“The great Karl Marx, for example, declared the Haitian Revolution ‘the most significant victory toward the advancement of universal freedom’. Without excluding the contribution of every ethnic constituency, the fact remains that, in the 20th century, African peoples maintained that leadership role.
“According to [Dool] Hanomansingh and other like-minded activists, to include this contribution as a central feature in the narrative of Caribbean nationalism is to face a charge of painting T&T black.”
The following Letter to the Editor, which is a response to an article carried on page 13 of the Trinidad Express of Wednesday December 6, was submitted to Wired868 by Dr Claudius Fergus:
The forces of progress will always be opposed by the forces of reaction and prejudice. We are seeing this dialectic playing out very graphically in the current debate on the status of public memorials that honour the most extreme colonial and imperial criminals. Opposition to memorials celebrating tyrants and mass murderers is as old as history but for the first time it has become a hemispheric, if not yet global, cultural revolution.
Unfortunately, some local reactionaries keep imposing cosmetic trivia to distract from the main objective of the campaign—resetting the anachronistic values of colonialism, racism, chauvinism, and other aspects of structural and historical exploitation.
Accordingly, I wish to address some issues raised by Dool Hanomansingh in the Trinidad Express of Wednesday 6 December (“Painting the history of Trinidad black,” pg. 13). Attempts to have this response published in the Trinidad Express have so far proved futile.
Obviously, Hanomansingh was not present at the UWI Town Hall meeting that featured Vice-Chancellor Hilary Beckles. I was present. If he were, he would have known that the meeting was hosted by the Campus Principal, not Shabaka Kambon, as he falsely claims.
What does beginning a commentary with a falsehood tell us about the writer? Perhaps that (s)he is interested merely in propaganda, certainly not in intellectual discourse.
Let me begin by addressing Hanomansingh’s gross historical distortions. He is obviously not a historian. If not for the danger that his fiction might be taken as historical fact, I would not even dignify it with a response. His misrepresentation of the Encomienda System in Trinidad is laughable.
When did this anonymous Governor decide to end Encomienda? What year did this mythical protest by Africans take place? According to Arie Boomert, a highly respected scholar, Africans fought alongside Hyarima against the Spaniards to end Encomienda in Trinidad in the 1630s.
It is also obvious that Hanomansingh is not acquainted with the history of Islam in Africa. Arabs did not “forcibly” convert Africans south of the Sahara. Indeed, Africans were partners in the construction of Islam.
It is well documented that Prophet Muhammad sent his closest relatives to Ethiopia for refuge during the Medina-Mecca war, including two of his future wives, a daughter and a son-in-law. Many of those refugees would later play major roles in the consolidation and expansion of the faith. It was local Africans who established the earliest Muslim kingdoms as well as the great Muslim Empires of Mali and Songhai, not Arabs.
Ironically, Hanomansingh’s charge of collusion between African Muslims and Arab Muslims in Africa could be more authentically laid against Indian Muslims and Arab Muslims from the Delhi Sultanate to the Mughal period in India.
Listen to wisdom: if you spit in the air, it will fall back in your face.
Slavery was endemic in Trinidad, as in other colonies: every Governor owned slaves; so too the Catholic and Anglican prelates, the Chief Justice, the alguaciles, and every other colonial official.
Hanomansingh’s prejudice feeds on the margins of socio-economic dynamics instead of the unique example set by Africans who, before Emancipation, were the only farmers who worked the land without slave labour: this was the situation with the Merikins in south Trinidad, the Mandingos in Quarre (east Trinidad) and the discharged black West Indian soldiers in North Manzanilla—without any enslaved labour, they became self-sufficient in food and also supplied the local militia with tons of plantains, rice, beans and other produce.
Only someone imbued with extreme prejudice would constantly advance nothing positive to uplift the mind. Even the inference that enslaved Africans owned slaves is also misleading because in law an enslaved person was property and property cannot own property. Apply this to land for better understanding: the plots that enslaved people cultivated and thought they owned were taken from them legally, though unjustly, upon Emancipation—land is property.
Hanomanmansingh’s diatribe against Beckles for not rejecting English, Christianity, etc. is “a madman’s rant” (to borrow David Rudder’s term). Weren’t the Spiritual Baptists banned and persecuted for jettisoning European Christianity? Didn’t the colonial regime systematically eradicate the patois of the Africans in Trinidad, after it had become the lingua franca during the 19th century?
In any case, socio-cultural linguists have long established that the grammatical structure of the current lingua franca of T&T is West African, not English. This truth might be painful for Hanomansingh to swallow.
For a writer who appeals to Beckles and Kambon to respect the facts of history, Hanomansingh is most reckless with facts of any kind.
I shall now address the overt racism in the Hanomansingh article. In the transcription of an interview published in the Newsday of 13 October, Gerard Besson anonymously accused “a small group of people”—no doubt, the Cross Rhodes Freedom Project—of wanting to remove Columbus’ statue simply because he was “a white man.” He charged the group with “singling out individuals from a particular background” as villains of history, which act, he asserts, is antithetical to the goal of nation building.
