Dominica, Caribs, and a German U-boat? The problem of why “we always get people like you.”

It is September of 1998. I am visiting with a former Chief of the Dominica Carib Territory, in the presence of another who in subsequent years would also be elected Chief of the Carib Council. We are sitting alone, the three of us, in the back pew of the Roman Catholic Church in Salybia.

The former Chief asks me about my research project in Dominica. I tell him, “I am here to look up people who have visited with the Carib Community in Arima, Trinidad, trying to get a sense of the connections, how many connections, how long people from both communities have known each other, what the impact of these connections may be.”

He barely blinks, and looks quite unimpressed. He then tells me about something that appears to be totally unrelated, a story of some German U-boat that was damaged in battle during WWII and ran aground somewhere along the coastline that the Carib Territory faces. He says that no archaeologist has done any digging there to learn more about what happened.

I am not always that quick to think, or to express myself diplomatically, so I return the favour by interrupting him. I ask: “Sorry, there is something I missed here. Why did you bring this up? I am not studying German U-boats, and I’m not even an archaeologist.”

He then asks me: “So what are you?”

“I am a cultural anthropologist.”

He gets up, and while walking out waving his hand behind him as if to push away a bad smell or a fly, he says: “Yeah, we always get people like you.”

“What does he mean by that?” I ask the other Carib man.

“He means we never get researchers who choose topics of interest to us. We keep hearing, for years and years, rumours about this U-boat having been here, on our land, and nobody ever looks into this.”

2 thoughts on “Dominica, Caribs, and a German U-boat? The problem of why “we always get people like you.”

  1. As far as I can tell, nobody on St. Vincent has ever read the selection from Moreau’s memoirs that I have put on the web as [http://1795.karleklund.net]. I can understand why schoolkids don’t read it, because their exams are based on english colonial history and the memoire is franco-carib history. But why are the adults repelled by their own history?

  2. My dad told me a story about a german U Boat that managed to end up off the coast of dominica, and used to surface so the germans could fish and collect fruit. The U Boat was destroyed by an american bomber which dropped a torpedo. He recalls seeing the body parts floating on the surface of the water afterwards.

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