The Passing of a Kalinago Queen: The Last Participant in the 1930 Carib War
By Gabriel J. Christian, Esquire
When Calvin Edwards of Antigua called me on the afternoon of April 13, 2022, it was to announce the passing of his mother-in-law, Philomen Clair Williams of the Kalinago Territory. She was not well known at home or abroad and leaves behind no mansion on a hill. However, her humility and service left behind a rich legacy in her children and grandchildren, who have contributed much to the rich heritage, education, and proud heritage of our nation. Calvin's call brought me back to Mrs. William's 100th birthday. It was then she told me of the Carib War of 1930 and her role in it.
It was a warm July 2018 evening in Washington, D.C., and the wispy white hair of Philomen Claire Williams fluttered in the light evening breeze where it peeped out from beneath her white straw hat. Her family and friends had come far and near to salute her 100th birthday. "How are you, Granny? My Kalinago Queen? I asked." "Good; thank you," was her polite and calm reply.
That is how I always greeted Philomen Claire Williams of Dominica; born in the Kalinago Territory on July 17, 1918, she passed away on Monday, April 11, 2022, in Washington, D.C. She was a wise, kind, and proud Kalinago matriarch of the Williams clan who always had a kind word and prayer whenever our family visited her at the home of her daughter Curly Edward's and son-in-law Calvin Edward's. Married to the late farmer/fisherman/carpenter Etienne Bernard Williams (May 5, 2011 – July 2, 1983), she had nine children: Viella (a teacher), Luke (a mason), Charles (former Kalinago Chief and Guest House owner), Winifred (entrepreneur), Catherina (elder care Nurse), Joe (pastor/entrepreneur), Theodore (policeman/insurance agent), Curly (nurse), and Mary (psychologist/teacher).
Always eager to share stories of her childhood and life in Dominica, she would gather her grandchildren around her and instruct them in the ways of the world and the faith needed for success in life. And succeed, they did. Philomen had many grandchildren born of her nine offspring. However, the Edwards children she lived with provided her with love as they blossomed from that vibrant island pride and faith in the success she offered: Leah (journalist, George Washington University), Michael (flight attendant/Savannah College, Georgia), Victory (psychology/Catholic University of America), Destiny (writer/The New School, N.Y.C.). Leah was the Goddaughter of myself and my wife, Joan Christian. She was the Salutatorian of her class at Archbishop Carroll High School. She was invited to visit the Clinton White House due to her outstanding academic performance.
The quiet dignity of Philomen was rooted in her faith, family spirit, community consciousness, and early resistance to injustice. As a twelve-year-old who participated in the Carib War of 1930, she knew the value of true love of country. Indeed, she may have been the last of that brave band of indigenous Dominicans who resisted colonial tyranny one sunny September morning in 1930.
The Carib War
In 1930, the ordinary Dominican had no vote. Crown Colony rule reigned supreme, and only a few locals, such as John Baptiste "J.B." Charles, were elected to the local legislature. After the colonial conquest, the "Carib Reserve" population remained disconnected from the rest of Dominica. Caribs, as Kalinago people were called then, were seldom seen and formed a largely self-reliant of the island's population. Many Caribs engaged in limited illegal trade with the neighbouring French islands of Marie Galante and Martinique. Then, the colonial Administrator decided to crack down on this smuggling due to its impact on revenues. It was such a police raid that led to the Carib War of 1930.
(To be continued)