I have a bit of advice for Mr Kamal Persad, coordinator of the research centre of The Indian Review: if you truly wish to defend the reputation of “the Indian-Trinidadian intelligentsia” (your description), as you claim in your latest “letter to the editor” in the Trinidad Express of 6 February, please do them a favour and refrain from publishing easily checked disinformation.
In his rebuttal of criticisms of a Dool Hanomansingh’s publication, Persad has again sacrificed truth and academic integrity for the mere joy of impugning the reputation and character of Shabaka Kambon, Director of the Cross Rhodes Freedom Project and myself, a senior member of the CRFP.
After reading Persad’s construction of historical narrative (I consider him a trained historian) and his interpretation of recently published histories of Trinidad, I can only hope that he is not employed as a secondary school teacher. That gives him the opportunity to confuse and corrupt the minds of vulnerable adolescents with his vitriolic interpretations of the African presence in the Caribbean.
If Persad wants readers outside of the Indian Caribbean Diaspora Newsletter (ICDN) to take his scholarship seriously, at least he should have begun his rebuttal of the criticisms levelled against Hanomansingh’s careless misrepresentations with unassailable facts. I am astounded that Persad, the holder of a Master’s degree in history from the UWI, could associate the British with the introduction of sugar cane cultivation and slavery in the Caribbean. I am even more astounded by his erroneous placement of the Tainos in Trinidad—even CXC textbooks would have the correct demographic distribution of these people.
Persad writes, “In his book Spanish Trinidad (2012), Padrón stated….” Francisco Padrón, however, did not publish that book in 2012 or at any other time. If he had read the book at all, he ought to have seen that Padrón wrote a manuscript on Trinidad’s history that was never published until Armando Garcia translated and published it in the said year.
If he is unable to get such basic facts correct, I am not surprised that he erred with less common historical data, except that I think the mischief was deliberate. Indeed, every paragraph that Persad wrote contains similar distortions of fact.
At a time when our education system marginalises the study of history, I welcome debating historical issues in the public domain. I see such exchanges as a means of not only rekindling interest in the subject but also in demonstrating the relevance of history. Debating with ideologues like Persad, however, is intellectually exhausting and invariably futile. Nevertheless, I am compelled to address some of the more serious distortions in his latest assault on “the Kambons” and myself.
It would seem that Mr Kamal Persad and his close associates are hell-bent on slandering certain members of the African community in Trinidad and Tobago for some obscure reason, even if it means assailing well-known historical data in order to accomplish that objective.
His letter to the Trinidad Express of 6 February was first published in the Indian Caribbean Diaspora Newsletter. It is worthy of note that I responded to the errors in that publication on the ICDN’s Facebook page. Without any amendment, Persad simply expanded his slanderous provocation to a wider readership by having the identical article published in the Trinidad Express.
Some of my former colleagues in the Department of History find comic relief in my rebuttal of Kamal Persad and his associates because no one in the Department has ever taken them seriously. But there is a peril in such casual dismissal in this digital age.
The written word will definitely outlive us all. At some time in the future, a digital search of the specific aspects of the history of T&T put out by Kamal Persad, Hanomansingh and others of “the Indian-Trinidadian intelligentsia” might be the only results yielded. I am wont to believe that Persad and his associates are keenly aware of that possibility in pursuing their sinister agendas in total disregard of truth.
Contrary to Persad’s assumption, historians have an obligation to critique and challenge their professional colleagues. That is the reason all academic journals reserve a substantial section of each issue for “Book Reviews”. More specifically, if necessary, I would challenge Dr Armando Garcia and Professor Emerita Bridget Brereton but in Persad’s latest “letter to the editor” there is nothing quoted in their work to challenge; rather, it is the weird insinuations that Persad makes about their work that need rejecting.
I could more properly address Persad’s comments on post-Cedula Trinidad if the writing was not lacking clarity and did not employ confusing quotation marks—perhaps deliberately designed to confuse the reader—in order to link his comments on that period to the earlier fabricated information on African-Amerindian relations in the late-17th Century.
Historians readily acknowledge that “Coloureds,” mainly from Grenada, owned slaves and received land grants under the Cedula real of 1783. I dealt with that in my book, Revolutionary Emancipation. It is useless to deny that fact. I will, however, argue that “Coloureds” were not Africans, no more so than Douglas are Indians.
The simple fact is that, after the plantation system was introduced, slavery became ubiquitous, from Governor to commoner—even planters’ babies were legal owners of enslaved persons.
A few freed Africans did purchase enslaved Africans in the post-Cedula plantation period but, invariably, they were their close relatives, purchased in order to free them. Did such acts indicate participation in slavery or anti-slavery? A few enslaved Africans also bought other enslaved Africans, again mainly their close relatives, in order to save them from the brutal treatment of plantation masters.
As a form of reimbursement, those so purchased were required by their purchasers to work in the provision plots of the latter, their rescuers. This was clearly an adaptation of the system of pawnship and clientship practised in Africa, which still exists in certain settings today.
Eminent historians such as Paul Lovejoy, Akosua Perbi, B. I. Obichere, F. A. Adjayi, Victor Uchendu and Suzanne Miers concur that pawnship and clientship were institutions of unfreedom but definitely not institutions of chattel slavery.
The fact that enslaved Africans’ orientation was not slave ownership but freedom is borne out by the fact that moderately large farmlands owned by Merikins and discharged West India soldiers were worked only by free labour. The orientation to freedom is also borne out by data on self-emancipation or self-manumission. Receipts from the sale of provisions were used extensively for self-manumission in Trinidad in the period of Amelioration (1823-1834).
