Dear Editor: Is the pot calling the kettle black? Baldeosingh knocks Fergus over ‘historical distortions’

“In an article published on Wired868 on 15 December, Dr Claudius Fergus responded to Dool Hanomansingh, rightly accusing him of ‘gross historical distortions’ and asserting that ‘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.’ Then, in his own article, Fergus, who lectures in history at The UWI, proceeded to commit exactly the same transgressions (…).”

The following Letter to the Editor, which is a response to a letter published on this site earlier this month, was submitted to Wired868 by Kevin Baldeosingh:

Photo: UWI lecturer Dr Claudius Fergus.

It’s always amusing to watch ideologues argue about who is more racist.

In an article published on Wired868 on 15 December, Dr Claudius Fergus responded to Dool Hanomansingh, rightly accusing him of “gross historical distortions” and asserting that “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.” Then, in his own article, Fergus, who lectures in history at The UWI, proceeded to commit exactly the same transgressions although his falsehoods are more egregious since he is an academic.

For example, Fergus writes that, “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.’”

Budge died in 1934. And Professor of Classical History Frank M Snowden notes that it is erroneous to assume that the term ‘Afri’ (from which the continental name “Africa” is derived) used by Greeks is always synonymous with the modern terminology of words like “Negro” or “black.”

“Greeks and Romans differentiated clearly between the various gradations in the colour of dark-skinned Mediterraneans and used several adjectives—e.g. melas and niger (black and dark), fuscus (dark but lighter than niger)—to describe people darker than themselves,” Snowden writes. “Not all people described by such colour terms were blacks or Negroes in the modern sense, but only the inhabitants of the Nile valley south of Egypt and of the southern fringes of north-western Africa.”

Photo: A sculpture of Memnon, a former Ethiopian king who, in Greek mythology, was considered to be almost Achilles’ equal in skill.

The term “Ethiopians” comes from “Aithopes”, which means “burnt-faced peoples.” Moreover, contrary to Fergus’ claim, the Roman poet Malinius classified Ethiopians as black, Indians less so and Egyptians as mildly dark.

Fergus then asserts the standard Afrocentrist/Islamist canard that “Arabs did not ‘forcibly’ convert Africans south of the Sahara. Indeed, Africans were partners in the construction of Islam.”

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.”

This is at best a half-truth. The eminent Near Eastern historian Bernard Lewis writes that “the good reputation of the Ethiopians was further increased by the kindly welcome afforded to Muslim refugees from Mecca” but that “After the conquests, however, there were changes. Advancing on the one hand into Africa and on the other into southwest Asia the Arabs encountered fairer-skinned people who were more advanced and darker-skinned people who were more primitive. No doubt as a result of this, they began to equate the two facts.”

This period also saw the “massive development of the slave trade in black Africa.”

The historian John Parker writes: “By the end of the first millennium, camel-riding Berber and Arab traders had begun to forge links across the Sahara with what they called the bilad al-Sudan, the ‘lands of the blacks.’ With trade came Islam itself, attracting converts from amongst the commercial and the ruling elites of West Africa’s savanna kingdoms.”

Photo: African travellers through the Middle East.

Historian Adam J Silverstein notes that “the Arabs arrived in the Near East and North in the mid-to-late 7th Century and stayed there, creating garrison towns in North Africa, Egypt, Iraq, and eastern Iran – only in Syria did the conquerors settle in existing towns.” Why the need for fortress settlements if Islam was spread peaceably?

But Fergus’ most revealing assertion is that “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.”

CLR James in The Black Jacobins records that in 1805, “the whites in Haiti were massacred by the orders of Dessalines,” immediately followed by the justificatory “All histories are full of this.” Fergus’ adjective ‘great’ suggests that he supports Marxist ideology. But Communism itself directly and indirectly was responsible for the deaths of about 70 million people.

Any historian who elides that fact while claiming to stand for a moral cause is being at the very least intellectually dishonest.

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  1. Everyone is black at their core, I am always proud to remind.

  2. It is time for Caribbeans to recognise what we achieved and reassert ourselves in the region. I find these last three of the Indian conspiracy highly offensive, petty distractions. To quote from the Black Jacobins and somehow confine the revolution to Black atrocities is absurd. We should be reminded that in the time of great European armies we Caribbean Negroes defended against their three greatest armies in 14 years of debilitating war and won. We won our freedom everywhere there were negroes enslaved in the region. We won the land; we won prohibition of their slave ships, and we won the right to continue with the theme of The Rights of Man. The Whites who huddled in Trinidad were in hiding from our retribution. We in the Caribbean are going nowhere unless we unite locally and Caribbean-wide for the next step. If Indians don’t come they shouldn’t expect a hero’s portion standing on the sidelines sniping at our front lines.
    The documentary film “1804 – The Hidden History of Haiti” explains much in 90 minutes.

