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Not ‘His’ tory –part 3


(Excerpts from the book, “Slavery, Law and Society in the British Windward Islands 1763-1823”, by late Vincentian historian, Dr Bernard Marshall)

The hatchet job embarked upon the Garifuna and Kalinago people of this country, by the likes of Sir William Young (of Young Island fame) and those who followed him, soon became a cacophony of condemnation of these folk, whose crime was to defend their homeland and way of life.

Dr Marshall points out that other British “his’ torians, writing almost a century later “accepted without question” the biased and racists arguments against the indigenous peoples. He quotes one Professor Lowell Ragatz who accused the Garifuna of “numerous depredations” on the plantations. In fact these accusations and slander became the justification for the genocide which was to be launched against the defenders of our sovereignty to satisfy settler and colonial greed to displace the original inhabitants from their land.

It was the same story which was to be played out in North America, in sub-Saharan Africa, including South Africa, the Indian sub-continent, and Australasia. Dr Marshall again quotes Ragatz whose justification came in these words: “Matters reached such a point that it became necessary to launch the expedition against them” (the Garifuna). Ragatz even had the gall to say that the expedition (war) in itself was “actually a necessary preliminary step to the development of the country”.

How many times have we not been told such tales, that slavery and colonial conquest was actually good to “civilize” the native peoples, stories which at one time many of us actually believed. Real historians like Dr. Marshall have exposed the lies and hypocrisy of such claims.

He challenged Ragatz’s claims that the fact that the Garifuna agreed to a Peace Treaty indicated that their resistance was broken. This is what he had to say in contradiction: “It is our conviction that the British won no such victory and that from all indications the war ended in a stalemate. If indeed the British won such a magnanimous victory why then at the termination of this war get such a negligible portion of Black Carib territory which the Black Caribs quickly reoccupied, and why were the planters so dissatisfied with the treaty? On these issues and others, we challenge existing interpretations and suggest revised and modified conclusions”.

What Dr Marshall was saying was that it is time for OUR STORY to be told by our own people.

He traced the advent of the survivors of a slave ship which was wrecked off the coast of Bequia, and their welcome by the Yellow Caribs to the mainland of St. Vincent; the differences which emerged between the two groups (Black and Yellow Caribs) leading to an agreement between them with the Yellow settling on the western (Leeward) side of the island and the “Black Caribs” on the Windward side.

Interestingly, Dr Marshall picked up that from early, the Garifuna seemed not to trust the Europeans, including the French who had settled on the Leeward coast. This is how Dr Marshall put it: “Those French settlers who were residing on the island in 1763 did so with the blessing of the Yellow Caribs and were confined to the Leeward side since the Black Caribs wanted no Europeans among them”.

This is a most telling statement that sets the tone for later Garifuna resistance to British and European occupation. We will follow him in the next instalment.