Friday, February 18, 2005


Mysteries of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

There are, in my opinion, a number of mysteries associated with the island nation of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and the "Caribs" and "Black Caribs" who used to constitute its population.

The primary mystery is "Why are the Vincentians so 'nice'?". They are widely accepted as being the friendliest people in the Caribbean and that is such a pleasant condition for visitors that few even think about it. Vincentians, of course, accept it and take it for granted, but for those who are interested in history it is a noticeable anomaly. Like the other caribbean islands, the history of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is full of crises that were opportunities for violence, but the Vincentians managed to resolve peacefully. For example, the transition between post-colonial and contemporary governments in Grenada involved two military revolutions and an international war. The same transition in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines involved some strikes and an election.

This mystery is an important one, because what the world needs now is a friendly way to resolve its differences. If the nature of Vincentians is a natural, understandable phenomenon, it is possible for the rest of the world to learn it.

The second mystery was "What happened to the 'Yellow Caribs'? If you look at the british colonial sources, by the 1700s the majority of the native-born residents of the island were "Black Caribs" and there were only a handful of "Caribs" or "Yellow Caribs" left. On the other hand, the french sources portray a native population that are simply "Carib", with a small and unimportant group of "Black Caribs" that are only encountered when the "Caribs" gather for war. Were there lots of "Caribs" as the french see? Or just a handful in a sea of "Black Caribs" as the british see?

Associated with that mystery is the question of who the "Black Caribs" were anyway. The "Carib" part of their designation implies that there was some contribution from the Amerindian cultures that had migrated from (or through) the northeast corner of the eurasian landmass, with all that that implies; while the "Black" part of the designation implies a contribution from the african peoples who immigrated into the Caribbean, most, if not all, of them involuntarily under conditions of slavery. Did the term "Black Carib" merely indicate someone who acted like a "Carib" but with some modification to the appearance (such as a darker complexion or less straight hair) caused by inheritance of characteristic features of appearance more typical of african peoples?

Along with that mystery is the question of how the "Caribs" and "Black Caribs" are related to the "Ciboney" and "Taino" and other indigenous people of the caribbean area. Why did the "Taino" vanish while the "Caribs" remained as a viable colonial era culture? We can assume that the "Garifuna" or "Garinagu" are descendants of the people who were exiled to Rowaton Island from St. Vincent by the British in 1797, but what is their relationship to the people remaining on St. Vincent and Dominica who are identified as descended from "Caribs"; and how do they relate to the descendants of indigenous peoples in the other caribbean islands?

As we have shown in "Einstein's God and the Science of Zen" ( ) the identification we call "racial" is a matter of genetically inherited appearance. The characteristics we lable as "ethnic", on the other hand, are determined by social behavior. We can no longer expect to have any objective measure of "race" among 17th and 18th century people, but we can identify three kinds of behavior patterns that were observable among caribbean peoples in that period: the "Conformist" behavior typical of pre-agricultural or hunter-gatherer peoples, the "Ideological" behavior typical of agricultural civilizations, including the european peoples who invaded the caribbean area; and "Transitional" behavior characteristic of people whose social groups had a higher population than the paleolithic hunter-gatherers but not so great that they had to adopt the fully post-neolithic societies that had popular religion and warrior castes in addition to farmers.

Transitional cultures are not well-understood, possibly because the evolution of the cultures between which the Transitional cultures fit were not understood before the publication of "Einstein's God". But one of the well-documented Transitional cultures were the Amerind cultures of the Pacific coast of what is now southwestern Canada and northwestern United States.

This is an area with substantial resources of fish, game and berries that could support a population much higher than the typical square kilometer per person of hunter-gatherer cultures. Their tribes had permanent chiefs and priests and redistributed resources among the groups controlling resources by the practice of "potlatch", in which groups gave away their surplus and received prestige. They did not, however, have the fully hierarchical structure of agricultural societies because the major social interaction between groups was through periodic potlatch feasts, not through the daily or weekly market interaction of agricultural villages.

The Caribs of St. Vincent, as described by Adrien Le Breton ("Historic Account of St. Vincent....") from personal experience, are "perfectly equal, and they recognize absolutely no official, chief or magistrate." This is characteristic of the hunter-gatherer stage of social evolution (see "Einstein's God") and normally is limited to groups of the order of a dozen in size who operate by a combination of conformity and individuality. This is generally found at a population density of about a square kilometer per person in open country. That would mean that St. Vincent would support a population of 350 or so persons in that kind of social structure.

However, Le Breton also says "...the fortunate complicity of the country astonishingly encourages the people's frenzy for total independence. ...the island ... is riddled with bays and hollows ...[and].. offers each father of a family the opportunity to choose ...his ideal site. far from any foreign constraint and completely safe ... to lead his life exactly as he pleases.

What happens in open country is that when the tribe gets too large to balance the conformity and individuality the tribe fissions. The equivalent in St. Vincent was that these tensions are relieved without fission: Le Breton describes them as "visit[ing] one another as frequently as possible".

In that way the Carib Transitional society could maintain the small unit structure necessary for a non-authoritarian society operated by consensus and conformity while maintaining a reasonably uniform culture over the whole island. This would allow them to practice a low intensity agriculture and exist at a significantly higher population density than hunter-gatherers in more open country.

Inevitably, the Amerinds who settled the Greater Antilles, where there was greater opportunity for intense, high-volume agriculture, developed ideological cultures like the mainland Amerinds These ideological cultures had no option but to collapse under the impact of an ideological culture with more powerful technology. The Taino, whose culture involved subservience to the supernatural and its worldly representatives, simply assumed that their gods were replaced by the gods of the Europeans.

