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Another call made for Balliceaux to be made a sacred site

Another call made for Balliceaux to be made a sacred site
The Diaspora and Vincentian Garifuna delegation pose for a photo before leaving for their pilgrimage to Balliceaux on August 5.

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by Sheron Garraway

A fervent call has been made for the island of Balliceaux to become a sacred heritage site.

This plea was made by a contingent of descendants of the indigenous Garifuna people (also known as Black Caribs) residing in Los Angeles and New York – as they made a “Vincy Home Coming” pilgrimage to this country from July 31 to August 7, 2019.

The delegation was hosted by the Ministry of Culture and visited several sites, and also held a church service at the St George’s Cathedral where they said prayers and sang in Garifuna. They also conducted cultural workshops in Sandy Bay, Rose Bank and Kingstown.

But on Monday August 5, the group’s visit to Balliceaux, which is a 320-acre island, was seemingly the highlight of the trip.

During the 30-minute sail on board the catamaran from St Vincent (which was originally called Yurumei) to Balliceaux (which is just off the Grenadine island of Bequia), both young and senior persons aboard sang and danced in merriment.

But upon nearing Balliceaux where some 5,000 of their Garifuna ancestors were banished in 1797, the pilgrims were overcome with a range of emotions. Some shed tears, some expressed elation, while others had a solemn countenance.

As the party gathered to pay homage in speech to those who were exiled to the uninhabited island, renowned artist Aurelio Martinez described Balliceaux as a historic site that must be reaffirmed as the Garifuna sacred ancestral homeland. He noted that in 2001, UNESCO proclaimed the Garifuna Heritage and Culture a masterpiece of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity and said that it should be inevitable that Balliceaux be made into sacred land. Martinez appealed to Garifuna throughout the Diaspora as well as to heritage lovers to raise funds to purchase the island, which is privately owned by the Linley family and is being sold for US$29,950,000. He also thanked the government for their work at restoring the culture and called on them to also facilitate the process to regain Balliceaux.

Howie Prince, Consul General for St Vincent and the Grenadines in New York, who helped to co-ordinate the visit said that Prime Minster Dr Ralph Gonsalves has similar aspirations to ensure that Balliceaux becomes sacred ground. Prince stated that the Prime Minister will try to put mechanisms in place, but however reminded the contingent that “the pen is mightier than the sword”. He advised them to petition through paper work and other means, UNESCO and other agencies. President of the Garifuna Heritage Foundation Zoila Ellis-Browne also endorsed Prince’s sentiments and suggested that purchasing the nearly US$30 million island is one of the options that must be seriously looked into.

About the author: Sheron Garraway is a print and broadcast journalist from St Vincent and the Grenadines. She is finalizing her master’s thesis on the Garifuna people, in Arts Entrepreneurship from the Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination (EBCCI) at the University of the West Indies, Barbados.

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