TU students taking the interdisciplinary class “The Roots of Hamilton: Relics of Resistance in the Black Atlantic World” had the chance to travel to St. Croix. They were able to visit Alexander Hamilton’s boyhood home and see different sites of enslavement and freedom in the Caribbean. Anthropology doctoral student Nkem Ike shares her experience at Maroon Ridge.
This day was probably my favorite day out of all of them on the island. Getting up and going to Maroon Ridge changed me as an academic and a person. That place just made me feel vulnerable, sad, but also was a source of strange empowerment. Our guide, Olasee Davis, was so effective in leading us and telling us the stories of the people that had to make the difficult decision to end their own lives and the lives of their loved ones. One thing that really tore me up was the thought of people having to make the decision to jump off Maroon Ridge with their babies instead of living one more day in slavery. This is a decision that no one should have to make, ever. It just hit me how horrible that feeling must be and the fact that many people are still making decisions like that today. Being at Maroon Ridge made me think about how easily that could have been me making that decision. It was absolutely heartbreaking.
This was also a day when I felt like a voyeuristic tourist, no matter how much I tried not to do anything that could make me come off that way. I found it hard to even maneuver around the ridge because every step we took made me feel as though we were disrupting sacred space. I saw my classmates taking pictures and selfies when we got to our destination on Maroon Ridge as if it was something that they conquered. It just didn’t seem appropriate.
But it also got me thinking about how we had overcome the sadness that still exists on Maroon Ridge. I’m still torn about taking selfies and what not at a place that holds as much cultural value as Maroon Ridge. However, Dr. Odewale said something really poignant when she and I were reflecting on our experiences there.
She told me that we are our ancestor’s wildest dreams, and I had never thought about it that way.
Maybe that’s why a place like Maroon Ridge can bring about a feeling of joy and something to be conquered. The fact that we, as African American students, were there and walking the ground that our ancestors walked was something to be proud of.
After our 4-hour hike at Maroon Ridge we went to the Cruzan Rum Distillery. I loved this place. The tour was really short and to the point and it was a great way to unwind after the long and emotional rollercoaster that was Maroon Ridge. The rum distillery was interesting to me because it truly showed how the institution of slavery was integrated into the lives of Crucians today. Whenever the tour guide told us that the distillery was on an old sugar plantation, I wasn’t necessarily shocked as much as it made me think, why? It isn’t even that the factory itself is on land formerly used as a plantation, but that the Master’s house is currently used as offices for Cruzan Rum Distillery employees. Although this is just one example, it got me thinking about how that was the case in a number of areas on the island.
Even newly constructed homes, on the way the Maroon Ridge, were built into or in close proximity to sugar mills where enslaved people labored. It made me see how there is no way the people of St. Croix are able to get away from the past even if they wanted to, but maybe they don’t want to.
In the states, we are in the process of trying to figure out where to situate Confederate monuments and other statues that pay homage to the Confederacy, however, the people of St. Croix live and work, theoretically, “under the eye of the Master” every day. I’m not necessarily saying that this is good or bad, or that they should tear down these relics of the past because race and the history of slavery in the American South is different than that of the island of St. Croix. Also, there is no way I can gauge how healthy or unhealthy this is to the psyche of the average Crucian, so I wouldn’t nor couldn’t make that claim either. I just think that it is interesting to see how different groups deal with the past.