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"The Carib Territory is home to the Kalinago (Carib) Indians who once ruled the entire Eastern Caribbean. Discover original Carib craft, meet boat-builders, hear stories and legends associated with sites such as L'Escalier Tete Chien and Pagua Rock." This is an invitation from the Ministry of Tourism.

Index and External Links to Carib History and Culture

I invite you to visit The Carib Territory Guest House & enjoy the scenery.

See what KALINAGO e.V. in Germany is doing for the Caribs of Dominica.

Brief Introductions

"...the Carib type, even in the remnant that survives to-day, shows an unmistakably Mongolian character and it would be hard to distinguish a Carib infant from a Chinese or Tartar child. They have the same straight, coarse, blue-black hair, oblique eyes, prominent cheek bones, and rather flat noses, while the colour of the true Carib is so light a copper as to be almost yellow." (H. Hesketh Bell, Administrator, 1902)

Dominica is home to about 3,000 Carib Indians, descendants of the original inhabitants of the island, who live in the Carib Territory. It was established in 1903 consisting of about 3,700 acres of land and owned exclusively by the Carib Indians.

Carib Territory
by; October, 1999
"Approximately 3,400 people of Carib descent live in this 3,700-acre reserve on the island's wave-battered east coast. This is the Caribbean's largest remaining community of Caribs. In Bataka, Salybia, Sinecou, and other hamlets along the main east coast road, tourists can watch artisans at work and purchase crafts from roadside stands. Intricately woven grass baskets, hats, and mats are Carib specialties. If you can't make it to the Territory, stop in at the Kalinago Centre on King George Street in Roseau. This Carib-sanctioned center displays historical photographs and sells traditional Carib arts and crafts.

Carib Chief & Parliamentary Representative

Garnet Joseph is Dominica's Indigenous People's new Carib Chief. The new Chief will serve for the next five years and automatically assumes the Chairmanship of the Carib Council. Chief Garnet Joseph
Parl. Rep. Kelly Graneau Honourable Kelly Graneau is the Parliamentary representative for the Carib Territory having retained his seat with the Labour Party at the 2005 general election. He is the first ever Minister of Carib Affairs. He will not be contestinh the next General Election

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The Carib Territory In Brief
(Taken from Cakafete's Nature Island Tour)
The mixed descendants of the last Island Caribs who inhabited the Lesser Antilles live on the north-east coast of Dominica. This simple fact has been so exaggerated and distorted over the last thirty years of tourism publicity, that there tends to be much misunderstanding, bewilderment and eventual disappointment among visitors who come to view the Carib Territory as one of the 'attractions' of Dominica.

Some years ago, before the motorable road went completely through this area, I was travelling with a group of visitors who had rocked and jolted across the island to see the 'Indian Reservation' as they called it. Having passed through all the scattered hamlets which made up the isolated community, the vehicle reached the end of the road and turned around to go back to Roseau. Immediately there was the plaintive wail of North American accents from the rear of the land rover 'but where's the Carib Village?'

It struck me at once what the problem was. Somewhere, in all the glossy promotional hype, they had been led to believe that there they would see a primitive tribe in its last halcyon days; with thatched huts, grass skirts, a chief in feather and perhaps a few hulahula dancers. It is nothing like that at all.

Visually there is little to differentiate it from any other part of rural Dominica. The same small farms of mixed crops dominated by bananas and coconuts are clustered around the roadside and surrounding hills. The same houses, some of concrete, some of wood surrounded by tidy flower gardens face onto the road. One slight distinction may be that some of the wooden houses are raised on stilts to shelter drying timber, cocoa, coffee or reeds for basket making. Increasingly you'll see the family pick-up truck packed nearby and television aerials sprouting from bamboo poles. Perhaps a thatched outhouse or kitchen utilising traditional materials and building methods may be seen.

Only three things hint that here live the remnants of a disappearing tribe: the small craft shops selling the basketwork which follows style and patterns handed down for centuries, now and then the sight of a half finished canoe being hollowed out of the single trunk of a giant Gommier tree and the sight of people whose skin tone and facial structure vaguely recall the Mongolian origin of their forefathers, who once had free rein over all these islands.

