So it all makes perfect sense. But back to the Caribbean. Layou like many St Vincent towns, had a pleasant waterfront on a narrow beach; a small river flowing out in to the bay divides the town; the main road turns inland less than half way along the beach. Like most of St Vincent’s beaches, the sand is black here.
So many of the main settlements in St Vincent are on the coast, and with the work I had done previously looking at coastal resources, I was sensitised to many of the concerns about sea level rise and climate change that could affect such settlements. By the time this project had started, the implementation of more coastal defences were being carried out. Although leeward sides of islands are not usually so badly affected by hurricanes as their leeward counterparts, when they do hit this side the lack of preparation and the higher density population concentrations often cause more devastation. But also people were learning that not only general sea level rise could cause noticeable differences in the amount of sea flooding that can occur, but it exacerbates other events such as storm surge. The results of all this thinking was starting to manifest itself in structures on the shorelines. Here in Layou the road had been reinforced with concrete defences, but not a sea wall in the traditional sense, but a gently graded ramp with many carefully calculated holes and rough edges, all designed to take the energy out of any waves cheeky enough to come right up close to the town.
We stopped at the back of the town and took a look at the Layou Petroglyph Park. The running theme in this story is the mixture of new perspectives and familiar sights. Petroglyphs came under the latter category. They appear throughout the Caribbean and I had hunted for them in St John in the US Virgin Islands, been shown them by Edsel in St Kitts on a stone next to a village school, and even helped out with excavations of a Taino village on BVI’s West End. So the presence of these stones in St Vincent were hardly a revelation, but they were some of the better ones I had seen. The best were set on a large stone deep in the forest; faces etched into the rock surrounded by triangular shapes, large circles and swirls. All very primitive and appearing more like haphazard graffiti than anything formal or deep and meaningful. If they were ancient in any way, they would be representative of our human species development of culture and crafting, but since they have been put at no more than 1800 years old, we know many other civilisations were at the same time drawing, writing and creating much more intricate artwork than these. But it does show the last vestiges of a pre-Columbus civilisation that existed in these islands. Which particular tribe these carvings relate to is still up for debate – one which will probably never resolved. Not only is there the simple question of whether they are the stereotypically ferocious Carib or the passive Arawak who drew these, but a more complicated question as to whether those two extremes were fuzzied by many interactions – rape, enslaving, intermarriage being three of the most obvious. It is not certain what the characteristics of populations that lived in St Vincent were. Although a few people with Carib blood do still live in St Vincent, mainly in the north eastern quadrant, even these are mixed with post-Colombian immigrants from Africa and Europe. So be the difficulties of history in the new world – the written documentation, verbal histories and evidence on the ground, used so meticulously in the old world, is scant in the Americas up to the 1700s, and what evidence there might have been was so often destroyed before any archaeologist or historian could get their hands on it.
Nice to be in the shade
As much as the petroglyphs, the parkland in which they were situated grabbed my attention. Again there was nothing unfamiliar in it, but having been stuck in the concrete and bustle of Kingstown for most of the last two weeks, it was a joy to be wandering in the cool under the canopy, a gentle breeze blowing down the valley, further cooled by the small stream that tinkled between the rounded volcanic rocks. From those rocks and the assortment of leaf litter on the forest floor grew all manner of plants – big rubbery leaved ones, huge trees with buttresses, plenty of mosses and lower plants like mosses, lichens and ferns. It was now late morning so the bird and animal life was limited, it is true, but the atmosphere in here was so relaxing.