  3. Wasn’t Mr Fergus a teacher in NEC in the 80s?

  4. I think Communism is being conflated with the Haitian Revolution. So whatever the merits or criticisms of Communism the Haitian Revolution was significant. But I don’t like the reference to it being the “most significant victory towards the advancement of universal freedom” simply because it lends to itself to too much subjectivity.

    “The caravan road between Kasongo and Tanganyoka is strewn with corpses of carriers. exactly as in the time of the Arab slave trade.” Captain Baccari-King of Italy’s Envoy (circa 1900). The location is what was once the Belgian Congo. The Captain is making a comparison between Leopold’s Congo vs the Arab slave trade there.

  5. I remember reading some of the racist comments then…

  6. Baldeosingh is correct about islam in africa it was anything BUT peaceful

    …as to the shades of black…the indians were called black by the Europeans and why is that even a topic i dont even know…

    whats the issue about CLR and Haiti ? what is Baldeosingh trying to say? that the Revolution was wrong ?

  7. Please note Dr. Fergus is no longer at The UWI History department since his retirement in 2016.

  8. anybody knows exactly what Hanoomansingh wrote?

    • Yorley Alejandra Mendez, can you share again what Hanoomansingh wrote?

    • This is the article Dr Fergus responded to

      And this type of thing is typical of Baldeosingh: find what agrees with your preconceived notions and cite it to legitimise your stance. Examine the source of the source? No, for what?

      Today we have Morgan Job, Henry Louis Gates (ok, and Ben Carson). A few years prior (in economics) we had Thomas Sowell. In the 1940s and 50s we had Frank Snowden. Every generation has “acceptable negroes”. Snowden denied the Africanness of the ancient Egyptians as does the likes of Baldeosingh. Snowden was called out on that by a number of scholars including the late Jacob Carruthers who pointed out in his book “Intellectual Warfare” that by Snowden’s own categorising, *he* would have been considered a “non-black”, but google an image of Snowden and see what stares back at you.

      Notice how Baldeosingh makes no mention of Cheikh Anta Diop or his associate (who is still alive) Theophile Obenga and their historic 1974 debate against a cadre of historians and Egyptologists on the ethnicity of the ancient Egyptians. Notice there is no mention of the Papyrus of Hunefer, a document written by the Egyptians, that says that “we came from the beginnings of the Nile…in the foothills of the mountains of the Moon (i.e. the Kilimanjaro and Ruwenzori mountains where the Nile begins)….I guess black people cannot be relied upon to speak the truth about themselves…..but what do we have to say about the reliability of Herodotus?

      It’s beyond disgusting that in 2017 we still have people like Baldeosingh willing to go along with the European/Euro-American imperative to separate ancient Egypt from the rest of Africa.

      Re Islam

      There is no one history of how Islam was spread across Africa; much of it was indeed violent as Chancellor James Willaims and Mahmoud Mamdani’s works attest. But there is also a history that points to Islam in West Africa was spread by islamised Africans who left the ancient matri-axial customs alone (unlike East Africa where Islam was spread more by Arabs); one only has to read ibn Battuta’s book and note his shocked observations of devout Muslim West African women dressed “revealingly” and conducting independent business, veto power in political affairs and other things some East African and certain Bedouin women could not do. That quote he cited from Dr Parker alludes to this.

      As for Haiti, even I am struggling to understand what was his point. Whites were massacred yes (and rightly so), but other whites were not, an entire contingent of whites from Poland who fought on their side were made Haitian citizens. Perhaps he may want to confer with Prof Bayinnah Bello who is Haitian.

    • ” I would like Professor Hilary Beckles to also denounce the fact that Blacks in Trinidad participated in the encomienda system that enslaved the First People. When the Spanish governor took a decision to end the encomienda, the Blacks protested. The Blacks formed a large segment of the population in Port of Spain and threatened to disrupt the society. The governor had to give way to them while the Spanish and others had to free their Amerindian slaves.”

      DH sane?

    • Kyon Estelle I’ve been looking at the articles on ICDN for some months now and it’s not about being ‘sane’ or following any rules of academic honesty, it’s mostly about venting one’s deep-seated prejudices and narrow Hindutva nationalism. Now *some* of the critiques have merit, but the responses are frequently just as bad and often worse.

    • the population before the Cedula was approx 1500 persons 237 years ago

      i would like him to tell me how many of that were black slave owners holding amerindians against their will in slavery ?

    • There were a few though; I don’t have the numbers but there were a few from the French islands who settled here.

    • right and they brought their preexisting slaves

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