Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is located between Saint Lucia to the north and Grenada to the south. Saint Vincent is a very mountainous country with a long history of indigenous peoples. The Island was first “discovered” by Spanish explorers in 1511 but was colonized by the French in 1719 and eventually by the British. The colony was ruled through slavery until 1834 when Britain abolished slavery. Saint Vincent was still controlled by the British until 1979 when independence was gained. These histories of Indigenous peoples and colonization provide the foundation for the economic and cultural problems that afflict the country of Saint Vincent to this day.
The effects of slavery are devastating to any culture and Saint Vincent is no exception, you might even say it is the rule. Saint Vincent was under slavery for a relatively short time compared to other colonies and had a very stiff resistance from the indigenous people of the island, the Garifuna, but this may have made the colonial crack down all that worse in the end. When the Garifuna were eventually suppressed their men were captured and deported from Saint Vincent (named Yurumein at the time meaning Homeland) to the coast of South America. Under the system of slavery people were taken from their lands and traditions and forced into a system that they did not build, support, or understand. A system that broke, subjugated them.
By being forced into this way of life the enslaved people’s innate gifts of problem solving where beat out of them so that they would merely follow orders. They also lost their connection to their own ways of life, their traditions, and their connection to the land and nature. Slavery also enforced the idea that the enslaved the people’s language and customs where inferior to that of the British colonizers. The systems used by the British where purposeful in breaking down cultural and familial ties so as to break the people themselves, making them easy to subjugate.
When you fast forward to the 20th century the people of Saint Vincent had been subjected to nearly 400 years of conflict with the Spanish, French and British empires as well as at least 100 years of slavery. After such a brutal history of oppression the culture of Vincentian peoples had been all but destroyed. Saint Vincent gained independence in 1979 and many say this is around when the next biggest factor contributing to the poverty in Saint Vincent began to take hold. Saint Vincent opened up to the world market and extremely cheap goods and foodstuffs from countries such as the United States (subsidized grains, milk, and meats) and China (household products) began pouring in local markets could not compete.
Today over half of the island nation’s diet is dependent on imported food. Native foods such as breadfruit, cassava, many other root crops and fruits that used to make up the majority of the Vincentian diet have now been replaced with wheat, rice, and sugary/salty snacks, as well as imported meats. Also people are now so dependent on imported pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers from large companies to grow food that they have forgotten how to farm otherwise or that it ever was done otherwise. And last but not the debilitating dependence on imported fossil fuels. By coming in and undercutting local production and ways of life big countries and big companies are continuing the tradition set up by during colonial times of breaking down the culture of food, farming and self-sufficiency for monetary gain.
Saint Vincent has a vibrant history as the Island that fought off slavery for the longest time, maintaining its ways of life for as long as possible. It has bio-diversity to boast about, and an entirely unique culture and people. It has been trampled by empires with little care for its traditional ways of life. The lasting effects of colonization and slavery and the continuation of creating debilitating dependence on foreign companies are the two deepest rooted problems that continue to keep Saint Vincent the second poorest country in the Caribbean.
At times for those working here in Saint Vincent, be it the government, businesses, NGOs, community groups, or the ordinary people fighting everyday it can seem overwhelming the tribulations that must be faced. The factors that have shaped this country’s people and history are extremely tricky but once we start looking for opportunities for change there is nothing that can hold this great country back from rehabilitating its great land and proud people
The government of Saint Vincent already has many initiatives involving green energy involving solar, geothermal, and hydro power installations (the first of which was built in the 1950s) to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign fuels. The government has the ability to do a lot when it comes to agriculture training, job trainings and deciding the curriculum in schools. Initiatives could be pushed to teach more sustainable farming practices focusing on maintaining the soil and cutting out use of dangerous chemicals.
Job trainings focusing on trade skills such as construction, cell phone repair are already under way as well as teaching income generating activities such as raising animals on a larger scale as to cut the amount of imported meat. But most importantly the government of Saint Vincent creates the curriculum that shapes the perspectives and knowledge of its youth. It is important to include classes and knowledge of local history and peoples as well as focusing on building up the young generation’s ability to problem solve instead only focusing on passing exams.
Businesses in Saint Vincent have great power to bolster local markets and empower local people by promoting the use of locally produced foods and regionally manufactured (Trinidad for example) products instead of internationally produced and shipped goods. This would cut down on the country’s crippling dependencies, reduce carbon footprints and support the whole Caribbean economy. NGOs have just as important a role in Saint Vincent.
NGOs have the unique ability to spread innovative new ideas and initiatives that inspire communities and people to work together and see their island for what it is worth. Many NGOs in Saint Vincent already work with environmental conservation, especially in the Grenadines which is home to many amazing and rare species. NGOs also have the ability to bring funding to run projects such as building community gardens, promoting sports, tourism, festivals, and teaching cultural heritage.
The most effective way true cultural and human development can be brought to Saint Vincent is through close knit communities and individuals. When a community is united it can preserve local traditions while spreading new knowledge to benefit everyone. Local community groups head sports groups, create cultural events, handicraft workshops, beach clean ups, and tree plantings all of which improve the aesthetic, functionality and comradery of a community. We as individuals are the building blocks of every family, community and country. We each have the choice of how to live our lives.
We can start big change by making small changes in our life style and being conscious of people and the nature around us. We can start supporting local farmers by buying local foods and getting to know and understand the systems that support their livelihoods. We can practice self-sufficiency by gardening and creating a culture of recycling, reuse, and repair. We can attend events, we can create art with others around us by painting, singing, and dancing. We can share our stories and experiences with each other and learn from the elders in our communities that can give us insight for our own times if we but only listen.