Tuesday, July 28, 1998

Origins: The State of Anguilla

ORIGINS: The State of Anguilla, AD 1998[1]
By Don Mitchell CBE, QC
Cultural anthropologists recognise at least four categories of human society.  There is the band, the tribe, the chiefdom, and the state.  Let us look at each of these, and apply their characteristics to Anguilla.  This little exercise may tell us something about how safe it is for our foreign investors to place his treasure in Anguilla. 
The band.  The band was the earliest and tiniest society.  The archaeological record shows that it consisted typically of less than 100 people, mostly related by birth or marriage.  The band lacked a permanent, single place of residence.  Its land was used jointly by the whole group.  All able-bodied persons foraged for food.  There were no formal institutions of the modern state, such as laws, police or treaties.  With all members of the band related to both of any two quarrelling individuals, any fight was soon ended by the mediation of concerned onlookers.
All human beings lived in bands until about 40,000 years ago.  Most people lived in bands as recently as 11,000 years ago, at the end of the last Ice Age.  Our closest animal relatives, the gorillas and chimpanzees, still live in bands.  The band was the political, economic and social organization that we inherited from millions of years of evolutionary history.  Today, bands of humans are found only in remote parts of New Guinea and Amazonia.  The majority of us have moved on.
The tribe.  Improved technology for extracting food allowed some hunter-gatherers to settle in permanent dwellings in resource-rich areas and led to the second stage of human development.  As shown by archaeological evidence, tribal organization emerged 13,000 years ago in the Middle East.  At that time climate change and improved technology combined to permit abundant harvests of wild cereals.  Tribes began to form.  The tribe differed from the band in being larger.  It typically consisted of hundreds rather than dozens of people.  It usually had no fixed settlement.  Like the band, the tribe lacked a bureaucracy, police force and taxes.  Every able-bodied adult, including the “big man”, participated in growing, gathering or hunting for food.  Full-time craft specialists were lacking.  Most of the independent tribes, who until recently occupied much of New Guinea, Melanesia and Amazonia, have now been subordinated into nation states.
The chiefdom.  The third stage of human political development is the chiefdom.  Chiefdoms first emerged in the Fertile Crescent by 5,500 BC, and by 1,000 BC in Mesoamerican and the Andes.  Chiefdom consisted typically of several thousand people.  One person, the head-chief, exercised a monopoly on the right to use force.  The food surplus generated by the commoner went to feed various sub-chiefs, their families, bureaucrats and the craft specialists who made the canoes or adzes, or worked as bird-catchers or tattooists.  While tribes and bands relied on reciprocal exchanges of gifts, chiefdoms developed a new system termed a redistributive economy.  The head-chief would receive surplus food from every farmer, and then he would either throw a feast for everybody, or else give it out again gradually in the months between harvests.
The state.  We know from the archaeological record that the final stage, states, arose about 3,700 BC in Mesopotamia, 300 BC in Mesoamerica, and 1,000 BC in West Africa.  The population of a state usually exceeded 50,000 persons.  The paramount chief’s location became the state’s capital city.  A city differs from a village in its monumental public works, palaces, and government buildings, accumulation of capital from tribute or taxes paid, and concentrations of people other than food-gatherers.  Economic specialization is more extreme in the state.  Food is produced by specialist groups of farmers, herdsmen, fishermen, and gardeners, instead of by generalists who do a bit of everything as in bands and tribes.
Even small states have more complex bureaucracies than large chiefdoms.  In a state, internal conflict resolution is formalized by the establishment of laws, a judiciary and police.  With such a large population, the onlookers were unlikely to be related to both quarrellers, and to mediate to prevent violence.  The state is organised on political and territorial lines.  By contrast, bands, tribes and simple chiefdoms are defined by kinship.  State bureaucrats are selected at least partly on the basis of training and merit, not on the basis of kinship, as in a chiefdom.  In a state, the laws are written.  Many early states had literate societies.  In both Mesopotamia and Mesoamerica writing was developed at about the same time as the formation of states.  By contrast no chiefdom developed writing.
Anguilla.  In Anguilla almost everyone is related to everyone else.  A second-generation US- or UK-born of Anguillian ancestry is welcomed back as “one of us”.  The highest compliment is to be called a “son of the soil”.  An unrelated resident, no matter how long he has lived in Anguilla, will likely always be considered a foreigner.  Kinship, not citizenship, is the dominant determinant for acceptance into the Anguillian community.  Few of the big chiefs or the sub-chiefs will have completed a secondary education and be qualified to be described as being able to read and write.