The Caribs, on the other hand, could appropriate european technology without european ideology, because they did not have a central popular religion that provided a base for an authoritarian society. They not only quickly adopted iron tools and weapons, but, as described by Moreau de Jonnes (see Hulme,,%20Ethnography,%20Transculturation.htm ) when there were food shortages on St. Vincent they felt free to hire schooners in Trinidad to transport bulk cargo (bought with salvaged spanish coinage) unsuitable for the pirogues they used to get to Trinidad.

Thus the Caribs of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines had a Transitional Society that involved independence of small groups and individuals within an overall culture or ethnicity that made hospitality a deeply ingrained characteristic. They could, therefore, absorb the Africans who landed in small numbers and who were used to hunter-gatherer cultural norms; and in whom the need for independence had been reinforced by their experience of the middle passage if not plantation slavery. The Caribs could tolerate the french voyagers who came in small groups and adopted a certain amount of local customs. But they fought, to the extent their technology permitted, the British Colonists who brought ideology and authority and a foreign culture that called for settlement by force using large groups of armed men.

To the extent that the Carib Wars on Saint Vincent and the Grenadines prevented the full establishment of plantation slavery almost until the elimination of slavery, the Carib value system was not completely eradicated.

One might expect, therefore, that Vincentians might well be hospitable, not ethnocentric, and would prefer consensus to confrontation. What one might not expect, but is not unreasonable in this context, is that they prefer their ideology in small groups; leading to a large number of independent religious institutions, with a shifting membership. How this would affect the solidarity of political parties is something that professional politicians should think about, but I would not expect an intense ideological commitment. One can suspect that alliance to a political structure would be strongly dependent on the visibility of the political figures representing that political organization.

The mystery of the missing "Yellow Caribs" is probably an artifact of french and british xenophobia. The distinction between "Caribs" and "Black Caribs" was a political one. The British, being motivated to consider all the "Black Caribs" as either escaped slaves or their descendants, probably used a criterion similar to that used by Southern Anglo Americans in the post-Civil-War period--that "one drop of African blood" made someone "Black".

The french, on the other hand, being less racist, probably considered that anyone who acted like a "Carib" was a "Carib"; and only used the designation "Black Carib" for those indigenes who were so African in nature that they didn't like the French any better than the British. Since those motivations are irrelevant now, it makes little sense for us to distinguish between those people called "Carib" or "Black Carib" in the 18th century; and to refer to those people who are descended from the exiles on Rowaton Island in the manner that those people want to be referred to.

There remains one mystery that doesn't offer an easy explanation, the origin of the very first Black Caribs. The conventional explanation is that Africans came to places like St. Vincent by virtue of escape from slavery, either from the wreck of a slave ship or on a raft from Barbados. Dr. Earle Kirby, however, after a lengthy study of the question (and a remarkable collection of archaeological artifacts) has suggested that there was a visitation in the 1300s by an expedition from Mali. If so a population with both african and caribbean genetic characteristics could have existed long before europeans brought africans to the caribbean as slaves.

I'll post pictures of a stone figure found in a river on St. Vincent, a drawing of an Olmec stone monuments from the mainland, and a pottery head found on St. Vincent, all prehistoric. All have "racial"(i.e., appearance) characteristics more characteristic of Africa than America. They are posted as Mali 01, 02 and 03.

Thus, barring some unusual findings in DNA studies, one can assume that there was little intrinsic difference between the "Ciboney", "Carib" and "Taino" Amerinds--they merely represented stages in the same kind of social evolution that the Eurasian peoples went through, It was just the geography of Saint Vincent that gave the "Caribs" and "Black Caribs" of Saint Vincent the opportunity to evolve into such a uniquely admirable people.

This explanation, based, as it is, on a phenomenon characteristic of the mesolithic-neolithic transition is not likely to be easily accepted. But it is becoming clear that that transition is the source of a number of interesting phenomena. Potlatch, as we mentioned above, was an invention of the mesolithic-neolithic transition in the temperate rain forest of northwest North America. This kind of redistribution is also characteristic of the "big man" phenomenon on the South Pacific islands in a transitional culture that, like potlatch and Carib hospitality, was preserved to historic times by the particular geography in which it is found.

But other transitional phenomena may well be discovered through the close analysis of archaeological finds. It has been recognized that the local norm of melanin-concentration varies with latitude, being greater near the equator and less near the arctic. There was, however, one notable exception; those peoples who originated within 600 miles of the North and Baltic seas were noticeably melanin-deficient, enough so that they created the concept of "race" based primarily on melanin-concentration and secondarily on other features of appearance. While the explanation in "Einstein's God" makes it reasonable that appearance should be locally uniform and globally varied, it did not explain the melanin-deficiency of northern Europeans.

However, within the last year stable isotope analysis of remains dating from the Mesolithic to the late Neolithic has shown that as soon as it was introduced, northern Europeans abandoned fish and game for a grain-based diet. This provided the basis for a severe dietary deficiency of vitamin D, making those children with normal levels of melanin susceptible to rickets. This put a strong bias toward melanin-deficiency in the genetic inheritance of northern Europeans.

In a sense this acts similarly to the sickle-cell trait found in peoples living in areas subject to malaria. People with one sickle-cell gene are resistant to malaria, while those with the sickle-cell gene from both sides are subject to a characteristic anemia. Similarly, melanin-deficient people can obtain more of their vitamin D needs from the weak sunlight of northern latitudes but are susceptible to burning and melanoma in tropical latitudes. But just because melanin-deficiency is a kind of genetic disease doesn't mean that people who are called "white" should be considered genetically inferior.

This is not yet widely recognized, but when the implications are fully understood it may help to make the Vincentian lack of racism more understandable and more acceptable as a universal worldview.

The net result is that while Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is a delightful place to visit even without history, it is even more fascinating with it.

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