One From Ten Leaves Naught

kaylarStarred Page By kaylar, 5th Jun 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Culture>General

A short history of the West Indies Federation which lasted for only four years

10 - 1 = 0

The statement used for the title of this article is a quote from Dr. Eric Williams who was the first Prime Minister of Trinidad.

He made the Statement when Jamaica left the West Indies Federation. There had been ten islands which were to become one country; something like the United States of the West Indies.

When Jamaica left, that was the end. For Jamaica was the strongest more important island in the group.


The first English settlement on any island in the west Atlantic were castaways. An English ship, bound for the colony of Virginia was wrecked in 1609. The survivors made it to Bermuda.

Bermuda was uninhabited and a perfect Paradise. When news of this fantastic place reached England, sixty settlers were dispatched in 1612. This is in stark contrast to the reponse of the English to St. Helena.

In 1648 a group broke off, left Bermuda and settled in the Bahamas. There were so many uninhabited islands, one famous for being the spot where Columbus made his first landfall in 1492.

All the original inhabitants of the islands had been shipped to work in the mines of Hispaniola by the Spanish, leaving them for the taking.

The eastern islands of the Caribbean were ignored by the Spanish conquerors. The British grabbed what they could. They establish settlements in St Kitts (1623), Barbados (1627) and Antigua, Nevis and Montserrat (by 1636).

In 1655 Jamaica was captured. Trinidad did not become a British colony until 1802.

The Brits colonised the islands as they had various states in America, in Africa, in Asia. The same policies that were in effect in the Colony of Virginia were practiced on the islands, save a bit slacker.

For example, the famous Pirate, Henry Morgan, became Govenor of Jamaica.

Although all the white planters came from England, so that one brother could be in Barbados, another in St. Kitts, the rivalry between them was heavy. This is because every colony grew pretty much the same things and competed for the same markets.

Further, there was no real communication between the islands; one would find it easier to send a letter to London from Kingston, Jamaica then to Bridgetown, Barbados.

Each island, although governed from England had it's own petty potentates and power plays. The islands were remarkably insulated People really didn't know what was happening a few hundred miles away.

Jamaicans, for example, considered themselves superior to the 'small islands'. Barbados considered itself 'Little England', being more civilized than the other places.

Although a form of this rivalry did exist in the original 13 colonies, (which is why the 'Revolutionary War' was more of a Civil War) there developed a sense of Unity which has never existed in the West Indies, (save if the Cricket Team is doing well)..

Although the Brits had tried on many occassions to form the islands into some kind of single entity they never got very far until 1958 when somehow all the islands seemed willing to at least try to combine.


Established in 1958, the West Indies Federation was made up of: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat, St Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla, Saint Lucia, St Vincent and Trinidad and Tobago.

The Federation was established by the British Caribbean Federation Act of 1956 with the aim of establishing one political entity out of its colonies.

This "United States of the West Indies" would be ruled by a Prime Minister, elected from among and by the members of the House of Representatives who would be supported by a Cabinet of the Prime Minister and ten other elected Members chosen by him.

There would be a forty five-member House of Representatives, elected from the Territories; and a nineteen-member Senate, nominated by the Governor General following consultation with the Prime Minister.

For those who are unfamiliar with how the 'Government' (term used loosely) of the West Indies, there is a figure head called the "Governor General" who lives in a big house, gets a lot of money is treated as royalty and basically does nothing.

He 'appoints' the Prime Minister and everyone else as a living 'rubber stamp'.

The first Governor General of the West Indies Federation was Lord Hailes of Britain and out of all the possible candidates to be appointed Prime Minister it was Sir Grantley Adams, who was the Premier of Barbados.

The Federal capital was located in Trinidad and Tobago

Stop Here

As I mentioned before, the most important member of the Federation was Jamaica.

At the time (and continuing) Jamaica had a bit of an internecine 'war' between two political parties; the People's National Party, which was led by Norman Manley, who was the Premier, and Alexander Bustamante who formed the Jamaica Labour Party

The two were actually cousins, friends, and Norman, who was a lawyer, appeared for 'Busta' who was a labour leader, during his various stints in and out of Prison.

