(By Sheron Garraway) A fervent call has been made for the island of Balliceaux to become a sacred heritage site.
This plea was made by a contingent of descents of the indigenous Garifuna people (also known as Black Caribs) residing in Los Angeles and New York – as they made a “Vincy Home Coming” pilgrimage to this country from the 31st July – 7th August 2019.
The delegation was being hosted by the Ministry of Culture and visited several sites, and also held a church service at the St. George’s Anglican cathedral where they said prayers and sang in Garifuna.
They also conducted cultural workshops in Sandy Bay, Rose Bank and Kingstown. But on Monday July 5th the group’s visit to Balliceaux, which is a 320 thousand acre island, was seemingly the highlight of the trip.
Both young and senior persons aboard, sang and danced in merriment during the 30 minute sail on the catamaran from St. Vincent (which was originally called Yurumei) to Balliceaux (which is just off the Grenadine island of Bequia).
But upon nearing Balliceaux where some 5,000 of their Garifuna ancestors were banished in 1797, they were overcome with a range of emotions. Some shed tears, some expressed elation, while others had a solemn countenance.
As the party gathered to pay homage to those who were exiled to the uninhabited island with speeches; renowned artist Aurelio Martinez described Balliceaux as a historic site that must be reaffirmed as the Garifuna sacred ancestral homeland.
He noted that in 2001 UNESCO proclaimed the Garifuna Heritage and Culture a masterpiece of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity and said that it should be inevitable, that Balliceaux be made into sacred land. Martinez appealed to Garifuna throughout the Diaspora as well as heritage lovers, to raise funds to purchase the 320 thousand acre island, which is privately owned by the Gellizeau family and is being sold for $29 million 950 thousand USD.
He also thanked the government for their work at restoring the culture and called on them to also facilitate the process to regain Balliceaux.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines Consul General in New York, Howie Prince who was helping to co-ordinate the visit, said that Prime Minster Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has similar aspirations to ensure that Balliceaux becomes sacred grounds. Prince stated that PM Gonsalves will try to put mechanisms in place, but however reminded the contingent that “the pen is mightier than the sword”.
He advised them to petition through paper work and other means to UNESCO and other agencies. President of the Garifuna Heritage Foundation Zoila Ellis-Browne also endorsed Prince’s sentiments and suggested that the purchasing of the nearly $30 million US dollar island is one of the options that must be seriously looked into.
About the author: Sheron Garraway is a print and broadcast journalist from St. Vincent and the Grenadines. She is finalizing her master’s thesis on the Garifuna people, in Arts Entrepreneurship from the Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination (EBCCI) at the University of the West Indies, Barbados.