21 October 2008

Expansion & Invasion: Surrender or Die!

Bonnie VanakBy Bonnie Vanak

They chose death over colonization. Suicide over assimilation.

Leaper's Hill on the Caribbean island of Grenada is a peaceful, lovely cliff overlooking a tranquil turquoise sea. Don't step too closely or you might end up below on the craggy rocks like 40 Carib Indians did in 1651.

For many years, the island was inhabited by the Carib Indians. In 1638, the Caribs faced invasion by the French, who decided they wanted to stay. The war-like, fierce Caribs said, ah, no thanks and drove them away.

The French built a colony in Grenada in 1650, after buying property from the Caribs for knives, hatchets, glass beads and two bottles of brandy. Sure beats today's real estate prices. The Caribs must have decided the price was too low, or the French too annoying, or they didn't like the French brandy, because they engaged the French a year later. However, the French, who now had a stronghold on the island and wanted to expand their territory, decided they weren't going away.

Make us, the French said.

The Caribs could not. The French decided enough was enough, and they were going to wipe out the Caribs. No more brandy or glass beads. Time to colonize to the max. Eliminate the enemy for once and for all.

Against the odds, the Caribs fought. On the northern part of Grenada, forty of the last Caribs made the decision to die. Instead of surrender and assimilation, they went to the cliff and jumped to their deaths.

The French named the hill "Le Morne de Sauteurs," or "Leaper's Hill." They went back to drinking their brandy, enjoying the island's pristine resources and trying to stave off the British, who also thought Grenada was a cool place to roost.

Unfortunately for the French, the British persisted, and they didn't want glass beads or brandy. So the French, instead of leaping, gave the island to the British in 1762.

Standing on Leaper's Hill gives you a sense of strong awe. At least it did for me when I visited Grenada. I envisioned the forty proud, brave Caribs, desperate and empty of hope, facing down the French. Unwilling to surrender their island, unable to hold it.

Unwilling to assimilate and lose their culture. The tragedy is interlaced with a touch of romantic heroism.

As writers, we can use the themes of invasion, expansion and assimilation to explore in our books. We can use our imagination to give them a different spin and twist. The themes don't have to be literal. What about the invasion of a strict parent admonishing an heir to act the part so he can assimilate into genteel society after a long absence? Or a heroine forced to marry and assimilate into a new culture or status?

I use these themes in both my historicals and the paranormals. The Carib's fierce independence that nudged them into making such a drastic and life-ending decision reminds me of Jamie, the heroine in Enemy Lover, my November Nocturne.

Jamie is an outcast who will not join the pack and become the mate of a strong Alpha werewolf. For her, it is better to jump off the cliff of her own loneliness than to assimilate into the dangerous world of the Draicon.

It's only Damian's gentleness, his fierce protectiveness toward her and the demonstrations of his love that enables Jamie to see differently. In Jamie's case, she does surrender and it is a sweet victory for both.

A victory far sweeter than the fate suffered by the Caribs, whose legend lives on in their namesake, the Caribbean islands.

Have you ever used an invasion, expansion or assimilation theme in your book and how did it play out?