Baliceaux is a valley of dry bones. In the language of the great Bunny Wailer, they are dry bones crying in the wilderness. Because for more than 200 years the bodies of Garifuna men, women, and children have lain there, fallen heroes in a 300-year war waged by indigenous Vincentians to defend their ancestral rights against the genocidal onslaught of European aggression.
Today, however, those bones shall cry no more. For in a monumental decision made by the Government of St Vincent and the Grenadines, the Prime Minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves has announced that by March 2024, less than three months from this writing, Baliceaux will return to the bosom of the Vincentian people, secure, inalienable, and forever dedicated as sacred space.
Understanding the full sweep of this historic decision means coming to grips with a central reality of Vincentian history, and indeed the broader Caribbean, that very few people have understood, namely, that St Vincent and the Grenadines was indeed the last battleground of these epic battles between European imperialists and the indigenous Caribbean people. In fact, it was only after the defeat of the Garifuna and their banishment to Baliceaux, and later Belize, that the British were able to bring St Vincent and the Grenadines under the full umbrella of British colonial rule so that they could create a Vincentian slave society.
What this means is that in St Vincent and the Grenadines, enslaved Africans spent a shorter time living in a slave society than enslaved Africans virtually anywhere else in the Caribbean. This was precisely because indigenous Vincentians gave their lives to delay the imposition of a slave society here. Baliceaux therefore represents the inextricable ties that bind the Garifuna and enslaved Vincentians in a single history of oppression. Baliceaux was the doorway to genocide and the deportation of the Garifuna. And genocide on Baliceaux was also the doorway to the most intense period of African enslavement in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
The duality of this history has been lost to most Vincentians. But 3000 years ago, in the Valley of Bones, the Prophet Ezekiel heard a question, “Son of Man, can these bones live?’ And he heard a voice saying to the bones, “I will put breath in you, and you will come to life.” The proclamation that the Vincentian government will reclaim Baliceaux is nothing less that the resurrection of the dual history of the Garifuna and the enslaved Africans whose fates were sealed on Baliceaux.
The consequence this action holds for how Vincentians today, and even more crucially, Vincentians in the future, engage Vincentian history and identity are immense. Modern Vincentians are custodians of a history that goes back more than 5,000 years. Baliceaux tells us that. We are the only country within the Caribbean that has an entire island dedicated to the interment of indigenous peoples. Baliceaux tells us that too.
But above all, the Vincentian sacralization of Baliceaux opens a window on the meaning of reparations that is unique to us. For whereas the debates on reparations necessarily centre on “Britain’s Black Debt,” and by extension, the debts owed to us by all of the slave trading and slave holding powers, the Prime Minister has demonstrated that we have the capacity to conceptualize and implement a regime of reparatory justice independent of Europeans. Our moral autonomy is unblemished. In a single stroke we can elevate Baliceaux into a supreme monument of the Vincentian national conscience. And the bones in Baliceaux will cry no more.