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The Carib/Garifuna Story (Part 3)


Unfortunately those who remained have not sparked any great deal of scholarly interest. The recent visit of two representatives of the descendants of those people has highlighted their plight and experiences. There are still many people who do not know that there are descendants of the indigenous people in St Vincent and their visit over the past week should certainly create a greater awareness of the existence of the descendants of the Carib people here.{{more}} The attempt to reconnect the two groups is not a recent phenomenon. In 1951, Ronald Garvey, Governor of Belize, was asked to address the Settlement Day ceremony in Stan Creek (now Dangriga). He informed the gathering that he only knew about the existence of their ‘kinsmen’, as he called them when he arrived in St Vincent in 1944. He stated, “Your kinsmen who still live in that colony also possess many of your excellent characteristics of fortitude and energy. Like you yourselves they are interested in the natural pursuits of agriculture and fishing and they contribute as you do to learning by turning out many excellent schoolteachers.” One assumes that he was invited to address the gathering because the local people knew about the St Vincent connection and were aware that he had held a position in St Vincent. In 1966, Ebenezer Joshua, who was then Chief Minister, was invited by the mayor of Dangriga to send Carib representatives to their Settlement Day activities. Three Caribs from Sandy Bay were sent and this is regarded as the first recorded meeting of these two groups that had been cast adrift. The persons from Sandy Bay who were sent were Messrs Bracken and René Child and a Mrs Francoise. These contacts developed some more after 1992, with the formation of the Caribbean Organization of Indigenous People.

Although the plight of the indigenous peoples who remained here has never received the focus of our attention, the colonial records and reports of persons who visited and worked here have provided us with a great deal of information. The deportation/exile did not end the struggles of the Carib peoples who remained here. From 1797 until 1805, there was tension in the country. The Carib people clashed with Government forces and had made raids on the lands they had usurped. In 1798, Samuel Clapham, a part owner of the Mt William estate, was killed by Caribs near to Rabacca. This created alarm and efforts to tighten security at the forts were made. The authorities had underestimated the number of Caribs who remained. They were clearly much larger than they thought. The disposal of the Carib lands became an issue, with the fear that the lands would attract Carib and Negro dissidents. But at the same time, there were planters or would-be planters waiting anxiously to grab these lands. The lands in the area which had been occupied by the Caribs were divided into eight estates — Grand Sable, Mt Bentinck (We call it Mt Bentick, but it should be Mt Bentinck, named after the Governor), Langley Park, Rabacca, Lot 14, Waterloo, Orange Hill and Tourama.

Sale of the lands took some time because 6,000 acres were granted to a Colonel Thomas Browne, who had played an important part in the American Independence War. This did not go down well with the planters and petitions were sent protesting the grant. Meanwhile in 1804, an Act was passed to the effect that the Caribs had forfeited all claims to the lands which they originally occupied. In the following year, another Act offered pardon to the Caribs, on condition that they surrendered. Some did and were granted 230 acres of land at Morne Ronde, provided they did not plant sugar. This grant led to quite a bit of controversy, with claims on the lands they were occupying by estate owners in that area. Moreover, floods in 1876, the 1898 hurricane and 1902 eruption had destroyed some of their lands and they were seeking relocation elsewhere. There was an interesting development in 1870. Planter Robertson laid claim to a portion of lands held by the Caribs. He claimed those lands by right of his mother, who was a Carib. She had been the mistress of Robertson’s father. The Caribs argued that Robertson was illegitimate and had no legal rights. They prevailed and Robertson was ejected. They had strong support from Reverend Branch, who was the pastor in that part of the country.

The matter involving Thomas Browne’s 6,000 acres grant was settled in 1809, when the amount given to him was reduced to 1,700 acres. That land constituted Grand Sable, from which a portion was cut in 1813 to create Georgetown. The sale and ownership of the lands followed this. In 1813, a tunnel was cut at Byera to allow easy access to the sugar lands. Shortly after, Black Point’s tunnel was completed, allowing easier transportation of sugar to the other side, which was considered calmer. But where were the Caribs living at this time? It is believed that at the time of the initial surrender, some recalcitrant Caribs had occupied lands at Upper Masarica and moved into Greiggs. Then there were the lands at Morne Ronde, and following the disasters mentioned earlier, some moved to Rose Bank and later to Petit Bordel. In 1806, Caribs had petitioned the Commander of the forces at Owia for lands at Great Sandy Bay. This was denied, but they were later able to settle at Sandy Bay, which was owned by Planter Porter. The Caribs in these areas were allowed to reside provided they gave labour to Mr Porter for two days a week. Their main job in that area was to assist in taking sugar to the ships which remained outside because of the roughness of the sea in that area. (To be continued).

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.