The book argues that the frontier, usually associated with the era of colonial conquest, has great, continuing and under explored relevance to the Caribbean region. Identifying the frontier as a moral, ideational and physical boundary between what is imagined as civilization and wilderness, the book seeks to extend frontier analysis by focusing on the Eastern Caribbean multi island state of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The continuing relevance of the concept of frontier, and allied notions of civilization and wilderness, are illuminated through an analysis of the ways in which SVG is perceived and experienced by both outsiders to the society and its insiders. Using literary sources, biographies and autobiography, the book shows how St. Vincent is imagined and made sense of as a modern frontier; a society in the balance between an imposed civilized order and an untameable wild that always encroaches, whether in the form of social dislocation, the urban presence of the ‘Wilderness people’ or illegal marijuana farming in the northern St. Vincent hills. The frontier as examined here has historically been and remains very much a global production. Simultaneously, it is argued that contemporary processes of globalization shape the development of tourism and finance sectors, as well as patterns of migration, they connect to shifting conceptions of the civilized and the wild, and have implications for the role of the state and politics in frontier societies.
Some years ago, in a plush, official government palace in Bridgetown, Barbados called the Frank Collymore Hall, I had a chance meeting with Kamau Brathwaite, Barbados’s legendary poet and historian. After some polite shadow-boxing and possibly a slippery remark or two from me he came to the point. He posed me a seemingly direct and simple question. ‘And what’, he asked, ‘does Philip Nanton have to say about the Caribbean?’. His challenge has haunted me for ten years or more and I suppose that this text is one response to his question. My struggle to answer his question in the way that I have chosen in this book has led me to incur many debts that I would like to acknowledge.
In the early stages of thinking about and writing this book it was my good fortune to be befriended by Vincentian-born Mike Kirkwood, who also has roots in South Africa. I owe him much for his enthusiasm about things Vincentian: our many discussions around the idea of the frontier in the Caribbean and elsewhere, and not least his willingness to allow his essay ‘The Roaring’ to introduce my text. The genial Father Mark DaSilva, who served his Grenadines parish for some fifteen years, knows more about the flora, fauna and people of that region than anyone I know. He encouraged me to write about the Grenadines and I took up his suggestion in my own way. Others from St Vincent, including Adrian Fraser, Vonnie Roudette, Caroline Sardine, William Abbott and Deborah Dalrymple, have offered kindness, support and encouragement at various stages of the thinking and writing process.
In Barbados, Woodville Marshall, Cleve Scott and Nan Peacocke each made time to read early drafts of the text, and each offered encouragement and criticism. Avinash Persaud, with a quiet patience, introduced me to some of the finer points of the financial services world. Christine Barrow read a later draft and helpfully suggested, in particular, that a perspective on religion in St Vincent would not go amiss, and she was right. Jane Bryce read every draft and offered lots of constructive criticism.
I have held many helpful email discussions about the Caribbean, small island states and the frontier with Shalini Puri, who lives and teaches in the USA.
In the last century, when I lived in England, it was again my good luck to be a student of and get to know as a friend the cheerful and supportive Robin Cohen. His enthusiastic response to a draft of a few chapters of this work gave added encouragement that perhaps I had something to say. Caroline Wintersgill, now at Manchester University Press, freed me to say whatever that something was in my own way. The unfailingly responsive and encouraging Gurminder Bhambra, editor of Theory for a Global Age, has allowed me to say it as part of that series. Three unidentified readers said some kind things and made telling comments about the draft manuscript. I have tried to be as enthusiastic in my response to them as they were in their criticism. I had many early discussions about writing this book with Marian Fitzgerald.
Jane Bryce, my partner, kicked my arse (metaphorically) and told me – many times – to get on with it before the curtains close. She was, as in many things, so right.
That, I suppose, is the gist of my debts of gratitude and how what appears in the pages below got done. But for what has been done I, and I alone, must say: mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
Every effort has been made to obtain permission to contact the copyright holders of ‘Shaker Funeral’, and the publisher will be pleased to be informed of any errors and omissions for correction in future editions.