The Burden of Heritage: Claiming a Place for a West Indian Culture

Author(s): Karen Fog Olwig
Source: American Ethnologist, Vol. 26, No. 2 (May, 1999), pp. 370-388
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the American Anthropological Association
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the burden of
heritage: claiming
a
place
for a West
Indian culture
KAREN FOG
OLWIG-University
of
Copenhagen
The
relationship
between
history
and the "definition and self-definition of human
groups"
has become a
growing
concern in
anthropology
(Tonkin et al. 1989).
Correspondingly, many
anthropologists
have
reconceptualized
the
past,
no
longer regarding
it as
primarily
embedded
in a
bygone age,
but rather as a
contemporary
construction
continuously
recreated in
response
to
ongoing
social, economic,
and
political
concerns.
According
to these
anthropologists,
historical narratives and life histories are
representations
of cultural identities
contingent
on
particular positions
in the
present,
not
points
of access to a
past ready
to be mined for information
on events or former
ways
of life (Bruner 1986;
Peacock and Holland
1993;
Scott
1991;
Tonkin
1992);
cultural traditions are cultural
constructions,
or even
inventions,
furthering particular
contemporary
needs,
and not
merely
the embodiment of
enduring
modes of life
passed
down
for
generations
(Hobsbawm and
Ranger
1983; Jackson 1989;
Linnekin
1983);
historical sites
are
places
where different sorts of
historically legitimated
authenticities are
represented
and not
simply repositories
of
objects,
architecture,
or
landscapes
from the
past
(Bruner 1994, 1996;
Gable and Handler
1993, 1996;
Gable et al.
1992;
Herzfeld
1991;
Okely
1997).
The
anthropological
redefinition of the
past
as a
"negotiable good"
(Herzfeld 1991 :xi) to be
invoked in the establishment of
specific
identities and related
authority
structures
might
seem
to lead to the conclusion that the
past
is a
freely
available
resource,
available to
everyone
in
support
of
any heritage
claim. I
suggest
that the
past
is not a free
resource,
its
negotiation taking
place
within
specific
historical contexts characterized
by particular systems
of
power
and
authority
that deem
only
certain forms of
heritage
credible. This
specificity
of
heritage
has to
do with the
exclusionary practices
that form the backbone of
heritage politics.
Indeed,
this is
Robert Hewison's criticism of the cultural
heritage
movement,
which
empties
cultural
heritage
as a
category
that can then be molded to contain
virtually any
cause (Hewison 1989). David
Lowenthal notes that an
important aspect
of
heritage
is the establishment of "exclusive
myths
The cultural construction of the
past
is of
increasing
interest to
anthropologists,
as
well as to the
people they study. Many
of the most forceful and visible
expressions
of the
past
are fueled
by
the so-called
heritage
movement,
which is
becoming
a
worldwide
concern,
born of an
uneasy
combination of national
ideology,
ethnic
politics,
and tourist
industry
interests. I
explore
the cultural
politics
of
heritage
in
relation to the different
ways
in which the
people
of the Caribbean island of St.
John,
the U.S.
Virgin
Islands,
have made a
place
for themselves in time and
space.
An
exploration
of the role of oral tradition in
constructing
different versions of the
past
shows that the islanders themselves feel considerable ambivalence toward the
expectations
of the
promulgators
of
heritage, including anthropologists.
I raise
questions
both about the construction of historical
identity
in the Caribbean
and,
more
generally,
about the
witting
or
unwitting
role of
anthropologists
in the creation
of
heritage.
[African-Caribbean culture,
cultural
heritage,
oral
traditions,
cultural
identity,
cultural construction of
place,
sense of
pastness]
American
Ethnologist
26(2):370-388.
Copyright
?
1999,
American
Anthropological
Association.
370 american
ethnologist
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of
origin
and
continuance,
endowing
a select
group
with
prestige
and common
purpose"
(1996:128).
In other
words,
the
authority
a
group may gain
from
establishing
a
particular heritage
for itself derives not
just
from the
group's
demonstration of common
origins
and historical
continuances,
but more
importantly
from its successful exclusion of others from this
heritage
and the
privileges
associated with it. Central
topics
in the
anthropological study
of the
past,
therefore,
should include the
processes whereby
certain
conceptualizations
of the
past
become
dominant over others in
particular
historical
periods
in
response
to
specific
social and economic
relations and the
implications
of these
conceptualizations
of the
past
for the creation of
identity
and
community
in the
present.
In this
article,
I discuss these issues
by way
of a case
study
of
the
interrelationship
between
community, identity,
and
heritage
on St. John in the United States
Virgin
Islands.'
notions of the African Caribbean
past
African Caribbean (more
generally
African American)
people
are often described in both
general public
debate and
scholarly
literature as
being displaced
or
uprooted
in relation to their
African
heritage
or homeland. In an
analysis
of the
categories
of
race, color,
and
ethnicity
in
pre-independence
Trinidad,
Segal
(1993)
critically
examines this notion of historical disconti-
nuity
in the African
experience
in the New World as a historical construct of the colonial
society
that needed the slave labor of the
imported
Africans. He
argues
that
by constructing
Africanness
as a
void,
or an
absence,
colonial
society
was able to
deny
social
standing
or common
purpose
to
people
of African decent
and, hence,
place
them in an inferior
position
as
exploitable
labor
power. People
of African descent
were,
Segal argues, accepted
as members of
society only
if
they
assumed the
respectability
of white culture to mask their
blackness; therefore,
they
were
in effect
dispossessed
of a
past,
as defined
by
the colonial
society, except through
their white
masters.
It is notable that while the role of the
past
in
constituting
cultural
groups
has not been an
important aspect
of
ethnographic
research until
recently,
it has
long
been a
major
research
concern in Caribbean
anthropology, perhaps
because of a felt need to fill the African void. In
a critical discussion of the
anthropology
of the African
diaspora
in the New
World,
David Scott
(1991)
argues
that
anthropologists
have tended to
emphasize
the
importance
of historical
continuities in the construction of African American culture as a reaction
against
the societal
denial of the
significance
of an African or African Caribbean
past.2 According
to
Scott,
anthropologists
have assumed the role of
providing
African Americans with "the foundational
guarantee
of an authentic
past"
(Scott 1991:268);
their work has been more concerned with the
debunking
of colonial notions of the African Caribbean
past
than with
critically examining
these
notions. Scott
proposes
that
anthropologists
redirect their studies to
examine, instead,
the
African American
past
as a set of discursive fields
whereby
memories and events are connected
and
represented
as traditions. An
important topic
for
anthropologists,
Scott
suggests,
would be
an
investigation
of
why slavery
and Africa have attained such an
overwhelming presence
in the
"cultural worlds" of
people
of African descent
by examining
"the tradition of discourse in which
they participate,
the local network of
power
and
knowledge
in which
they
are
employed,
and
the kinds of identities
they
serve to fashion" (Scott 1991:280).
In relation to Scott's
contentions,
I
argue
that the
understanding
to be
gained by investigating
the
significance
of
slavery
and Africa in African American discourse
today may
well
say
more
about dominant
global
forms of discourse than local
understandings
of culture and
history.
Indeed,
Wilk has
argued
that in order to win
any
wider
recognition,
local cultural identities
must be
expressed
within
global
"structures of common
difference,
which celebrate
particular
kinds of
diversity
while
submerging, deflating
or
suppressing
others" (1995:118).
Today
these
"structures of common difference" are
primarily
those that conform to the dominant fields of
the burden of
heritage
371
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discourse associated with
contemporary heritage
and
identity politics
(see also Handler
1988;
Lowenthal 1996). In this
article,
I discuss how the descendants of African slaves have con-
structed the Caribbean island of St. John as a
place
of
belonging.
I shall
argue
that the
prominence
of Africa and
slavery
in
contemporary
local cultural
expression
reflects the
importance
of a dominant
global
discourse on cultural
heritage
that
emphasizes
cultural
resistance,
ethnic
roots,
and structures of common difference. This cultural
heritage
construction
further serves as a
platform
from which to
respond
to recent social and economic
changes
associated with tourism and tourist
development.
This
global
discourse is of recent
origin
and
has
superseded
an
older,
local narrative of
community
based on localized and inclusive
relations
existing
within a
wider,
global
field of relations. The coexistence of such
radically
different notions of the
past
raises more
general questions
of the relations between
globalized
forms of
heritage
based on the construction of
exclusivity,
localized narratives rooted in the
exigencies
of an international world
order,
and identities
grounded
in local constructions of
place.
claiming
a
past
and a
place
Since its colonization
by
the Danes in 1 71
7,
St.