The weakening of their hold on Dominica began from the time that the first Spanish caravelles dropped anchors in Prince Rupert's Bay, shortly after the second voyage of Columbus. From then on, ships of all nations came regularly to collect wood and water and to trade with the Caribs for fruit and cassava flour. For almost two centuries, contact was limited to trading and occasional skirmishes, by the mid seventeenth century Dominica had become a refuge for Caribs retreating from the other islands where the surge of French, English and Dutch colonisation was sweeping from off their ancestral lands. The rugged mountains, thick forest and iron coastline provided a natural citadel for the final retreat. From this base they made attacks on the fledgling European colonies and suffered at least two massacres in retaliation; one at Anse De Mai in 1635 and another in 1674 at the village which is still called Massacre today.

Christianity was first introduced in 1642 and missionaries of the Dominican, Capucine and Jesuit Orders installed themselves at various points on the island. They had little spiritual success but collected masses of anthropological data on the Carib language and way of life. At the same time propaganda was being used to justify extermination. Pamphleteers in Europe were having a field day on the subject of Carib cannibalism, outdoing each other to create ever gory accounts about the consumption of human flesh. One of them, Rochefort, has Carib gourmets comparing the taste and texture of various European nationalities. Being a Frenchman, his story concludes, of course, that the French were the most tasty! It appears, however, from the more balance accounts of respected missionaries that such tales of cannibalism were greatly exaggerated and may have been based on the occasional ceremonial use of ancestor and enemy remains.

By 1700 French lumbermen had established their ateliers along the leeward coast and soon the Caribs were withdrawing to the windward side, exchanging land rights for rum, brass bowls, iron axes, cutlasses and hoes.

When the British formally took over in 1763 European conquest was complete. British surveyors divided the island up into lots for sale and plantations were established around the island. Only 232 acres of mountainous land and rocky shoreline at Salybia were left for the Caribs. This was done, legend has it, at the request of Queen Charlotte, wife of George III. This subsequently developed into the myth that Charlotte had left them half of Dominica - a myth which today many older Caribs consider, erroneously, to be an historical fact.

For another 130 years the Caribs were left to themselves, shadowy figures hardly seen by the growing Creole society of African slaves, free men and European officials and landowners. Now and then they appeared in the estate yards and at Sundays markets to sell baskets and fish, but quickly dissolved into the mountains once more along forest tracks towards Salybia.

When Robert Hamilton was sent by the British Colonial Office as Commissioner in 1893 to find out why Dominica was more backward and less developed than almost any other of the islands, and why its people were less prosperous and contented than her Majesty's other West Indian subjects, he received a tragic letter from the Caribs:

"In the name of God, my Lord, We humble beg of your kindness to accept our petition of your poor people, Indians or Caraibe, of Salibia, to implore the mercy of our Beloved Mother and Queen Victoria, for her poor and unfortunate children. We don't have nothing to support us, no church, no school, no shop, no store. We are very far in the forest; no money, no dress. They call us wild savages. No my beloved Queen, it is not savages but poverty. We humble kneel down in your feet to beg of your assistance. Accept your humble children of Salibia."

Nine years afterwards an enlightened Administrator, Heskeith Bell, sent a lengthy report to the Colonial Office making certain proposals for the future of the Caribs. He advised that 3,700 acres should be set aside for them and that a chief should be officially recognised by the colony and given a token allowance of six pounds annually. This was approved, and a year later the chief was invested with a silver headed staff and ceremonial sash.

Economically and socially, however there was no improvement and emotions flared up in September 1930 in a conflict with police over smuggling. It was only in 1970 that a motorable road was cut through the area and telephones and electricity followed in the 1980's. Bananas and coconuts have improved earnings, but because all the land is owned in common, it is intensively used and therefore has the most serious soil erosion problem in Dominica and has lost many to its smaller streams through deforestation.

