VOL 38, Nos. 2 & 3 JUNE SEPTEMBER 1992
(Copyrigt reserved and rcproducation without permission strictly forbidden)
Drake's Straight Revisited
Velma Pollard vi
Kalinago (Carib) Resistance to European Colonisation of the Caribbean
Hilary McD. Becklcs 1
Arawak Archaeology in Jamaica: New Approaches, New Perspectives
Basil Reid 15
Patrick Bryan 21
Exhibiting Culture: Museums and National Identity in the Caribbean
A lissandra Cnunmmins 33
Drake's Straight Revisited 32
The Sojourn Towards Self Discovery Among Indigenous Peoples
Joseph Palacio 55
The Contemporary Significance of the African Diaspora in the Americas
Rupert Lewis 73
Suggestions for a Jamaican Theology of Psycho-Social Emancipation
John Sauive S.J. 81
Surviving Columbus: Caribbean Achievements in the Encounter
of Worlds 1492- 1992
Rex Nettleford 97
Drake's Straight Remembered 113
BOOK REVIEWS 115
Notes on Contributors 125
BOOKS RECEIVED 126
Instructions to Authors 128
UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES
The Hon. R.M.Nettleford, O.M.., Pro Vice-Chancellor, Professor of
Continuing Studies, Mona.(Editor)
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Roy Augier, Professor of History, Mona, Jamaica
Sir Keith Hunte, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Principal, Cave Hill.
Neville McNorris, Department of Physics, Mona
Veronica Salter, School of Continuing Studies, Mona (Managing Editor)
All correspondence and contributions should be addressed to:
School of Continuing Studies,
University of the West Indies,
Mona, Kingston 7, Jamaica.
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This issue of Caribbean Quarterly commemorates the historical experience and
existential realities consequent on that history of the past half a millennium. It is in
essence a different kind of commemoration from that of the Quincentennial celebra-
tions that too often betrays the triumphalist posturings by Conquerors and rulers over
distant real estate claimed in the name of God and the State under that juridical
doctrine of prior discovery and effective occupation.
Conquest and overlordship are predicated on the existence of the vanquished and
subordinates. That is only one side of the story and not necessarily the most significant
for the survivors of exploitation, human degradation and what has been termed by
detractors of the Columbus "myth" as genocide and ecocide. This issue of Caribbean
Quarterly takes all this as given and targets both the fact of survival and the possibilities
of life beyond.
The resistance of the Native American (Caribs and Arawaks) to European colonisa-
tion has been seen in terms of the "pacification", in the end, of the "wild ones" by the
Conquerors or the defeat in battle of heathens or pagans who understood little of the
blessing of Christian conversion. Hilary Beckles's article is a timely reminder of the
need to redress "the historiographic imbalance" which, he feels to be evident in the
paucity of "systematic accounts of [the Native Americans] anti-colonial and anti-slavery
If Dr. Beckles's claim for the Kalinagos (Caribs) as a bellicose people is established
as historical fact, the legendary pacificism of the Arawaks found further north in the
Caribbean Basin is indelibly imprinted on the minds of those who have been exposed to
the pre-Columbian history of the region. Basil Reid is as anxious as Dr. Beckles to have
the truth about the Arawaks prevail over such received "facts" as their being cannibals.
He sees a possible corrective in new approaches and new perspectives in more sys-
tematic research into Arawak archaeology. "The Jamaican archaeological record" he
asserts, simply does not support the blanket description [i.e. of the Arawaks as a
"simple people"] which suggests backwardness and which to a large extent was probab-
ly coloured by racism and cultural biases."
The main harbingers of such racism and cultural biases were of course the Conquis-
tadores. The ethnocentric stance was part of the apparatus of conquest and control.
Patrick Bryan's description of "Spanish Jamaica" at the time of early settlement from
the time of Admiral Columbus up to the ceding of the island to England by the Treaty
of Madrid in 1655, prepares the reader for much that followed.
The collision of cultures and the long period of creolisation had set in and the
making of the Caribbean as part of the making of the Americas had begun. Allisandra
Cummins is of the view that the use of Museums to exhibit, illustrate and explain this
history and development is critical to concerns not only of identity and cultural cer-
titude but also of political and socio-economic transformation.
Not even the Native Americans have been immune to the process however Dr.
Joseph Palaci. -suggests that danger lies in the tendency of the now majority populations
in the "newly independent countries of the English-speaking Caribbean to regard the
indigenous Indian as "the problem", to be legislated, acculturated, assimilated, and
integrated into the mainstream". Far from achieving this, events have led to a revindica-
tion of self and ancestry on the part of the indigenous peoples now organised into the
Caribbean Organization of Indigenous Peoples. "Buffeted by the forces of de-ingeniza-
tion and yet having to contribute with renewed vigour to the development of 'their'
country", the region's indigenous peoples must grapple with the dilemma of difference
and master the dialectical demands of Caribbean life and living.
Such is the reality of the African diaspora in the Americas of which the Caribbean is
an integral part, as Rupert Lewis clearly shows in his contribution to this issue. The
slave trade, slavery, the accommodation made by the enslaver and the enslaved one to
another, now in surrender now in resistance, and the struggle for self-determination by
the enslaved African population all add up to the "contradictory omens" which Edward
Kamau Brathwaite correctly sees as the true character of Caribbean existence. The very
process of "creolisation" has been/remains a highly complex affair that needs to take
into account the myriad problems that challenge the capacity for endurance. Not least
among these writes Rupert Lewis, is "[t]he problem of resolving race/class analysis and
dispensing with both race and class red uctionism".
Nothing short of psychosocial emancipation is necessary for a final solution if ever
there can be such. John Sauve, S.J. "takes his text" virtually (and understandably) from
the lyrics of "Redemption Song" written by the region's best known popular musician,
Robert Nesta (Bob) Marley. His "suggestion for a Jamaican theology" of such eman-
cipation contributes to the on-going discourse about liberation identity and redemption
which the history of the past half a millennium has placed on the Caribbean's agenda of
These concerns naturally take priority over the current debate about the role of
Columbus in carrying out the "civilising mission" of Europe among the world's "lesser
races". The final essay "Surviving Columbus..." seeks to position the Caribbean in the
raging controversy now apace as to whether the Explorer was Deliverer or the har-
binger of death and disintegration to humankind. The meeting of different peoples
over time constituted both the worst of times and potentially the best of times. It is that
potential which has found ideal, form and purpose in Caribbean's discovery about
"human possibilities.., the diversity of human endeavours and the unity that can under-
pin such diversity, the discovery about the "inevitability of change and the regulative
principles that underlie all change", and the discovery of what the Martiniquan writer,
Edouard Glissant once referred to as the myth of relations replacing the myth of
It is this myth of relations that may well take the region beyond survival; and the
fullest understanding of this challenges all "arrivants" to the region as well as the Native
Americans to sanity and tolerance. The East Indian's willing involvement in the process
is critical to the future development of parts of the region, notably Trinidad and
Guyana, as is that of all other post-Emancipation immigrants who may wish to take a
cue from the transformations that overtook an earlier Africa and Europe on American
soil. The review of Anthony de Verteuil's "Eight East Indian Immigrants" takes on a
particular significance in this issue of Caribbean Quarterly therefore, for the Quincen-
tennial, whatever else it does, summons the peoples of the Caribbean (and indeed of the
wider Americas) to some serious stock-taking before the Third millennium.
DRAKE'S STRAIT (from Virgin Island's Suite)*
or half-risen plains
you choose the metaphor
this humbling moment
while the boat
slices the blue
pellets (the king of Danes and named them)
in this Virgin sea
But what of Drake?
Why is this passage his?
except to note his passing pirateing
from Tap Hus
to that sleeping Turtle
where his spirit still
in British English
over US coins
four centuries later
Lord Nelson to come tumble up...
How like a toothless lion here
this Drake who with his
now mere names
put on our best designs
grand ancestor of terrorists everywhere
their job description
naming hotels and beaches
teeming with those
who this time come
for other conquest
sun and sea and brown
shrouding their need
and to own (?)
And I see bellying sails
at the helm
naming these islands Virgenes
sure in imperial faith
that he and not the Taino
names the scape
This journey surely
was the fairest of them all
The Danish king
who called these islands pellets
did he sail this sea?
he didn't even send
down this way
why would he sail?
KALINAGO (CARIB) RESISTANCE TO EUROPEAN
COLONISATION OF THE CARIBBEAN
HILARY McD. BECKLES
The resistance of native Caribbean people to the colonial dispensation estab-
lished by Europeans following the Columbus landfall of 1492 has received insufficient
attention from scholars. Unlike the case with the experience of enslaved African people
few studies have presented systematic accounts of their anti-colonial and anti-slavery
struggle. The reasons for his historiographic imbalance are not altogether clear. No one
has suggested, for example, that their fight for liberty, life and land was any less endemic
or virulent than that of Africans. On the contrary, most accounts of European settle-
ment have indicated in a general sort of way their determination and tenacity in
confronting the new order in spite of their relative technological limitations with respect
This study seeks to specify some of the political and military responses of the
Kalinago people (known in the colonial documentation as Caribs) to the European
invasion as they sought to maintain control over lands and lives in the islands of the
Lesser Antilles. The examination makes reference to the immediate post-Columbian
decades, and touches briefly upon the early eighteenth century to the Treaty of Utrecht
in 1713, but is concerned principally with the period 1624 to 1700 when Kalinagos were
confronted by considerable military pressures from English and French colonising
agents. During this period Kalinagos in the Windward and Leeward Islands launched a
protracted war of resistance to colonisation and slavery. They held out against the
English and French until the mid-1790's, protecting some territory, maintaining their
social freedom, and determining the economic and political history of the region in very
According to recent archaeological evidence, the Kalinago were the last migrant
group to settle in the Caribbean prior to the arrival of the Europeans in 1492. The
Columbus mission found three native groups, of different derivation and cultural attain-
ments, but all of whom entered the Caribbean from the region of South America known
as the Guianas. These were the Ciboney, the Taino (Arawaks) and the Kalinago. The
Ciboney had arrived about 300 B.C., followed by the Taino, their ethnic relatives, about
500 years later and who by 650 A.D. had migrated northwards through the islands
establishing large communities in the Greater Antilles. Starting their migration into the
islands from about 1000 A.D., Kalinagos were still arriving at the time of the Columbus
landfall. They were also in the process of establishing control over territory and com-
munities occupied by Tainos in the Lesser Antilles, and parts of the Greater Antilles.
When the Spanish arrived in the northern Caribbean, therefore, they found the Tainos
to some extent already on the defensive, but later encountered Kalinagos who they
described as more prepared for aggression.3
Kalinagos, like their Taino cousins and predecessors, had been inhabiting the is-
lands long enough to perceive them as part of their natural, ancestral, survival environ-
ment. As a result, noted G.K. Lewis, they prepared themselves to defend their
homeland in a spirit of defiant "patriotism," having wished that the "Europeans had
never set foot in their country."4 From the outset, however, European colonial forces
were technologically more prepared for a violent struggle for space since in real terms,
the Columbus mission represented in addition to the maritime courage and determina-
tion of Europe, the mobilisation of large-scale finance capital, and science and technol-
ogy for imperialist military ends. This process was also buttressed by the frenzied search
for identity and global ranking by Europeans through the conquest and cultural nega-
tion of other races.
In the Greater Antilles, Tainos offered a spirited but largely ineffective military
resistance to the Spanish even though on occasions they were supported by the
Kalinago. This was particularly clear in the early sixteenth century in the case of the
struggle for Puerto Rico in which Kalinagos from neighboring St Croix came to Taino
assistance. In 1494, Columbus led an armed party of 400 men into the interior of
Hispaniola in search of food, gold, and slaves to which Taino Caciques mobilised their
armies for resistance. Guacanagari, a leading Cacique, who had tried previously to
negotiate an accommodating settlement with military commander Alonso de Ojeba,
marched unsuccessfully in 1494 with a few thousand men upon the Spanish. In 1503,
another forty Caciques were captured at Hispaniola and burnt alive by Governor
Ovando's troops; Anacaona, the principal Cacique was hung publicly in Santo Domin-
go. In Puerto Rico, the Spanish settlement party, led by Ponce de Leon, was attacked
frequently by Taino warriors; many Spanish settlers were killed but Tainos and
Kalinagos were defeated and crushed in the counter assault. In 1511, resistance in
Cuba, led by Cacique Hatuey, was put down; he was captured and burnt alive; another
rising in 1529 was also crushed. In these struggles, Taino fatalities were high. Thousands
were killed in battle and publicly executed for the purpose of breaking the spirit of
collective resistance; some rebels fled to the mountains and forests where they estab-
lished maroon settlements that continued intermittently the war against the Spanish.5
By the middle of the sixteenth century, however, Taino and Kalinago resistance had
been effectively crushed in the Greater Antilles; their community structures smashed,
and members reduced to various forms of enslavement in Spanish agricultural and
In the Lesser Antilles, however, the Kalinago were more successful in defying first
the Spanish, and then later the English and French, thereby preserving their political
freedom and maintaining control of their territory. According to Carl Sauer, "As the
labor supply on Espanola declined, attention turned to the southern islands" which
from St. Croix, neighboring Puerto Rico, to the Guianas were inhabited by the
Kalinagos. Spanish royal edicts dated November 7, 1508 and July 3, 1512, authorised
settlers to capture and enslave Kalinagos on "the island of Los Barbados [Barbados],
Dominica, Malinino [Martinique], Santa Lucia, San Vincente, la Asuncion [Grenada],
and Tavaco [Tobago]," because of their "resistance to Christians."6 By the end of the
sixteenth century, however, the Spanish had decided, having accepted as fact the
absence of gold in the Lesser Antilles, and the inevitability of considerable fatalities at
the hands of Kalinago warriors, that it was wiser to adopt a "hands off policy" while
concentrating their efforts in the Greater Antilles. As a result, the Greater and Lesser
Antilles became politically separated at this time by what Troy Floyd described as a
"poison arrow curtain."7 The English and French initiating their colonizing missions
during the early seventeenth century, therefore, had a clear choice. They could either
confront the Spanish north of the "poison arrow curtain" or Kalinago forces south of it.
Either way, they expected to encounter considerable organised armed resistance. They
chose the latter, partly because of the perception that Kalinagos were the weaker, but
also because of the belief that Kalinagos were the 'common enemy' of all Europeans
and that solidarity could be achieved for collective military operations against them.
Having secured some respite from the pressures of Spanish colonisation by the end
of the sixteenth century, then, La Kalinagos were immediately confronted by the more
economically aggressive and militarily determined English and French colonists. Once
again, they began to reorganise their communities in preparation for counter strategies.
This time, it would be a clear case of resistance on the retreat. By the 1630s, their rapidly
diminishing numbers were being consolidated around a smaller group of specially
chosen islands mostly in the Windwards but also in the Leewards. By this time, for
instance, Barbados, identified in a Spanish document of 1511 as an island densely
populated with Kalinagos, no longer had a native presence. Europeans understood the
significance of this reorganisation and resettlement of Kalinago communities, and
established their infant colonies in peripheral parts of the Leeward Islands where their
presence was less formidable, and in Barbados where it was now absent. The English
and French, then, were aware that most of their settlements would have to come to
terms with Kalinago resistance. This expectation, however, did not deter them, and they
continued to seek out island niches where an effective foothold could be gained until
such time as Kalinago forces could be subdued and destroyed by their respective
The English and French sought the pascification of the Kalinago for two distinct, but
related reasons, and overtime adopted different strategies and methods but maintained
the ideological position that they should be enslaved, driven out, or exterminated. First,
lands occupied by the Kalinago were required for large scale commodity production
within the expansive, capitalist, North Atlantic agrarian complex. The effective integra-
tion of the Caribbean into this mercantile and productive system required the ap-
propriation of land through the agency of the plantation enterprise, finance capital,
then, sought to revolutionize the market value of Kalinago lands by making them
available to European commercial interests. By resisting land confiscation Kalinagos
were therefore confronting the full ideological and economic force of Atlantic
capitalism. Second, European economic activities in the Caribbean were based upon
the enslavement of Indigenes and imported Africans. The principal role and relation
assigned to these and other non-Europeans within the colonial formation was that of
servitude. Europeans in the Lesser Antilles, however, were not successful in reducing
an economic number of Kalinago to chattel slavery, or other forms of servitude. Unlike
the Taino, their labour could not be effectively commodified, simply because their
communities proved impossible to subdue. It was not that the Kalinago were more
militant than the Taino. Rather, it was because the nomadic nature of their small
communities, and their emphasis upon territorial acquisition, in part a response to the
geographical features of the Lesser Antilles, enabled them to make more effective use
of the environment in a "strike and sail" resistance strategy. Kalinago, then, while not
prepared to suffer either land or labour to Europeans, were better placed to implement
Primarily because of their irrepressible war of resistance, which intimidated all
Europeans in the region, Kalinago were targeted first for an ideological campaign in
which they were established within the European mind, not as 'noble savages,' as was
the case with the less effective Tainos, but as'vicious cannibals' worthy of extermination
within the context of genocidal military expeditions.8 Voluminous details were
prepared by Spanish and later English and French colonial chroniclers on the political
and ideological mentality of the Kalinago, most of whom called for "holy wars" against
"les savages" as a principal way to achieve their subjugation.Literature, dating back to
Columbus in 1494, in a contradictory fashion, denied Kalinago humanity while at the
same time outlined their general anti-colonial and anti-slavery consciousness and at-
titudes. In the writings of Jean-Baptiste de Tertre, Sieur de la Borde, and Pere Labat,
for example, all late seventeenth century French reporters of Kalinago ontology, they
are presented as a people who would "prefer to die of hunger than live as a slave."9
Labat, who commented most of their psychological profile, found them to be "careless
and lazy creatures," not at all suited mentally to arduous, sustained labour. In addition,
he considered then a "proud and indomitable" and "exceedingly vindictive" people who
"one has to be very careful not to offend," hence the popular French Caribbean
proverb, "fight a Caribe and you must kill him or be killed."10
The French discovered, like the Spanish before them, noted Labat, that it was
always best, if possible, "to have nothing to do with the Kalinago.""11 But this was not
possible. Relations had to be established, and here Europeans discovered, Labat noted,
that the Kalinago knew "how to look after their own interests very well."12 "There are
no people in the world," he stated, "so jealous of their liberty, or who resent more the
smallest check to their freedom."13 Altogether, Kalinago world view was anathema to
Europeans, thus the general view, echoed by Labat, that "no European nation has been
able to live in the same island with them without being compelled to destroy them, and
drive them out."14
The English and French started out simultaneously in 1624 with the estab-
lishment of agricultural settlements in St. Kitts. From there, the English moved on to
Barbados in 1627, and between 1632 and 1635 to Antigua, Montserrat and Nevis, while
the French concentrated their efforts during the 1630s at Martinique and Guadeloupe.
the first three years at St. Kitts were difficult for both English and French settlers. They
were harassed and attacked by Kalinago soldiers, and in 1635 the French at
Guadeloupe were engulfed in a protracted battle. French success in their war with
Kalinago at Guadeloupe encouraged them during the remainder of the decade to
expand their colonial missions, but failed to gain effective control of the Kalinago
inhabited islands of Grenada, Marie Galante, and La Desirada. Meanwhile, a small
English expedition from St. Kitts to St. Lucia in the Windwards, the heart of Kalinago
territory, was easily repelled in 1639. the following year Kalinagos launched a full-scale
attack upon English settlements at Antigua, killing fifty settlers, capturing the
Governor's wife and children, and destroying crops and houses.15
While English settlements in the Leewards struggled to make progress against-
Kalinago resistance, Barbados alone of the Windwards, forged ahead uninterrupted.
Unlike their Leewards counterparts, early Barbadian planters rapidly expanded their
production base, made a living from the exports of tobacco, indigo and cotton, and
feared only their indentured servants and few African slaves. By 1650, following the
successful cultivation of sugar cane with African slaves, the island was considered by
mercantile economic theorists as the richest agricultural colony in the hemisphere. St.
Kitts colonists, both English and French, determined to keep up with their Barbadian
competitors, were first to adopt a common military front with respect to Kalinago
resistance. During the 1630s they entered into agreements, in spite of their rival claims
to exclusive ownership of the island, to combine forces against Kalinago communities.
On the first occasion, they "pooled their talents," and in a "sneak night attack" killed
over eighty Kalinagos and drove many off the island. After celebrating the success of
their military alliance, the French and English continued their rivalry over the island
until 1713 when the matter was settled in favour of the English by the Treaty of
The success of Kalinagos in holding on to a significant portion of the Windwards,
and their weakening of planting settlements in the Leewards, fueled the determination
of the English and French to destroy them. By the mid-seventeenth century, European
merchants, planters and colonial officials, were in agreement that Kalinagos "were
barbarous and cruel set of savages beyond reason or persuasion and must therefore be
eliminated."17 By this time it was also clear that the slave-based plantation system,
demanded an "absolute monopoly" of the Caribbean, and tolerated no "alternative
system."18 What Richard Dunn referred to as "Carib independence and self-reliance"
constituted a major contradiction to the internal logic of capitalist accumulation within
the plantation economy.19 As a result, therefore, the economic leaders and political
representatives of this increasingly powerful production and trade complex were deter-
mined to bring the contradiction to a speedy resolution by any means necessary or
By the mid-seventeenth century, the need for a full scale war against the
Kalinagos, though clearly established and articulated in Spanish colonial thinking
during the sixteenth century, now assumed greater urgency with the English and
French. By this time the English were first to successfully establish productive struc-
tures based on sugar cultivation and black slavery, and not surprisingly took the lead in
attempting the removal of principal obstacles to the smooth and profitable expansion of
the system. Also, the English with the largest number of enslaved Africans in the region,
were concerned that efficient control on their plantations would be adversely affected
by the persistence of Kalinago resistance It did not take long for the Africans to
become aware of Kalinago struggle against Europeans, and to realise that they could
possibly secure their freedom by fleeing to their territory. Labat, who studied inter-is-
land slave marronage in the Lesser Antilles, during this period, stated that slaves knew
that St. Vincent was easily reached from Barbados, and many escaped there "from their
masters in canoes and rafts." During the formative stage of this development, between
1645 and 1660, the Kalinago generally took "the runaway slaves back to their masters, or
sold them to the French and Spanish," but as the Kalinago came under more intensive
attack during the mid-century, Labat noted, their policy towards African maroons
changed. They refused to return the Africans, he stated, and began regarding them "as
an addition to their nation." By 1670, Labat estimated that over 500 Barbadian
runaways were living in St. Vincent. This community was reinforced in 1675 when a
slave ship carrying hundreds of Africans to Jainaica via Barbados ran aground off the
coast of Bequia. Survivors came ashore at St. Vincent and were integrated in the
maroon communities. By 1700, Labat stated, Africans outnumbered Kalinagos at St.
Vincent.20 In 1675, William Stapleton, governor of the Leewards, noting the significant
presence of Africans among the Kalinagos suggested that of the 1,500 native "bowmen"
in the Leewards six hundred of them "are negroes, some runaway from Barbados
Throughout the second half of the seventeenth century Europeans tried unsuccess-
fully to exploit the sometimes strained relations between Kalinagos and Africans by
encouraging the former to return runaways to their owners. Miscegenation between the
predominantly male African maroon community and Kalinago females was a principal
cause of social tension between the two ethnic groups.22 Both the French and English
alleged that Kalinago leaders occasionally sought their assistance in ridding their com-
munities of Africans. The significance of such allegations, however, should be assessed
against the background of two important developments in African-Kalinago relations.
First, by the mid-seventeenth century, the group mixed bloods, now known as the
Garifuna, was increasing rapidly in numbers, and by 1700 had outnumbered both parent
groups in St. Vincent.23 Second, joint African-Kalinago military expeditions against the
French and English were common, and represented a principal characteristic feature of
anti-European activity on both land and sea.24 The full scale attack on the French at
Martinique during the mid-1650s, for example, involved both African and Kalinago
forces.25 The warriors who attacked French settlements at Grenada during the same
period and kept them in a weak and defensive condition were also described as having
an African component. similarly, noted Labat, the English expeditions from Barbados
sent to capture St. Vincent during the 1670s were repelled by both Africans and
The presence of effective anti-colonial Kalinago communities on the outskirts of
the slave plantations, therefore, constituted a major problem for slave owners in so far
as they fostered and encouraged African anti-slavery. The merging of Kalinago anti-
colonial and African anti-slavery struggles, therefore, represented the twin forces that
threatened the very survival of the colonising mission in the Windwards. As such,
Europeans with the greatest economic stake in the enterprise of the Indies wasted no
time in adopting a range of measures to suppress the Kalinago. Both the English and
French pursued an initial policy characterized by the projection of anti-Kalinago social
images in Europe, while seeking at the same time to promote diplomatic efforts to settle
In 1664 a Barbados document entitled "The State of the Case concerning our
Title to St. Lucia, "described the island as being "infected" with Kalinagos who were
"abetted by the French" in their war against English settlers. In this document, Bar-
badians sought to reject French claims to the islands by stating that they had purchased
it from du Parquet, the Governor of Martinique, who had bought it from the Kalinagos
in 1650 for 41,500 livres.27 Likewise, in 1668, Thomas Modyford, Governor of Jamaica,
former Barbados Governor and sugar magnate, described St. Vincent, another
Kalinago stronghold in the Windwards, as a place which "the Indians much infect."28
These statements represent part of the ideological preparation of the English mind for
what would be a genocidal offensive against the Kalinago that London merchant houses
were eager to finance.