John
has formed a
juncture
in a wider
system
of
global
and
regional
relations. The colonization of St. John led to the elimination of the island's
native Caribbean
population
and the transformation of St.
John
into a
plantation society
producing sugar
and cotton
using
the labor
power
of slaves
imported
from Africa. After the
abolition of
slavery
in 1848 and the
collapse
of the
plantation
cultivation on St. John
during
the
latter
part
of the 19th
century,
most
plantations
were converted to cattle estates under the
ownership
of a few
prominent light-skinned
families of mixed African and
European
descent.
The freed slaves and their descendants became farmers
living
in free
villages
on small lots of
land
purchased
from the old
plantations,
and
they
worked as occasional laborers on the cattle
estates. The white
population
on the island dwindled at the same time to a
couple
of
families,
those of the Moravian minister and the Danish administrator-the last
representative
of the
former colonial order on the island. The transfer of the Danish West Indies to the United States
in 1917
brought
few
changes, except
that the Danish administrator was
replaced by
an
American,
and the Danish
colony
became a
territory
of the United States administered
by
the
U.S.
Department
of the Interior.
During
the
1950s,
Americans
began
to constitute a
stronger presence
on the island. At this
time,
most of the
remaining
cattle estates were
purchased by
Laurance
Rockefeller,
who in turn
gave
them to the United States National Park Service for
park
land,
to form a natural
backdrop
for a
luxury
Rock Resort. Since the
1960s,
St.
John,
along
with the other United States
Virgin
Islands,
has seen the
development
of a tourist
industry
that has offered considerable
wage
employment.
The tourist
industry
has attracted a
large
outside work force to the island from
other West Indian Islands and the United States. Workers from off-island far outnumber the local
population
of American
Virgin
Islanders. The islands in recent decades have
enjoyed
an
increasing
measure of
political
influence in the form of an elected
governor,
a local
legislature,
and a
nonvoting
member of the United States House of
Representatives.3 They
have remained
a United States
territory,
however,
closely incorporated
into the
political
and economic structure
of the United States.
During
the
past
few
years,
one
single
event in the island's
history
seems to have
gained
overwhelming importance
in St.
Johnians'
representations
of their
past.
This is the islandwide
slave
uprising
that occurred 16
years
after the Danish colonization of the island.4
Every
islander
I know can describe how the African slaves
surprised
the soldiers at the Danish fort in 1733
and
gave
the start
signal
for a
major
revolt. The revolt was so successful that the slaves controlled
most of the island for
many
months,
and the Danes needed Creole reinforcements from the
372 american
ethnologist
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French island of
Martinique
in order to
recapture
St. John. Islanders also attach
great importance
to a
legend relating
the
tragic
end of the revolt. In this
legend,
the rebels chose death
by throwing
themselves over a cliff rather than
allowing
themselves to be
recaptured.
Islanders relate that at
certain times this cliff turns red as blood in
memory
of those who lost their lives in the
struggle
for freedom.
During
the
early
colonial
period,
the St.
Johnian
slave
uprising
was
part
of a
general
Caribbean
pattern
of resistance
by
African slaves
against
white colonizers (Craton 1978; Gaspar
1985;
Schuler 1970). Few of these
uprisings
succeeded.5
Indeed,
the St. John
uprising
is
regarded
as one of the more successful revolts. It is therefore not
surprising
that St.
Johnians
point
to it
with a certain
pride.
The narrative of the slave revolt has been celebrated in a number of recent cultural events.
Since the
early
1
980s,
a
group
of
Virgin
Islanders has visited
Fortsberg
on St. John
in the end of
November each
year
to commemorate the revolt of 1733. In
1995,
the slave
uprising
was
commemorated in a St.
Johnian theater
production
of the
play Pillsbury
Sound in which
flashbacks show the
cruelty
of
slavery,
the slaves' realization that their
only way
out was a revolt
against
their white
oppressors,
and the revolt itself.6
Again,
in
1996,
the
uprising
was an
important topic
in a
major production, staged
in
Copenhagen,
which involved dance
troops
from the United States
Virgin
Islands and Ghana.
The
popularity
of the
legend
about the slave
uprising among
St. Johnians and other American
Virgin
Islanders is indicative of an
increasingly
exclusive and
proprietary approach
to the island
and its
past.
The celebration of African
heritage
and the virtue of a
fight
for
rights
in a collective
struggle against oppression appear
to be
increasingly
relevant to St.
Johnians,
especially young
St. Johnians. When I interviewed her in
1995,
Carla
Sewer,
the
young
St.
Johnian
director of
Pillsbury
Sound,
clearly expressed
the
importance
of the
uprising
for the
younger
St. Johnians:
I think that the slave rebellion is
important
to St. Johnians because it shows that when
people
come
together
with the same
goal
and vision the
goal
can be
accomplished.
The
only way
the ancestors knew how to
accomplish
this
goal
was to take over the island and make it theirs.... St.
Johnians
hold
back,
let
things
flow.
My family
has seen a
process
of land
being
sold, taken, leased,
subleased. Now the land situation
is at risk.
[My family]
has a
tendency
to be laid back about it. Most older St.
Johnians
have that
tendency.
The
young people
need to be different about it.
They
will rebel soon-be violent-if this is not taken
seriously.
The slave rebellion
may
take
place
here on St. John
again.
There is some violence now that is
racial. If
young people
knew the
history
of the island and
themselves,
they
would be in a better frame of
mind to deal with it. But
they
don't know it.
They only
learn
through
TV.
The
significance
of the slave
uprising
can also be related to the fact that it
highlights
the
importance
of the islanders' African
backgrounds
and their
long history
of
asserting
their
rights
as a
people.
It can therefore be inscribed within a Western
diasporic tradition,
familiar in the
United
States,
of
demarcating
a
separate
ethnic
group by establishing
its cultural links to a distant
homeland.
The
significance
of the slave
uprising
has received official
recognition by
the
government
of
the United States
Virgin
Islands in its
expressions
of interest in
establishing
a territorial
park
at
Fortsberg,
where the slave
uprising
started in 1 733. This fort and the entire hill where it is located
have been owned
by
a St. Johnian
family
since the
early part
of this
century.
At the time of
my
most recent field research in
1994,
this
family
had refused to sell the land or donate it as a
public
park
because
they
wanted this
site,
important
in the island's
past
and for
many years
controlled
by
white
owners,
to remain in the hands of a St.
Johnian
family.
culture and
heritage
in
anthropological analysis
In her discussion of oral
traditions,
Elizabeth Tonkin (1990:26) notes that histories and
myths
are told within and
judged according
to
appropriate genres.
In order to be
heard,
it is
necessary
for
people
to use and master the correct
genre; otherwise,
it will be difficult for them to tell their
stories of the
past. Today
such
genres
reflect not
only
local milieus but also the concerns and
the burden of
heritage
373
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interests of a
global heritage
movement,
especially
because local
development, tourism,
and
heritage
interests are
very closely
interconnected (Hewison 1989). The desire for a
unique
heritage
is
increasingly
influential in
shaping
the
ways
in which the
past
is
interpreted
and
represented
around the world. And
increasingly, globalization
means that dominant social
groups
in
newly independent
countries,
in
particular,
are
developing
and
asserting
national
identities (Hannerz 1992:47, 233;
Olwig 1993a, 1993b;
Wilk 1995).
Proprietary, exclusive,
and
spectacular expressions
of
heritage
are
by
no means the
only
cultural constructions of the
past.
If a sense of the
past
is
part
of
people's everyday
lives and not
just
a cultural or national issue to be
put
on
stage,
one
might expect representations
of the
past
to be
closely
related to the
ongoing
reconstruction of social and economic communities and
the sites of
belonging
that these communities circumscribe. The sense of the
past generated
and
sustained
by sharing
stories about an
intimate,
familiar environment is rather different from that
which is created
by narrating myths
to a
larger public
about more distant collective
origins.
The
sense of the
past generated
and sustained in the
everyday
life of an
intimate,
familiar environ-
ment is rather different from that created and
staged
for a
larger public
in the form of master
narratives
accounting
for
distant,
collective
origins, staged
traditions
valorizing
certain ideolo-
gies,
or historical sites
representing specific
authenticities and identities.
