Researching St. Lucia's past

Monday August 15 2011

 

Zane Barrick '12 spent a week in St. Lucia this summer - not lounging on the beach, but doing research with Dr. Sabita Manian, professor of international relations.

They interviewed and videotaped Indo-Caribbeans, people from India who came to St. Lucia in three waves - in the 1850s, 1880s, and 1910s - primarily as indentured servants. "They were Hindus and Muslims," Zane said. "They were people from all different classes and castes." Dr. Manian speculates that many were driven by famine or other economic deprivation after the abolition of slavery created a need for labor.

There is virtually nothing recorded about their history, as Zane confirmed when he went searching in the national archives for background. "It was interesting but frustrating at the same time," Zane said, noting, "I've never gotten to go to archives in another country before."

Dr. Manian received a summer research grant from the College to conduct the research with Zane. She was also joined by her husband, Dr. Brad Bullock of neighboring Randolph College.

The College has had a partnership with St. Lucia for nearly eight years and has undertaken a variety of collaborative programs including extensive training opportunities provided by LC faculty, service-learning programs in St. Lucia for LC students, and the opportunity for approximately 15 St. Lucians to attend LC for bachelor's and master's degrees.

Thanks to one of those students, Wendy Bailey '08 B.S., M.Ed., Dr. Manian and Zane got a jump start on their research. Wendy put them in touch with Guy Joseph, minister of transportation, communications, public works, and utilities.

Minister Joseph, who himself is of Indo-Caribbean descent, provided contacts with people of Indian heritage around the island, as well as transportation. Zane said he gave one of the most compelling interviews as he told about his grandfather, who was reported to have mystical powers. Even when it came to farming, his success was attributed to the care he took of his tools, always putting them away at night. One night he failed to put his plow away, and the next day he hurt his back. He took that as a sign and from that day on stowed the plow, and gave up farming.

Their oldest interviewee was 99-year-old "Aunt" Amy Ferdinand. She had dementia, but still provided a wonderful videoclip. "You place a drum in her lap and she'll beat the drum and start singing," Dr. Manian said.

Like all islands in the Caribbean, St. Lucia is full of people from many parts of the world, though the primary external forces originated in France and Great Britain, which battled for control of the island fourteen times before the Brits won out.

"In St. Lucia, the Indo-Caribbeans have integrated incredibly well," Dr. Manian said, who estimated that 3 percent of the islanders have Indian heritage. Some, however, are not only virtually unaware of that heritage, they are sometimes uninterested in exploring their antecedents, even though traces of are still integrated into everyday life. Within a year of a funeral, for example, there is still a ceremony performed mostly according to Hindu rites with traditional Indian food served on banana leaves and eaten with fingers, while sitting on the floor.

In all, Dr. Manian interviewed about twenty people. Zane took notes during several interviews, in addition to digging through deeds and other documents in the national archives, in the capital city of Castries, where many valuable documents were destroyed by fire. Zane discovered that most indentured laborers came on contracts of two to five years, but a few were sometimes able to buy land from the British crown.

Dr. Manian plans to write an article about her work, in addition to making the videotaped interviews available to St. Lucians by depositing them in the national archives. She would also like to see LC students help with digitizing the nation's archives in a service-learning project.

For his part, Zane knows that doing that kind of original research will give him a boost when he applies to graduate school in international relations and international law.