Evidence from popular music shows that the Yugoslav region just like other European countries does possess a 'deep reservoir' of notions of modernity, morality, hierarchy and entitlement through which popular culture and everyday discourse mobilise meaning. Wekker's search for the affective legacies of racialised colonial imagination in the 'cultural archive' reinforces Anikó Imre's argument that scholars of European media ought to apply the lens of east European postcoloniality to everyday popular culture as well as highbrow literature and cinema. The most unambiguous examples of colonial racialised imaginaries in post-Yugoslav entertainment, even more so than Cro-dance's tribalism and primitivism, were occasional blackface performances on music television. Popular music stands alongside transnational sport and film as a major vector for an embodied transnational cultural politics of race, where what producers and audiences perceive through transnational media is adapted or vernacularised through their own perceptions of race and identity.
State marginalization and the region as hinterland
The anglophone Caribbean region has two distinct faces. One face, the one shown to the outside world, suggests ‘everything cool’, ease and even contentment. Democratic traditions (for the most part) are upheld, the sun shines, the rules of cricket are obeyed, tourist services are friendly and order is maintained. The parliament buildings in Barbados are the third oldest in the Commonwealth after Britain and Bermuda. Barbados is proud of its tradition of political stability. Apart from the nips of a few mosquitoes; some sunburn; and the drawn Test cricket series achieved when the England team visited St Kitts, Grenada and Barbados,1 their supporters, the so-called ‘Barmy Army’, are unlikely to have been otherwise much disturbed by their visit. And there is modernity. In 1966 V. S. Naipaul drew attention to Trinidad’s modernity.2
These images of calm, serenity, playfulness and modernity struggle to crowd out the region’s other face of localised violence (increasingly gang-based and in run-down city locations) and disorder. In 2012 murder rates in Jamaica and tiny St Kitts and Nevis were among the ten highest in the world. In a region with an above-average rate for rape and sexual violence, such cases in St Vincent and the Grenadines (women raped and sexually assaulted) in 2011 reached 389 per 100,000 population compared to a global average of 15 per 100,000.3 A recent review of gang violence in Trinidad offered the extreme suggestion that with an estimated 95 gangs and approximately 1,269 members, gangs have a stronger hold on the Trinidad population than its Government does (Johnson, 2013). Direct defiance of the State is at its highest in ‘garrison’ communities, essentially urban, ghettoised islands of self-regulated groups policed and managed by gang lords.4 These examples suggest a severe problem of self-governance. In addition the implementation of regulation and imposition of law and order are a challenge for the State, with knock-on economic and social effects for everyone.5 It is, then, a region where an authoritative appearance of order and good governance disguises dystopic elements suggestive of frontier and hinterland.
It should be understood that the Caribbean has had a long experience of accommodating this darker, wilder side. Historically, the role of the State as a force for effective regulation has, for a number of reasons – economic practices, belief systems and patterns of migration – long been circumscribed. Accommodation of illegality and weakness of State institutions appear to go hand in hand, so when the State does lash out, its actions are often extreme: witness the periodic wholesale burning of ganja fields and the military-style operation to arrest ‘Dudus’ Coke in Tivoli Gardens, Kingston as recent examples. To substantiate my claim that such incidents are evidence of surviving frontier patterns, I will first delve into some regional history. This offers a context for my claim that shifting state boundaries, strong privatisation, weak State regulation and social withdrawal are regional frontier features.
Where to draw the geographic boundary between one territory and the next? This is a long unsettled question that raises its head periodically in one location or another throughout the region. In the early colonial period the islands were traded like booty, to the extent that St Lucia, traded back and forth between France and Great Britain, became known as the Helen of the West Indies. More prosaically, even within the British area of rule, boundaries between one territory and another were periodically redrawn or challenged. In 1885, Barbados was removed from the British Windward Islands to be administered separately as a colony. In 1891 there were riots in Kingstown when it was rumoured that the Legislative Councils of St Lucia, St Vincent and Grenada were to be merged. After a brief flirtation with a federal structure in the 1950s, island-based political independence followed in various amalgamations (Trinidad and Tobago, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, St Kitts and Nevis etc.). Many of these island nation states, based on uneasy alliances, have been subject to threats of secession and the redrawing of state boundaries. Nevis’s dispute with St Kitts is the latest illustration of this trend.