Further,
intimate
constructions of the
past
may
be overtaken
by
more
public
constructions because the local
(more
private)
discourses are
grounded
in communities that do not conform to the structures of
common difference that define the
parameters
of
(public)
cultural
heritage.
The
very
existence
of such communities and their cultural
identity may thereby
be denied
publicly.
These
processes
and risks can be illustrated
by my
own
experience
with an
externally
funded oral
history project
on St. John.
cultural loss and
preservation
In
1994,
I was invited to
carry
out an oral
history project
on St.
John,
in collaboration with
the
newly
formed St.
John
Oral
History
Association. This oral
history project
was initiated and
funded
by
the
Virgin
Islands Humanities Council. Part of the U.S. National Endowment for the
Humanities
(NEH),
this council receives
funding
from the NEH Division of State
Programs
(Federation of State Humanities Councils n.d.) in order to
"promote
the
development
of source
materials on
Virgin
Islands
history
and cultural
heritage" (Virgin
Islands Humanities Council
n.d.),
among
other
things.
The
Virgin
Islands Humanities Council had
long
been interested in
supporting
a
project
on St.
John,
and a
group
of local
people
was
organized
as The St.
John
Oral
History
Association to host this
project.
The
project began
at a
point
when the tourist
industry
had
grown steadily
for the
previous
40
years, primarily through developments
initiated and
owned
by
North American investors and
operated
with the
help
of
imported
West Indian labor
power.
As a result of tourism and the concomitant
building
of new commercial
developments
and
housing, many
of the areas outside the national
park
had become overcrowded. The 1990
census of the
population reported
3,500
living
on the
island,
but fewer than 21
percent
of them
identified themselves as St. Johnian. The
permanent
resident
population
was further
augmented
every year by
a
large population
of winter residents and hundreds of thousands of tourists.7
These social and economic
changes
had turned St. Johnians into a
minority,
now
struggling
for a
place
in their own home. In this
context,
one
might expect they
would have been keen to
welcome this research and
presentation project,
intended to
provide
them with an
opportunity
to
express
their own
viewpoints.
As the research
got
under
way,
however,
it became
apparent
that some St. Johnians had rather mixed
feelings
about the entire endeavor.
Thus,
while
they
were
quite willing
to relate their oral
history
to me
(many
of them
having
known me from the
time I carried out
my
first research on the island 20
years previously), they
were not
happy
about
the
prospect
of
seeing
this oral
history published.
374 american
ethnologist
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As research
progressed,
a number of
my
informants made it clear to me that their reticence
to
publish
St. Johnian oral traditions reflected their fear that
writing
them down and
making
them
public might
result in
exploitation.8 They clearly
realized that
they
were not the
only
people
with an interest in the island's
past.
In the
mid-1970s,
North American winter residents
who had built vacation homes on St. John
organized
a historical
society
that
began
to host
lectures on the island's
history along
with field
trips
to old
plantation
ruins. At about the same
time,
the United States National Park Service created a
living history program
at one of the old
sugar plantation
ruins,
hiring
St. Johnians to demonstrate basket
weaving, gardening,
and
cooking
for visitors. Since the
1980s,
the
Virgin
Islands Humanities Council has
sponsored
several research and
presentation programs
on
Virgin
Islands culture and
history.
In
light
of the
far-reaching
social, economic,
and cultural
changes
on St.
John,
largely
at the
instigation
of
many
of the same Americans
expressing
interest in the island's
heritage,
some St. Johnians
perceived
such calls for
public displays
of St.
Johnian
cultural
heritage
as further
attempts by
outsiders to
appropriate
their
past, together
with the sociocultural relations and identities St.
Johnians associate with the
past. They
did not
regard
the cultural
heritage platform
as
empow-
ering, therefore,
but rather as
constituting yet
another
transgressive
structure
imposed
from the
outside. In
1994,
when I interviewed
Elroy Sprauve,
a schoolteacher close to retirement and
one of the
leading
members of the oral
history group,
he was
explicit
in
explaining
this concern:
We have an oral
history
tradition and have not been in the habit of
putting things
down in
writing.
We
are reluctant and
suspicious
of it because so much is lost in
writing.
Too much is done for tourist
consumption.
I would like for more to be done for
enlightenment,
for better relations with
people
here,
to educate both sides and to
explain
behavior and attitudes. Too much is done because it has a commercial
use.
The
objection
to
writing
down oral
history might
initially
seem to refer to the technical
difficulty
of
preserving
in
writing
the
style
and mood of tales that are meant to be related
orally. Elroy
Sprauve's statement, however,
shows that the issue is St.
Johnians'
loss of control over their own
history,
a loss
experienced
as the removal of
history
from St. Johnians'
interpersonal
relations
by
virtue of
being
written down and made available to the
public through
tourist markets.
At the same time
many
St.
Johnians,
including Elroy Sprauve,
felt a need to have the island's
history
recorded for
posterity.
In their conversations with
me,
they emphasized
that until the
early
1950s,
oral tradition flourished as the medium of small
gatherings
where
people "spent
time
together." Important
contexts for such
gatherings
were the
family,
where senior members
often told stories to
junior
members as
they
sat
together
in their
yards
on moonlit
nights;
wakes,
where
family
and friends from
nearby villages congregated
in the home of the bereaved to
pass
the
night together
before
burial;
or informal
socializing
such as that which occurred after
cooperative
work
parties
(clubs) had finished a
day's
work. Stories were told
among people
who
knew each other well and who shared a basic cultural
understanding.9
These contexts of
storytelling
were seen
by many
St. Johnians to have
disappeared
since the 1950s as
modernity
came to the island in the form of
electricity, television,
funeral
homes,
and
wage
labor. These
same St. Johnians felt that
they ought
to write down their oral
history
while there were still
people
who had
something
to tell. The idea that all old
traditions,
folk
life,
or customs are on
the
verge
of
being
lost to
specific
social
changes
is not uncommon
and,
as Richard Handler has
shown,
this sense of imminent loss is to be associated with the notion of a timeless folk culture
(1988:58). This
view,
Handler
notes,
fails to
acknowledge
the
constancy
of social
change.
This
academic
argument, however,
may
not
carry
much
weight among people
who are
experiencing
an acute sense of cultural loss and disorientation.
It is
significant
that St.
Johnians,
such as
Elroy Sprauve,
who were involved in the Oral
History
Association had no desire to
publish
accounts of the recorded traditional folk culture of the
island for the
general public.
From their
point
of
view,
I
realized,
such a
publication
would
only
further alienate them from their
heritage. Instead,
such St. Johnians called for a
general
the burden of
heritage
375
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reconsideration of the
significance
of social relations and cultural values associated with the
past
to which this oral
history belonged.
Theovald
Moorehead,
born in the late Danish
period
and one of the few St.
Johnians
who had had some success in business ventures on the
island,
expressed
this view in a 1994 interview when he described his sense of the
significance
of
culture as the
way
of life of a moral
community,
rather than as
specific
cultural traditions to be
identified with
particular
ethnic
groups,
such as the African Caribbean
people:
When I was a
youngster
one of the first
things
that was
imparted
to the
young people by
the older ones
was culture. Not what
they
call culture
today,
but
everyday
culture. When
they
said culture in those
days,
they
meant
politeness,
total
respect
for the elders. It didn't matter whether a
person
was a moron. You
respected
that
person. Nobody
ever heard about race in those
days.
You were
respected
for what
you
were....
The
parents
would send
you
as a
messenger
and to deliver
something.
And when
you
had been to a
place,
you
would never leave
empty
handed but
always get something,
like a
piece
of
candy.
But
you
never ate
it there. You
always
took it home to share with
your
brothers and sisters. It was a
teaching.
It was
taught
and
pushed
into
you: give, give, give.
So we were
growing up
with that kind of attitude. This is what we
call culture.
Today they
tell
you
that the
calypso
is
your
culture. This
really
turns me off! The
calypso
is
from Trinidad. Culture is what is
stabilizing,
what makes
you
feel
proud.
In the recent
experience
of this St.
Johnian,
culture had come to refer to cultural
expressions
associated with
popular
culture from Trinidad.
Culture,
in other
words,
turned St.
