KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – The British would have been hauled before the International Criminal Court if the tribunal existed in the 1790s when the colonisers massacred the Garifunas, this country’s indigenous people.
“After the death of Chatoyer and the defeat of the Garifunas and the deportation of persons, and let us not mince words, genocide by the British, [the Garifunas were given 239 acres of land]. Let us not mince words. If you had the International Criminal Court then, those fellows would have been dragged before the International Criminal Court,” Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves said Wednesday.
He was delivering the feature address at the annual Wreath-Laying Ceremony at The Obelisk in Dorsetshire Hill, in commemoration of this country’s National Hero, Joseph Chatoyer, who is believed to have died there in 1795.
“They (the British) killed men, women, and children indiscriminately. And there are many Garifuna and Callinago, rather than being killed by the British, jumped off from cliffs and went to their watery grave. Even to the last, that was their resistance,” he said as he recounted the history of the Garifuna people here.
Gonsalves noted that in 1763, the Garifuna owned all of St. Vincent, except for a few French settlements on the western coast. By 1800, five years after Chatoyer — paramount chief of the Garifuna –was killed, all they had was 239 acres of land.
“You understand why Garifuna people remain in that part of the country, historically among the poorest?” he said in reference to north-eastern St. Vincent, where the descendants of the Garifuna live. “And some of the same people who wanted to keep the British will blame others in respect of the poverty up there,” he said.
He was referring to the proposed revised constitution of 2009, which, among its amendments, included removing the British Monarch as this country’s head of state.
The opposition New Democratic Party headed a campaign that successfully encouraged citizens to vote against the revised constitution and, in the process, keeping the British Monarch.
Gonsalves said that the British arrived in 1763, and, except for 1779 to 1783 when the French ruled the country, remained as the colonial power for 216 years until independence in 1979. They only built two secondary schools during that time, he observed.
He said that when the British took suzerainty of the country, they immediately declared all the land as belonging to the Crown. “Can you imagine you own the whole place and people come all the way from England say it belongs to them and don’t expect a fight? … And when I fight for it, you call me ‘war-like,’ when my name, ‘Callinago,’ meant peaceful,” he said.
“They took all the lands and you tell me I must not get reparations?” Gonsalves further stated.
He said that the defeat of Chatoyer opened the way for the importation of African slaves and the cultivation of sugar here.
In 1766, 35 tonnes of the commodity was produced here but that figure had increased to 1,770 tonnes by 1770. Throughout the following decade, the production hovered about 3,000 tonnes annually, and rose after the defeat of the Garifuna.
Gonsalves noted that when Chatoyer was killed, the British met 1,300 French inhabitants and 2,700 African slaves here. By 1805, at the height of sugar cultivation, there were 16,500 slaves and 18,794 by the time slavery was abolished. He further noted that when the slaves were freed, their owners were compensated.