Hidden under the camouflage of heavily melanated skin, culturally Amerindian yet genetically West African Black Caribs established themselves on the islands of the Southern Caribbean, long before the Europeans did.
In St Vincent and the Grenadines, they were called Garifuna. While Christopher Columbus recorded that he was aware that dark-skinned persons with African spears already occupied the places Southeast of where he first landed in the Caribbean, and while it is known that Mali’s former King Abu Bakari Musa crossed the Atlantic in the early 1300s, (long before Columbus), with a number of ships so great in quantity that it strongly suggested that long-term/permanent colonisation was the intent (2,200 ships over two known voyages), free African Amerindians came to the Lesser Antilles via a wide variety of circumstances.
Very little is known about what happened to the African slaves who were brought to Tobago by its first major European colonisers, the Courlanders of modern-day Lativa, when their colony, which was plagued by regular Carib raids, was eventually abandoned due to instability in their homeland.
What we do know is that the African slaves who came with the East Europeans were transported from Courland’s only other colony, established in what is today’s Gambia, which is located almost obliquely opposite to Tobago on the other end of the Canary current that recently brought no less than seven boats entirely by accident from North West Africa to the Caribbean and Brazil in the year 2021, due to an increase of Africans fleeing their homeland to get to Spain, via the same Spanish Canary Islands that Christopher Columbus first landed on in 1492 off the coast of West Africa, where he stocked up on supplies just before embarking on his five-week voyage across the ocean to the Americas.
Pedro Velez is a Spanish oceanographer. He said floating devices dropped by scientists today on the West African coast naturally drift to the Southern Caribbean and Brazil.
When the Mauritanian fishing boat drifted with dead bodies on board recently to Tobago, the island’s Cybercrime Unit was able to extract a contact list from one of the SIM cards belonging to one of the dozen cell phones found onboard. The contact list was used to get in touch with the loved ones of one of the deceased Africans.
Tobagonian forensic pathologist Dr Eslyn Mc Donald Burris mentally connected the bodies found on the boat to her own ancestors, “when I started looking at ocean currents...it’s the same currents they used when they brought us here,” said the scientist.
What is today Mauritania, was in the 1300s parts of the vast Mali Kingdom that King Abu Bakari once ruled. The evidence of West African migration to the Southern Caribbean in particular and the Americas in general, is not limited to the records of Christopher Columbus.
Leo Weiner observed that place names in the new world sounded distinctly African. He also noticed that of African crops which were found in the Americas; most interestingly was the plantain crop, since it cannot survive a trip across the Atlantic Ocean via the Canary currents unless they were brought here by human beings in pre-Columbian times. Ships that were made in West Africa before the Columbus voyages were advanced enough to travel as many as 100 miles per day.
No less than a dozen European explorers who visited the Western Hemisphere shortly after Columbus also reported that they had met Africans in this part of the world. Vasco Nunez de Balboa reported that he had met Ethiopians in what is today Panama in 1513. He stated that the Africans were from an entirely black village two days journey away from where he met them.
While race is a man-made and man-maintained concept that can and has been adjusted over time, and while the definition of “Amerindian” can be argued to be more exclusive than all those who settled the Western Hemisphere previous to Christopher Columbus, even if they adopted Amerindian customs and habits, as did the Garifuna of the Southern Caribbean, it is important to include in the conversation about where did “Tobago Amerindians go?” the true origins of West Africans in Tobago and the rest of the Southern Caribbean, because if the misconception of our origins in the Caribbean, being limited to that of the victims of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, is perpetuated indefinitely, lack of self-esteem and subsequent lack of large-scale innovative ambition will continue to affect Tobagonians in a negative way.
Leroy George is the public relations officer of the Tobago Writer’s Guild. If you want to become a member of the Guild or want more information you can call or whatsapp 1(868)620-5799, email TobagoWritersGuild123@gmail.com and find them on Facebook and Instagram @TobagoWritersGuild