“Survivance is an active resistance and repudiation of dominance, obtrusive themes of tragedy, nihilism, and Victrimy. The practices of survivance create an active presence...Native stories are the sources of survivance”

- Gerald Vizenor

“Most writers and theorists tell us that blacks had to be brought into the Caribbean because its Indigenous peoples disappeared or were too weak to work on plantations. This uncritical argument, that the disappearance of Indigenous peoples was the reason for the introduction of black, and later indentured labor, hinders us from seeing how these two causalities are in fact irrevocably yoked.”

- Shona Jackson

Christopher Columbus, the first pirate and pillager of the West Indies, depicts the Indigenous peoples of the Caribbean as savage and ignorant creatures. He writes, "They all go completely naked, even the women, though I saw but one girl. All whom I saw were young, not above thirty years of age, well made, with fine shapes and faces; their hair short, and coarse like that of a horse's tail...I showed them swords which they grasped by the blades, and cut themselves through ignorance" (October 11th, 1492). Similar sentiments are expressed by Oviedo de Valdez, Richard Ligon, Hans Sloane, and other colonial authors who attempted to represent the New World to readers still residing in the Old.

Stories and accounts such as the one above dominate the archive. Because of this paradigm, a central question for our project is: how can we narrate stories of Native survivance and of resistance to colonizers like Sloane? If, as Gerald Vizenor explains, native stories are the sources of survivance, where can we locate these stories in the colonial Caribbean archive? Here at the ECDA, we seek to make use of the affordances of the digital archive to remix the texts of the conquered to extract stories of Indigenous survival and resistance.

Visit our Embedded Indigenous Narratives Exhibit (Coming Soon) to learn more about how the ECDA utilizes decolonize archival work to promote survivance.

Image Depicts an indigenous figure pouring gold down the throat of a Spaniard.
Girolamo Benzoni, La historia del mondo nuovo, 1565. Image sourced from the John Carter Brown library.

Visual and Textual Representation

In addition to the myriad textual representations of indigenous peoples in our archive, our digital archive also contains many extant images that often accompanied textual representations of the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean. We believe that textual and visual representations tell us more about the cultures that did the representing than about the cultures being reprented. Browse our archival collection to learn more about the ways in which colonial settlers sought to represent the native Caribbean peoples.

The Colonial Gaze

This history of indigenous peoples of the Caribbean, as told by European colonial authors such as Hans Sloane, Bryan Edwards, and John Gabriel Stedman, is a story of absence and erasure, of enslavement and violence. See, for example, the passage to the right taken from the introduction to A voyage to the islands Madera, Barbados, Nieves, S. Christophers and Jamaica (1707) by Hans Sloane, a colonizing naturalist and physician, whose avid natural history collecting led to the founding of the British Museum partially with funds derived from the Caribbean slave economy. Sloane's wife, Elizabeth Langley Rose, came from a family of sugar planters in Jamaica, and she supported his naturalist and medical research—meaning. Sloane’s history of the indigenous Caribbean is a narrative in which native peoples commit acts of violence against Spanish colonizers, and in which indigenous women are important commodities in this violent exchange. Read Sloane's narrative for yourself by clicking here.