The position of the Chief is less romantic than most visitors like to believe. In 1952 a Carib Council was created as part of a local government system for the whole island. Legislation was upgraded at Independence in 1978 with the Carib Reserve Act. There are elections every five years and the Chairman of the Council is designated the 'Chief. Except for this title, he plays the same role as all the other village Council Chairmen in Dominica. To further confuse the matter, the Carib Territory, as it is now popular called, also has a Parliamentary Representative who sits in the House of Assembly in Roseau and is elected every five years. The Chief and the Parliamentary Representative usually make an effort to relate to each other, but in fact the Representative sitting in the nation's House of Assembly has more power than the Chief. However, the Chief is more in demand as the spokesman for the Territory, particularly by visiting journalists and international conferences on Amerindian and Aboriginal affairs.

It is a sad irony that this tribe of seafarers, after whom the waters of the Caribbean have been named, should end up in a corner of the island where access to the sea is almost impossible. There are only two difficult landing places on this wild and dramatic shoreline. One is at Salibia Bay where you can see the rocky Salibisie Islets and the Church of St. Marie with its altar carved in the shape of a canoe.

Walking straight down the hill opposite the Salybia Police Station you come to the mouth of the Crayfish or Isulukati River where waterfalls cascade from rock pools over a stony ledge into the sea. A fifteen minute walk from the hamlet of Sineku takes you to L'escalier Tete Chien or the Snake's Staircase - Tete Chien being the local name for the boa constrictor because its head look like that of a dog. Geologically, this rock formation is called a dyke. It resembles a gigantic petrified serpent crawling up the hillside from the ocean with its back crystalised into wedges of rock which forms a natural staircase. This 'escalier' features prominently in Carib myth and folklore.

Natural landmarks such as the rock at Sineku are highlights of ancient Carib mythology. A huge rock overlooking Pagua River near Atkinson, the islets off Londonderry beach, a cave near Kraibo Bay at Wesley were once featured in Carib tales, most of which have long been forgotten.

The strongest link with the past however are the Carib baskets which are sold in little craft shops all along the road through the Carib Territory. The brown, white and black designs of the larouma reed have been handed down from generation to generation. The square paniers and side bags are made in two layers with heliconia leaves in between. This waterproof design is a remnant from the days when food and goods had to be kept dry from sea spray in the open canoes and from rainfall along the forest trails across the mountainous interior. Such a basket is the most authentic souvenir you can get from the Caribbean and from the people who gave the region its name.

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Typical Carib Faces - Young and Old


(Above) Elderly typical Carib woman displaying the traditional, colourful headware worn by both Carib and Afro-Dominican.

(Right) Jacob Frederick, artist, demonstrates with a cutlass the precise art of cutting open a mature coconut for drinking.

Jacob Frederick, Compliments

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By Simon Lee - Copyright© 2000.

Night had already swallowed the palm thick slopes of the Carib Territory on Dominica's east coast when I reached Salybia, the main hamlet. I plunged into the darkness, feeling my way down a track that leads to the Atlantic shore. The muted glow of a kerosene lamp in the open window of a board house spurred me on down through the trees. Further down I fumbled on the dim outline of another board house. Silhouetted in the window were two old heads. One motioned me to the back of the house. I called at the open doorway and from the interior gloom emerged my old shipmate Jacob Frederick.

Although he lives in a simple board house which he shares with his parents and the six children he's raised alone since the death of his wife ten years ago, Frederick is both visionary and artist. More significantly, he is one of the very few 3,500 descendants of the region's indigenous people who live on the only Carib reserve left in the Caribbean, to have risen beyond the daily struggle for survival and to instill a sense of pride in Carib identity among the young people of the Territory and an awareness of the Carib presence and culture throughout the region.

Although the history of Caribbean is slowly being rewritten by the descendants of slaves and indentured labourers from a Creole rather than a colonialist perspective, little has been done to correct the European stereotyping of the original inhabitants of these islands, a futher insult added to the horrendous genocide they had already suffered.

Many Caribbean school textbooks still perpetuate the myth of Carib cannibalism, for which the experts agree there is little historical evidence. Human flesh was not eaten as food but as a ritual practice to gain possession of dead enemies' or ancestors' qualities This might occur before a raiding expedition or during initiation when it was hoped young men would inherit the bravery of a distinguished warrior.

The Caribs or Kalinago -Island Caribs - (as the Amerindians who migrated up through the Antilles called themselves to distinguish themselves from their parent tribe in north west Guyana) resisted the Spanish rather than succumbing like the more peaceful Arawak speaking Tainos who preceded them. For this they were demonized in much the same way as the "voodoo savages" of Haiti would later be demonized for daring to overthrow their French slave masters and threaten the whole system of Caribbean plantocracy.

