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Editor’s note: In tribute, we today reproduce an interview conducted by SEARCHLIGHT’S Hawkins Nanton in March 2004 on the occasion of National Heroes’ Day and which was printed in our March 12 edition.

INCAPACITATED, a victim of an aging body, Dr. Ian Earle Ayrton Kirby remains an icon and one of this country’s national treasures. And though his body may be frail, his collective mind remains intact, fresh with the history of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Last Tuesday, SEARCHLIGHT visited Dr. Kirby at his Edinboro home where he has been bedridden for the past two years after suffering a fall.{{more}}

Undoubtedly, who is more fitting a character than Dr. Kirby to be featured in the month of March as the nation celebrates National Heritage Month and marks National Heroes Day? With a wealth of knowledge about this country, dating back some 1400 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, Dr. Kirby, the husband of Monica and father of Ashley and Melanie Ann, enjoyed taking SEARCHLIGHT back down memory lane for an hour and a half.

While his presence has not been very visible during the last few years, in his heyday he left a lasting impression on the minds of many school children. Some are now prominent citizens of this country, as he told them stories and related to them the historical accounts of the artifacts that were stored at the museum he operated in the Botanic Gardens.

Sadly, though, the museum cherished by the doctor and the rest of St. Vincent and the Grenadines has with the passing of time faded, just as Dr. Kirby seemed to vanish off the scene. The museum, which held pre-Colombian materials, stone implements and pottery, had left so many of us in awe. Dr. Kirby claims that he has handed it over to the state, but to date the museum remains virtually non-existent. “The persons who should have had interest in it, the interest was not there,” Dr. Kirby lamented as he reflected on his legacy that is now stored in boxes. “I gave it to the people of St. Vincent but the minister concerned had different ideas.”

On December 16, 1921, Dr. Kirby, OBE, DICTA, DVM, VS, DTVM, was born to Olive and Otto Kirby. Before attending the St. Vincent Grammar School where he attempted the Island Scholarship exam, Dr. Kirby was a student of the Intermediate High School. “My life has turned out much more interesting this way than if I had won a scholarship to study medicine. Had I got the Island Scholarship I would have ended up in the same mould as other men in medics,” the doc said humorously.

Tracing back history today, one realises that had Dr. Kirby won the Island Scholarship this country could well have been denied his contribution to local archaeology and history. Speaking of a scholarship that was granted to him to pursue studies at the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture Trinidad and Tobago in 1942/5, Dr. Kirby said this is probably the best thing that ever happened to him.

Three years later he received another scholarship to pursue studies in veterinary medicine at the Guelph University in Canada. Over the years Doc had the opportunity to serve as a veterinary officer in the Ministry of Agriculture and as an acting chief agricultural officer. During his stint in the field of agriculture he became very fond of archaeology and history and has become a connoisseur in that regard. “This was developed in the same way as agriculture. Wherever I went and whatever I had to do I always kept my eyes open, whether it was animals or plants or artefacts,” Dr. Kirby explained.

The knack for paying interest to things that most people would take for granted triggered off a desire for archaeology and history that had never been unearthed in him before when, at Sandy Bay, a quantity of pottery was exposed as a result of some erosion in that area. From then on Doc’s hunger for historical items increased and over the years he was successful in accumulating hundreds of items.

“What I used to do at first was to take whatever artefacts I collected on any trip and clean them up and leave them at the agricultural department. All of a sudden I was not having enough space for the vet business,” he stressed. He made a request that the building which was once the curator’s home at the Botanic Gardens be granted to him to house the museum.

From a historical standpoint, Dr. Kirby used this interview to challenge several theories which dealt with the genesis and colonisation of the people of the Caribbean. “Whenever you talk of coloured people, black people, in these areas they always tell you they are the descendants of the runaway slaves; that to me is bunk!” Dr. Kirby challenged this theory by stating that not many slaves ran away since they feared being caught and punished by the breaking of their arms before they were killed. He also contested the theory that the Europeans were the first to travel to the Western Hemisphere. He strongly believes that the people of Mali from the African continent were the first to travel to these parts of the earth around the early 1300s.

“I would like to know what it is that made Abubakar want to leave Mali in 1300? He got this directive to leave Mali with his people and bring them across the Atlantic.” Dr. Kirby added that long before the Europeans came here, very dark skinned Indians were found in Central America.

“Local historical evidence shows that at Union Island, if the rain didn’t come or if it was late they would have this big drum dance in Union and that is a direct translation from what the do in Mali. The people were called Garifuna in Mali meaning ‘the people of the savannahs’,” Dr. Kirby explained. He pointed out it cannot be coincidental that the people of the Caribbean, who are living directly opposite Mali, are called Garifuna also. Dr. Kirby said Guyanese historian Van Sertimer supports the claim.

Evidence that the Africans came here prior to Columbus, he added, is found on petroglyphs at Barrouallie, Buccament and Colonarie, And how does he feel about Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer being declared a National Hero? Dr. Kirby expressed: “I am glad that the powers that be think that there are other people who are more important or as important as they are especially with this partisan politics now.”

Dr. Kirby feels that national heroes should be selected on the basis of what they have done that has affected most people in a positive way. He lashed out at the politicians for wanting to be national heroes by putting themselves on pedestals.

“Politicians will like that because naturally, being a politician is the only criterion some of them have.” Dr. Kirby, notwithstanding his incapacity, was in very good spirits and expressed the wish that he’d like to see some of his friends come visit him again.