Athneal Ollivierre, my granduncle and a significant figure from Bequia in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, was celebrated for his deep expertise in whaling. This tradition was a part of Bequia's economic fabric and a cornerstone of its cultural heritage. Born in 1908, Uncle Athneal grew up when whaling was integral to the islanders' way of life, a tradition deeply rooted in their daily existence.
Bequia whaling was notably different from the large-scale commercial practices seen elsewhere. It was a community-oriented activity conducted on a much smaller scale. The methods employed were steeped in tradition, often involving the skilled use of hand-thrown harpoons, a craft meticulously passed down through generations, including within our family. This approach to whaling was inherently sustainable and carefully regulated to prevent overhunting and ensure whale populations' preservation.
Uncle Athneal's role in this tradition went beyond his prowess as a whaler. He was revered for his profound understanding of the sea and marine life, symbolising the islanders' deep connection with their maritime environment. His life and career epitomised a relationship with the sea founded on coexistence and a deep-seated respect for nature rather than mere exploitation.
In the heavily accented, lyrical poetry that passes for common speech among Bequians, Mr Ollivierre will tell you, “ The day I harpooned my first whale, there was such joy in my heart, I couldn’t speak. It turned my mind. You must choose what will please your life. You must have plenty of courage and be fast thinking.” The Spells of a Bright Bequia Morning, New York Times
Upon retiring, Uncle Athneal didn't just step back from whaling; he embraced the role of a cultural ambassador. He passionately shared his rich experiences and knowledge with younger generations and visitors, ensuring that the stories and traditions of Bequia's whaling heritage lived on. His legacy is more than a memory; it's an enduring part of Bequia's cultural identity, reflecting a profound respect for nature and sustainable practices.
While whaling in Bequia has often been a topic of debate, especially among environmental groups, it's essential to understand its context. For the islanders, figures like Athneal Ollivierre aren't just historical footnotes; they're emblematic of a cultural identity that champions a more harmonious and respectful interaction with the natural world, starkly contrasting industrial whaling practices.
In 1996, the Ollivierre family ended their participation in whaling.