Origin of the Caribbean culture and its characteristics

The wide Caribbean Sea bathes with its waters the lands inhabited by the ethnic groups belonging to the Caribbean culture, which gave him his name. This brave race of warriors sowed terror among the conquerors due to their reputation for ferocity and their indomitable character that never gave up.


Caribbean culture

The Caribbean culture corresponds to a group of peoples that inhabited by the sixteenth century, at the time of the arrival of Europeans, part of northern Colombia, northwestern Venezuela and some lesser Antilles. Today their descendants, the Cariñas, are found in Venezuela, Brazil, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana and to a lesser extent in Honduras. In the Lesser Antilles they disappeared due to the European invasion, on the island of San Vicente they mixed with the Africans, giving rise to the Garífuna.


The origin of the Caribbean culture has not been precisely determined by archaeologists and anthropologists. Some place the initial nucleus in the jungles of the Guianas (be they in Venezuela, Guyana, French Guiana and Suriname) or to the south and north, in the central region of the Amazon River in Brazil.

In 1985, the Venezuelan anthropologist Kay Tarble listed several theories about the origin of the Caribbean culture: In 1970, the United States archaeologist Lahtrap proposed that the dispersal center began from Guayana along the north bank of the Amazon River and as a destination the Colombian Amazon, the coast of Guyana and the Antilles.

Dr. Tarble continues with the American botanist Karl H. Schwerin (1972) who postulates the eastern mountain range of Colombia as a probable origin and the Orinoco River, the Guayana and the Amazon as destinations and in another stage from the Middle Orinoco to the Lower Orinoco and the Antilles; the North American archaeologist Betty Jane Meggers (1975) proposes the South of the Amazon heading towards the north of the basin of this great river and the North of the Amazon towards the savannah area and the rest of the Amazon.

Finally, the anthropologist Marshall Durbin (1977) suggests the place of origin in the Venezuelan Guayana, Surinam or French Guiana en route to the south east of Colombia, the northeast of Colombia and the south of the Amazon, respectively. For her part, the anthropologist Kay Tarble proposes a new model of expansion of the Caribbean culture, in which she places the Proto-Caribbean, in the areas of the Guianas from the year 3000 BC according to the archaeological evidence and available linguistic information.


The linguistic family of the Caribbean culture is one of the most widespread in America and was made up of a large number of tribes that spread over a large territory of the American continent. This breadth generated that the Carib languages ​​spoken in various areas had marked differences due to adaptations to the territory and contact with other ethnic groups.

The expansion of the Caribbean culture over a large territory has its justification in several anthropological aspects, among others its great skill in both maritime and river navigation as well as the custom of the men of this culture to look for women belonging to other groups (exogamy). it also influenced its expansion in being a town very well prepared for war.

According to anthropological studies and historical features, the Caribbean culture spread in the continental territory to the north of the Amazon with the Carijona and Panar tribes; to the foothills of the Andes, where the tribes of Yukpas, Mocoas, Chaparros, Caratos, Parisis, Kiri Kiris and others stood out; from the Brazilian plateau to the sources of the Xingú river: yuma, palmella, bacairi, in the Negro river; Yauperis and Crichanas. In French Guiana Galibis, accavois and calinas. Features of the Caribbean culture were found in the department of Loreto in Peru.

The expansion of the Caribbean culture occurred mainly in the year 1200 AD, leading them to occupy large numbers of the Lesser and Greater Antilles such as Cuba and Hispaniola, as well as totally occupying Granada, Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, displacing the Taínos and also invading Puerto Rico as well as the north of present-day Colombia and Venezuela.

Social organization

The Caribs are organized into family clans called cacicazgos, dominated by a cacique who inherits his authority from a son or nephew. In some Carib communities, the cacique was chosen from among the religious authorities.

The cacique was the one who decided and dominated all the social, religious and political life of the community. Although they formed a patriarchal society in some communities, it was giving way to matriarchy, especially in the communities of the islands, an example of this change can be seen in the great cacica Gaitana in Colombia.

The social organization in the Caribbean culture was dominated by the caciques, the military leaders and the shamans who were the religious priests. At the bottom of society were farmers, artisans, merchants, and prisoners of war. The family played a preponderant role, being the cacique's family the most important. Marriages were made with members of other clans and polygamy was practiced.

In the Caribbean culture, women were socially at a lower level than men, their responsibility for the care and upbringing of children, domestic work, the production and processing of food, the preparation of clothing and planting and the harvest. The men dedicated themselves to war and the education of children in their rites and customs. The women and children lived in separate huts from the men.

Economic activity

According to the testimony of European historians, the Caribs were dedicated to hunting, fishing, gathering and trading with other clans. Agriculture was not among their most important activities, yet they cultivated cassava, beans, sweet potatoes, cocoa, and some tropical fruits. One of the activities to obtain food for the Caribs was fishing.

Trade was also very important in the economy of the Caribbean culture and was very important given its continuous movement from one place to another. Evidence has been found that shows that the Caribs traded with the Eastern Tainos who inhabited different Caribbean islands. As proof of this, it has been shown that the Caribs took the silver that the Spanish conqueror Ponce de León found in what is now the territory of Puerto Rico.

The members of the Caribbean culture who inhabited areas where the cold climate prevailed are said to have made cotton fabrics that they decorated with vegetable dyes, which were presumably used to be exchanged with other communities.


The Caribs were polytheists. The religion practiced by the Caribbean had elements related to the cult of their ancestors. The Caribs of the islands believed in an evil god called Maybouya whom they had to please in order to appease and thus avoid the damage he could cause. One of the main functions of the shamans was to keep Mabouya calm, in addition to healing the sick with herbs and spells. The shamans had great prestige for being the only ones who could avoid evil.

The rites led by the shamans included sacrifices. Like the Arawaks and other Native Americans, the Carib smoked tobacco in the rituals of their religion. The English documented cannibalistic practices among the Caribs of the islands. In fact the word cannibal is derived from the word Caribbean. Although the Caribs only practiced it in their religious rituals related to warfare in which they supposedly consumed body parts of enemies, some Europeans believed that the Caribs practiced cannibalism on a daily basis.

In the Caribbean culture it was a common practice to keep the bones of the ancestors in the houses, which was described by foreign priests as a demonstration of the Carib belief that the ancestors were the caretakers and guardians of their descendants. In the year 1502, Queen Elizabeth included cannibals among the people who could be enslaved, this provided the Spanish with a legal incentive and a pretext to identify various Amerindian groups as cannibals in order to enslave them and take away their land. .

According to the author Basil A. Reid, in his work "Myths and Realities of the History of the Caribs" there is sufficient archaeological evidence and direct observations made by different Europeans that reliably determine that the Caribs never consumed human flesh.

Caribbean culture in Colombia

The Caribbean culture spread through the north of Colombia, generally inhabiting the sea coasts and the plains near the rivers. There are several tribes belonging to the Caribbean culture that stood out in the territory that is now known as Colombia.


The Muzos

The Muzos occupied the territory of what is now the municipality of Muzo and other neighboring municipalities in the departments of Boyacá, Cundinamarca and Santander. Like most of the tribes belonging to the Caribbean culture, the Muzos were a warlike people, where war had great importance. They had the habit of deforming their skulls by means of pressure by flattening it in an anteroposterior direction.

Within the social organization of the muzos there were no caciques but a chief for each tribe. Power was exercised by the elders and by the warriors who had excelled the most in battles. There were no laws or regulations to regulate their activities. They were divided socially between warriors, important people and the chingamas who were the outcasts where slaves were included who were usually prisoners of war from other ethnic groups.

The economy of the muzos revolved around agriculture, cabinetmaking, the extraction and carving of emeralds, and ceramic work. In the territory occupied by the muzos there were deposits of silver, copper, gold, iron, emeralds and alum mines. They also made textile garments such as sackcloth, cotton and pita pieces, they also made some ceramic pieces. The muzos were polytheistic, they had a small number of gods: Are creator of humans, Maquipa who they believed cured diseases, the Sun and the Moon.

The Pijaos

The Pijaos are a group of Amerindian peoples from Tolima and other surrounding territories in Colombia. Before the arrival of the Spaniards, they occupied the Central Cordillera of the Andes, the areas between the snow-capped peaks of Huila, Quindío and Tolima, the upper valley of the Magdalena River and the upper Valle del Cauca.

According to some authors, the pijaos are included among the peoples belonging to the Caribbean culture only because of their bellicosity. But there are indications that the Pijaos were influenced by the Carib peoples who entered through the Magdalena River and the Orinoco River. Through the Magdalena came those of the ambiguous lineage, muizes, colimas, panches, quimbayas, putimanes and paniquitaes. For more than two centuries the Pijaos and the Andaquíes offered a strong resistance to the conquerors, in fact the Pijaos were exterminated without ever surrendering


The pijaos, like the muzos, did not have a cacique and authority was assumed by a chief. Their homes were made of bahareque and separated from one another. In the cold areas of the mountain range, their agriculture consisted of potatoes, arracachas, beans, cape gooseberries. In the warmer areas: corn, cassava, coca, tobacco, cotton, cocoa, peppers, achiras, avocados, pumpkins, guavas, mameyes.