The Spanish managed to account for most of the Tainos in the Greater Antilles. The Caribs put up fierce resistance against the Spanish and subsequently the French and English throughout the Lesser Antilles, which had been their undisputed territory from about 1400. In 1651 the last 30 Caribs in Grenada leapt to their death at Sauteurs cliff, rather than surrender to the French. It wasn't until 1797 that the Black Caribs of St Vincent (descendants of Caribs and runaway slaves) were finally defeated by the British and dumped on the islands off Honduras and Belize.

A Carib lament records the demise of this proud people:

Tooking ma kanari
Minara tanara manaricou
Kimabouisi cana kivacou
Destroyed our strength;
myself without birthright, food or weapon.
Without strength my plants, our land and water;
Without weapons I am destroyed.
Our strength is without defences, fortress or land.
Wai'tukubuli (Dominica) with its inaccessible mountains and forests "a natural citadel", became the last Carib stronghold and retreat; a base for attacking neighbouring colonies and the site of reprisal massacres. Although declared neutral territory by the French and English in 1686 and again in 1748, French settlers had established themselves on the west coast by 1700 and the Caribs began withdrawing to the wild east coast.

By the time a British Commission of 1893 arrived to investigate Conditions, the Caribs had been reduced to living on 232 acres at Salybia. Their petition to the Commissioner makes pitiful reading: "We donąt have nothing to support us, no church, no school, no shop, no store. We are very far in the forest; no money, no dress. They call us wild savages. ..It is not savages but poverty."

The British formally granted some 3,700 acres of common land to the Caribs in 1903 and officially recognized the office of chief (effectively no more than village elder), yet conditions barely improved. By 1930 there was an uprising on the Territory, sparked by conflict with police over smuggling. Two Caribs were shot dead and the Chief Jolly John imprisoned. The first road was only cut through the Territory in 1970 with some electricity and telephone lines following in the 1980s.

Independence in 1978 and successive governments dominated by Afro Dominican politicians have hardly alleviated conditions for modern Caribs, most of whom live by farming or fishing, supplementing their subsistence lifestyle by the traditional crafts of basket work or dugout canoe building. Intermarriage; the virtual disappearance of the Carib language, the harsh economics of small island life and the incursions of the global village (from drugs and crime to dancehall and brand name clothes) have all taken their toll on Carib identity.

It's in this context that the work of Jacob Frederick and other cultural activists like the outgoing Chief Garnett Joseph must be viewed. Now in his 40s Frederick is a self- taught artist, attempting to document events in Carib history like the 1930 uprising (which his mother then a small child vividly remembers), Carib myths, legends and lifestyle.

It was he who conceived the historic 1997 Carib Canoe Project. This voyage of rediscovery involved constructing a 35ft dugout from a single giant gommier tree and sailing down the islands back to the ancestral homelands in Guyana, the original voyage of migration in reverse. Besides being a practical demonstration of boat-building and navigational skills - ("I wanted to see if the boats were worthy of a long sea voyage") - the voyage was about re-establishing Carib identity among Dominican Caribs and contacts with the culture which was slipping from them: "It was an opportunity to search out the Caribs in South America, to see if they'd retained parts of the culture we'd lost, so we could learn and bring it back," Federick said.

He painted the hull of the Gli Gli canoe using a traditional Taino motif and the canoe proved just as worthy as the 80 footers of 500 years before. There were emotional reunions with Carib descendants down the islands and a state reception from the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs in Guyana.

But three years later much of the euphoria of the voyage has dissipated. Frederick has been back to Guyana to learn hammock making from the Macussi and Wapishana tribes of the Rupununi but other planned cultural exchanges have not materialized. Heąd hoped to set up an art school on the Territory but when I left him he bartered a picture so I could send him some paints.

For now he's focusing on "the first visual arts exhibition in the Carib Council Office". Besides, his own work, two other family members will be exhibiting, his brother and former Chief Faustulus (who pioneered calabash carving on the Territory) and eldest daughter Debbie who paints, makes copper jewelry and does calabash carving.