Emigration has presented another boundary challenge through the centuries. The earliest pressure on migration involved regional attempts to restrict the outflow of labour, in an attempt to maintain an adequate supply of cheap manpower in the islands. In the nineteenth century, many islands passed local Emigration Acts, imposing financial penalties on ships’ masters for transporting passengers without the requisite certificates. However, given the geographical complexity of the region, with innumerable small cays throughout, for example, the Bahamas, Virgin Islands and Grenadines, implementation was not a simple matter. In the vicinity of St Vincent, the Grenadines became notorious as offering an easy route for ships to pick up illegal emigrants undetected. The lament of the lieutenant-governor of St Vincent on the difficulties of controlling the illegal migration of 1874 could easily be mistaken for that of a twenty-first-century regulator of illegal trafficking. In his dispatches he noted: ‘The existence of these scattered islands with sheltered harbors stretching from St Vincent to Grenada make[s] it difficult to keep control over the Grenadines trade and hence the movement of vessels there.’6 Many Leeward and Windward Islanders sought to migrate to more wealthy islands, especially Trinidad, Aruba and Curaçao to the south, which were, in turn, a gateway to Venezuela in richer times (Richardson, 1992).
Since the twentieth century out-migration has become an essential safety valve, offering relief from high levels of under- and unemployment in the region, cheap labour for the metropoles and substantial invisible export earnings. In Jamaica, where unemployment was estimated at about 15 per cent of the labour force in 1953, by the early 1960s emigration had probably reduced unemployment both relatively and absolutely (Tidrick, 1973: 191). Admittedly some aspects of the organisation of the out-migration were taken over by metropolitan and local elites through State institutions. However, the decision to migrate has always been that of the private individual. In global frontier terms, this supply of labour from the hinterland offered a sufficiently ‘civilised’ workforce to help fill the lowest ranks of industry and public services in the metropolis. This was a population, after all, who could speak English, French or Dutch, and who, for better or worse, had been intensively schooled, formally and informally, in British, French and Dutch ways.
One result of emigration has been that a defining characteristic of the late-twentieth-century Caribbean as a region is the growth of large (in proportion to the size of the remaining ‘home’ populations) island diasporas in western metropolitan cities. Ralph Premdas collated Cohen’s data to demonstrate that by the 1980s in Britain there was a community of some 650,000 ‘Black Britons’. By 1990, 337,000 migrants had left the French Antilles for France and about 250,000 Dutch Antilleans had left for the Netherlands (Premdas, 2002: 58). A number equivalent to well over two-fifths of the home population of Puerto Rico, Suriname, Martinique, Guadeloupe and Jamaica are now located in the traditional metropolitan centres of the USA, the Netherlands, France and Britain (Grosfoguel, 1995). Unofficial estimates suggest that a number equivalent to nearer 100 per cent of the home population of Barbados, St Vincent and Dominica, respectively, now live outside the ‘home’ society.
Where the State is politically independent, the diaspora population is, in practice, outside the sanction of the ‘home’ state. Premdas suggests that this extensive migration requires nothing less than a reconceptualisation of the role of the State. He notes that ‘the practices of Caribbean peoples are at great variance from the exclusive claims for singular loyalty to the state … Caribbean peoples share a common de-territorialised imaginary. This requires a re-conceptualization of the notion of sovereignty’ (Premdas, 2002: 60). However, at the same time many people in Commonwealth Caribbean states rely on remittances from migrants abroad as essential private economic supplements. Remittances to Jamaica are estimated to amount to 4–5 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) per annum; those to Guyana have been estimated at around USD90 million per annum, or 13 per cent of GDP. The small number who return ‘home’ to the region after many years are often culturally and socially alienated to some degree, and as a result, migrants of the 1950s and 1960s, returning from the UK after many years, were often characterised socially as ‘mad’ (Thomas-Hope, 1992). However, despite problems of re-engagement, returnees exercise sufficient influence for island governments like those of Jamaica and Barbados to woo them with periodic island association meetings in the Caribbean and to offer financial inducement packages on their return. For a small number of seasonal migrants (sports people, retired grandparents with diasporic offspring, seasonal agricultural workers) who divide their time between homeland and metropole, the official boundaries are a minor inconvenience.7
Another area where social boundaries shift and may be crossed and recrossed according to practice and belief is that of various forms of herb usage and consumption. Smoking marijuana, for example, has been recognised to be ‘widely prevalent in the lower socio-economic groups in Jamaica for more than one hundred years’ (Thorburn, 1974: 19). During this time the drug has acquired a long history of use as a spiritual herb among the Rastafarian religious sect and in more recent years its use has spread across the range of social classes. Possession of 2 oz or less in Jamaica, as noted below, has recently been legalised. In 2014 leaders of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) instituted a study of the implications of marijuana legalisation.8 There is also a whole institution of alternative medicine, directed by so-called bush-men, or herbalists, based on the belief that the spiritual body can fight off all possible ailments if strengthened by herbs. The practice is carried out through a mission, led by a mother or shepherdess of the ‘balm-yard’. While many medicinal herbal teas are reported to be harmless and not illegal, ‘several harmful examples’ have been reported on in Caribbean scientific literature. One of the best known of these is the ‘white back’, or ‘consumption bush’ (Crotalaria fulva), which is widely consumed in Jamaica and causes vero-occlusive diseases of the liver (Lowe, 1972: 21).
