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Continuing the Reparations Conversation

Continuing the Reparations Conversation

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I listened to a discussion on radio, part of which was about Reparations, and realised that we have not done a good job educating our folks about that issue. When the conversation and the advocacy started years ago it was like fighting a losing battle.

But in recent years, many institutions, particularly banks and universities are beginning to acknowledge their ties to slavery and to realise that they have a moral responsibility to address the legacies that were fuelled by their involvement, even though that connection is long broken. Many of us have developed a negative attitude since we see it as a call for governments and institutions to hand out money which they fear might be misused. That is, however, to misunderstand the issue and the debate.

     The latest institution to acknowledge its past ties to slavery and its moral responsibility to do something about it is Harvard University. The caption of an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education, reads as follows “Harvard to Spend $100 million to Atone for ‘Immoral’ Ties to Slavery.” It quotes the University’s president, “I believe we bear a moral responsibility to do what we can to address the persistent corrosive effects of those historical practices on individuals, on Harvard and in our society . . .” He said some would be immediate while the rest would be held in an endowment. Among the recommendations are, – to support descendants of enslaved people through research, teaching innovations , teacher training and work with community colleges.

The University’s “enslaved legacy of slavery fund” will support its future efforts. Governments on the other hand appear to have been ducking the issue, especially Britain which participated in the virtual decimation of the Kalinago peoples and vicious brutalities against the Garinagu, leading to the deportation of a majority of them from their homeland, Yuremin. Then a long period of enslavement and colonisation!

     European diseases and warfare led to decimation of the indigenous peoples. Those who survived the long period of warfare, were deported, their lands taken, and enslaved people used to extract wealth from the country to help to develop Britain. We have, at the same time, to applaud the stubborn resistance of the Kalinago and Garifuna peoples, making SVG the latest to have come under full European colonisation. Once the British took full control through their superior weaponry, they seized the lands, carved them out into eight estates which got into sugar cultivation, making this country one the largest sugar producers of the British Caribbean colonies, second only to Jamaica between 1807 and 1829. Despite getting control of St. Vincent through the terms of the Treaty of Paris of 1763, Britain never had total control until 1796 when they were able to subdue the indigenous forces.  Of the over 4,000 who had surrendered or were captured, more than half died on Balliceaux. Some however had escaped into the interior.

     Thomas Browne who subsequently owned the Grand Sable estate had been offered 6,000 acres because of his “long and meritorious service” on the side of Britain in the American War of Independence. Following that war, he was given land in the Bahamas where he was involved in the planting of cotton and rearing of cattle. Using his patronage connections, he opted for St. Vincent but before he was able to take up that offer other planters had begun settling on the land and planting sugar. When the matter was finally settled Browne was given 2, 230 acres with the remainder sold among planters who had been occupying the lands. Of the amount received, part was given to Browne and the remainder went to the Government. Browne got the Grand Sable estate which became the largest estate on the mainland. He later built with slave labour the Black Point Tunnel to facilitate the transfer of sugar to the calmer Byrea side.

     Twenty five adults and 20 children among the indigenous population had surrendered in 1805 and been pardoned and given 230 acres at Morne Ronde just beyond Richmond and Wallibou. Certainly not the fertile lands to which they previously had access.  Stipendiary Magistrate, John Colthurst who visited that village in June 1838 stated, “The ascent . . . is very steep, in fact, almost inaccessible. Both sides of the glen are inhabited by these unfortunate people, who seem, from the position they occupy to be driven far out of all civil society, even into the clefts of the mountains, there to mourn over the almost total extirpation of their race and look down from their barren heights upon the fertile and rich plains they have been expelled from by the unrelenting hand of power.”

     The British were in total control. The peace and harmony of the indigenous people had been destroyed and a slave society left, which ended with the planters and not the enslaved being compensated. When they departed in 1979, our society was undeveloped, but they left little to give us a head start. They have a case to answer! 

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian

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