In September 2017, Hurricane Irma devastated the tiny Caribbean island of Barbuda. Following this, the Prime Minister, Gaston Browne sought to
revoke Barbuda’s centuries-old system of communal land rights and build luxury hotels for mass tourism. This was met with collective resistance from Barbudans who refused to leave and argued that Browne wants to exploit and profit from their land.
In January 2019, photographer
and I visited Barbuda. Below are portraits of some of the people we spoke to, alongside quotes about their experiences of disaster recovery, and their alternative visions for the future of the island. The photographs were exhibited at the Tamzin Forster Royal Geographical Society in 2019, and The People’s History Museum in 2020.
(Romeo – right) “My house was destroyed, and so I just started doing my own thing. OK, the Red Cross and Samaritan Purse come, but I only got a little bit of wood from them. The problem is that everything goes to Antigua first; so if I want get materials for my house I have to spend about EC$240 dollars to go Antigua and back. The problem is that our seaport can’t exchange directly with other islands…St Thomas, Puerto Rico, Montserrat. It puts a lot of strain on us.” “Before Irma life was easier because I had a washing machine. Now I’m washing by hand…I care full-time for two of my children who have mental health issues, but the facilities for them ain’t no good on Barbuda, like in Antigua. And every month I pay to go Antigua to get my pension because of having no bank on Barbuda. We need those things here” (Mary) (Byron) “I don’t think the government is doing the best for the people. They are doing what is best for Antigua – to profit from our land. A country needs income to keep it going, to keep it running, to find work for the people, I think with fishing which is our main industry, weather gets bad and we can’t go fishing. But with tourism rising I think that is the way we should go. Do the necessary thing to attract tourism into the island. We have a lot of history for people to learn about. But we don’t need these huge hotels and international airports. We have just about what it takes to make tourism our main industry. But, if it develops on such a huge scale after Irma, there would be too many people and we would be out numbered.” (Ida – left) “We ain’t against the hotels, but we need new industries. Something where people can get to learn new skills; not all the time to clean the toilet in hotels. When they bring the hotels, they get us to clear the bush, clear the ground, and the big time jobs no Barbudans get them. Oh lord, only God knows. It always been bad between Barbuda and Antigua, but this government is the worst.” “There should be equal rights and justice for all people that suffer from Hurricane Irma. Development means to me to go slow, take it easy,. But, Antigua is looking for a quick fix, in split seconds. We a small population, and if they are going to develop all those hotels people from outside will come and over power us and it will not be a nice thing here.” (Shiloh) (Joyce) “Barbuda needs to be developed on a small scale. We need to be able to vote on what is allowed to be built here after Irma. The NGOS have helped rebuild homes but now they left. I was the fourth person on the island to get the roof of my uncle’s house repaired, but some people still don’t have roofs.” (Stefan) “Barbuda would benefit from something that would attract people to stay longer because it would benefit the local economy. For example a bowling alley and/or roller skating rink. That would be good for young people. Antiguans would come over to the Island for that. This is what happened when we had the horse racing here. This type of tourism is the faster way to build the economy, but not the only way. The fishermen could be used to their full potential and export fish to other islands, and sell in a market place like they have in Antigua.” (George) “Antigua has a stranglehold over Barbuda. The Ant. Government is against our lifestyle. We as Barbudans don’t want automatic development; we want control. It has to be developed according to our own population’s needs” (Fifi) “The recovery? Look around. It been nearly two years and we still living difficult. It’s been too slow and I want people to know things are still bad here…When I think of development, I’m thinking more investment in the people. More jobs for the people, because there ain’t enough jobs here. Just to build the country up. And I want to see Barbuda push ahead and start to export more things instead of importing things.” “After Irma the Antiguan government been calling us (Ordrick “Jiggy”) all sorts of names – inhabitants, squatters, inbreeders. We not against development. I know development is important, but it needs to happen with the people and for the people. The people are the most important tool for development and development is meant to be for the people. Not some fast quick fix with big hotels – it takes time. It can’t happen faster than the people can accommodate” (Hon. Paul Nedd) “Mass development means you need more employees than the citizenry on the island. So that in its own undermines the whole Barbuda concept of lifestyle. But what needs to happen in Barbuda is small, effective hotels. Small, effective restaurants. Small, effective supermarkets, small effective shops. That can accommodate our community. But we don’t have the finances right this minute to begin that sort of development. Because our citizens are not comfortable, our citizens are going through a psychological trauma since Hurricane Irma. They appear normal walking by, they appear straight, but when they get out of this public environment and go back to their homes, they are back in to that trauma.” Contact Tamzin
Tamzin Forster is a freelance photographer based in Manchester. Check out her
and website instagram. Read more about Barbuda
Sou, G. ‘
. The New Internationalist Jan/Feb Resisting disaster capitalism in Barbuda‘ 2020 Issue, pages 60-61,
The Conversation, U.K. Barbudans are resisting “disaster capitalism”, two years after Hurricane Irma. 2019;
. The Conversation, London, U.K. How to tell the stories of those worst affected by a disaster likeHurricane Irma 2017;