The Caribbean Barko:
It was Mother's Day Sunday morning. I had a chance to sleep in. The
cozy berth was so comfortable. The anchorage was so secure. Then, I heard
it. "Bark, bark." Another voice, "bark, bark, bark." An echo, "bark, bark,
bark." A boat, "bark, bark." A house on land, "bark, bark, bark." Then
all together, "bark, bark, bark, bark"
It went on and on. It increased in velocity in progression and fervor
and volume. And it continued. Not counting the echoes, about 20 dogs were
barking. I tried to cover my ears but the opportunity to sleep had passed.
6:45AM. I decided to go to shore and talk to one lady who owned three
of the dogs. "Good Morning, Edna. Happy Mother's Day." Fortunately, her
dogs were tied to a tree by what appeared to be old tug hawsers.
After a bit a chit chat, I asked her about her dogs. She looked at me
in a questioning manner. I tried again. "Why do your dogs bark - and bark
and bark - for no reason?"
"That's how island dogs breathe. They take in air in their noses and bark come out." Edna said a something else but it was impossible to hear her over the dogs' breathing. She didn't seem to hear it.
Jamahl is a Rasta friend in the hills. He had two island dogs similar
to the tug hawser dogs. Maybe he could shed some light on the subject.
Walking to his house, I asked, "Jamahl, where you dogs?" They were nowhere
"Oh, Marrietta have them down on the beach. They like to swim and bark there on Sunday mornings."
He put on some music and we exchanged pleasantries. Eventually, I asked, "Jamahl, why do West Indies dogs bark so much?"
"What you mean, dogs bark so much? They just do what they do," he said.
"I know, but dey bark and bark for no reason, mon." I continued. "You know dat dog, Lassie. He bark when there be reason, mon. The barn is on fire; Timmy caught under the tractor; Lassie run to the sheriff and bark. Sheriff say, 'why Lassie bark so much? It must be problem with Timmy under tractor.'"
Jamahl looked at me perplexed and said, "Lassie? Who he - one of those anthropomorphic characters that you were raised with in the States?"
My mind raced. I thought to myself, "anthro the study of man. Morphic?
Isn't that what butterflies do? What's he talking about?" I then did what
any Eurocentric professional would do. Dismiss the importance of the offending
"Anthropomorphism is not the issue here. Jamahl, tell me, why do the dogs in the Caribbean just bark and bark and bark, for no reason, while wagging their tails?"
Jamahl replied, "West Indies dogs like your Lassie - they only bark
when there be trouble, too. But Rastaman have so much trial and tribulation,
trouble never stops. Dogs never stop barking. Dat easy." It seemed to make
Late in the day, I decided to visit the nearest source of my problem, a nearby ketch belonging to Professor Helmut Von Bjorkvist. He owned a large Doberman and an island dog from Trinidad.
Sure enough, the professor was on deck and the dogs were barking at anything that moved. "Good afternoon, professor," I shouted. "How are you?"
"How am I?" he said. "I'm just waking up. Damn dogs wouldn't stop barking until that Rasta girl and her dogs left the beach about ten minutes ago."
This seemed to be the perfect time to raise my question. "That's the reason that I am here, professor. Why can't you just make your dogs shut up?"
He replied, "I am sorry but it is impossible to keep Gerta quiet because she takes after Puffin. I've done studies on it. Puffin is an actual species and breed commonly known as the 'Caribbean Barko'. It was bred by the Caribs during the time that they were fighting the French." Puffin and I cocked our heads in amazement.
He continued. "In the late 1700s, the Caribs knew that they needed some
plan to defeat the French. They decided to drive the French crazy. The
Caribs figured that there were certain noise levels they could not hear
but the French could, so they bred a dog to that would bark at that noise
level and never stop barking. It was a very imaginative project and it
Pouring a cup of coffee, he continued. "We have little first-hand information about it, but it seems that the Caribs did manage to put two Barkos on a supply ship bound the next day for France. Shortly thereafter, the vessel, the Jambe de Nauseeux, was wrecked off of Saint Kitts. The only survivor, Raymonde Villienieuxeex, told the sad story to the people who found him on the beach."
"The two dogs barked and barked somewhere in the hold of the ship. The captain gave the order to control the dogs at all costs. Unfortunately, any swordsman or archer who would go below to do the job would come up in a few minutes in a screaming fit and jump overboard, holding his ears, refusing to be saved. After three days, the most of the ship's officers and crew did likewise."
The professor went below and brought out a drawing of the dog, saying, "shortly before he lapsed into a coma, Villenieuxeex drew a sketch of the female. This is a copy of his drawing of a female Barko showing a large lower quadrant and a set of thirty engorged teats, although he may have been delusional at that point."
He continued, "The Caribs' plan may have worked, had it not been for the Quadrille. Legend has it that the French invented the Quadrille dance to drive the Carib nation crazy in retaliation for the sinking of the Nauseeux."
He asked, "Remember the Caribs who leapt to their deaths to avoid being enslaved by the French?" I nodded. "According to my studies, the Caribs were more concerned about being forced to wear those frilly French period clothes and dance the Quadrille, than anything else. The French figured this out and they would taunt them endlessly by dancing the Quadrille in front of a bonfire, night after night with seal skin earmuffs covering their ears. The Caribs tried to avoid them but their fate was sealed. Men were merciless during those times."
Thoughtfully, the professor reflected. "The modern day Barko has evolved
little in the past three hundred years. French colonialism and the Carib
culture are gone, but the Quadrille and the Caribbean Barkos live on. That
is how dangerous man's intervention into nature can be."
It was time to go. As I was leaving, the professor shouted to me over the sounds of barking and twanging hawsers in a distant background. "There is no way that anyone can keep a Caribbean Barko from barking. That's how they breathe."
Rob Kunkel is cruising the Caribbean aboard the schooner Windolee.
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