The West Indies Federation, the four year political union of ten West Indian/Caribbean colonial territories, came to an end in 1962; 53 years ago. Only relics remain of the unit established by British Caribbean Federation Act of 1956, though the Federation did in many ways engender the discussion that led to the present Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

The UWI Museum recently acquired a battered Federal Coat of Arms, which we speculate may have hung somewhere on the founding Mona campus during the brief federal period. Efforts to establish the provenance are on-going. The University of the West Indies (UWI)’s Cave Hill campus is repository for the Federal Archives, which includes the Federation files. The UWI Archives notes that these records are: ” administrative files, original agreements, oath books, ledgers, registers, drawings, architectural plans, newspaper clippings, press releases, savingrams, reports, records of judgments, statistical data, and card indexes as well as reel-to-reel magnetic tapes, black-and-white photographs and artefacts in the form of metal seals, original flags, coat of arms and plaques.”

A federated team represented the region at the 1960 Olympic Games and the West Indies cricket team is one of the few regional entities dating back beyond that period. Another is the UWI which as the University College of the West Indies (UCWI) pre-dated the Federation but was seen as underpinning the development of the region. UCWI faculty, staff and students were among those who campaigned for the entrenchment of the federation; and the institution’s first West Indian Principal, (Sir) Arthur Lewis was among those who recorded his concern at its dissolution.

Several Federal commemorative days fall in the first third of the year: The Federation began operating on Jan 3, 1958, though actual formal inauguration came that April 22 when Britain’s Princess Margaret opened the Federal Parliament in Trinidad.
Additionally, February 23 was declared Federation Day, encouraging celebratory activity throughout the federated territories: Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat, St Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla, Saint Lucia, St Vincent, Trinidad & Tobago.

Political and economic divisions fuelled the break-up of the Federation, with a major factor being a ‘No’ vote by a Jamaican referendum of December 1961. The Federation came to an end in May 1962.

The UWI Museum’s current cameo exhibition, Lewis 100, about Sir Arthur Lewis – the institution’s first West Indian Principal and then first Vice Chancellor, makes mention of the dissolution of the federation and the regional university’s struggle to stay relevant to an increasingly nationalist constituency. The Lewis exhibition runs through March, alongside the museum’s semi-permanent Origins exhibition.


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