Hiroona takes the form of over 9,000 lines of rhyming verse to tell the story that draws from both official history, local oral legends collected by those who fought on both sides, and the author introduces a healthy assortment of characters of his own for narrative effect, some of these based on his own ancestors.
The story is of the St Vincent Caribs, led by three chiefs: Duvall?, Chetway?, and his son Warramou, who fight to expel the British and regain control of the island. Into this seemingly anti-colonial tale the author weaves a romance between Warramou, Carib princess Ran?e and Scottish soldier Crayton. The subtitle of the work is: “An Historical Romance in Poetic Form”.
The author is Horatio Nelson Huggins II, who like his uncle cum godfather is named after Lord Nelson, a family friend. HNH belonged to one of the large, prominent, pan-Caribbean planter families that date back to mid-1600s Nevis.
Born in St Vincent in 1830, HNH came to San Fernando in 1867 with his wife and family, including my mother’s grandfather, his second son Edwin Bullen Huggins, to take up the position of rector of St Paul’s Church. The feisty HNH was known as Rev Canon Huggins.
Hiroona is of literary importance because, as Bridget Brereton says, it was written “long before the emergence of ‘West Indian literature’ in the 1930s,” and it “reflects the kind of literary and cultural work which existed in Trinidad and elsewhere in the late 19thC, yet it is unique in its ambition, poetic form and length.” And it is of particular historical significance given that the Black Caribs (the Garifuna) populated the Caribbean coast of Central America after expulsion by the British, and came to Trinidad, too, after the eruption of Soufri?re in 1812.
To me Hiroona is also of personal interest because of the incongruity of HNH’s public homage to the Black Caribs and how he conducted his private life. Desha Osborne wonders about the poet’s motivation for spending the last 30 years of his life writing this work.
I would hazard a guess. The canon may have been working through his Victorian not-in-my-backyardism.
My evidence is this: Around 1880, HNH disowned his son Edwin for disobeying him and marrying a woman of mixed race, my maternal great-grandmother, a Guissepi from St Joseph.
The family story is that the marriage bans were posted at least twice, and were torn down by Edwin’s elder brother who obviously thought his sibling was making a big mistake. But rebellious Edwin was undeterred. When his wife died leaving him with two children, Edwin married a French Creole and had a new, white family, but he remained estranged and did not regain his inheritance. HNH died in 1895 leaving Edwin only a diamond ring.
Interestingly, in direct contrast to Edwin’s real life story, in Hiroona, Crayton [based on a Huggins ancestor] foregoes the doting love of Carib princess Ran?e, “You’re meant by Heaven’s decree for Warramou… and glistening tear-drops filled her eyes: she could not help them.” HNH may also have been rationalising his decision to disown Edwin by demonising his main African female character, calling her “Nannette, the Amazon…frenzied woman-fiend.” We won’t ever know the truth but questioning an author’s motivation is always relevant and often revealing.