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Next to the Arawaks, probably the most numerous Indian stock, of more or less nomadic habits, in South America. They cannot, however, compare in numbers with the sedentary aborigines of Peru and Bolivia. The Caribs were the second group of Indians met by Columbus on the Antilles, and even at that time the name was a synonym for "cannibals". At the time of Columbus they held the whole of the Lesser Antilles, whence they made constant and cruel inroads upon the Arawaks of the larger northern islands, killing the men and capturing the women, whom they carried to their homes on Guadalupe, Martinique, etc. as slaves. The Arawaks were in great dread of them and of their weapons, which were superior to the primitive fire-hardened javelins and wooden war-clubs in use on the Greater Antilles, although some of the natives had also acquired the bow and arrows, probably from contact with their hereditary foes, the Caribs. The latter were also hardy and daring sailors, paddling fearlessly from island to island comparatively long distances. In costume, mode of living, dwellings, etc., the Caribs differed but little from the Arawaks. Their language is totally different. The distinctive feature in dress consisted in this, that the Arawaks wore the hair short, while the Caribs allowed it to flow at full length.
The proper name of the Caribs is given as "Karina". How far the word may have been applied to designate the stock in general is not certain. Of their pre-Columbian history only so much seems ascertained, that they originally occupied Northern Venezuela and parts of Guiana, and from the northern shores of South America gradually extended to the Lesser Antilles, driving northward the Arawaks. Had the landing of Columbus not interfered, they in all probability would have exterminated the Arawaks and spread over the Greater Antilles also. The enmity between the Caribs and the Arawaks is hereditary. But the former were not always successful. On the Orinoco, for instance, the Arawaks held their own. There was and is, on the South American mainland, less disparity in warlike features between the stocks than between the Caribs and Arawaks of the Antilles, especially those of the Bahamas. In general culture and social organization the two stocks are much alike. The Caribs build excellent boats which they equip with sails, and some groups make rather fair pottery. Their religious creed is the animism and fetichism characteristic of all Indians, witchcraft forming the leading part of their rites and ceremonials. Of the numerous groups into which the Caribs are divided, the Bakairis, on the upper Shingu River in Brazil, are the most southerly, so that the stock is scattered from the fourteenth degree of latitude south to near the coast of Venezuela, and from the Galibis in Guiana as far west, at least, as the eastern confines of Colombia.
The almost complete extermination of the Antillean Caribs was brought about by their indomitable ferocity and particularly by their addiction to cannibalism. Every effort on the part of the Spaniards and French to abolish it proved fruitless. In central South America the Catholic missionaries, chiefly the Jesuits, worked with considerable success among Carib tribes along the Amazon, devoting special attention to the Motolones and establishing missions among them. During the seventeenth century Father Samuel Fritz laboured among them, as well as among tribes of Arawak stock. These efforts, which had already been very much hampered by the aggressions of the Portuguese from Brazil, came to naught, owing to the expulsion of the Jesuits. The Franciscans continued to the missions on a limited scale after 1767, but the blow had been too severe to allow more than a feeble recovery. A few missions still subsist wanting, however, the strength of their early organization.
The Caribs have been considered the cannibals par excellence of Northern South America. This is true of those formerly located on the Antilles; but on the mainland, where not under strict control, all the forest tribes of Indians are more or less anthropophagous. There is, in this respect, no difference between the Caribs, Arawaks, Tapuyas, and other natives of the Amazonian basin. It is surmised, from results of linguistic investigations, that the original home of the Caribs was where the branch known as the Bakairis is located today namely, on the upper Shingu in north-eastern Matto Grosso (Brazil), and that from there they spread to the north and northeast, driving the Arawaks before them.
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