I waffled about what today's post is: Not Being Curious or Forgetting. It is about how we approach history. Do we forget the unpleasant bits? Or are humans not curious enough to ask questions raising up the unpleasant bits? Maybe both. But for today, I'll go with not being curious.
I just got back from Grenada. It is beautiful there. I had no idea what to expect. I have only been to the Caribbean once about 30 years ago when I literally won a trip in a drawing to go to the Cayman Islands. I chose Grenada because we were recommended to go to an all-inclusive resort for a change--we normally camp and do lots of work on vacations. The suggestion was to take it easy, I believe. Also, my hubs was tired of doing so much work during our camping vacations. For once, a little pampering was in order.
We chose Sandals because they were recommended as being very good with dietary considerations. As someone with celiac, that is a constant concern. Sidenote: they were reasonably okay with dietary considerations but fell short of the five stars they would purport themselves to be. We also chose a wonderful room with one of the best views on the Sandals Grenada campus. And a private pool. If we were going in, we were going all in. We didn't realize that the room came with a Butler service. Or rather, we didn't realize what a Butler service meant. I mentally had chalked it up to being a concierge service--24x7 help available at your fingertips. Uh. No. Butler service is intense. Someone waiting on you always, anticipating your needs, bringing you whatever you desire.
Robert and I were not prepared for that. We especially were not prepared, as white people who study racism and systemic oppression, to be waited on hand-and-foot by descendants of the Caribbean slave trade.
I had been curious what we would discover in Grenada. I didn't really have a chance to look up the history prior to traveling because of incredibly long work hours. I knew the slave trade was there. I knew that the US had invaded/liberated (you choose which word to use) Grenada in the 1980's when I was in high school. I knew they had a history of colonialization and being under English control. I know the horror that colonialization has on the history of African countries but I was not sure what would be there in Grenada. We don't often talk about the Caribbean countries in this way. We often focus on the big land masses of Africa, South America, Central America, and North America. We focus on what it has done for Africans to be kidnapped and enslaved and brought to the US. We focus on what it means for Native Americans to be forced off of their lands and put onto reservations. But most of this is talk. Intellectually, as a white person, I have an understanding. But I don't think I had a knowing. An embodied understanding. Not until we were put in a position of re-enacting white/black slave roles.
That is what it felt like to me. We were insulting our Butlers if we did things ourselves. Holy moley. They had a "come to Jesus" meeting with us so they could figure us out! Why weren't we using their services? Why did we get our own pizza? This is their job. And I get that. And once they found out I was a pastor, they felt free to talk about their version of prosperity gospel. All the churches that we saw in our tour of Grenada were imported from other places--Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc. Notably, a rather large amount of Seventh Day Adventist churches are on the island. I don't see that around here that often. Anyway, we ended up utilizing the services of the Butlers similar to a concierge service and for food (remember those allergies?!). But as we sat in our beautiful building and looked out upon all the white people on the beaches and walking around the grounds and see all the black and brown folks in service roles, waiting on the white folks hand and foot, my comment was, "They have managed to recreate a plantation right here."
Another thing that mystified us was that there seemed to be a vested interest in keeping the visitors to the resort behind the walls of the resort and away from the local community. They brought in pre-selected folks that would sit quietly at tables on "Grenada Day" to sell their wares and they brought in local dancers for "Carnival Night" but the interaction and seeing and knowing of the local community is limited in this atmosphere.
One of the tours that we procured turned out to be a private tour because not enough people on the grounds of Sandals signed up for the (rather pricey) half-day or full-day tour of Grenada. The tours include the Historical Museum, a Chocolate Factory, and a Nutmeg Factory *cough*plantation*cough*. Instead of the controlled tour, we hired a private driver and I got to pick where we went. So we did what we would've done if Robert and I were driving on our own. We drove up the coast towards the north to see the view and see the community. With planned stops at a waterfall, the museum, a different Chocolate Factory, and Mount Edgecombe Plantation, and Belmont Estates. Not too different from the all-day tour but still different. I was intensely curious to learn more about the history.
Our first stop was at the museum. That is where I had a conversion moment from intellectual understanding to a deeper knowing of the harm colonialization has had on Grenada (who, by the way, is still somehow affiliated/under the British government's control). Anyway, I was super curious about who was the original Grenadians? I only see evidence of black and white people with my eyeballs. I had done a little research and new that there were petroglyphs on the island date from about 500-800 CE. So I knew there were people there prior to the slave trade arriving/Columbus' arrival.
At the museum, I learned that the people that were on the island of Grenada were the Kalinago of Camaàhogne. This original people, described in literature as "AmerIndian" (side note: can we stop describing people that are not from India as Indians? How colonialistic is that view of history?!). The Kalinago were subjugated by the French then the British and the French and the British in a vicious cycle. They fought and resisted colonialization and enslavement as much as they could. A second group was found to have arrived on the island in the 16th and 17th centuries--the Galibis or Kamayuga. These two groups fought side-by-side to resist. The French "settled" in Grenada and brought in the creation of plantations and the slave trade. On May 30, 1650, the French attacked the Kalinago and began slaughtering the people there. As a symbol of resistance to the European invasion, the leapt off a cliff into the ocean in mass suicide. The spot this occurred is remembered Le Morne des Sauteurs (Hill of Jumpers) or Leapers' Hill.
That is horrifying.
When we were on our tour, we found some of the petroglyphs. At one sight, a youth group was building an observation spot. We stopped there and chatted briefly with a young man. He told us that the last recorded census that had Kalinago or Galibis people on it was in 1960 at which time there were six people of Carib descent. The museum records this census:
1700: 835 people in Grenada. 525 enslaved, 257 whites, 53 free coloreds. No mention of the Kalinago.
1735: 120 Kalinago in the last official document to list them as a separate group
1779: Enslaved population of 35,000. 35,000
In other words, white colonialism is responsible not only for the enslavement of people but for the wholesale extermination of people. I suppose I knew this intellectually. But until I went to another country and allowed my whiteness to be de-centered, I had not encountered the living (or dying) witness to what it means to be an extinct population.
I am now imagining that all around me there is walking evidence of people who have been exterminated by white colonialism. What groups of people lived here that we will never hear from? What I now know about the original people in North America is that the descriptions we were taught in high school are wholly inadequate. When I learned that my ancestors bought land from the Iroquois, that is actually a confederacy of many affiliated original people. The Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, and Seneca are all part of what we slap-happy label "the Iroquois" in our basic history classes.
OK. Now I'm getting a message from the interwebz godz. I have written an ending to this twice and the internet gobbled it up. So I'm just going to end it this way:
I need to stay curious and open about history.
I need to connect my heart to the movements of history especially with regards to people affected by colonialization.
I cannot forget what I have been taught and learned AND I need to interrogate those beliefs to come to a greater understanding.
I must continue to make meaning, even really horrible meaning, from the events of history and see where it applies today.
My prayer for you is that you will be able to stay open and curious even when it is hard.
All photos by Terri Stewart. All rights reserved.