AKLEY OLTON “Hairouna, land of the Blessed” Doc Amazonie Caraïbe 2020
Knowing your roots doesn’t mean knowing yourself.
SUMMARY-On a paradisiacal island devoted to luxury, Hairouna, Land of the Blessed, asks: “Who am I?” A young man from the Caribbean nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines discovers that he is descended from the “Black Caribs” who survived genocide and exile during English colonization. He travels around the island learning all he can about his lost heritage from historians, activists and artists. But to gain spiritual reconciliation, he must travel to Central America to learn the language of his ancestors from the descendants of the exiles who still speak it in communities along the Caribbean coast.
ORGANIC FROM THE AUTHOR-Akley Olton is a filmmaker and visual artist based in St. Vincent and the Grenadines who is passionate about stories that inspire and provoke. He is dedicated to the development of Caribbean cinema and has been trained in visual arts, graphic design, animation and film and audiovisual production. He has built a professional career as a cinematographer, with over 8 years of experience in shooting, colour grading, video production, on several local, regional and international projects, including award-winning fiction and documentary films.
MEMORANDUM OF INTENT- Hairouna is a Kalinargo word. In English, it means the land of the blessed. That is what hundreds of thousands of Garífunas in Central and North America think about Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, while we in St. Vincent do not even know what it means; while we make no effort to learn their language, which is also our own. A country without an image is a country that does not exist, a people without a history is destined to a state of perpetual ruin. What is the image of my country, of my people? Am I a Garifuna? I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know if one life will be enough to tell me. I intend to question my origins and to expose them in this film in order to draw conclusions. Am I Garifuna? Not only do I look like them, but I’ve also discovered that I have more in common with them than with any Englishman. Imagine what it would be like to wake up in your city, where you were born and raised, and realize that you are a complete stranger, that you feel like a tourist in your own home. This documentary aims to save that. We have started a journey through St. Vincent to find our culture, to tell everyone what our history is. While discovering it, I discovered Honduras, the neighbouring country.The Garífuna were expelled from Saint Vincent and took refuge in Honduras where they resisted the colonizers for more than 3 centuries, but now they face a more powerful enemy against which they are not ready to fight. Their territories have been sold by the government to build resorts and exploit the beaches. Their children no longer speak Garifuna, their culture is labeled and sold as something exotic, the voices that can tell our story are silenced. As a documentary filmmaker, I can’t change that, but what I can do is raise awareness, create a testimony for future generations and denounce.
SYNOPSIS-Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is a tropical paradise for enjoying nature and relaxing in luxurious hotels. Lush rainforest, idyllic beaches, coral reefs and turquoise lagoons. People come from North America and Europe to bask on our dream beaches. Travelling through the Grenadines is where you see the pinnacle of tourism. Luxury and distinction for millionaires from all over the world. Even Tommy Hilfiger lives here. Megayachts, mansions, hotels, pristine calm waters. Tourists love summer holidays, they go to restaurants, hotels and nightclubs to have a good time. But growing up in the Caribbean has always been a feeling of loss for me. Everywhere I’ve lived, I’ve belonged to someone else. My father left me when I was two, at least that’s what my mother always told me. He went to the British Virgin Islands to find better opportunities than he had here in St. Vincent. All my siblings have different fathers and are different from me. So my mother worked cleaning luxury homes and hotel rooms so that I could enjoy my childhood and have a good education. Sometimes she would take me with her and I would help her. That’s how I started to see how the rich Vincentians lived. Sometimes my mother’s employers would give me toys, books and clothes. This way I always dressed better and had things that were more expensive than other children in my community. My mother also wanted me to feel comfortable and have the same school experience as the other kids at the fancy school I went to.
Even though I was on scholarship, we still had to buy expensive supplies. On the list of books she had to buy, there was one that was particularly expensive but necessary, an Atlas. Mom saved up and we finally bought it. When I first opened the book in my geography class, I realized that Saint Vincent and the Grenadines did not appear on the world map. Instead, the teachers taught us British history.So my history books contained pictures of colonial mansions and plantations that to me look like the hotels my mother cleans today. What I liked about these images were their backgrounds – the hills and sunsets. All the images I saw of people who looked like me depicted us in chains, working in the fields or being whipped. The only thing I learned about my own ancestors was that the British enslaved them. I felt the need to find images of myself and my ancestors. The first thing I did when I was a child was to draw, before I could even write my name. And as an adult, I discovered other images that are part of St. Vincent’s story.
There are petroglyphs all over the island. Presumably, the Caribbean tribe carved these images on rocks to express their own identities and stories. There are several of them in my father’s village called Greggs, which is a village that the British never colonized. Greggs was hidden and crossed by two rivers. For years the British didn’t even know they were there. While visiting the village, I saw other fathers teaching their sons to play cricket. I was jealous. Later I discovered that my jealousy was also permeated with pain and a sense of betrayal.Now I want to be a father myself and it’s a thought that scares me. Because I want to teach my children something other than a legacy of slavery, and I don’t know how. I want to tell them about the Mandingo people who have crossed the Atlantic from Africa, who have met indigenous peoples here, and who have engaged in exciting and fruitful forms of exchange on this beautiful island that I call home. My film will seek these images for my children by looking to my past, a past that I will have to draw and film to make it exist – against the erasure and slavery that have long limited my vision.
When I arrived in Honduras, I realized that the Garifuna are still facing exile, this time because of investors who want to build hotels on their land and beach. My road trip film explores the relationship between tradition and modern culture in a deeply personal way.