Chatoyer (Chatawae): National Hero of SVG
October 15, 2004
Chatoyer (Chatawae): National Hero of SVG


by Paul Lewis

Chatoyer (Chatawae): National Hero of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. By Adrian Fraser, Galaxy Print Ltd., St. Vincent, 2004. Pp.32

In this period of our history when politicians have been hell-bent on giving away/leasing and alienating much of our national patrimony from the population, the story of our first national hero, Rt. Excellency Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer, who fought for the greater part of his adult life protecting this same patrimony and encouraging a greater Caribbean consciousness, should be a model for our current crop of politicians in particular, and an inspiration to all Vincentians. {{more}}Adrian Fraser’s reprinted booklet “Chatoyer: National Hero of St. Vincent and the Grenadines”, is a welcome sight and an excellent contribution to the growing body of literature in Vincentian history and culture. This is not a college text but a booklet for all Vincentians.

Dr. Adrian Fraser is a historian and resident tutor at the School of Continuing Studies, Kingstown. The reprint of the 2002 publication of his well-informed booklet on Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer is the first attempt by a local author since the 1973 publication of Earl Kirby and Cims Martin’s “The Rise and Fall of the Black Caribs”, to place Chatoyer within the context of an appreciation of our indigenous roots, and the evolution of political and constitutional development in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

This short but well researched booklet is actually part of a larger work by the author, and was produced as a contribution to the 2002 Heritage Month programme. It is aimed at a general audience and is written in a simple and accessible style, much suited for use in CXC and A-level history classes. The booklet is organized around four short chapters with a focus on Chatoyer the Man, National Hero and his Legacy to the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

We know little about Chatoyer, especially events impacting on his personal and family life. British documents, and French ones to a lesser extent, choose to record only those events in the lives of Carib leaders that directly influenced the politics of the period, and recording any events delineating the character and peculiar motivations of such individuals were incidents and events not worthy of the historical record. We will never have a complete portrait of the man, his thoughts or even all his exploits. Yet Fraser was able to bring life to the major events as we know them, and which have become associated with Chatoyer’s efforts in his people’s defence of the homeland and the survival of the indigenous peoples of the region.

Chatoyer the man and national hero are two compelling themes in his booklet. Using vignettes of contemporary reports and more recent interpretations, Fraser shows the different assessments of Chatoyer based on the time period, the writers’ purposes in approaching his subject, and influences, which have forced a turn in the historiography of the man – from the justifications of the planter class to the musings of local and regional intellectuals looking for historical role models in their drive to raise and enhance a national consciousness and engender a sense of nationalism in a people. Chatoyer was the premier military leader. He exhibited excellent diplomat skills and was a linguist. (Chatoyer, like many other Caribs, spoke French.) Chatoyer was a family man too. Agostino Brunias’ 18th century portraits of Chatoyer and his five wives and children attest to that. Chief of the important Carib settlement of Grand Sable, Fraser has noted that British colonial writers such as Sheppard and Young found this Carib at times to be affable and agreeable, and so grudgingly acknowledged this soft side to the character of a man who represented a people of a “lower order”, more suited to be despised than be celebrated.

Finally, Fraser places Chatoyer within the context of this drive to uncover genuine national heroes by highlighting admirable values, strengths and force of character of one who made the ultimate sacrifice, his life, to defend his country against the rapacious Europeans. Fraser describes some of the reasons why Chatoyer was well qualified to become SVG’s first national hero:

“Chatoyer’s service to Saint Vincent for which he paid the ultimate sacrifice, that is, dying for the defence of the sovereignty of his country stands out. His leadership was visionary and outstanding, the achievement of delaying European colonization being testimony to his over 28 years at the top leadership level of his country … He has undoubtedly given outstanding service to this country. His contribution has altered positively the course of the country’s history… It was because of the struggles of Chatoyer and his people that Colonialism got a late start here.”

One should indicate another important feature of Fraser’s work. His inclusion of some new web-based material serves to remind us that there is much useful information on the Internet, if only we use it with caution. The two articles by Peter Hulme have raised many questions concerning the facts relating to the Black-Yellow /Red Carib story, and the French history of St. Vincent. We need to address this issue. The Historical and Archaeological Society is pushing on, albeit slowly, in getting some documents translated which would give us a better balance to our Anglo-centric Vincentian history. However, Fraser, working within the confines of limited space and a huge gap in primary sources, especially archaeological records, has explored these available sources to the fullest and has presented Chatoyer the man and national hero in a most admirable way. “Chatoyer: National Hero of St. Vincent and the Grenadines” should be used as a core text in all the secondary schools and placed in all public libraries too.