Defining epochs in Our History – Colonial Conquest and Settlement, native genocide and slavery, indentureship and empire, anti-colonial struggle and Independence, climate and neoliberalism
Our quest to build a modern, independent, democratic, post-colonial economy and society that is at once national, regional, and global, has been shaped by our small size, our islandness, our geographic location, our history, our demography, and the contemporary challenges arising from climate change and neoliberalism.
European contact with St. Vincent and the Grenadines first occurred in the 16th century. In the mid-17th century, the indigenous Kallinago people welcomed enslaved Africans from Nigeria, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea, who were shipwrecked off St. Vincent on route to Barbados. The two peoples slowly became one: the Garifuna. As time passed, and as word spread, runaway enslaved Africans from other islands made the perilous journey to St. Vincent to join the free Garifuna community.
In 1763, Britain assumed suzerainty of St. Vincent and the Grenadines through the Treaty of Paris under which there was a general carve-up of territories in the Eastern Caribbean between the British and the French. Thereafter, for over 200 years continuously, save and except for a few years of French occupation (1779 – 1783), St. Vincent and the Grenadines remained under British colonial rule until internal self-government in 1969 and constitutional independence in 1979.
Swiftly in 1764, the British established organised African slavery and a sugar economy; over 55,000 enslaved Africans disembarked in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. In 1764, too, the colonialists declared that all the land belonged to the British Crown. There then ensued a prolonged guerilla war for over 30 years, interspersed by tenuous treaties or agreements, in which the Kallinago and Garifuna people fought against the British for their lands and the right of self-determination. In 1795, the British ambushed and killed the Garifuna leader, Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer; in the process the Garifuna resistance was crushed.
The British then carried out a campaign of genocide against the Garifuna people. Following this, over 5,000 Garifuna sons and daughters were shipped to an inhospitable rocky island off the coast of St. Vincent — approximately one-half of them died within six months; the rest were exiled to Roatan Island in the Bay of Honduras. From this sturdy and heroic people, descendants are found in Garifuna communities in Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and a few cities in the United States of America. These descendants see St. Vincent and the Grenadines, their original Yuremein, as their spiritual homeland, many of whom pay organised visits annually to their fellow-Garifuna in their motherland. In 2001, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) declared the Garifuna language, dance and music to be “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”.
Resistance to slavery hastened its demise in 1838. The organised enslavement of Africans in St. Vincent and the Grenadines existed for some 75 years, a much shorter period than in most other countries of the “New World”. Between 1845 and 1881, indentured labourers were recruited to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, first from Madeira, and then from India, to work on the plantations in the post-slavery period, alongside the former slaves and their descendants.
From the early 20th century, the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines ramped up their struggle against colonialism and for self-determination. Through the fever of history, our people have built a harmonious society with a core of tried and tested values of our Caribbean civilisation. Indeed, our nation’s component of this civilisation constitutes a veritable symphony of wholeness, with occasional dissonance: We are the songs of the indigenous people (Kallinago and Gariguna); we are the rhythm of Africa; we are the melody of Europe; we are the chords of Asia; and we are the home-grown lyrics of the Caribbean.
Today, St. Vincent and the Grenadines possesses strengths and possibilities, weaknesses and limitations. We do not drink at the fountain of learned helplessness. Through a combination of faith and reason, hard and smart work, a progressive embrace of multilateralism and internationalist solidarity, and the joinder of justice, peace, and democracy, we have been building a society worthy of our illustrious forebears. We are friends of all and enemies of none. We are a middle-income, small island developing state ready to play an even greater role in the upliftment of our nation, region, our hemisphere, and all humanity.