Chatoyer and March 14 – we still have much further to go
March 10, 2023
Chatoyer and March 14 – we still have much further to go

Next Tuesday, March 14, will mark the 21st anniversary since the Vincentian people have been officially honouring Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer as the sole National Hero of our country.

The March 14 public holiday is unique among our calendar of holidays since it is the only one of its type in honour of not just a hero who performed outstanding deeds, but the man who literally led the fight to defend the sovereignty of our country against foreign invaders.

It took a full 184 years before that sovereignty was formally restored on the achievement of Independence on October 27, 1979.

The main event of the day will be the official wreath-laying ceremony at Dorsetshire Hill, the site where Chatoyer is reputed to have been killed, and other events are planned for later in the day in Garifuna and Kalinago communities.

We had to await the 21st century and the coming to office of the Unity Labour Party administration; and it is to the eternal credit of Vincentian civil society and 30 years of agitation by the National Youth Council in particular that we have this commemoration on the national calendar and Chatoyer’s official designation as National Hero.

Already, activities which will be held during the entire month, led by the Ministry of Culture and the Garifuna Heritage Foundation, have begun with a Youth Rally last Friday. It is a pity that the venue, the Victoria Park has not yet been appropriately renamed. It is more than incongruous in this day and age to stage such an event at a venue bearing the name of a monarch of the people responsible for the death of Chatoyer and the subjugation of his people. It highlights the urgency of the cultural decolonization of which we speak a lot.

The Garifuna Heritage Foundation is to be commended for its commitment to the cause of reviving the Garifuna culture and ensuring that the memory of the Garifuna and Kalinago people is kept alive. We can only urge that their efforts continue to be supported, even more, by both the state and the private sector.

We have come a long way since the days when March 14 activities were regarded by many as the work of some “Black Power” youths and the clamour to honour Chatoyer regarded askance in many quarters, especially among the budding middle class and colonial-influenced folk.

Yet much more needs to be done. More support for the laudable community efforts in Greggs, North Leeward and above the Dry River is needed. Additionally, while we await the “our-story” book, commissioned to give a more accurate reflection of our development as a people, there needs to be much more material for children, in different forms, made available for educational purposes.

If truth be told, while what we have accomplished is commendable, we need to do more to ensure that there is greater understanding of Chatoyer’s heroic role and that he be appropriately honoured. Instead of bickering among ourselves as to who else should join him in the exalted position, should we not be expending our efforts on a proper National Memorial for Chatoyer?

A more meaningful programme to allow our people to properly appreciate the significance of March 14 and the role of the Garifuna in both defending our country as well as delaying the full imposition of slavery in our country, seems to be of higher priority.