We joked among ourselves as we boarded the War Canoe. Our long wooden paddles glinted in the first rays of the morning sun. We peered out across the choppy waters of the Martinique Channel and tried to spy the misty peaks of Dominica far off across the waves.
Sea Warriors rowing hard
Today we would cross these waters in a ten hour non-stop expedition to recreate history, the history of the first Kalinago (Carib) warriors who set out 1,000 years ago to conquer each of these islands in the Caribbean chain. Today we would set out 27 strong, headed due north from the coast of Martinique, straight for the lush mountainous shores of Dominica. We set out in a huge 60 foot authentic Carib War Canoe, carved from the trunk of a single huge tree deep in the jungles of Guyane.
We were the Carib Canoe Sea Warriors, nine members of the team from Dominica's Carib Territory, here in Martinique at the invitation of KARISKO, the French cultural association which has been organising this project for more than two years. Today at dawn on this beautiful May morning the combined team of 34 French and Dominican rowers, along with seven support boats, was ready to recreate history.
Our captain, Rony, the tough Tahitian military officer, stood up straight in the bow of the Carib War Canoe and shouted out his first orders. Twenty-five long wooden paddles dipped into the quiet waters of the northern Martinique bay and the wooden War Canoe miraculously glided forward out towards the rough waters of the Atlantic Ocean Channel. The mountain peaks of Dominica were barely visible in the early dawn light, some 50 miles off in the distance.
Crossing the Dominica Channel
The Spirits were certainly with us on this voyage because the Sea in the turbulent Atlantic Channel between Martinique and Dominica is at most times a dangerous stretch of rough waters and swift counter-currents where many strong fishermen and sailors have themselves lost their lives. We felt ready though, even for the worst, confident because of our months of solid training in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of the Carib Territory. But God was surely with us, I believe, for that beautiful May morning turned into a clear windless day and the sea lay flat before us, smooth, calm and welcoming.
So much so that we made incredible time and arrived in less than seven hours instead of the ten hours we had expected. Customs and Immigration Officers were there on duty and all official formalities were accomplished in a short time. Then the party began!
Karifuna & Karina performers welcome the Sea Warriors
Both Karifuna and Karina had sent Welcoming Contingents who performed in full costume right there on the Caribantic Beach. A number of Scott's Head fishermen joined the drumming and singing with trumpeting from their conch shells. Young boys set off bamboo canons in the background. Tens of school children waved Dominican flags below strings of Bleu, Blanc, Rouge French bunting.
Later that evening the Scott's Head Improvement Committee and the Scott's Head-Soufrière-Galion Village Council organised a festive welcoming ceremony in the Caribantic Hall where speeches were made and gifts were given. The Carib Chief and the Acting Prime Minister both addressed the crowd. The entire event was followed by a grand village Koné Konla Celebration on into the wee hours of the morning.
Our French guests thoroughly enjoyed the rest of their weekend, travelling to Roseau for the Saturday market and taking a dip later in the Sulphur Springs pool. Sunday morning saw them board their support vessels, a bit tired and stiff perhaps, but well pleased with their entire trip as they set off headed south this time, back to Martinique, with heads full of memories of their incredible adventure weekend.
Triumphant Carib Canoe Sea Warriors
We, the Carib Canoe Sea Warriors, were just happy to be home, a little stiff and tired too, all of us feeling glad we did it, but at the same time also feeling glad that is was now, at last, all done.