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.
This chapter examines the context for studying the frontier in the Caribbean. It challenges the notion that the Caribbean frontier featured for only a brief period in the region’s history. It argues that historically the Caribbean has had and continues to have identifiable frontier features. Shifting state boundaries, strong privatization, weak state regulation and patterns of religious and social withdrawal are explored as underlying features of the continuing Caribbean frontier.
This chapter argues that the notion of the frontier in small multi-island states is a complex affair. As physical boundary the notion of frontier also encompasses administrative, territorial and cultural island to island distinctions, all complicated by a notion of ‘islandness’. Beyond the conventional notion of physical boundary, the frontier is also a site of balance between imagined ‘civilization’ and ‘wilderness’. It is marked by outpost status, inconsistent or sporadic commitment to local infrastructure, including government institutions, prevalent violence and a rough and ready society that centres men and those who excel at improvisation. However, the attractiveness of the frontier concept in an island situation like SVG is its double edged potential - it is ‘liminal’ open and closed simultaneously and also its key elements of ‘civilization’ and ‘wilderness’ are always incomplete.
This chapter explores colonial and postcolonial strategies for implementing civilization and banishing wilderness in St. Vincent. These strategies involve attempts to ‘improve’ nature, including controlling the ‘savage’ black population and pragmatic interventions to improve public utilities as well as more recent postcolonial strategies of nation building.
Frontier retentions are examined at the collective and at the micro level. Forms of frontier retention discussed include the ideological through revisionist history and managerially through the conflict over managing a marine park. Frontier retentions are also illustrated by tracing the history of a number of frontier characters including a dame-school teacher, an isolated surgeon and a woodcutter.
The concept of the frontier is examined through the study of rhetoric, reading the frontier into a variety of written texts by both ‘outsiders’ and ‘insiders’ to St. Vincent society. The journal of John Anderson, a nineteenth century stipendiary magistrate and ‘Bodily Harm’ a twentieth century thriller by Canadian writer Margaret Atwood are discussed as ‘outsider’ texts that dramatise difficulties of personal dislocation in a context where what constitutes civilization in the society encountered is opaque. By contrast three insider texts are offered in the form of memoirs of local ‘pioneering heroes’ in which frontier retentions are implicit in the stories of their political lives.
This chapter again moves between macro narrative and micro detail to flesh out the various dimensions of wilderness/civilization relationship. It offers two case studies, one examining the history of the Shaker Baptists of St. Vincent and the second focusing on marijuana production and distribution. They illustrate how once ‘wild’ rural practices have gradually been ‘civilized’ into mainstream and urban society. Portrait sketches of three individuals from different walks of life illustrate urban frontier styles of living.
This afterword makes a case for frontier analysis as an approach to Caribbean studies. The chapter suggests an emphasis on searching for common ground rather than specificity as a way to understand the Caribbean region in relation to the world. Such an approach helps to overcome disciplinary boundary lines, alters and enlarges the frame of analysis and incorporates an understanding of the global in the regional context.