Once he released the race genie from its bottle, contributors to the debate on decolonising our public spaces could more confidently descend into the racial gutter—as Hanomansingh has done—by accusing Kambon of (aided by UWI’s Vice-Chancellor Beckles’ silence on fictionalised evils committed by Africans) scheming “to paint the country black.”
Contrary to Hanomansingh’s accusation, Kambon’s Cross Rhodes Freedom Project has consistently embraced non-racist activism, frequently denouncing colonial crimes against Indians and the Indigenous Peoples of the region while engaging in outreach to these communities. I know that for a fact because I am an executive member.
The CRFP is cognisant that over the past 500-plus years, European imperialism has inflicted the scourge of racism upon wide swathes of the world—the worst victims being the indigenous peoples of the Americas, Africa and India as well as the “Africoid” races of New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand.
The CRFP is also mindful that, after the heroic resistance of the native peoples of the Caribbean, it was the Africans who carried the major burden of advancing natural and civil rights for all non-white peoples, at the cost of great suffering and loss of lives.
The great Karl Marx, for example, declared the Haitian Revolution “the most significant victory toward the advancement of universal freedom.” Without excluding the contribution of every ethnic constituency, the fact remains that, in the 20th century, African peoples maintained that leadership role.
According to Hanomansingh and other like-minded activists, to include this contribution as a central feature in the narrative of Caribbean nationalism is to face a charge of painting T&T black.
Hanomansingh should pause to consider if his concept of “black” and Kambon’s are mutually reconcilable and to ponder the true colour descriptions and graphic images of India’s most ancient deities. To the Greeks, Ethiopia meant “black people” or “Land of the Blacks.” According to England’s highly respected egyptologist Wallis Budge, Ethiopia was a region extending from Kush in Africa to the Indus River in India; Budge reminds us that ancient Greek geographers “regarded all the dark-skinned and black peoples that inhabit it as Ethiopians.”
Greek philosopher-historian Strabo affirmed that the people of southern India “are like the Aethiopians in colour,” i.e. black. The predominant blacks of India are the Dalits. Artistic representation of ancient deities manifests this truth: Kali is unquestionably black but so too is Krishna, whom many modern Indians prefer to describe as “blackish,” “dark” or “deep blue.”
Draupadi is another black deity as are a host of others. Hanoman[singh] is a derivative of Hanuman, the Dalit deity who rode with Lord Rama to rescue Sita from Ravana. Many Hindu names in T&T are distinctly Dalit, including Kumar, Rajkumar, Mohan, Manmohan, Sunil, Ramdass, Lal and Ravi.
An Indian blogger on “PGIndia” confirms: “I have met many people of Dalit/Chamar descent whose ancestors moved to Trinidad and Guyana where caste is no longer an issue.”
The Black Power leadership applied this geo-political worldview to transcend the false colonial divide-and-dominate prescription of Africans as “black” and Indians as “brown” by deploying the mantra, “Indians and Africans Unite.” Architects of this new nationalism included activists of Indian and Chinese ethnicities.
Indeed, some of the key spokespersons of the movement, often grounding with African and Indian communities in outlying districts, included Professor Brinsley Samaroo and Dr Kenneth Parmasad.
Mentored in anti-colonialism by Walter Rodney and Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture), Samaroo affirms that his career in politics “began with the Black Power movement in 1970.” He acknowledges that it was Black Power that broke the back of local apartheid and opened up the economy and society to merit.
Samaroo relates with pride how he grounded with his black “brothers and sisters” in the Belmont valley to “conscientise” them in the afflictions of colonial indoctrination and the virtue of “blackness,” a claim validated by Khafra Kambon. Among Samaroo’s revolutionary students were Beverly Jones and Guy Harewood. Samaroo also regularly visited the detainees in Nelson Island (some of whom were his UWI students) to provide them with revolutionary literature.
Parmasad worked tirelessly to convince the Indians of central Trinidad that indentured labour imposed on them a duty to align themselves with the Africans in a common struggle to destroy neo-colonialism. Dr Walton Look Lai facilitated the literary dimension of the struggle through his editorship of the OWTU’s “Vanguard.” This multi-ethnic, Black Nationalist vanguard would confound Hanomansingh and his fellow segregationists.
Indeed, swimming against the current of cosmopolitan nationalism, some elements of the young Indian intelligentsia of the late 1960s launched the Society for the Propagation of Indian Culture (SPIC)—on the same campus that gave birth to Black Power, promoting a neo-apartheid, Indian nationalism, and demanding that south of the Caroni River be declared “Indesh,” an Indian homeland.
It is such counter-nationalism which, in an earlier time, led to late Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams’ charge of some Indians constituting a “recalcitrant minority.” Most writers and speakers who cite this expression, like Hanomansingh, have never read the speech to get its proper context. Even if the statement was impolitic, Africans have faced worse racial insults without rancour.
SPIC was a dagger in the heart of cosmopolitan nationalism from which the country has never recovered. Just check its modern mouthpiece, the “Indian Caribbean Diaspora Newsletter,” which seems to specialise in African bashing and demonising of every notable African in the Caribbean. It is this philosophy that informs the obstructionism of people like Hanomansingh and their inability to contribute meaningfully and positively to the debate on decolonising our public spaces.
In 1970, SPIC was on the wrong side of history; the neo-colonialists of today still are.