30 March 2004

Los Cocos, Dominican Republic: Threats to an Indigenous Community

Cheryl Kolander of Mama D.O.C., Inc., has supplied the following alert and letters as a follow up to previous efforts to bring attention to the threatened dispossession of this community in the Dominican Republic...


The Los Cocos traditional living community is a small enclave of indigenous heritage people who live upon and within the coastal dune ecology of the central north coast of the island of Hispaniola.

This proposal is that both the dune ecology and the indigenous living community that is a part of it be preserved as a World Heritage Site, for future generations of the world, and for anthropological and scientific study.

The site is roughly 1.5 km from east to west, and aprox. 0.5 km from north to south. The north side is bounded by a rock strewn and often violent surf, a thin sand beach, a strip of costal dune woodland, grass pastures over sand dunes, and a mangrove swamp, ending with a small river. On the west is the lagoon of this river, half way to the east is the indigenous life style community of Los Cocos, and the far western end passes through private, equally undeveloped land, through to the river called Camu.

The ownership is claimed by the Central Bank of the Dominican Republic, who “bought” it from the sugar mill, which was also owned and run by the government at that time. Records do not go back further than the 1950’s, so there is no documentation on how the government’s sugar mill asserted title originally.

For over 50 years, a small part of this natural area has been settled by employees of the sugar mill and their families. According to oral tradition, they were given rights to live on the dunes by the overseer of the sugar mill in the late 1950’s. At that time the mill, by law, had to provide land for its workers to live on. The document that formalized this permission was created, but over time has been lost.

The people who live in Los Cocos now have almost all been born there and lived there all their lives, have had children and now grandchildren there. While they moved to the current location of Los Cocos because of the permission given to the family by the mill, their former location was within this same dune complex.

They live through a mix of hunting and gathering with some rudimentary agriculture. All the houses are traditional Carib-style bohios, constructed of local traditional materials, using traditional methods. They live without electricity, hot water, fancy clothing or extraneous possessions. They live as one large extended family, which they are. The traditional ways of knowledge remain strong and are being passed down to the upcoming generation. Of particular importance to the rest of the world is the incredible body of traditional medical knowledge based on the often unique local plants of this dune ecology.

In addition to the last remaining traditional living people in this ecology, there are numbers of rare birds that have survived in this costal zone. In particular is the Guaco, which is a type of green-backed heron. It eats only land crabs, and is considered by the locals to be endangered. “Mama D.O.C.” is happy to report that sightings and nesting has increased in the last two years, since we convinced the people not to capture and eat them anymore.

Besides the dune ecology, which is nowhere protected along the north coast, the natural area contains many acres of mangrove swamp. This is host to may other indigenous birds, amphibians and butterflies. Adjacent to the mangroves are lowlands that fill with water when rains are strong. Waterbirds then flock to these shallow wetlands.

The sea off-shore is strewn with coral reefs, some old and some still living. The black spined endangered sea urchin multiplies on these reefs. While a rare occurrence, turtles still pull up on the beach to nest. Conch and lobster can be found on the outlying reefs.

On behalf of the conscious and caring world community, this petition is being circulated. The community of Los Cocos has only been uncovered as an anthropological wonder and an ecological heritage since 1999. The study of the traditional lifestyle of the inhabitants has only just begun. The cataloging of the rare and endangered elements of the increasingly rare dune ecology has yet to be accomplished.

Please pass this information on to whomever you know interested in the fabled peaceful and ecological lifestyle of the Carib native (supposed to be extinct), and any organization interested in the preservation of endangered cultures, birds, plants and animals.

This is the last of its kind. It needs and deserves to be preserved.

Proposal prepared by Cheryl Kolander for “Mama D.O.C.” Inc., non-profit for Natural Health, USA. http://www.mamadoc.org/


Melsedita lives at Los Cocos. Her chosa is part of the complex headed by her mother Maria. Her sister Melida lives next door; while father Enrique lives nearby, but a bit apart, with his friend Mario, the guitarist known as “Cucaracha”, next door to him.

This complex is part of the Natural Living community of Los Cocos. This culture is lived by the descendants, in unbroken tradition from their pre-Columbian ancestors. The Chosas are traditionally built, wood frame covered with different parts of the local palm trees. The chosas of Los Cocos rest on the sand, under coconut palms, within the expanse of the Dune Ecology of the proposed Los Cocos Natural and Scientific Reserve.

Melsedita has never received much of an education. Schooling is not compulsory in her country; in fact, it costs a great deal. Yet she can learn. When a visiting guest artist taught knitting, Melsedita learned it so well that she immediately made the little vest her daughter is wearing in the photo. At my next visit she presented me with a purse, quite charming. She now works producing some of my Aurora Silk line of naturally dyed silk therapeutic garments.

Melsedita does not want to move. Her life depends on where she now lives. With little knowledge of the outside world, she knows she would drown there. Here, at Los Cocos, no matter how limited the intellect, one can live simply and sincerely. She is part of the large family of Los Cocos, all of whom are related either by blood or by marriage. All of whom are supportive family. All of whom live simply, with very little money, and off the land and sea around them.

Mama D.O.C. supports Melsedita in her need, along with the others of Los Cocos, to continue to exemplify this natural living Carib native lifestyle. There is no other living example of this traditional life in the dunes by the sea on the coast of the great Caribbean island of Hispaniola.

The Church of Peace and Love (in the Ghetto of Your Mind) supports the karmic balance of protection to these people. This location, the last remnant of natural living native descendants of the race Columbus is supposed to have exterminated, live not 100 miles from his first landfall. They are now facing an exact repeat of the colonialism that took away their land and their life before. How horrible that now, those who have survived all this time undetected are facing a second and final extermination. I personally believe all white people in the western hemisphere have a karmic obligation to do what ever one can towards preventing this destruction. Let’s let these people live, and let’s learn from them.

