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Tribal leaders pay tribute to Chatoyer

Tribal leaders pay tribute to Chatoyer


The Right Excellent Joseph Chatoyer was hailed as a hero for all in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) and for all indigenous people, at the annual wreath laying ceremony to honour the chief on Wednesday.

These words of praise were delivered by the Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, as well as the Leaders of the Indigenous Tribes of the Caribbean, who addressed a substantial crowd that filled the seats before the Obelisk on National Heroes’ Day.

Also, speaking at the event were Minister of Health, Luke Browne, on behalf of the Minister of Tourism Cecil Mckie, who could not be there, and representative for West Kingstown, Daniel Cummings, who spoke for the Leader of the Opposition Dr Godwin Friday, who also could not be present. They, likewise, recognized the Garifuna Chief’s meaning to the people of SVG and the contribution that he has made.

It was the first time that the leaders of the various indigenous tribes, who were present in the country for the first ever Indigenous People’s Conference of the Caribbean, could be present at the event, which has taken place since Chatoyer was made a National Hero in 2004.

The representatives of the indigenous tribe in Suriname, clothed in the dress of their tribe, said, “Please allow me to first pay due respect to the ancestors of this land,” as they launched into a lengthy tribute in the the language of their tribes.

While performing the ritual, a large cigarette was lit and puffed by the two tribal leaders (See photo on Front Page). David ‘Darkie’ Williams, president of the Garifuna Heritage Foundation, told SEARCHLIGHT that he is not sure what herb was used in the cigarette, except that the herb is used during religious ceremonies of the tribes, sometimes as incense.

Turning to English, the male tribal leader, stated, “Chief Joseph Chatoyer is a hero not only for St Vincent and the Grenadines, but for all of us as an indigenous chief who stood up and literally died for his people, in the struggle for freedom, respect and human dignity. We take courage from this history and carry this in our own hearts back to our own communities.”

This sentiment carried through into the other speeches at the event, Cummings also remarking, “The Right Excellent Joseph Chatoyer has had a lot of discussion surrounding his life, and especially the end of his life, but there is one thing that is common throughout our society, is the acceptance of him as a hero of our land.”

The Prime Minister, in his feature address, to applause from the crowd, stated that he especially wanted to make the point that, “the Right Excellent Joseph Chatoyer is a National Hero for all of St Vincent and the Grenadines.”

“The Right Excellent Joseph Chatoyer is a National Hero for all of those groups who over time have made our country what it is,” he continued.

The Prime Minister stated that SVG now consists of a variety of people, descended from various groups, “Through the fever of history, we have arrived at this particular point in time, we are arrived at this point in time, metaphorically as a symphony. And in that symphony, metaphorically, we are the songs of the indigenous peoples, the Kalinago and the Garifuna, we are the rhythm of Africa, we are the melody of Europe, we are the chords of Asia, and we are the homegrown lyrics of the Caribbean itself, with its Vincentian particularity.”

He continued, “So, I don’t want persons to marginalize Chatoyer and say he was a Garifuna chief. Chatoyer, because of his heroic exploits, because his life and work and those of his people, that they have changed the course of this history, and they have made an impact on us, to say that we hail him as our first and thus far only National Hero.”

Chief Chatoyer being part of the reason that conquest came late to SVG, the Prime Minister stated that he remains convinced of the lasting effect that this has had. “It is my judgment that it has consequences for our lives and living today, and I believe it is one of the reasons for greater harmony among us in St Vincent and the Grenadines.”

On the day that the Chief was recognized, anticipation was also brewing in that there may be soon more National Heroes to join the “illustrious ranks” of the Chief.

Minister Browne stated, “Importantly, we are now closer to the naming of new National Heroes than we were last year. There are several worthy contenders for that much-wanted office, and we look forward with great bated breath and great anticipation, to an announcement..of the person or persons who would join the illustrious ranks of the Right Excellent Joseph Chatoyer in the pantheon of National Heroes.”

The Prime Minister himself indicated that all documentation has been submitted for more heroes to be considered by Cabinet.

“The Honourable René Baptiste has now submitted all the documentation to the Office of the Prime Minister in relation to the deliberations of the National Heroes Advisory Committee, which she headed, and I expect that in the not too distant future the Cabinet will deliberate and act upon,” he informed.

He ended by saying that if “they (The Cabinet) are satisfied, advice would be given to His Excellency Governor General,” who is the Chancellor for these matters, and he would in turn make the designations.(KR)