Originally Norman was into Politics and Busta into the Labour Movement, forming a Union called the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union.

Then came Federation and not only was the Capital in Trinidad but the Prime Minister was a Bajan?

Busta who never was into Federation to start decided to form the JLP which was anti-federation and began going around Jamaica giving speeches which had the 'deathless' line;

"Federation means if you have Three Goats they are going to Send Two to Barbados."

The Jamaican people decided the were not going to send their goats to Barbados and wanted out of Federation..

The End

In September 1961 a referendum was held in Jamaica. Norman Manley, the Premier, put his reputation on the line, believing that the Jamaican people would not be captured by Bustamante's rhetoric.

After all, Barbados actually had 'breed' goats; that is Sienna, Hoffnagle, and British Alpine, and were as careful with them as the owner of a pure blooded German Shepherd, is in mating.

Jamaicans have anyhow goats which walk around eatting garbage and bothering people and becoming road kill.

However, one should never let reality interfere with rhetoric.

Jamaica voted for secession from the Federation, and took 'Independance' from England on the 6th of August 1962. Alexander Bustamante became the First Prime Minister of Jamaica.

Trinidad and Tobago soon followed and The West Indies Federation ended, each island taking its independance.

A Short Life

During its brief existence (1958-62) the Federation looked at a number of issues.

Among them were direct taxation, central planning, establishment of a Regional Customs Union, a federal civil service, the West Indies Shipping Service and the Federation was in negotiations to acquire the subsidiary of the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), namely British West Indies Airways (BWIA).

The University College of the West Indies (UCWI), which was established in 1948 with one campus at Mona, Jamaica, opened its second campus at St Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago, in 1960 and then its Third in Cave Hill, Barbados.

The Univesity of the West Indies existed in the original form until 2000; that is Medicine in Jamaica, Agriculture and Engineering in Trinidad, and Law in Barbados.

Students from the various Islands applied to University and depending on what they wanted to study would be sent to one of the campuses.

The Bajan who wished to study medicine would go to Jamaica, the Jamaican who wanted to read law would go to Barbados.

Considering the lack of unity and rivalry, by 2000 each island had pretty much created its own campus covering the topics once the preserve of the Three.

The only carry over from Federation is the Cricket team which is still The West Indies Cricket team.

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author avatar WOGIAM
6th Jun 2014 (#)

You did a good job with your research, interesting even if long read.

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author avatar kaylar
6th Jun 2014 (#)

I have to add a bit more history

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author avatar Mark Gordon Brown
9th Jun 2014 (#)

You lost me part way through or I was distracted by the goat picture... anyhow what a crazy system.

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author avatar kaylar
9th Jun 2014 (#)

The U,K. wanted to get rid of the colonies in the West Indies. They were too expensive to maintain. The best idea was to join them in a Federation and grant Independance.

The rivalries on each island were and are incredible. Chosing to elect a Bajan as P.M. was so abhorrent to Jamaicans that they pulled out.
Trini followed, on and on.

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author avatar Mariah
9th Jun 2014 (#)

I'm impressed with your historical knowledge and your ability to present the facts as they are Kaylar.
Another very interesting read.
Thank you

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author avatar kaylar
9th Jun 2014 (#)

Thank you Mariah

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author avatar Ptrikha
11th Jun 2014 (#)

Yes, the West Indian cricket team still remains and I hope West indies regains at least 50% of its past glory (During Lloyd-Viv Richards era). Ask me why not 100%, and then Team India will be at disadvantage :)

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author avatar kaylar
11th Jun 2014 (#)

Thank you for that! I haven't yet gotten over Jamaica losing to France 8/0 in a friendly.

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author avatar Pollyal
14th Jun 2014 (#)

History of nations are always interesting, and it became more so with the way you have organized this page...and and the picture of the goat..awesome :)

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author avatar kaylar
14th Jun 2014 (#)

Thank you

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
13th Jul 2014 (#)

Great research and historical review. It's amazing how one country can have such an impact on others -- and how other countries can make it happen!

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author avatar kaylar
13th Jul 2014 (#)

One country does have it's power...if New York had decided to remain part of England instead of join the 13 colonies, for example...

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