Among his paintings which are intuitively representational is the historical 1930 Uprising, in which the head of Jolly John presides over a depiction of the fatal shooting incident. For Frederick this is also family history as his Uncle Royer was one of the men killed. Another picture commemorates the old trail through the forest and over the mountains Carib farmers took to carry produce down to Roseau market on the west coast, a three to four day trek.

His most impressive piece to date is a complex wood carving called 'Legends' celebrating local tribal myths and legends. At the base of the carving is the great snake which is said to have emerged from the sea at 'L'Escalier Tete Chien' (staircase of the dog-headed boa). This is the guardian spirit of the Caribs, which can be invoked by burning an offering of tobacco in the forest at Sineku above the petrified rock stairway.

At the head of the staircase in the carving is the wrinkled figure of the sorceress Bihi, who chased her daughter and the daughter's lover Ebitimu up into the sky where the three became transfixed as the constellation Orion. Another legendary figure commemorated is Hiali, father of the Carib nation who was turned into the moon after his mother discovered his incestuous relationship with his sister.

Besides the Gli Gli, a small hawk which is a Carib symbol of bravery, Frederick has decorated the reverse of the carving, with some of the petroglyphs found at Londonderry Bay, further north. In future work he plans to incorporate many more of these traditional motifs.

While his plans for a Territory art school remain on hold, he has not abandoned his mission of keeping Carib culture alive for future generations and educating the young people of the Territory. Inspired by artifacts he has recently dug up around Salybia, the oldest settlement, he has founded an archaeological club "to develop interest among the young people in traditional arts."

(Simon Lee - Caribbean Today writer)
E-Mail Address

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A Carib Opportunity - A Cultural Village
By Lennox Honychurch, M.Phil, D.Phil. (Oxon)

For about twenty years successive governments of Dominica and successive Carib Councils have been working towards the realisation of a project to create 'A Carib Cultural Village' on four acres of land in the centre of the Carib Territory. As early as 1976, the then Carib Chief, Faustilus Frederick, submitted to the government of Dominica, a proposal for a 'Carib Village'. This proposal included the construction of a group of thatched houses for handicraft workshops, "sales building, small restaurant serving local dishes, cassava meal making hut and canoe building sheds surrounded by plots of various crops".

This plan was conceived by the chief of the time as an employment creation project. When it was originally submitted to government it included ideas for the future inclusion of huts for overnight visitors and cost estimates for these. The project was then handed to a professional team of consultants from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in 1982. It produced an ambitious proposal of a village which "will consist of traditional Carib structures [for] craft production and sales, Carib Museum, food production and service, a cultural/art/drama festival centre and a plot for traditional plants/activities". (ILO Report 5.1).

For the last nineteen years I have sat in a voluntary capacity on various planning committees which have been talking about this village. I have seen Carib Chiefs, government tourism ministers, civil servants, NDC personnel and foreign experts come and go and I am still here, amazed at how slow the wheels of administrative action turn. Something that should have taken a couple years to accomplish has taken two decades to bear fruit and the end is not yet in sight.

The structures that are being completed at the Crayfish or Isulukati Falls, in the area known as Tumaka in Carib, are as yet without any management plan or administrative system. Yes, there are reports (Cowater 1998, financed by the CDB is the latest), decisions have been taken somewhere, but the buildings will be completed at the end of this month with the systems not in place. This has been financed by a CDB loan to the tune of EC$721,000 for the road and EC$860,000 for the village. But how entrance fees will be collected and managed, how the loan will be paid back through government or council, is still to be sorted out.

Already the grumbling and grousing has started. "We were not consulted. We were not informed" say some. "The buildings are wrong" say others. "The road is too steep. The car park is sloping. The site is too hilly. The thatch was too green. The space is not enough, etc. etc". The usual Dominican litany of woe is chanted at the project. It will take diplomacy and careful guidance to see this in working order. But it is an opportunity not to be missed. Whatever the shortcomings, in these increasingly harsh economic times, one must take advantage of the situation. Creative and imaginative use can be made of this village for the economic and social benefit of the Carib community.

