Indigenous Peoples of St. Croix

St. Croix’s earliest inhabitants—the Igneri, Caribs, and Taino – form an integral part of its cultural tapestry. While there were interactions and cultural exchanges between Arawak-speaking groups (Igneri and Taino) and Carib-speaking groups, they each had their own distinct cultures, and social structures. The Taino, dominant in the Greater Antilles, boasted sizable villages and rich social structures. The Igneri, a subset of the Taino, carved their own path in the Lesser Antilles, including St. Croix. Meanwhile, the Caribs, renowned for their maritime prowess and martial culture, also left an indelible mark on the region. Their interactions shaped the Caribbean’s cultural mosaic, yet they maintained unique identities and customs.

The term “Caribbean” has its origins in the indigenous peoples of the region. The name “Carib” is derived from the Spanish word “Caribe,” which in turn comes from the indigenous Carib word for themselves, “Kalinago” (in their own language), “Kalina”, or possibly “Karina”. When Spanish explorers and colonizers first encountered the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean, they referred to them collectively as “Caribes.” Over time, this term came to be associated specifically with the Carib people, who were known for their seafaring skills and feared by other indigenous groups in the region. As European colonization of the Caribbean islands progressed, the term “Carib” was used to refer not only to the indigenous people but also to the islands and the wider region itself. Eventually, the term “Caribbean” came to be used to describe the sea, the islands, and the surrounding coastal areas.

The historical origins of the Caribs, Taino, and Igneri—indigenous peoples of the Caribbean islands and parts of coastal South America—have long been debated among scholars. It is widely believed that they originated from the region of present-day Venezuela or the Guianas on the South American mainland.

Linguistic evidence suggests that the Carib language family, along with the Taino language, is part of the larger Cariban language family, which extends across parts of South America. Additionally, archaeological findings, such as pottery styles and other material culture, indicate connections between the pre-Columbian cultures of the Caribbean and those of northern South America.

The migration of the Caribs, Taino, and Igneri from South America to the Caribbean islands occurred over centuries, likely through a combination of coastal and maritime routes. The specific timing and routes of their migration remain subjects of ongoing research and debate among archaeologists and anthropologists.

Once settled in the Caribbean, the Caribs, Taino, and Igneri inhabited various islands, where they developed distinct cultural practices, social structures, and interactions with each other and other indigenous groups. Their presence contributed to the diversity of indigenous cultures in the region, leaving a lasting impact on the history and heritage of the Caribbean islands.

Overall, the historical origin of the Igneri, Caribs, and Taino is rooted in South America, and their migration and settlement in the Caribbean islands contributed to the diversity of indigenous cultures in the region. Ongoing research and archaeological discoveries continue to refine our understanding of their origins and pre-Columbian history.


Recently, a discussion with a friend veered into the realm of cannibalism among St. Croix’s indigenous tribes. While my friend asserted its existence, I cautiously dissented, not from certainty but due to a lack of compelling evidence. Our exchange underscores the importance of critically evaluating historical narratives, especially those tainted by colonial biases.

My subsequent research yielded inconclusive evidence supporting claims of cannibalism on St. Croix. Though historical accounts allege its practice among Carib communities in neighboring islands like Dominica, St. Vincent, and Grenada, the topic remains contentious among scholars.

In “The Eighth Flag,” Stanford Joines delves deeply into the topic of cannibalism on St. Croix. However, Joines himself acknowledges the complexity of these accounts, noting that they were primarily documented by European colonizers, many of whom had vested interests in justifying slavery, land acquisition, and acts of genocide. Joines astutely highlights the entanglement of slavery and cannibalism, tracing it back to a decree by Queen Isabella. This decree stipulated that only individuals identified as cannibals could be enslaved, thereby creating a perverse incentive for the accusation of cannibalism as a means of legitimizing the enslavement of indigenous peoples.


The definitive collection of scholarly works is “The Indigenous People of the Caribbean” by Samuel M. Wilson. This volume brings together nineteen Caribbean specialists to produce the first general introduction to the indigenous peoples of that region.

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