The Salibia riots of 1930, Part 1
On 19th September 1930 a major confrontation occurred at the Kalinago Territory between residents and a detachment of five police officers sent out from Roseau under the command of Corporal Richard Sweeney. Two residents were killed and others wounded by police bullets, while all the officers suffered bodily injuries. There are differing versions of precisely what triggered a resort to force by contending parties: one lays blame upon the police; the other exculpates them. But there is common ground on that the disturbance was sufficiently disturbing to the Colonial Office in London as to require the commissioning of an enquiry into the question of the existence of an ethnic Carib "nation", so to speak, within the framework of an overall state of Dominica.
The course of events as told by the police identified the Caribs as the culprits. It may be summarized like this. The police detachment comprised Corporal Richard Sweeney in command, Lance Corporal Greenaway and Privates George Richard Lake, Darius Jacob and Eithel Joseph. They set out in the very early hours of 19th September 1930 with instructions from Chief Inspector John R. A. Branch oblivious as to whether or not they would be joined by the Inspector. Branch's instructions were three-fold: to search for smuggled goods at specified places; to seize goods suspected of being smuggled; and to arrest persons suspected of having smuggled or harbouring the goods. They arrive at Salybia before dawn. On arrival the party having earlier obtained an "authority" from the island's Treasurer commences a search of the house of James Licente. Items including 2 lbs. leaf tobacco, 4 tins of cigarettes, articles of shop goods, butter, sweet oil, soap and matches and some measures for selling liquids are found therein, as a result of which Corporal Sweeney proceeds to arrest Licente. Licente offers no protest.
Attention then shifts to the premises of Ti Roy Frederick. The Treasurer's "authority" is read and Frederick's house and shop as well as the nearby bushes are searched. Three demi-johns of rum are found under the occupants' bed and additional rum and 40 pounds weight of leaf tobacco are discovered in the bushes. As a result Frederick's wife is arrested. A crowd of residents begins to gather. The search continues but nothing more is found. About an hour into the search Carib Chief Thomas Jolly John arrives at the scene and is immediately told by a female onlooker that "the police have no warrant". Thereupon the "authority" is shown to Chief John. Momentarily Ti-Roy Frederick appears. He is arrested and his wife released. The crowd grows and is seen to be armed with sticks and stones. Corporal Sweeny implores the Chief to calm the crowd, to which the Chief warns as follows: "The Administrator could break me but goods and prisoners not going from here this morning". This reference to the Administrator is in respect of Administrator Elliott's attitude to the Carib people which had earlier resulted in a change in status of their leader from "Chief" to "Headman". Elliott had in June 1928 expressed the view to Secretary of State Amery that "the small remnant of pure Caribs does not justify the appointment of a 'Chief' ".
The warning given, Chief Jolly John asks Corporal Sweeney to remove the cuffs from the hands of the two apprehended. The officer willingly complies and instructs his colleagues further to seize the goods but at the Chief's request release the prisoners. Buoyed by their success the crowd edges closer to the policeman, pushing them with sticks and stones. A man is spotted in the distance aiming a firearm at the policemen. At this Corporal Sweeney gives an order to "fire into the air", in response to which private Jacob is struck in the head with a stone and Greenaway receives a bullet in the left arm from a shotgun. In retaliation Lance Corporal Sweeney gives an order to "fire to protect our lives", which is carried out so as to "give us a chance to get away down to the river". In the melee, the policeman are disarmed, shot and otherwise severely beaten.
Troline Stanford was said to have cut sticks and handed them to fellow-rioters. Further, Frederick Viville, Merrifield Valmont, Francis Stephen, Sammy Burton, Bonus Thomas and Donald Nelson were clearly identified as participants in the disturbance. And Chief John was targeted as the mastermind and ringleader although he "did not take part in the fracas, only gave instructions".
The rioters, while not denying their battery of the police officers, considered themselves to have acted in self-defense against the excessive use of force by police acting without a warrant. The Carib Chief gave testimony that upon arrival at the premises of Ti Roy Frederick he inquired of Corporal Sweenie: "Who give you permission to come in the Carib Reserve to do this? Produce me a warrant for your doing such things." To this the Corporal responded: "Chief, I haven't a warrant but I go on authority and here it is." The paper was signed by Baynes, the island's Treasurer. This authority was disputed because the Caribs interpreted their immunity from payment of direct taxes such as house, road and boat tax to mean their exemption from all forms of fiscal levies whatsoever, especially customs duties. So interpreted, the practice of smuggling, though unlawful outside of the Carib Territory, was thought to be perfectly legal in their own context. Chief John alluded to this in his statement that "the Caribs say that they will not allow the goods to be taken away as they were told by Major Peebles (a former Acting Administrator of the island) that they were exempted from all taxes and licences". The account of the residents further was that on the police refusing to leave the goods behind a struggle ensued between the police who attempted to take the smuggled goods and the crowd which was trying to prevent this. The crowd then began to get heated and threaten the policeman. They then seized a demi-john of rum from police hands. This act by the Caribs was met by the discharge of police weaponry.
The disturbance was quelled by a combined police/marine operation involving the use of police assistance from neighbouring West Indian islands and military support from H.M.S. Delhi. The need for outside assistance was justified on the ground that local forces were preoccupied with "hurricane duties". The operation began on 20th September and ended 5 days later. A day-to-day account was provided by telegrams transmitted from the battleship in the island's waters to the Colonial office in London. A telegram sent on the day the riot occurred read in part: "Caribs attempt to smuggle liquor on a large scale from French islands. On-the-spot police attempt raid on place of concealment. Overcome by riotous mobs of Caribs armed with sticks, stones and shot guns. Serious injuries inflicted on police. Caribs very restless. Administrator thinks demonstration of force in the Carib Reservation would be exceedingly helpful. Marines from H.M.S Delhi commanded by Captain R. M. Burgess under the guidance of Chief Inspector of Police in the Leeward islands, Colonel Bell, landed at Reservation at 1:30 p.m. today and will support local police forces who will remain in the Reservation for next 24 hours, and their future movements will be guided by events." A second telegram from the same source informed that after dark on the following day the H.M.S Delhi cruised along the coast of the Carib territory "illuminating villages with searchlights and star shells." This action was said to have had a "very salutary effect." On the 23rd the marines gave support to local police in making arrests as a result of which, according to a further telegram, "all wanted Caribs have disappeared into the bush" pursued by police and marines. Those in pursuit were gladdened by the apprehension of five rioters but disappointed that the Carib Chief "who is wanted most of all" was still at large; he would voluntarily surrender to Administrator Elliot two days later. The H.M.S Delhi concluded its series of daily telegrams on the state of hostilities with news that on September 25th the situation had been brought under control. All was "quiet". All marines had re-embarked. Extra police had come in from neighbouring sister islands. And "all" injured police were "expected to recover".
Copyright © William Para Riviere, 2013