Alliouagana – Original Name of the ‘Emerald Isle of the Caribbean’
On a personal level, Alliouagana, the original name for the Island of Montserrat, calls to mind the Caribbean’s uncommon nickname culture.
Nicknames abound in the Caribbean. I came to know this at an early age every time someone called from my parents’ home island of Trinidad. Invariably, the caller would ask to speak with Carl. They meant my Dad, of course. Only his name isn’t Carl. It’s John.
How did he come by the nickname Carl? Well, according to him, his family just felt like he looked more like a Carl than a John. Simple as that.
This same sort of matter of fact, it is what it looks like, naming convention was applied by the Caribbean’s earliest Amerindian inhabitants when naming our islands. Alliouagana is a prime example of this.
The Emerald Isle of the Caribbean, another of Montserrat’s nicknames, is nice and fitting too. The reference in this case highlights the island’s supposed resemblance to coastal Ireland. It’s also a nod to the Irish ancestry shared by many Montserratians.
The name “Montserrat,” though, doesn’t have quite the same common sense cachet. As we have Columbus to thank for the name, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The seaman, turned explorer, turned progenitor of genocide named the island after the Virgin of Montserrat. He did so in 1492 without ever landing on the island. If he had, though, maybe he would’ve stuck with the Kalinago name, Alliouagana.
Translated into English, Alliouagana means “land of prickly bush.” Indeed, there does exist a great deal of very prickly acacia bushes and trees in Montserrat. They’re especially widespread in and around the southern part of the island, increasingly reclaimed by Mother Nature since the 1990’s eruptions of the Mount Soufriere Hills Volcano.
Their prevalence today gives us a bit of a glimpse at what Montserrat was… and what Columbus missed.