Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Dominica - Carib Indians


Sent by Deslyn from Roseau, Commonwealth of Dominica.

The mixed descendants of the last Island Caribs who inhabited the Lesser Antilles live on the north-east coast of Dominica. This simple fact has been so exaggerated and distorted over the last thirty years of tourism publicity, that there tends to be much misunderstanding, bewilderment and eventual disappointment among visitors who come to view the Carib Territory as one of the ‘attractions’ of Dominica.

When the British formally took over in 1763 European conquest was complete. British surveyors divided the island up into lots for sale and plantations were established around the island. Only 232 acres of mountainous land and rocky shoreline at Salybia were left for the Caribs. This was done, legend has it, at the request of Queen Charlotte, wife of George III. This subsequently developed into the myth that Charlotte had left them half of Dominica — a myth which today many older Caribs consider, erroneously, to be an historical fact.

For another 130 years the Caribs were left to themselves, shadowy figures hardly seen by the growing Creole society of African slaves, free men and European officials and landowners. Now and then they appeared in the estate yards and at Sunday markets to sell baskets and fish, but quickly dissolved into the mountains once more along forest tracks towards Salybia.

When Sir Robert Hamilton was sent out by the British Colonial Office as Commissioner in 1893 to find out why Dominica was: more backward and less developed than almost any other of the islands, and why its people were: less prosperous and contented than HerMajesty’s other West Indian subjects, he received a tragic little letter from the Caribs:

In the name of God. My Lord, We humble beg of your kindness to accept our petition of your poor people, Indians or Caraibe, of Salibia, to ... emplore the marcy of our Beloved Mother and Queen Victoria, for her poor and unfortunate childrens. We dont have nothings to support us, no church, no school, no shope, no store. We are very far in the forest; no money, no dress . . . They call us u’ild savages. No my beloved Queen, it is not savages but poverty. We humble kneel down in your feet to beg of your assistance. Accept your humble childrens of Salibia. (Source)

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