But a full-scale war, the English and French knew, would be costly, both in terms of
human life and capital, and hoped it could be averted. The significance of an ultimate
military solution was clearly perceived by Kalinago leaders and colonial officials alike.
The Kalinago, by participating in tactful diplomatic intrigue designed to exploit dif-
ferences and conflicts between Europeans, the Kalinago sought to advance their own
interests. In 1655, for example, Captain Gregory Butler informed Oliver Cromwell, the
Protector, that the settlement at Antigua was unable to get off to a good start on account
of frequent molestation by the Kalinagos, who at that time seemed to be in league with
the French.29 Again, in 1667, Major John Scott, an imperial Commander-in-Chief,
reported that he led an expedition against Dutch settlements in Tobago with the
"assistance of a party of Caribs."30 During the second Dutch War, 1665-1667, in which
France and Holland allied against the English in the Caribbean, the Kalinago played an
important role in shifting the balance of power between Europeans while at the same
time seeking to expand the scope and effectiveness of their own war of resistance.31 In
June 1667, Henry Willoughby stationed in the Leewards informed his father William
Lord Willoughby, Governor of Barbados, that when he arrived at St. Kitts he received
"intelligence" of further atrocities committed by the Kalinagos against the English
which were "instigated" by the French. European rivalry, Michael Craton concluded,
was effectively used by the Kalinago nation as evident in the delayed loss of St. Lucia
and Grenada, and in the longer retention of full control over St. Vincent and
The English and French also targeted the Kalinago for diplomatic offensives.
The first systematically pursued diplomatic effort by the English to establish a footing
within Kalinago territory in the Windwards was the Willoughby initiative of 1667.
William Lord Willoughby, Governor of Barbados, had long recognized the great finan-
cial gain that would accrue to himself, Barbados, and England, if the Windwards, the
last island frontier, could be converted into slave-based sugar plantations. For over a
decade, the sugar kings of Barbados had been signalling their demand for lands on
which to expand their operations, and the Windwards were the perfect place given
prevailing economic concepts about the conditionalities of slaved-based sugar cultiva-
tion. Small scale military expeditions had been repelled by the Kalinago since the 1630s,
and so Willoughby, not yet organised for a large scale military assault, opted to send
emissaires to open negotiations with Kalinago leaders.
The Kalinagos, in response, showed some degree of flexibility, as is often the case
with peoples involved in protracted struggles. Willoughby wanted a peace treaty that
would promote English interests by removing obstacles to slave plantation expan-
sionism, but the Kalinago were suspicious and vigilant. In 1666, they were tricked by the
English to sign away by treaty their "rights" to inhabit Tortola, and were driven off the
island.33 The Windward Islands were their last refuge, and their seige mentality was
now more developed than ever.
On March 23, 1667, Kalinago leaders of St. Vincent, Dominica and St. Lucia met
with Willoughby's delegation in order to negotiate the peace.34 At the signing of the
Treaty were Anniwatta, the Grand Babba, (or chief of all Kalinagos), Chiefs Wappya,
Nay, Le Suroe, Rebura and Aloons. The conditions of the treaty were everything the
Barbadian slavers wanted at that particular stage of development:
1. The Caribs of St. Vincent shall ever acknowledge
themselves subjects of the King of England, and be
friends to all in amity with the English, and enemies
to their enemies.
2 The Caribs shall have liberty to come to and depart
from, at pleasure, any English islands and receive
their protection therein, and the English shall enjoy
the same in St. Vincent and St. Lucia.
3.His Majesty's subjects taken by the French and
Indians and remaining among the Indians, shall be
immediately delivered up, as also any Indian cap-
tives among the English when demanded.
4.Negroes formerly run away from Barbados shall be
delivered to His Excellency; and such as shall
hereafter be fugitives from any English island shall
be secured and delivered by as soon as required.35
The Willoughby initiative was designed to pave the way for English colonisation
of the Windwards, using Barbados as the springboard for settlement. In essence, it was
an elaboration of a similar agreement that was made between the defeated Kalinago
and victorious French forces at Martinique after the war of 1654-1656. On that oc-
casion, noted Jean-Baptiste du Tertre, who described in detail the nature of the conflict
and its resolution, the French were able to obtain settlement rights from the Kalinago,
as well as guarantees that they would assist in the control of rebel slaves by not
encouraging, and more importantly, returning all runaways.36 Within two months of the
Kalinago-Willoughby Treaty, a party of fifty-four English colonists from Barbados
arrived at St. Vincent in order to pioneer a settlement. The Kalinago, Garifuna, and
Africans objected to their presence, drove them off the island, and broke the Treaty
The collapse of the Barbados diplomatic mission angered Governor Willoughby
who swiftly moved to the next stage of his plan full military offensive. His opportunity
came in March the following year when English military commander, Sir John Harman,
left behind in Barbados a regiment of foot soldiers and five frigates. Willoughby in-
formed the Colonial Office that since he knew not how to "keep the soldiers quiet and
without pay" the only course open to him was to "try his fortune among the Caribs at St.
Vincent."37 Once again, the Kalinago proved too much for Willoughby, and the expedi-
tion returned to Barbados having suffered heavy losses.
English awareness of Kalinago solidarity and efficient communications throughout
the islands of the Lesser Antilles meant that they had reasons to expect reprisals for the
Willoughby offensive anywhere and at anytime. Governor Modyford of Jamaica, a most
knowledgeable man about Eastern Caribbean affairs, has opposed Willoughby's war
plan. He told the Duke of Albermarle that while Willoughby was "making war with the
Caribs of St. Vincent" he feared the consequences for settlers at Antigua, and other
places. Such an intimely war, he said, "may again put those plantations in hazard, or at
best into near broils." "It had been far better," he continued, "to have made peace with
them," for if they assist the French against us the result would be "the total ruin of all
the English Islanders" and a "waste of the revenue of Barbados."38
Modyford was perceptive in his assessment of Kalinago responses. A report sent
to the Colonial Office in London from officials in Nevis dated April 1669, entitled "An
Intelligence of an Indian Design upon the People of Antigua," stated that "The Carib-
bee Indians have lately broken the peace made with Lord Willoughby, and have killed
two and left dead two more of His Majesty's subjects in Antigua." Reference was made
to twenty-eight Kalinago warriors who arrived from Montserrat in two canoes and who
participated in the raid upon Antigua in response to Willoughby's war in St. Vincent.39
In addition, Governor Stapleton of the Leewards, in a separate document, outlined his
fear for the lives of Leeward Islanders, including those who had gone to work in a silver
mine in Dominica under an agreement with the Kalinago.40 The Barbadians also
offered their criticisms of Willoughby's war effort. In 1676, Governor Atkins described
it as a "fruitless design," whose overall result was that there remain "no likelihood of any
plantations upon Dominica, St. Vincent, St. Lucia and Tobago."41 Meanwhile, the
Antiguans were forced to keep "fourteen files of men," doubled three days before and
after a full moon" as a protective measure against Kalinago warriors.
Governor Stapleton, reflecting on the collapse of the Willoughby initiative, and
considering the prospects for English settlements in the Leewards and Windwards,
quickly moved to the frontstage what had been Willoughby's hidden agenda. Only the
destruction of "all the Caribbee Indians" he concluded, could be the "best piece of
service for the settlement of these parts."42 In December, 1675, a petition of "Several
Merchants of London" addressed to the Lords of Trade and Plantations in support of
governor Stapleton's extermination thesis, called for the granting of a commission to
Philip Warner, Stapleton's deputy, to raise soldiers to go into Dominica to "destroy the
Stapleton, however, had pre-empted the Colonial Office in their response to the
London merchants and had already sent Warner "with six small companies of foot,"
totalling 300 men, into Dominica to "revenge" on the "heathens for their bloody
perfidious villanies."44 One William Hamlyn who participated in the Warner expedi-
tion, described the assault upon the Kalinago as a massacre. At least thirty Kalinago, he
said, were taken and killed on the first round, not including "three that were drawn by a
flag of truce" and shot. After these executions, Hamlyn reported, another "sixty or
seventy men, women and children" were invited to Warner's camp to settle matters over
entertainment. These were given rum to drink, and when Warner "gave the signal," the
English "fell upon them and destroyed them."46 Included in those killed by the English
was Indian Warner, Phillip Warner's own half-brother, whose mother was a Kalinago,
and who had risen to become a powerful Kalinago leader. Warner was imprisoned in
the Tower, tried for the murder of his brother, but was found not guilty. The decision
pleased the London merchants who described him as "a man of great loyalty" whose
service to the Crown in the destruction of the Kalinagos "who have often attempted to
ruin the plantations" should be commended.47
In spite of losses sustained in Dominica, Kalinagos there continued to use the
island as a military base for expeditions against the English. In July 1681, 300 Kalinagos
from St. Vincent and Dominica in six periagos, led by one who named himself Captain
Peter, and who was described as a "good speaker of English having lived for some time
in Barbados," attacked the unguarded English settlements in Barbuda.48 The English
were caught by surprise. Eight of them were killed, and their houses destroyed. The
action was described as swift and without warning.
Frustrated again by his inability to protect the lives and property of Leeward
Islanders, Stapleton reiterated his call for a war of extermination against the Kalinagos.
He wrote to the Colonial Office: "I beg your pardon if I am tedious, but I beg you to
represent the King the necessity for destroying these Carib Indians." "We are now as
much on our guard as if we had a christian enemy, neither can any such surprise us but
these cannibals who never come 'marte aperto'... If their destruction cannot be "total,"
insisted Stapleton, at least we must "drive them to the main."49 He was aware, however,
of the inability of Leeward Islanders to finance a major war effort, and had also become
respectful for Kalinagos' ability to obtain "intelligence" with respect to their plans.
given these two circumstances, Stapleton instructed London to order the Barbados
government to prepare the grand design against the Kalinagos. Barbados, he added,
was closer to the Kalinago 'infested' islands of St. Vincent and Dominica; also, on
account of the colony's wealth, it would be the "best piece of service" they could offer
England whilst there was "amity with the French."50
Colonial officials in London accepted Stapleton;s plan in its entirety. They
instructed him to make plans to "utterly suppress" the Kalinagos or "drive them to the
main"51 They also directed Governor Dutton of Barbados to make all possible con-
tributions to the war effort. Dutton, however,would have no part of it, but not wishing to
contradict the King's orders, he informed the Colonial Office that though he was in
agreement, Barbadians would support no such design against the Kalinagos for three
reasons. First, they consider the affairs of the Leeward Islands none of their business.
Second, they do not consider the advancement of the Leewards as good thing, indeed
they consider it in their interest if the Leewards would decline rather than progress.
Third, planters considered peace with the Kalinagos in the Windwards a better objec-
tive as this would assist them in securing cutwood and other building materials from
The Leeward Islanders, therefore, had to look to their own resources to finance
their military operations. In June 1682, a bill was proposed to the Leewards Assembly
requesting funds to outfit an expedition against the Kalinagos in Dominica. The council
agreed, but the Assembly of Nevis dissented on the grounds that since they had not been
attacked by the Kalinagos in over "twenty years: they did not intend to endanger their
peace.53 Months went by and Stapleton failed to get his planters to agree on a financial
plan for the expedition. By 1700, the grand design had not yet materialised.
When on the 11th April, 1713, England and France settled their 'American' dif-
ference with the Treaty of Utrecht, Kalinagos were still holding on tenaciously to
considerable territory. St. Vincent and Dominica, though inhabited by some
Europeans, were still under their control, and they were fighting a rear guard war to
retain some space at St. Lucia, Tobago and Grenada. Since the French feared that
successful English settlement of Dominica would lead to the cutting of communications
between Martinique and Guadeloupe in times of war, they continued to assist the
Kalinagos with information and occasionally with weapons in their anti-English resis-
tance. The best the English could do was to continue the attempt to settle private
treaties with the French, as they had done during the peace of Ryswick in 1697, which
enabled them to go unmolested to Dominica for the sole purpose of purchasing lumber
from the Kalinago.
Kalinagos, then, succeeded in preserving some of their territorial sovereignty and by
so doing were able to maintain their freedom from European enslavement. While other
native Caribbean peoples suffered large scale slavery at the hands of Europeans, the
Kalinagos were never found in large numbers working the mines, latifimndia, or planta-
tions in the Lesser Antilles. Though Spanish slave raids during the sixteenth century did
take many into the Greater Antilles to supplement Taino labour gangs, European
controlled productive structures in the Lesser Antilles were not built and maintained on
the basis of a Kalinago labour supply.
The involvement of Kalinagos into the colonial economy, then, tended to be small
scale, and confined to areas such as fishing, tracking and hunting, agricultural consult-
ing and a range of petty domestic services. When, for example, a group of Barbadian
sugar planters, concerned about the shortage of white indentured servants, and the
rising cost of African slaves, encouraged Captain Peter Wroth in 1673 to establish a
slave trade in Kalinagos from the Guianas, colonial officials instructed Governor Atkins
to make arrangements for the return of all those "captured and enslaved." The reason
being, they stated, was that "considering the greater importance of a fair correspon-
dence between the Carib Indians and the English" in establishing settlements on the
Amazon coast, it was necessary that "provocation be avoided" and all proper measures
be taken to gain their "goodwill and affection."54 Governor Atkins, in informing his
superiors of this compliance indicated his agreement that it was necessary to "keep
amity" with Kalinagos, since they have "always been very pernicious, especially to the
smaller Leeward Islands."55
Between 1492 and 1700 the Kalinago population in the Lesser Antilles may have
fallen by as much as 90 percent, noted Michael Craton, but they had done much to
"preserve and extend their independence."56 By this time the Dominica population,
according toLabat, "did not exceed 2000" and warriors were too weak in numbers to do
any serious harm" to European colonies.57 Nonetheless, colonists in the "outlying
districts" still had reasons to believe that any night Kalinago warriors could take them
by surprise and "cut their throats and burn their houses."58 By refusing to capitulate
under the collective military might of the Europeans, Kalinagos certainly kept the
Windwards Islands in a marginal relation to the slave plantation complex of the North
Atlantic system for two hundred years, and in so doing, made a principal contribution
to the Caribbean's anti-colonial and anti-slavery tradition.
1. See Michael Craton, Testing the chains: Resistance to Slavery In the British West Indies (Ithaca,
1982) pp. 21-23; Hilary Beckles, "The 200 Years War: Slave Resistance in the British West Indies: An
Overview of the Historiography," Jamaica Historical Review, Vol. 13, 1982. 1-10.
2. See J.Paul Thomas, "The Caribs of St. Vincent: A Study in Imperial Maladministration, 1763-73,"
Journal of Caribbean History, Vol. 18, No. 2, 1984, pp. 60-74; Craton Testing the Chains, pp. 141-
153, 183-194; Richard B. Sheridan, "The Condition of slaves in the Settlement and Economic
Development of the British Windward Islands, 1763-1775," Journal of Caribbean History, Vol. 24,
No. 2, 1991, pp. 128-129; Bernard Marshall, "Slave Resistance and White Reaction in the British
Windward Islands, 1763-1833," Caribbean Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 3, 1982, pp. 39-40.
3. David Watts, The West Indies: Patterns of Development, Culture and Environmental Change since
1492 (Cambridge, 1987) pp. 41, 51-52. W. Borah, "The Historical Demography of Aboriginal and
Colonial America: An Attempt at perspective," in W. Denevan, The Native Population of the
Americas In 1492 (Madison, Wisconsin Univ. Press, 1976) pp. 13-34. J.M. Cruxent and I. Rouse,
"Early man in the West Indies" Scientific American, No. 221, 1969, pp. 42-52. B. Meggers and C.
Evans, "Lowland South America and the Antilles," in J.D. Jennings, Ancient Native Americans (San
Francisco, W.H. Freeman, 1978) pp. 543-92.
4. Gordon Lewis, Main Currents in Caribbean Thought: The Historical Evolution of Caribbean Society
in its Ideological Aspects, 1492-1900 (Heinemann, Kingston, 1983) p. 41.
5. On Kalinago assistance to Tainos in Puerto Rico, see Carl Sauer, The Early Spanish Main
(Berkeley, Univ. of California Press, LA, 1966) pp. 58, 192.
See Eric Williams, documents of West Indian History, 1492-1655 (Port-of Spain, PNM Publishing
Co., 1963) pp. 62-70, 89-94.
Robert Greenwood, A Spetchmap History of the Caribbean (MacMillan, 1991) pp. 18, 23. See also
Carl Sauer, the Early Spanish Main, p. 32.
6. Sauer, The Early Spanish Main, pp. 35, 180, 193; see also Lewis, Main Currents, p. 64.
7. Troy S. Floyd, The Columbian Dynasty In the Caribbean, 1492-1526 (Albuquerque, Univ. of New
Mexico Press, 1973) p. 97.
For an account of the Spanish 'hands off policy with respect to the Lesser Antilles, see K.R. Andrews,
Trade, Plunder and Settlement: Maritime Enterprises and the Genesis of the British Empire,
1480-1630 (Cambridge, 1986) p. 282.Craton, Testing the Chains, p. 22. See also, Nellis M. Crouse,
The French Struggle for the West Indies 1665-1713 (N.Y. Columbia University Press, 1943) p. 8-10.
8. See Sauer, p. 35; Lewis, p. 64.
9. See Lewis, p. 64; Richard Dunn, Sugar and Slaves: the rise of the Planter Class in the English
West Indies, 1624-1713 (N.Y., 1973) p. 24; Sieur de la Borde, Relacion des Caralbes (Paris, Colec-
cion Billaine, (1694); Jean Baptiste De Uertre, Histoire Generale des Antilles Habitees par les Fran-
cals (Paris, 1667-71); John Eaden, ed., The Memoirs of Pere Labat, 1693-1705 (1970 edition, Frank
10. Memoirs of Pere Labat, p. 75.
11. Ibid, p. 83.
12. Ibid, p. 98.
13. Ibid, p. 104.
14. Ibid, p. 109.
15. Watts, pp. 171-172. Richard Sheridan, Sugar and slavery: An Economic History of the British West
Indies (Caribbean Universities Press, Bridgetown, 1974) pp. 80, 85, 87, 456.
16. See Dunn, p. 8.
17. Lewis, p. 104.
18. Ibid, p. 105.
See Appendix 1, page 123, for the adritiional nations.
ARAWAK ARCHAEOLOGY IN JAMAICA: NEW APPROACHES,
The Arawaks of Jamaica, have imprinted an indelible mark on the nation's heritage,
food such as maize and cassava, enjoyed by contemporary Jamaicans, were eaten by the
Arawaks, emblazoned on our national coat of arms are an Arawak male and female
and of of our present day English vernacular, a few words such as hammock, tobacco,
cassava and liguanea re Arawakan in origin. In addition, the average student at the
Secondary School level can relate some details of the Arawak's physical attributes,
cultural practices as well as their brief relationship with the Spanish conquerors who
first came to Jamaica in 1494.
In sum, it is clear that the Arawaks have been unequivocally stamped on the national
culture and for us not to undertake serious archaeological and historical research,
merited by their material culture, would be grave injustice. Spanish documents on the
Arawaks are not infrequently marred by racial and cultural biases. However, many
perceptions flowing from these documents can be normalised or corrected with objec-
tive, systematic research in Arawak archaeology.
In Jamaica, a number of studies on Arawak pre-history have been done over the
years and have contributed considerably to our knowledge about these Amerindians,
for instance (Robert Howard 1950) and Vanderwaal (1965-1968). Since 1965 the
Jamaican Archaeological Club, renamed the Archaeological Society of Jamaica in
1970 founded by Dr. James Lee has been conducting surveys and excavations on
Arawak sites islandwide. Whilst recognizing the invaluable inputs of the afore-men-
tioned trail-blazers in archaeology, it is nevertheless clear that much of the research
material tends to be descriptive rather than analytical and indeed attempts to fit results
into certain pre-conceived notions about the Arawaks.
There is need, therefore, for some bold new approaches, fresh perspectives, and the
application of diverse, scientifically sound techniques of analysis to Arawak research.
Several time-honoured theories will have to be challenged providing that our counter-
arguments can be supported by archaeological proof. Archaeological proof does not
have to be 100% empirical evidence: on the contrary one piece of incontrovertible
evidence should be enough. Part of the problem is the lack of a comprehensive modus
operandi for Arawak archaeological research in Jamaica, as a consequence there exists
a pervasive fear of challenging arguments and assumptions about the pre-history of
Jamaica. In the main, there continues to be uncritical acceptance of certain precon-
ceived notions about the Arawaks recorded in piece-meal articles and facsimile reports.
But the question is who should assume the responsibility of establishing a modus
operandi for Arawak archaeology regionally? The task is obviously for researchers in
this field. Undoubtedly, there is no "best" archaeological methodology. (Archaeologi-
cal techniques are devised according to the physical landscape, climate, money, staff
and other variables). There can therefore be no "perfect" modus operandi equally
applicable to all Arawak sites in Jamaica. the only basic requirements for an acceptable
research design are open mindedness and flexibility.
In Jamaica, a cogent example, of an area requiring open-mindedness, is the whole
question of Arawak migration patterns. The first migrants are classified as the Redware
or Ostionoid people and they were purported to have arrived in Jamaica around 650
AD + 100 years. The evidence for this radiocarbon date comes from the site of Little
River, St. Ann (Jamaica). The second group is categorised as the White Marl or
Mellaicoid Arawaks and their time of arrival is approximately 950 AD + years based
radiocarbon dates from the White Marl site in St. Catherine. The fundamental dif-
ference between the two groups is largely based on ceramic style. The Ostionoid
ceramics tend to be fine-grained and highly burnished, usually with zoomorphic decora-
tions of which the sea turtles and manatees figure prominently. The Mellaicoid
ceramics on the other hand are invariably thicker, coarse-grained, unburnished, fre-
quently with a canoe-like shape and light brown to buff in colour.
The question often asked is: were there in fact two Arawak groups migrating to
Jamaica at two different periods or were there in reality several small migrations
spanning from 650 to 950 AD? Could it be that the White Marl complex pottery evolved
from earlier Redware styles? The radiocarbon dates advanced as proof of two separate
Arawak migrations were produced in the 1960s. It is important to note that the margin
error of these radiocarbon dates is + 100 years. Is this margin too wide for comfort
considering that 300 years theoretically separate the first and second migrations? Are
these radiocarbon dates acceptable? Are they outdated? Is redating necessary at this
stage? The discovery of Redware and White Marl type ceramics at Firefly/Wentworth
(St. Mary) in close association has opened up several lines of questioning about Arawak
migration patterns which for years appeared to be almost incontrovertible and above
Also bandied about in our history textbooks is the belief that Arawak mothers
artificially flattened the heads of their children from infancy by tying boards to their
frontal bones. According to Spanish accounts, this was allegedly done with a view to
making that part of the skull hard as proof against primitive weapons. However, over
the years, several Arawak skulls have been discovered from a diverse collection of sites
in Jamaica including Cambridge Hill, (St. James) White Marl (St. Catherine), and
Auchindown (Westmoreland). A keen examination of these skulls does not match up
with the foregoing belief, as the vast majority appear to have normal physiogamic
features. But perhaps the trained eye of a physical anthropologist may be able to shed
some more light on this matter.
The Spanish accounts of the Arawaks frequently describe them as "simple people"
with a "simple way of life". The Arawaks may not have been as advanced as their Mayan
and Aztec cousins in Meso-America; but a close study of their material culture dis-
covered on sites in Jamaica hardly justifies them being referred to as "simple". Even
while allowing that the term "simple" might have been used in comparative sense, that
is Spanish technology vis-a-vis Arawak technology, the Jamaican archaeological record
simply does not support this blanket description which suggests backwardness and
which to a large extent was probably coloured by racism and cultural biases.
The Arawaks, for one thing were adept at stone, shell, ceramic and wood technol-
ogy. Finely polished green stone axes frequently with signs of grinding, pecking or
pitting have been discovered on sites such as Alligator Pond (St. Elizabeth), Rio Bueno
(St.Ann), Llanrummey (St. Mary) and Jacks Hill (St. Andrew). Because these stones
are aesthetically appealing they often end up as collectors items and that explains why
several are now in the British Museum in England. Flint end and side scrapers together
with pounders and hammerstones have been found in relative abundance. Shell tech-
nology is predicated to a considerable extent on the strombus (conch) shells. The
Coastal sites such as Negril (Westmoreland) Little River (St. Ann) are particularly
reknowned for awls, spatulas, and scrapers made from strombus. Recently, George
Lechler, the immediate past President of the Archaeological Society of Jamaica dis-
covered at Chancery Hall (Red Hills) what appears to be a shell horn. The shell is
polished smooth and to such a depth that the typical dark brown to creamy yellow
colour typical of a Triton Shell are barely visible, the shell is about 11 cm in diameter at
its widest part and approximately 19 cm in length. The apex is chipped and smoothed to
form a mouthpiece while the umbilicus end is roughly chipped.
The Arawak's skill in wood technology is noteworthy. However, because wood is a
highly perishable material (except when preserved in dry dessicated micro-environ-
ments or found in a waterlogged or carbonised state), one does not expect to find a
great deal of wood artifacts on Jamaican Arawak sites. But the Arawak wooden bird (of
which a plaster of paris copy resides in the White Marl Museum) is a patent example of
Amerindian craft and workmanship at its best. Arawak ceramic technology, with its
mottley collection of finely decorated bowls with alternate diagonal incisions, punctua-
tions, sigmoid curves, serrate applique decorations; the boat shaped vessels; the pots
with zoomorphic figures such as turtles and manatees; pendants, pestles and griddles,
underscores the fact that contrary to several Spanish accounts, the Arawaks were
intrinisically a far cry from the description "simple people".
