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100 years of the Carib Territory

by Lennox Honychurch

During July 2003 the Carib Chief, Garnette Joseph, the Carib Council and people in the Carib Territory observed the centenary of the official establishment of the 'Reserve', now styled 'Territory', and the official recognition of the chief. One hundred years before on 4 July 1903 a notice was published in the Dominica Government Official Gazette on the order of the island's Administrator Henry Hesketh Bell, announcing its establishment.

Henry Hesketh Bell
Henry Hesketh Bell when he took over as administrator of Dominica in 1898 at the age of 34.
In earlier times this relatively isolated zone of scattered hamlets on the north-east coast of Dominica had been generally referred to as 'The Carib Quarter'. This 'Quarter" had expanded from 1776 when one lot of land was set aside for the Caribs in the midst of the big British sale of Dominica after the British Crown had secured the island in 1763. The area was expanded by the Crown in 1777 and a piece was granted to the Roman Catholic Church in 1865. The Government Notice of 1903 set out 'the boundaries of their settlement or territory in the Parish of St. David'.

Notice was given that, 'with the approbation of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, the Government of Dominica desire to reserve to the Caribs for their use ...the land so delineated and described [which] will hereafter be taken and considered as the Carib Reserve and will be recognised accordingly (Official Gazette Vol.XXVI:1903).


Little did Bell realize the eventual effects of what he was doing. Today, a hundred years later, issues of land ownership, title, boundaries, population in relation to the area of the Territory, soil erosion, land use and occupation are all topics of the moment. How did these things come about?


CONCERN

When Hesketh Bell arrived to take up his post as Administrator of Dominica in 1899 he noted that the island was in a deplorable state of abandonment. Within three months of landing he set off on a three-day trek around the island to visit the main Carib settlement at Salybia. But he had formulated his ideas about the establishment of the Reserve even before he set out on his journey and before he had met any Caribs at all:

No definite allocation of this land had ever been arranged, and it seemed to me highly desirable that the small remnant of the people, who once owned the whole island, should be permanently guaranteed the possession of their last homes. I decided therefore that their Reserve should be properly delineated and officially recognised. It was with the object of informing the Caribs of my decision that I was making my journey to their district.

From the 18th century there had been an awareness of a 'Carib Quarter': a general zone along the east coast made up of hamlets each of which were the centre of a collection of "family lands" of people of Carib descent. The Caribs, or more correctly the Kalinago people, had moved to this isolated area as the European powers took over more and more land elsewhere on the island.

LETTER

Bell wrote a report on his ideas for the Caribs to The Secretary of State responsible for Britain's colonies, Joseph Chamberlain, in the form of a personal letter dated 26 July 1902. Using the colonizer's arguments of map, boundary, census and the philosophy of trusteeship linked to his own personal ethnological interests, he made a bid to preserve a people whom his predecessors had done everything to destroy. The letter was itemized in thirty-nine parts and comprised a basic historical outline of the Caribs with his plans for their future, central to which was the establishment of a Reserve comprising approximately 3,700 acres.

This portion of land now occupied by the Carib Territory was delineated on a plan drawn up by Arthur P. Skeate in 1901 acting under the Crown Surveyor, William Miller, on the orders of Hesketh Bell. It amounted to an area of roughly five and one-half square miles or two percent of the entire island of Dominica. Almost one year after sending his letter, Bell announced in the Official Gazette of July 4 1903 that the Reserve was established.

A number of events, talks and panel discussions commemorated the event. It was a low-key observation due to financial restraints but it was a time for the Carib/Kalinago people to reflect on, and to assess their future and that of the Territory.

1903 Plan of Carib Territory
Growth of the Carib Territory since 1776
The growth of the Carib Territory from 1776:

1. Land reserved by British Crown for Caribs in 1776.
2. Land for expanded Carib Quarter around Salibia 1777.
3. Land given to Roman Catholic Church by the Crown in 1865.
4. Land delineated for Carib Reserve 1903.
5. Land added to Carib Reserve in 1996.


100 years of the Carib Territory observed by UWI Centre

The University of the West Indies School of Continuing Studies on Thursday, observed the centenary of action towards the establishment of the Carib Territory. A lecture and discussion session, hosted by Staff Tutor, Dr.Lennox Honychurch, looked at the issues concerned.

One hundred years before, on 26 July 1902, the Administrator of Dominica, Hesketh Bell, sent a letter to England, asking permission to establish a Carib Reserve on Dominica. This letter set in motion the establishment of what is now called the Carib Territory.

According to Dr.Honychurch, the Administrator was concerned that no definite allocation of this land had ever been arranged, and it seemed to him to be highly desirable that the small remnant of the people, who once owned the whole island, should be permanently guaranteed the possession of their last homes. He decided therefore that their Reserve should be properly delineated and officially recognized.

The letter was itemized in thirty-nine parts and comprised a basic historical outline of the Caribs with his plans for their future, central to which was the establishment of a Reserve comprising approximately 3,700 acres. It amounted to an area of roughly five and one-half square miles or two percent of the entire island of Dominica. Almost one year after sending his letter, Bell announced in the Official Gazette of July 4 1903 that the Reserve was established.

Surveyors, lawyers, planners, social and welfare personnel and administrators of Carib Affairs and the general public are being invited to review matters related to the formation of the Carib Territory.

Dr. Honychurch says that, little did Bell realize the eventual effects of what he was doing. Today, a hundred years later, issues of land ownership, title, boundaries, population in relation to the area of the Territory, soil erosion, land use and occupation are all topics of the moment. The lecture outlined how these things came about.

The lecture and discussion session took place at the University Centre, Elmshall Road, on Thursday 25 July 2003 at 7.30pm.




 

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