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St. Vincent: A Double Disaster

It is understandable that current reporting on the explosions of the Soufrière volcano on the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent is limited to the natural disaster and possible cataclysmic human suffering. However, coverage of this geological event should not relegate events on this sand grain sized island to a mere curiosity --a human calamity on an obscure Caribbean archipelago to be archived along with other world-wide daily news reports of cyclones, failed dams, floods, hurricanes, and monsoons. The historical context of this island is necessary to understand its place in the Caribbean world. For St. Vincent, in spite of its miniscule size(22 mi long and 16 mi wide), was home to one of the most explosive Caribbean human disasters of the European colonial era—the 1797 forced 1700 mile maritime expulsion by the British of St. Vincent’s entire population of the Garifuna or Black Caribs. The island’s community had been the result of the unique blending of shipwrecked African slaves and the Carib inhabitants of Saint Vincent who accepted them, sheltered them, and racially mixed with them to create a new people--the Garifuna or Black Caribs.

The thousands of Garifuna, whose native territory on the island of San Vincent was in forest villages in the shadow the Soufrière volcano, never returned to St. Vincent. Whatever happens in the week’s following the eruption of the Soufrière volcano--its ash, gases, and lava, gases-- can never eradicate the previous human stain left on St. Vincent by the forced British expulsion and exile of all of the island’s Garifuna people.

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