TEXT BY THABISILE GRIFFIN / PHOTOGRAPHS BY NADIA HUGGINS
In the Caribbean, forests remain the space of Maroons, who freed themselves from slavery and created societies in the mountains’ woods resisting British, French, Dutch, and Spanish colonizers. In this text accompanied by photographs by Nadia Huggins, Thabisile Griffin describes the relationship between those who were called “Black Caribs” and their sylvan environment in St. Vincent.
In July of 1796, it was reported in British colonial documents that 300 Black Caribs had been “brought in from the woods” on the southeastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent. The report emerged at a juncture, when British militia found that the only way to separate the Black indigenous people from the land was to forcefully evict them, and so they were boarded on a ship to the nearby barren island of Baliceaux. At the time of this report, this observation of being found in the woods, or forest, functioned as an adage, and was not an uncommon statement given by the colonial administrators. The forest represented a paradox, an unknown site of ambiguity and danger, but simultaneously still an insistent part of their colonial possession. And while the woods in St. Vincent fell under British control through a European treaty, they were still very much governed by the Black indigenous population on the island. Along with the distinction in spatial control, being “brought in from the woods” also referenced the inability or refusal in comprehending what the forests meant for the indigenous inhabitants. Throughout the 18th century, both the British and French would claim St. Vincent at various times but would never be able to achieve complete control over the land, nor erect the necessary infrastructure to make their settlements truly profitable. The island had been mapped out numerous times by both British and French surveyors from the 17th century onward, but the various priorities, terrain impositions, borders, and ports that the cartographies outlined, were constantly being defied by the Black indigenous inhabitants. St. Vincent was still very much autonomous on the windward, eastern side of the island, the northwest “Carib country,” and in the inland mountainous region, all areas of forestry with different elevations. And the indigenous keepers of the land, the so-called “Black Caribs,” were the alchemists of the woods.