Roseau, Dominica: The Carib Indians were portrayed by the Europeans who invaded the Caribbean 500 years ago as cannibal warriors who ate their victims.
"Spanish flesh caused indigestion, the French were delicate in taste while the English were tough," a 16th century said of the supposed culinary taste of this proud, resilient people.
Caribs first arrived at the lush tropical island of Dominica 1000 years ago after sailing up from the banks of the Orinoco River in South America in their gommier tree canoes.
Today just 3500 members live in a mountain reservation set up in 1903 as their final refuge after centuries of persecution by invaders from across the Atlantic who came with guns and hunted the Caribs with dogs.
The Caribs in turn showered them with arrows tipped with poison from the machineel tree. Their resistance was fierce and this was the last Caribbean island to be colonised by Europeans.
Caribs who were taken prisoner ate dirt until they died, so great was their horror of captivity.
On the neighbouring island of Grenada, Caribs jumped off a cliff in a mass suicide rather than be taken as slaves.
Antigua even passed a law in 1693 entitled "an Act to encourage the destroying of the Indians". By 1805, the revised statute had the word "obsolete" scribbled beside it.
Today's invaders come on cruise ships and in mini-vans across the mist-shrouded mountains, wielding cameras and bearing dollars.
Old World meets New World as the visitors are treated to folk dances, offered coconut water and entreated to buy reed baskets and turtles crafted out on coconuts.
Local historian Garnet Joseph, fiercely proud of his people's heritage, minces no words as he lectures British passengers from a visiting cruise ship, angrily rejecting accounts that pictured the Caribs as man-eating savages.
"European historians just said that to justify what was done. One million of our people were wiped out in 50 years," he said.
"The history books would say that the islands discovered by Christopher Columbus were infested with - not inhabited by - Caribs. We were hunted down with dogs."
In the chief's long house, the tourists were treated to tribal dances by elegant, statuesque Caribs clad only in warpaint and skimpy yellow loin cloths.
On an island that changed hands 13 times between warring colonisers, Joseph spared no blushes in haranguing the visitors over the tumultuous past and the role played in the island's bloody history by the colonizers.
"We were taught in school that the Caribs were fierce cannibal warriers. We have been able to read it and reject it. What we were taught about ourselves is not true," he said.
About 10,000 tourists a year are disgorged from cruise ships in Roseau harbor for the ride over bumpy mountain roads to the Caribs' 3,780 acre territory. Up to 70 percent of the islanders in this exotic "Lost Worlds" may be unemployed, but the bounties of nature are everywhere beside the pot-holed roads. Bananas, coconuts, coffee, breadfruit, limes and yams abound. The lush rainforest, which attracts 300 inches of rain a year, is a riot of color with arum lilies, poinsettias and African tulip trees.
Hefty land crabs can puncture your tires. Boa constrictors have the right of way to cross the road. "They could squeese you to death but they are not poisonous snakes," tour guide Neville Lafond said with a smile.
"These potholes are like dungeons," he said as the mini-van ground to a halt on the pock-marked road clinging to the mountainside.
Insight guide writer Lawrence Millman captured the essence of this unspoiled corner of the Caribbean where bananas, not suntans, are the big exports.
"This Never-Never land appears to be borrowed from one of those Hollywood adventure epics where men in pitch helmets discover curious tribes, and natives always stumble into bottomless gorges," he wrote.
"Mountains fervent with vegetation rise higher than mountains have the right to rise in this part of the globe," he added.
The Caribs today offer a very different welcome to their visitors than they did 500 years ago, but the turbulent, harsh past is never forgotten by a defiant people.
Garnett Joseph, bidding farewell to the tourists as gentle sea breezes wafted into the long house, said: "Our history has been a long and bloody one but we are determined to survive for another 500 years.
"The fight we have on now is not with arrows against guns but to maintain our identity and culture in a modern world."