The supposed technological variations of the Arawaks in the different Caribbean
islands is yet another area where research efforts might usefully be invested. Expres-
sions such as Tainos, Sub-tainos and Lucayans have been coined by researchers to
describe the varying technological levels among the Arawaks. The Jamaican and
Central Cuban Arawaks are referred to as Sub-tainos and they have correspondingly
been described as less technologically advanced than their Taino Arawak cousins in
Eastern and Western Cuba, Puerto Rico and Hispaniola. The Arawaks in the Bahamas
are referred to as Lucayans and is believed that they were roughly at the same tech-
nological level as that of the Sub-tanios. The proponents of this classification system
refer to the ostensibly, more elaborately, decorated artifacts such as duhos discovered
in Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, Eastern and Western Cuba as opposed to the seemingly less
bizarre finds in Jamaica and Central Cuba.
However, the foregoing classification should not be considered hard and fast and in
fact one wonders if it holds water to a large extent. Could it be that we have not been
looking in the right places in Jamaica? Why is Central Cuba considered to be Sub-taino
when the island's eastern and western zones are not? Could there have been a consid-
erable export of the more aesthetically appealing Arawak artifacts in Jamaica by the
Spanish. One is not trying to cloud the main issues with a great deal of speculation.
Essentially, an attempt is being made to examine this area of research critically and
objectively and not to accept ideas merely because they have written time and time
again in the archaeological literature.
Moving temporarily away from the Arawaks: it is common knowledge that the
pre-historic Caribs who settled in the Lesser Antilles are still being dubbed as Can-
nibals by modern day Historians. To date, no archaeological proof has been found to
substantiate this claim and it is quite possible that the Caribs got this infamous title
because of Spanish and English propaganda peddling. This issue is indicative of the
need to explore aspects of our Caribbean pre-history rather than accepting ideas at
To return to the subject of the region's pre-history: any research design that
focuses on the Amerindians has to be predicated on an open, flexible mind. Re-
searchers must not be discouraged from formulating detailed research methods simply
because it is commonly felt that because we are small Third World country's, we cannot
access the requisite skills and expertise which could form the basis foe intelligent
investigations in the field of Arawak archaeology. Researchers can make proper use of
such local organizations in conducting systematic archaeological research in some of
the following areas:-
(a)Ceramic Thin Sectioning
Undeniably, there is also need, at the regional level, for changed perceptions about
Arawaks archaeology and its importance to the wider society. A case in point is
Jamaica where because Arawak sites are low level sites and therefore are less conspi-
cious than their historic counterparts, their significance tends to woefully underplayed.
While Spanish Town, Port Royal and Seville receive much money and media attention,
precious little is pumped into Amerindian research. There are several wealthy
Jamaicans who have Arawak sites on their properties and it is my opinion that they
should be encouraged to employ Consultant Archaeologists to conduct scientific re-
search. This will certainly enhance the quality of a regional cultural tourism product.
Despite this however, several persons continue to display a healthy interest in
Arawak archaeology. For instance The Archaeological Society of Jamaica continues to
get innumerable requests from individuals who believe that they have discovered an
Arawak site that merits our serious attention. This level of public interest should by all
means be actively encouraged, strengthened and sustained with ongoing archaeological
research based on new approaches, new perspectives and an open mind. This is not to
presuppose that archaeology has all the answers to the diverse, searching questions
about the region's Amerindian past. Ethnographic studies of contemporary Arawak
descendants living in the Guianas, Colombia and Venezuela are highly recommended
in order to bring some fresh perspectives into local Arawak academia. In addition, the
Spanish accounts despite their short comings should continue to be seen as a useful
source of information.
Archaeology, together with a mix of related disciplines will greatly enable us to
unravel the mysteries of this critically important facet of the region's ( and Jamaica's)
1 Aarons, G.A. "Report on Auchindom, Westmoreland" February 1984 (J.N.H.T.)
2. Archaeological Society of Jamaica Newsletter (1970 to the present).
3. Black, Clinton The History of Jamaica Longman Publishers, 1981.
4. Lechler, George (personal communication).
5. National Library of Jamaica, 12 East Street, Kingston, Jamaica.
6. Reid, Basil A. "Report on Firefly/Wentworth, St. Mary, January 1989 (J.N.H.T.)
7. White Marl Museum collections, St. Catherine, Jamaica.
Spanish place names, and distortions of some of those Spanish place names, are the
principal reminder that Jamaica was a Spanish colony for 161 years, between 1494 when
Columbus claimed the island in the name of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, and 1655
when the Lord Protector of England, Oliver Cromwell, launched his Western Design.
Names such as St. Jago de la Vega, (Santiago de la Vega), Oracabessa (Cabeza de Oro),
Ocho Rios (Las Chorreras), Rio Minho, Rio Cobre, Rio Grande all testify to a Spanish
and indeed to a Jewish-Portuguese presence in the island. Is Mathra Brae, possibly
Mata da Praia? And then, there are the Pedro Plains (wrongly pronounced), and Great
Pedro Bay, savanna-la-Mar, Mount Diablo (Devil Mountain), Montego Bay (Manteca
Bay), Port Maria (Port Mary), Port Antonio (Port Anthony). There is of course Don
Christopher's Point: and the name Spanish Town is a lasting reminder that Spanish
settlers had built this little town near the south coast to administer the small colony. The
Spanish crown had recommended to Columbus that he name the island Santiago in
honour of the patron saint of Spain Santiago (St. James), but the original Taino name
"Jamaica" defied all efforts to change it. There is Rio Nuevo, Rio Bueno, Rio Magno,
Port Esquivel, (Juan de Esquivel was one of Jamaica's first Spanish governors), Potosi,
Santa Cruz (Holy Cross), and Porus was possibly named after the Porras brothers who
rose against Columbus during his one year sojourn in Jamaica
Columbus and Jamaica
The Genoese sea-captain, Christopher Columbus, working in the service of castille,
first sighted Jamaica on May 5, 1494, in the course of his second voyage to the Americas.
On his fourth and last voyage beginning in 1502 he was forced to land in Jamaica
because of the poor condition of his ships. He was to remain in the island for one full
year, from June 24th, 1502 to June 29, 1503.
the absorption of Jamaica into the European system is part of the broader canvas of
European expansion overseas, and the nature of European expansion had been in-
fluenced by specific features of European society. The end of the fifteenth century saw
the emergence of the nation state in Europe generally. In Spain, which underwrote the
voyages of Columbus, the formation of the nation state had been accompanied by a
seven hundred year war against the Moors and the reconquest by Christian (Catholic
Spaniards of a country dominated by Islam. If Spanish Catholicism proved to be
particularly bellicose and aggressive it must be attributed, in part at least, to the reality
that in the fifteenth century religion and nationalism, religion and the formation of the
nation-state, had become inseparable in the Spanish mind. The fortunes of Holy
Church, buttressed by an Inquisition which vetted men's beliefs with powers of life and
death, were at once an ideology for expansion, a justification for conquest, and a
guarantee of eternal life. Not surprisingly, Ferdinand and Isabella (of Aragon and
Castille respectively) were and remain "Los Reyes Catolicos" the Catholic monarchs.
At the same time, it would be an exaggeration to suggest that the Spanish religious
instinct always presupposed piety. Benassar's description of Spanish life in the sixteenth
century records for us aspects of the vulgarity and coarseness of daily life, the blas-
phemous conduct, and a sexual life that failed to measure up to the standards imposed
by Mother church on its flocks. Religious militancy did not preclude, either, a dedica-
tion to the acquisition of material goods. Indeed, the association between materialism
and idealism is best summarised by Bernal Diaz del Castillo who fought beside Hernan
Cortes in Mexico: "I came to serve God and to get rich."
Another feature of Spanish life was the existence of black slavery in the Iberian
peninsula. True it is that the enslavement of Africans in Spain was a substantially
different thing from what it was to become in the Americas, but the concept of enslave-
ment of man by man was justified by practice, and entrenched in the regulatory laws of
Alfanso the Wise of Spain in the body of laws called the Siete Partidas. The Spanish
nobility also created social distance between itself and the mass of Spaniards by sup-
porting a huge dependent domestic class.
I have indicated that the fifteenth century saw the development of the nation-state in
Europe, whose society gradually was emerging out of that system of social, economic,
military and political relations broadly described as feudalism, the transition was not
complete at the end of the fifteenth century, it is true; but the evidence points to the
increasing dominance of the King and his court over the nobility. In Spain itself the old
system of primus interpares coexisted with the predominance of the monarch. Thus in
Aragon Ferdinand was addressed as "We who are no better than you declare to you
who are no better than us" In Castille, however, the process of Crown control was far
more advanced. That Crown, worn by Ferdinand's wife, Isabella, had no intention of
allowing a new powerful nobility to arise in the so-called New World glimpsed by
Christopher Columbus on the morning of October 12, 1492 at Guanahani in the
Bahamas. The Crown, too, would see to it that the Church never asserted its temporal
power over the Crown, and the patronato real became the legal mechanism whereby the
Spanish Crown controlled appointments to the Church, with due respect to the Popes
who had formally granted possession of the western continents the papal donation to
the Spanish Crown.
The Spaniards whose ships scoured the Caribbean Sea after 1492 came, then, in
search of fortune, of status and honour, of hidalgo status, ideologically buttressed by the
conviction that God was on the side of the conquest. It may be so. What is certain,
however, is that they had sufficient gun-power, the manoeuverability of a cavalry, and a
belief in total war to crush a native enemy whose most advanced weapons were spears.
The Jamaican Indians threw their spears at Columbus's ships, to no avail.
Decline of the Indigenous Population
During his second voyage to the Indies Columbus mentions thick settlements of
Indians on the Jamaican north and south coast. The Dominican friar, Bartolome de las
Casas, referred later on to the very dense Indian population of Jamaica, and from all
appearances Las Casas obtained this information from people who had visited Jamaica.
The recent works of Sherbourne Cooke and Woodrow Borah? have tended to revise
upward the Indian populations of the Caribbean and central America suggesting up to
one and a half million for Hispaniola substantial revision upwards from 60,000 to
600,000. Morales Padron suggests 60,000 native Jamaicans, but Morales' figure seems to
have been plucked arbitrarily out of his own hat.
We are not in a position to give an accurate figure either. It is interesting to note,
however, that when in 1511, Indians were being shared out among the Spaniards in
repartimiento, that the Crown received a large number and the Columbus family 1,600
men and his Lieutenant another 1,600. These figures must surely correspond to the
perception of the Spanish colonists of the size of the Indian population. There are
unfortunately no figures on how many Indians were granted to less deserving Spaniards,
and no figures either on how many Spaniards were in Jamaica. It is worth noting too that
this distribution of Indians took place fourteen years after Columbus's first entry into
the island, and we can assume that the decline of the population had begun long before
By the end of the sixteenth century most of the Indian population had died. There
are three major explanations for the rapid decline of the populations of the Americas.
The first one was suggested by Bartolome de las Casas that the system was primarily
responsible. Las Casas's view was that the encomienda imposed such a harsh labour
regime on the Indians that they were unable to survive it. (It has been argued that the
European labour system imposed the capitalist category of labour organisation on a
system that had been primarily communal). The fact is that the Spanish authorities in
Jamaica were instructed to intensify production in Jamaica in order to meet the needs
of the conquistadores on their way to the mainland bred supplies, cattle or whatever
the island could provide. Jamaica, strategically placed vis-a-vis the Mainland, was ideal
for the performance of that function. The island served as a supply base for Castillo del
Oro, sent material assistance to Pedrarias on the Isthmus, and to Vasco Nunez de
Balboa. We know that the governor of Jamaica sent to Balboa cassava bread, pork, beef
and other supplies, which incidentally Balboa never paid for. The King recommended
that Jamaicans sign up with Gil Gonzalez Davila for the exploration of the South Sea,
since the Jamaicans were already acclimatized. Garay one of Jamaica's first governors
eventually joined Heran Cortes. On June 26, 1523, Pedro de Garay left Jamaica a the
head of an expedition for the Mainland. (Morales, 70-5), Las Casas does have a point,
though the labour regime was not entirely responsible for the destruction of the Indian
A second factor was the export of Jamaican Indians to Cuba to fill the gap left by the
declining Indian population in that island. Again, there are no specific statistics. A third
possibility is war between the Indians and Spaniards. It is clear that many Indians fled
to the less accessible mountains away from the Spaniards. There is one reference to
"war" but no details are given. We do know that the Spanish colonists did resort to
brutal tactics to keep the Indian population in subjection. When the Crown despatched
Francisco de Garay to Jamaica as Repartidor de Indios, Garay was much struck by the
sparsity of the Indian population. In 1515 Pedro de Mazuelo concluded that if Spanish
excesses were allowed to continue that the entire Indian population would be erased
within two years. "When Diego Columbus's representative tried to distribute the In-
dians, the Caciques openly resisted, and the Indians began to flee for refuge in the
highest mountains. But the liquidation of the leaders was followed by the submission of
the rest, who were immediately distributed and used as agricultural labourers."
(Morales Padron 260-1). In 1523, one Francisco Garcia Bermejo informed the King
that in the first repartimiento of Indians, the Cacique Goayrabo, and all his subjects has
been assigned to him; but at the time of writing he had only four or five Indians left."
By far the most important cause of Indian mortality was disease. The most fatal of all
diseases brought to the New World was small-pox, described by Alfred Crosby as a
"disease with seven league boots." (201) The disease appeared in Espanola
(Hispaniola) "at the end of 1518 or the beginning of 1519...the malady quickly exter-
minated a third or half of the Arawacks on Espanola, and almost immediately leaped
the straits to Puerto Rico and the other Greater Antilles, accomplishing the same
devastation there." (200) And then there was scarlet-fever, measles, influenza, dip-
theria, trschoma, whooping cough, chicken pox, bubonic plague, malaria, typhoid fever,
cholera, yellow fever, dengue fever, amebic dysentery, and other helminthicc infesta-
tions." (Crosby: 198) the susceptibility of the non-immune Arawaks to the new diseases
was quickly demonstrated when Columbus "searching for a West Indian commodity
that would sell in Europe, sent 550 Amerindian slaves, twelve to thirty-five years of age,
more or less, off across the Atlantic. Two hundred died on the difficult voyage; 350
survived to be put to work in Spain. The majority of these soon were also dead "because
the land did not suit them." (Crosby:198)
The affection that the rat has always had for man has never really been shared by
man whose abhorrence for the rodent has been intensified by the plagues and the
diseases that it carries. Rats, according to Crosby, "shipped as stowaways with the
Iberians everywhere they went in America." Quoting Garcilaso de la Vega, "They bred
in infinite numbers, overran the land, and destroyed crops and standing plants, such as
fruit trees, by gnawing the bark from the ground to the shoots." Afterward they
remained in such numbers on the coast "that no cat dare look them in the face." We can
assume that the rat performed its function equally efficiently in Jamaica destroying
fruits, and spreading murine typhus.
Las Casas pleaded for the end of the encomienda, even for the introduction of
African slaves, whom he assumed would be better able to cope with hard labour. The
use of African labour, as we have noted was widespread in the Iberian peninsula, and it
was natural for las Casas to think in terms of extending African slavery to the Americas.
The Africans faced the same demographic catastrophe. African slaves were introduced
into Hispaniola from about 1520, and certainly by the mid-sixteenth century Jamaicans
were pleading for the introduction of African slaves. The assumption no African
labour, no prosperity, and a King after all could not be wealthy if his subjects were poor.
Spanish Jamaica never did have a large number of African slaves, at least if we
compare their numbers with the period after the English conquest when the sugar
plantation network fostered the rapid development of the slave trade from Africa.
However, the limited number of slaves were essentially the "cornerstone of the
economy." (Morales: 266-267) In 1523, the Crown placed an order for 300 African
slaves to be sent to Jamaica. A few years later 700 slaves were ordered for the island. In
1534, the Treasurer Pedro de Mazuelo obtained 30 blacks to work his sugar mill on the
south coast of the island, close to Spanish Town. they were to be involved with construc-
tion of fortifications, cattle-hunting, the manufacture of sugar, clearing of forests,
tanning of leather, etc. (Morales: 189) Freed blacks (called "horros" in Jamaica) and
mulattoes also manned the cavalry and were an important element in the four militia
companies of Villa de la Vega. (Morales: 273-4).
The greatest gifts," declares one historian, "given to the New World by the
Spaniards, were the horse and cow." The American environment, it is well known, had
few beasts of burden, only the weak alpaca which struggles with anything over 40
pounds in weight. the Arawaks of Jamaica did not even have that. The Europeans,
however, also brought pigs, and dogs that bark. The horse and the cow can breed on
their own because they are self-reliant. The plains of Jamaica no less than those of Santo
Domingo and no less than the pampas of Argentina provided the conditions for the
rapid spread of wild cattle, as usual "turning cellulose grass, leaves, sprouts that
humans cannot digest into meat, milk, fiber, and leather." (Crosby: 177) Christopher
Columbus carried with him, in 1493, from the Canary Islands cattle which soon popu-
lated the grasslands of the West Indian islands, were roaming over Mexico by the 1520s
and Peru by the 1530s. The Spanish settlers were often skilled herdsmen and cattle-
hunters and in Jamaica, cattle-hunting became an important activity providing oppor-
tunities for the export of hides, lard, and beef. The cattle were "fast, lean and mean,"
(Crosby: 178) perhaps posing a challenge to people who had had a long and hair-raising
tradition of bull-fighting.
The Spaniards in Jamaica also delighted in bird-shooting, easily the most cowardly
sport, but one which provides to this day in Jamaica a perverse leisure. In the region
around St. Thomas, the Spaniards grew the grape-vine and provided themselves, there-
by, with a claret wine, which they at least found satisfactory.
The Spaniards ever struggling through jungle and forest, across wild streams, risking
their lives against unknown tropical animals, carried with them the cross of Christ and
the worship of El Dorado. That vision of El Dorado, the dream in need of desperate
fulfilment for the poverty-stricken adventurer from the barren Extremandura,
nourished the vigour of the Jamaican Spaniards. The rivers and streams of Espanola
had yielded alluvial gold, and why not the little island south of the first Spanish
settlement. If Jamaica had gold it remained in the untapped hollows of the island's
rocky mountainous soil. The island has yet to yield that secret. Frustrated by the search
for gold the Spanish Jamaicans settled for copper and the island's copper river is a
pathetic reminder of that search. The absence of gold pushed the Spanish vecinos south
toward Mexico and Peru, where the tale of El Dorado appeared to have some basis in
the splendid descriptions of the great Aztec and Inca Empires. A hundred years later
the British discovered that the island yielded more gold through its sugar plantations
and a booming slave trade. The Spaniards introduced probably from the Canary Islands
the sugar plant that was destined to shape the economic, social, demographic and
political history of Jamaica under British rule. Close to Spanish Town, on the fertile
plains of St. Catherine, under Spanish rule, the sugar cane took root.
Not all Spaniards deserted Jamaica. Those who remained embarked upon agricul-
ture and ranching as we have shown above. But the island remained little more than a
strategic outpost of the Spanish Empire an island which was not to be allowed to fall
into the hands of Spains' enemies, but a possession whose value was debased by the
absence of precious metal.
The Spanish monarchs were strongly opposed to the creation of a strong, powerful
nobility in the New World. Every effort had been made to curb their powers within
Spain itself. In the New World, one of the first victims of the determination of the
Crown to assert its dominance over all other social or political groups was Christopher
Columbus himself. The honours and privileges that Columbus had won, Viceroy,
Governor, Admiral of the Ocean Sea, and shares in the wealth to be extracted from the
New World, were gradually taken away from him or were rendered more or less
meaningless. When Christopher Columbus died in 1506, his son Diego (the second
Admiral) sued the Crown in order to enforce the recognition of the rights conceded to
his father. "(Morales, 70) Diego was described as "more the heir of the anguishes, toils,
and disfavour of his father than of the Estate, honours and preeminences which he had
gained with so much sweat and affliction." (70) "His ambition passed on to his wife,
Dona Maria de Toledo upon his death in February 1526. In 1527, the Crown declared
null and void all previous decisions arising out of the suit, and began "all over again."
The outcome of the Crown-Columbus suit was the concession of the island of
Jamaica to the Columbus family, in the capacity of Marquis of Jamaica. The island was
given to the Columbus' because "it is small and up to that moment he has not derived
any profit since it has no gold, no silver or pearls, or anything but riches from cattle-
rearing. It should be conceded to him as his personal property, with the title of Duke or
Marquis, but with the King remaining in supreme command. He will not be permitted
to fortify it without the King's permission..." As far as the Crown was concerned
Jamaica had no economic potential. Only later, when the Crown discovered that the
island was wealthy in pimento spice did it show any particular interest in Jamaica as an
economic asset worthy of the Crown's full permission.
Morales Padron, Spanish historian of Spanish Jamaica, believe that the decision to
grant Jamaica to the Columbus family resulted in the island's failure to become a more
important economic asset to the Crown. That view presupposes that had the island
remained in Crown hands that there would have been policies designed to increase
production in Jamaica. It is possible that Morales was too influenced by what the British
did after 1655, and too little influenced by what was happening to the islands of the
Spanish Caribbean. In fact, the Jamaican economy evolved under the Columbus dynas-
ty, in precisely the same way that Cuba, Puerto Rico and Espanola developed an
emphasis on ranching, subsistence farming, cattle-hunting, the export of hides. All the
islands were underpopulated, all were dependent on a relatively small slave-labour
force. There was little commercial contact between Spain and the Caribbean islands,
and during the seventeenth century, Spain's economy went into decline. Spain lacked
the resources, technical and financial, to develop the Caribbean. The new capitalism
was located in Amsterdam and in London, not in Madrid. There is a belief, too, that
Jamaica was not properly fortified because the power of the Columbus family to fortify
it was curtailed by the Crown. This is only partly true. Firstly because the island did
construct fortifications constructed in the other Spanish Caribbean islands were any
more adequate than Jamaica. Not until the eighteenth century was El Morro in Puerto
Rico, and major fortifications in Cuba came about with the engineering feats of Juan
Bautista Antonelli. In many respects, the affairs of the island were conducted under the
auspices of the Crown. The pattern of selection of governors, presentation of Abbots,
residencias of retiring governors, and the institutions of government were identical to
those established in other areas of the Caribbean. Jamaica's was a minor governorship,
responsible for reporting to the Audiencia of Santo Domingo. Governors were some-
times selected by the Columbus family, at other times by the Crown, but obviously
nominations made by the Columbus family had to be approved by the Crown. The
Columbus's also had the right to present Abbots and other officials of the church, but
again the Crown had to approve of these appointments. In the final analysis, the island
was truly the Crown's responsibility.
Governor's of Jamaica were generally chosen for a period of six years, but the length
of time could be altered according to the Crown's will and pleasure. Governor Mel-
garejo, for example, ruled for 10 years. Some of Jamaica's Spanish governors were very
controversial, and the Spanish citizenry were inclined to accuse them of corruption -
especially with respect to trading with Spain's enemies, or using their position to utilise
slave labour which was in short supply. Nepotism was one accusation. Melgarejo was
accused of taking for himself and his lieutenants "All Negroes or items of merchandise
which entered the island. Melgarejo had suggested to the Abbot that Philip all's soul had
At the end of the period of governorship all Spanish officials including viceroys,
governors, and captains general were subject to a residencia i.e. an on the spot
investigation of the period of office exercised by the incoming governor. The residencia
was clearly a useful method for the Crown to exercise control over its officials across the
Atlantic. But there was a way for governor's to get around the residencia. Melgarejo, it
was alleged, reserved 14,000 pesos with which to bribe the incoming governor. Perhaps
the most controversial governor was Francisco Terril 1625-1623. Terril refused to demit
office in 1628, and it took four years and troops from Cuba to throw him out of office
and out of Jamaica.
We noted earlier that there was a religious militancy underlying the Spanish nation
state. The ideology of conquest was thereby linked to conversion of non-Christians; but
also to provide religious guidance and offer spiritual support to Spain's citizens across
the Atlantic. The Church also provided bureaucrats for Spanish administration in the
Empire. In Jamaica ecclesiastical organisation started in 1515 in the form of the Abbacy
of Jamaica, subordinated at first to Santo Domingo but later to Cuba. The first Abbots
were absentee, and only one, Pedro Martir de Angleria, bestirred himself to do more
than to collect the tithes due to the Abbots. Pedro Martir was responsible for financing
the first stone church in Seville, St. Ann, before the Spaniards moved their settlement to
the south coast. The church was never completed.
The Jamaican Abbot wore a mitre, carried a pas-
toral staff and enjoyed episcopal authority... [He
wore] a ring, and other pontifical regalia. He was
also empowered to nominate a Vicar, to summon a
tribunal, and as Superior in a Vacant See, he was
entitled to be called Magnus Abbas. As a veritable
prelate, he could also, through a consecrated
Bishop, confer on his flock all the favours associated
with a Bishop's office. But he could not confer or
administer confirmation, ordain priests, or con-
secrate the Holy Oil. (Morales, 108)
Priests and Abbots no doubt carried out their religious functions, a few with consid-
erable zeal, leading in the case of one Abbot to wholesale excommunication. Abbot
Mateo de Medina was scandalised by the fact that no efforts had been made by the
Spanish proprietors to offer a moral or religious education to their slaves, complaining
that the slaves "lived in concubinage without the sacrament of marriage, and lived as
though they were men and wife, tending their children and small livestock." The
proprietors' response was to complain to Admiral Columbus at the Abbot's inter-
ference Juez de Comision, Juan de Retuerta, tried to place Abot Mateo in a bad light,
but only in effect demonstrated the quality of moral life in the island:
"Religion... is not of the highest quality, since with
two petitions, with no other justification, and with
great ease, marriages are declared null and void.
