The story begins in 1675, when a slave boat loaded with a human cargo of Ibo tribes people from the Bight of Benin crashed on rocks off Saint Vincent. Over 400 blacks made it ashore. There they were rescued and integrated into the existing Carib society. By 1710, it was estimated that some 5,000″Black Caribs” inhabited one side of the island. Several thousand “Red Caribs,” who had not intermixed lived on the other side. The blacks called themselves Garinuga meaning “proud and brave people,” and their beloved adopted island was known as Yurumein.
Things were to change drastically for the islanders when, in 1763, Saint Vincent was awarded by the French to the British in the Treaty of Paris. The Caribs and Garifuna moved to the north shores of the island where they were welcomed by French sugar cane planters, from whom the Garifuna adopted many French words. They also embraced Catholicism and the French counting system. The British settled on the south shore of the island, where they established their capital, Kingstown.
British were forced to sign a peace treaty with the Garifuna, the first treaty signed with a native population
An uneasy peace lasted for 11 years, until the British attempted a full scale invasion to control the entire island. It was repelled by a Garifuna army led by a charismatic and determined Chief, Joseph Satuye. The British were forced to sign a peace treaty with the Garifuna, the first treaty signed with a native population in the Americas. And like many other treaties that the British signed, it would soon be broken.
Tension between the Garifuna and British mounted until 1795, when the Garifuna grew tired of the petty bullying and ridiculous laws and taxes of the British. Satuye, now in his late 40s, led a rebellion to finally kick the British off the island. His campaign was supported by French military aid and was a total success. Garifuna and French forces soon occupied most of the island and were poised to take Kingstown.
Unbeknownst to the rebels, a huge British relief force under the command of General Abercrombie, arrived to squash the rebellion and attacked them at night on Dorsetshire Hill, overlooking Kingstown. Taken by complete surprise, the Garifuna were routed and Satuye was shot and killed.
Satuye’s reputation for fighting the British for 26 years remains impressive to this day. Satuye is the spiritual leader of all Garifuna around the world, their National Ballet Company in New York is named after him, and he is the only national hero on the island of Saint Vincent.
Despite Satuye’s death, it took the British another year to subdue and round up the remaining 5,000 Garifuna. The new governor of the island, Sir Thomas Young had lost his sugar cane estates in the fighting and had also amassed millions of pounds of gambling debts. To offset these losses, it was decided to remove the Garifuna from the island to make way for new plantations.
The Garifuna were initially kept in camps on the tiny island of Balliceaux, where over half of them died from the pitifully unsanitary conditions and lack of medicines. In January 1797,it was decided to ship them to the island of Roatan, where the British hoped they could be used as indentured agricultural workers.