Johnians
into
generic
West
Indians,
as
represented by
a dominant
group
of
islanders,
and no
longer
embodied
or
represented
the
particular
values that had sustained the local
community
on St. John.
The
problem
of
categorization
that went
along
with cultural reification and historical
preservation
was noted
by
several St.
Johnians.
One of them was
Elroy Sprauve, already
mentioned,
who described the situation of the islanders as similar to that of Indians on a
reservation-interesting primarily
as
quaint
cultural
objects.
He went
further, however,
and
noted the
danger
of
reducing
culture to
something
that can be
displayed
and celebrated on
special
occasions:
Anything
with the idea of culture is difficult.
Many
so-called
indigenous people disagree
on what
they
mean
by
culture. Some talk about
preserving
culture,
but I find that most
paradoxical.
You cannot
preserve
culture; you
can research it. We are not
going
to cook on
charcoal,
but we will use
gas
stoves. There will
not be
any going
back,
just
the
passing
of information on a former
way
of life. Because of the
rapid changes,
many
of the local
people
are
developing
some
paranoia,
but I
hope
that it will level off if we find a sense
of direction of who we are and where we are
going.
I think that we need to
adopt
a more modest
lifestyle
than the one we have now. But it is hard because even some of the
biggest promoters
of culture want to
live like
wealthy people
from the East Coast.
Why
do
they
need
two,
three vehicles?
Why
do
they
need
carpets
in their homes?
Why
can
they
not live a
simple
life based on the climate that we have? If
they
are
not
willing
to live a
simple lifestyle,
the culture
they
want to hold on to will
just
be
things
that used to be.
To this St.
Johnian,
there was
danger
inherent in an
approach
to culture as
something
to be
preserved
in reified
heritage,
but the main
danger
was not that the local
people
would be
exoticized as
objects
of the tourist
gaze.
More
serious,
he
felt,
was the
very
idea of
preserving
St. John's culture for
display,
an idea indicative of
understanding
culture as a museum
piece
divorced from
everyday
life.
According
to Mr.
Sprauve,
the advocates of this notion of culture
(some of them St.
Johnians)
ignored
the
social, economic,
and moral relations that had
underlined local culture as a
way
of
life-perhaps
because this
way
of life was
already foreign
to them.
Further, divorcing
cultural
display
from the relations of
everyday
life meant that these
same St.
Johnians
could
present
themselves as committed to local culture while nonetheless
pursuing
North American
ways-a pursuit
that further undermined the
very
culture
they
meant
to
preserve.
Elroy Sprauve's critique
of the idea of cultural
preservation
could
easily
be
applied
to the
project
in which I was
involved,
in that this
project
was based on an
assumption
that the
documentation and
presentation
of oral traditions is of value in and of itself.
By emphasizing
the social and cultural context in which St.
Johnian
oral traditions had
existed, Elroy Sprauve
376 american
ethnologist
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made clear that the
recording
and
publication
of St. Johnian oral traditions did not in
any way
constitute the
preserving
of St.
Johnian
culture.
Several
people
involved in the
project expressed
unease about the reification of St. Johnian
heritage.
Their unease reflected a more fundamental
difficulty
in
reconciling
local
concepts
of
culture with the notion of
heritage
celebrated
globally.
As
noted,
cultural
heritage
is not
merely
a local concern of a
particular group
of
people trying
to come to terms with their own cultural
identity.
It also involves
being recognized by (significant)
others,
and this entails
expressing
local
heritage
in such a
way
that it will be
acknowledged
and
accepted by
others. At the
present
time,
when
heritage
has become an
important
issue tied to considerable
social, economic,
and
political
interests,
it is
necessary
to cultivate
heritage
within those
global
structures of common
difference (Wilk 1995) that have become
publicly legitimated
as
appropriate ways
of
celebrating
heritage.
Such structures
encourage
the
expression
of
particular
kinds of
diversity
while
submerging, deflating,
or
suppressing
others. Certain St. Johnian narratives of
identity
fit
poorly
into the matrix of world
heritage.
I shall demonstrate this
point by
means of an alternative
reading
of the
story
of the
uprising
of 1733. I encountered this alternative
reading during my
first
study
of St.
John,
which included
collecting
oral
history
narratives from older St.
Johnians.
narratives of local
community
When I interviewed
Elroy Sprauve
in
1994,
he recalled how his
primary
school teacher had
emphasized
the
importance
of the
uprising
to her students:
Miss Clarice Thomas was
very
insistent in
making people
aware of the heroes of the island and the need
for commitment to the island. She
emphasized
the St. John rebellion in
1733,
and I think that her
knowledge
stemmed
mostly
from oral sources. This rebellion was
something
that
people
talked about a
lot. She said that we should be
proud
because from
way
back we stood
up
and
fought.
We should love
the island and
get
education and show a commitment to the island. She told us that we must all be aware
of the
struggle
and be
proud
of it.
Despite
the rather violent and dramatic features of this
event,
the sort of
struggle
that Miss
Thomas was
advocating
was of a rather
peaceful
and civil
nature,
little suited to dramatization
and
spectacle.
For
her,
the
uprising
showed the
importance
of
making
a determined effort to
achieve,
and this achievement was to revolve around such
respectable
causes as
education,
local
pride,
and commitment to the island.
Indeed,
when I carried out oral
history
interviews
during
the mid-1
970s,
the moral lesson to be learned from the
past
was that St. Johnians could
not
possess
the island
through
violent
confrontation;
they
could
only
claim it
by devoting
themselves to the local
community
on the island. Most oral traditions on St. John do not concern
important,
monumental
events,
such as the dramatic slave
uprising,
but rather the various
ways
in which the
ancestors,
through
determined
efforts,
claimed a
place
for themselves at the
margins
of St. John's
plantation society. They thereby
created the basis of an African Caribbean
community,
which,
in the
long
run,
outlived the
plantation regime
and became the basis of the
island
society.
Historical and
anthropological
research on the
development
of African Caribbean culture
has shown that a context
important
to its
emergence
included networks of
relatively
inde-
pendent
social and economic
relationships among
slaves within the
plantation society,
in niches
outside the control of colonial masters. The slaves' economic activities in their "free" time
constitutes one such niche (Besson
1995;
Craton
1982;
Mintz
1974;
Mintz and Price
1992[1976];
Olwig
1985, 1994). In
my
oral
history
interviews with older St. Johnians in
1974,
they strongly emphasized
this
important aspect
of African Caribbean
history.
The
following
foundational
story
related
by Henry Samuel,
a retired small farmer born
during
the
1890s,
describes how Anna Susanna
Bastian,
Henry's
maternal aunt and a
slave,
created a life of her
own and freedom on the basis of her subsistence activities:
the burden of
heritage
377
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As a
slave,
tante
[aunt]10
had to work certain
hours,
but in her
spare time,
which for most others seemed
not
adequate
to do
anything,
she would raise
hogs
and cultivate the
ground....
She was allowed to
cultivate the land which had been discarded for cane cultivation. She sold her
products
to others on the
island,
who weren't as industrious as she was.... So the result was that she had the
money
to build a
house,
when she
acquired
her
property.
Henry
Samuel
added, however,
that Anna Susanna's successful economic activities
very
much
depended
on her
good
relations with her former owners: "She
bought
land at
Pastory
from the
same
people
she worked for at
Rustenberg....
She was told that she was such a
good
servant
that she should
get
some of the land."
For the St.
Johnians
whom I interviewed
during
the
mid-1970s,
the economic activities of
slaves and their free descendants and the
acquisition
of land were
closely
related. In the
long
run,
these
gave
a certain amount of
independence
from the
plantation regime,
whether or not
these activities had
originally depended upon paternalistic
relations between owner and slave.
Oswald
Joseph,
who had also lived
by
small
farming,
and who was in his late seventies when
I interviewed him in
1974,
explained,
I once was offered a
job
at Caneel
Bay
[Plantation-now
a
resort],
and this man asked me to move down
there with
my family.
But I
said,
no sir! I would rather walk down there
every morning
and come back in
the
evening....
When there were
sugar
estates on the north
shore,
there were
villages
there for the
laborers,
where
they
were
right
on the
job. My grandfather
worked and lived on the white man's estate
because
only
the whites owned the estates. This was before he
got
his land. This was in
slavery.
But the
slaves were able to
get
a little
piece
of land for
themselves,
and so
they
moved
away.... Living
and
working
on the estate would remind the workers too much of
slavery. They
would rather live
away
so as
to retain a certain amount of freedom.
