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Remembering Dr. Kirby

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I was actually sitting at my computer trying to decide my topic of conversation this week when I was informed about the death of Dr. Kirby.

This took me completely by surprise since I had only recently been in communication with overseas scholars on the launching of a book dedicated to Dr. Kirby, a book being published by Macmillan and arising out of a conference held here in 1991 in commemoration of the anniversary of the Botanic Gardens and the King’s Hill Forest Reserve. {{more}}The Botanic Gardens was established in 1765 and the King’s Hill Forest Reserve by the King’s Hill Ordinance that created it in 1791 as one of the first forest reserves in the Western Hemisphere. (Let us hope that the international airport if it is built leaves this 214-year-old institution untouched.) When I had informed them earlier that Dr. Kirby was bedridden this did not present a problem but they were anxious to have it published while he was alive. However, it will remain a fitting memorial to someone who was a pioneer in archaeology in St.Vincent and the Grenadines and the history, particularly of the indigenous people. Indeed the holding of that conference here, a conference that attracted a number of scholars from different parts of the world was a tribute to his work and the esteem with which he was held.

I am sure that many of the younger people in this society do not know that Dr. Kirby was a veterinary surgeon by profession who later developed a passion for archaeology and history and dedicated his life’s work in those areas. Dr. Kirby studied Veterinary science at the University of Guelph that is recognized as among the best in its field. He would for sometime have been the lone Vet toiling throughout the length and breadth of the country. I believe it was this that stimulated his interest in archaeology and history. There are many in the society who would remember climbing to all different points of the country with Dr. Kirby as he did his research on the sites and implements of the indigenous people and also on the early history of the country. In fact he was a fountain of knowledge about this country and knew every nook and cranny. Foreign researchers working on St.Vincent have always used Dr. Kirby as a point of reference. He suffered in this area for there are many who borrowed his ideas and had them published without his knowledge. Doc was however at his best speaking to visitors and friends about all aspects of the life of SVG, making his wealth of knowledge widely available.

He is best known nationally for his work The Rise and Fall of the Black Caribs which he did in collaboration with C.I Martin. In this book they sought to develop a Vincentian perspective of a story told originally by Sir William Young in the 1790s and Charles Shephard in 1831. This book therefore became the standard work for understanding the struggles of the Caribs. Doc, however, went beyond this and through his archaeological findings and interpretations added to our understanding of our early peoples. He searched for and identified petroglyphs, Carib sites, monuments and implements of these people who had to a large extent been the focus of his work. Doctor Kirby had been Curator of the Museum of Carib implements that had been located at the Botanic Garden where he had developed extensive contacts with visitors, many of them scholars. The current non-functioning of the museum that was supposed to have been located at the Old Public Library had very much to do with his illness. He had spent a long time and had expended a lot of energy in building up the collection. Let us hope that this remains a testimony to his dedicated work.

Dr. Kirby was widely recognized in the field of archaeology and was at one time a leading member of the Caribbean Archaeological Society, an environmentalist and as such was the backbone of the National Trust between the 1970s and 1990s. He served as Chairman for a long time. He was also a member and played a leading part in the Caribbean Conservation Society and was honoured by that organization in 1991 in recognition of the work he had done in the area of the environment. I remember receiving the plaque on his behalf. In his later years he was grieved by the possibility of damage to the environment by the proposed Cross Country Road. Dr. Kirby was very original in his thinking and had his own unique perspective on things, a perspective he was prepared to defend and was willing to talk about. Among his works are small monographs and articles such as Pre-Columbian Stone Monuments of St.Vincent; The Pre-Hispanic Peopling of the Antilles; Pre-Columbian Indians in St.Vincent, West Indies; Pre-Columbian Migrations in the Eastern Caribbean and Sugar Mills of St.Vincent.

The American Catastrophe

Over the past week I was transfixed by the catastrophe in the Gulf States of the USA and almost became a television freak as I took in all the images and talk that it generated. I was transfixed not because of the enormity of the disaster that was truly gigantic, but by the fact that all of this was happening in the richest and most powerful country on the planet. My reference here is not to the

disaster per se but to the response. I really could not believe it, for many third world countries would have done much better. I still do not understand why the response was so late and ineffective. Race was certainly a factor despite what our friend Condoleeza was asked to say. There was also an insensitivity about poor people which is summed up by Barbara Bush’s remark that the people lying in the superdome were overwhelmed by the hospitality for many of them were under-privileged anyhow and things were working well for them, or something to that effect

Just imagine a country with all of the resources at its disposal failing to take control of things until criticisms began to be fired. The stories told were horrendous and the authorities appeared surprised that looting would take place. I am not referring to the criminal element that was exploiting the situation but those who did it out of sheer desperation. Would you believe that this is a country that has already spent US$240 billion on the War in Iraq and is spending 4-5 billion every month. The authorities seem to think that the pumping of resources now in the area will remove the shame of what followed the passage of Katrina. Of course the USA is rich and powerful and could rebuild the devastated areas. But certainly the world saw again another side of America seen particularly through the criticisms that came from Europe. A lot of questions will have to be asked and some should pay for their gross negligence. Questions will also be asked about the poor maintenance of the levees and other areas of physical infrastructure and about the reduction of money being spent on maintenance. Most importantly they should be held to account for their treatment of poor people, most of them black. George Bush going into the area and hugging black women and children cannot remove the shame of it all.

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