These unofficial spiritual and health-related practices represent alternative belief systems. Some belief systems in the past – for example the practice of obeah – have been interpreted as a direct challenge to authority and have drawn a charge of sedition (Chevannes, 1971). The religious practice of the Shakers, or Spiritual Baptists, was banned in both St Vincent and Trinidad before being first tolerated and then welcomed. The issue here is that considerable areas of the unofficial social world of Caribbean belief and practice have continuously existed parallel with, or at times crossing, the boundary between legal and illegal, official and unofficial, wild and civilised worlds.
Religion and social withdrawal
Certain forms of religious adherence have, in contrast, triggered a quietist social withdrawal. For an increasing number of people in the Caribbean charismatic churches, involvement, in terms of belief system and practical support, has led to a supplanting of the State and secular politics. The Pentecostal churches are the sole exception to the decline in church attendance and claimed denominational adherence in each ten-year census for the past thirty years. The biblical principle of tithing has enabled them to grow rapidly, so that in St Vincent, by 2001, the Pentecostals were almost on a par with the island’s traditionally dominant Anglican population, each with 17 per cent of the claimed church adherence. By 2012, the Pentecostals had almost doubled this percentage. These churches are demonstrably most popular among the poorest in Caribbean societies; but it’s worth noting that those whose incomes are too low to be subject to State taxation are the very people who willingly pay tithes to the Church. In Diane Austin-Broos’s study of the history and influence of the Pentecostal Church in Jamaica, where Pentecostals make up the largest single category of religious affiliation, she shows that in 1996 they supported 337 churches, maintained assets equivalent to around USD16 million, and sustained 632 pre-school centres and 2 old-age homes. Furthermore, the Church offers a retirement plan for ministers, funeral assistance and life insurance programmes. International links enable Church members from the Caribbean to obtain access to congregations in other countries, particularly Britain and the USA, where the parent churches originated. The ideological basis on which the world of Pentecostalism is constructed leads to the avoidance of involvement with the State. While adherents recognise the role of the secular State and its politics, they view them as peripheral. In Austin-Broos’s words: ‘They [Pentecostal churches] leave in their wake a distance from the state, and a quietistic response to politics. This response, moreover, is sustained and encouraged by links with the metropolitan world’ (Austin-Broos, 1996: 63).
Strong privatisation and weak regulation
The State’s weak regulatory role has gone hand in hand with disputed boundaries, uncertain scope and, just as importantly, privatisation in the widest sense (i.e. pertaining to the private sphere). In the seventeenth century, Caribbean islands seized by Britain quickly became a combination of frontier settlements for soldiers who expropriated them. When Jamaica, for example, was founded as a colony, the social historian Richard Pares noted that: ‘It was laid out regiment by regiment, here we are told the regiment of Colonel Barry planted, and there the regiment of General Doyley’ (Pares, 1960: 3) Central to this period is the early shaping of the region as a locale of lawlessness, piracy and gangsters through the tradition of privateers and buccaneers that was at its height in the 1660s. Philip Curtain noted its longevity when he observed that ‘the last Caribbean pirate was hanged in the 1830s, the decade that brought emancipation to the British islands’ (Curtin, 1990: 96). This time-honoured piratical tradition has not completely disappeared. The London-based International Maritime Bureau identified eight attacks on merchant ships in the Caribbean Sea in the first three months of 2003 (International Maritime Organization, 2004).
