Epigram from Vince Hubbard's Foreword by Captain Southey:
"The history of the West Indies presents little more than a melancholy series of calamities and crimes." Chronological History of the West Indies, Vol. III.
I had hoped to meet Mr. Hubbard during my last trip to Nevis in 2004, having loved his first book, Swords, Ships, and Sugar, and wanting to find out geneaological information from this gent who was described to me as "a walking encyclopedia" by an innkeeper on Nevis. The office of the inn, which 200 years ago concerned itself with administrative/accounting tasks related to sugar cane sales/production, contained this book for sale which was published during the intervening years of my first trip to Nevis in 2001. (St. Kitts and Nevis are separated by only two miles of water.) In the foreword of this book, Hubbard explains that the first Europeans came in 1623, sugar cane came to St. Kitts in 1643, the first caribbean island to receive it.
I enjoyed this book as much as Hubbard's History of Nevis. Found myself laughing out loud on the airplane reading about some unruly pirates who wooed and wed some 'timid orphans' from Paris whose previous occupation was prostitution. The scheme was masterminded by the French hoping that the troublesome pirates would settle down. In Hubbard's retelling he includes the marriage oaths: "I take thee without knowing or caring to know, whom thou art.....I do not desire thee to give me an account of thy past conduct.....I acquit thee of what is past [then striking his hand on the barrel of his pistol] This will revenge me of thy breach of faith...]!!! Colorful history-telling as always from Vince Hubbard. (Michener's Caribbean is equally good but covers the history every island in the region; Michener's novel, of course, is grander in scale and colorful in the sense the Caribbean inherently generates given the very diverse languages, geologies, ecologies, cultures etc. that are displayed in that region of the globe.)
What I enjoyed most from his book, surprisingly, were the final chapters on the twentieth century making me ponder at the curious evolution of government on these islands. Independence was procured from Great Britain in 1983 which seems to me, if I may use the term, reverse colonialism in that self-government was ordained yet membership in the British Commonwealth continued. (Maybe, that's wise given that piracy of a different sort abounds in those straits today: drug smuggling/money laundering. The Caribbean islands being the intermediary focal point of this modern, slaveless triangle trade between South America (substituting for Africa as the third link) and North America.) It's interesting to see the failures of the federations as well as the tenuous one remaining between St. Kitts and Nevis today. Will the individual islands be like colonial states, will they or won't they have some form of federal government governing them all? Is that at all possible, given the geographical separation of them by miles upon miles of sometimes hurricane tossed waters? Could their economic situation improve as a result? Could the American Revolutionary experiment of 300 plus years ago be a paradigm/godsend for them. Or am I dreaming an impossible dream?
I love these islands, these peoples. The natives of St Kitts and Nevis are some of the sweetest people I've ever met; they are ingenuous but are also clever. Their lives are very simple. Distancewise, these isles are the same distance from Florida as D.C., but in so many ways, I feel always like I'm living in an entirely different world.
Is it paradise, perhaps???