There were some married men who had been mar-
ried to another woman, who was still alive and mar-
ried to another man by whom she had had several
children. Every day the Church Bells rang out while
the Abbot with little or no cause and without any
kind of trial, excommunicated citizens. With the
same ease, he invoked the relevant Bull to revoke
the decision, sot hat excommunication was no longer
feared or treated with respect. Governor Alonso de
Miranda lived in concubinage with a mulatto woman
"to look after him", and he claimed "his celibate
The same Abbot Don Mateo excommunicated a governor, who was also an officer
of the Inquisition, an example of the rivalry between the secular and the religious
authorities. The end result was the murder of the excommunicated governor.
So Spanish Jamaica evolved at the periphery of the Spanish Empire, occasionally
trading illegally with the Dutch, French and English adjusting to a life in isolation from
the Spanish metropolis. The economy continued to rest on the small slave labour force.
Social life reflected the life of people living on a frontier. In 1655 Spanish Jamaica began
its final chapter when Oliver Cromwell's 9,000 men disembarked to face a mere 1,500
Jamaicans able to bear arms. Much of the militia of the Spaniards had black and
coloured membership. But the English conquest was not to be completed for another 10
years, for the Spanish governor Isasi together with the freed slaves the cimarrones -
put up a querrilla resistance to the English invaders. The battle was only lost when the
blacks deserted to the English side. Ysasi and his man fled to Cuba.
"In all there must have been about 100 Spanish
defenders, in addition to the negroes who bar-
ricaded themselves behind palisades which they
built. It was the decision or course of action taken by
the negroes that was to determine the final outcome.
For the time being they were loyal to the Spaniards.
The extent of their loyalty was demonstrated in the
speed with which they hanged any Englishman who
came to offer them liberty in exchange for defection.
the unpredictable nature of the negro resistance,
however, made the Spanish position insecure. Fur-
thermore, some Spaniards were of the view that
negro action far from being honourable for the
Spanish camp was a blot on Spanish arms."
What blacks felt about this "blot" will never be know. What we do know is that
"blot" or no, the Spaniards gave up the struggle once they switched sides to the English.
In 1670 Spain formally ceded Jamaica to the English, by the treaty of Madrid. The
acquisition of Jamaica was one further step in the build up of British power in the
Caribbean. Jamaica was now added to Barbados, St. Kitts, Antigua, Nevis, under
British control from the 1620s. More important is that the economic system based upon
the slave plantation system that the British had tried and tested in the smaller islands
was now to be applied to the much larger Jamaica. The former Spanish colony became
a spring board for commercial penetration of the Spanish Empire, for the transhipment
of slaves to the Empire and consequently a source of gold for British banks.
For most Jamaicans the Spanish period in our history is hardly even a memory, as we
suggested a the beginning. And for most of us history begins in 1655. There was no
transfer of institutions from the Spanish to the English period, except for the maroons,
and the institution of slavery. The true link between the Spanish and the English period
is the spread of Europe over the globe, the intense rise of capitalism, and the sacking of
the world outside Europe, the Atlantic Economy. The struggle between Spain and
England notwithstanding, both nations were responsible for beginning the estab-
lishment of the modern world as we understood it. The geo-political significance of
Jamaica was from than understood.
Morales Padron, Francisco, Jamaica Espanola (Sevilla, 1952)
Alfred W. Crosby, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900
Bennassar, Bartolome, The Spanish Character: Altitudes and Mentalities from the Sixteenth
to the Nineteenth Century. (Trans. Benjamin Kenn) Berkeley: University of California, 1979.
DRAKE'S STRAIGHT REVISITED (from Virgin Island's
One dumb-bred Boss
and two busha tea (poured
from the coffee urn
labelled for local brew)
I'm here for Drake
to feel his passage once again
and wonder at the islets
sitting poised on either side
bright in the morning sea
I have been ocean
I have ridden
river large like sea
but this that Drake saw
and Columbus saw
outawes them all
Islands in fold on fold
diminishing in green
near the farthest edge...
Sometimes they cockpit in the sea
and merge from
island into islet
islet to island
ring a ring a
rosing round the boat
spitting its white foam
on the startled blue
EXHIBITING CULTURE: MUSEUMS AND NATIONAL IDENTITY
IN THE CARIBBEAN
After more than two centuries of conquest and control, each European culture -
system had left its indelible mark upon its West Indian colonial subjects. Despite the
territory's physical contiguity to the Latin American mainland, this has had surprisingly
little effect upon Caribbean socio-cultural development.
The comprehensive slave codes of the Caribbean established by the 17th century
defined the character of planter/slave relations until 1834. These laws sanctioned rigid
segregation, legitimized the planters absolute ownership and control over slaves, and in
both premeditated and unconscious ways, suppressed natural instinct and cultural
response. The 1688 slave Code of Barbados for example made it illegal for slaves to
"beat drums, blow horns, or used other loud instruments".
According to Gordon Lewis, "One corollary of this situation as that both under
slavery and emancipation the world of the Caribbean masses remained a dark unknown
void. Transplanted forcibly from his African tribal culture, the slave became in the new
milieu, a deculturated individual. Losing one world he was driven to create a new one".1
Thus was created the foundations of an indigenous culture derivative of both European
values (for generations the most dominant force) uneasily yet inescapably bound with
In 1834 nearly 350,000 slaves in the British West Indies were made free by the
official proclamation of Emancipation. The Colonial government's only contribution to
the process of preparation for an independent life was the declaration of a period of
Apprenticeship; in essence at extension of a period of semi-servitude equated at least in
the colonial mentality, with the last gasps of a dying sugar industry, rather than what it
professed to be a period of training or preparation for the new life to come.
The only real contribution to this process was the work of the Methodist and
Moravian missionaries in the establishment and expansion of a basic educational system
to accommodate black and coloured persons. However this contribution was charac-
terized by attitudes of both arrogance and anxiety. Arrogance in assuming the relevance
of Christian tenets to the successful assimilation of an uncouth tribe. Anxiety to main-
tain the status quo and to ensure the eradication of noxious barbaric influences in a
The activities of Lieutenant Colonel William Reid (later Sir William Reid) as
Governor of Bermuda in 1839, gave some measure of official support to this process of
acculturation. On arrival in Bermuda, Reid of his own volition, immediately set to work
to ameliorate the condition of the recently freed population. Reid (1839) expressed the
view that the best means of securing the loyal support of the people, must doubtless be
through their own self interest, by enabling them to prosper under British rule.2 An
unusually enlightened attitude which earned him the title or 'the good Governor' during
his term in office (1939-1846). He established parochial schools and developed agricul-
tural programmes as a means of encouraging self sufficiency.
Reid, a fellow of the Royal Society (in England) was also instrumental in the
creation of legislation to found the Bermuda Library in 1834. Part of its mandate was to
house a public museum "containing a collection of natural history and works of art
[which] would be beneficial to the community...". Reid's influence extended to other
islands following his departure from Bermuda in 1846 and 1848 legislation virtually
identical to that of Bermuda was enacted to establish public libraries and museums
variously in St. Lucia, Bahamas, Barbados and Grenada. The trustees of these institu-
tions were charged with the task of collecting "natural and scientific subjects and
productions of Art" and were empowered "to purchase...books, maps, prints,
philosophical and other instruments and apparatus, and such curiosities as they deem
proper from time to time to place therein".3
These institutions were to be opened free to all residents, in keeping with Reid's
philanthropic ideals of ensuring intellectual stimulation for the masses. In reality
though, this privilege was only exercised within a limited framework; the restrictions for
a population struggling to survive were obvious; lack of available time for 'leisure'
activities and lack of available transport, were real deterrents to those who might have
had an interest, as much as the rarified atmosphere engendered by the presence of
scholarly society. However it was the inaccessibility of the European concept of
'museum' to the African cultural sensibility which proved to be the greatest barrier of
all. Despite the liberal intentions of the governor these early island museums, were for
the most part incomprehensible to the majority of the population and were soon
generally subsumed by the interests of the libraries.
There is little other evidence to suggest that the colonial government was an active
participant in the initial development of museums in the Caribbean; rather its contribu-
tion was incidental, where it coincided with plans for territorial consolidation through
the 'civilization' of foreign lands and foreign peoples. In keeping with the prevailing
enthusiasm for scientific investigation and acquisition, the collection and exhibition of
scientific specimens and ethnographical artifacts was encouraged, usually under the
auspices of local agricultural and commercial societies. Coincidentally these types of
collections were representative of the natural resources of the colony which could be
During the first decades of the 19th century the symbolic relationship between
scientific development and imperial expansion encouraged the diffusion of knowledge
from one part of the world to the next. Local societies formed by businessmen to focus
on special interests existed in Jamaica from 1807 and in British Guiana from 1841; they
were a part of this network and were influenced by the concepts and attitudes generated
by the race for industrialization. By the middle of the 19th century similar societies
existed in most Caribbean islands, many of them forming the core of organising commit-
tees to develop the exhibits needed to "contribute to the Exhibition of Industry of all
Nations in London", the Great Exhibition of 1851.
The success of that venture inspired other similar large scale national exhibitions
(British Guiana 1855; Trinidad 1868; Jamaica 1891) throughout the second half of the
19th century and the first decades of the twentieth. The popularity of these exhibitions
gave impetus to the development of the earliest West Indian museums and was in many
cases, the catalyst for the formation of the first national collections since duplicate
collections were often retained by the colonies. Other factors which contributed to early
regional museum development included the West Indian Geological Survey, started in
1860, and the general increase in archaeological and anthropological activity in the
The Royal Agricultural and Commercial Society of British Guiana (1844) has as one
of its primary objects, the establishment of a museum and model room in which would
be kept "both indigenous and introduced minerals, soils, timbers, fruit, seeds, gums,
resins, dyes and drugs, specimens of zoology, Also models of such implements and
machinery connected with agriculture and manufactures...". Sir Robert Schomburg
following the completion of his boundaries survey of British Guiana, became one its
first members and donated a comprehensive collection of native woods of the colony.
Mineralogical, biological and geological specimens offered by private donors soon
augmented the collection and by 1853 the society's museum became a legally incor-
porated entity. The Natural History Society (1861) also became an influential donor
interested in forming "a local exhibition to bring to light these hidden sources of wealth
and stimulants to industry [as well] a general view of what [the] country offers to the
research of scientific and intelligent curiosity...". The result was a distinct bias towards
Natural History as the core of the museum.4
The destruction of this collection by fire in 1864 led to a renewal of volunteer effort
to provide the country with a museum as 'a means of instructive recreation to all'. In
reality, however, the issue of a prospectus for the British Guiana Museum Co. Ltd. in
1867 with shares of $10.00 each, sealed the fate of the institution as a private commercial
enterprise whose eurocentric bias ensured the exclusion of other cultural interests
except as curiosities at best, its material culture becoming trophies of western civiliza-
In Jamaica the Royal Society of Arts and Agriculture was formed in 1864 with the
amalgamation of two earlier organizations, with the intention of "augmentation of the
sources of public industry and the extension of the arts and manufactures of the
colony".5 The society's collections and those of the Sawkins and Brown Geological
Survey eventually formed the nucleus of The Institute of Jamaica in 1879. The Institute
aimed at developing completely representative natural history and anthropological
collections, as well as hosting lectures and exhibitions and holding examinations in
science, literature and the arts.
Even though the Institute contributed significantly tot he growth of science and
industry within the island, the membership fees as much as the social mores of the
period, ensured that the museum's management (and by extension its collection and
exhibition criteria) was dominated and controlled by an exclusive clique of middle-class
white men. The focus on Natural History and later Art, found little response amongst
the populace even though entrance to the museum was free.
Like its sister nations, Trinidad saw the need for an institution embodying the
cultural heritage of the country while at the same time acting as a vocational training
institute with regular classes in arts and crafts. In 1870 the Trinidad Society of Arts and
Sciences was formed and became the spearhead of the movement to build the Victoria
Institute (later the Royal Victoria Institute). Using the Victoria and Albert Museum as
a model, the Institute was finally started in 1887.
With the help of the Trinidad Field Naturalists Club, the Institute immediately
began to develop a collection of local fauna. By the time the new building was opened
to the public in 1892, archaeological and geological specimens had been added to the
collections. The Institute seemed to have had more success in garnering the support of
the working class population. Its training courses and annual exhibition were highly
popular attractions. However, the managing committee comprised scholars, scientists
and businessmen and the collections acquired (i.e. agricultural samples, zoological, and
botanical specimens) once again gave a natural history focus to an early museum.
These early Caribbean museums had several factors in common. They were all
private organizations, developed to meet the needs of the colonies' commercial and
agricultural interests, with little more than token patronage from the government.
While their formation occasioned the expression of lofty ideals of education for the
masses and the development of science, the primary catalyst for these activities was
enlightened self interest. Museums were principally regarded as an invaluable means of
informing visitors about the resources or the colony and the potential benefits of
investment in local industry.
Since industrial and commercial enterprise were so important to the economy of the
colonies this justified for many the concept that the museum was in fact helping to
identify and enhance national identity. The inclusion of anthropological collections lent
credence to this claim. This assimilation of African and Amerindian cultural heritage as
part of the exotic baggage of a territorial prize was, in fact, the continuation of an
insidious process of separation and eventual disinheritance which was to plague the
majority of West Indians for decades to come. As Gordon Lewis has elucidated "The
fact is that, all in all, the West Indian person has been deprived of a meaningful kinship
with his origins and has sought relief in sheer movement dance, cricket, and activist
religion, migration itself..."6 For officialdom such expressions of folk culture had no
legitimate existence in the museum context, an attitude which persisted until the onset
The Columbian Exposition of 1893, held in Chicago to commemorate the 400th
anniversary of Columbus' Discovery of the New World generated great interest in the
precolumbian cultures of the region. A special trip was made to Dominica and St.
Vincent to persuade a group of Carib indians to go to the exhibition. Jumping on the
bandwagon, Barnum and Bailey Circus also imported some indians to join the 'Great
Show' in New York. However it was America's acquisition of Puerto Rico at the close
of war with Spain in 1898, which confirmed their fascination with pre conquest Carib-
Archaeological field work in the West Indies began in earnest in 1900 under the
auspices of the Bureau of American Ethnology and the Smithsonian Institution, an
important step, Fewkes (1970) suggested, because "It offers the only exact data by
which the manners and customs of the aborigines before the advent of Columbus can be
interpreted".7 As scientific knowledge increased so too did the interest of private
collectors such as Mr. Heye whose agents amassed a huge Caribbean collection for his
private museum in New York.
During the first half of the 20th century local collecting was confined to the atten-
tions of enthusiastic amateurs and many collections soon found homes in the island
libraries, eventually forming the nucleus of many of the small museums which exist
today. The problem was that while they were viewed as being educational for the local
populance and enjoyable for visitors, the focus of attention on the Amerindian culture
ensured that there was little emotional response within the community.
For the majority of the Caribbean people the early eradication of the Amerindian
population from most of the territory, by the end of the 17th century, ensured that there
were no bonds of blood, language or culture. With the exception of Guyana (and to a
lesser extent Dominica and St. Vincent), there was no opportunity to mesh the living
culture with the relics of the past possessors of the land. The numerous clay pots, shell
tools and stone axes held little meaning for the majority of the Caribbean community.
Alongside the increase in regional archaeological investigation, a concern about the
status and preservation of historic buildings in the West Indies developed. The Colonial
Officer carried out a comprehensive survey of all public and military structures in the
region of historic interest in the early years of the century. Later during the forties the
Georgian Society and Great Britain paid equal attention to the wealth of historic houses
that remained in the region. Both exercises emphasized the potential for development
of these sites as museums and tourist attractions. But once again the eurocentric focus
of local preservation efforts alienated the majority of the populace, by ignoring the
relevance of the non-European Caribbean experience.
With no tribal memory to connect the prehistoric inhabitants to 20th century in-
heritors, West Indian archaeological artifacts could only be viewed as curiosities at best
and were therefore incapable of sustaining concentrated interest except amongst
scholarly enthusiasts. In essence these institutions did more to sever the colonized from
their own cultural identity than they did to generate a coherent replacement. The
process of disinheritance continued in museums as it did in all other spheres of Carib-
bean cultural existence.
Bather and Shepherd's report on museums of the West Indies for the Museums
Association [of Britain] in 1933 gives no evidence of awareness of this anomaly. Even in
their advocation of an adequate museum service for every town with a population of
20,000, they qualify this statement by introducing the word literate." The
Commissioners' statement that;
"It might seem slightly fantastic to imagine educa-
tional museums being provided for an illiterate
population, although in years to come
educationalists may be sufficiently advanced to
utilise a museum or museum methods in the educa-
tion of illiterates,"8
may have been in keeping with the professional view of the period.
However despite the disclaimer that "there is, so far as museum visitors or officers
are concerned, no reason to make any distinction of race"9, their complacency in
recognizing that "in several of these island territories the literate population is some-
times less than 5% or 6% of the whole"10, in all likelihood gave acceptance to the view
that museums were and should remain, the territory of the elite. Some Negroes and
Chinese were included by reason of intelligence and as "cultured" members of society.
Indeed the Commissioners seemed ignorant of the determination of the working class
leaders that formal education for all was an immediate priority, criticizing what seemed
to them an overemphasis on education. They seemed somewhat surprised that despite
the inability to read the labels, the majority of visitors to the Museum were 'natives' who
took a special interest in exhibits "connected with their own customs or familiar natural
Bather and Shepherd recognized that it was not government but semi-private
enterprise which had been "the chief agents in providing the only effective museums".12
They acknowledged that further development in the smaller islands was only likely if
voluntary effort was supported by professional staff. Their solution of "a federation of
islands for museum purposes" sharing the resources of one curator, was far ahead of its
time and although this concept was received with some interest, it was never supported
by the Home Office and never came to fruition.
The long term Caribbean economic depression suffered since the end of the 19th
century became chronic during the Thirties. The result was an impoverished working
class. Although the pattern of land ownership had begun to change, primarily due to the
influx of 'Panama money' to enable the purchase of land by the relatives of migrant
workers in Panama, and the artificial prosperity experienced due to the wartime boom
in sugar, production had collapsed by the 1920's. The austerity experienced by the
Caribbean economy heightened the differences in lifestyle between the planter/mer-
chant class and the masses. Violent clashes ensued and culminated in the late 1930's
with extensive rioting throughout the region. At the same time the emergence of black
organisational independence was triggered with the development of mutual support
groups such as friendly societies, cohesive church congregations and other community
This period of black socio-economic consolidation fostered an awareness of the
need for political mobilisation among the working classes. Marcus Garvey's pan-Carib-
bean movement was the major contributing factor in the development of the West
Indian political consciousness as well as the ideology of trade unionism. By extension,
for the first time in the Caribbean blacks sought to redress for the disenfranchisement
they had suffered by demanding social and economic reform. For the first time they
addressed the issue of the deliberate suppression of black culture and attempted to
establish a policy of black cultural nationalism to counterpoint the dominant euro-cul-
tural stance which existed within West Indian society.
In Jamaica Edna Manley (later wife of Jamaica's first Prime Minister, Norman
Manley) exhibited the sculpture "Negro Aroused" in her first solo exhibition in the
islands in 1935, which soon became the icon of the island's nationalist movement. The
powerful torso came to symbolize a break with the past for the Jamaican people, and
presaged the break with British Colonial rule. Nationalist pressure ensured that the
piece was soon acquired by the Institute of Jamaica where it became the nucleus of the
national art collection.
The Moyne Commission, completed in 1938-1939, thoroughly investigated the social
and economic conditions of the labouring class in the West Indies and its report raised
many questions and offered a number of recommendations on the amelioration of the
present West Indian way of life. Local reformists pressed for a more equitable distribu-
tion of economic resources and the liberalization of social institutions.
While the Commissioners particularly recommended the Carnegie Corporation's
role in the improvement of educational standards, through its assistance in establishing
a central Caribbean Library system, their report also drew attention to the relative
paucity of aesthetic stimuli for the people remarking that
"One of the strongest and most discouraging im-
pressions carried away by the investigators...is that
of a prevailing absence of independence and self
help, the lack of tradition of craftsmanship and pride
in good work...without some such tradition, no
amount of external and governmental help will cre-
ate a sound and self-perpetuating social tradition."13
For the Commissioners, the solution to this was to encourage the British Govern-
ment to recognize the importance of development of the handicraft industry to service
the growing tourism industry in the region. Their vision encompassed economic security
without completely appreciating the dynamics of cultural identification/cohesion within
one particular group.
The onset of World War II brought with the determination of the Home Govern-
ment that despite moves to dispense with the historical bonds of Empire, efforts should
be made to garner as much support as possible for Britain in its time of crisis. The role
of the British Council as an organ for British propaganda, albeit of a cultural and visual
nature, took on a new importance. In the West Indies this led to the decision to establish
by 1943, Colonial offices of the Council in Trinidad, British Guiana and Barbados (to
serve the Eastern Caribbean and Jamaica).
Apart from its stated function to support the development of the Arts, though
naturally with an anglophile bias, the British Council's presence in the West Indies
probably contributed to the development of national art societies and indirectly, nation-
al collections throughout the forties and fifties. The inauguration of such bodies as the
Barbados Arts Council and the Grenada Society of the Arts, both launched in 1944, was
encouraged; while in British Guiana the National Collection of Fine Art was formed six
years later in 1950. Similarly the founding of the Jamaican School of Art in 1950 gave
significant impetus to the development of a distinct Jamaican aesthetic.
The Council also became the conduit for museum development proposals to the
Colonial Office. The establishment of the Children's Gallery at the Barbados Museum
in 1947 grew out of a reluctant acceptance that the development of a visual art's
department within such an institution could contribute significantly to the educational
system in Barbados.14 The Institute of Jamaica had already begun to play a similar role
from 1938 onwards, it was through these small outlets that museums were assigned a
significant role in the development of national identity, through the nurturing of a still
youthful Caribbean aesthetic consciousness. Nevertheless the forties and fifties saw
scant development of the smaller museums in the Caribbean and many museums
continued a precarious existence as mere appendages to the local public libraries.
The development of a regional tourist industry crystallized in 1951 with the forma-
tion of the Caribbean Tourism Association. In the years immediately following World
War II the islands of the British West Indies were promoted as an ideal holiday
destination. With the establishment of the Association, a much more aggressive market-
ing strategy was put in place. By the end of the decade commercial aircraft travel made
the West Indies more accessible, creating an immediate market for the smaller islands
in the region, (and by the same token the Cuban revolution closed off that location to
the burgeoning American industry).
Sympathetic support for the restoration of historic sites grew as the demands of the
tourist industry expanded. Acworth's survey (1951) revealed that official support of
neglected historic sites could yield even greater economic returns by opening them to
the tourism market. The climate was right for the development of the heritage industry.
Private initiative in the form of newly formed National Trusts met few official barriers
(if no financial support) for the restoration and marketing of historic sites and buildings
as viable cultural and tourism resources.
Acworth's recommendations for the listing and preservation of historic buildings
created a local interest in historic buildings and subsequently the development of open
air museums, such as English Harbour (Antigua) and Brimstone Hill (St. Kitts).
Another direct response to this climate of interest was the formation of the first national
trusts in the region, including Jamaica (1958) and Barbados (1960). In his report
Acworth was concerned that 'popular indifference to architecture of all sorts has, been
matched by official neglect of the need for protecting the islands architectural heritage
from damage or destruction'.15
Predictably the major focus of Acworth's report was the European influenced great
houses and official buildings, omitting any reference to the vernacular architecture
which coexisted in these countries. The result was again predictable, a distinct
eurocentric bias in both public and private priorities, that gave little recognition to more
authentically Caribbean structures. The lack of popular support for these conservation
efforts was hardly surprisingly historic preservation remained the periphery of local
cultural consciousness for decades.
During the fifties the British West Indies gave consideration to the question of a
Federation of West Indian Nations. Negotiations had started in earnest almost a decade
earlier and by 1956 a Federation seemed inevitable. At a time when the island govern-
ments were contemplating a political and economic union which might strengthen the
vulnerable position of so many tiny nation states, the concept of cultural unity was also
mooted. In August 1956 Lynndon Clough, representative for the British Arts Council in
'after Federation one hopes and presumes that the
nation will develop a cultural unity to cement the
political and economic joints, though perhaps each
island will preserve its individuality in much the
same way as English counties, American States and
Canadian provinces cling to personal charac-
He also emphasized that a Federal Museum should be a primary consideration in
the process of regional unification.
The first Federal Government was elected in 1958 and by May 1959 had approved
plans for a National [Caribbean] Art Collection. The future looked hopeful. This was
the first time that a cultural policy for the region as a whole was promulgated. Political
events however militated against the achievement of this ideal. In May 1962 after only
four uncertain years of political unity, the Federation of West Indian States was dis-
rupted by calls for independent status. Jamaica was the first to go, achieving inde-
pendence in 1962, followed closely by Trinidad and Tobago, and later by Guyana and
Barbados in 1966. With their departure the vulnerable Federation disintegrated, leav-
ing cultural unity in the Caribbean unfulfilled.
In most islands, while local arts and crafts societies created a stimulus for the artistic
community through their activities, even the exchange of cultural programmes and
exhibits among regional counterparts were of little benefit to the local museums, whose
existence was overshadowed in the smaller territories. The Caribbean continued to
suffer from vestigial elements of colonialism. An unfortunate though understandable
result was that preservationists in each colony were viewed primarily as an expatriate
element seeking to preserve the last vestiges of an exploitative colonial past.
