Prominent Vincentian historian, Dr Adrian Fraser is of the view that the pattern set by the book, “Stories from our Indian Elders, authored by D.Lenroy Thomas should be followed by others to reflect the true history of the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).
In concluding his overview and analysis of the book, at its launch on November 28 2021, he said, “The pattern set by stories of the elders is a way to get not only the Indian population, but others, including people of different ethnic backgrounds to reflect on their experiences and to share them. The history of St. Vincent will benefit by being then truly a history of the people of the country. There is an African proverb that says, ‘until the lions have their historians, tales of hunting will always glorify the hunter.’ The Indian elders who were interviewed have told the stories of their experiences and of their ancestors as they were handed down to them. They, having done so, helped to tell their story and not that of the colonial hunter. Congratulations to those who saw the wisdom of producing this book, “Stories of (from) our Indian Elders.”
Fraser congratulated the author, D. Lenroy Thomas on his work and also Colvin Harry for conducting the interviews. He continued, “It’s an important piece of oral history, and one wished it had been done before so that more of the stories of those who arrived could have been captured. At least, among the elders are a 93 old man and some in their 80s. Our early history, as taught to us, was really the history of the colonisers who depicted us in a way that glorified themselves and saw others as being there merely to satisfy their needs,” he observed.
Fraser added further that oral history and research done today by people who were formerly colonised are helping to restore a sense of balance and give a voice to those who were treated as objects rather than subjects of their lives. “This type of history has its critics, understandably so, for over time aspects are forgotten, misconstrued or forged into new circumstances of thinking. Lenroy has done an extremely important job. “After each of the stories as told by the elders, he has provided a commentary and analysis pointing out where the stories differ from the historical data and suggesting what might have been responsible for the differences.
Oral history breeds life to the subject since we are hearing from the experiences of the interviewees or from the stories that have been handed down”, he said at the virtual launch.
Fraser went on to summarise and to give a scholarly critique of the book. He noted the loss of Indian names due to the small numbers in SVG and the pressures to change their names but observed that some Indians in Grenada retained their Indian names. He would also have liked to know about the foods that were eaten, the dress patterns and music played by the early arrivals before ‘creolisation’ took hold. Fraser thought that the entry into formal politics by an Indian, Evans Morgan was of signal importance. Morgan was among the persons selected to the Legislative Council at the first election at adult suffrage when Vincentians were first allowed to vote.
This was less than 100 years after the first Indian arrived. In addition, he observed that the interviewees didn’t say much about their thoughts on the future direction of the SVG Indian Heritage Foundation.
In his presentation, the book’s author noted that more research and interviews with additional elders need to be done as there is a lot more to be written about their history. He agreed it is a pity that the stories from the first passengers, who have all now died were not written as more would now be known about their food, dress and music. Thomas also noted that the book, “Stories from our Indian Elders” did not intend to cover everything about the Indians but is only the tip of the iceberg and could be seen as an appetiser to their story. Thomas, who is originally from Richland Park but now resides in Turkey, encouraged other Vincentians to join him in writing from the Indian perspective the history of the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Minister of Education Curtis King, himself an historian; the president of the SVG Indian Heritage Foundation Junior Bacchus; and its treasurer Cheryl Rodriguez also spoke at the launch. It was facilitated by the Indo-Caribbean Cultural Centre, headed by Dr. Kumar Mahabir; the Ameena Gafoor Institute of London directed by Professor David Dabydeen and the SVG Indian Heritage Foundation. The book is available locally at Gaymes Book Centre, Bowman’s Pharmacy and via sales distributor Hansel King. It can also be ordered online.