‘Our Garifuna heritage must be preserved and showcased’
(TGHF) VANESSA DIMIRCYAN OF The Garifuna Heritage Foundation
March 18, 2022

‘Our Garifuna heritage must be preserved and showcased’

THERE IS A need for a long term training program to prepare Vincentian professionals in the fields of archaeology, history, anthropology and museum sciences.

This and other areas of need were highlighted by Vanessa Dimircyan of The Garifuna Heritage Foundation (TGHF), as she spoke at the annual wreath laying ceremony on Monday, March 14 at the Obelisk in Dorsetshire Hill in memory and honour of National Hero, paramount chief the Right Excellent Joseph Chatoyer.

Unfazed by the inclement weather that blew across the windy hilltop in the early morning of National Heroes’ Day, dignitaries and uniformed men and women gathered purposefully to mark the day on which the paramount Carib chief is said to have died in battle with the British colonisers.

“We are still not fully aware of the circumstances surrounding the death of Paramount Chief… Joseph Chatoyer on March 14, 1795, whom we gather here to honour today; perhaps we will never,” said Dimircyan, who delivered remarks on behalf of the President of TGHF, David ‘Darkie’ Williams and the members of the Foundation.

The history of that time is penned by the English and the French and tells only part of the story.

“However, still we gather as we have done officially and unofficially over the years past because we recognise that this gathering, this coming together today of a nation in such a ceremony as this represents a commitment to descendants of Chatoyer,” she said.

“…that we should not forget the spirit of resistance which built this nation or the sacred trust which has been handed down to this present generation to guard this country well, to conserve and carefully manage its rich resources of people, land and sea. Resources for which the Kalinago and Garifuna people gave their lives to protect.”

The resources of a country also include its identity, she said.

“Its sense of nationhood, what constitutes its soul,” inclusive of a clear knowledge of where we came from and who we are.

“Since we last gathered here in Dorsetshire Hill in 2021, our country and in particular the indigenous communities located in the red zone, the traditional Garifuna communities of Fancy, Owia, Sandy Bay, Grieggs, Rose Bank and Rose Hall have been devastated by the impact of the explosive eruption of …La Soufrière volcano,” Dimircyan stated.

She noted that this, combined with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in great hardship to the communities.

However, within this time there also existed a reminder of the thirst for the knowledge of the Garifuna heritage and culture. “The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the limitations of conventional medicine and focused attention on the need to examine traditional herbal remedies. We also learned the importance of self reliance when it became clear that travel and the sourcing of imported food were impacted by the volcanic eruption and by COVID-19,” she explained.

“There is a dire need for teaching materials, which focus on the Garifuna heritage and culture, in schools,” she said.

“There is also an urgent need for an ongoing research program to engage our bright, young minds in search of concrete information on their history and culture,” she continued, “there is a need for a museum which showcases all of the indigenous Vincentian historical, cultural and anthropological experience. And last but not least, there is a need for a long term training program to prepare Vincentian professionals in the field of archaeology, history, anthropology and museum sciences.”

As a non-profit, TGHF itself since 2001 has been providing education programs focused mainly on youth with a view to promoting the Garifuna heritage and culture.

The representative of TGHF also expressed a need for a statue “to be commissioned and erected in a prominent location to honour” the contribution made by paramount chief, Jospeh Chatoyer.

“As we gather today we are again challenged by the need to continue the work of preparing to ground our future development firmly on the knowledge of our indigenous peoples and the contributions and achievements of the past,” Dimircyan said.

She also revealed that the Foundation will in the future be seeking to promote greater involvement of the Garifuna Diaspora who view St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) as their ancestral homeland.

“This year TGHF hosted our ninth international Garifuna conference which brought together activists, practitioners, and researchers from all over the world. Our conferences have energised Garifuna communities to work together in the future to strengthen their links with each other, collaborate on economic and social programs and develop a greater understanding of their Garifuna history and culture,” Dimircyan said.

She concluded, “It is this collaborative pooling of energies, resources and ideas which represents in principle an important legacy of the history of our people and one I wish us to reflect upon and commit ourselves to continuing as we celebrate the life of our first national hero… today”.