The history of plantation slavery has cast a long shadow of uncontrolled privatisation in the region. There were few regulations to inhibit this privatised process of ‘wealth creation’. In the case of plantation slavery in Jamaica, Orlando Patterson has noted that: ‘Power was completely diffused … state and society were poorly developed, a bureaucracy hardly functioned and when it did was extremely inefficient’(Patterson, 1967: 93). Barry Higman’s overall assessment of plantation slavery in the region, based on census data, is an indictment of the absence of regulation. The laissez-faire philosophy and harsh conditions of labour threatened the scope for a natural increase in population. He demonstrates that once supplies of slaves from West Africa were reduced, the population declined to such an extent that it was threatened with extinction. For the period 1807–1834 he points out: ‘The central feature of the experience of the British Caribbean slave population was the general failure to achieve a natural increase, to show more births than deaths.’ Although he identified significant variations in the level of natural increase in a few islands, he argues that: ‘The continued harshness of the regimes under which the slaves laboured after 1807 made ultimate extinction a real possibility’ (Higman, 1984: 4–5).
After the 1820s and the collapse of the second boom in the price of sugar, the fear of increasing costs resulting from the abolition of slavery, and growing difficulties in obtaining property sales of plantations encumbered by high mortgages and with the abandonment of certain estates, a dramatic change occurred, in perceptions of both the fabulously wealthy West Indian and the value of a close colonial relationship. The change leads once again to a less flattering view of the region: that of a metropolitan-dependent periphery, populated by various forms of colonial cheats and idlers, on whom ‘civilisation’ (never a given in a frontier society) needed to be imposed. Writing about his visit to the West Indies in 1859, for example, the British novelist Anthony Trollope made repeated reference to the region’s want of ‘civilisation’ and, on Jamaica’s lamentable public institutions, Trollope noted ‘of [their] public honesty – I will say nothing … but the Jamaicans speak of it in terms which are not flattering to their own land’ (Trollope, 1859: 121).
One reason for increasing British suspicion was the worsening relationship between absentee landowners and their colonial dependants. Although this suspicion can be traced as far back as the seventeenth century, it intensified in times of economic decline. Whenever absentee landlords tried to make claims on their estates in the West Indian colonies, Richard Pares notes that: ‘Nothing could altogether counteract the tendency of the colonial communities to favour the interest of the resident debtor against those of the creditor in Europe. Every creditor found that “les absents ont toujours tort”’ (Pares, 1960: 44).
As already marginal Caribbean economies took a downturn in the last twenty years of the nineteenth century, a form of minimum welfare ideology became established. The first locally initiated land settlement policy in the British West Indies, aiming to provide land for the landless, was put into effect in St Vincent in 1885. This was one practical response to what was increasingly identified as ‘the West Indian problem’: poverty, unemployment and maladministration. Among many such reports, the Report of the Moyne Commission, compiled in the 1930s but embargoed till 1945 because of fear of social unrest, was the most well known. This welfare ideology was to expand, with the State taking increasing responsibility for ‘development’, after island states became politically independent from the 1960s.
With the economic collapse of sugar and the decline of the West Indies as a region of strategic importance during the nineteenth century, a fundamental change can be identified in the underlying economic structure of the society as well as in the way the region and its population were perceived. The private business sector, which for a long time relied on metropolitan protection of its export produce, became increasingly oligopolistic, with core sets of families in each territory moving out of agriculture into merchandising, controlling significant directorships and operating to influence the agenda of the State (Brown and Stone, 1976; Reid, 1980).
With political independence in the 1960s this reliance on the State continued, taking the form of exclusive Government contracts and import licences to prop up domestic markets (Henke and Marshall, 2003). Public sector spending increased dramatically, both in manufacturing and in government service provision. For a while relatively high rates of economic growth were achieved, enabling island governments to remain politically independent in spite of an increasingly globalised economic system.
