Dr. Fraser- Point of View
July 6, 2018
Last Saturday I joined the Owia Heritage Organisation for the opening ceremony

Last Saturday I joined the Owia Heritage Organisation for the opening ceremony of their restored historic gunpowder magazine. With funding from SusGren (Grenadines NGO) and encouragement and support from the National Parks, members were able to complete their task, having worked at tremendous pace to meet a shortened timeline. The physical presence of the historic monument highlights the significant role Owia played in our early history.

What was done there was also significant in pointing to the country’s potential for ‘ecotourism’, understood in its broadest sense. While our tourism focuses on sea, sand and sun, there are historic monuments, sites, buildings, and cultural activities that if developed, could point to another area that could be exploited. Some of these, scattered throughout the country, if restored, can serve as a domestic thrust into tourism with the communities taking control. Visitors to Owia could be directed to the site and provided with leaflets/small booklets explaining its history.

Many, if asked, will contribute to its maintenance.

Only one cannon now remains, private individuals having laid their hands on the others, as happens elsewhere in the country. The magazine was a fixture of a military post established in 1773 and identified in Byres map of 1776. Although other posts were established elsewhere that at Owia stood out, as Owia was considered by the British to be the key to St.Vincent, particularly during the final war with the indigenous people.

The historic gunpowder magazine at Owia was restored by the Owia Heritage Organisation with funding from SusGren (Grenadines NGO) .

Although the Kalinago and Garifuna people struggled against the British and the French, their understanding of the geopolitics of the time allowed them to develop a close relationship with the French, some of whom they allowed to settle here. The French were into small farming, unlike the British whose greed for what they considered ideal land for sugar led to a prolonged struggle with the indigenous people.
The French, who during the 18th century were often at war with the British, provided valuable assistance to the native peoples through the provision of weapons, food and at times military personnel and training. Owia was their point of communication with the French regional headquarters in Guadeloupe, and even more so when St. Lucia was under their control. The British targeted their provision grounds and so communication with the French was extremely important. During that final war Owia was captured and recaptured and its recapture by the British in June 1796 gave them a decided advantage, putting the Garifuna/ Kalinago people on the defensive. The magazine serves as a point of reflection on the significance of Owia at that time.

But Owia’s historical significance goes beyond that. Many Vincentians do not realise that at one time arrowroot was one of our major exports. Although planted for a long time, it became a major export product in the 1880s following difficulties with sugar. The Kew Bulletin of August 1893 noted; “The Marks ‘Owia’ and ‘Fancy’ have been well known on the market for many years and have borne a great reputation.” Earlier in 1891, a visitor, Dr A Nicholls commented, “The Owia arrowroot has an excellent name in the great markets of the world… when dry the arrowroot is packed in clean American flour bags lined with demy wrapping paper” with the name of the estate being put on the package. The Owia heritage group seems to be embarking on another project around its arrowroot.

Hopefully what is being done at Owia will point to other communities the need to identify and preserve historic sites, buildings, and monuments in their areas. The gunpowder magazine lies across from the school and children will see it every day and hopefully begin to connect their community to a rich history.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian