Cultural regeneration being assisted by a time capsule from the 18th century
March 17, 2023

Cultural regeneration being assisted by a time capsule from the 18th century

In several ways National Heroes Day 2023 and the visit of a large Garifuna delegation from the lands of their exile will long be remembered.

Perhaps not since the inaugural visit of our Garifuna sisters and brothers has the reconnection been so vivid, as if we were being reconnected through a time capsule.

It is sometimes difficult for many of us to comprehend what these people had to undergo, defending a tiny island against the military might of a Britain bent on making itself “great” at the expense of lesser armed countries all over the world. A vulnerable island people against what was then the world’s greatest military power.

Our country was not just militarily vulnerable, its brave inhabitants had demonstrated a refusal to surrender their homeland to foreigners, had through its skillful leadership engaged in diplomacy with the French, rivals of Britain, and themselves having the same rapacious aims of a Caribbean empire. To make matters worse, the Garifuna were accused of harbouring escaped enslaved Africans while their resistance was preventing the imposition on a full plantation-based slave economy. What impunity!

Our historical experience tells of the brutality employed against the owners and inhabitants of these islands, Kalinago and Garifuna alike. In addition to the wars of extermination, the British demonstrated that they would stop at nothing to achieve their aims. Having employed the might of their armada, they were not satisfied with military victory, the murder of the Garifuna leader, and the surrender of the militarily vanquished. They were bent on annihilation, physical and cultural genocide.

That was behind the exile to Baliceaux, knowing that thousands could not survive in such hostile conditions. Then sending those who survived, after being pressured on humanitarian grounds, to further unfriendly conditions in Central America. That the Garifuna survived Roatan, the challenging physical conditions and the long history of Spanish and later military dictatorships, must be one of the wonders of the world.

Those who remained on St Vincent either had to accept assimilation to colonial society or perish. Cultural genocide dictated that today the Garifuna people in their own homeland have to rely on descendants of those exiled from here for cultural regeneration.

And it is not just the Garifuna and Kalinago. The enslaved Africans and even the indentured labourers from India and Portugal have little to show of their cultural origins. It is as though the colonialists wanted to wipe the slate clean.

Yet we have endured and as we call for reparatory justice, we also make calls for cultural regeneration. The Garifuna call for the teaching of the language of our ancestors in schools should be supported, not just as a sop, an oddity, but as a powerful spiritual and cultural connection. The demand for the return of Baliceaux to national patrimony is a just one and part of our historical mission.

The task before us can be likened to rekindling cold ashes but undertake it we must.