Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Decolonization in the Caribbean #9: Colonialism's Canons

For a few hours on the last day of the UN C24 Regional Seminar, we were given a tour of some historic locations around Kingstown, the capitol of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

This image is from a canon in Fort Charlotte, which was built high atop a hill overlooking the capitol by the British in the late 18th century. As we toured the fort, our Vincentian guide shared many colorful, sometimes humorous and sometime tragic stories about his island's colonization. He connected the struggles today, to those of the past. He echoed what so many had told us over the week we and other experts and foreign delegates were in the country, that everywhere you go, you see the legacies of native genocide and African slavery. From the fort's battlements he showed us failing banana plantations, areas where underground economies are surging, the divisions between rich and poor neighborhoods around Kingstown and even incorporated some Caribbean musical lyrics as well.

When I took this picture, the guide had told us to pay close attention to the placement of the canons and the fort's construction, as its main purpose seemed to be not providing defense against invaders from the sea, but rather attackers from inland, meaning native uprisings and slave rebellions. If we compare fortifications that the Spanish built in Guam during the 19th century, the armaments are arranged in a more traditional way, because by that point Chamorros had stopped openly fighting the Spanish presence. The British had built this at a time when their occupation was unpopular both with the natives, but also the Africans that were enslaved on plantations in St. Vincent.

After recounting parts of the bloody conquest of the islands by the British, the guide held his long arms out, inviting us to take in the beauty around us. He said, "You don't need any fancy degrees to tell you why they fought and why they kept on fighting. If God had blessed you with such a treasure of a land, wouldn't you fight with every breath and every shred of your soul to keep it!" I couldn't help but think about the early decades of Spanish colonization in Guam, marked with rebellions and warfare against the new occupiers. I imagine Chamorros in the 17th century felt the same thing. And I know that those in Guam who push for decolonization and demilitarization today, feel the same as well.

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