Conquest and Colonization

The demise of what must be reiterated as a “Kalinago Western Island Civilization” really began in 1452, under the pretext of the Papal Bull (Romanus Pontifex) and later the 1493 one (Inter Cetera); the Christian Doctrine of Discovery, when European Christians began their efforts to expand colonial rule, and the Christian Empire, throughout the world. These Papal Bulls sanctioned openly that European Christian Nations were to “Capture, vanquish, and subdue the Saracens, pagans, and other enemies of Christ, to put them into perpetual slavery, and to take all their possessions and property”, and were therefore authorized; “to take possession of any lands discovered that were not under the dominion of any Christian rulers.”

Instances of such undertakings were consistently realized to be perpetuated and so abundant volumes on early colonial efforts articulates that the Portuguese centred on the western coast of Africa and “claimed” lands while engaging in the trafficking of African slaves. The Spanish was also quick to follow suit in efforts to “claim” the lands that Columbus had “discovered” and was emulated by other European “Christian Nations” to later engage in efforts to claim lands, resources, and slaves from the Island Civilization to throughout what is now called North, Central and South America extending out to the Pacific Islands.

It has without a doubt been observed that the goals of settler colonial state have always been the same, at varying periods all over the world. They endeavoured to physically remove Indigenous populations whether through extermination, relocation or assimilation, appropriate lands and resources and expand the reaches of the settler state. Although the practice was maintained throughout the colonial project, the canoe as part of the functional material culture served well in the Kalinago resistance against early European colonization. Early stories were often told of the Kalinago being feared by other tribes, due to their practice of making lightning raids against which their enemies had little defense due to their great skills of seamanship and their superior craft, making them a formidable force to contend. Some scholars observed that, “they [the Kalinago] even fell on loaded vessels in mid-ocean. The warfare they practiced was swift and fierce and most efforts to control them proved useless.”   The use of such strategies against the Europeans proved useful since they could not engage in open, large scale extended warfare against an oppressor with larger vessels and more powerful armament.

From the onset the Indigenous communities have actively resisted colonial efforts. Some evidence suggests that:

“Christopher Columbus sent his men ashore on November 14, 1493 to explore and find water. Instead, they encountered a canoe full of [Kalinago] armed with bows and arrows in the Salt River on the island called Santa Cruz – now known as St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. Each side suffered a fatality during this first documented resistance by natives to European explorers in the New World”.

Additionally, on Columbus’s return voyage to Spain to both report his findings and gather men and materials needed for colonization efforts, he had left about thirty-five (35) men who were subsequently wiped out by Taino warriors. Resistance to colonization had begun. Similar scenes of European colonization efforts were repeated with similar responses of Indigenous resistance over the next several hundred years. The records primarily relate much resistance between 1624 and 1700.

All colonial records suggest that the invading European forces endeavoured to destabilize, and eventually rid the archipelago of the Kalinago; a people existent with governance structures, a language, and traditional practices, a cosmogony, military prowess and social norms. This proclamation is based on the evidence available in the chronicles of explorers and missionaries, who all served the mercenary intents of an emerging mercantilist system while discrediting the true nature of a “Kalinago Civilization”.

It has been elucidated by Hilary Beckles that due to their irrepressible military resistance, the Kalinago were targeted first and established in the minds of all Europeans as not the ‘noble savage’ but rather as the ‘vicious cannibal’.  The overall development of the Kalinago, evident through archaeology, as the last wave of an indigenous island population halted when they were systematically displaced by the Europeans amid a great loss of life. This was especially expedited through prolonged warfare which was further by compounded by infectious diseases to which the people had no natural immunity. With the massive genocidal project of the European invaders ongoing during the colonial period, the Kalinago were eventually forced to systematically retreat in small numbers to Hairoun (St. Vincent) and Waitukubuli, where they were expected to assimilate into the evolving plantation economy.

As colonialism continued to manifest itself throughout the archipelago, the need to limit the movement and self-determination of the indigenous Kalinago population appeared to have continued within the Wai’tukubulian society. This apparent natural European phenomenon of displacing indigenous peoples and then possessing their domains continued at this period as a legal means that forced the first inhabitants to become foreigners in their own land. It would be realized that at this juncture, the local population in every sense, were still considered less-human and would have to be specifically controlled especially if they continued to serve as a hindrance on the path to development. To such an end, the initial responses of the colonial presence by the population would continue to persist during this period.

The discussion of Kalinago influence on the plantation economy has further been articulated by Beckles that by refusing to surrender under the joint European military force, the Kalinago kept the Windward Islands in a marginal relation to slavery in North America for over 200 years and made a significant contribution to the region’s anti- slavery tradition.