With the cost of manumission ranging from £62 sterling to £174 sterling, depending on age and occupation of the subject, manumission often wiped out years of savings. Between 1821 and 1827, for example, 576 enslaved Africans in Trinidad paid the huge sum of £37,466 sterling to manumit themselves (sourced from the “Protector of Slaves Reports” in the British Archives’ Colonial Office series CO 300/19-21).
That sum is equivalent to US$4,032,000.00 in 2018 (using University of Wyoming Pounds to Dollars converter); this would amount in TTD to a staggering $24,796,800.00 (using First Citizens Bank forex rate).
This is the type of empowering history we need to teach our students, not the crap that Persad and his associates dig up and twist into all kinds of distortions in the service of propaganda.
To stop the grassroots surge for economic self-sufficiency after emancipation, the colonial State and planter class collaborated in several devious strategies of containment, including depriving freed Africans of access to land and massive immigration of indentured labourers to stymie wages.
If Persad presumes that Africans were moral hypocrites for owning slaves in Trinidad and in various parts of Africa, as he relates in his letter to the editor, I wonder if he would retain the same moral compass for Indians who held property in enslaved Africans in East Africa and engaged in the Indian Ocean slave trade. And if not, why not?
I hold fast to the position that there is no evidence whatsoever that Africans enslaved Amerindians in Trinidad. Before the union of Tobago and Trinidad, the published history of Trinidad included no such information. These works include E. L. Joseph’s in 1837, P. G. Borde’s in 1876 & 1872, and L. M. Fraser’s in 1891 & 1892.
The book cited by Persad, Spanish Trinidad, translated by Armando Garcia and published in 2012, does not contain such information either. As Selwyn Cudjoe recently wrote in the Trinidad Express, “Kamal lives in a different world,” a world of unreality and mischief.
Persad conveniently quotes one sentence from Garcia’s Spanish Trinidad and disingenuously paraphrases the second that would have exposed the truth that the book did not say or even hint that Africans enslaved Amerindians. Persad writes, “Africans, Coloureds and Mixed were also owners of Amerindian slaves, but [Governor] Roseta did not dare forbid Africans from exploiting these First Peoples as he had done to the Spaniards.”
The source of Persad’s paraphrase in Garcia’s text is “Men of colour and of mixed ancestry employed Amerindians for work.” His paraphrase, therefore, is far removed from Garcia’s text.
Spanish colonials had their unique name for all social groups in the colonies, reflecting a mixture of “blood” and geographic origin, some of which were distinctly racist: for example, “Negro” was a pure-blooded African, but “Bozal” was an African “unassimilated” to Castilian language and culture; “Pardo”, on the other hand, was an assimilated African.
Similarly, there were many distinctions of mulattoes, including mulato blanco (African and Spanish mix), mulato prieto (African and Pardo mix) and mulato lobo (Pardo and Amerindian mix).
In Spanish colonial ethnography, “men of colour” was not synonymous with any of the terminologies for “African”. Furthermore, enslavement is not a synonym for employment or work. Garcia did not use the word “exploiting”; nor did he use “enslaved” in any form. The true source of Persad’s paraphrase is his own imagination.
Throughout the Caribbean, wage labour existed side by side with slave labour. No African owned any of the four encomiendas in Trinidad. Under the “Laws of Burgos” (1542), Spain abolished Amerindian slavery, except for those conveniently labelled “cannibals” and “prisoners of war,” some of whom were trafficked into Trinidad. But no evidence exists of Africans purchasing those unfortunate Amerindians.
Furthermore, in no context did the Governor use the word “slave” in addressing African-Amerindian relations.
Persad’s reference to Bridget Brereton—using some weird quotation marks—does not establish that Africans owned slaves; nor does it establish that they didn’t. In other words, Persad presents no evidence to invalidate my criticism of Dool Hanomansingh’s poorly researched article. Instead, he deliberately attempts to deceive vulnerable readers.
With similar deception, Kamal fails to acknowledge my rejoinder to Baldeosingh’s article a few days after Baldeosingh’s futile attempt to debunk my criticism of Hanomansingh.
Persad begins his attack by labelling Kambon and myself “black power activists,” as if the term Black Power is anathema to the development of T&T. How unfortunate! To the contrary, the post-Independence history of Trinidad and Tobago will never make sense without an understanding of the historical role of Black Power.
Only persons like Persad and his close associates among the “Indian-Trinidadian intelligentsia” continue to deny the achievements of the Black Power Revolution.
I have demonstrated in a previous Wired868 column that the Black Power movement in T&T was a grassroots movement to unite the various races in destroying the stranglehold of neo-colonialism. Yes, Mr Persad, Professor Brinsley Samaroo and Dr Kenneth Parmasad (as well as Dr Walter Look Lai) were also significant “Black Power activists.”
Would “the Indian-Trinidadian intelligentsia” brand them “neemakaram” or honour them as true heroes of T&T? Although the Black Power movement ultimately floundered, it succeeded in changing many of the socio-economic fundamentals of colonialism, of which Persad and his cohorts are ungrateful beneficiaries.
The CRFP is a continuation of grassroots anti-colonialism. Like the Black Power movement, the CRFP seeks to build bridges across T&T’s racial divides. Persad’s perfidious insistence that Africans enslaved Amerindians is no doubt intended to undermine that bridge between the CRFP and the First Peoples.
We say, Columbus must go! But we have consistently advocated the replacement of the current monument in the capital city with one of the first great anti-colonial heroes of the island, Baucunar or Hyarima—not an African.
Man up, Kamal Persad! You owe Shabaka and me an apology. Isn’t it better to join forces to create a better Trinidad and Tobago than to engage in unproductive verbal battles?