The rise and decline of the status of marijuana as an illegal crop provides another illustration of both the continued dominance of the private sphere and the marginalised role of the State. A central feature of most twentieth-century Caribbean economies is their ‘openness’ and thus vulnerability to world economic trends, affecting illegal no less than legal cash crops. The pattern of economic expansion and contraction in the traditional cash-crop sector of Caribbean economies (bananas, sugar, spices, cotton) appears to have been duplicated in marijuana growing. Agricultural production for export has dominated the region from the outset, with small economies shifting over the centuries from one export cash crop to another, as they are overtaken by higher marginal costs because of their smaller scale of production than producers elsewhere. One important cause of the demise of sugar production in the nineteenth century, for example, was the onset of cheap mass production of sugar beet in Europe. In the eastern Caribbean, typical island products, such as finely woven sea-island cotton, cocoa and arrowroot, were each in turn threatened and then overtaken by more economical Egyptian cotton, West African cocoa and Egyptian arrowroot.
In the context of this pattern of early exploitation of a cash crop followed by its demise as larger producers enter the market, the recently attractive marijuana crop may become the latest casualty of this cycle of expansion and decline. Marijuana production appears to have reached a peak in the 1970s and is reported to have been in decline for the past two decades. By 2000, Caribbean marijuana was being replaced in its traditional export markets – the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom – by high-quality Mexican or Moroccan product. The 2000–2001 UNODC report argues that, in real terms, the value of Caribbean marijuana exports had plummeted by 80 per cent since the early 1980s. In the UK, herbal cannabis from the Caribbean was estimated to represent less than 2 per cent of the market (UNODC, 2003, 10). Its provenance today is essentially in intra-regional trade.
It would be misleading to suggest that after fifty or more years of political independence Commonwealth Caribbean states have become passive in areas of public policy such as social welfare provision, public sector education, health care and national insurance provision. Many Caribbean states have achieved middle-to-low ranking in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Report for their efforts at inclusive public provision. By 2000, a handful had achieved high ranking (i.e. among the top thirty countries internationally), with Barbados and the Bahamas notably leading the ‘medium’ range of countries. Welfare ideologies promoting the legitimacy of the State are, however, over-shadowed by shifting boundaries, violence and the fear of violence, and social withdrawal, as well as a number of privatised traditions and institutions that centre on the individual. Furthermore, with political independence local State intervention policy has been at best variable and at worst ineffective, its capacity for regulation weaker and more circumscribed than official paradigms of illegality would suggest.
In the absence of close attention to popular and alternative structures, beliefs and practices, the gap between State exhortation and concrete action widens, and some paths to earning a living gain a liminal status where illegality is tolerated and, in some instances, respectability may eventually be achieved. In other frontier situations the process of imposing regulation itself becomes a minefield. Both instances suggest that frontier retentions remain common throughout the anglophone Caribbean. One of the most recent examples of the latter – comprising variable regulatory practices and shifting boundaries of regulation – is afforded by the development of the off-shore services industry, whereby Caribbean jurisdictions offer their services to the global financial community. This sector has become second to tourism in its importance to Caribbean economies and in 2011 accounted for 17 per cent of regional GDP. In more specialised international financial centres in the region (Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands) the value of this sector is estimated to be larger than 25 per cent, in value estimated to be a proportionate size larger than that maintained in Luxembourg.
These jurisdictions provide a range of off-shore banking services: the establishment of international companies as well as trust services to international clients interested in taxation benefits and estate planning. Western governments, which have over time imposed more and more global rules on smaller Caribbean regimens, claim that alongside the legitimate users of these services weak regulations in Caribbean jurisdictions have facilitated a range of illegal practices that are invariably secret.9 In 1989, following the G7 Summit in Paris, an international consortium of governments established a Financial Action Task Force to combat money laundering and financing of terrorism. Since the events of 9/11 regulatory requirements have intensified and a plethora of these instruments, some collective, others set up by individual western countries, have come into existence, forcing Caribbean countries into various levels of compliance. As the Caribbean now represents the fourth largest world banking sector, and the financial services sector is a major income earner for smaller territories in the region, the jurisdictions have considered it necessary to comply to ensure that they are recognised as respectable service providers in the global financial world. The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) countries operate three levels of ‘non-cooperating countries and territories’: ‘black’, ‘grey’ and ‘white’, in ascending order of transparency and legality. The frontier element of such services derives from the fact that regulatory processes continue to be negotiated and are in constant flux. Some analysts suggest that even among the metropolitan countries attempting to impose (their version) of order, there is an element of the wild. Secondly, information is limited about the size of the sector and how it operates.