For they have much to teach. Aurora Silk and other web-based businesses now sell herbals entirely based on the knowledge transmitted by Nicolas Perez-Brito, elder of Los Cocos, an expert in the local use of all the herbs of the area. When Nicola is in the United States, he gives lectures to anthropology students about his culture. Over a dozen anthropologists have come to Los Cocos in the last five years, seeking out this remnant culture.

Melsedita has met them all. She is delighted that her simple life is acknowledged as meritorious. She welcomes visitors who come to enjoy, learn and experience first hand a different, a very gentle, way of being.

Written by Cheryl Kolander 12 April 2004



Your Honored and Esteemed Eminence,

This letter is written on behalf of a small group of indigenous peoples who yet survive in their traditional lifestyle, not far from where Columbus landed. On the island lived in by their ancestors for thousands of years, this lone group has survived in unbroken culture since the beginning of the Conquest until now.

Now a new-conquest threatens to take their small remaining homeland from them. Their homeland is the costal dune ecology of the north coast of the Island of Hispaniola.

Since their discovery in 1999, I have been studying their culture and documenting their lifestyle. For six years I have worked with this group of indigenous people. Anthropologists have visited, and many more have expressed intent and desire to document this group. No one who has visited doubts but that these are “Indios” in the true sense of people, of indigenous heritage, who live with and off the land and the sea, without much stuff, and without much money. And, in the case of the Caribbean indigenous culture, who care and share within the immense extended family in a way that exists rarely still on the planet, (and which is in complete harmony with the concept of Christian fellowship).

These people are trapped in a kind of genocide, for their lifestyle, if not their persons proper, are in the line of fire of the new “Conquistadors”. These new land grabbers are the moneyed interests of our time who are intent on turning every square meter of coastline, on this island and worldwide, into prime real estate for European and North American vacation “homes”. These large houses, which are rarely occupied, would completely destroy the natural ecology of this intact dune system. And to make the land saleable, the government bank insists on requiring the removal and destruction of the remnant native cultural group that yet lives, peacefully and in harmony with nature within this ecosystem.

This natural system has survived as long as it has, because this prime real estate was and is surrounded by a nasty, mosquito infested swamp.

These people have survived displacement and denial for 500 years. Is there a way to stop it now?

This is what I beg you.

All the information about this situation in detail can be found at www.mamadoc.org. Two years ago we proposed an alternative economic solution to the whole dilemma. As an independent entrepreneur of 35 years experience, I and my staff are ready to work with the entire area to develop an economic base, which only needs to expand “Mama D.O.C.’s” ongoing “Mission” work (Mission, in the sense of the California Missions). The text of this proposal is posted in both Spanish and English on the site. I have personally presented it to the government owned Central Bank, two years ago, but the proposal was denied. Recently, the Dominican radio reported that the current buyer may have negated his deal, as it required the land be entirely cleared of its 4,000 people and their 400 homes. Since the people are themselves standing up to say they do not want to be relocated, (at least not under the poor terms offered by the government bank), this deal may have fallen through. Thus we may have another opportunity to convince the government bank that investing in people and their abilities is a better bet than creating instant slums and pushing people from poverty into destitution.

The people of the village tell me that the Archbishop of Santo Domingo has personally become involved in the effort, to some extent. A copy of the proposal, including the details of the financial aspect, was hand delivered to his office at the same time the proposal was presented to the bank. The more that can be done on behalf of these people, the better. It is important to understand that these are not just “a bunch of poor people”, whom in our Christian charity we feel moved to help. It is that the part of these people who yet cling to their native heritage, who live almost exactly as their forbearers did 500 years ago, that to these people especially we owe a debt of nurturing. That like an almost extinct bird or exceptionally rare plant, they deserve our conscious and conscientious protection.

Please help. I was directed to write you by a Franciscan priest who happened to call me. I believe God can direct everything and miracles happen when we pray.

In supplication to your grand office and great wisdom, with great thanks and

with love,

Cheryl Kolander March 29, 2004

05 March 2004

4th Annual Garifuna Day Street Festival

The Garinagu Empowerment Movement (G.E.M.) A non-profit organization, is holding it's 3rd Annual Garifuna Day Street Festival on April 10th 2004....

The Garinagu Empowerment Movement (G.E.M.) A non-profit organization, is holding it's 3rd Annual Garifuna Day Street Festival on April 10th 2004. This is a FREE event celebrating the journey of the Garinagu people. It is a full day of MUSIC, CULTURE, and FOOD! The festival will take place in Los Angeles, CA. on Avalon Blvd. Between 41st and 43rd Street from 9:00AM to 7:00PM PST. This is a particularly significant event because for the first time, Los Angeles County is recognizing April 10th as an OFFICIAL HOLIDAY. And it will be celebrated EVERY YEAR henceforth. You can find more information at www.geminaction.com, www.belizeanartist.com, or www.greenlightmedia.net.

Please help in spreading the word among your respective groups even if you are unable to attend yourself. Forward this email to everyone who is interested in learning more about or supporting the Garifuna culture.We appreciate your support and will see you at the festival!!!

For information by phone, you can call our information hotline at (323) 778-9888.
Engel Thedford
Street Festival Coordinator

Replies: 1 Comment
Have a great festival!
I am with you in spirit.
Member of Santa Rosa Carib Community
Arima, Trinidad
Presently in San Marcos, Texas
Camille Stephenson said @ 04/10/2004 06:23 PM AT