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Redress injustices to Chatoyer’s people

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Tomorrow is March 14, the centre of our month-long activities to commemorate National Heritage/Heroes Month.

Today, March 13, our neighbours to the south, Grenadians, will quietly see out the anniversary of a momentous day in their history. It was on March 13, 1979, that the Caribbean experienced the first overthrow of an elected government, that of Eric Gairy in Grenada. A momentous day in Grenadian and Caribbean history that was to usher in a botched experiment in popular democracy, which was to end so tragically in October 1983.{{more}}

The bloody murder of the Grenadian leader Maurice Bishop and many of his supporters and the subsequent invasion of our sister-isle by US forces, have overshadowed the importance of March 13 in the minds of most Caribbean people. The negatives outweigh the positives in historical memory — who remembers the ground-breaking steps in popular education, the assault on adult illiteracy, the initiatives in involving the people in the discussions on the Budget before the presentation, a process which pre-dates our own initiatives here? Who recalls the land reform moves, the bold actions in pioneering agro-processing enterprises, and the initiatives in foreign policy which put tiny Grenada on the international map?

I would have liked to dwell on some of these matters, both negative and positive, but we have our own national heritage preoccupying our thoughts. March 14 is the fulcrum around which National Heroes Month revolves, so quite naturally attention ought to be focused on “Chatoyer’s people,” the heroic Garifuna and Kalinago people who defied British colonial ambitions in our homeland.

Yet, for all the positives that have arisen from the honouring of Chatoyer and celebrating his legacy, we still have a long way to go. The annual pilgrimage to the obelisk at Dorsetshire Hill to pay homage, while praiseworthy, still seems to lack that national blessing that can only come from the hearts of a conscious people. We are yet to have any monument, outside of the obelisk, in Chatoyer’s memory, though faithfully promised such by government nearly three decades ago.

There have been noted initiatives by both government and non-governmental organizations to raise the profile of the Garifuna and Kalinago people, but we are still short of the mark. There needs to be real decolonization of our minds, a clearing away of the colonial concepts, if we are to move away from some romantic ideas about Chatoyer and his people and get a realistic appreciation of their place in our history. The colonial “Carib” notion, with all its negative connotations, needs to be erased from our minds.

Who were the real savages, a people seeking to defend their homeland, or those who came to loot and pillage, not hesitant to enslave, dehumanize, flog brutally, rape and condemn to a life of servitude and inferiority? What “civilization” was it that brought a Bible in one hand, and a whip and yoke in the other?

So Eurocentric is our thinking that the voyages of Columbus and his fellow European explorers are seen as important milestones in our history, but not the voyages of the indigenous people through the Americas, nor the incursions of those whom the Guyanese historian, Ivan Van Sertima, called the people who “came before Columbus.”

We have a long way to go, but we have made a start. National Heritage Month will develop deeper meaning when we begin to come to grips with our historical legacy, the legacy of genocide of the indigenous people, robbery of their lands, suppression of their culture and colonial plunder. It will take concrete form when we take affirmative actions to redress the injustices against Chatoyer’s people and accord them the respect they so richly deserve.

In this regard, it is instructive to take in the words of wisdom of Barbadian Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, chair of CARICOM’s Reparations Committee. Speaking on the subject at the conclusion of last month’s Heads of Government meeting, he advised us to “… look at our areas of continuing deficit … social deficit, economic deficit and sometimes political deficit … and try to see what developmental initiatives we can initiate … to redress some of these hideous imbalances.” (SEARCHLIGHT, March 6, 2015, Page 16).

That would be a fitting honour and tribute to paramount Chief Chatoyer.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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