The Grenadines paid their respects to their first National Hero, Garifuna Chief Joseph Chatoyer
On Saturday March 14, the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines paid their respects to their first National Hero, Garifuna Chief Joseph Chatoyer, who was killed during a battle with the British on March 14, 1795.
Speaking at a ceremony to pay homage to Chatoyer, Gonsalves again made the call that those who were involved in the destruction of the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean and Africa must pay.
“Today, we have a partnership with Europe but we must never allow that partnership with Europe; which is a requisite of all modern civilized peoples, to blind us to the fact of genocide and we must keep up the demand for reparations for genocide and for slavery,” Gonsalves said, as he delivered the main address at the monument that was erected at Dorsetshire Hill in the area where it is reported Chatoyer died.
“This government led the way at the United Nations for this call. It is central to our diplomatic work; it is vital to our project of historical reclamation. There are some people who may say drop the call for reparations for genocide and for slavery, well, if you want another government to do that you can get one, but not this one and not this one headed by Ralph Gonsalves.”
Gonsalves used the occasion to give a historical background of Chatoyer's work and the suffering his people underwent at the hands of British colonialism.
“When Europe encountered this country they met the Callinago people. They had their own system of governance, their own economy, their own culture. The fact that history may recall that there were people who were here before the Calliganos is not an issue for the discussion today,” Gonsalves said. “The fact is when Europe encountered this country they met a thriving civilization. These persons were not mere occupants of the landscape and seascape they were permanently here; it belonged to them and the Europeans came to take it and they fought so that they can keep it and for over 200 years of struggle they fought the European and the encounter and came to a climatic conclusion in 1795 when Chatoyer was killed.”
“Europe, steeped in Christian values, committed horrendous acts of genocide against a people who did not disturb them. I am not making a case against Christianity because I am a Christian, I am only making the point that the Europe which committed genocide against the Callinago and the Garifuna it was a Europe steeped in Christian values but which went awry from those values,” Gonsalves said.
Gonsalves said the Europeans met stern resistance from Chatoyer and his army but after he was killed, the Europeans slaughtered his people and marooned 5,000 of them to the Grenadine island of Balliceaux, where there was no food, water or proper sanitation.
“Within a period of three to six months some 3,000 of them died and the remaining 2,000 were shipped off to Roatan island. Historians tell us the only animals which could have survived there were lizards and iguanas, but the Garifuna people survived and thrived and from that exile, today in Belize, there are thousands of the descendants of the Garifuna people with the retention of their language,” Gonsalves said.
The Vincentian Prime Minister said after conquest in the Caribbean, the Europeans turned to Africa for labour and the slave trade began and this was later followed by the arrival of indentured servants from Madeira and India.
“Out of our people who have come we have built a civilization of nobility. It has historical legitimacy and it has a trajectory for further ennoblement and that is why we embraced Chatoyer that we will never desecrate our future of this civilization,” Gonsalves said.
In 2006, while addressing the United Nations General Assembly, Gonsalves made the call for reparation for the genocide by those nations involved in slavery.
The following year the United Nations General Assembly agreed to erect a permanent memorial in memory of the 400-year Transatlantic Slave Trade and designated March 25th as the official International Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.