The Black Carib Wars: Freedom, Survival, and the Making of the Garifuna 1

Caribbean News Now Book Review

Published on August 2, 2012

In The Black Carib Wars: Freedom, Survival, and the Making of the Garifuna (University Press of Mississippi), author Christopher Taylor offers the fullest, most thoroughly researched history of the Garifuna people of St Vincent, and their uneasy conflicts and alliances with Great Britain and France. The book presents documentation of one of the oldest native heritages of the Caribbean, and is the closest thing to a direct link to the region’s history before colonialism.

The Garifuna — whose descendants were native Carib Indians, Arawaks and West African slaves brought to the Caribbean — were free citizens of St Vincent. Beginning in the mid-1700s, they clashed with a number of colonial powers who claimed ownership of the island and its people. Upon the Garifuna’s eventual defeat by the British in 1796, the people were dispersed to Central America. Today, roughly 600,000 descendants of the Garifuna live in Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, Nicaragua, the United States, and Canada.

The Garifuna — called “Black Caribs” by the British to distinguish them from other groups of un-integrated Caribs — speak a language and live a culture that directly descends from natives of the Caribbean at the time of Columbus. Thus, the Garifuna heritage is one of the oldest and strongest links historians have to the region before European colonialism.

From the early 1700s, white people, particularly the French, began to settle on St Vincent. The treaty of Paris in 1763 handed the island to the British, who wanted the Black Caribs’ land to grow sugar. Conflict was inevitable and, in a series of bloody wars punctuated by uneasy peace, the Black Caribs took on the might of the British Empire. Over decades, leaders such as Tourouya, Bigot, and Chatoyer organized the resistance of a society that had no central authority but united against the external threat. Finally, abandoned by their French allies, they were defeated, and the survivors deported to Central America in 1797.

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