Dr. Fraser- Point of View
April 30, 2004

About national identity and consciousness

I was struck by a piece written by Avil Cupid in last week’s issue of the Searchlight. It was captioned “Police Matthias Has Doubts”. He quoted Police Matthias who asked, “How come no one in St. Vincent has the surname Chatoyer?”
According to him, Matthias went further and suggested that if we have doubts about Columbus discovering St. Vincent, we can also have doubts about what is said about Chatoyer. Cupid stated that “Matthias is entitled to his opinion,” and saw it as a “poser for the new historians,” based on what he said later, it wasn’t clear to me what point he wanted to make. Cupid goes further, “It seems to me that there are some new writers who want to rewrite history. And today we hear about black history, black history month and all that.”{{more}}
I wish to make a short comment on this. First, we have records establishing the fact of the existence of Chatoyer and about his actions and even words. We do not have any evidence that Columbus ever came to St. Vincent. We know certainly that on the date he was supposed to have “discovered” St. Vincent he was actually in Spain. About not having anyone with the Chatoyer name in St. Vincent, this is no real mystery. One of Chatoyer’s sons was among the group that was forced into exile. We have to remember, too, that many of the indigenous people at that time were killed during the war. It is also possible that some of those who escaped exile would have changed their names. Up until recently there were Carib people who tried to disguise their Carib heritage in order to avoid the discrimination and the insults, a people described as barbaric. Carib descendants would have done anything in their power to dissociate themselves from that, even concealing their identity.
Is there a problem with wanting to rewrite history? Again, it could be that I am misreading Cupid. Let me use Joshua to make a point. From his letter, Cupid clearly sees Joshua as one of our heroes. There is nothing wrong with this since many persons have put his name forward in that regard. If the colonialists wrote our history, Joshua would have been seen as a villain in the same way that Chatoyer was seen as one. As an independent people who have recently come out of colonialism, our values, goals, identity must be different. After all, we are not black Englishmen but rather West Indians or Vincentians. So we see the world differently from the colonialists who sang “God Save the Queen” and who regarded Sir Walter Raleigh and Francis Drake as heroes. We have an obligation to reinterpret our history in order to get different answers, sometimes to different questions. This involves finding our own heroes. Black history is really just a means of emphasizing the role of black people who under the colonial system were seen as objects rather than subjects of their history.
A few other comments! About old, mostly white historians doing a “very commendable job”. Of course there are white historians who have made a significant contribution to the understanding of the history of black people. Basil Davidson in his writings on Africa was one such, but many others simply wrote to promote a particular point of view. In many cases their work is laden with racist values and views and their objective in writing was largely to justify slavery and colonialism. Take the example of Nelson Mandela.
To most white historians, he was depicted as a criminal. There was a need to rehabilitate him. To do so one had to reinterpret and rewrite the history of which he was a part. On another matter there is unlikely to be a film-footage of Joshua. This has to do with the availability of the technology at that time, for most of Joshua’s political life the country was in the grip of colonialism and the political directorate and those who dominated the society had no interest in promoting Joshua whom they would have considered a villain rather than hero. About those recordings, there are certainly persons who have recordings of Joshua’s voice. I will include myself in that
The Tobago Cays
The Tobago Cays issue would not go away. It continues to be on the national agenda for there are fundamental matters at stake. Anyone who listened to the presentation made by the Southern Grenadines Environmental Groups to the recent educational forum would note that beside the threat to the livelihood of some of the stakeholders, they resent their lack of involvement in matters that affect their life.
The nature of the mainland/Grenadines relationship has resurfaced strongly. What they see are people from the mainland making decisions that commit them without involving them. One positive thing about the forum held a few days ago was that persons involved with marine parks elsewhere were able to share their experience with Vincentians.
Vincentians would have become better informed not only on the Tobago Cays, its history and current operations, but also about related environmental matters. The Tobago Cays is prized for natural resources in this part of the world.
A brochure on the Tobago Cays put out by the Ministry of Tourism reflects much of what the Tobago Cays is about and what makes it so attractive, “Leave nothing but your footprints in the sand – Take nothing but your wonderful memories.” The brochure says further, “The Tobago Cays, surrounded by reefs and enclosed by a turquoise sand-bottomed lagoon is one of the most inspiring natural beauty spots in the Caribbean.” One can therefore understand why people are so passionate about the Cays and resent anything that could possibly take away from the sustainability of its beauty.
A presentation made by the Southern Grenadines groups captured some of the concerns: “Our organizations remain convinced that if managed properly the TCMP has the potential to be a source of tremendous revenue for the establishment and development of other much needed Grenadine marine parks as well as those less endowed St. Vincent National Parks thus directly facilitating significant growth in the entire Tourism industry … Our organizations are also convinced that if this marine park is managed by predominantly local expertise, it has the tremendous potential to become the champion of much needed National Pride and Consciousness. It will help to destroy the nonsense that says that local black people can only run mauby shops”.
I also agree with them that the Tobago Cays Marine Park issue is of a ‘much greater concern to our nation than simply the Tobago Cays itself.’