Thus preservation-oriented groups, including historic societies and national trusts,
tended to remain very small organizations whose administrative structure and member-
ship made them 'exclusive' to the general public. The National Trust of Jamaica and
Guyana, being governmental bodies, largely escaped this stigma, but other private
groups had to work hard in the community to avoid it.
A significant exception was the organisational expansion of the Institute of Jamaica
during the sixties. In 1961, the Jamaica Peoples Museum of Craft and Technology was
established in the stables of the Old King's House at Spanish Town. The Jamaica
Government sought to move beyond the confines of Kingston and to establish an
appreciation of traditional creole culture and craft amongst a rural community. These
exhibits at this museum presented traditional techniques in arts, architecture and crafts
in a relevant cultural context.
Later in 1965, the Institute established the Arawak Museum at White Marl, in St.
Catherine, the largest Amerindian site yet discovered on the island. Constructed in the
octagonal shape of an Arawak house, the museum was designed to interpret the
prehistory of Jamaica, including aspects of the social, spiritual, and economic life of the
Indian population. The museum was intended as a prototype of other similar interpre-
tive centres to be established around the island. Both museums attempted to create a
sense of identity amongst the local populace, and to encourage a sense of national pride
throughout a disparate community.
During the late sixties with the founding of various regional organizations, the
concept of Caribbean unity began again to gain greater currency. Concern with conser-
vation issues led to the formation of the Caribbean Conservation Association (CCA) in
1967. Conceived as a regional non-governmental organisation to preserve and protect
the natural and manmade environments, CCA was to act as a co-ordinator for technical
assistance as well as a persuasive lobbyist for action by various governments. In addition
CCA was to serve as a link between governments, non-governmental associations and
funding agencies. Part of CCA's mandate was to help co-ordinate and assist the ac-
tivities of trusts, governments and private agencies on a regional basis. The influence of
such a body was almost immediate and by the end of the decade several new conserva-
tion bodies had been set up in the West Indies. In 1967 the Grenada Trust was
incorporated by an Act of Legislation, followed closely in 1969 by the formation of
National Trusts in both Montserrat and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
However despite this clear early success, there was little official support for CCA
during the first seven years of its existence until September 1974, when the Government
of Barbados became the first full member of the Association. During the Opening
ceremony of CCA's Annual General Meeting in September 1976 Guyana's Prime
Minister, Mr. Forbes Burnham, delivered an address calling, for perhaps the first time,
for the safeguarding of the natural and cultural heritage of the Caribbean. Evidently
influenced by the concerns expressed with increasing fervour by both African and Asian
countries, he also called for the repatriation of materials of cultural and historical
significance held outside the region and also expressed the belief that CCA was the
obvious body to co-ordinate these activities.
CCA was also the facilitator for a major analysis on Caribbean Museum develop-
ment. In their report to CCA Canadian consultants Lemieux and Schultz found that
most of the institutions visited were small, general in the scope of their exhibits, badly
organized and understaffed, and inadequately financed. None of the institutions, with
the exception of Barbados, had professionally qualified staff. They noted however, that
within recent years there had been a cultural reawakening and many of the island states
in their development plans provided for the rehabilitation of existing museums or the
establishment of historical and natural history museums to complement the preserva-
tion and restoration of military monuments and forts, linked closely with the tourism
strategy of the developing territories'.17 In addition this plan emphasized the need to
encourage West Indian unity, and to develop a closer working relationship between
museums, in order to maximize the use of available professional staff.
Ultimately, it was hoped that 'A Caribbean Museums Association would be estab-
lished to co-ordinate and develop regional programs at all levels and establish links'
with international museums associates.18 One such effort to forge a regional museums
association was developed by Dr. Marcus Buchanan who sought the "reawakening of
internal interest in the definition of our cultural and social interest [which] what
demanded the establishment of institutions preservative of those elements which are
indicative of that heritage...' and felt that the modern museum...must be considered a
complementary adjunct to the educational and cultural resources of the community, not
an organisation competing against them'.19 Throughout his career in the Caribbean, Dr.
Buchanan encouraged the development of professional standards in West Indian
museums. He struggled single-handedly to establish a network of museums, attempting
to improve lines of communication between museums in the Caribbean and external
organizations that might benefit the regional institutions. But with his death in 1976 this
effort seemed largely unsuccessful.
Throughout this period Jamaica maintained its lead in museum development. In
1972 the Institute of Jamaica assumed responsibility for all state cultural activities. It
was the first Caribbean national institution tj gain such prominence and responsibility.
This was reflected in a programme of resea ch designed to analyse and enable museums
to develop their potential in terms of the needs of the total Jamaica community. In 1974
the National Gallery of Jamaica was established at Devon House to house the Institute's
extensive 20th Century Jamaican art collection and to highlight it as an important
component of the national heritage. This was the first such institution to legitimize Art
Caribbean culture; it immediately became the major catalyst for the development of a
distinct Jamaican artistic language.
During the 70s the English-speaking Caribbean nations renewed the pursuit of a
regional identity, primarily through economic co-operation in 1973 with the Caribbean
Common market (CARICOM). The earlier CARIFTA, was replaced to co-ordinate
trade amongst the member nations. A culture desk was established within that organisa-
tion and was given responsibility for planning and co-ordinating regional cultural
festivals, and advising client nations on cultural matters. During the period immediately
following the formation of CARICOM, museum development consciously began to
move in a different direction. To what extent CARICOM was necessarily the vehicle for
change remains a matter for discussion.
Another regional museum report was initiated by CARICOM in 1978. Dr.
Raymond Singleton, Unesco Consultant, saw the need for one or more regional centres,
attached to certain larger museums, to provide technical aid and conservation work
when required. Because of the unique situation in the Caribbean, Singleton felt that
CARICOM as a "suitable, independent, central agency...should act as a clearing house
for museum aid of all kinds," and "that the basic principle for the distribution of such
aid should be the 'community value' of the institution concerned".20
Singleton was particularly sensitive to 'the diversity of character between the various
communities [as] is one of the principle features of the Caribbean and felt strongly that
any tendency to develop standardized, stereotyped museums should be resisted."21
Rather, he recommended that, each institution should develop its own character in
close relation to that of the community, and while developing a number of activities and
services to confirm its identity as a museum, "the form these should take should be
allowed to depend very largely on local traditions, local needs, and local initiatives."22
Singleton also recognized the great importance attached to tourism in the region.
He noted that tourists visiting the region would benefit considerably from viewing
exhibits which focused on its diversity of cultures. Nevertheless he was careful to stress
that these institutions should be developed primarily to meet the needs of the local
community, without catering exclusively to the interest of any one specialist group.
Finally he concludes:
"A virtue should therefore be made of diversity,
encouraging each museum to develop its own highly
individual character...each museum...should be
strongly community-oriented, reflecting not only the
complete history but the character of the community
it serves. In this way, the unique form of cultural
contribution which only a museum can make is likely
to be most effective and most readily understood,
accepted, and valued locally."23
Following the Singleton report CARICOM took the initiative in organising the first
Caribbean workshop on Museums, Monuments and Sites. Modern museum develop-
ment took a major step forward when CARICOM made it a priority as in the region's
programme of cultural co-operation. The programme was devised to increase cultural
awareness throughout the region, to promote the development of museums and the
preservation of monuments and historic sites as important instruments of historical
awareness and cultural identity. The significance of the workshop was that it marked the
first 'regional' consciousness of museums as catalysts and generators of culture and
established in some ways the professional status of museum work.
Mr. A.A. Moore, Chief of the Education and Cultural section of CARICOM,
presented the organisation's view on cultural development in the regions as;
"one of the essential components of national
development...[CARICOM] is convinced too that
the region with its rich cultural heritage, reflecting
strains and influences from almost every part of the
world, has a great deal to gain from the promotion of
education and information about and an apprecia-
tion and understanding of this heritage. 24
He noted the role of museums, monuments and sites in fostering national and
regional identity. The establishment of a Caribbean Museum Association was em-
phasized. With the exception of Belize, no country had functioning legislation for the
protection of cultural heritage. This workshop herald a significant change in official
attitude towards museums and gave them new credibility in the political community that
had not existed before.
During the seventies, the trend toward self government accelerated, and eventually
smaller islands followed the example of the larger states. In 1974 Grenada led the way,
gaining full independence. The other islands followed quickly: with Dominica in 1978,
St. Lucia and St. Vincent & the Grenadines in 1979, Antigua in 1981, and St. Chris-
topher & Nevis in 1983. The political reconstruction of these micro-nations combined
with the impact of the Caricom Workshop, considerably influenced contemporary
museum development in the region, and national pride in these newly-independent
island communities was thus fostered. This nurtured development as other non-inde-
pendent islands were also influenced by this development including: St. Eustatius
Museum (1974) the Museum of the Montserrat National Trust (1976), Eco Musee de
Marie Galante, Guadeloupe (1980).
The self-governing states now had leadership formed primarily from a coloured
working class and middle class majority. With independence came the search for a
positive national identity and independent society, to replace the British cultural image
and to obliterate the habit of colonial dependency. On the eve of St. Vincent's inde-
pendence in 1979 for example, the Premier, the Hon. Milton Cato opened the first
island museum devoted to its earliest inhabitants. Stressing the significance of cultural
patrimony emphasized that history was essential to the growth of a nation. A group of
40 Carib children from the Sandy Bay Area joined in the ceremony; many of them had
donated artifacts and considered it to be their museum. In St. Kitts Premier the Hon.
Dr. Kennedy Simmonds paid similar attention tot he role of the new museum at Fort
George, Brimstone Hill.
The Institute of Jamaica was extensively reorganised from 1976-81. The Museum
Division formulated a new National Museum plan to decentralize the collections
around the island into a series of museums, relating to specific periods and events. This
development was funded entirely by Government, through its Ministry of Mobilisation,
Culture and Information. During 1982 the Jamaica National Gallery of Art relocated
from Historic Devon House to a spacious, modern building within the urban develop-
ment of downtown Kingston. The building, originally designed as a supermarket and
business centre was acquired by the Institute of Jamaica, to house its Contemporary Art
and African collections, with sufficient space for new conservation and technical
In Barbados, Michael Chandler's (previously Chief Archivist) critical analysis of the
Barbados Museum (1977) revealed many deficiencies in; the staffing, exhibits, collec-
tions and space of the institution, and generally the unsatisfactory state of the museum
as fully representative of national history and culture. For the first time both Govern-
ment and Board gave full consideration to the role that the Barbados Museum should
play within the local community and beyond. In 1980 the Minister of Information and
Culture expressed concern that the Barbados Muscum was ;
"not really representative of the various aspects of
Barbadian Life.....while the collection tells the
visitor a great deal about Barbadian merchants and
planters, their lifestyle and their adoption of
European material culture, it says little or nothing
about slaves, plantation labourers or peasant
farmers. Imbalance in the collections had allowed
attention to focus mainly on one segment of society
and culture and therefore [did] not present a
coherent of complete story of Barbados in his-
A select committee was set up to examine these difficiences in both collection and
exhibition, staffing and facilities. The committee would develop plans for the modifica-
tion and improvement of the museum in all these areas. Government in exchange would
supply the necessary funding in order that the museum could become "an instrument of
national identity" and an institution in the service of national development".26 In
essence this 'partnership' spurred on the future development of the museum by making
it for the first time, part of the national agenda for cultural development.
In Trinidad an initiative by Mrs. Sheila Solomon (the Secretary General of the
Trinidad and Tobago National Commission for UNESCO), resulted in a UNESCO
consultancy on museum development. Between November 1976 and January 1977, Dr.
Fernanda de Carmago e Almeida-Moro visited the country and prepared a report on its
museums, proposing plans for national museum development, advising on community
outreach programmes to reflect the social awareness and change among the local
people, advice on exhibit design and installation, as well as recommending the drafting
of Legislation to protect cultural property.
In essence the government and individuals involved expressed the need for develop-
ing the role of the Museum as 'a centre for cultural dynamism [within] the com-
munity."27 De Carmago also proposed the establishment of a number of new facilities
(a) A living Museum of Festivals, Music and Dance to highlight the importance of these
activities for the local population; (b) A Museum of Agriculture in the Caroni area to
give a basic understanding of the country's environment, ethnography and natural
history, as well as the development of agriculture in Trinidad; (c) a Petroleum Museum
illustrating the development of the refinery process from the early 20th century as well
as the transformation of society brought about through petroleum development, and
(d) the creation of a series of mini-museums of civic centres, throughout the country
that housed temporary exhibits for the benefit of the local community.
One year later in May 1978, the Government of Trinidad took up one of Dr.
Carmago's recommendations and requested UNESCO to provide seminars on "Con-
cepts of Cultural Heritage and Preservation". During the seminar the Minister of
Education and Culture, Dr. Cuthbert Joseph, for the first time, placed emphasis on the
role of modern museums as 'dynamic instruments for education and cultural activities
and interaction within communities'.28 These discussions revealed the island's vul-
nerability to the possible cultural destruction because there was no protective legisla-
tion in place for architectural or archaeological remains. For a little time the stage was
set for truly innovative museum development in Trinidad, but within five years the
bottom dropped out of the country's oil market and its collapse heralded the disintegra-
tion of the dream.
In Guyana similarly, attempts have been made to established a national museums
system. So far the Vincent Roth Museum of Archaeology has been established, under
the able direction of Dr. Denis Williams, having as its nucleus the extensive archaeologi-
cal and ethnographical Guyana collections of the Guyana National Museum. The
Guyana Museum itself now concentrates almost exclusively on the natural history of the
territory although there are small exhibits relating to diverse aspects of the country's
In the decade following three more major reports were compiled including Towle
and Tyson (1979), Rivera and Soto Soria (1982) and Whiting (1983). In each case the
authors emphasized that the role of cultural resources utilization in the overall insular
development process had not yet been fully recognized or defined by Caribbean na-
tions. Cultural development could also promote a;
'sense of pride, self-esteem and national identity
that will help the people of developing nations over-
come the debilitating sense of cultural inferiority
and dependency induced by colonialism and
The lack of professional curatorial and technical staff was identified as a major
deficiency, as well as the need for professional training at all levels. The creation of a
viable information network was regarded as a priority, in addition to ongoing profes-
sional contact with other museum colleagues and the exchange of curatorial advice and
technical assistance, it was emphasized, could be done most effectively through the
establishment of a regional association of museums. The establishment of regional
conservation and training centres was regarded as essential in order to share resources
most efficiently. In the final analysis all consultants identified that the key to further
improvement and strengthening was greater government participation in museum ac-
tivities, by incorporating museums into the educational and cultural machinery, as part
of the national development plans of each country.
Each successive report has recognized that museums, as contributors to the founda-
tion of national development, should form linkages with Education and Tourism, with
a careful balance in orientation to be maintained. That they have something of great
value to offer in both areas is yet to be accepted by various island governments, although
the words are mouthed on appropriate public occasions. The refrain of informal educa-
tional and cultural tourism resounds whenever museums are mentioned. Yet while it
may be accepted in principle, there has clearly been very little done to put into practice.
Even though for most of these governments Education and Tourism remain the greatest
priorities within the development process, with the largest designated budget, museums
and historic sites are consistently relegated solely to Culture which is generally assigned
the smallest budget.
This linkifig of cultural activity with (a) identification/independence and (b) with
tourism/development had, and still has important ramifications for the Caribbean
today. For while each country in the region has sought to incorporate a cultural
development policy in its overall national development strategy, all too often the policy
has been that of "cultural tourism", as a justification for any activity in this section and
certainly as a priority before integration within the Caribbean cultural context. Net-
tleford suggests that;
"at best this speaks to our cultural pluralist texture
which we are, indeed, proud. At worse it reinforces
the lack of confidence in what we ourselves have
created for ourselves and panders to the perception
of a glamorous paradise..."30
It has been recognized that Caribbean museum establishment and development has
been the realm primarily of private non-profit ogranisations, resulting in a benign
indifference on the part of Government. While some of the oldest and largest institu-
tions such as Guyana, Trinidad and Jamaica have become Government institutions, this
has not guaranteed them any greater facility in the movement towards development.
Although Jamaica, more than any other, seems to have benefitted from the sympathetic
interest of one of its Prime Minister's, Michael Manley, at important periods in its
development. However this has nevertheless served unwittingly to politicize the cul-
tural development process and ambitious plans for the development of a new home for
the National Gallery, became the target of bitter attack by the Opposition.
In her article'How Sweets It Is: Cultural Politics in Barbados', Jeanne Cannizzo has
examined the role of a museums as "symbolic structures which make visible our public
myths".31 Her analysis of the process of the museum's development is in relation to the
view that "museums as visual ideologies... [are expressive of] a relatively coherent
[cultural] system of ideas, values, beliefs etc."32 Her exploration of the Barbados
Museum's redefining of local culture, may be used, to a greater or lesser extent, as a
pattern for museum development in the other English-speaking islands. Caribbean
Museums while often being active agents in shaping identity have, until recently, ex-
apropriated culture using it on behalf of the ruling classes to achieve self-definition by
majority exclusion.33 Cannizzo reflects that" By not displaying the cultural heritage of
the majority of the population, the museum has taken from them, by implication their
role as history makers, as active participants of their own past".34
How is this bias to be resolved and the imbalance to be corrected? Cannizzo
suggests that while we may disagree with such Government's interventionist policy, in
which popular sentiment might be manipulated, such cases as the Barbados
Government's initiative might be viewed as a kind of cultural affirmative action by the
people to assert their cultural independence or restore a collective heritage. The
changes in exhibit interpretation present Barbados as a plural society, with;
"a present growing out of its past and history is
presented as a living thing...an interpretive art, that
acknowledges history is not based solely on dates
and objects but on meanings....Throughout the
Museum black culture is shown as worth of serious
museological investigation and display."35
In this sense the museum acknowledges and legitimizes Caribbean culture, making
visible what was once a hidden past. In this way museums serve a number of roles in a
region where popular culture had for centuries remained alienated from officialdom.
At this time when a Pan-Caribbean political ideology remains in its infancy, regional
museums, through the process described above, may do more to help the Caribbean
community to adjust to a far-reaching social, economic, political and cultural transfor-
I wish to thank both Wendy Donowa and Lesley Barrow-Ahatley for their valuable comments on this
paper, Phillipa Newton and Angela Boyce for their technical support, and Dr. Mary Chamberlain
both for insisting on and encouraging the submission of a paper to this conference.
1. Aspects of the Afro-Caribbean cultural experience have been analysed in depth in Gordon K. Lewis,
The Growth of the Modern West Indies, (Monthly Review Press, New York and London, 1968), p.
2 William Reid, private communication to Normanby, 12 July 1839, (Public Record Office, C.O. 37/101,
3. Bermuda Law, An Act to Establish a Public Library In this island, 1843.
4. Proceedings of the Natural History Society of British Guiana at the exhibition of the collection
of natural history specimens of the colony, 1st August, 1863.
5. Royal Society of Arts and Agriculture, Jamaica, 1864.
6. Lewis, The Growth of the Modern West Indies, p. 30.
7. J.W. Fewkes, 'The Aborigines of Porto Rico and Neighbouring Island's' In 25th Annual Report of the
Bureau of American Ethnology, (Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1907), p. 17.
8. The first analytical study of Caribbean museums, their history, audience, collections, facilities and
resources appears in F.A. Bather and T. Shepherd, 'The Museums of the British West Indies' (includ-
ing the Bermudas and British Guiana), Reports on the museums of Ceylon, British Malaysia, The
West Indies to the Carnegie Corporation of New York, (The Museums Association, London, 1933)
pp. 27-58. It is somewhat ironic to note that the deficiencies noted in that report over 50 years earlier
still have relevance to the status of many Caribbean Museums today.
9. Bather and Shepherd, p. 35.
10. H.A. Miers and S.F. Markham, Introduction to Reports on the Museums etc, p. 8.
11. Bather and Shepherd, p.51.
12. Bather and Shepherd, p. 38.
13. The Report of the West Indian Royal Commission (HMSO, Comd. 6607, 1945), p. 35.
14. N. Connell, correspondence with the Colonial Office in the files of the Barbados Museum and Histori-
cal Society, 1940-1945.
15. A. Acworth, Buildings of architectural or historic Interest In the British West Indies: A Report,
(H.M.S.O., Colonial Research Studies No. 2, London), pp. 4-5.
16. In two articles written for the Bajan Magazine in 1956 the author outlined what was essentially
a first regional cultural policy in L.W. Clough, "Culture and Federation", The Bajan, (Barbados,
August 1956), pp, 22-31.
17 .L. Lemieux and H. Schultz Report on Caribbean Museums, (Caribbean Conservation Association, Bar-
bados, 1973), p. 1.
18 Lemieux and Schultz, p. 1.
19. During the last 20 years Caribbean museums development has been combined with the establishment
of National Trust organizations through the efforts of organizations like the CCA and Island Resour-
ces foundation, and individuals such as Marcus Buchanan. The files of the CCA are a particularly
vital source of unpublished information for regional museum research. O.M. Buchanan, Letter to M.
Hanif of the Caribbean Conservation Association with recommendations on the Dominica National
Museum Project, (May 1972), p. 2.
20 R. Singleton, 'Museums in the Caribbean: Their immediate needs and their suggested objectives' in
Report of the Workshop on Museums, Monuments and Historic Sites, (Caricom Secretariat,
Guyana, 1978), pp. 8.
21,22,23 R. Singleton, p. 9-10.
24 A.A. Moores, Introduction to the Report on the Caricom Workshop of Museums, Monuments and
Sites, (Guyana, 1978), p. 1.
25 Correspondence of the Ministry of Information and Culture of the Barbados Museum and
Historical Society cited in the 5 Year Museum Development Plan. (Barbados 1982), p. 1.
26 Ibid.,p. 2.
27 .Fernanda de Carmago Almeida Moro, Development of Museums In Trinidad and Tobago,
FMR/CC/CH/77/192 (Unesco, Paris, 1977), p. 2.
28 Dr. C. Joseph quoted in Concepts of Cultural Heritage and Preservation Report on the Trinidad
and Tobago Government Seminar (Unesco, 1978), p. 4.
29 Several reports on the Status of Caribbean Museums and recommendations for development have
been commissioned in the late 702 and early 80s. Apart from the Lemieux and Schultz/CCA Report
(1973) and the Singleton/Caricom Report (1978) both previously cited, the following reports have all
been consistent in their analysis of the deficiencies and the problems of these institutions, and their
potential for development. These include E.L. Towle and G.F. Tyson, Towards a planning Strategy
for Management of Historical/Cultural resources critical to development In the Lesser Antilles a
concept paper, (Island Resources foundation, U.S. Virgin Islands, 1979); R. Rivera and A. Soto
Soria, Museum Development in English Speaking Caribbean countries Report of the Mission,
(OAS, Washington, D.C., 1982); J. Whiting, Museum Focussed Heritage In the English-Speaking
Caribbean, (Unesco Technical Report 1981-1983/4/76/04, Paris 1983). Towle and Tyson, 1979, p. 9.
30. R. Nettleford Feature Address on Cultural Identity, to the 4th Conference of Commonwealth Arts
Administrators, (Barbados, April 1988).
31 J. Cannizzo, 'How Sweet It is: Cultural Politics in Barbados' in Muse 4:4, 1987, pp. 22-26, (p. 22).
32. J. Cannizzo, p. 22,
35. -p. 25.
THE SOJOURN TOWARD SELF DISCOVERY AMONG
CARIBBEAN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES
The present peoples of the New World owe a large part of their cultural heritage to
those who lived here before the contact period. Many would admit to this truism, while
having difficulty in relating to the people whose biological heritage predates the
European arrival. There is no need to repeat the fact that in almost all the societies
where there are Indians, they are usually the ones regarded as the "problem", they have
to be legislated, acculturated, assimilated, and integrated into the mainstream. It is a
pattern with which we are all familiar in the older countries of the New World.
What is the situation regarding the indigenous peoples in the newly independent
countries of the English-speaking Caribbean? The reactions towards them are fraught
with contradictions that are probably even more poignant than in the former countries.
Firstly, there is the question whether there are still any left in the English-speaking
Caribbean. All West Indians learn in school that the Indians whom the Europeans met
became extinct. Among little known facts about Guyana, St. Vincent, Dominica, and
Belize is that their population contain thousands of indigenous people. The fact that
they are mixed and share varying degrees of the biological traits, not to mention the
cultural traits which have diffused and become integrated into what is now considered
typical Caribbean culture.
