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22 July, 2002
100 years of the Carib Territory
Surveyors, lawyers, planners, social and welfare personnel and

administrators of Carib Affairs are being invited to review issues

related to the Carib Territory. One hundred years ago, on 26 July

1902, the Administrator of Dominica, Hesketh Bell sent a letter

to his boss, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Joseph Chamberlain,

in 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.

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?

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.

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.

At a lecture and discussion session at the University Centre,

Elmshall Road, on Thursday 25 July at 7.30pm, I hope to discuss

the contents of Bell’s letter and the impact that it has

had on this country and indeed the Caribs themselves over the

last 100 years. It affects also surveyors, lawyers, planners,

social and welfare personnel and administrators of Carib Affairs.


 

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