Long ago people looked at the sun and reasoned that it traveled around the earth. Nicolaus Copernicus almost lost his life to the Roman Catholic sensors because he said such reasoning was irrational and unscientific. There was also that time when popular thought had it that the world was flat. The Chinese, Columbus, Magellan and Francis Drake changed such thinking when they produced hard scientific evidence. Later, Darwin and his followers attempted to lead the world into accepting that African people were at the bottom of the scale in human evolution. It took the patient work of the Leakey family to produce the scientific evidence that the entire human chain began in Africa with Africans. Today historians and anthropologists have scientific evidence that it was an African woman who mothered the human race. The work of Ashley Montagu, Peter Rigby and other cultural anthropologists, has demonstrated repeatedly and clearly that despite prevailing myths, all human beings belong to one race. Ironically, if this was not a fact, the biological miscegenation introduced to the Americas by Europeans could not have happened.
The concern in this column is about a misuse of the term, Ancestral Native, by the persons charged with the responsibility to write a constitution for the U.S. Virgin Islands. For anyone to use the term ancestral native in reference to Europeans and Africans living on any Caribbean island, that term is being used wrongly. Further, the term ancestral native being used to refer to people of African or European ancestry born in the Virgin Islands before, during, or after 1927, is a misnomer. As far back as the 1650s and on, the real Caribbean ancestral natives, descendents of the Siboneys, Arawaks, Tainos, and Caribs were wiped out, or forced on to reservations in Dominica, St. Vincent, Belize and elsewhere. This was by agreement among the Spaniards, the English, the Dutch, and the French. Today, ancestral natives in the Caribbean are found on those islands or countries where the native people were forced on reservations, or where they were able to hide from the onslaught of the colonizing Europeans. None of those people trace their dominant ancestry back to Africa or Europe.
In its simplest term, the word "native" refers to someone born in a particular area. For example, I am a native of Nevis. Natives of the Virgin Islands are born in the Virgin Islands, before, during, and after 1927. Ancestral Native is a more complex anthropological term. It refers back to the aboriginal native people of an area. The aboriginal people, or the ancestral natives of any Caribbean island, including the Virgin Islands, would have lived in this area as far back as the BC years. We are not aware that any of those people were from Africa. Rather, we know they were the Siboneys, the Arawaks, the Tainos, and the last to come about the 1200s or so, were the Caribs, who had progressed as far north as St. Croix, when Columbus arrived in 1493. However, when the Europeans brought capitalism to the Caribbean, most of their countries back in Europe were tired and broke from wars. They needed wealth and resources so they reached beyond Europe. In that desperation for quick wealth the Europeans destroyed the civilizations of the Caribbean ancestral natives. At that time, they also turned to Africans, who already were being enslaved and sold in Europe and the Mediterranean area. Those Africans were sold by Europeans and Muslims, as early as the 1300s. The first African slaves that came to the Caribbean arrived here during the late 1490s or by 1509. True ancestral natives of the Caribbean islands got here long before 1400, and except for their connection to the "mother of us all" from Africa, way back in time; real Caribbean ancestral natives have no known connection to Africa.
As an Afro- Caribbean person who is a product of colonialism, I share that desire to assert ourselves and remake our world. However, in our need to re-interpret our history, we cannot be myopic like the Europeans who came before us. They built false ideologies, designed rotting kingdoms, and envisioned mythical worlds that did not exist. African people were to be enslaved forever; they were supposedly an inferior race; and according to Rudyard Kipling, the white race was destined to dominate the world forever. Myth after myth was created to support such irrational thinking. In time, however, because it was all built on ethnic, nationalistic ego, such assertions have all crumbled. They were built on false assumptions. An argument in 2009 that Africans or Europeans born in the Virgin Islands before, during, or after 1927 are ancestral natives is also a false, irrational argument. It does not matter who presents the argument; neither does it matter what document is contrived to legitimize this argument. History, anthropology, and science remain the determinants of true ancestral natives everywhere in the world, including the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Editor's note: Whitman T. Browne is an author, professor and school principal.
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