Land and Heritage Month
The Leon “Bigger Biggs” Samuel issue is still very much in the air. It was sometime around 2011 that he was accused of damaging the environment at Rabacca. My understanding is that reputable engineers and scientists challenged it and he was able to get back his license. The matter is once more in the air again, but being played out for a different reason. Two other issues have surfaced; the need for a survey to construct a passage way for other farmers and some dispute, I gather, over the extent of his ownership. Is there a problem with his deed for that should have settled it? After what happened in 2011, I could understand his distrust of anyone, particularly the government. Once bitten, twice shy, they say! It is in the interest of the state to ensure that this matter is settled without the current rancour that exists.
As we try to develop our country, we must encourage local persons who are prepared to invest in the land and to assist in providing employment. I say this against the background of foreigners investing here, many of whom have turned out to be shady characters. Of course, we cannot compare their level of investment with that of Bigger, but too often we hear about employees in some of the foreign-owned businesses not being paid, sometimes for months. We clearly have a different attitude to them than we have to local investors. The government has to encourage local investment and provide a climate that will not deter our people. Bigger might not be a hundred percent right… I don’t know! But the hostility that appears to exist will do no good for our country and the government has to try to reduce the tension that exists.
We are now into Heritage Month and the issue of land shaped the life of our national hero. Land is an important resource and its proper utilisation is critical. It is often a political issue. When the British came in 1763, they envied the prized lands, ideal for sugar cultivation held by the Garifuna. From then until 1797 when the majority of Garifuna and Kalinago people were exiled from the place of their birth the struggle was about landownership. Chatoyer fought to prevent the takeover of the land and for the recovery of our independence. He can therefore be labelled the father of independence.
Land is a dominant theme in Vincentian history. Following Emancipation, efforts by the emancipated to get land were blocked by the planting class and colonial officials who wanted to keep them tied to the land as workers. When some planters fell into rough economic times and wanted to sell land, they sold in large blocs which the freed people could not have afforded, although there is an instance of a church purchasing a large block and selling lots to the workers. But the planting class continued its control. When the sugar industry fell into turbulent times the planters turned to arrowroot, creating problems for the peasants who were producing arrowroot. As the economic situation worsened the authorities feared revolt by the people and government was forced to set up a land settlement scheme. This did not meet the demand and over the years governments were induced to purchase more land. This continued into the late 20th century with the Orange Hill estate.
We have to ensure that most of our land is not sold to foreigners, for it is land that gives us a stake in our country. Having done extensive historical research on struggles for land and on landownership I tend to be very sensitive to this issue and hope that justice will be done. Bigger fits into the tradition of the people struggling from the time the British came into the picture.
Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian