As we celebrate National Heroes Day, we reflect on the struggles of the Garifuna and the role that paramount Chief, the Rt. Excellent Joseph Chatoyer, played as they fought to fend off the French and British who sought to rob them of their rights; their land, their heritage and break their spirit. Despite the effort to exile them, they survived; a testimony of their resilience and the true Garifuna spirit.
Take a very close look at Fort Charlotte. Why is it that at a fort that boasts of an impressive view and span of horizon across the blue Caribbean Sea, those huge canons are all turned inland towards Kingstown and its environs?
Why is there, on the lower approach to the fort, a very narrow or slender bridge that spans a short but deep gorge, a bridge that in its day was a drawbridge that could have been lifted and lowered as and when the Colonials ordered it?
There are prisoners’ cells built into that. Who or what was responsible for this construction that is now a tourist attraction? The guns are turned inwards because the ‘enemy’ was native.
The irony is that this fort was built by the British in 1806 a mere nine years after our Garifuna people were banished beyond Balliceaux to Roatan in the Bay of Honduras but it speaks unmistakably to the indomitable spirit of the ancestors who inhabited this land.
It was, however, a message that this epic struggle that was a thorn in the side of the aggressor should never be repeated. It may seem paradoxical but these cells were used in 1935 and possibly in 1979.
Examining the relative little we knew about Chatoyer, we can establish that he was skilled at warfare and strategizing for war or peace. He waged a relentless war against the enemy in defense of his people and the motherland.
He sometimes consorted with the French if at the time he thought it was in his best interest. Contrary to certain record; the popular view held by the late Dr. Earle Kirby , Archaeologist, that a man so skilled in the use of spear and bows and arrows would not have challenged Major Leith to a sword fight and notably, one that is said to have taken place after midnight.
Here was a leader who fought both the British and the French with varying degrees of success. He had expected to win and liberated his people.
Thereafter he would have looked forward to a period of stability and calm or relief from his war-weariness. It could be assumed that he worked to console and unite his people as they emerged from a war-weary existence.
We have had a relatively easy existence in our inheritance from our forebears. Political Independence was virtually handed to us by a tired Colonial power that was ready to relinquish its tether. We never had to fight for the integrity of, or pride in our Country.
That is why we still do not adequately appreciate the value, honour and pride in our national symbols. We have never had to fight to keep our flag from trailing in the dust of war: an insult to the vanquished. We do not know whether Chief Chatoyer had a flag but we can be assured that it was an insult to him to lose a single soldier in battle.
We do not have an anthem that rouses us to instant defense of our nation attacked or whose words consume us with a pride that fills our breasts or inspire us to join hands in a communal effort to improve the economic and social well-being of our less fortunate brothers and sisters or to rise above the pettiness that continues to keep us seemingly at each other’s throat.
Presently, some of our Garifuna brothers and sisters are in Yurumein as they do around this time as we celebrate National Heroes Day.
Our exiled Garifuna family has done remarkably well over the years. It is a remarkable story, not only of survival; it has gone way beyond that in growth and prosperity and the maintenance of a language and culture; since only approximately five thousand Garifuna were sent to Balliceaux and the estimated number now is over seven hundred thousand. Garifuna history is Vincentian history and we recognize that the Garifuna present is an integral part of our reality. The New Democratic Party (NDP) welcomes you home, toYurumein,
We recall that in 2015, the NDP invited a Garifuna delegation to St. Vincent and the Grenadines. A number of activities were held; following which a Declaration of Intent was signed between the NDP and the Garifuna.
The declaration states that: the NDP and the Garifuna delegation hereby agree to deepen the relationship between the Garifuna nation and Yurumein in the following manner, by supporting and encouraging exchange programmes in the areas of culture, education, health and sports; developing and disseminating the Garifuna language and culture in Yurumein and in Garifuna populations elsewhere; forging alliances for the purposes of trade in goods and services, with great emphasis being placed on tourism; highlighting the socio-economic and socio-political under which Garifuna exist in Yurumein and elsewhere; strengthening the spiritual bond and re-establishing the historical link between the inhabitants of Yurumein and the Garifuna nation and the collaborative efforts mentioned will be pursued within the context of the Honorary Citizenship programme.
The NDP and the Garifuna delegation do promise to continue collaborative efforts to expedite the process of building closer ties with each other and realizing the dream of making St. Vincent and the Grenadines the spiritual home of all Garifuna at home and abroad.
In responding to the NDP’s proclamation, Dr. Gonsalves and the ULP sought to lengthen our separation by conjuring fears that the Garifuna honorary citizens will come to take away our jobs, our lands and our houses.
What a shame! We must reiterate that the NDP is committed to working closer with our Garifuna brothers and sisters when it returns to office.