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October: A month of significance to SVG

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by Renwick Rose

We have entered the month of October, a very significant one in the history of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and it is only natural that those of us in the media take time to reflect on our historical experiences so that we learn from them. This is the first instalment of a three-part series leading us to independence in which we can reflect on those shared activities.

We regained our independence in the year 1979, after nearly two centuries of foreign interference, intervention and colonial rule. That alone makes 1979 a very special year in our annals but that eventful year also had wider social and political implications for us. It was the year in which the eruption of the Soufriere volcano severely disrupted economic and social life on a scale not experienced since its previous major eruption in 1902. As if these events were not enough to keep us preoccupied, in addition we had a ten-month tussle over our approach to independence followed by a six-week election campaign leading up to our first post-independence general elections.

Our reclaiming of national independence did not come on a platter as many of us are still wont to believe. Over the years we have been taught to take a very subjective view of history as if it is made only by the deeds of “great” men, and, to a far lesser extent, women. Thus if you check on the written history of these Caribbean islands, it is always recorded that such-and-such a man led his country into independence and became its first Prime Minister.

But independence for all these islands was a centuries-old process arising from the resistance of our peoples to colonial domination, genocide of the indigenous people and slavery, and the continuing fight to end poverty and inequality. It is an approach to history which was never taught nor fully appreciated and as a consequence we do not seem to value our sovereignty regained out of the sacrifice of precious blood, sweat and tears.

Even though today Chatoyer has been formally recognized as our sole National hero, he is yet to be fittingly honoured nor is the role of the indigenous people in defending our sovereignty fully respected. Chatoyer’s people still have to overcome ingrained attitudes of discrimination and lack of respect, even though, legally speaking, we are all equal before the law.

Our independence was another stage in a continuous process of decolonisation and generations of our ancestors have made their contribution towards it. If we grasp the understanding of this process, then it will be easier to appreciate why we must do all in our midst to safeguard that independence and to work tirelessly to eradicate the legacies of colonial rule –poverty, ignorance and discrimination and to seek to deepen our democracy.

(Part 2 next week: 1935 and Independence)