Leopold
Jacobs,
another former small farmer who was 87
years
old when I interviewed him in
1974,
saw
slavery
and the lack of land as two sides of the same coin: "I like to think of
people
having
land wherever
they
are born. To
me, they
are more stable and much more secure when
they
have a foundation of their own.... I believe that there were slaves because the
people
had no home to
go
to. It is terrible to live so."
This
emergence
of
land, freedom,
and a
place
of
belonging
on St. John was,
for these St.
Johnians,
consolidated in the institution of
family
land.
Family
land became the
major
form of
land
holding
on St.
John
among
the freed slaves and their descendants
during
the latter
part
of
the 19th
century.11 Family
land came into
being
when land
acquired by
the first individual
owner
passed
(at this
person's
death) to all descendants to hold in common. The
significance
of this land was that it had
passed
down
through
the
generations
for all members of the
family
to share in common. These
elderly
St.
Johnians
therefore saw
family
land as a
place
of
security
as well as a manifestation of
family unity.
As Oswald
Joseph explained,
My grandfather
is
very important
because he
bought
this land for his children and their children....
My
grandfather
made the deed so that the
family
owned
it,
not
individuals,
and so that the land would be
handed down to the
family
and
kept by
it.... It would be
very easy
to sell the land because
many people
would want
it,
but then the land would be
gone
forever. It is the old ancestor who made a
provision
for
us,
and I will not abuse it.
Until the
1950s,
land had little commercial value on St.
John,
largely
because the island was
dominated
by subsistence-type
small
farming
activities. With the establishment of the United
States National Park Service in 1
956,
about two thirds of the island's
acreage
was
placed
within
the
park's
boundaries.'2 The National Park Service undertook the
major
task of
developing
the
new
park
lands as a
pre-Columbian
wilderness
area,
like the
large
national
parks
in the United
States. The National Park Service
prohibited
local economic
activity
on
park
lands,
and it
allowed
secondary
or
tertiary
forest
growth
to cover the former
pasture
areas and small fields
of swidden cultivation that farmers had cleared in the
marginal
areas of the cattle estates
by
mutual consent with the estate owners. A few of the old
plantation
ruins were
stabilized,
but
all other
buildings
on
parkland
were allowed to deteriorate. The National Park
Service,
in
effect,
attempted
to remove all traces of several hundred
years
of
history, including
those of the local
378 american
ethnologist
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African Caribbean
community
of the island.
Meanwhile,
the land areas outside the
park
became
built
up
with vacation homes
(primarily
for North
Americans),
guest
houses,
a
large
hotel,13
and
various other tourist-related businesses.
As a result of the dramatic economic and social
changes
that took
place
after the
1950s,
property
values on St. John had increased
sharply by
the 1990s. An acre of land that sold for
approximately
$20
during
the 1 940s
reaped
several hundred thousand dollars
during
the 1 990s.
The
temptation
to sell land to take the
profit
from this increase was
great,
and some small holders
with clear title to their
property,
and no heirs
living
on
it,
sold out. For those who lived on the
land,
the
temptation
to sell was not so
great
because without a land base
they
excluded
themselves and their children from
having
a home on the island. For
many
members of the
second, third,
fourth (and
subsequent) generations
of St. Johnians who live outside the island
and lack
personal
ties to
it,
selling
land on St. John has been an attractive
proposition.
For
some,
St.
John
has become a distant
place
associated with an
increasingly
remote ancestral
heritage.
The inclination to sell has been further
strengthened by
a
Virgin
Islands' law that
obliges
all
heirs to
family
land to
pay property
taxes on the land in
proportion
to their
particular
share.
While no
piece
of
family
land can be sold without consent of all
heirs,
some local families have
been forced to
agree
to such sales because absent relatives refuse to
pay
their
part
of the
rapidly
increasing property
taxes. As a
result,
land has become a source of divisiveness and contention
for
many
families rather than a site of
belonging.
The conversion of
family
land into an attractive
property
investment in the American tourist
paradise
has
seriously
threatened the moral
underpinnings
and cultural
significance
of land for the St.
Johnian
community.
The
elderly
St. Johnians whom I interviewed in the 1970s were
clearly
aware of the
major
changes
that had taken
place
on the island since the 1950s.
They
were also aware of the
problems
these
changes generated.
Indeed,
when
people emphasized
the close association
they
saw between freedom and
having
land of their
own,
they
were not
talking
about
just
the St.
Johnian historical
experiences
of
slavery
and
plantation
cultivation. Just as
importantly, they
were
emphasizing
the need to hold onto the land their ancestors had
struggled
to
acquire.
When
they
described the
community
of small
farmers,
creating
a life for themselves
by living
off the
land,
they
were also
criticizing
the
neglect
of the land after the National Park Service and the
tourist
economy
had taken over the island. Their stories about the
constituting
of the St. Johnian
community
in the
past,
in other
words,
were imbued with a
strong
moral
warning
of the
possible
collapse
of this
community.
In the oral
history
interviews that I conducted for the
Virgin
Islands Humanities
Council,
St.
Johnians also
emphasized
the close connections between
land,
community,
and moral values.
The culture that St. Johnians like
Elroy Sprauve
wanted to maintain was associated with the
former
villages
infused with warm and
supportive family-like
relations. For these St.
Johnians,
family
land,
as it had
emerged among
the free small
farmers,
once
expressed
the true values of
their
community.
When I interviewed her in
1994,
Ina
George,
born at the time of the island's
transfer to the United States in 191
7,
described
family
land as a
place
of
belonging
that should
stay
within the
family
forever:
Hard Labor
was,
and
is,
family
land. The land
goes
from one
generation
to another from
my grandparents.
They got
the
place.
I cannot tell how because I don't
know,
but when
they
died it went to their
children,
and when their children died it came to us. When we
die,
we
got
our
children,
and it
goes
to
them,
and
when
they die,
it
goes
to their children. That is how it is.
The fact that
family
land
would,
in the
span
of a few
generations, belong
to so
many
descendants
that it
might
not offer much of a
place
for
anybody
seemed to be overtaken
by
the idea of
establishing
a
place
for
everybody.
The
presence
of the
graves
of deceased
family
members on the
family
land concretized the
significance
of
family
land as a
place
of
belonging
for the
family.
When I interviewed him in
1994,
Guy Benjamin,
a retired educator born in the late Danish
period, explained, "My great
the burden of
heritage
379
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grandmother, grandfather,
and
grandmother
and uncle are all buried on the land in our
family
burial
ground
....
In East End all were buried on
family
land. There was no
public cemetery,
and the
graves
on
my family's
burial
ground....
are marked
by
stones."'4 The
cosmology
of
especially
the older St. Johnians cherished deceased relatives and saw them as
guardian spirits
who would look out for the
living. Guy Benjamin explained,
"Spirits of relatives would not harm
you,
but
guard you, perhaps against
evil
spirits. They stayed
on the
land,
where
they
were
buried,
and
they guarded
the
family, neighbors,
and friends there. So
you
were
quite
safe there. You
never had to be afraid on
your
own land."
The central
importance
of
family
land as a locus of
positive family
and
community
values
was further
emphasized
in St.
Johnians'
stories about the old
plantation
ruins. These were
described
by
St. Johnians as the
negative
or
counter-image
of
family
land. The concrete
physical
relics from estate
buildings
were not
just
reminders of the old
plantation regime
that had
enslaved the African Caribbean
population
on the island. The St.
Johnian
stories also
depicted
the ruins as alien
places
and a
continuing potential
threat to the
present-day inhabitants,
in that
they
were inhabited
by
evil
spirits, jumbies,
who
sought
to harm
people.
This was
apparent
in
Elroy Sprauve's
childhood memories from the 1940s: "Ruins are considered
jumbie places.
The
Enighed
[estate] ruin,
for
example,
is a
jumbie place,
and as a child I was afraid to
go
there ...
I think that
many
of these areas were considered
dangerous
because
they
were
places
where
there were cruel
people,
who have been buried there." There was
clearly
a racial element in
this association of the old estate of
Enighed
with
jumbies
because the
graves by
the old estate
house are those of white estate owners. This racial association of evil white
people
and estate
owners was even more
apparent
in the belief in
werewolves,
described as
wealthy
and "mean"
white
people unwilling
to
participate
in the social and economic
exchange
relations that
characterized the St. Johnian
community
of small farmers after
emancipation
from
slavery
and
the
collapse
of the
plantation system. By pointing
to the continued existence of such
people
on
St.
