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Claude’s Comments: The agenda behind Kamal Persad’s slander and historical distortions

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.

Photo: A statue of Christopher Columbus in Port-of-Spain.

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.

Photo: Shabaka Kambon of Cross Rhodes TT discusses Milner Hall at the Central Bank Auditorium in July 2017.

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.

Photo: Kamal Persad is the co-ordinator of The Indian Review research centre.

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.

Photo: Actor Chiwetel Ejiofor plays the role of Solomon Northup in the film adaption of the 1853 slave memoir 12 Years A Slave.

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).

Photo: Actor Leonardo Di Caprio plays Calvin Candie, a colonial slave owner in the film Django Unchained.
(Copyright Django Unchained)

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.

Photo: An artist’s depiction of the encomienda system.

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.

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

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.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago citizens march for racial unity on 12 March, 1970.
(Courtesy Embau Moheni/NJAC)

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?

Photo: A statue of the great warrior Hyarima, a Nepuyo chief of the Araucan tribe, who led an army that chased the Spaniards out of St Joseph on 14 October, 1637.

About Claudius Fergus

Claudius Fergus
Claudius Fergus is a retired Senior Lecturer in the Department of History at UWI’s St Augustine Campus who specialises in the abolition of British colonial slavery and its transatlantic slave trade. His major work on the subject is Revolutionary Emancipation: Slavery and Abolitionism in the British West Indies (2013). He has other extensive publications in peer-reviewed journals and edited books.

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18 comments

  1. Read Professor Selwyn Cudjoe’s Article in the Sunday Express as he refutes “claims” made by many who are hell-bent on rewriting the history of this country in their image and likeness. Some people believe that repeating lies over and over eventually make them accepted as the truth…I continue to say that any Race or Religion that are prejudice against their own brother because of the color of his skin can find no love whatsoever for anyone else! The Caste System brought to this country by Low-Caste Indians “arriving” to cut cane will forever pose a threat to national development and our nation’s security. It continues to drive a wedge between the two major races and if not addressed intelligently and with historical fact, could only lead to ethnic violence. For make no mistake about it…No High-Caste Maharajas ever left India in their Brahmin state to cut cane in the West Indies as many of the racist assholes in this country would like their children to believe! Under the PNM Indians have taken full advantage of what is entitled to every citizen ie. Free Health Care, Food in Schools, Social; Services Delivery, Education etc…History will continue to prove that those that claim discrimination from Africans and the PNM are the most Ungrateful Neemakarams that live because it is under the PNM regime that Indians and Everybody else got rich in this country! And any regime practicing racism would not have allowed them to have what they have…Deceit and Treachery knows no limit to those who are determined to divide this country along race and religion…In reality, Africans are the ones being discriminated against by those who have enjoyed the most from this country unimpeded..Lasana Liburd….Apparently the true Judases and Terrorists in this land are those that hide behind the false claim that they were discriminated against based on race and religious preference…They are the ones that allegedly stockpiled arms and ammunition when our country’s borders were left open to enable the quadrupling of illegal immigration to supplement votes for the 2020 general elections……those are the ones who use the profits from the drug trade to further their agenda by allegedly controlling the press and media by the way of bribery and fraud…those are the ones who continue to steal land in this country day and night working overtime to establish their Hindu Homeland in the West…Those are the ones that practice discrimination against citizens based on race and religion…crying wolf while eating the chickens…Those are the ones who elude the FIU through corrupt practices and enjoy comfy arrangements with wicked criminal elements within the banking system….Those are the ones who are the cause of thousands without jobs and the rise in crime…yet the take time to think us asses!!!

  2. Very good reading sir,Thank you

  3. The problem with these alt-reality times is that people across the board are trying to rewrite their own versions of history. While there’s nothing essentially wrong with this, the problem of course is when race-ist agendas are the driving force. Im not a fan of this Icdn outfit for this reason. Deification of one ethnic group at the expense of the other is not academic discourse. There are ways to challenge how history places Indo-Caribbean people. But contorting the data is just not on. On both sides. As the writer notes, while we bicker, there’s a nation reeling under decades of bad governance. Race-baiting parading as historical research is the last thing we need.

  4. #FactCheckers
    Bless their Golden Hearts.

  5. Good read. Well written and well articulated. People like Mr. Persad seem to be living with jumbies on their backs. Please forgive me, but all that comes to mind is that he can go to hell!.

  6. If Trinidad wasn’t such a fraudulent paradise full of stunters, performers, charlatans and other poseurs, stories like this would could never exist outside people’s heads
    As such, any and everybody gets validity

  7. What were you all expecting this is how they operate and they have been repeating these folk tales for years and now they have been given prominence on a national newspaper.

  8. Well articulated response Dr. Claudius Fergus. Professionalism and scholarship throughout this studied article. Information much needed in the public domain. Thank you Wired 868. The following significant comment speaks volumes – “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.” Nuff said

  9. Because they are all about “themselves” and dont really care about TnT

  10. Racist. What? I prefer to call it as it is.

  11. Watch carefully who teaches your children

  12. He was a Secondary school teacher in Belmont and the students cursed him and complained about him all the time.

  13. “Persad’s perfidious insistence that Africans enslaved Amerindians is no doubt intended to undermine that bridge between the CRFP and the First Peoples.” Totally agreed! And, if Kamal Persad is the same person who wrote that vitriol about Dr. Williams, then in fact, Dr. Samaroo et al. would no doubt be neemakarams, according to his logic.