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St Vincent History & Culture

HISTORY OF ST. VINCENT


St. Vincent & the Grenadines was originally settled by Amerindian adventurers travelling northwards along the Lesser Antillean island chain from the continent of South America. They named the island 'Hairoun', meaning 'Land of the Blessed'.

Archaeological evidence indicates that Ameridians established settlements in St. Vincent from around 150AD onwards. Several groups of Amerindians would have travelled here, displacing each otherChatoyer Youth by Andrew Wilson and creating an identity that eventually became distinct from their mainland relatives. European colonialists named them Island Caribs, a term which is often shortened to Caribs. Though St. Vincent & the Grenadines were sighted during the voyages of Columbus in the late 15th century, Europeans did not attempt to occupy our islands until the early 1700s. Instead, in 1635, a Dutch ship sank off St. Vincent and its cargo of West African slaves liberated themselves and ran ashore. Together with escaped slaves from neighbouring islands, they merged with our island's Amerindian inhabitants and a new ethnic group, known as Black Caribs or Garifuna, was born.

The first Europeans to occupy St. Vincent were the French. However, following a series of wars and peace treaties, our islands were eventually ceded to the British. Between 1795 and 1796, with French support from Martinique, the Black Caribs, led by their chief, Joseph Chatoyer, fought a series of battles against the British. Their uprising was eventually put down, however, resulting in almost 5,000 Black Caribs being exiled to the tiny island of Baliceaux off the coast of Bequia. In March 1797, those who survived the ordeal of exile were forced onto ships that were eventually bound for the island of Roatan off the coast of Honduras. Like the French before them, the British also used African slaves to work plantations of sugar, coffee, indigo, tobacco, cotton and cocoa until full emancipation in 1838. The economy then went into a period of decline with many landowners abandoning their estates and leaving the land to be cultivated by liberated slaves. Life was made even harder following two eruptions of the La Soufriere volcano in 1812 and 1902 when much of our island was destroyed and many people were killed. In 1979 it erupted again but this time with no fatalities. In the same year, St Vincent & The Grenadines gained full independence from Britain though we remain a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.

Artifacts from Amerindian groups are displayed at the National Trust Museum in the Carnegie Building, Kingstown. The legacies of Amerindian, European, East Indian and West African heritage combine to influence our contemporary culture. This manifests itself in our language, dress, food, music and of course Vincentians ourselves. Carnival (or ‘Vincy Mas’) takes place in June and is a celebration of both past and present with colourful costume parades, dancing, queen shows and calypso competitions. Also, National Heroes Day is celebrated as a public holiday on 14th March; and Emancipation Day is celebrated as a public holiday on 1st August.