St. Vincent & the Grenadines

INTRODUCTION

Comprised of 32 islands and cays, St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) is a small but absolutely beautiful and rugged volcanic country located between St. Lucia, Barbados, and Grenada, in a part of the Eastern Caribbean known as the Lesser Antilles. The mainland is dominated by the active volcano La Soufrière (a French word meaning The Sulfur), which towers over the rest of the Grenadines at an altitude of 4,048 feet. The largest island, mainland St. Vincent, is besieged by black sand beaches and jagged cliffs, it has a tropical climate and densely forested mountains and valleys through which clouds float and rivers run year-round. The shallow, turquoise waters of the Grenadines abound with marine life; including sea turtles, sharks, whales, and dolphins. And the islands with birds and small terrestrial animals such as parrots, iguanas, armadillos, agoutis, and opossums.

HISTORY

Three distinct Amerindian tribes, originally from an area in the Amazon that is now Venezuela, were St. Vincent’s aboriginal occupants. The first group to discover the archipelago was a hunter-gatherer tribe known as the Ciboney about 7000 years ago, followed shortly thereafter by a purportedly peaceful tribe of farmers called the Arawaks. According to historians, the two groups assimilated peacefully, and the Arawak culture became the predominant one. The Arawaks called themselves the Taino (which means good or noble people) in order to distinguish themselves from other aggressive tribes.

To reach the Lesser Antilles, these tribes traversed the open ocean in long dugout canoes made from tall trees, bringing with them plants and animals from South America that can still be found in SVG to this very day. For a long time (maybe a couple thousand years) the Arawaks lived in peace, farming and hunting small game, until the arrival of the Kalinga.

The Kalinga (also known as the Caribs) were an extremely combative and allegedly cannibalistic tribe of warriors who became notorious amongst Europeans for resisting colonization and raiding Arawak settlements on neighboring islands, ultimately displacing them entirely.

According to the Spanish, the Caribs ate the Arawak men slain in combat and took the most beautiful Arawak women as their concubines. The less attractive women became slaves who spent the rest of their lives probably making pottery. The Caribs renamed their new, conquered island Hairoun, meaning ‘Land of the Blessed’, and had just about completely displaced and consumed all of the Arawaks in SVG and the rest of the Lesser Antilles by the time the French and British had arrived.

Though Columbus and the Conquistadors were the first to find the New World, they largely ignored SVG and other small neighboring islands, making no attempt to settle them, and instead opted to search for precious metals in South and Central America. They did, however, rape and pillage St. Vincent and the other Caribbean islands on their way through, taking slaves and driving the those that resisted either into the sea or into the islands’ almost impenetrable interior.

In 1635, a Dutch ship ran aground and its cargo of West African slaves escaped and merged with the Caribs, creating a new ethnic group which came to be known as the Garifuna, or the Black Caribs. This bellicose blend became a real force to reckon with and prevented European colonization of the island until the late 18th Century.

However, while the British were the first to lay claim to St. Vincent, the French were the first to successfully settle the mainland via negotiations with the Black Caribs and named their colony Barrouallie.

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