John,
oral tradition
emphasized
the basis of the local
community
in shared moral values that
should be sustained.
The
place
of
belonging
that
family
land created for the African Caribbean
community
on St.
John was not an
economically
secure
one,
however. St.
Johnian
oral
history
also
pointed
to the
necessity
of
leaving
the land to live and work outside the island in order to sustain the St. Johnian
community.
The free
villages
that
emerged
in the
postemancipation period
as St. Johnians
moved from the
faltering plantations
to the
newly acquired family
land remained an
integral
part
of the economic world
system
that had fostered
slavery
and the
plantation regime,
and the
economic freedom that
they
offered was
very
tenuous. The
grounding
that St.
Johnians
experienced by
virtue of
growing up
on
family
land thus was
complemented
with a
great
deal
of
mobility,
as
they
traveled off the island for better economic
opportunities.
The traditions of
rooting
on
family
land and
leaving
for
wage employment
outside the island are not at all
contradictory,
but
closely
interrelated.
Indeed,
the
major
reason
why family
land was able to
constitute a home for all descendants of the
original
owner was that most chose to leave it
because it offered
very
limited economic
opportunities.
As Ina
George's nephew
Austin
Dalmida,
a
government employee, explained
when I interviewed him in
1994,
"The land was
there for the
family
to
use,
but
many
in the
family
left the estate because there was
nothing
for
them to do in Hard Labor."
The
primary
value of
family
land for most St. Johnians seems to have been its role in
enabling
them to maintain a sense of
belonging
in the St.
Johnian
community, regardless
of how
many
years they might
have been
physically
absent from the island. Ina
George's
son,
Henry
Powell,
a
security guard
at the National Park's
campground
who had had a
long
career in the United
States
Navy, expressed
this value of
family
land when I interviewed him on St.
John
in 1994:
I have lived in the States two to three times as
long
as I have lived on St. John-30
years-but
St.
John
is
me. I never
thought
I was
moving
to the States. I have been on St. John
in
spirit
all the time.
Every spare
380 american
ethnologist
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moment,
my
mind was on St.
John.
Having
land means ... that
you
have a
place
that
you
can come to
and live with no trouble and hassles. You
give away your birthright
if
you
sell
your
land. It is like
saying
that
you
don't intend to come back.
Not all absent St. Johnians
kept
such a
strong
attachment to St. John.
Many
of those who left
the island
clearly
lost interest in the
land,
as
they
settled and established new lives for themselves
abroad. In
reality,
the number of heirs who had an active interest in the land was rather
limited;
however,
the existence of
family
land meant that those who wished to maintain a
place
of
belonging
on St.
John
were able to do
so,
again, regardless
of the duration of their absence from
the island. But if
they
wished to remain in
good standing
with the
family
on the
land,
they
were
well advised to maintain active ties with this
family-for example, by providing
certain forms
of
support.
In this
way,
the
relatively poor possibilities
offered
by
the
family
land were somewhat
offset
by
the economic
support provided by
absent relatives.
All the St. Johnians whom I interviewed in 1974-75 and 20
years
later,
in
1994, emphasized
that an informal and
pervasive system
of
exchanges involving
access to
land, food,
and labor
had constituted the backbone of the St. Johnian
community
of small farmers that
emerged
on
family
land. In other
words,
it was this
system
of
exchange
that had made life on the
economically precarious
island
possible.
It was also this
exchange system
that
gave
the island
its
special
character and
identity.
Thus St.
Johnians
emphasized
that such
exchange
relations
had not been
practiced
on St.
Thomas,
the
nearby
commercial center where
many
St.
Johnians
sold their
produce.
This was a
place
of fast business
practices
where all residents had to fend
for themselves. Such
practices
did not
belong
on St.
John,
according
to these St.
Johnians.
Those
who moved to the
island,
mostly
from the
nearby
(and
equally impoverished)
British
Virgin
Islands,
were
acquainted
with a similar ethos of
exchange
and
"givishness"
and
quickly
became
part
of the St. Johnian
community. Being
a St.
Johnian,
to these
people,
was therefore less a
matter of
having
been born of St. Johnian
parents
and reared on the island than of
actively
participating
in the moral
community
of mutual
exchange
that
prevailed
on the island. That
moral
community
was,
in
essence,
what
they
identified as St. John.
claiming
a St. Johnian
heritage
In the vision of St.
John
as a moral
community,
St. Johnians did
not,
generally speaking, uphold
a
sharp dichotomy
between insiders and outsiders because the local
community
has never been
closed to the outside. This was
apparent
in the oral
history project
that I carried out in 1994.
The St.
Johnians
recommended
by
local leaders as
particularly good
resource
persons
(for
interviews) included several individuals whose
parents
or
grandparents
had
immigrated
from
the British and Dutch West Indies and
Europe,
as well as some who had not been born on St.
John,
but had St.
Johnian
parentage.
Outside-inside
categories
were
clearly
not defined
by
parentage
or
place
of birth
alone,
but
according
to
people's
involvement in the St. Johnian
community.
In recent
years,
as the island
society
has been under
growing
social and economic
pressures
from the
expanding
tourist
industry
and the
increasing
influx of
people
from the
outside,
a
change
has occurred in the
interpretation
and
presentation
of the St.
Johnian
moral
community.
Differences in the oral
history
interviews in 1974 and 1994 reflected this shift.
The older St. Johnians
I interviewed in the mid-1970s had lived when the island was
characterized
by
small
farming.
Most of their lives
they
had been small farmers themselves.
Their narratives of the
past
therefore
depicted
the hard
physical
labor
required
to
grow provision
crops,
burn
charcoal,
and care for the animals as well as the
exchange
of
labor, land,
and
produce
that had characterized
everyday
life.
Furthermore,
they distinguished
between the
generous
relations of
exchange
that had taken
place among
small farmers and the more exact
relations that had
prevailed
between small farmers and estate owners. Some of them remem-
bered
being
cheated out of
wages by
estate owners who claimed that
they
had arrived too late
the burden of
heritage
381
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(a claim that was hard for them to refute as
they
did not have
watches)
or were too
young
to
receive full
wages
(but
apparently
not too
young
to do a full load of work). Others remembered
being
allowed to
play
with estate owners' children, but not to eat with them when food was
served. These St.
Johnians
had a rather nuanced view of the
past.
Most of the St.
Johnians
whom I interviewed in 1994 had
only
childhood memories of the St.
Johnian
community
of small farmers.
They
cast their
descriptions
of the
past
in a
nostalgic
vein
and tended to
present
the St. John
community
of small farmers as the
happy days
before the
modern,
commercially
oriented
way
of life had taken over on the island. When I interviewed
her in
1994,
Zenobia
Lomax,
a school
teacher,
described her childhood in Hard Labor:
"Children were in and out of the different
houses,
eating
wherever
they were,
when food was
being
served-breakfast, lunch,
or dinner.
People
were
givish; they
would
give
whatever
they
had.
They
shared
groundfood [provision ground vegetables],
fish,
whatever
they
had,
with one
another. It seemed to me that
my
father sometimes
gave away
the best fish!"
Many people
interviewed in 1994 bemoaned the loss of
family
land as a source of
security, continuity,
and
groundedness,
and
they emphasized
the loss of the sense of
place, family,
and
community.
Family
land had become a rather sore
point,
and
many
St.
Johnians
stated that it was
"nothing
but heartache and trouble."
It has been
suggested by
Herzfeld that
"images generated by
this kind of
nostalgia put
the
poor firmly
in their
place
and eradicate all
memory
of class differences" (1991:75). It
might
be
argued,
however,
that the
present day
St. Johnian
tendency
to
paint
a rather
nostalgic picture
of the
past
does not so much
"put
the
poor firmly
in their
place,"
as it insists on a
place
for the
St.
Johnian
community
(and the
poor
that it has sustained) on an island where this
community
is
experiencing increasing
social and economic
marginalization.
At a time when ethnic
politics
offers the main
platform
for
minorities,
one of the few
ways
in which St. Johnians can claim a
place
for themselves is
by transforming
the
complex
relations of social and economic
exchange
that linked the differentiated
population
of
plantation
owners and small farmers
during
the
past.
