Posted by: Reginald Cyntje | August 8, 2012

Born there raised somewhere else…

With one leg sticking out, the doctors left the room thinking that I was going to come out on my own, but my mom knew differently. They were quickly called back into the delivery space and a botched C-section was performed. I was born on the island of Dominica and raised in the US Virgin Islands (USVI)…

This phrase has been my mantra for as long as I can remember. As a child, many in the USVI did not think this was special. I would hear folks say “Dem down island people…” The words usually ended with something degrading. But as an adult, when I would encounter folks from other Caribbean islands they did not consider the USVI as “real” Caribbean islands. They thought the USVI were on the tit of the United States.

The beauty, love and acceptance came from my family…

My mom helped many of her older siblings become US citizens. I remember when my aunts and uncles came to live with us. Their song like accents mixed with Dominican Creole filled my childhood home. Our home became theirs until they landed on their feet.

The Dominican culture was/is rich with African traditions but I was too young and ignorant to know.

As I grew older, I learned about the Kalinago or “Caribs” popularly known as the Carib Indians. My grandfather was part Kalinago and my grandmother seemed to be undiluted African. These two cultures seem to clash in my family history.  Most noticeably is the story of how my cousin came into existence. My cousin was a love child.

My aunt’s husband, my uncle, had a child with a Kalinago woman. The child was left on the doorsteps of my aunt’s house in Dominica and my cousin’s mother returned to the Kalinago territory. What is more striking about the story is that the indigenous traditions and customs of the Kalinago people resemble those of many Africans. But at the time of my cousin’s birth, there was a divide.

Despite this divide, my grandfather’s people were mostly Kalinago and my grandmother’s people were mostly African. They met. Had many children. So, here I am. The history on my mother’s side is filled with information that can fill many libraries. But this is not to leave out the history of my father’s parents, with one from Curacao (grandfather) and the other from Anegada (grandmother). That story is filled with so many secrets, I’ve been researching for years and still don’t know…

Back to Dominica…As a child, I had the opportunity to visit Dominica but I can’t remember why I didn’t go. My sisters (who were all born on the island of St. Thomas) went on the trip.

Last night, I had a dream that I was on the island of Dominica experiencing everything I’ve read, the melodies I’ve heard and the people I’ve known. The rich culture that has influenced me since birth was permeating my dreams. I saw myself experiencing the nature island, the rivers for everyday of the year and most importantly, my family. I’ve felt compelled to visit the island for many years.
Why haven’t I? Well, most of my family is in the USVI. The USVI is where my first memories were created. Dominica is the melody that sung in my ears as I experienced my childhood. Dominica is also the many stories I’ve heard at funerals, baptisms and moments when I just sat and listened.

Someday soon I will arrive on the shores of Dominica (Waitukubuli before Columbus changed the name) and explore the cultural heritage that inspired my youth. I’ve been to Anegada and seen the little house where my grandmother gave birth to my father. Next stop? Dominica. Then, I will visit Curacao to unlock the story of my grandfather on my father’s side and learn why he left Curacao in his twenties and never returned…

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Responses

  1. Very insightful. Thumbs up.

  2. Your so right! (smiling)

  3. Where you’re from and what “made” you is only one part of you; where you’re going, who you are and who you’ve become is the other.

  4. We’ll make the trip to Dominica together – when you’re ready. Pack the trombone.


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