They were distinguished by their skill in domesticating animals. The primates were trained to collect fruits and bird eggs in the tallest trees. They used foxes to track and herd hunting deer, capybaras and other animals of the savannah.

They modified the shape of the skulls of newborns by applying orthopedic splints in the occipital and frontal region to give them a ferocious appearance when grown. They also modified the shapes of his upper and lower extremities and changed the appearance of his face by fracturing the nasal septum.

Unlike other tribes of the Caribbean culture, they practiced monotheism, they found many natural elements sacred and magical: stars, meteorological events, water sources, living beings, vegetables, minerals and their own existence, they practiced a form of animism where everything it is part of a single divine unity.

The panches

The Panches, also known as Tolimas, inhabited the two banks of the Magdalena River and its basin from the Gualí River to the northwest and the Negro River to the northeast, to the Coello River basin to the southwest and Fusagasugá to the southeast. Although they are considered to belong to the Caribbean culture, linguistically they are not related. At the time of the arrival of the Europeans, the panches were located in the east of the current department of Tolima and to the west of the current department of Cundinamarca.

Their territories delimited to the west with the territories of the pijaos, the coyaimas and the natagaimas; to the northwest with territories of the pantágoras; to the northeast the lands occupied by the muzos or the Colimas; to the southeast the territory belonging to the Sutagaos and to the east the lands occupied by the Muiscas or the Chibchas.

They were politically organized in a tribal way without there being a chief or leader who dominated large territories, even so the Spaniards were able to verify that there were leaders who, due to their capacity as great military strategists, had their orders followed by other tribal chiefs. The Panche nation was made up of the Tocaremas, Anapuimas, Suitamas, Lachimíes, Anolaimas, Siquimas, Chapaimas, Calandaima, Calandoimas, Bituimas, Tocaremas, Sasaimas, Guatiquíes, and others.

The panches were naked but they adorned themselves with earrings on their ears and noses, strings of colors on their necks and waists, and colored feathers on their heads. They also used gold ornaments on their arms and legs. They modified the shape of the skulls of newborns by applying orthopedic splints in the occipital and frontal region.

To demonstrate their social status they decorated their homes with the skulls of their enemies. According to the Spanish practiced cannibalism, presuming the ritual use of it, it is also stated that they drank blood on the battlefield.

The main activity of the panches, around which all their lives revolved, was war, however it is known that they worked ceramics to make pots and household utensils. They knew the art of spinning and weaving, although in a rudimentary way. The panches were exogamous: they did not marry members of their own tribe since they considered each other as brothers, therefore the women and men looked for marriage partners in other groups or even from other towns.

The Baris

The Barís or Motilones Barí are an Amerindian people who live in the jungles of the Catatumbo River, on both sides of the border between Colombia and Venezuela, and speak Barí, a language of the Chibcha linguistic family. The original territories of the barís occupied the basins of the Catatumbo, Zulia and Santa Ana rivers, but these territories have been diminishing first due to the Spanish conquest and colonization and more recently in an even more drastic way, due to the exploitation of oil and of coal in the region since the XNUMXth century.

The social organization of the barís is made up of up to fifty individuals who inhabit up to three bohíos or “malokas” which are communal houses inhabited by several nuclear families. In the center of the maloka are the stoves around which communal life takes place and on the sides the bedrooms of each family. The maloka is located near rivers abundant in fishing in non-flooded areas and ten years later it changes location.

The Barís grow yucca, sweet potatoes, bananas, pumpkins, corn, yams, pineapples, sugar cane, cocoa, cotton, achiote and chili peppers. They are also good hunters and fishermen, both for hunting and fishing they use the bow and arrow. They hunt birds, monkeys, peccaries, tapirs and rodents. To fish they build temporary dams and use barbasco.

Here are some links of interest:

The content of the article adheres to our principles of editorial ethics. To report an error click here!.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.



  1. Responsible for the data: Actualidad Blog
  2. Purpose of the data: Control SPAM, comment management.
  3. Legitimation: Your consent
  4. Communication of the data: The data will not be communicated to third parties except by legal obligation.
  5. Data storage: Database hosted by Occentus Networks (EU)
  6. Rights: At any time you can limit, recover and delete your information.