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Minister keen on Garifuna culture retrieval

Minister keen on  Garifuna culture retrieval
Minister of Tourism, Civil Aviation, Sustainable Development and Culture Carlos James

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A lot more needs to be done to support the retrieval, propagation and preservation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ (SVG) history and culture.

For instance, says Minister of Culture Carlos James, “it occurred to me that we can recount the French and American revolutions but know so little about the local Kalinago wars, the vanguard of our fight for sovereignty.

“We have acquired an appreciation for Samuel Adams and Paul Revere and Churchill, but seldom appreciate the role of Duvalle and Jean-Baptiste, Chatoyer’s brilliant generals.  

“We glorify Rosa Parks, but are less flattered by Bertha Mutt, also known as Mother Selassie, a Vincentian working-class champion of a woman and an epic symbol of protest against Colonial rule,” James said at the annual March 14 wreath laying ceremony.

“We can eloquently quote Shakespeare and Voltaire but scarcely recite literature from the iconic Ellsworth Shake Keane and Owen Campbell.

“And maybe we can name UNESCO’s seven wonders of the world but are not aware that the Garifuna culture, indigenous to St Vincent and the Grenadines, was declared in 2001 as a masterpiece of the intangible heritage of humanity by the same UNESCO,” James commented.  

The minister of culture was delivering an address at the National Heroes Day Wreath Laying Ceremony at the Obelisk in Dorsetshire Hill, held every year to commemorate our lone national hero paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer.

In his address called, “Appreciating our identity, preserving our heritage with pride”, James pointed to the importance of Vincentians to keep a spirit of nationalism and pride grounded in Chatoyer’s heroism, even after they leave the Obelisk.

“In direct relation to today’s celebration, we celebrate a Garifuna as our first and only national hero to date, yet many of us are still not familiar with the language of the Garifuna.

“This morning we heard the national anthem being sung in Garifuna, perhaps it should remain a staple as part of our national activities here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” he said, adding that there are paradoxes that we have to address in conversations surrounding the preservation of our heritage and national identity.

“Our people endured the most gruesome crimes against humanity through slavery and native genocide. Our indigenous people were hunted and killed in cold blood. Those who survived were exiled. Yet at the end of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, the traders were heavily compensated to the tune of over four billion Eastern Caribbean Dollars (in today’s value), this is why our call for reparatory justice remains relevant,” James stressed.

He noted that recently, Ralycia Andrews, a young Vincentian student at the University of the West Indies (UWI) spoke during the eighth International Garifuna Conference which was hosted virtually this year.

Andrews and one of her professors presented a paper on, “Balliceaux as sacred land: Sustaining memory and Garifuna ancestry through Diasporic tourism”.

James noted that in Andrews’s presentation, she was critical of, “our less than enthusiastic attitude towards local history and indigenous cultural sustainability. 

“With passion she asked, ‘what happens when we forget the heart beats of our drums? What happens when we forget the rhythm of our feet as we dance Punta and Paranda?  What happens when we shout Ayeh and no one returns the call? What happens when our culture is being dwindled before our eyes? Are we willing to be innovative and take the next step to solidify our origins and longevity of our culture?’”

In response, James said we must move swiftly to streamline Garifuna material and other local history into our schools and applaud teachers who have been finding creative ways to do so over the years.

He noted also that we have to continue our support of The Garifuna Heritage Foundation and their Garifuna Research Centre while we connect with Garifuna communities in the Diaspora on projects such as Vincy Homecoming to facilitate cultural retrieval.

James revealed that this year, the government will commit significant resources towards the on-going work to further develop the Chatoyer National Park.

He noted also that they are committed to commissioning researching and producing more literature on the history of SVG.

“The Ministry of Education will continue to work closely with the Garifuna Heritage Foundation to establish the framework for the formal introduction of the teaching of the Garifuna in schools.

“We call on our historians and creatives as custodians of our cultural heritage to broaden the scope of their creative space to reach a much more social and technologically adaptive audience,” James said.

The Minister of Culture also praised the organizers of the event by noting that it was satisfying that the only musical accompaniment was drumming by the Resistance Heartbeat Drummers.

“The sound of those drums once drowned in oppression is resurrected here today and they echo more powerfully than any gun salute.

“…it is my wish that our history and culture so brutally and systemically suppressed can be retrieved like these pulsating drums, and be dispensed and consumed so sufficiently that we are nourished with a more profound sense of self,” James said.