A 2015 review of the sector in the anglophone Caribbean drew attention to the region’s inability to attract dedicated training of its regulators by international agencies as a major source of concern. It appears that the rapid growth in the sector in the region frightened international agencies, which responded by imposing ever changing demands on the regulatory practices of Caribbean jurisdictions while offering harsh criticism of the region’s inability to keep up.
The experience of St Vincent, one of the smaller jurisdictions offering these services, illustrates a particular form that the frontier nature of this world has taken. A recent review indicated that this country’s off-shore sector was devoid of any regulators. Its pugnacious style in attracting international customers appeared to take on the world. For example, following the passage of the St Vincent and the Grenadines International Business Companies (Amendment and Consolidation) Act 2007 (Section 97) international investors and their professional advisors were pitched the offer of protection from ‘greedy spouses and inconsiderate creditors’ through the internet. It was suggested that St Vincent’s legislation protects a St Vincent-registered international company and so ‘kicks in where a foreign court attempts to adjudicate on issue of title to shares’.10 This hustler’s pitch, one among a number (including the ‘SVG hybrid company’ offering protection so that ‘unwanted attention from onshore revenue authorities is avoided’), offers a direct challenge to other regulatory regimens. Essentially it is argued that St Vincent law offers non-recognition of foreign judgments in the case of SVG Trusts. In 2000 St Vincent was on three ‘black’ lists, removed from the OECD list of tax havens in 2002, but ‘grey’-listed for a year in 2009. It may, of course, be a coincidence, but in 2008 St Vincent amended its Banking Act, tightening the regulatory regime for banks in St Vincent, and repatriated control over international banks to the International Financial Services Authority. Soon after there was a sharp drop in the number of off-shore banks operating in the jurisdiction: from forty in 2001 to seven after the legislation was passed in 2008.
The fairness or otherwise of costly metropolitan-imposed global requirements on small countries remains a hotly disputed topic. For the most part Caribbean countries have responded to many of these regulatory demands to enable them to remain globally respectable. However, complicating the frontier issue, the metropolitan centres that make and seek to enforce the global rules of good international financial centre practice have themselves been indicted for having a worse record than small state international financial centres, particularly in the establishment of shell companies.11 Perhaps limits have been tested, the act is being cleaned up and this process will continue. But we should not be too spiritual. There seems to be a place for identifying a continuum of wildness or frontier in this sector, whether in the Caribbean or worldwide. Jurisdictions will find themselves at different points along that continuum depending on the situation.
Jamaica Kincaid succinctly sums up a popular sense of the spirit of frontier in an interview in the New Yorker where she discusses the collapse of Allan Sandford’s bank in Antigua, a financial disaster for his international depositors as well as many local Antiguans. Linking the experience back to the region’s early history, she observes:
In Antigua there’s always a man, a person who comes in from the rest of the world – a pirate. Piracy is very close to Antiguan history. They have been coming and hiding money and stealing for hundreds of years. This man comes to Antigua and corrupts the place, and everyone’s happy because they’re making money. The ones who aren’t benefiting from it, like me, are the opposition.
In this chapter it may seem that I have played fast and loose with the term ‘frontier’. If so, it has been to register what I see as the legitimacy of the term’s continued use in a variety of arenas across the Caribbean region. I have noticed calmness and order alongside violence and mayhem. I have noticed that V. S. Naipaul has hinted at modern/primitive tensions. In the context of Caribbean history, real politics and political economy the word slips and slides: at times the frontier suggests a moveable state border line; at others it suggests a ‘boundary’ in the expanded sense of zone. It also extends to a notion of ‘testing the limits’ of order and civility. But enough of the apologia: load your supplies, ready your rifle and cartridges, and hitch your horses to the wagon. In the chapters that follow we will use that small but complex star, the nation state of St Vincent and the Grenadines, as our touchstone and guide in exploring more precisely the many features of Caribbean frontiers, old and new.