This
relationship
has been transformed into a
singular
St. John
heritage
of
sharing
and
caring,
divorced from the social and economic structures of
inequality
that
formerly
characterized the
exchange system. By downplaying
those divisive
community
or class conflicts that made life in
the
past
less
pleasant,
St.
Johnians
are able to establish themselves as a unified
group
with a
collective
heritage
rooted in the land.
This shift toward a notion of St. John as a
community
of
persons
with a
particular
ethnic
heritage
is
apparent
in the
change
in self
image
that seems to be
taking place among
St.
Johnians
from that of an
all-embracing community
of relations to that of an
indigenous people
with
specific rights
on their island of birth. The idea of
being
a
people
with a
special birthright
was
apparent
in a statement issued
by
a
group
of St. Johnians
in connection with a
government
hearing concerning
the
instituting
of
regulations
that would
require
house lots to be of a certain
size-a law that would restrict the number of houses that could be built on
family
land. The
approximately
one hundred St.
Johnians
who
signed
the
petition protesting
this law
signed
themselves as
"indigenous
landowners." These islanders
were,
in other
words, beginning
to
argue
for certain
rights
based on their native claim to the island.
As the notion of
indigenous rights
has become more
prevalent,
the
community
based oral
tradition
celebrating
an
inclusive,
moral sense of
place
has become muted
by
another,
more
ethnically
exclusive
approach
to oral tradition that takes the slave
uprising
of 1 733 as its central
reference
point.
This tradition
functions,
as has been
seen,
as a model of ethnic
solidarity
and
distinction that is rather
foreign
to the inclusiveness that has
historically
characterized St.
Johnian
society. Today,
however,
this model reflects the
growing
sense of
displacement
and social
marginalization experienced by many
St. Johnians. I became aware of this sense of
displacement
during my
first fieldwork
period
when I discussed the National Park's
newly
instituted
living
history programs
with a St.
Johnian
school teacher who had
recently
returned from an African
382 american
ethnologist
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American
college
in the United States. The
programs
took
place
at
Annaberg,
an old
sugar
plantation,
and
involved,
as
noted,
demonstrations of African Caribbean
agriculture,
basket
weaving,
and
cooking.
The schoolteacher found such
displays
of local culture
by
St. Johnians
dressed
up
in traditional costumes for the tourist
gaze demeaning,
and he
thought
that the
reenactment of the slave revolt would make for a much more
interesting living history program.
In this
living history program,
he
suggested jokingly,
the whites on the island could act the
part
of the Danish soldiers and the St. Johnians the
part
of the slaves who killed off the white
population during
the
early stages
of the
uprising.
This turn in the
interpretation
of the 1 733 revolt
may
seem
unduly
crude and confrontational.
Nevertheless,
it fits
very
much into the structures of common difference that are characteristic
of the
politics
of
heritage identity
that dominate the world
heritage
movement
today.
The
dramatic event of this
uprising
lends itself well to the sort of
spectacle
that is
required
to
stage
heritage
in
public.
Furthermore,
the event involves an encounter between Africans and
Europeans,
which allows for the demarcation of distinctions between the two
groups.
This
combination of
spectacle
and clear ethnic distinction was
apparent
in the dance
production
presented by
the Ghana Dance Ensemble and the Caribbean Dance
Company
at an African
cultural festival in
Copenhagen
in 1996. The dance drama
began by depicting
the African slave
trade as a result of
European kidnappings
of
Africans,
went on to describe the horrors of the
middle
passage
and the slave
system awaiting
the Africans in the
Caribbean,
and showed how
European
cruelties led the Africans to
stage
a
major uprising against
their masters. This
uprising
included elements from the St. John rebellion,
the slave revolt on St. Croix in 1848 (which
resulted in the abolishment of
slavery),
and the 1878 labor
uprising,
also on St.
Croix,
which
led to
important changes
in the labor laws. The drama therefore celebrated the most monumen-
tal events in the
long history
of encounters between two distinct
groups
of
Europeans
and
Africans (and their descendants).
In this
history,
there is little room for the
complex
networks of
social, economic,
and cultural
exchanges
that
emerge
in encounters
taking place
in the more
mundane
sphere
of
everyday
life.
conclusion
In this
article,
I examine two different notions of the
past
on St. John and the
processes whereby
they
have
emerged
in
response
to
specific
social and economic conditions on the island. I have
argued
that an earlier notion of St. John as an inclusive moral
community
of social and economic
exchange
has been
replaced,
to a
great extent, by
a more recent
conception
of St. John as the
exclusive
place
of the heirs to the slaves of African descent who resisted their white
oppressors
and made the island their own. The first notion is sustained
by
narratives about the
development
of this moral
community
centered on
family
land
holdings,
the second
by
narratives of the
uprising
of
1733,
when African slaves overtook the island for several months before
being
defeated
by
colonial forces.
Until recent
decades,
this
community
did not
develop any
ideas of exclusive cultural
heritage
based on
ethnicity
and natal status. The main reason
why
this idea has become so
important
is
that it is
part
of a dominant discourse that offers St. Johnians a
way
of
arguing
for their
rights
as
a
people
with a
long past
on the island. The
price
of
adopting
this
discourse, however,
is that
it is now more difficult to
express
other
understandings
of the St.
Johnian
community.
Thus the
notion of an inclusive
community
based on an ethos of
sharing
and
exchange
does not
carry
much
weight against
a discourse based on an idea of exclusive cultural
heritage, together
with
claims rooted in narratives of resistance such as the narrative of the revolt of 1 733.
The
difficulty
of
representing
a wider
range
of local
points
of view within the dominant
discourse on cultural
rights today
has
significant implications
for the
many people
who live in
externally imposed political systems.
In recent
years,
several
anthropological
studies have
the burden of
heritage
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documented the
importance
of
couching arguments
for
legal rights
in cultural terms (Cruikshank
1997; Jackson 1989;
Keesing
1982, 1989;
Linnekin 1983).15 This has led to a flourish of
display
of cultural
heritage
and tradition in various locations. The
emergence
of the
category
of fourth
world
peoples, deserving
of
special rights
and
privileges,
can be seen in this
light.
In some
cases,
fourth world
people
have succeeded in
attaining
certain
rights
that have
improved
their social
and economic conditions. Some
anthropologists
have also become involved in an
advocacy
for cultural
rights entailing
considerable commercial interest (Greaves 1995). While it is evident
that fourth world
people
make use of available forms of
political
and economic
empowerment,
one
may
wonder about the
degree
to which
they
will be able
effectively
to defend local social
relations and cultural
practices, given
that
they
must defend them in the
shape
of reified cultural
forms and tribal
corporate groups.
For
example,
Castile has
argued
that Native American
groups
(much
as in the case of the St. Johnian
community) generally speaking
were
open
to
incorpo-
rating strangers,
sometimes
conferring upon
them kin-like ties that
gave
them a
place
in the
social
system.
As a means of
gaining
some
degree
of
self-determination, however,
they
must
now
develop
a
heritage
of
exclusivity
based on
corporate
tribal
groups
marked
by
the tribal
paraphernalia
that authenticate tribal status (Castile 1996). While fourth world
people
have
found in the cultural
heritage
movement,
and the notion of culture
upon
which it
rests,
a
platform
to
argue
for
political rights,
other
people
have been defined as
being
without culture and
history
by
this same cultural
understanding.
Such
de-culturing
has been most
pronounced
with
regard
to those who are labeled as
displaced, place being
a
metaphor
for rootedness in culture and
history.
In recent
history,
this has been most
apparent
in discourse on
refugees.
As Liisa Malkki
has shown
(1997),
refugees' personal
narratives are therefore
rarely
listened to or
presented
in
the international
community
of humanitarian aid because there is no
place
for such narratives
in the dominant order of rooted
peoples
and cultures. Here the
refugees,
and their
stories,
are
basically
"matter out of
place"
to borrow
Mary Douglas's
1966
phrase. Refugees
are thus
reduced to base
humanity
without
any specific
cultural or historical
rights
of their own. This
problem
has led one
anthropologist
to
point
to the
paradox
that
promoting
and
protecting
basic
human
rights
sometimes makes it
necessary
for
indigenous groups
to
"invent, create,
package,
and sometimes sell their culture" (Jackson 1989:127).
