Monday, September 24, 2007
This week, Mohan Bell introduces us to Montserrat.
In 1995, when I was a young boy growing up in Jamaica, I watched T.V. and heard the word Montserrat streaming around the atmosphere. The news screamed about the loss of lives and properties occurring in this small Caribbean island, owed to a volcano erruption. I felt that the world was coming to an end, because of the malignant lava and cryptic tones that the newscaster used to describe the atrocity that had hit the island. It was the first time that I had really heard about Montserrat, though it was a country in the same region as mine. For the next years, the only thing I knew about Montserrat or even associated with it was the volcanic erruption that threw this island into devastation.
When I moved to America, I met a person from Montserrat; an actual Montserratian. She was a close friend of my family who boasted of the beauty of her island. Having only been exposed to the radio and T.V. reports of 1995, I used to wonder, "What beauty?" But still she boasted about her country.
After finding out more about this country, I realized that there is more to it than I had ever known.
Mountserrat is a small country in the lesser Antilles, named by Christopher Columbus in 1493. It was named after the Blessed Virgin of the Monastery of Mountserrat in Spain. It measures 102 sq km, considered to be 0.6 times the size of Washington DC. Arawaks and Caribs first settled there, but then it was opened up to the known world, after Christopher Columbus set out on his second voyage to the New World. In 1632, the English got control of the island, after Irish and British colonists moved there from St. Kitts and Nevis. African slaves came next. France and England fought over the island in the 18th century before the British officially put Mountserrat under the United Kingdom with the 1783 Treaty of Paris. Slavery was abolished in 1834.
In the 1970’s, the Beatles Producer set up a recording studio on the island leading to an influx of celebrity visitors and tourists. This and natural resources added to the economy of the country. However, in September of 1989, Hurricane Hugo devastated the island, leaving the country in ruin. It rebuilt itself, only to be hit by the volcano eruption in 1995.
In July of 1995, the Soufriere Hills volcano, though dormant for years, errupted, leaving half of the island uninhabitable. Many citizens fled the island. The capital, Plymouth, was destroyed. This left Mountserrat dependent on England for financial support. Many residents went to the United Kingdom. They were granted full residency in 1998 and then citizenship in 2002.
The country, which was called the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean (because of its history of Irish settlement and its stark resemblance to Ireland), is rebuilding itself with the help of United Kingdom support. It is still beautiful, with a new capital being built. It is also as green as always, and beautiful. The culture is reminiscent of English culture with the country participating in United Kingdom soccer competitions. But the volcano is still there, in this beautiful mountain country.
- Mohan Bell