Cultural Villages of this type now increasingly dot indigenous areas in the Pacific, North America and elsewhere. The closest of its type to Dominica is at Camp Canaima on the Carrao River in Venezuela along the tourist route to Angel Falls. Early on the project organisers envisage 'a short attachment by at least two Caribs, to a location abroad (Canada or the USA) where a similar project is being successfully implemented will be arranged' (NDC Report 10.2). The probable cultural impact of the entire venture has also been noted: "Neither the Chief, nor his Council are unaware that even in a modest form of tourism development some changes in locals are inevitable. These they were more than willing to accept in order to obtain increased income". (International Labour Organisation, ILO, Carib Village Report 1982:3).

The Carib Territory is now hyped as some great tourism experience in all the publicity material produced for Dominica. But increasingly visitors are disappointed. In most cases it is the same as driving along any road in the rest of the island. The visitor wonders what it is that she has been driven all that way to see? Most of the charming old shingled houses on stilts are gone. It is not like walking along the old road as in the past. A focal point is therefore needed to make the visit interesting and to inject some business into the district.

The opening lines of the proposal for funding the 'tourism project development in the Carib Territory' states: "The main objective of the project is to develop a tourism product around indigenous resources that will ensure job creation as well as a viable tourist attraction that is in keeping with Dominica's tourism strategy... The project involves development of a Carib Cultural Village as a tourist attraction." (National Development Corporation, NDC, Report 1987: 1.1).

This development marks a period when the accumulated history of contact and culture exchange among the Caribs can be put to commercial use. This is a commodity that can be negotiated to the Carib's advantage in the marketplace of tourist 'experiences'. The tactic, whatever the pros and cons may be, is employed elsewhere: "In Tahiti, the very thing that functions to attract tourists is also used to foster Tahitian solidarity and to stimulate resistance to French colonial domination. Pareus, outrigger canoe races, native dance competitions, tattoos and pagan ceremonies at rebuilt maraes (stone temple platforms) are all primitivisms designed to appeal to popa?s [whites] sensibilities; they are at the same time, however, expressions of Mahohi pride and anti-colonial commitment." (Eisenman 1997:202-203). If it can be done in Tahiti, or Venezuela, or in Mexico, or in Hawaii, one should hope that it can be done in Dominica. It is an opportunity not to be missed.

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Carib NEWS - Local & Regional

Williams Is New Carib Chief
By Pete Toulon, The Chronicle
    July 16/2004 - “Si yo vle si yo pa vle, yo ke touvey Charlo, se sa nou vle a schelment. (if they want, or if they do not want, they will find Charlo. That’s what we want now.)” Expression of jubilation from the massive crowd outside the Carib Council’s office as the Carib people hugged, raised up and congratulated their new Chief, Charles Williams who emerged victorious in Monday’s election. Williams, a hotelier, beat the incumbent Garnet Joseph 263 to 182 votes. Another former chief, Irvince Auguiste came third with 155, with the other candidates Elvis Francis 151 and Derek Joseph 102 at the fourth and fifth spots respectively.

    Speaking to The Chronicle immediately after his election victory, Williams, who was defeated four times before Monday’s Carib Chief race, said his main priority is to see Dominica’s indigenous people gain a bigger share of what was originally theirs. “As I said during my campaign, we are the rightful owners of this country and we deserve much more than we get. I think we are the stronghold of the native people of this country of which we now occupy only 1% and for the people coming in occupying 99%. I want to say that this country belongs to the Carib people and we need a bigger share of development,” Williams said. He also envisions a tax free existence for the Carib territory and calls on the authorities to declare the area a tax and duty free zone. One of his economic plans as well is the establishment of a financial institution to assist in the overall development of the territory.

    Monday’s election of a Carib Chief followed the nomination of five persons on June 22 who were willing to contest the position. According to presiding officer at the election, Helius Auguiste, voter turn out was encouraging and slightly better than the last election in 1999. There was also an increase in the number of youth registered for the occasion this time around. There were six polling stations facilitating some 1,677 persons registered to vote. “I believe the activity went on quite well with the voter turn out good and it was nice seeing a good, representation from the youth of the area exercising their democratic right at the polls,” Auguiste noted. Williams, reported to be in his mid fifties, will be sworn in sometime in August.

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