(Barbuda image – JCH)
The annual Antigua and Barbuda Conference 14th in the series, has been set for August 15–16, 2019, and they have issued their call for papers.
Here It Is:
This year, our focus will be on Barbuda and its recovery after the devastating impact of hurricane Irma. To do this topic justice, we will have to break the usual patterns of putting Antigua first and Barbuda second. In spite of being constitutionally joined since 1860, the history of relations between Barbuda and Antigua has been a rather intense and explosive one. Consequently, between the two territories there have been deep and abiding levels of distrust and misunderstanding.
One indicator of the explosive nature of the relations between these territories of our twin-island state is the 1858 four-day explosion of violence in St. Johns between migrant Barbudans and resident Antiguans. A second indicator of the depth of this divide was the secessionist position taken by the Barbuda delegation to the 1980 Lancaster House conference at which the independence constitution of the soon-to-be nation of Antigua and Barbuda was being drafted. The Barbudan delegation made it clear that they wanted a separation from the union with Antigua. The third indicator of the depth of this divide that I will mention here is the one we are living through—the differences between Barbudans and Antiguans over how best to reconstruct and develop Barbuda after hurricane Irma.
In other words, in spite of 38 years of political independence as the nation of Antigua and Barbuda, we have not been able to forge a collective identity that includes Barbudans and Antiguans on equal terms. There remains a deep fissure in the “We” or the collective identity of our nation that continues to erupt every so often, with threats to dissolve our union. Thus it is important that we seek a better understanding of this long and well-established divide by exploring its distinct nature and history.
Let us refer to this divide between Barbuda and Antigua as a form of insular inequality. This is a form of social inequality that emerged out of the peculiar relationship that colonial rule established between a colony and its dependency. Consequently, in the period after colonial rule, the people and leaders of some postcolonial nations have found themselves confronted with not only forms of imperial, class, race and gender inequality, but also insular inequality. Just as these other forms of domination and related inequalities required well-developed discourses of analysis and organized action to counter them, so too does insular inequality. To fight it, we will need carefully developed discourses of insularism that should be comparable to those of classism, imperialism, racism and sexism. Among the new postcolonial nations that inherited all of these forms of social inequality, we can think of Trinidad and Tobago, St. Kitts, Nevis and Anguilla, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and of course Antigua and Barbuda.
Between a colony and its dependency, there exist definite feelings of insular difference produced by the maritime separation between the two islands or territories making up the union. These are basic self/other, or we/they differences that often develop on both sides around observable differences such as race, gender, geography or ethnicity. However, upon feelings of insular and other forms of difference, structures and processes of domination, exploitation and neglect were established during the colonial period. These practices greatly exaggerated these feelings of difference, transforming them into toxic forms of insularism. These exaggerated feelings in turn, became the foundations of the insular inequality that currently exists in cases like Antigua and Barbuda or Trinidad and Tobago.
We have not named and theorized insular inequality to the same degree that we have the other major forms of social domination. We have been able to name and theorize sexism, racism, imperialism and classism because there have been extensive developments of these discourses abroad on which we have been able to draw. This has not been the case with insularism, which has left us with the challenge of taking the lead in developing such a discourse that could guide the struggle for insular equality within postcolonial nations with inheritances of dependencies. We would not think of fighting racism or sexism without carefully naming and theorizing them. Yet this is precisely what we have been attempting to do in the case of insularism.
Between Barbuda and Antigua, there developed a particularly toxic form of insularism, even by Caribbean standard. Before gaining the constitutional status of a dependency, Barbuda was simply real estate owned by the Codringtons, and used to support their sugar plantations in Antigua. William Codrington called Barbuda a private governmency, a “constitutional” status that was clearly below that of a dependency. As a private governmency, there were no requirements that legislatures and other institutions of government be set up. All that was required was a manager and a lawyer, who had to report to the Codringtons. This was the low point from which Barbuda became a dependency of Antigua, with the developmental gap between the two only growing wider. As this gap widened, the insular differences turned toxic as they were equated with moral, intellectual and performative differences between Barbudans and Antiguans.
This is the persistent heritage of toxic insularism that continues to divide us. It has produced attitudes of Antigua-first and Antigua-centric forms of politics, which Barbudans have instinctively resisted. This resistance has been a major obstacle in the way of the central government’s attempts to develop Barbuda and to close the gap between these territories of our twin-island nation. The current tensions over the post-Irma reconstruction of Barbuda are the latest in a long series.
Given this long history of insular inequality, it is clear what we must do at this 14th annual country conference. First, we must listen to the anti- Antigua-centric voices of Barbudans and grasp more fully the depths of the fight for insular equality from which they speak. Second, we will have to put these Antigua-centric discourses and practices on the table for close examination. Third, we will have to get into the historical roots of this now toxic relationship so that we can understand it better. And fourth, we will have come up with suggestions for ending this practice of Antiguan superiority, as we have in the cases of white or male superiority.
Thus some of the topics that you may consider writing and speaking about are:
How is insular inequality different from class or racial inequality?
Is Antiguan insularism a form of micro imperialism?
What has been the history of the Barbudan economy and the attempts to develop it?
What have been the policies of the ABLP, PLM, UPP administrations on Barbuda?
What was the ACLM’s position on the development of Barbuda?
How do we deal with the vexed issue of land ownership on Barbuda?
How does Antigua and Barbuda today compare with Trinidad and Tobago, St. Vincent and the Grenadines or St. Kitts-Nevis?
How do we heal and close the deep fissure between Barbuda and Antigua?
If you are interested in making a presentation at this 2019 conference, please send us a brief abstract that includes your name, your title and a brief description of the theme of your presentation. We must receive your abstract by May 20th, 2019. It will help us to put you on the right panel. Your abstract, in the form of a word document, should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or to email@example.com
Paget Henry, president, Antigua Barbuda Studies Association
Zane Peters, head, UWI (Antigua)
Schuyler Esprit, program officer, UWI (Antigua)
Janet Lofgren, editorial assistant, Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books