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Do You Remember the January 22nd Holiday?

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SOME OF US probably do not remember or perhaps never knew that January 22 was once a holiday here, celebrating our ‘discovery’ by Columbus.

The history book that was used at school, Ebenezer Duncan’s Brief History of St Vincent, told us “it was named from the day being the festival of Saint Vincent of Spain the day on which the saint was martyred in 305 A.D”.

Columbus was then on his third voyage of ‘discovery’ in the New World. One of the first persons to have questioned this was Eddie Griffith, a member of the Forum and later a minister in the NDP government.

Writing in the Tree, the organ of the ‘Forum’, on February 25, 1972, he referred to our celebration of ‘Discovery Day’ by a public holiday, despite evidence to the contrary.

He used Columbus’ log book to show that he was in Spain on that day and actually left Spain on May 30, 1498 for his voyage. He wanted to know how long we were going to continue the myth of discovery.

Nine years later on January 30, 1981 in an article in the Vincentian entitled “About St Vincent Day” I noted that an independent St Vincent continued to perpetuate that historical myth. The Mitchell Government of 1972-74 had abolished the holiday, but it was restored by the Labour Government on the grounds, stated by some supporters, that somebody must have discovered St Vincent. Strolling Scribbler wanted to know if St Vincent had just evolved out of nowhere.

The situation became more comical with some teachers indicating to their students that the correct date was January 22, 1499, a time when Columbus was also in Spain. I argued that if the nation wanted to give itself a holiday then let it be so, but let it be remembered that on that day Columbus was high and dry in Spain. Even after it was accepted that Columbus could not have ‘discovered’ St Vincent, the Cato government wanted to give that date some historical significance by first suggesting it as the date for our Independence.

Circumstances however dictated otherwise.

The other issue related to this was the concept of ‘discovery’. That was an European concept. How could one discover a place where people were already living? Well, they saw the indigenous people not as humans but as cannibals and savages. The question remains, did any of Columbus’ men, some of whom remained in this part of the world while he went back to Spain, sight St Vincent and name it?

There is again no evidence to support this.

About two years ago, someone handed me something that was given to her by a tourist. It was copied from some document. It stated as follows: “Alonso de Hojeda and Juan de la Cosa, both of Spain, Discovered St Vincent and the Grenadines in the period of June through August 1499. These Islands along with others of the Southern Windwards, first appeared on la Cosa’s famous Mappa Mundi dated 1500; on it they were named Los Agulas, the Eagles (St Vincent) and Los Hermanos, the brothers, (the Grenadines) Amerigo Vespucci, as a Member of the Casa de Contatacion de las Indias (Commercial House for the Indies) and Piloto Major (Pilot Major) was Ordered by King Ferdinand on 6 August 1508, to collect the various charts and construct a Uniform Chart, a Padron General (Royal Chart) for the use of all the Mariners. From that time forward, several of the Islands were renamed and Los Agulas (St Vincent) became Sanct Vincente” Unfortunately, the source from which this came was not stated. In any event this country was named by Europeans. Would we when we are renaming places, put SVG on the list?

● Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian

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