What makes the condition of the indigenous people in the English-speaking Carib-
bean particularly caustic is that it brings home to the observer that there are some
unresolved questions built into their newly enshrined national constitutions that have to
be answered. The following are some examples. People throughout the region maintain
an ideology of multiculturalism. But the deprivations that they inflict on the indigenous
people highlight in sharp profile the disproportionate regard being given to people of
other races. Notwithstanding the national ethnic, race (in a narrow sense) remains a
major index of classification in all the countries. They hold as a sacred value the right of
the individual to vote. But there is little emphasis placed on local government at the
level of the indigenous community, the centres of aggregation for most of the in-
digenous people and, indeed, other large segments of the national population. Even
when they vote, they elect a representative for central government who may be ineffec-
tive since the national policies are shaped by his colleagues representing the capital city
and other urban areas. Finally, as nation states they have gotten rid of the yokes of
colonialism. However, the indigenous population remain as internally colonized
peoples growing cheap food as staples or for export, providing cheap labour, and
sharing freely their knowledge of the immediate environment with the colonizers. The
reward they receive is the good name that they are contributing to the welfare of the
The above problems take place within each country. However, they are repeated
from one to another forming a consistent regional pattern. The solutions have to be
started at both the regional and national levels, each reinforcing the other in a step by
step manner that leads to a re-vindication of the position of the indigenous people, the
ultimate beneficiaries who will gain renewed strength. As a body whose parts have been
rejoined, the nation will bounce forward on coming closer to realizing the lofty ideals of
But first the people have to initiate their self-discovery. This paper uses the analogy
of a sojourn to refer to the process of self-discovery among indigenous peoples. In
travelling throughout the Caribbean one gets the impression of boundless space either
as wider expanse of the ocean or of endless jungle in the mainland countries of Belize
and Guyana. Taming the physical environment by travelling would seem to be the
timeless destiny of the Caribbean people. In pre-cohtact times Arawak and Carib
explorers travelled from South America to inhabit the Antilles. The challenge now is for
their descendants not to discover new lands or conquer old enemies but how to
integrate their identity into their own development in these rapidly changing times.
The paper starts with a brief description of the conditions of indigenous people in
four countries Guyana, Belize, Dominica, and St. Vincent, which together form the
Caribbean Organization of Indigenous People (COIP). It continues with a review of
obstacles toward self-discovery and ends with the formation of the (COIP) as a
mechanism to hasten the sojourn. This review is timely. It comes at the eye of the 500th
anniversary of the fortuitous meeting of Columbus with the original inhabitants of the
Caribbean. It was this meeting that initiated the distortion that only now we are
beginning to right.
The Indigenous groups
Presently Guyana is within the Guiana anthropological culture area, which is
bounded by the Orinoco and Amazon Rivers and the Atlantic seaboard. It is the
heartland of the tropical Forest Cultures from which they dispersed to adjoining parts
of northeastern South America. Using archaeological and ethnohistorical data Steward
(1949:883-900) distinguishes two broad types of Tropical Forest Cultures the basic and
marginal. The former, which is typified by the Arawaks, is more sophisticated. It
featured intensive agricultural systems, twilled and woven baskets, loom weaving, cot-
ton, hammock, and ceramics. The social organization included hierarchical social
classes headed by hereditary chiefs in "theocratic chiefdoms" (Rouse 1965: 235). The
Caribs represent the opposite extreme or the more primitive or marginal Tropical
Arawaks and Caribs have occupied Guyana from pre-contact times. Steward admits
that any attempt at pinpointing the specific geographical locations of their multiple
sub-groups during pre-contact times would be most difficult because of their extensive
migratory patterns. Inferences about this come from the recorded movements of tribes,
especially in central and southern Guyana within the past two hundred years. Indeed,
the intervention of Europeans the Dutch, Portugese, and British became the primary
role for the concentration of tribes in local communities within Guyana as in other parts
of northeastern South America. The reliance on trade goods, labour market, and the
educational-social welfare services of missionaries not only determined their locations,
it has also transformed them from their broadened intertribal social relations into being
circumscribed appendages of present-day Guyana.
One of the attributes that made the indigenous groups indispensable to the out-
siders has been the high degree of adaptation to their microenvironments. It has also
been their primary method of survival as distinct groups, they were able to exploit the
three main environmental zones of Guyana the coast, savannah, and forest. Using
their traditional skills they became guides, droghers (bearers), among other types of
wage labourers, to the foresters, agriculturalists, cattle ranchers, and prospectors.
Currently there are renewed efforts by the government to open the interior for extensive
exploitation and again the Amerindians are proving indispensable. However, as the
non-renewable resources of the environment become further to reach, their usefulness
as a people will diminish. The physical environment and its sustained exploitation for
the mutual advantage of two groups becomes a meeting ground for the Amerindians
and non-Amerindians of Guyana.
There are approximately 40,000 Amerindians in Guyana out of a total population of
about 800,000. There are eight tribes which fall under two main linguistic headings,
Arawakan and Cariban. There are two main areas where Amerindian communities are
found. One is the hinterland along the Brazil and Venezuela borders. The other along
the northeast Atlantic (also called the Coastland) is the area of highest concentration
for non-Amerindian Guyanese. For the most part the groups in the hinterland live as
separate tribes in their own geographical areas. They also are more traditional in
culture. Those in the Coastland have been more subjected to western influences. With
a few exceptions they live in mixed Amerindian communities.
The following description is taken from the report by the Amerindian Land Com-
mission submitted in 1969.1 It starts from the south and moves along the west adjoining
the Brazil and Venezuela borders.
At the extreme south in the headwaters of the Esse-
quibo River there are the Wai Wai. They are of
Cariban stock and fit squarely into Steward's Mar-
ginal Forest Culture category. The Commission
reports that they showed "minimal acculturation
and were unclothed". "They have only comparative-
ly recently changed over from a nomadic gathering
and hunting group to subsistence agriculture" (para-
The Wai Wai demonstrate the tendency for mass migration under dures from
missionaries. In 1949 they migrated from Brazil following a group called the Unevangel-
ized Field Mission.
"When residence permits to the Unevangelized
Field Mission were not renewed by the Guyanese
government, a majority of the 700 odd Wai Wai
moved to Brazil in the company of these mis-
sionaries. The 150 Wai Wai still resident in Guyana
seemed to have fallen under the influence of the
Christian Brethren Bible Outreach" (p. 11, Report
on a Conference of Amerindian Peoples, April 30 -
May 3, 1987, Guyana Human Rights Commission).
The Wapishana live in an area stretching from the
middle of the southern Rupununi savannahs to near
the forest edge. They moved into their present loca-
tion at the end of the eighteenth century. they are
Arawakan. Their main source of livelihood is balata
(rubber) bleeding, which they do seasonally for four
months of the year. During the rest of the year they
do subsistence agriculture and cattle rearing. The
communities visited by the Commission members
showed mostly limited coastland acculturation
The Macusi live in the central Rupununi savannah
and extend to the western side of the Pakaraima
Mountains. They are Cariban and moved into this
area toward the end of the eighteenth century from
Brazil where some are still found. Like the
Wapishana their main form of livelihood is balata.
They display a wide range in coastland acculturation
from low to fairly advanced, there is at least one
mixed (Amerindian and non (Amerindian) village
The Patamona live in the northern Pakaraima
Mountains. They are also Cariban. Their location is
well known for diamond production. Prospectors
and miners of all races live and work freely among
them. They work as droghers or as self-employed
miners. Others do balata. They are almost all well
acculturated (paragraphs 242-249).
The Akawaio live in the highly forested drainage
basin of Upper Mazaruni. They are Cariban. They
came from Venezuela early in the present century
along with the Seventh Day mission. Since 1959
diamonds have become their main source of
livelihood. Beforehand they worked as labourers on
farms and savannahs and bled balata. There is a
wide range in their level of acculturation (para-
Arawak, Warrou, and Carib communities are found
in the Northwest District. They do not live in distinct
tribal areas and many are intermixed with the
Coastland population. As a result, they are highly
acculturated compared to the previously mentioned
groups. They rely a great deal on wage labour on
timber operations and farms, doing subsistence
agriculture during lean periods. The Warrou live
mostly on the low, wet, marshy areas near the coast.
A large part of their diet consists of crabs and fish.
They are also noted for their boat building (para-
Finally, a word about the Barama River Caribs found in the northwest
Guyana/Venezuela border area. They were described as the "most impoverished and
traumatic aboriginal group" (paragraph 276).
They are the "remnants of the true Carib tribes
which inhabited the regions of the Orinoco and
many of the West Indian islands at the time of the
discovery of the New World" (paragraph 276).
After miners and prospectors swarmed their area at the end of the last century, they
withdrew further into the forest and have remained there. "They live in small com-
munities or as single families in the most remote corners of the forest." The Commission
members visited with one man, his five wives and twenty-five children, and sixty-four
family members making up an entire community. They estimated that there were about
500 Barama River Caribs on the Guyanese side of the border.
There are differences in the case of indigenous people between Guyana and Belize.
The first is a matter of scale. Belize is about one-tenth the size of Guyana. There are
proportionately far more indigenous people in Belize than in Guyana about 17percent
to .05 percent respectively.
There is not a pronounced coastland/hinterland dichotomy viz a viz the settlement
of Amerindians and non-Amerindians. The vast majority of Belizeans live within a
radius of 25 miles from the coast. There is geographical segregation with ethnic groups
concentrating in specific parts of the country. For more information see Furley and
Crosbie (1974). Several factors have contributed to forms of national overlapping
among ethnic groups in Belize unknown so far in Guyana. They include a common
history of participating in the timber industry and in the nationalist movement leading
toward political independence, systems of marketing agricultural crops grown in dif-
ferent parts of the country, a constantly improving national road network, and a modern
telecommunication system. There is greater public awareness of indigenous peoples in
Belize together with avenues for their social and economic integration. Maintaining
ethnic identity is more a function of retaining cultural boundaries than extreme
Belize has two sets of indigenous peoples. There are those sharing roots that go back
to the Arawaks and Caribs of the Orinoco basin via the Eastern Caribbean. Then there
are those who form part of the Yucatan Pensinsula Mesoamerican culture. They are the
Maya, who are subdivided into the Mopah Maya and Kekchi.
The Garifuna are black, the English name being Black Carib. they were formed by
the intermixture of maroon African slaves with Carib Indians in St. Vincent. In 1797 the
British shipped 2,000 to Central America. Today there are about 12,000 in Belize, part
of the approximately 80,000 found along the northeast Central American coast from
Belize to Nicaragua.
They retain large portions of the culture notably the language, diet, and ancestral
religious ceremonies. As we shall see further below, these traits have new completely
disappeared from the remnants of the Caribs in St. Vincent and Dominica.
Their social organization has changed most dramatically since their mass arrival in
Belize around the middle of the last century. The traditional coastal villages that formed
a diagnostic settlement pattern are now only vestiges of previously viable communities.
There are far more Garifuna found not in the village but in town and industrial sites
where they assimilate with other Belizeans through their practice of professional
careers or wage labour. In such situations the rural underpinnings of the culture no
longer prevail and its erosion is hastened. Younger people see little need to refer to it
and its attrition is most noticeable among them. Active throughout the country there is
a grassroots organization called the National Garifuna Council. Its objectives include
the preservation of the Garifuna culture.
The Mopan Maya and Kekchi, two separate descendants of the earlier Maya,
concentrate in the extreme southwestern part of the country. There are close bonds
between them including joint participation in the grassroots organization the Toledo
Maya Cultural Council. The Maya and Kekchi live in villages with average population
of between 100 to 400. In contrast to precontact times when the tribe was synonomous
with a region, whatever remains of tribal culture is limited to the village. Several villages
are located on land reserved only for the Maya/Kekchi. The reserve also includes milpa
(slash-and-burn) plots where they grow corn, beans, and rice. With the traditional
approval of central government, elected leaders form a type of local government.
There is migration among them leading to a two-way process of culture change. On
the one hand, there are large numbers of Kekchi arriving as refugees from neighboring
Guatemala who integrate among their Belizean counterparts. On the other hand, as the
older villages grow in population, their inhabitants spill over into non-Maya/Kekchi
communities in the Toledo and Stann Creek Districts. The cumulative effect of im-
migration and the drift eastward and further north is that the Maya/kekchi are having
an increasing impact on the rest of the Belizean population. More of this will inevitably
take place within the near future.
The two-way migration among the Kekchi brings into focus a main concept that we
have not discussed so far, namely the process of culture change, a fact of life affecting
all indigenous peoples. It can happen in two ways. There could be some invigoration
through the absorption of less sophisticated members of the tribe. There could also be
some loss while one simultaneously acquires another culture. The emphasis in discus-
sion is usually on the latter process, called acculturation and also assumed as being the
more desirable state. It is equally possible to use the antithetical term of deculturation
or more appropriately de-indigenization, where the emphasis is on the degree of losing
ones original culture. It is obviously a more appropriate term in referring to situations
in Guyana and Belize where it is still possible to observe the loff of cultural traits among
some groups. I refer to the Yucatec Maya in northern Belize which exemplify more than
one phase of deculturation while still maintaining a Maya base.
The people whom the Spaniards met on arriving at the Yucatan have been called by
anthropologists, Yucatec Maya. At this time their domain extended as far south as
northern Belize. Co-existence with the Spaniards was never peaceful, periodically
breaking into violent warfare. One such series, called the Caste War flared between
1846 and 1848. In the aftermath refugees fled to northern Belize almost doubling the
Among those entering the country there were purebloodedd" Maya and others who
had become assimilated. The latter are called Mestizo, a Spanish term meaning
"mixed" Over the hundred years since there arrival in Belize, there has been a shift
from the Spanish cultural intermixture to the Creole, especially among those living in or
near urban areas.2 It is now possible to find a three-stage culture change by generation.
The son would be heavily affected by the Creole culture; the father the Yucatan
Spanish, and the grandfather the Yucatec Maya.
Any attempt at analysis of the transformations in the above example would neces-
sarily start with the extent of deindigenization from the Maya. The physical features and
surnames of several are Maya but the language and other traits may be Yucatcc Mestizo
or Creole. Similar processes are no doubt being repeated among the indigenous
groups in other parts of the English-speaking Caribbean.
Should the Mestizo identify themselves as Maya as those in the earlier genera-
tions did the Maya would make up almost one half of the total population of
present-day Belize. It again brings up the question of scale in comparing the situation of
indigenous people in Belize and Guyana, the two sister COIP countries with the largest
numbers. The larger proportion in Belize either in actual numbers or in cultural
heritage has placed them as a major component of the multicultural tradition of Belize.
The history of economic exploitation in the two countries had also dictated the
nature of relations between the indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. The economic
mainstay of Guyana throughout its colonial history was sugar cane plantation, which
relied on non-indigenous labour. In Belize it was forestry. Forestry in timber and chicle
is extensive in territory and needs manpower that knows the terrain and can adjust to
the rigours of bush life. The large numbers of available and pre-adapted Maya and
Mestizo proved indispensable for the task. Finally, the Maya/Kekchi have been main
suppliers of staples for the nation either historically or at the present have never
played a prominent role in the national economy.
Dominica and St. Vincent
Dominica and St. Vincent are the two island states in the COIP. In both there are
indigenous people originating from the intermixture of Arawaks and Caribs, whom
Columbus met and mistakenly called Caribs. Dominica has about 5,000 with some Carib
ancestry out of a total population of 80,000 and St. Vincent about 6,000 from a popula-
tion of 120,000. Unlike the mainland countries of Belize and Guyana, there are no
immigration flows of indigenous people into Dominica and St. Vincent. The proportion
of indigenous people to others is small in both islands. Besides, there is a much higher
proportion of people to land in both islands than in either Belize or Guyana. The
pressures toward de-indigenization are, therefore, overwhelming. Hence, there is a
need to look at the internal factors that have allowed them to remain relatively distinct.
I collected most of the following information as observations or documents during my
few day's tour in October, 1988.
There are about 3,000 Caribs living in the Carib Territory on the northeast Atlantic
Coast of Dominica. Like most of their neighbours they live as peasants relying on
banana cash cropping. "They are indistinguishable from the larger Afro-Dominican
population in language, religion, material culture, and life style." (Layng 1979:578)
Their distinction lies in the following attributes collective rights to land, phenotypic
traits, local government, and strong ethnic consciousness.
They live in what they call Carib Territory but which is known to other Dominicans
as the Carib Reserve. It covers an area of 3,700 acres on a hilly but fertile terrain. It was
handed to them in 1903 by the then British governor. Through cash cropping and
subsistence production the Territory is one of the most agriculturally productive areas
on the island. Even then there is still more presently unused and available. Access to
this choice tract of land on an island where there is a high demand for a limited supply
has become a source of continuous dispute between Caribs and non-Caribs.
Through the Carib Council their local government they have blocked non-Caribs
from living on the Territory, thereby earning the wrath of the national government. One
such incident took place in 1987 when they chased away two Afro-Dominican men who
were living with their Carib common-law wives and cultivating land. The right to live in
the Territory has become a major index of Carib ethnicity in Dominica.
There is a general consensus among members of the Council that being "pure
Carib" should be a criterion for residence. This, however, harks back to an idealized
state that no longer exists. There are several persons in the Territory who look "pure
blooded". But there are also several others, especially the children, who do not. Mis-
cegenation with Blacks goes back to the sixteenth century and it is impossible to pretend
otherwise. Despite the ideal, defacto residence over some generations is the commonly
accepted criterion. Traditionally non-Carib men could relocate with their Carib wives.
The Carib Council consists of six persons elected from throughout the Territory.
Presiding over the Council is the Chief. The Council meets once a month. Most of its
deliberations concern the internal affairs of the Territory. They include settling inter-
personal disputes on land boundaries among other issues. The Council receives sub-
stantial financial assistance from the government, some of which goes as a stipend to the
Chief. It also has working relationship with international NGO's who fund development
projects. Two which have been especially active are Save the Children Fund and Project
Although the Carib culture has long died, there is an active awareness of an ethnic
identity among them. The communal ownership of land and local government have
functioned to insulate the Caribs as a minority against the Afro-Dominican majority.
Their cash cropping has given them some degree of integration into the island
socioeconomy. But this is relatively recent going back no more than thirty years ago.
The Blacks still retain a tradition of discrimination against the Caribs, to which they
respond with their own anti-black stereotypes. A more effective response is to retain
grassroots pressure groups, some of which have long been advocates for Carib identity
and welfare. Examples include the Carib Peoples Organization and the Carib Inde-
Currently, there is action, the Waitukubuli Garifuna Development Centre built with
assistance from the Save the Children Fund.3 It is a building that houses a library and
community facilities for the teaching of Carib art and culture.
There are two Carib areas in St. Vincent. One is Sandy Bay and its surrounding
hamlets, the other is the village of Greggs located at the foothills of the Petite Bonhomie
Mountain. The Greggs inhabitants are the remnants of the defeated and thoroughly
disillusioned Black Caribs whom the British had not shipped to Central America in
1797. The residents of Sandy Bay differ from those in Greggs in being lighter in
complexion and generally displaying more "Indian type" features. Economically and
culturally there are hardly any differences between the people in both who admit that
they had heard from their grandfathers that they were Caribs. It would seem to be the
limit of their personal identification with an ethnic identity.
It is tempting to compare Sandy Bay with the Carib Territory in Dominica to show
that the degrees of de-indeginization in the former are further. The phenotypic charac-
teristics of the people show more black features than in Dominica confirming that there
has been greater admixture. There is no land reserved for them. Adjoining Sandy bay
there is an estate of 3500 acres that the government has promised to pass to the
residents as soon as it has finished acquisition procedures. The other aspects of positive
self-identity that we saw in Dominica, namely local government, pressure groups, and
cultural movement, are either absent in Sandy Bay or very weak. In 1987 Projects
Promotion started a comprehensive development project, one of the first types of
intervention funded by outside financial sources and directed towards the overall
welfare of the residents.
The Carib descendants in St. Vincent pinpoint the result of the cross-over process
from being an ethnic (i.e. and indigenous) group to being a minority that is socially
deprived. The one currently significant factor especially about the residents of the
Sandy Bay area is that they are some of the most impoverished rural peasants on the
island (Projects Promotion" Still on the Fringes). The reason for this may be that they
are still paying the price of hiving mounted uprisings against the British in the famous
Carib Wars. The notion of history, which is open to interpretation as one sees fit, is
probably the only culture specific trait to be found in St. Vincent about Caribs. It is
interesting to note that the government in recent years has formally adopted the view of
Caribs as a proud and indomitable people. They have declared the legendary Carib
leader Joseph Chatoyer to be a national hero. It is hoped that this renewed ideological
perspective will find some concrete expression in addressing the discriminatory at-
titudes against the descendants of Chatoyer as well as their long standing social and
Obstacles Toward Self-Discovery
The above description shows that there is a wide frame of reference for indigenous
self-ascription in the four COIP member countries. The case of St. Vincent is one
extreme. There it exists as an historical legacy that Caribs have internalized, not-
withstanding that the violent conflict between themselves and the British ended almost
two hundred years ago. In the mainland countries of Guyana and Belize it is an active
living culture shared in various forms by thousands of people.
Whatever the frame of reference the common experience is the pressure to de-in-
digenize. It is, therefore, necessary to focus on the obstacles that the larger society
imposes against being indigenous and even more against the attempt to engage in a
process of discovering oneself as an indigenous person. I examine briefly the pressures
at the level of the physical environment and the status of being a citizen within the
Examples from conditions in the physical environment of Guyana go further than
impending self-discovery to the extent of endangering daily well-being of large numbers
of indigenous peoples. Vagaries in the drought and rainy season have resulted in the
starvation of people, whose fragile ecological dependence was stretched to the limit.
Despite reports reaching the rest of the country there were excessive delays in assisting
them with relief food supplies. With the recent government policy of renewed exploita-
tion of the interior, there are reports of the increased pollution of rivers by prospectors
with chemicals. Amerindians, who rely on the rivers for their water and food supply,
suffer irreparable damage to their health and economic well-being. There are also
reports of malaria spreading unabatedly while drugs are not being delivered where they
are most needed. These are only some in the extremes of discrimination, abuse of
human rights, and police brutality that the indigenous people are suffering within their
own local areas at the hands of authorities.
In all countries there is a resounding cry for land and the protection of that already
available. The Maya/Kekchi of Belize have made requests to the government for addi-
tional acres to be incorporated into a "homeland". In Guyana because some tribes rely
a great deal on hunting and gathering the 1969 Amerindian Land Commission recom-
mended that for some tribes tracts measuring up to thirty acres per family be reserved
for their use. In Dominica we have already seen that access to land is probably the most
single factor underlining the definition of ethnic identity. these examples emphasize
very strongly that the indigenous people equate access to land with their very survival.
The use of the physical environment is a cultural norm. As a result, the indigenous
people are often blamed for the stress arising from their relations with the environment.
there are difficulties that they suffer by virtue of their social status within their home
country. They are equally as deleterious in being obstacles toward self-discovery. In all
the countries they are some of the poorest, the unschooled, undernourished, un-
employed, and disease ridden. Each country has its own internal dynamic that defines
how they are treated. I suggest what are some reasons at the regional level why they have
invariably remained as discredited minorities.
Like other parts of the Third World, the Caribbean is currently undergoing hard
economic times because of reliance on commodities whose export prices are often
fluctuating in a downward spiral. It is generally agreed that those most hit by the crisis
are the minorities, whose position had already been precarious in the national economy.
The prevailing economic conditions are only a symptom of a more fundamental
deprivation that the indigenous people have suffered and continue to do so. Examples
from Dominica, for example, have shown that even when international agencies have
offered to assist the Caribs with socioeconomic development projects the government
has not been too cooperative. It is understood in most countries that the indigenous
peoples are the wards of the state and only it should decide what type of assistance they
should receive, the root of the problem, therefore, is powerlessness within the political
economy. It places them at the bottom of the class hierarchy within their countries.
There is excessive governmental centralization in the countries, both in the electoral
and administrative structures, that negates dealing with the affairs of local minorities
with any degree of sympathy. There is a central government headed by the leader of the
winning political party. Local government at the level of communities or their grouping
is absent or weak in all countries, with the exception of Dominica. All indigenous
persons have the right to vote in national elections. However, as primarily rural people
the representative they elect may be shared with several other communities with dif-
ferent sets of problems. Besides, he may find himself outnumbered in the government
by colleagues from urban ai ,as where there are larger concentrations of electors. In
short, the only form of political representation available to the indigenous people may
not actually work for their benefit.
In all countries there are no distinct policy guidelines that address the specific
concerns of indigenous peoples. Instead there are veiled references to the need to
maintain an ethnic of social and cultural pluralism. To vindicate such a position the
government may periodically highlight the artistic performances of its indigenous
groups even sending them abroad as cultural ambassadors. Translating the concern
from occasional symbolic representation to a permanent agenda of material well being
is a most difficult hurdle for the four countries.
It is ironic that in the aftermath of shedding the trappings of British colonialism
and still intoxicated with the aura of recent political independence the four countries
are still demonstrating their colonial rootedness in the way they relate to their in-
digenous citizens. The British had done so in cycles of annihilation, co-option, and
The succeeding national governments have adopted various aspects of these very
same measures. None has advocated a position of helping them toward sustained
self-discovery. Needless to say none has gone one step further to elicit from them some
aspects of their self-reliance that they could incorporate into the national policy of
overcoming the tentacles of neo-colonialism that are swallowing the whole region.
Rather there are trends of increasing political and administrative centralization benefit-
ting the welfare of the urban elite and infringing on the democratic rights of the rural
people, including the indigenous people.
The Caribbean Organization of Indigenous Peoples came into being in January,
1988. I review briefly some of the events that came before its formation and afterwards.
They have all been significant milestones in the sojourn of the indigenous people in the
four participating countries toward self-discovery.
The period August 13 to 17, 1987 is momentous within the English-speaking Carib-
bean. Representatives of indigenous groups met for the first time to reawaken links that
had been severed by the arrival of Europeans almost 500 hundred years ago. They were
leaders of the Garifuna (i.e. Black Caribs) from St. Vincent and Belize, of Caribs from
Dominica, and various Arawakan and Cariban tribes from Guyana. There was op-
timism that events taking place would lead to an unfolding of the theme of the Con-
ference, "Caribbean Indigenous Revival: towards greater recognition and
The remote factors leading toward the Conference were both external to the region
as well as internal. In 1984 two leaders from the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian
Nations (FSIN) had travelled to the Eastern Caribbean and Belize to initiate dialogue
with indigenous peoples. On their return to Canada they encouraged CUSO and other
agencies to support a regional conference. CUSO complied and became the prime
Even before the Saskatchewan leaders had visited, some local groups had long seen
the need for a regional network to lend support to their own internal difficulties. The
Caribs of Dominica had often publicized their disputes with the government through
the regional (cf. Caricom Perspectives No. 37) and international media. Participating in
a group representing the larger Caribbean would be beneficial to their own cause.
