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12 Dwelling

12.1 History of slavery and independence

'Yeah, mon, the Caribbean try to make countries. It's a kind of magic. Making something from nothing.' This was said by Bunny Wailer, a Jamaican singer, interviewed by Mark Kurlansky (
1992: vii).

Three European colonial powers--Spain, France, and the Great Britain--and several minor ones ruled the Caribbean from the 16th to the early 20th century. Genocide was committed on the Native American cultures. Estimates of the Indian population of the Caribbean islands in 1492 when Columbus arrived range from 225,000 to six million. Presently only few thousand of them live on the mainland South America and in Dominica (Rogozinski 1992: 32).

The Caribbean has a common history of slavery. Between 1600 and 1870 some four million West Africans were imported to the Caribbean as slaves. By comparison, the North American mainlaind received some 460,000 Africans in the same period while Jamaica alone, for instance, received almost 750,000! This was due to high death rates and small birth rates among the Caribbean slave population at the time. New slaves from Africa had to be imported continuously. In Barbados, for instance, 387,000 slaves were imported but at the time of emancipation in 1834 there were only 81,000 to be freed. Caribbean slavery was different from any other form of slavery that has ever existed. It was the only time in history when there were societies with almost nine out of ten inhabitants being slaves, which was the situation on the sugar producing islands (Rogozinski 1992: 122--124, 128).

The history of slavery is also history of resistance. Dozens of slave revolts of hundreds or even thousands of slaves involved occurred during the slave period. According to Jan Rogozinski (1992: 152, 160-161), especially the newcomers from Africa were likely to rebel since they had not yet realized the power of colonial armies. The only incidence when slaves were able to create a free independent state, however, was in the aftermaths of the French revolution when the colony of Saint-Domingue became Haiti in 1804.

In some occasions the runaway slaves were able to create their own Maroon communities to the unsettled interiors of the islands. In Jamaica, for instance, the British were unable to defeat the Maroons freed by the Spanish. According to Kurlansky (1992: 46), even today the Maroons of Jamaica insist that they do not take part to the state of Jamaica. Amongst the smaller islands of the Eastern Caribbean only Dominica and St. Vincent had extensive Maroon communities. Both islands had extensive mountainous hinterlands and, in addition, small Carib Indian communities that occasionally allied with the Maroons. By 1785 there were some thirteen Maroon camps in the interior of Dominica. Two Maroon wars and several other rebellions took place in Dominica in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Unlike in Jamaica, the Dominican Maroons were finally defeated by the British (Honychurch 1995a).

The first Caribbean country to gain its independence was Haiti in 1804, and it was followed by the Dominican Republic in 1844 and Cuba in 1902. After the two World Wars the colonial empires lost their earlier importance and the Caribbean colonies no longer needed to fight for their independence. The British islands formed an associated federation with the Great Britain in 1958 but it did not last for more than few years. Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago, two of the then largest British colonies, left the federation first in 1962 and became independent. The federation was finally dissolved in 1966 when Barbados became independent and the other islands formed associated statehoods with Britain. Most of the smaller British islands that eventually became independent gained their status in the 1970s. Dominica, for instance, became independent in 1978 (Rogozinski 1992: 249, 257; Honychurch 1995a: 232-233).

The federation was not very popular amongst the people. According to Kurlansky (1992: 278-279), the Barbadians have an expression, 'Oh, they fight like a federation.' For politicians, the idea of federation has been easier, especially in the small islands like Dominica that do not have significant resources of their own. Some regional institutions do exist, however. University of the West Indies with major campuses in Jamaica and Trinidad, and Eastern Caribbean Central Bank with its relatively stable currency, Eastern Caribbean Dollar (ECD), are two examples. A third example is the West Indies cricket team which unifies the people of the English-speaking islands. As a matter of fact, when an English-speaking Caribbean uses the term 'Caribbean' one usually means exclusively the former British colonies, i.e. The Commonwealth Caribbean (Kurlansky 1992: 284).

Dominica and St. Lucia differ from other islands of the Commonwealth Caribbean in respect to their close cultural ties with the French islands. According Honychurch (1995b: 67-68), cultural ties between the communities on different islands are strong. On Roman Catholic feast days fishermen come and go across the sea to celebrate both in Dominica, St. Lucia and in the French isles. Ties are consolidated by common language--French-based Creole--spoken in Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, and St. Lucia.

The idea of independence is strong in the Caribbean, however. Slaves were not independent, and colonies were dependent on their mother countries. But when the Caribbeans finally got independence they noticed that their region had became backyard of a new empire, the United States. The United States have various interests in the Caribbean: the region is the seaway to the Panama Canal, U.S. companies have investments in Caribbean agriculture and industry, the region is a major gateway for drugs from Colombia to the United States. Formerly the U.S. politicians were also afraid that communists would change the Caribbean into dozens of new 'Cubas' (Kurlansky 1992: 29, 286-287; Rogozinski 1992: 227).

Post-war development of Dominica has been fundamentally different from its neighbouring islands. While Guadeloupe and Martinique became French départements in 1948 being integral part of France and consequently of the European Union, Dominica moved through associated statehood to full political independence. Dominica, unlike many other countries of the Commenwealth Caribbean, does not even recognise the Queen of England as its formal head of state but has its own President instead.

Barbara Welch (Welch 1996: 137) characterises the French centralizing attitude towards its overseas departements as dirigisme. the British pre-independence development policy of ad hoc schemes, according to her, was better characterised in terms of laissez-faire pragmatism. Since the independence of the Commonwealth islands, however, the situation has changed almost to the contrary. Independent islands such as Dominica or St. Lucia publish regularly five-year development plans while the French islands have moved to more piecemeal, locally generated initiatives.

Dominica's late Prime Minister Roosevelt Douglas has stated that Dominica should join to the European Union, too, and during his visit to Europe at spring 2000 he even put forward a proposal to the French government that Dominica should become French overseas department (Jno. Baptiste 2000). Attempts of Dominica to associate with the other Caribbean islands or Europe have not yet been successful. Dominica is therefore forced to survive by its own, and its capital Roseau continues to be a seat of independent government.



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