Dear Editor: Time to reset soul of Caribbean civilisation; gov’ts must confront our colonial legacy

“[…] Despite the refusal of European governments to engage the issue, the moral landscape across the world has changed discernibly in favour of reparatory justice for native genocide and chattel slavery.

“[…] An increasing number of Caribbean people are coming to terms with the true horror of racialised Chattel Slavery… The British brought 3.5 million Africans into the Caribbean and at emancipation there were only 600 thousand…”

The following guest column on the Caribbean’s right to reparations was submitted to Wired868 by Shabaka Kambon, director of the Cross Rhodes Freedom Project:

The mutilated back of a slave during slavery.

On 27 February, an aristocratic British family which owned six plantations and enslaved more than 1000 African people at Emancipation travelled to Grenada to launch reparatory justice initiatives and publicly apologise for the actions of their ancestors.

Celebrated New York-based BBC journalist, Laura Trevelyan, contributed £100,000 to support Reparations Research at the University of the West Indies with a focus on economic development in Grenada and the eastern Caribbean.

In 1835, one year after the abolition act took effect, the Trevelyans received £26,898, in compensation from the British government (more than £3 million today). The people they had enslaved received nothing and would be forced back onto the plantations to work for a further four years unpaid, as “apprentices”.

Laura and her cousin John Dower, read the historic letter of apology signed by 104 family members:

BBC World News anchor and correspondent Laura Trevelyan (left) confronts her family’s past in Grenada.
(via BBC)

“[…] To the people of Grenada, we the undersigned, write to apologise for the actions of our ancestors in holding your ancestors in slavery…in the 18th and 19th centuries.

“Slavery was and is a crime against humanity. Its damaging effect continues to the present day. We repudiate our ancestors’ involvement in it…”

Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell received the letter on behalf of the Grenadian people in front of his entire Cabinet at the Grenada Trade Center before handing it over to the Chairman of the Caricom Reparations Commission and Vice-Chancellor of the UWI, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles.

The doyen of Caribbean historians, saluted Laura and her family for their courage, to look into their past, to recognise that a crime had been committed which led to their enrichment, to acknowledge it, and then seek to make redress.

A demonstration for reparations in Jamaica at the visit of Prince William in 2022.

From leading “architects, advocates and beneficiaries of the system,” the Trevelyans have, “risen up a million miles to be with us today,” he said.

There are three noteworthy takeaways from this historic event:

First, despite the refusal of European governments to engage the issue, the moral landscape across the world has changed discernibly in favour of reparatory justice for native genocide and chattel slavery.

The Trevelyan family joins a growing list of families, companies, universities, charities, and other organisations who are acknowledging their historic links to slavery and empire and coming forward to make amends. They seem to have inspired others who have contacted them about how to come forward.

Sir John Trevalyan (second from right) and his wife Louisa Simone (second from left) made a fortune off slavery.

They have also taken the step of calling on King Charles III to apologise for the royal family’s involvement and urged the British government to enter into “meaningful negotiations with the governments of the Caribbean in order to make appropriate reparations.”

Secondly, through the reparations struggle an increasing number of Caribbean people are coming to terms with the true horror of racialised Chattel Slavery.

“The second Caribbean Genocide,” is how Professor Beckles referred to it: “The economics of the system, did not support the concept of an old African. It was more profitable buy a person at the auction block to extract wealth by working that African to death in seven to ten years and then replace them.”

Beckles illustrated the point by highlighting the official figures: “The British brought 3.5 million Africans into the Caribbean and at emancipation there were only 600 thousand.”

The Zong Massacre: in 1781, more than 100 Ghanaian slaves were thrown into the Atlantic so the slave owner could claim money through his insurers—after a navigational error made it unlikely that all the “cargo” would arrive safely in Jamaica.

The process which resulted in this demographic catastrophe was, in his words, “the most brutal form of social organisation known to man… Never before in the history of humanity has such an institution found expression on planet earth.”

Beckles has announced forthcoming research entitled – 1000 Ways to Punish Rebellious Africans in the Caribbean. “The ones you know, cutting off hands and feet and burning Africans in oil, raping the women, selling the children are the common ones, beyond that there were hundreds of methods,” he said.

Thirdly, the reparations movement is energizing calls for Caribbean governments to do more to confront the legacy of colonialism in their own countries.

In Arley Gill’s address the Chair of the Grenada National Reparations Committee (GNRC) said it was time to “reset the soul of the nation”. Time to “address the concentrated disadvantage that has led to the current disparities in wealth, education and social status.”

A depiction of slaves serving their masters in Trinidad.
(Courtesy Netssa.com)

To revisit the issue of republicanism, to make the Caribbean Court of Justice the final court of appeal and to remove public reverential monuments that celebrate colonial violence and its protagonists and “rename streets, schools and national institutions after outstanding Grenadians or Caribbean nationals that have contributed to our civilization.”

Gill has joined his voice to those calling on the Grenadian Government to act on these matters before the country’s 50th anniversary of Independence on 7 February 2024.

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One comment

  1. This the discussion that everybody avoids. I think in terms of Trinidad and Tobago our biggest mistake was being distracted by the celebration of freedom after emancipation and not realising that we had fundamental needs that could only be filled though wealth distribution. It’s scary to think that we may have lost an opportunity to provide for future generations as african descendants.

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