With a stretch of the imagination one can consider that there are nomadic bands of Anguillians pursuing hunter-gathering existences in the forests and savannahs of Perth Amboy, New Jersey, and Slough, England.  Local foraging activities are carried out with semi-official encouragement in the freezers and store-rooms of foreign owned restaurants and hotels in Anguilla.
Reading and writing skills have been substituted by watching moving pictures on small screens.  Building regulations and planning rules are applied selectively and mainly to resident foreigners.  They are seldom applied to Belongers, and never to the chiefs.  When a copy of the rules is requested, the usual explanation given is that the rules have not been written down, but that they are binding when applied.  Thus, in Anguilla today we find many of the characteristics of the early band or tribe.
In other respects, the island shows signs of being a chieftainship.  The population is too small to justify its being considered a state.  The big-chief syndrome replaces the rule of law.  Decisions of the Executive Council, the Court and the Legislature are frustrated with impunity by the will of any strong chief or sub-chief.  To obtain a Licence, obeisance must be paid, and tribute laid at the feet of one or more sub-chief, to personally placate him and acknowledge his authority.  The Work Permit for every foreign worker is approved by the Minister.  Such Work Permits are not granted on the basis of any regulation or principle, but arbitrarily on the basis of favour and personal whim.  Once granted, the Permit must be renewed annually through a solicitation procedure designed to debase and degrade the less-fortunate applicant.  Some government agencies and private enterprises apply rules and regulations not on the basis of law, but on the basis of kinship or personal instructions from an important chief.  Certificates that should be issued as of right are sometimes inexplicably held up until word comes from “above”.
Until 30 years ago, Anguilla had no Legislature, Executive or real Judiciary.  The High Court that sat in Anguilla was considered foreign, and its decisions disrespected.  Few major governmental edifices existed.  Subsistence agriculture was the dominant economic activity.  Smuggling provided a variety of food and drink, and substituted for a successful cash crop. 
Today, our principal economic activity can be seen as a variation on the once-honourable occupation of wrecking.  The lanterns on the coconut trees that lured treasure-laden ships onto the reefs for pillaging have been replaced by the visits of overseas investors to various local island chieftains, who then invite the visitor to bring some of his capital to the island, with hints of full cooperation, duty-free concessions, and untaxed profits.  Once the investor has been committed, every effort is turned to forestalling his project as long as possible from becoming a profitable concern, unless tribute of one form or another is paid to the chieftain.  Local observers joke that the island’s airport seems to have been deliberately constructed so that the arriving bright-eyed prospective investor can have no eye contact with the departing, frustrated and bankrupt investor.
A large, successful, foreign-owned hotel is not always an unmitigated blessing in the eyes of the local chief who induced the investor to put it there in the first place.  It could become a competing centre of power and influence that puts him in a quandary.  Loss of influence or control might become threatening.  If and when this happens, the investor is held responsible for every problem.  He is subdued and gently humiliated by finding crucial permits, licences and exemptions arbitrarily refused.  This clever, age-old tactic effectively keeps the investor constantly off-balance, duly submissive, cooperative, and gushing with tribute.
To mix and change the metaphor some more, the elite (in local dialect “the Executive Committee”) exploits the labour of the imported slaves (recipients of work permits) and the wealth, skills and talents of captured foes (code-named “investors”) who labour in the fields to construct public monuments and palaces (dubbed “hotels”) to the honour, glory and fame of the chieftain.
The hunter-gatherers of a generation ago who foraged in the arid fields of pigeon peas, Indian corn, and sweet potatoes, or harpooned fish on the reef, to keep body and soul together, have been succeeded by their children.  The crop has now changed to ‘plane-loads of tourists who arrive annually with the change of the season to be expertly cultivated and cropped.  Suspicion of these visiting foreign possessors of a different culture, and with bottomless pockets, is used by chiefs and would-be chiefs alike to coerce the commoners to keep them in their high positions of exploitation. 
In light of all the above, we can conclude that Anguilla is principally a chieftainship, and still has a long way to go to become a modern democratic state ruled by law rather than by a man.
Revised 8 August 2014



[1]       This article was first published in Anguilla Life Magazine to commemorate the occasion when the island’s Chief Minister visited a foreign-owned hotel, which had recently fired a member of the kitchen staff caught stealing.  By threatening to with-hold work permits required for foreign staff, he “persuaded” the hotel owner to re-hire the larcenous member of kitchen staff.  This instance of bad governance was hailed by the Chief Minister and his followers as evidence of his great patriotism and leadership.