|“Known by the Caribs as Hairoun (“Land of the Blessed”)”
It is the legacy of the Amerinidian presence in St. Vincent that makes its history somehwat different from its Caribbean neighbours. St. Vincent was first inhabited by the Ciboney, a group of indians who had migrated from South America through the Caribbean long before any Europeans ever set eyes on this part of the World. The Ciboney were a simple, non-agressive farming culture and lived in small villages, utilising resources from both the land and the sea. They moved from time to time in line with the demands of their subsistence agriculture.
The Ciboney were replaced by the Arawaks, who had migrated north from South America and were characterised by far more productive agriculture practices and a more advanced social structure. Their efficient, collective structure allowed them to develop into a complex society in St. Vincent and they successfully colonised many other Caribbean islands.
The War-Like Caribs
The Arawaks themselves were replaced by the warlike Carib Indians, who arrived in St. Vincent at least a century before any Europeans passed through the area. The Caribs were particularly successful in St. Vincent at keeping unwanted settlers out, much more so than some of the surrounding islands, and as a result the Europeans did not successfully establish a colony until the 18th Century. It mattered not that the English, French and Spanish regarded it as a disputed territory, as none could gain a foothold.
Non-European, Non-Amerindian Arrivals?
There were unscheduled arrivals in the meantime – a group of black African slaves arrived in 1635 after the Dutch slave ship in which they were being transported sank. Over time, they merged with the Caribs and were known as the ‘Black Caribs’. They, in turn, had children who became known as the ‘Yellow Caribs’ and later became known as the Garifuna (‘Cassava Eaters’). The Black Caribs and the Yellow Caribs kept fighting with each other so eventually they decided in 1700 to occupy separate parts of the island to prevent further bloodshed – the Black Caribs occupied the Windward side and the Yellow Caribs the Leeward side.
The Carib Wars
The Caribs resisted all attempts by the British to colonise, were not quite so hostile to the French who they allowed to set up settlements in the early 1700′s. After the Treaty of Aix-La-Chappelle in 1748, St. Vincent was supposed to remain neutral, but after the Treaty of Paris in 1763 it was ceded to the British. The Caribs launched an all out war against the British between 1772-1773 (the First Carib War) by destroying plantations and setting them on fire. The French capitalised on the Caribs’ successful Guerrilla tactics by seizing the island from the British in 1779, but begrudgingly handed it back over to the British in 1783, under the Treaty of Versailles.
In the meanwhile, The Caribs were not interested in the British and French struggles for European supremacy, and carried on where they left off with the Second Carib War of 1795-97. Basically the idea was to oust the British, and they almost did. With the aid of French rebels from Martinique, Chatoyer and DuValle (the two main Carib chiefs) planned that Chatoyer would lead the rebellion on the Leeward side and DuValle would lead on the Windward side. James Seton, the Govenor of St. Vincent at the time, had a lot to think about.
Chatoyer – St. Vincent’s First Hero
Chatoyer was not so interested in burning plantations than in going after the British themselves – quite rightly he realised all the agricultural land the British had been toiling over would come in handy after he had kicked them out. Chatoyer worked along the Leeward side of the island and was joined by the French at Chateaubelair. They united with DuValle at Dorsetshire Hill, and turned their attention towards Kingstown.
Seton realised that he was in danger of losing grip of the island and sent a batallion of British soldiers up to greet them. In the ensuing battle, Chatoyer was killed, and the fighting went on for another year before the final battle at Vigie on June 10th, 1796. The Caribs wanted a truce, and the British gave it to them. Chatoyer was seen as very much a hero, and a monument in his honour now stands on Dorsetshire Hill. A national day is now celebrated in his honour, and he is regarded as the first, 5,000 Caribs surrendered and, as was the British custom, they exiled them to the nearby small island of Balliceaux, and later shipped them off to Honduras in 8 ships. Only a smattering of Caribs still remained in St. Vincent, mainly around Sandy Bay.
The plantation economy, based on slave labour, flourished and St. Vincent produced sugar, cotton, coffee and cocoa. In 1812 La Soufrière erupted and devastated much of the island. After the emancipation of slaves in 1833, indentured labour from Portugal and the East Indies was brought in to rectify the Labour shortage. St. Vincent became a part of the British colony of the Windward Islands in 1871. In the latter half of the 19th century sugar slumped and a depression lasted until the end of the century. In 1902 La Soufrière erupted again, devastating the northern half of the island and killing 2,000 people.
In 1925 a Legislative Council was inaugurated but it was not until 1951 that universal adult suffrage was introduced. St.Vincent and the Grenadines belonged to the Windward Islands Federation until 1959 and the West Indies Federation between 1958 and 1962. Britain granted internal self-government to the island in 1969 and as a British Associated State, Vincentians were responsible for their internal affairs while Great Britain handled foreign affairs and defense.
In 1972 james Mitchell (an independent) formed a coalition government with the People’s Political Party (PPP) which collapsed in 1974. Following the 1974 elections Milton Cato formed a coalition government with the PPP and the St. Vincent Labour Party (SVLP). On Oct. 27, 1979 St. Vincent gained full independence within the Commonwealth from Britain. The New Democratic Party (NDP) formed a majority government with Mitchell as Prime Minister in 1984.
Politically, the island remained under the leadership of Sir james Mitchell until March 2001 when the Unity Labour Party (ULP), led by Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, won 12 of the 15 parliamentary seats. St. Vincent and the Grenadines are characterised by stability and are known for their genuine hospitaility towards both their neighbours and visitors from the rest of the World.
The Amerindian Legacy
What characterises the human history of St. Vincent & The Grenadines moreso than its immediate Caribbean neighbours is the legacy of its Amerindian past. In many of the surrounding islands it has all but completely vanished, and often hardly even recognised in any official way. St. Vincent & The Grenadines is unique perhaps in that their first National Hero is a Carib (Chatoyer) and a constant reminder of the tremendously complex social upheaval that took place here between the 17th-19th Centuries. In recent times, efforts have been made to reconnect with the Caribs that were deported to Honduras in the 18th Century, and the re-visiting of islands like Balliceaux have proved both rewarding and moving.