Representatives of the Toledo Maya Cultural Council had travelled extensively to
attend conferences in the Americas and Europe. One of them had become the leader
for CORPI, the Central American Indian organization. Such experiences increased
their appreciation for closer regional interaction.
The relatively recent exposure of the Dominican Caribs and the Belize Maya should
be seen as part of the overall emphasis that the world community has given to the
struggle of the indigenous peoples throughout the Americas within the past few years.
Because of demands internationally, regionally, and locally the actual timing of the
Conference could not have come any later.
In-country mobilization was a part of the immediate preparation for the Con-
ference. Months beforehand the planning team based in St. Vincent sent notices asking
groups to prepare comprehensive statements about their conditions in doing so to
generate wide-ranging national dialogue. The pattern which this procedure took
reflected the type of dynamic in each country and adumbrated the organizational
difficulties to be found in the long term in each country.
In St. Vincent there were attempts to revive the long dormant Carib Development
Organization based in the area of Sandy Bay. The most noticeable accomplishment,
however, was to further links between the two sets of Carib descendants on the island,
those at Greggs and Sandy Bay. The six villages in the Sandy Bay vicinity formed a
working committee to finalize the Conference pre-arrangements, including clearing
around historic sites and hosting the participants. In Dominica the Chief and his
Councillors needed little organizational support as they already had available informa-
tion that they could incorporate into their country statement.
The two organizations in Belize, the National Garifuna Council and the Toledo
Maya Cultural Council, prepared separate statements. For the first time there were
meetings between both to plan strategies and joint travel arrangements. This was
significant in forming bonds that were previously non-existent. With no known
grassroots self-initiated organization among the several sub-groups in Guyana, it was
difficult to ask who would take the responsibility for a country statement or even more
importantly who would represent them at the Conference. Finally, it was decided that
Amerindian leaders from the government, the Guyana Human Rights Association, and
the University of Guyana would come. They brought along copies of several documents
that were helpful in outlining main themes in the current Guyanese situation.
The proceedings of the Conference have been published in an attractive booklet. It
is worth reviewing its impact as an historic event in terms of the endorsement it received
from the international non-indigenous community as well as some highlights that will
remain indelible in the memory of the indigenous participants.
Invoking the support of international funding agencies was not an easy task given the
relatively unknown story of indigenous peoples in the Caribbean. CUSO's initial sup-
port was a catalyst for others to follow suit including Oxfam U.S.A., Oxfam U.K., and
Oxfam Canada. With such a seal of approval it became easier to garner support in cash
but mostly in kind from local organizations, such as schools and government depart-
The government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines provided cash as well as a great
deal of moral support. The very high profile accorded to the Conference by the
government became evident in two members of parliament officiating at the opening
ceremonies. They were the Hon. Burton Williams, the Prime Minister's representative
and the Hon. David Jack, the member for the area of Sandy Bay. There was a great deal
of publicity generated both locally as well as throughout the entire region.
A cursory look at the physical features of the participants reflected the appearance
of their larger constituent body in the English-speaking Caribbean. There was a mix of
people with "typical" Amerindian features and others with heavy Afro-Caribbean
admixture. Nevertheless, there was emanating a common theme from the country
reports and the comments during workshop sessions. It was climaxed with a deep
commitment to arrive at final recommendations that reflect the consensus of the par-
Built into the conference there were tours to historic sites throughout the island
that depict episodes in the wars between the Caribs and the British. With the delegates
all dressed in T-shirts emblazoned with the very tastefully done Conference logo,
collectively they attracted a great deal of public attention. During a stop at Greggs,
Dominican Carib Chief Auguiste planted a tree symbolizing growth in the group
consciousness that was being nurtured.
All participants were deeply touched by their experience. Many saw it as their
unique appointment with history, they brought along displays of arts and crafts and
other memorabilia. There were ceremonial exchange of gifts. To all it was the forming
of mutual acquaintances that would be strengthened. Within a few months afterwards
for the first time young men from the Carib Territory in Dominica made an excursion to
the area of Sandy Bay. They spent a few weeks during which they engaged in community
projects, such as street repairs and sports. They were able to draw several parallels
between themselves and their hosts.
The most significant outcome of the Conference was the convening of a Steering
Committee meeting in St. Vincent in January, 1988. Delegates representing the four
participating countries discussed methods of implementing the Conference recommen-
dations. They agreed that there would be a Secretariat made up of country delegates
and a Co-ordinator. I was asked to be the Co-ordinator and I agreed. In April, 1988 the
accumulated documents associated with the Conference and the Steering Committee
meeting were transferred from St. Vincent to Belize, the seat of the Secretariat. In
October of the same year I took over the position of Co-ordinator. To better appreciate
the scope of the Secretariat functions I travelled to the other three participating
countries in October, 1988 bringing along project proposals to discuss with group
leaders. I also had discussions with local NGOs, the media, church leaders, and govern-
ment officers to test their reaction to the proposals and the COIP. The proposals
featured exchange visits during which indigenous peoples would learn skills from each
other that would broaden their own self-discovery while potentially being income
generating. The underlying theme is that the re-affirmation of cultural identity neces-
sitates a materialist base that the grassroots could put into practice.
Gear for the sojourn of the indigenous people toward self-discovery is already in
place. The COIP could function as a vessel, the Secretarial as a crew at the helm, and
the Conference as the formal launching. There are other gear that are still not fully in
place. Chief among them is the organization of teams of sailors, i.e. the national
organizations in participating countries. Secondly, there is the navigation of the course,
which we will have to chart through group consensus. Even when all the gear is ready to
go it will be given the powerful storms and hurricanes out there. The one thing that we
can definitely say is that we are more prepared for the trip today than we were
With the increasing emphasis on internationalizing the plight of the indigenous
peoples throughout the Americas during the past few years, it is not sufficiently realized
that there is also just as demanding a need to examine carefully their conditions within
the local and national context. This paper has been an attempt to do exactly that for the
English-speaking Caribbean. It shows that they have particular problems. Many of them
derive from the nature of the national societies themselves.
The English-speaking Caribbean countries are small, economically open-ended,
fragile states that acquired political independence relatively recently. They retain
legacies of divide-and-rule from the British colonial past. Simultaneously the over-
whelming forces of neo-colonialism from North America are preventing them from
undertaking the exercise of introspection and self-analysis that is so necessary for newly
independent states. Neo-colonialism takes the form of continued subjugation in their
political economy and a subversion of the national consciousness of their people. The
liberation that political independence had promised has not taken place, much less for
their rural populations, which include the vast majority of their indigenous groups.
The response of the nation-state almost in a mode of defiance against being
re-colonized is to become extremely centralized and less intolerant of differences, real
and perceived, among its population. The indigenous people find themselves in a
no-win situation, being buffeted by the forces of de-indigenization and yet having to
contribute with renewed vigour to the development of "their" country. In brief, it is
much more difficult to retain their identity today than at any other time.
The attempts at their own revindication take interesting patterns as this paper has
shown. Initially, the traumatic drama has to be played out within the dialectics of their
local community and nation. While devising their own mechanisms, they will have to
channel them through institutions that are available to them, bringing in appropriate
assistance from the rest of the region and the world community. It is within this very
challenging scenario that the Caribbean Organization of Indigenous Peoples will have
1. The Amerindian Lands Commission was set up in 1966 to review the questions of land use and tenure af-
fecting Amerindians in Guyana. It submitted its recommendations in 1969. The advantage of the
report for this paper is that it includes narrative information about the conditions of Amerindians
that the members had collected during their extensive travels throughout the country. The reader
should be aware that twenty years afterwards some of the information is outdated.
2. The Creole are the descendants of the intermixture between the whites and their slaves. They speak a
form of English and vary in shades of pigmentation.
3. Waltukubull is the traditional Carib name for Dominica. The literal translation is Big-her-body.
Amerindian Lands Commission 1969 Report by the Amerindian Lands Commission.
Caricom Perspective, No. 37, pp. 21. Caricom Secretariat Communications Unit.
Furley, P.A. and A.J. Crosbie 1974 Geography of Belize. London: Collins.
Guyana Human Rights Commission 1987 Conference of Amerindian Peoples April 30 -
ay 3, 1987.
Report on the Conference of Indigenous August 13-17, 1987. Kingstown, St. Vincent.
Rouse, Irving 1966 Mesoamerica& Eastern Caribbean. In Handbook of Middle American
Indians, Vol. 4, pp. 234-242, eds.( G.E. Eckholm,G.R. Willey) Lond. University Press.
Steward, Julian H. 1948 Culture Areas of the Tropical Forests. In Handbook of South
merican Indians, Vol.3, pp. 883-903. Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology Bul-
letin 143, ed. J.H. Steward. Washington: Government Printery Office.
Layng, Anthony 1980 Ethnic identity, population, growth, and economic security on a West
Indian Reservation. Revista/Review Interamericana Vol. IX, No. 4, pp. 557-584.
THE CONTEMPORARY SIGNIFICANCE OF THE AFRICAN
DIASPORA IN THE AMERICAS*
The Quincentennial allows for intellectual stock-taking in the Americas. The Carib-
bean, as a sub-region, has been an important source of the African diaspora in the
Americas as well as a cross-road between Europe and America. The words "cradle"
and to a lesser extent "crossroads" are inappropriate in describing this historical
conjuncture between Europe and Africa. Cradle implies nurturing and there was no
nurturing in the antagonistic and oppressive relationships that prevailed for centuries
but there was a crossroads of sorts. It was a crossroads at which there were street signs
blocking the development path of non-European peoples. But this was a crossroads at
which the lives or millions of African peoples from different ethnic groups all along the
Western coast of Africa crossed the Atlantic to experience hell on earth and survive.
Crucible best captures the process whereby African peoples in the Americas were
tested and not only survived but have contributed materially and culturally to Western
The problem with the word diaspora is that it can mean too many things. For it to be
meaningful it has to be historically specific. If we are looking at the African presence in
the Americas and in Western civilization the facts we need to face are the slave trade,
slavery, the accommodation, surrender, resistance, self-determination of the enslaved
African population and the wiping out of an untold number of the indigenous peoples
of the region that has no modern comparison. The work of Eric Williams in Capitalism
and Slavery helped to lay the foundation for our understanding of the relationship
between Western capitalism and slavery. Subsequent work by Walter Rodney and John
Inikori demonstrate how the Atlantic Slave trade depopulated Africa of millions of
young people and has contributed significantly to its underdevelopment.1
"one of the uncertainties concerns the basic ques-
tion of how many Africans were imported. This has
long been an object of speculation, with estimates
ranging from a few millions to over one hundred
million. A recent study has suggested a figure of
about ten million Africans landed alive in the
Americas, the Atlantic islands and Europe. Because
it is a low figure, it is already being used by
European scholars who are apologists for the
capitalist system and its long record of brutality in
Europe and abroad...Nevertheless, if the low figure
of ten million was accepted as a basis for evaluating
the impact of slaving on Africa as a whole, the con-
clusions that could legitimately be drawn would con-
found those who attempt to make light of the
experience of the rape of Africans from 1445 to
When one looks at the ethnic composition of the Americas in 1820 with the excep-
tion of the United States the non-White population was in the majority and then one
cannot be sure as these figures are estimates which do not include the Native Indian
population. In the United States Black" and Free Coloured numbered 1,771,656 and
Whites 7,866,797; in the British West Indies Black and Free Coloured numbered
839,000 and Whites 57,000; in the French, Danish and Dutch West Indies Black and
Free Coloured were 814,600 and Whites were 73,600; in Spanish America (excluding
Peru) Blacks and Free Coloured were 5,150,000 and Whites were 3,429,000.3The work
of Barry Higman and other scholars in identifying the ethnic origin of the African
population and of Mervyn Alleyne, Rex Nettleford, Maureen Warner-Lewis in defining
the cultural and linguistic continuities in the region have provided a basis for a re-ex-
amination of aesthetic and epistemological concerns in the Americas based on the
experience of those who survived modern history's longest travail the slave trade and
The nineteenth century was the era of abolition ending with emancipation in Cuba
in 1886 and Brazil in 1888, just one century ago. The twentieth century has seen the
gaining of political and civil rights by the populations of African origin and of course the
development of classes among them as well as the development of another diaspora
marked by migration from the Caribbean to North America in the twentieth century.
The black population in the Americas is concentrated predominantly around lower
socio-economic groups. Nowhere is there a significant black bourgeoisie and this poses
a serious entrepreneurial challenge to Blacks in the future.
The African presence in the Americas has been stigmatised by racism in many forms
as well as hegemonic Eurocentrism. Samir Amin has defined Eurocentrism as;
"a culturalist phenomenon in the sense that it as-
sumes the existence of irreducibly distinct cultural
invariants that shape the historical paths of different
peoples. Eurocentrism is therefore anti-universalist,
since it is not interested in seeking possible general
laws of human evolution. But it does present itself as
universalist, for it claims that imitation of the
Western model by all peoples is the only solution to
the challenges of our time."5
Eurocentrism is at the end of the 20th century backed up by a world economic
system that is stronger and more all-embracing than in previous centuries.
The Jamaican sociologist Orlando Patterson has made a number of important
observations on the impact of racism on U.S. culture. Firstly he argues that;
"England and France today both have racist
ideologies in that many people there, perhaps the
majority, believe in the inherent superiority of whites
over nonwhite peoples. Yet they are not racist cul-
tures, because this ideology is a minor component in
their systems of belief; it serves no indispensable
cultural or socioeconomic functions and is not a
critical element in the way people define themselves
physically and socially. Not so in America."6
Secondly Patterson has made connections between the ideal of freedom in America
and slavery. Patterson writes that;
"intensely self-conscious commitment to the ideal of
freedom is largely explained by the fact that
America was the only Western industrial society that
had large-scale slavery within its borders."7
The issue of democracy and race has been critical in the twentieth century which has
seen decolonization movements embracing millions of people as well as the enhance-
ment of civil rights and will evidently continue to be of great importance into the
twenty-first century. Thirdly, Patterson points to the fact that European peasants who
"arrived on the shores of America, what they
received, and quickly learned to value and express,
was the collective good or nonblackness, of positive-
ly valued, strongly charged whiteness."8 Fourthly,
"whole set of values, meanings, and expressions
directed at the black American as a slave and ex-
slave, continued right down to the 1960's. Only with
the civil rights movement was the culture of slavery
finally demolished, the civil rights movement, in suc-
ceeding where.it did, marked the close of the aboli-
tion movement in America. It did not, however,
mark the end of America's culturally entrenched
Patterson has identified the critical element and contemporary significance of the
African diaspora in the United States. Patterson also identifies the two traditions of
music the popular art of the blues and the high art of Jazz which have become
America's distinctive contribution to world culture. These black traditions have helped
novelists like Alice Walker and Toni Morrison to make innovations in the novel. Similar
contributions have been made by the African diaspora in the Caribbean in calypso,
reggae and the steel-band.
Two of the important movements which seek to re-establish links with Africa and
have had an important impact are Garveyism and Rastafarianism. Traditional
Eurocentric interpretations have interpreted the Garvey movement as escapist and the
Rastafarians as cargo-cults and messianic in orientation. The re-evaluation of the
Garvey movement that started in the 1970's and continues into the 1990's shows it to be
a multi-class social movement of Blacks of the post World 1 generation who pursued a
range of strategies to secure self-determination and economic self-sufficiency.10 It was
diverse socially, ideologically and geographically. The legacy of that generation has yet
to be fully tapped and in fact stock-taking has just started. But the documentation by
Professors Robert Hill, Tony Martin and myself among others present a rich source for
students of the initiatives of Blacks in the Americas as well as an agenda that will be
valid well into the twenty-first century. In theoretical terms one of the critical questions
in analysing the Garvey movement is the relationship between race and class. A book
entitled The World of Marcus Garvey Race and Class in Modem Society by Judith Stein
an American historian attempts this. Stein however fails because she is guilty of class
reductionism in that she interprets Garvey and the entire leadership of Blacks, not only
in the United States but in West Africa and the Caribbean exclusively as petty-bour-
geois elites. For her the early twentieth-century Pan-Africanists belonged to an interna-
tional elite. She restructs the standard Stalinist label used by the Communist
International in the 1920's and 1930's to characterise the Garvey movement as a rightist
petty-bourgeois social force. Combined with class reductionism is a view which sees
race as a variable dependent on economic circumstances. Race loses any dynamism of
its own and no attempt is made to conceptualise it as a material factor in itself that is not
a purely responsive ideological phenomenon in social development but has taken on a
life of its own determined by over four centuries of Western racism of which apartheid
is just one modern manifestation. The nmulti-dimensionality of race in both material and
pyschological terms escapes her. Moreover in employing class analysis Stein does not
show an appreciation of the underdeveloped nature of class relations among Blacks in
the United States. Her book is a good example of how not to proceed with race/class
analysis. Class/economic reductionism so characteristic of bad Marxist writing as well
as race/reductionism present in bad Black Nationalist writing present one-sided views
of social reality.
The Garvey movement was more middle-class than the Rastafarian movement
which developed in Jamaica in the 1930's and the latter was solidly rooted in the lower
socio-economic rural and urban social groups. Moreover the Rastafarian movement
was never institutionalized and centralised as was the case with Garvey's organisation
the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League. In
recent studies by Barry Chevannes and in an article by Maureen Warner-Lewis the
complexity of this movement, whose influence is now widespread and includes South
Africa, is explored. Africa is both real and symbolic. That understanding is apparent in
the music of Rastafarian Bob Marley. The most important belief of the Rastafari is that
Haile Selassie is God. Chevannes points out that;
"underlying the belief in the Emperor's divinity is
the conclusion they reached that the Black man was
destined to return to his native Africa, after cen-
turies of on-going injustice at the hands of the White
He interprets this as being the first important departure from Revival religious
tradition of the nineteenth century. This is a point which merits further investigation,
that is the extent to which the early revivalist tradition lacked or did not have a
In an article dealing with the "African Continuities in the Rastafari belief System"
Maureen Warner-Lewis argues that;
the deification of Haile Helassie reflects the concept
of divine kingship as it existed in parts of Africa and
was retained in the diaspora. She argues that the
"deification of Haile Selassie therefore presents
itself as a resurgence among expatriate Africans of
this concept of divine kingship. the pyschologically
and socially programmed urge to re-create the so-
cial structures in which they had functioned in their
homelands resurfaced continually in slave and post-
slave society. African Caribbean groups always
elected kings and queens: cabildos de nacion (na-
tional societies) in Cuba, convois (secret societies)
in Trinidad, St. Lucian La Rose and La Marguerite
dance affiliations, jonkunu bands and Brukins dance
groups in Jamaica, tea-parties in Tobago, St. Vin-
cent and Jamaica. African and bele dances in the
Eastern Caribbean, even modern Trinidad carnival
masquerade bands, all of them, whether temporary
or permanent sodalities, or whether wholly or par-
tially secular, were/are headed by royal figures....
The Rastafari choice of Haile Selassie, as is well
documented, was influenced by the Biblical
prophecy 'And Ethiopia shall stretch forth her
hands unto God.' as well as by the political and
psychological cataclysm precipated by the Italian in-
vasion of Ethiopia in 1935"12
Warner-Lewis goes into the African continuities in the Rastafarian theological
concept of the divinity of man, marijuana use, the taboo on salt and several other areas.
This study and others indicate the importance of studies in cultural continuity in
examining the African diaspora so as to complement the still inadequate socio-
economic data on Blacks in the Americas especially so in Latin America. The concept
of creolisation provides a meaningful approach both to new educational paradigms
emphasing multi-culturalism. As Helen Safa has pointed out
"Creole culture emerged from the continuous inter-
action, adjustment and synthesis between the major
cultural traditions of Africa and Europe (and India
in the cases of Trinidad and Guyana, as well as
Amerindian, Chinese and Japanese cultural com-
ponents in some areas). The Creole society model is
the antithesis of the Eurocentric viewpoint that
denies Afro-American peoples a history of their
Finally there is the question of Latin American racism, probably the most pernicious
in the Americas. Abdias do Nascimento exposes Brazil's myth of racial democracy and
theories of creolisation and contends with those who argue that in Brazil it is not a
question of race discrimination, it is a class question in that there are poor Blacks and
poor Whites. In Brazil about 50% of the Whites as opposed to more than 75% of Blacks
live on or below the poverty line. Abdias do Nascimento points out that the most
"sinister effect of this racial ideology is that the victims themselves become convinced
that racism does not exist."14 The case of Cuba is interesting for two reasons. First it
emerges out of the Hispanic racist tradition and secondly it has had a socialist revolu-
tion which claims to have eliminated racism. However in 1986 Fidel Castro himself had
to speak out against racism in the party and the state and advocated a programme of
affirmative action for Blacks, women and youth. Castro said,
"mestizos and blacks are considered to make up 34
percent of the population. The revolution received
broader support from blacks and mestizos because
the bourgeoisie was white... I don't know of a single
black who was a big landowner, or who owned a big
store, a major industry, or a big co-operation. There
may have been a few blacks who were members of
the liberal professions, a lawyer here, a doctor there,
perhaps an owner of a corner grocery store or some
other small business... But we can't leave it to chance
to correct historical injustices. To really establish
total equality takes more than simply declaring it in
law. It has to be promoted in the mass organizations,
in the youth organizations, in the party."15
In several visits to Cuba since this speech I have found considerable opposition to
this line by black and white middle-level officials in the state and party. Carlos Moore's
book Castro, the Blacks and Africa is the first full-length study to explore racism in
post-revolutionary Cuba as well as Cuba's African policy since the 1960's in relation to
its Africa-derived population and he cannot as yet return home to Cuba.16 His discus-
sion is important also because he raises the issue of socialism and race. 20th century
socialism has not resolved racial problems. Among the reasons for this are that theoreti-
cally economic/class determinist explanations have really been superficial and secondly
the issue of the power of the oppressed cannot be solved by others. Lurking behind
grand the Marxist theory of was European "salvation."
The contemporary significance of the African diaspora can only be understood in
historical perspective that is fully appreciative of the African cultural continuities and
discontinuities, that eschews the anthropological and sociological garbage that has been
heaped on black movements whose intellectual legacy remain virtually untapped. A
pan-Africanist perspective is vital and that itself derives from nineteenth century politi-
cal and cultural traditions. The problem of resolving race/class analysis and dispensing
with both race and class reductionism remains a formidable task not only in the
diaspora but in Africa. Creolisation processes and theories need to take these factors
1. Inikori, J.E. "Slave trade and the Development of Industrial Capitalism in England in the Eighteenth
Century: A Reassessment", paper presented to the Conference on Capitalism and Slavery in the
British West Indies: The contribution of Eric Williams, Bellagio, Italy, May 21-25. 1984.
2. Rodney, Walter How Europe Underdeveloped Africa Bogle L'Ouverture, London, 1983, p. 104.
3. See David Eltis, "Free and Coerced Transatlantic Migrations: Some Comparison," The American His-
torical review, Vol. 88, No. 2, p. 278 as quoted in Inikori (1984) p. 33.
4. See essays by Barry Higman "African and Creole Slave Family Patterns in Trinidad" (pp. 41-46) and
Maureen Warner-Lewis "The African Impact on Language and Literature in the English-Speaking
Caribbean" (pp. 101-123) in M. Crahan and F.W. Knight (editors) Africa and the Caribbean the
Legacies of a Link The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, 1979. See Rex Net-
tieford "Cultural Identity and the Arts New Horizons for Caribbean Social Sciences" in Social and
Economic Studies June 1989. pp. 235-263; see also Dance Jamaica Cultural Self Definition and Ar-
tistic discovery: The National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica 1962-1983, New York, Grove
Press, 1985. Mervyn Alleyne Roots of Jamaican Culture, London, Pluto Press, 1988. See also
Maureen Warner-Lewis Guinea's Other Suns: The African Dynamic in Trinidad Culture Mass,
The Majority Press 1991 and her Yoruba Songs of Trinidad Karnak House London (forthcoming).
5. Samir Amin, Eurocentrism Monthly Review Press New York, 1989, p. vii.
6. Patterson, Orlando "Toward a Study of Black America Notes on the Culture of Racism" Dissent Fall,
7. Ibid p.478.
8. Ibid p. 480.
9. Ibid p. 482.
10. See Tony Martin's Race First The Ideological and Organizational Struggles of Marcus Garvey and
the Universal Negro Improvement Association Greenwood Press, conn. 1976; Robert Hill The
Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association five volumes. University of
California Press, 1983-1986. Several more volumes are expected. Rupert Lewis Marcus Garvey Anti-
Colonial Champion Africa World Press, New Jersey, 1988; Rupert Lewis and maureen Warner-
Lewis (editors) Garvey, Africa, Europe the Americas ISER Kingston, 1986; Rupert Lewis and
Patrick Bryan Garvey: His Work and Impact ISER Kingston 1988.
11. Chevannes, Barry "Rastafari A new approach" unpublished paper 1989, p. 7; see also Social and
Ideological Origins of the Rastafarl Movement in Jamaica Ph.d. thesis, Columbia University, 1989.
12. Warner-Lewis, Maureen "African Continuities in the Rastafari Belief System" unpublished paper,
1990, p. 8.
