Right Excellent Joseph Chatoyer Paramount Garifuna Chief

By José Francisco Ávila

69

Right Excellent Joseph Chatoyer was elevated to the position of Paramount Chief and King in 1768 in St Vincent and the Grenadines. He was a freedom fighter, liberator, a staunch enemy of colonialism. He was a military strategist, head of the Garifuna (Black Caribs) and head of their war council.

Chatoyer was well respected in this nation as well as by the British and French.

In 1773 he headed the Garifuna Delegation to the signing of a peace treaty between the British and the Caribs at the Grand Camp Macaricau.

Chatoyer spoke fluent French in addition to the Garifuna tongue.

His role as Paramount Chief, made him a high priest, Commander-In-Chief of all the Carib warriors, and the head of state of the Garifuna Nation.

Thus, he was responsible for the Garifuna Nation, socially, politically, economically, militarily and otherwise.

In 1795, with the country under the governorship of James Seton, the Caribs began the two years of attack known as the Second Carib War. With the aid of French rebels from Martinique, the Caribs plotted the removal of the British. Chatoyer and DuValle (the two main Carib chiefs) planned that Chatoyer would lead the rebellion on the Leeward side and DuValle would lead on the Windward side. News came to Kingstown on March 8th that war had broken out.

Chatoyer directed his fury at the settlers themselves rather than destroying their property. His belief was that the land would be extremely useful to the Caribs after the removal of the British. He worked his way along the Leeward, joined in battle by the French at Chateaublair, to unite with DuValle at Dorsetshire Hill. The amalgamated forces then set their sights on Kingstown.

On March 14, 1795 a battalion of British soldiers led by General Ralph Abercromby, marched toward Dorsetshire Hill. That night Right Excellent Joseph Chatoyer Paramount Chief of the Caribs was killed by British troops at Dorsetshire Hill, Kingstown, St Vincent and the Grenadines. He led the nation in preventing the Europeans from colonizing the islands.

Chatoyer was immortalized in a play, the “Drama of King Shotaway” by William Henry Brown’s, recognized as the first black drama of the American Theatre and has as its subject the 1795 Black Caribs (Garifunas) defense of the Island of Saint Vincent, against colonization by the British. Mr. Brown is also known as the first American Playwright of African Descent.

On March 14, 2002 the Right Excellent Joseph Chatoyer Paramount Chief of the Caribs (Garifuna) was declared the first National Hero of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Accordingly, March 14th was declared National Heroes Day, as well as a public holiday.

On this day, the country honors their national hero, The Right Excellent Joseph Chatoyer Paramount Chief of the Caribs (Garifuna). As part of the Heroes Day celebration, a wreath-laying ceremony is held at the obelisk at Dorsetshire Hill.

The Garifunas are a hybrid people resulting from a biological and cultural mixture between Caribs and Arawaks of the Caribbean and people of African origin. This process of hybridization, which took place in the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent, gave rise to a new group called the Garifuna or the Garinagu. All of the communities in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua descend from just over two thousand Garifuna people forcibly deported from Saint Vincent by the British in 1797. They are therefore one people who share the same history and a common tradition in language, music and dance among other things. St Vincent and the Grenadines or “Yurumein” is the ancestral homeland of the Garifuna People.