England’s cricketers had plenty of soul-searching to do on Sunday and the men from the Caribbean had just as much celebrating to do. For the very many of us with neither on the agenda, aside from the natural and pervasive delight we all shared for the West Indies, it was an opportunity to do something different.
Not that Sunday Sun-downers at Shirley Heights is ‘different’ in this part of Antigua. It’s ‘the thing to do’ with its spectacular views over English Harbour, Falmouth Bay and Nelson’s Dockyard. The only previous time I was here was on a tour by South Africa. There might have been 200 people enjoying the views and the classic, Caribbean Barbecued chicken and ribs, This time there were over 4000. There are MANY supporters on an England tour.
Archaeological research tells us that the original inhabitants of the island date back as far as 1775 BC – the Siborney people, literally “Stone People”. They were gradually overtaken by the Arawaks, originally from Venezuela, a peaceful tribe which thrived on the local diet of fish and lived harmoniously until the 13th century when the warlike Caribs arrived and slaughtered most of the men and carried off their women and children to be slaves. (This is what you read in all local history literature.)
But in 1493 the seeds of the real slave trade were sown when Christopher Columbus landed here and officially named the island ‘Antigua’ after the Church of Santa Maria de la Antigua in Seville. In 1632 the English established their first ever settlement outside Europe and, a brief cession to France notwithstanding, it remained under British rule until it became an ‘Associate State’ in 1967. Full Independence was not granted until 1981.
Admiral Lord Nelson was ‘senior officer of the dockyard’ from 1784 to 1787.
The stunning harbour was, basically, a docking station for the slave trade from which such a vast percentage of the current population descend. Yet there has never been a desire, never mind an understandably aggressive desire, to rename or even rebrand these places. It feels quaint, but odd.
Slavery was officially abolished in 1838 but the vast wealth from the sugar plantations, created on the backs of the African slaves, continued for another century. And most of the slaves, and their descendants, were free in name only.
Today English Harbour is a playground for the super-rich. The top six yachts moored in the photographs valued in excess of $1.6 billion. The ‘cheapest’, was $185 million. Apparently it has only eight en-suite bedrooms, only one swimming pool and no cinema, so it’s understandable.
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