This spring’s colloquium series Whither the Caribbean? Critical Perspectives on History, Politics, and Culture opened with a talk by Melanie Newton, Associate Professor of History at the University of Toronto. Newton specializes in the social and cultural history of the Caribbean and the history of slavery, gender, and emancipation in the Atlantic World.
Newton presented her paper “The Race Leapt at Sauteurs”: Genocide, Narrative, and Indigenous Exile from the Caribbean Archipelago, which explores the history of Garifuna people (Afro-indigenous descendants of the people of the ‘Caribbee’ islands) between 1492 and the eighteenth century. Her objective was to demonstrate that the Lesser Antilles’s histories of enslavement and colonization fit the 1951 United Nations definition of genocide as an attempt to “destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.” To do so, she took into account three acts of annihilationist violence committed by the Spanish in 1493, the French in 1651, and the British from 1796-1797 against the Lesser Antillean peoples who came to be known as the Caribs. The three military defeats suffered by the Carib people translated into symbols of racial annihilation that helped colonial authorities to dispossess Caribbean aboriginal people of legal claims to either redress or rights based on Carib ancestry.