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 Britains colonies, Joseph Chamberlain,
in the form of a personal letter dated 26 July 1902. Using the
colonizers 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 Bells 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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