Appointed As

Institute for Comparative Literature and Society


ACLS Emerging Voices Fellowships program


Columbia University

PhD Field of Study

PhD, History, University of California, Los Angeles

Dissertation Abstract

"The Unmaking of St. Vincent: Colonial Insecurity and Black Indigeneity, 1780-1797"

My dissertation, entitled The Unmaking of St. Vincent: Colonial Insecurity, Black Indigeneity and the Problem of the Hero, 1780-1800, follows Black Carib struggles for freedom and sovereignty against an often unstable colonial order. At the heart of my research are questions of Black indigenous race-making, land tenure, colonialism, gender, and struggles over property. Using an Atlantic framework, I show how the racialization and veneration of Black Carib militancy reduced their narrative to a colonial trope, which the British government employed to facilitate land seizure and plantation development. Ultimately, I argue that the colonial project would not have been possible without the creation and vilification of the Afro-indigenous population in St. Vincent, the Black Caribs.
The first three chapters of my work set the stage for the infirmity of the colonial government in St. Vincent. In chapter one, I trace the racialization of the Black Caribs in relationship to multiple crises the British colonial administration was experiencing on the island. The second chapter examines the struggle for land tenure and property, using a petition for the sale of property of a Black Carib woman named Ann Barramont and her family. Through surveying hundreds of surrounding petitions for property, I found that Ann was involved in a multi-ethnic peasant struggle to achieve security in the form of land or ownership within the settlement. Chapter three welcomes the emergence of the Black Corps in 1783, an all-Black British military unit organized in the Caribbean to protect settlements and plantations. This chapter details how the Corps could only be actualized through the “creation” and vilification of the Black Caribs. Through this making, the Black Caribs inherited a dual implication of formidability, as fugitive Africans and cannibalistic natives. The fourth chapter centers on Black Carib wartime chief Joseph Chatoyer, and establishes how the gendered exaggerations of his martial prowess that circulated through colonial travelogues, concealed and distorted crucial aspects of Black Carib history. Through investigating the relationship between the Black indigenous population in relationship to the insecure colonial project-- their changing demarcations, the myths prepared around them, and the multiple ways they survived, it is clear that the Black Caribs were important determinants within power struggles of the Atlantic world.
The relevance of this project is most evident by examining together the narratives of past and contemporary conditions to locate a very grave continuity; that the Black Caribs have been in a constant state of dispossession and repression for the past three centuries. Colonial administrators and statesmen from the 17th and 18th century were the main progenitors in describing the Carib story as genocide, claiming rights to their land as a result of their de-population. As such, Black Carib stories are told only through the lens of colonial warfare, with their narratives “ending” when the British or French had claimed total dominion over their land. While they are understood as historical victims of genocide, the Black Caribs are the direct ancestors of a contemporary ethnic group called the Garifuna. Today, the Garifuna live mostly on the Caribbean coasts of Central America, but since the 1970s, have immigrated to cities like New York, Los Angeles and London. Their forced exodus out of Central America was due mainly to the privatization of their land in the coastal regions of their countries to prepare for a parasitic tourism industry. The Garifuna in Honduras, Guatemala, and Belize have subsequently been violently displaced and dispossessed of their land and resources, and are largely ignored in global politics and humanitarian efforts. The continuity of their historical and contemporary erasure calls for an examination of the ways we understand and use genocide, as a term that can potentially imply an ending and a silence. My work naturally grapples with these questions and what it means to be a people historicized as victims of genocide, the dangers of its limitations and how the violence is reproduced today.