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A response to Jomo – My take on the 1935 riots

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Continued from last week

My disagreement with Jomo has to do with the role he has carved out for Sheriff Lewis. He argued that once the decision was taken to do something on October 21, it was “remarkable the level of planning and organisation which ensued in the heat of the battles”. The information which Jomo has presented about Sheriff and the role he played in the riots was taken from an interview that Caspar London had with Sheriff in the 1970s.{{more}} I had looked at that piece in the early 1980s and tried to verify the account and test its accuracy. Interviews done by participants in any activity are important for historical purposes, but we have to be careful about this because, depending on when they are done, there is the issue of memory. You, therefore, have to be prepared to prompt the persons being interviewed with recorded data and thus draw them out. Additionally, over time, peoples’ perception of events change and they become influenced by the thinking of that particular era and begin to see those same events and their participation in them in a different light. I am struck, for instance, by the discrepancies between the accounts given by Sheriff and others about the length of sentences imposed on them and the official accounts – including confidential memos to the Governor. If, for instance, you were to examine interviews with persons of Carib ancestry in earlier years and then, in the period after 1992, you would begin to appreciate the difference. I particularly mention 1992, because that was the year of the quincentenary of the arrival of Columbus in the New World. At that time a lot of research was being done and had been done, revisiting the history of the indigenous peoples whose descendants then began to take great pride in their history. Chatoyer was no longer villain, but a hero and people of Carib ancestry began to proudly proclaim themselves Carib and indentify with their ancestors. Another good example is with George Charles, who, at a lecture he gave at the Squash Complex at Paul’s Lot, began to project himself as a heroic figure who had participated in a number of international events and was a key player in them.

Jomo wrote: “News travels fast and the rebellion soon spread as far as Georgetown and Chateaubelair. The rebels led by Sheriff Lewis and demonstrating a measure of organisation and coordination, cut telephone wires and blocked several key bridges.” Let us put this in context. This was the era before cell phones and other forms of mobile communication. Only a few persons had telephones. These would have been top government officials, the planters and well to do business people. There were no mini-vans and therefore any one from the country, even up to the 1960s, would know that if you lived in say Georgetown, Barrouallie or Chateaubelair, the bus would leave for Kingstown very early – in the case of Chateaubelair 4:30 or 5 a.m and return late in the afternoon. How was Sheriff able to communicate this information to his fellow rebels in those areas while leading the events in Kingstown?

Police Lucas Layne from Georgetown indicated to me that persons in Georgetown knew about the riots in the afternoon when the bus arrived from Kingstown. He informed me and the official reports confirm that the rioting at Georgetown started at about 6:30 p.m. There was no telephone communication north of Stubbs, the authorities being informed that telephone wires between Kingstown and Georgetown were cut between 3:30 and 4 p.m. They were only able to despatch a patrol to the windward side at about 2 a.m. to investigate conditions there. Captain Alban Da Santos, who led the mission to the windward side noted that “..passing through Stubbs I did not think it necessary to make any enquiries as this district appeared to be as silent as a grave”

At Sans Souci, at the entrance leading to the estate house, they had to remove telephone wires that were on the road. They woke up the manager Mr Dublin, who was not even aware that the telephone lines had been cut. He indicated that “…he knew of no occurrence of a disorderly nature”. Byera on the other hand, showed signs of activity with telephone poles and lines lying on the ground and at one area three coconut trees had been pulled across the road. On their return to Byera they were met by “a large, ugly and boisterous crowd armed with stones, sticks and cutlasses.” Capt Da Santos stated too “…the patrol was attacked by persons from the top of the over-hanging Mt. William bluff…The attack of these stones was returned by rifle fire…” No indication was given of the time when this occurred, but clearly it was after 6:30 a.m., since at that time they were at the Mt Bentinck estate, where they were informed that there had been no serious disorder there.

I have difficulty associating all of this with Sheriff’s leadership. If he was behind this, then he should be more than a National Hero, perhaps a Super Hero. (Next week I will look some more at what had transpired in Georgetown, based not only on the official records, but on my interview with Constable Lucas Layne, and then look at Campden Park.

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