Telling our story
Dr. Fraser- Point of View
April 28, 2023

Telling our story

One of the major tasks facing our people once we had broken the colonial bonds and declared what was in fact “Flag Independence” was to begin the process of telling our own story. Our colonial conquerors had been telling “our story”

and, in the process, attempted to define who we were. As a young student Francis Drake and John Hawkins were my heroes. Our history texts glorified them. When I went to the movies I gloried in the exploits of Tarzan, the “King of the Jungle.” It was a period of total brainwashing as the education system set out to prepare some of us to become good colonials serving who were supposed to be our colonial masters. The planters told the story of their struggles with the indigenous people whom they described as cannibals. The person who led the process of selling the land after 1763, Sir William Young(senior) ensured that he got the best lands. We were even told that he swapped Young Island with Chatoyer for a horse. What is funny about the Young Island story was that that island was part of the area handed over to the British by the 1763 Treaty, so it was the British who had control of that area, not Chatoyer. The indigenous peoples did not leave their story although some will have been available through their oral stories. We do not yet fully understand the meanings of the rock carvings that we call petroglyphs. In the case of our African ancestors a similar thing applied. The story of slavery was written by the planters and their colonial friends. Fortunately for us we have part of the story of aspects of slavery told by a slave Ashton Warner from the Cane Grove estate, that contradicts much of what the planter ‘historian’ Alison Carmichael told us.

History is about evidence and interpretation of that evidence. So, we are able to look at some of the evidence of those who defended slavery and create a different story as seen from the point of view of those who were pictured as objects rather than subjects of their story. As we reinterpret the evidence our aim should not be to glorify our past but to give as far as we are able to a more accurate picture of that past. We always have to read critically what is before us. We need also to make more use of oral stories (history), bearing in mind that as things are passed down over the years what comes to us would have been much different from what was originally said. But we have to use the evidence before us and an understanding of context to give credence to what was handed to us. One of the problems we faced, and this is one of the shortcomings of our education, is that we read and accept what we read without critically examining it.

I notice that more attention is to be paid to women as national heroes and that some are included on the list to be considered as our next national heroes. One should ask why no women were included in the original list. We should not include women simply to make the point that we must have gender balance. Women or men should make the list once they meet the criteria. Perhaps it can even be said that the criteria, if we re-examine it seems to be heavily biased against women. What struck me however was the news that one of the women is a ‘favourite spouse’ of our current national hero. I smile at this for we have had so little data on Chatoyer and particularly his brother Duvalier that I must ask from where did this information come and what is her claim to that status? Certainly not because she was the spouse of Chatoyer or a favourite spouse!

I read also with interest a piece by Donald DeRiggs “We Must Welcome the Garinagu”, the word Garinagu, as far as I know being the plural of Garifuna. About the death of Chatoyer, he gives what he considered a part of oral history about an agreement to have a duel by sword with the losing side having to leave. We know almost for sure that what took place was an ambush with the Garifuna forces taken completely by surprise and not being aware of the attack until the British forces were within eighty yards of them. The idea of a duel was not in keeping with the way the Garinagu fought. Part of the story was given to John Anderson, a Stipendiary Magistrate who served in St. Vincent. The informant who was then a young man stated that he was one of the assailants as they stormed Dorsetshire Hill. Chatoyer was a victim of the ambush. I had reported that story. When Chatoyer fell, “Major Leith of the Militia advanced upon him crying out, “You him Chatoyér?” ‘Oui B” was the response, accompanied by a thrust of his sword, which was parried, five bayonets being dashed into the sanguinary monster’s breast at the same moment”

DeRiggs said that some of Chatoyer’s people “. . . froze in disbelief only to be rounded up and shackled by the British mercenaries who dumped them on nearby Balliceaux and Battowia . . .” Please note that the war continued for more than a year after, until some of the warriors surrendered and or were captured, the last set in January of 1797.

This is really an attempt to continue the conversation about our past. The ‘story’ should not be left to specialist historians or professional historians. People who have an interest are entitled to be part of that conversation, but we have to be guided by the data and read critically the sources from which we get our information. Let the Conversation continue!

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian