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What is Chatoyer’s legacy?


I have for some time been trying to find a simple and short way of expressing this and it came to me on Tuesday ,when at the Garifuna International conference, Dr Felicia Baynes-Ross of Yale University expressed it, “Resistance, is the legacy of Chatoyer.” It’s important to express this in as simple a way as possible. It was not only that he fought against the British, for he died at the beginning of that final battle. From the first time he entered the historical literature in 1768, he symbolized resistance to the European forces attempting to colonize our country.  Land Commissioner William Young and members of his commission came up with a plan to carve out the Carib lands. Young had already taken some of the best lands, including the Pembroke and Villa estates (with Young Island). They got final approval from England, proclaimed the plan, and sent the French priest Abbé Valladeres to explain it to the Caribs. At Grand Sable he was confronted by Chatoyer and some of his men. When he said that the order came from the King of England, Chatoyer asked which King was that? They knew of no such king! He was advised to get out while they could guarantee his safety. That is when we first hear about Chatoyer and he continued to be a symbol of resistance. The English had already been ‘given’ control of St Vincent by the French, following the Treaty of Paris of 1763. In 1768 they were embarked on taking control of the Carib lands and getting rid of the Caribs, since from very early. Young expressed the impossibility of completing their task while the Caribs remained in St Vincent. So, what was done in 1797 had long been their intention.

I have always complained that on March 14 we salute and celebrate our first national hero, but seem not to be sure why. For me, a national hero is a national symbol, whose life impacted on our country and people and has lessons to teach us; hence that of resistance. With their inferior military weaponry, they were able to hold the European power houses at bay for a long time; granted, they came to an agreement with the French and allowed some of them to settle in selected areas of the country. One thing appears clear is that Chatoyer understood the geopolitics of the time. He realized that the French and English were perpetual enemies and decided to link with the French. They were into small scale agriculture, with little demand for land, compared to the British who wanted land for sugar plantations. The best lands for that purpose were lands on which the Kallinagos and Garinagua lived, hence their attitude to the British, as opposed to the French.

One thing that needs to be cleared up is the relationship between the Kallinagos and Garinagua. The British, and to some extent, the French, played up the so-called divisions between the Kallinagos and Garifuna (Yellow and Black Caribs). But there was a purpose to that, for at some point the Garifuna became the numerically dominant group and the ones who dominated the struggle. The argument used by the British was that the Garifuna had no claim to the land, at least, none better than theirs since they had usurped the lands. But, as some scholars have argued, by the middle to latter part of that century the Kallinagos and Garifuna had become one, with the Garifuna adopting the life style of the Kallinagos.

The resistance started with the Kallinagos, but at the height of the struggle Chatoyer led that resistance. He would really be ashamed of us today, because we have become spineless, yet we dare to celebrate his life.

 Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.