of Charaibes in the Island of St. Vincent (c. 1770s).

Caption: Figure 4. Augustine Sutherland's unwavering commitment to his Kalinago identity.

Please Note: Illustration(s) are not available due to copyright restrictions.
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Author:Poluha, Lauren Madrid
Publication:Post Script
Date:Jan 1, 2018

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