While
anthropologists
have been
quick
to deconstruct invented
traditions, they
have been
less aware of the "broad
range
of metadiscursive
practices"
that constitute the
"politics
of the
'invention' literature" that
they
themselves
produce (Briggs
1996:463). In this
article,
I have
suggested
that we
may develop
such an awareness
through
detailed studies of the
specific
conditions under which certain forms of cultural
heritage appear
and others become muted. In
the case of St.
John,
a new cultural
heritage
of native status is
being adopted by
St. Johnians
as
a means of
creating
exclusive
rights
to the island. The
politics
of
heritage
have not been on the
agenda
until
recently,
and a
heritage
of
indigenous rights
carries little
legal weight
in a
place
which (since the abolition of
slavery)
has
always
been
incorporated
into a
society
based on
individual
rights
rooted in the notion of
private property.
St.
Johnians
are
ordinary
citizens of
the United
States,
and
they
are therefore not
recognized
as
having rights
at a
collective,
sociocultural level
beyond
their civil
rights
as individuals. Human
rights
has become an
individual matter and culture a
private
concern (cf. Friedman 1997).
Despite
this weak
legal
point
of
departure, young
St. Johnians
are
increasingly embracing
the narratives of resistance
generated
in the context of fourth world
heritage politics.
The
increasing significance
of narratives of resistance as a means of cultural
expression
has
become a
topic
of
great
interest to
anthropologists.
Indeed,
according
to Michael Brown
(1996),
notions of cultural resistance have attained such an
overwhelming importance
in the current
anthropological imagination
that narratives of resistance now can
provide
the framework for
anthropological analysis.
If
anthropologists
fail to
distinguish
the relations of
power
that
govern
the construction of
heritage
and its
meta-narratives, they may unwittingly
contribute to the
384 american
ethnologist
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obliteration of the
very
distinctions that make
heritage
a burden for some and a source of
power
for others. In this
way they
will risk further
disempowering people
who are now excluded from
the
"heritage" constituency.
notes
Acknowledgments.
Field research on St. John
in 1974-75 was funded
by
the Danish Research Council
of the Humanities
and,
in
1994, by
the
Virgin
Islands Council of the Humanities. An earlier version of this
article was
presented
in 1994 at an international
workshop
on cultural
creativity
at
Magleas,
Denmark. I
wish to thank Daniel
Segal
and Kenneth
Olwig
for their
helpful
comments on this article.
1. This discussion is based on an historical
anthropological study
carried out in 1974-75 and an oral
history project
that took
place
in 1994-95. For a fuller documentation of the
development
of African
Caribbean culture on St.
John,
please
refer to
Olwig
1984, 1985,
1994. The cultural construction of
place
has been discussed in a number of recent
publications (Appadurai
1995;
Gupta
and
Ferguson
1992;
Olwig
and
Hastrup
1997).
They
focus on the
way
in which
place,
as a
social, cultural,
and economic
entity, may
be created within a
global space
of
hierarchically
structured
relations,
as networks of relations
developed
in local life
through
time constitute themselves as communities.
2. He is
particularly referring
to the work of Herskovits
(1934, 1973[1945]),
Mintz and Price
(1992[1976]),
and Price
(1983, 1985).
3. While the member of the House of
Representatives
has no
right
to vote on the
floor,
the member has
been able to vote on committees and therefore has exerted a certain amount of informal influence on
legislative
work.
4. The interest in the
history
of the slave
uprising
derives
by
no means
simply
from local oral tradition.
It has also received
impetus
from educated North Americans who have settled on the island and who have
incorporated
this
uprising
into their efforts to create a sense of island
heritage.
An
important
source of
information on the slave
uprising today
is the book
Night
of the Silent Drum
by
the American author John
Anderson (1975).
Inspired by fragments
of the
legend
about the slave
uprising,
which he heard when he
first visited St. John on his
honeymoon
in
1935, John Anderson embarked on
many years
of archival research
before he wrote a fictionalized account of the
uprising.
He
depicts
the
uprising
as the result of cruel slave
laws and slave owners. He contrasts the
regime
of
terror,
and the
uprising
that it
produced,
to the more
humane and warm relations that existed between more
benign plantation
owners and their slaves. The book
therefore creates a
place
on the island for those whites who were able to treat the black
population
in a
decent
manner,
perhaps reflecting
the rather
paternalistic
relations that existed between the St. Johnian
population
and the few white residents on St.
John
before the
onslaught
of the tourist
economy during
the
1950s.
5. For
examples
of
uprisings
that were at least
partially
successful,
see James
1963[1938]
and Price
1973,
1983.
6. It takes as its
point
of
departure
a conversation on the island's
past.
This conversation occurs between
a St. Johnian man and woman as
they
cross the sound between St. Thomas and St. John in a sailboat on the
eve of the
emancipation day.
7.
During
the
early
1990s,
the
park reported
close to a million visitors
days per year.
This
compares
with
close to
300,000
during
the late 1970s
(Olwig
1994:76). Park statistics on visitor
days
refer to the total
number of
days
that all visitors
spent
in the
park
in the course of a
year.
The number of actual
persons visiting
St. John therefore is smaller.
8. When I
began
this
research,
I was
surprised
that
many
in the
group
seemed to
express
a
greater
interest
in
knowing
about the Danish West Indian historical
records,
and
they
asked a number of
questions
about
the Danish West Indian archives. In
light
of the fact that the
project
had been
organized
to collect oral
histories,
it seemed somewhat
strange
that St. Johnians were so
preoccupied
with the Danish West Indian
archives in
Copenhagen. They appeared
to me to underestimate the fund of
knowledge deposited
in the
memories of the
many elderly people among
whom
they
were
living
and to overestimate the value of the
historical documents in
Copenhagen.
It became
quite clear, however,
that
many
of the historical
queries
of
the St. Johnians were of much more
urgent importance
in their immediate life situation than was the
quest
for a cultural
heritage
based on oral
history
interviews. Their
queries
concerned,
for
example, locating
the
deed to land
acquired by
the Moravian church
during
the 18th
century,
so that the church
might
fend off
private persons
and
government agencies
that had encroached on church land
during
recent
years;
the
finding
of old
maps
to
prove
the existence of local roads that had been closed in recent
history by
the
National Park
Service,
making
access to some
family
land
very difficult;
the search for
missing
relatives
through
church and census records in
preparation
for a
family
reunion that would
gather widely
scattered
relatives.
9. African Caribbean oral traditions have been
analyzed by
Abrahams (1983). The oral traditions in
connection with wakes
among
the Saramaka have been described
by
Price and Price (1991).
10. Dutch Creole for aunt. Due to the
prevalence
of Dutch
planters
and the
importance
of German
speaking
Moravian
Missionaries,
Dutch Creole was the dominant
language
on the island until the later
part
the burden of
heritage
385
This content downloaded from 158.121.249.36 on Mon, 17 Mar 2014 15:36:18 PM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
of the 19th
century. English
is now
spoken
on the
island,
but Dutch Creole did not
disappear entirely
until
approximately
a decade
ago,
when the last Dutch Creole
speaking person
died.
11. For a historical documentation of
this,
see
Olwig
1984, 1985,
1994.
Family
land exists
throughout
much of the Caribbean (Besson 1979, 1984, 1987;
Crichlow
1994;
Olwig
1997;
Rubenstein 1987).
12. The National Park Service could
purchase only roughly
half of the island's
acreage
due to
widespread
private inholdings
within
park
boundaries.
Although
the Park has increased its land
holdings during
the
past
40
years,
it will
probably
never succeeded in
acquiring
all the
inholdings, partly
because
people
are more
reluctant to sell
today,
and
partly
because
property
values have increased so much that the land is
beyond
the economic means of the Park Service.
13. This
hotel,
which was owned
by
Rock
Resorts,
was located within an
inholding
inside the
park's
boundaries.
14. East End
comprised, along
with Coral
Bay,
the main settlement of free colored on St. John.
15. For a native
critique
of the
way
in which
anthropologists
have
analyzed
this
claiming
of
legal rights
through
cultural
terms,
see Trask 1991 and the
anthropological responses by
Linnekin 1991 and
Keesing
1991.
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accepted July
23,
1998
final version submitted October 27,
1998
Karen
Fog Olwig
Institute of
Anthropology
University
of
Copenhagen
Frederiksholms Kanal 4
DK-1220
Copenhagen
K,
Denmark
karen.fog.olwig@anthro.ku.dk
388 american
ethnologist
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