As the government and people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines this month celebrate National Heroes and Heritage Month for the second year, a distinguished Vincentian History professor is claiming that the often distorted and erroneous history of the multi-island nation have had profound negative impact on the masses’ psyche.
Dr. Joyce Toney, a professor of History at Hunter College, made the declaration while delivering a brief paper recently, on the History of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, at the first Vincentian Cultural Symposium in North America.
Toney, who received her Ph.D in History from Columbia University, characterized as “a myth” some elements of history taught in schools in her homeland and the Caribbean in general and written by Europeans.
“Today, history continues to be distorted,” she told the historic symposium at Mahalia Jackson High School in Brooklyn, at which Culture and Tourism Minister Rene Baptiste delivered the feature address. “And the untruths of the past have left a damning legacy on our people in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and in the Caribbean in general.”
Though, with time, “the colonial story after abolition (slavery) may appear to be benign,” it is still filled with innuendoes and falsehoods,” Toney said.
She said that it is now known that the history of the region started with the indigenous people, who originated from South America long before Columbus’ voyages.
Europeans referred to them as Caribs, Arawaks and Ciboneys, but the more accepted names in St. Vincent and the Grenadines are Kalinagu or Garifuna people.
Felix Igemeri Miranda, a Garifuna from Belize, who also spoke on the History of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, said that the New York-based World Garifuna Organization, of which he is general secretary, is demanding reparation, on behalf of the Garifuna people, from Great Britain for crimes against humanity.
He said that these “crimes” were committed against the Garifuna people by England for their forced repatriation on March 11, 1797.
“And then to add insult to injury,” Miranda said, “they were squeezed onto a tiny, rocky, inhospitable island, called Balliceaux, for eight months before they were herded on ships, like cattle and forcibly exiled forever.
“Many of them died of hunger, disease and other pestilence” he added, “not on this island but also on this horrific journey to nowhere. Hopelessness, it seemed, had its toll.”
In addition to their native land, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Garifunas are said to have settled today in Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, New York, Chicago, New Orleans, Detroit, Los Angeles and Texas.
Toney, who heads the Brooklyn-based St. Vincent and the Grenadines Girls High School Alumni Association, said that though the Garifuna or Galinagu people left St. Vincent and the Grenadines open for development of the sugar plantations, with enslaved Africans as the primary form of labor, she is bewildered about the negligible attention paid to them.
“These people were the ancestors of the majority of Vincentians today,” she said. “Yet, ironically, the background and culture of these people get the least attention in Caribbean studies.”
Dr. Errol King—a surgeon and author, who co-wrote the book, “The Trial of George McIntosh,” with Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, a political scientist and the late Norris Quow—also lamented the “hushed up” Moyne Commission water-shed report in 1938 that was very critical of British rule in the region.
McIntosh headed a slate of old guard politicians, in the Workingmen Association in the first general elections, after adult suffrage was granted in 1951.
King said that the colonial masters stifled the Moyne Commission report, which covered riots and general unrests in several islands, including Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, because they “feared that the German propaganda machine would use it to belittle Great Britain over her subjects in the colonies.”
King also took issue with Britain’s “strict colonial rules and regulations” regarding voting in the 1930s.
He said the most West Indians were not allowed to vote because they did not meet the requirements of earning over $150 a month or owning a property valued over $5,000.
It was not until 1944 in Jamaica, 1946 in Trinidad and Tobago and 1951 in St. Vincent and the Grenadines that universal adult suffrage was granted through the adoption of the recommendations of the Moyne Commission.
Toney said that adult suffrage opened “the floodgates to democracy and set the stage for an end to colonialism.”
She said that though some remnants of colonialism still exist, or neocolonialism, Vincentians will not exchange “What exists now for what existed then.”
“There is no escape from the economic, political and social repercussions of world events and problems,” she said. “Yet, when we look to the past, we see room for optimism. If our ancestors could overcome so much, who are we to fall down on the job? We have an obligation to carry on their legacy and preserve St. Vincent and the Grenadines for future generations.”