13. Safa, Helen "Afro-American Identity and Cultural Diversity in the Americas" 1991 unpublished essay.
14. Do Nascimento, Abdias, Brazil Mixture or Massacre? Essays in the Genocide of a Black People The
Majority Press 1989, p. ix. See also Piere-Micheal Fontaine (editor) Race, Class and Power in Brazil
Center for Afro-American Studies, University of California, Los Angeles, 1985.
15. Castro, Fidel "Renewal or Death" New International No. 6, 1987.
16. Moore, Carlos, Castro, the Blacks and Africa Cen. for Afro-American Studies, Calif Univ. L A 1988.
SUGGESTIONS FOR A JAMAICAN THEOLOGY OF
JOHN SAUVE S.J.
I. A Legacy of Slavery
Old pirates, yes they rob I
Sold I to the merchant ships
Minutes after they took I
From the bottomless pit.
Jamaica. "land of wood and water," that stunningly beautiful island in the Carib-
bean, is the home of courageous and resilient people whose history has been scarred by
slavery, foreign domination and poverty. Jamaica boasts a population of over 2.5 million
people, 76% of whom are of African heritage and the majority of whom are poor. From
the initial days of slavery to the present state of poverty, Jamaicans have struggled for
their freedom from the "merchant ships" and the "bottomless pit."
The story of Jamaica begins with the Arawak Indians of South America who settled
on the island around 1000 C.E. and prospered as farmers until the arrival of Columbus,
who claimed the island for the Spanish Crown in 1494. Within a century, Spanish
colonizers had completely wiped out the Arawak race and introduced African slaves to
The first Africans brought to Jamaica were three slaves imported by Governor Juan
de Esquival in 1509. Shortly thereafter, in 1517, Charles V of Spain permitted the
colonists to transport 4,000 black slaves to the West Indies annually. this permission for
the importation of greater numbers of slaves was granted at the request of Bartholomew
de Las Casas, Bishop of Chiapa, celebrated protector of the Indians. Noel Erskine
recounts a historian's view of Las Casas' activity:
While he contended for the liberty of the people
born in one quarter of the globe, he laboured to
enslave the inhabitants of another region and in the
warmth and zeal to save Americans from the yoke,
pronounced it to be lawful and expedient to impose
one, still heavier, upon the Africans.1
Spanish colonial rule ended abruptly in 1655 when the British captured Jamaica;
nevertheless, the British perpetuated slavery and endorsed a fierce and profitable slave
trade throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. From 1655 to 1807, over one million
blacks were brought from the west coast of Africa as slaves. In 1807, when slave trade
was abolished by the British parliament, there were 319,351 black slaves in Jamaica.
Until that time, black humanity was legally considered property in the British Empire.
Slaves were legally treated as work animals. Their names were changed. Members of
the same tribe or family were separated. Whip-wielding overseers demanded long
hours of labour in cane fields, the cruelties were endless.
Finally, on August 1, 1838, after a series of rebellions led by some of Jamaica's
"national heroes," like Sam Sharpe and Paul Bogle, emancipation from slavery was
finally realized. Still, the slaves were landless, poor, and inculcated with a sense of racial
inferiority. Jamaica did not gain political independence as a nation until 1962. And
since independence, the conditions of the poor have worsened due to unjust economic
and political relationships in the global and national communities. To this day, the
legacies of slavery, colonialism and poverty with all their scars, have endured in the lived
experiences and living memories of Jamaicans.
II. A Faith-Filled People
But my hand was made strong
By the hand of the Almighty.
We forward in this generation
Jamaicans are a strong and resilient people, imbued with deep religious values and
unabashed public expressions of faith. Much of the progress towards emancipation,
independence, and communal growth, even in the aftermath of a natural disaster like
Hurricane Gilbert, has been achieved because of the strong and motivating faith of the
Jamaican people, throughout the centuries, this faith-centred view of reality has been
transmitted from elders to children in Afro-Jamaican culture.
Religious faith, or course, is a natural component of African tribal culture that black
slaves brought with them to Jamaica after their dislocation from their homeland. There
can be no denying that the African world-view is religious. In traditional African
religions, God is the source of all life and power, a supreme being who is intimately
related to the tribe. As Chevannes notes, "A common feature of African-Caribbean
religions is belief in the immanence of God."2 So even for black slaves far from their
native soil, God could be found in their own experience. Despite the British attempts to
suppress their religious heritage and outlaw African cults because they were "uncivil-
ized," the Afro-Jamaican community preserved their faith and believed that God, as
cosmic ruler, was close and on their side in the struggle for freedom.From Africa, slaves
brought their own religious practices of obeah and myalism. Invoking ancestral spirits,
the practitioners of obeah and myalism gave the slaves courage to believe that the divine
powers were on their side. Erskine reports that the obeah-man and myal-man would
often administer potions such as a mixture of gunpowder, grave dirt and human blood,
reputed to make one indestructible, as ways of strengthening black people to fight
"oppression and injustice. And they did just that by burning plantations, resisting work
orders, and poisoning evil overseers and landlords.
Christian churches only opened their doors to Blacks for the first time in 1831.
Blacks entered, but often without abandoning their own African traditions. Conse-
quently, a new brand of Jamaican Christianity began to be interpreted within the matrix
of African religion. It is no accident that black Christian leaders, like "Daddy" Sam
Sharpe, were instrumental in the rebellions of 1831 that hastened the end of slavery.
Throughout the 20th century, many Christian denominations have flourished in
Jamaica, even though largely staffed by foreign missionaries. Like other Caribbean
islands today, Jamaica has numerous officially registered religious sects. Church build-
ings and revival tents dot the landscape. The Jamaica Council of Churches (JCC) was
formed in 1941 and the Caribbean Council of Churches (CCC) in 1973. Both of these
ecumenical bodies have considerable clout among ordinary churchgoers. On Sundays
and week nights, large number of Jamaicans can be seen streaming down city streets
and village paths in their "Sunday best" to attend services that last for hours. Cultic
religious expression in a variety of forms, whether in traditional cathedrals or make-
shift tents, is very much a part of contemporary Jamaican culture. Indeed, Jamaicans
have endured their hardships and carried on with their "hands made strong by the hand
of the Almighty."
Surprisingly, until recently very little Christian theology has been written or publish-
ed in Jamaica. In 1950, the JCC published a book entitle, Christ for Jamaica, which
presented Christ as the answer to Jamaica's problems. In 1973, the CCC issued a
collection of essays called Troubling the Waters, which encouraged a search for a
common Caribbean identity. Noel Leo Erskine followed in 1981 with a book called
Decolonizing Theology, which attempts to synthesize the history of Caribbean theology
and to suggest a new liberation perspective.
During the last several years, Reverend Ashley Smith has contributed some out-
standing papers and an excellent book, Real Roots and Potted Plants, published in 1984,
which lay the groundwork for a distinctively Jamaican theology. Additionally, different
religious denominations have issued position papers, most notably two pastoral letters
from the Antilles Episcopal Conference of Bishops: "Justice and Peace in a New
Caribbean" in 1982. Samuel E. Carter, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kingston has
issued three pastoral letters, "The Development of Peoples: Twenty Years Later" in
1987, "The Priority of Labor" in 1988, and "God and Natural Disasters" in 1989. Most
recently, the Caribbean Quarterly (March 1991) published a collections of papers
delivered at a 1990 seminar on "The Social Teaching of the Church," in which
theologians, pastors, and scholars such as Allan Kirton, Burchell Taylor Barry Chevan-
nes reflect on the development of an Afro-Caribbean theology. Also, Kortright Davis
alludes to some Jamaican concerns in his new book, Emancipation Still Comin' which
explores an emancipatory theology for the whole Caribbean region. All in all, though,
for a nation of faith-filled people, the distinctively Jamaican writings in theology have
been relatively scarce until recently.
III. Learning From Friends
Won't you help me sing
These songs of freedom?
Cause all I ever had
Redemption songs, redemption songs.
During the two and a half years in which I lived in Kingston between 1984 and 1987,
I was struck by Jamaicans' generosity and openness, characterized by a willingness to
shaie knowledge, food and other resources in a spirit of mutual dependence and
friendship. At this point in history, with the recent and rapid growth of liberation
theologies, Jamaican theologians have a unique opportunity to contribute their par-
ticular experience to the on-going liberation conversation. Jamaican theologians also
have an opportunity to profit from the theological writings which have emerged from
the experience of their friends in Latin American and African-American communities.
In particular, liberation theologians like Gustavo Gutierrez, Job Sobrino, and James
Cone have articulated a new way of doing theology, a new focus on the historical Jesus,
and new interpretations of salvation, human history and the kingdom of god, all of
which may be of great benefit to Jamaican Christians. As Allan Kirton suggests, "It has
been rightly said that 'doing theology' is everybody's business."3
What is the new theological method? Gustavo Gutierrez, in his seminal work, A
Theology of Liberation, described a new and liberating way of doing theology from
experience. From a Latin American perspective, he redefined the function of theology
as "critical reflection on experience." According to Gutierrez, Christian life is centred
around a concrete and creative commitment to the service of others. Theology does not
produce this activity; instead it is an on-going assessment of historical praxis in the light
of the Word of God. Says Gutierrez: "Theology is reflection, a critical attitude. Theol-
ogy follows; it is the second step."4 James Cone, writing from a North American black
perspective, agrees that theology is not the first act, but the second. The first act is
historical praxis that involves "both a religio-cultural affirmation and a political com-
mitment in behalf of the liberation of the poor and voiceless of our continents."5 for
Cone, such cultural identity and political commitment are worth more than a library full
of theology books, though this is not to deny the valuable contribution of the theologian.
Clearly, for liberation theologians, experience and praxis come first. The reason for
doing theology is to reflect in light of Christian Scripture and tradition on concrete
human experience in barrios and ghettos and churches of the poor.
This new method begins with human experiences, but also demands careful and
complete reflection on Christ to illuminate and interpret the experience. What is a valid
starting point for understanding Christ? While several options are possible, liberation
theologians choose to adopt the historical Jesus as the starting point for Christology.
Jon Sobrino, for example, maintains that since Latin American liberation theology
arose out of concrete experience and praxis of faith within a lived commitment of
liberation, "it soon realized that the universality of Christ amid those circumstances
could only be grasped from the standpoint of the concrete Christ of history."6 Further-
more, as Cone points out, the Christological question is not primarily theoretical, but
practical. It arises from the encounter with Christ in the on-going, historical struggle for
freedom in the black community. At the same time, Cone contends that the Bible is the
primary source of information about the Jesus who is encountered in the social exist-
ence of blacks. So the historical Jesus of Scripture is the Christ of black experience.
Liberation theologians concur that the best starting point for Christology is the histori-
cal Jesus who reveals himself among the poor as liberator.
Traditionally, the central theme of the Christian mystery has been the notion of
salvation. But what does salvation mean in the context of liberation theology? Gutierrez
provides the clearest answer. Reflecting on the lives and activities of Latin American
Christians in light of Scripture, he rejects any notion that salvation is limited to some
strictly defined religious realm, or is a private individualized matter, or is ultimately
realized in another world outside of human history. More directly, Gutierrez redefines
salvation in terms of the process of integral liberation of human beings in history. He
Salvation the communion of men with God and the
communion of men among themselves is something
which embraces all human reality, transforms it, and
leads it to its fullness in Christ.7
Cone concurs that human liberation is God's work of salvation in Jesus Christ. Says
Cone, "Liberation is not an object but the project of freedom wherein the oppressed
realize that their fight for freedom is a divine right of creation."8
The revision of the concept of salvation by liberation theologians is, of course,
grounded in new understandings of history and the kingdom of God. First, all history is
presumed to be unified; there is no dichotomy between salvation history and secular
history. The salvific work of God, then, takes place in and through the actions of human
beings in the events of human history. Second, since the kingdom of God accounted by
Jesus is the realization of God's dream of universal salvation, if salvation occurs in the
historical process, then the kingdom of God must be realized, at least partially if not
completely, in the same historical process. The kingdom is not an other-worldly reality;
it is meant for here and now. Since this kingdom of peace and justice is one where there
can be no poverty, misery, exploitation, domination, or oppression, every human effort
to eliminate these injustices is indispensable cooperative work towards the estab-
lishment of God's reign.
The articulation of these discoveries by liberation theologians during the last two
decades offers great hope for the vast majority of Christians throughout the world who
are poor. No matter where they happen to live, such liberation-oriented Christians are
united by the common dream "to sing songs of freedom" together.
IV. Theology from Jamaica
Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery;
None but ourselves can free our minds.
Have no fear for atomic energy
Cause none of them can stop the time.
What about a Jamaican theology of emancipation? We have learned that recent
developments in Latin American and Afro-American theology have stressed a new way
of doing theology, a new emphasis on the historical Jesus, and a new definition of
salvation as the integral liberation of humanity. As Burchell Taylor notes, "In our own
immediate context, the theology of liberation cannot be taken and applied exactly as it
has been applied elsewhere."9 A Jamaican version of liberation theology, of necessity,
would be different from its Latin American or Afro-American counterparts because of
Jamaica's unique history and current situation. Nevertheless, by examining some of the
theological refections on the Jamaican experience that have been published in Jamaica,
we can begin to formulate the contours of a particular Jamaican theology. Learning
from the other liberation perspectives, Jamaicans must of course ask themselves the
on-going questions: How do we do theology in Jamaica today? Who is Jesus Christ in
Jamaica today? What does salvation entail in Jamaica today?
First, how to we do theology in Jamaica? From experience, certainly; but whose
experience? Unfortunately, for decades the predominant and most highly valued ex-
perience has been that of the colonizer and foreigner. Despite gaining its national
independence from Great Britain in 1962, Jamaica continues to be economically de-
pendent on Europe and North America, and influenced by the language and cultural
thought-patterns of Europeans and North Americans. The Christian church, too, was
earlier dominated by and is still greatly influenced by foreign-trained clergy and ex-
patriate missionaries, who naturally teach and preach a brand of theology based on
their own experiences and education. The result, of course, is that for years Jamaicans
have listened to church leaders who have spoken a foreign language, promoted colonial
values, imported foreign hymns and liturgical practices, and preached an abstract,
rational, European theology that has been largely divorced from the cultural patterns of
the Jamaican people. Interpreting god through the medium of other peoples' ex-
perience risks making God a foreigner to the consciousness of any oppressed people.
Erskine insists on casting aside any reliance on colonial theologies:
Theology, which is talk about God and people, should not be an import; it must arise
from the native soil, as talk about God is rooted in talk about people.10 So, to begin to
formulate an indigenous liberation theology for Jamaica today, Jamaicans must
decolonize theology and begin to engage more energetically in critical reflection in the
light of God's Word on their own experience as Jamaicans.
In order to proceed, we must consider the Jamaican experience over the past
decade. Having lived in Kingston from 1984 to 1987, worked for the Jamaican Ministry
of Education as a teacher of religious education and English language at St. George's
College, and participated in the St. Pius X Catholic Church Community at Three Mile,
I nonetheless readily admit my handicap as a foreigner trying to articulate the Jamaican
experience. I learned a great deal from the experiences shared with me by students at
St. George's, by neighbors in Rollington Town, by brothers and sisters in the worship-
ping community of St. Pius, and by Jamaican pastors and theologians who have articu-
lated the experiences of their people. Nevertheless, as an expatriate, Caucasian male, I
realize a need to be very tentative about my remarks, lest I fall prey to the same pattern
which I have been challenging: the imposition of foreign ideas. Therefore, I humbly
offer a few tentative and modest suggestions for a Jamaican theology of psycho-social
emancipation, in the hope that these reflecting may contribute to the on-going quest for
a truly indigenous theology of liberation.
I suggest simply, and perhaps obviously, that the prevailing experiences of
dehumanizing material poverty and subtle racial self-degradation among Jamaicans
seem to be the realities from which a Jamaican theology of emancipation must arise.
First, the poverty in Jamaica is widespread and dehumanizing. In a pastoral letter in
1987, Samuel Carter, S.J., Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kingston, described the
conditions of the poor in Jamaica:
In spite of the remarkable efforts by both govern-
ments over the past twenty years, the majority of our
people are poor. One estimate is that seven out of
every ten Jamaicans have income levels below the
poverty line. This means, among other things, that
most people are unable to afford a minimal
balanced diet. Nutritional levels have worsened: the
number of children showing signs of undernutrition
rose from 38% in 1978 to 41% in 1985...Roughly one
out of every four people belonging to our labor force
is chronically unemployed.11
The poor, hungry and unemployed experience desperation and deprivation on
streets, in dirt yards, and in dilapidated shacks island-wide. Carter goes on to say that
poverty is not caused by the poor, but rather by the way in which the world is organized.
Among the main causes of poverty, says Carter, are "unequal distribution of income,
the conditions required for debt-servicing, the flight of local capital, the terms of
international trade, and the transfer of resources through multinational banks and
corporations."12 the poor of Jamaica suffer material deprivation because of global
socio-economic structures that are unjust. Their poverty is a scandal.
Second, racial self-degradation, though gradually losing its grip, is still apparent in
the consciousness of black Jamaicans. As Erskine notes, "In a world in which black
humanity was defined as property, one can begin to understand something of the poor
self-image that emerges among Black people."13 Add to this the persistent poverty and
political powerlessness of black Jamaicans over the last century and the overt racism of
whites, and one can comprehend the context out of which feelings of inferiority and
self-depreciation would arise. Rev. Ashley Smith reminds us that "the self-disparage-
ment and self-hate among the victims of the plantation are products of centuries of
subjugation."14 Furthermore, the charge of racial inferiority has permeated the mes-
sage delivered to black Jamaicans by advertisers and politicians, foreigners and light-
skinned Jamaicans. The West Indian of African descent has been conditioned to think
white, be conscious of skin-colour gradations, and believe that lighter skin pigment is
better. For example, the Jamaican government has often been referred to as a "pigmen-
tocracy" since light-skinned Jamaicans hold the leadership roles. In the cultural sphere,
lighter-skinned children often enjoy higher social status than a darker sibling or even a
darker parent. Even among small children, kinky black hair or a flat Afro-nose are
called "bad hair" and "bad nose," while white features are "good." In his article in
Troubling of the Waters, Ashley Smith contends angrily that the persistence of black
self-hatred, body shame and fatalism has been due largely to the use of religion as an
instrument for the inculcation of "white bias" in the non-European peoples of the
region. Whatever the causes, a poisoned self-image continues to plague the conscious-
ness of Jamaican blacks.
Now, with these realities in mind, we can ask our second theological question: Who
is Jesus Christ in Jamaica today? Among those inclined to do theology from the
perspective of the poor, Jesus is understood as the historical person revealed in the
Bible as Liberator, the one who came to complete God's work of emancipating enslaved
people begun with the Exodus event. Rev. Smith says: "For the Christian, the concept
of liberation is derived from the biblical record of emancipation of the people of Israel
from Egyptian bondage."15 The Antilles bishops concur that "in the Old Testament,
God revealed himself time and again as the liberator of the oppressed and the defender
of the poor."16 The New Testament record of the life of Jesus demonstrates his
continuation of this work of liberation and emancipation. In a later document, the
Antilles bishops say:
Christ came to liberate men from all forms of
bondage: from personal and social sinfulness.., to
make this world the kind of place Christ wishes it to
be, a place where justice and Christian love
This same Christ, Ashley Smith proclaims, identifies with the poor and enslaved,
and is "at work aiding persons in overcoming the adverse effects of suffering and
dehumanization."18 Clearly, from these examples, we can see that the Christ of Jamaica
is a Christ who identifies with the poor and oppressed, whom he desires to liberate from
the misery of material poverty and emancipate from the psycho-social destructiveness
of racial self-hatred and color prejudice.
What, then, does salvation entail in Jamaica today? Salvation involves an integral
liberation that will radically transform social relationships and racial perceptions. The
Antilles bishops equate salvation with human liberation and state clearly that "the very
centre of the Gospel teaching on liberation is that it should transform men and women
into active subjects of development, both as individuals and members of a Christian
community."19 Ashley Smith agrees: "Gospel for us cannot be anything but the
presence and power of God transforming our consciousness in the world in which we
have both personal and national being."20 Samuel Carter adds, "The development of
people to their full potential and the building of a community that brings dignity to all
are central to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His Church."21 Clearly, what needs
transformation in Jamaican society are unjust social structures which produce massive
poverty and crippling self-disparagement among poor blacks. All the church leaders
concur that there must be a complete transformation of society, led by the poor
themselves, so that people's basic needs are met. there must be a complete transforma-
tion in the consciousness of the poor so that they can claim their dignity, their self-
worth, and their rightful responsibilities as children of God. this "emancipation from
mental slavery" is God's work of salvation being accomplished by Jesus Christ
Liberator in the lives and experience of Jamaicans today. This, I suggest, may be the
basis of a Jamaican theology of emancipation.
V. The Church's Role
How long shall they kill our prophets,
While we stand aside and look?
Some say that's just a part of it;
We've got to fulfill the Book.
Clearly, from the liberation perspective, the Christian church is responsible for
promoting the social, cultural and personal transformations that are demanded by faith
in Jesus and the promise of salvation, unfortunately, the church has often promoted a
colonial theology. On the one hand, the church has played an important role in con-
tributing to the development of the Jamaican people; on the other hand, the church has
also displayed a tendency to "kill the prophets" of social transformation and encourage
the oppressed to "stand aside and look," that is, to remain passive, apolitical, and
Indeed, the Christian church has contributed to the authentic awakening and em-
powering of many Jamaicans through the efforts of non-conformist missionaries and
native clergy who have affirmed the worth and dignity of poor and black Jamaicans. In
addition, the church must be credited with laying the foundations for many of Jamaica's
most important institutions. For example, various denominations founded many of the
island's schools and engaged in educational work that has provided the rational tools
and intellectual infrastructure for greater independence. No one can deny that there
have been dedicated Christian advocates of social and economic justice, and racial
However, since national independence in 1962, the church has often stifled socio-
political transformation and psycho-social racial development. Ashley Smith says:
With only a few notable exceptions the churches
have baptized and confirmed most of what has been
done to prevent the liberation of the typical
Jamaican. They have "churched" him very effective-
ly but certainly not done much to set him free to
accept the challenge of his own adulthood as a child
Indeed, this is due mainly to the fact that the church has remained largely depend-
ent, fragmented and spiritualistic.
First, local churches are still externally sponsored and legitimized. Many denomina-
tions rely heavily on large sums of foreign financial aid and missionary personnel. As
long as this reality persists, expatriates will heavily influence the direction of the church
and the Jamaican poor will remain dependent and powerless. Furthermore, this foreign
dependence hinders the development of a healthy self-affirmation of native Jamaican
and black identity. Smith states very pointedly:
For very few Afro- and Indo-Caribbean Christians
has life in Christ accommodated the affirmation of
either forefathers, the elders and heroes of their
island or sub-continental home. Every act of wor-
ship, every ecclesiastical event, is for the typical
Caribbean Christian, a reminder that this world (the
Caribbean homeland and its affairs) is not the home
of those who have responded in the affirmative to
the claims of gospel as presented by missionary and
I myself can testify to a great discomfort at large Roman Catholic liturgies and
church gatherings where the assembled clergymen reflect a predominance of white
faces presiding over a primarily black congregation. Or, another example of self-dis-
paraging dependence on foreigners is the habit, especially among evangelical Chris-
tians, of associating the authenticity of conversion and Spirit-possession with the ability
to testify and pray in an American accent! By failing to grow in local autonomy and to
foster racial and cultural identity, the church has promoted the cycle of dependence
that discourages the poor from assuming responsibility to identify their own needs,
solve their own problems, and claim the mission of the church as their own.
Second, the church has continued to be fragmented into numerous denominations
which engage in active proselytizing, the consequence is that poor Jamaicans who share
a common plight have been divided in the name of religion. These members of different
Christian churches expend their energies fighting for membership and denominational
survival, rather than working together with a common goal of following the Gospel and
laboring to bring about God's kingdom of justice and peace here and now.
Third, the church in the words of Smith has been "largely pietistic, otherworldly,
conformist, and highly stratified according to race, social class and colour."24 Despite
some of the official writings of the mainline churches, neighborhood congregations
often encourage a sedating spirituality that fosters apathy towards the world, endurance
of earthly sufferings, and the promise of heavenly reward. This phenomenon manifests
itself in the popular preoccupation with the Book of Revelation and other apocalyptic
literature, often simplistically and erroneously interpreted as urging dependence and
passivity in the face of oppression. Of course, one of the fallacies produced by an
otherworldly brand of Christianity is the conviction that Christian life, though lived in
the world, ought to remain untarnished by material or political reality. Jamaica's
newspaper, The Gleaner, features frequent articles on the debate over the relationship
between church and politics. Clearly, many denominations have been responsible for
encouraging a mentality that Christians ought to regard politicians as operating outside
the realm of God's kingdom, and ought not to involve themselves deliberately in the
"corrupt" world of politics.
The inevitable consequence of the church's position has been to encourage resigna-
tion to the status quo, where the wealthy and powerful maintain control of the nation's
destiny, while poor Jamaicans remain voiceless and dependent. In promoting a colonial
theology and foreign dependence, the church has made many mistakes; it is time for
change. The transformation is beginning.
VI. Hope for Change
Won't you help to sing
These songs of freedom?
Cause all I ever had
Redemption songs, redemption songs.
How can the church of Jesus Christ incarnated in the Jamaican people be an
effective instrument of the liberation which Jamaica needs? First, in order to restore its
own credibility, the church must admit its own sinfulness in fostering dependency and