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Capitalism and Slavery
Capitalism and Slavery

From Columbus to Castro
From Columbus to Castro

A Brief History of the Caribbean: From the Arawak and Carib to the Present
A Brief History of the Caribbean

Rituals of Power & Rebellion: The Carnival Tradition In Trinidad & Tobago 1763 - 1962
Rituals of Power & Rebellion

Historical Dictionary of Trinidad and Tobago
Historical Dictionary of Trinidad and Tobago

Wars and African Slavery

The story of the Caribs and Arawaks

Part 6

What's more, Indians began to barter slaves with the Spanish. Girolano Benzoni, after his description of the raid which I quoted earlier, recalled how, "our captain then... led us to the house of a poor chief, a friend of the Spaniards, and giving him a jug of wine, a shirt, and some knives, with civil words entreated him to lead him to a place where slaves could be caught. The chief went off with a party of his men, and returned the following day bringing sixteen Indians with their hands tied behind their backs." --------(19) Some Indians, observed Raleigh (1595), "will for three or four hatchets sell the sons and daughters of their own brethren and sisters, and for somewhat more even their own daughters." -------(20) Captives of Indians in Dominica, recounted Luisa Navarette who had been one herself, were put to work in tobacco fields. The English and the French bought the tobacco.

The process Luisa witnessed in 17th century Dominica had taken place centuries before at the fringes of the Roman empire and was well underway in western and central Africa: tribes primitive enough to have been relatively egalitarian were evolving into more complex societies. By this process a sexual division of labour geared to reproduction was evolving into a social division of labour geared to commodity production. And this entailed the emergence within the tribes of different classes of people, some of whom exploited the labour of others.

And yet, we must not overstate this case. It was precisely the pristine primitiveness of the Kalina, the fluidity of their societies, which allowed them to wage guerilla warfare for three centuries. The hierarchic Taino chiefdoms of the Greater Antilles, the Aztec state society of Mexico, both having hereditary leaders, were paralysed when these leaders were captured or killed - something the Spanish quickly learned. Even without this, they would have been incapable of resisting for any length of time once their economies were disrupted. That is why many of the Taino died of starvation. Not so the Kalina: they just ran up into the bush, chose a new war leader and returned for revenge.

Thus, in 1560 at Rouen Montaigne met three Indians brought by a navigator from the Amazon. What are the privileges of chiefs, he asked one who had been himself a chief. The Indian replied, "it was to march forward in any time of warfare."------- (21)

No wonder the Garifuna, a tribe of mixed Carib-African stock, were able to keep the Europeans at bay in St. Vincent until well into the 18th century. They only acceeded to being deported by the British to Honduras in 1797, and even so skirm-ishes continued on the island until 1799. Only in 1803 did the British feel confident enough to offer a reward of $20 "for each Charaib man or woman killed or brought in prisoner." ---------(22)

To my mind, people have not really understood the nature of revenge, seeing it as an aspect of the Indians' vindictiveness. Imagine a tribe, one so simple that there is really no police or leader or council of elders. How did a man redress an injustice? He took personal revenge, a course of action which easily turned into a feud. Lex talionis, said William Hilhouse describing the Arawaks of Guyana in 1825, "is observed rigidly... Most of the blood feuds originate in jealousy, and the revenge of connubial injuries, of which they are highly resentful." -----(23) "If anyone among them suffers an injury or affront without endeavouring to revenge himself, he is slighted by all the rest and accounted a coward, and a person of no esteem," said Rochefort (1658).-----(24) Pere Labat, speaking of the Kalina, was more forceful: "Frown at an Indian and you fight him. Fight an Indian and you must kill him or be killed." ------- (25)

This individualism was not, as often thought, just a matter of spite 'it was condition of the Indians' mode of existence as much as the courts of law are of ours and as such it was practiced quite apart from the varying cultural attitudes, the differences in tribal temperament, such as those noticed by most observers. And consequently this had to be impressed upon the mind of the Spanish. The primitive individualism of the Indians, then, in ways came close to being a definition of freedom.

"Many carib Indians," complained Antonio de Herreira (1547), the last of the great chroniclers, "were coming from the islands, of Trinidad, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Santa Cruz, Matino, and other islands, causing great damage." -----(26) And this continued for quite some time. Take the example of the Nepoio named Hierreima whom the Spanish in Trinidad enslaved: he ran away, killed two Spaniards, and thereafter dedicated his life to killing the rest. In 1636 a Netherlander, Jacques Ousiel, wrote: "This Hierreima came to Tobago... offering his services in driving the Spaniards out of the aforesaid island with 100 or 80 white musketeers and 400 Indians that he would add thereto, declaring that as an assurance of his good intentions and purposes, he would leave all their women and children and old men as hostages." -------(27)

The ensuing years did see the Spaniards being driven out of all but the three largest islands of the Caribbean. But the spoils of those victories went to the English and the French, not the Indians. So Hierreima is as forgotten as is the Ciguayan. The Lokono and the Kalina, although they are still to be found in the Guianas, their memory has been covered with calumny. And now, looking back, we wonder what was this all about? What remains? Did it only mean that Spain got a few less gold trinkets and pearls and the smaller islands were preserved for the English and the French to later turn them into sugar factories powered with African blood? That the word 'anthropophagi' could be replaced by 'cannibal'? And the memory of the past linger on only as a demeaning myth of peaceful Arawaks and warlike Caribs?

There is another story to be told, one so subterranean that at times it seemed only exist as a dream. We pick up the trail in the writing of Thomas More who set his fictional island of Utopia in the Caribbean where was also located Erasmus's Fortunate Isles. It was plaited of a thread inspired by the courage and egalitarianism of both Arawaks and Caribs. It first found expression in the startling idea of Las Casas that, "the inhabitants (of Cuba) had the right to wage war on the Admiral and his Christians in order to rescue their neighbors and compatriots." Symptomatically, it was the French, who colonised the Carib islands, who took it up - Montaigne, Voltaire and then Rousseau's noble savage. By 1776, the year of the American Revolution, when Abbe Raynal picked up the thread, the Indians had been replaced by Africans. "The slave, an instrument in the hands of wickedness, is below the dog which the Spaniard let loose against the American," he wrote: "A courageous chief only is wanted." Those lines were closely read, over and over, by a middle-aged black slave in San Domingue who shared the same dream. His name was Toussaint L'Ouverture and his dream was no less than the dream of freedom.


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