KINGSTOWN St. Vincent — A journalist with the Guardian newspaper in London has written a book on the Black Carib Wars.
The 256-page “The Black Carib Wars: Freedom, Survival and The Making of The Garifuna” by Christopher Taylor, published on May 1, “promises to shed new light on this troubling time and hopefully add to what is currently known about Garifuna history,” Amazon.com says in its book description.
The website said that Taylor’s book “offers the most thoroughly researched history of the struggle of the Garifuna people to preserve their freedom on the island of St. Vincent”.
The books draws on extensive research in Britain, France, and St. Vincent to offer a compelling narrative of the formative years of the Garifuna people, the description said.
As part of his research for the book, Taylor joined a delegation of Garifunas from the United States who visited this country in 2009.
During that visit, Taylor spoke to his Vincentian counterpart, Kenton X. Chance about his research for the publication.
“I think it is the fact of the survival and the flourishing of the Garifuna people, the fact that they retain their language and their culture that’s the inspiring part of it, that this wasn’t an abject defeat,” Taylor said in the 2009 interview.
He had first heard about the Garifuna people when he worked in Nicaragua almost 25 years ago when Garifunas in Central America were assisting each other in maintaining and recovering their language.
In other Caribbean nations, Taylor said, colonizers totally decimated the indigenous cultures but the Garifuna heritage has survived.
“I think that that is the hopeful element of the story. It wasn’t just a defeat. It was a defeat, yes, and it was a terrible defeat in human terms but somehow the culture survived and I think I was inspired by that.”
It is historically true that the Garifunas originated in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) and were banished from the island.
“It is certainly factual that the wars took place and that people were expelled, were sent into exile. I have read in the archives in London the ship log of one of the ships that took them to Rotan in Honduras, … written in some sea captain’s hand.”
Taylor aid that while the Garifunas fought alongside the French against the British in the 18th Century the French could retreat to Martinique if they were defeated.
“But the Black Caribs, they had nowhere to go. This is their home. So, for them, defeat was much more terrible. And the population was decimated. … We don’t know how many there were originally but many were killed in the war and many were killed after the war,” he said in 2009.
The Garifuna people, commonly referred to as “Caribs”, currently live in SVG, Honduras, Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua and the United States but all consider SVG their ancestral home.
Garifunas have preserved their unique culture and speak a language that “directly descends from that spoken in the Caribbean at the time of Columbus,” according to the book description. That language has been lost in SVG, however.
The ancestors of the Garifuna were native Carib Indians and shipwrecked or runaway West African slaves — hence the name by which they were known to French and British colonialists: Black Caribs.
In the 1600s the Black Caribs encountered Europeans as adversaries and allies. But from the early 1700s, white people, particularly the French, began to settle on St. Vincent. The treaty of Paris in 1763 handed the island to the British who wanted the Black Caribs’ land to grow sugar.
“Conflict was inevitable, and in a series of bloody wars punctuated by uneasy peace the Black Caribs took on the might of the British Empire. Over decades leaders such as Tourouya, Bigot, and Chatoyer organized the resistance of a society, which had no central authority but united against the external threat. Finally, abandoned by their French allies, they were defeated, and the survivors deported to Central America in 1797,” the book description says.
St. Vincent was restored to French rule in 1779 and the British regained control under the Treaty of Paris (1783) in which Great Britain officially recognized the end of the American Revolution.
Ancillary treaties were also signed with France and Spain, known as the Treaties of Versailles of 1783, part of which put St. Vincent back under British control.
Conflict between the British and the Black Caribs, led by defiant Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer, continued until 1796, when General Sir Ralph Abercromby crushed a revolt fomented by the French radical Victor Hugues.
More than 5,000 Black Caribs were eventually deported to Roatán, an island off the coast of Honduras.
Chatoyer is a national hero in SVG.
“The Black Carib Wars: Freedom, Survival and The Making of The Garifuna” is the second book by Taylor, who wrote “The Beautiful Game: A Journey through Latin American Football” in 1998.