Lest we forget
We are still into the month of Emancipation, one hundred and eighty two years after our D-day and also still into our 40th year of Independence.Moreover, we are facing the Covid-19 pandemic. We were not as discomforted as some of our neighbours, in that we were not subjected to curfews and even the wearing of masks was optional. Despite this, we were obviously inconvenienced enough to reflect on where we stand in the scheme of things. And, of course, we are fully into the Silly Season, waiting for the sound of the bell. Our people seem more than before to be looking at how our country ticks. Social media allows us to connect and to share our views and expectations. Governance in our country has gotten to a stage where the evils could no longer be hidden. The distribution of building supplies and the manner in which it is done continue to sicken me. But so much more is rotten. There is a mad rush to fix roads and provide road work. Promises are being made more than we have time to digest. Projects are being started as if they have fallen out of thin air, a possibility only at election time. They are naturally done in a slipshod manner and are rushed for blatant political reasons. In fact, to be more specific for electioneering purposes! Those worked in the past and the expectation is that they will continue to be.
But all of this is a reflection on us as a people. Let us not forget that we are descendants of a proud people who did not sit around waiting for handouts. Not only did they fight slavery and the occupation of our land, but they built the country that we have today. Although there were no reported slave revolts theirs was a constant rejection of slavery. They burnt plantations, ran away, feigned illness, faked stupidity, pretending not to understand instructions given, destroyed tools and did whatever they could to obstruct production. There were also individual acts of murder against plantation owners or managers. They held on to their provision grounds, sold surplus produce at the Sunday Market and in some cases made enough to buy their way out of slavery. The use of their provision grounds and huts allowed them to retain their African culture. At the Sunday Market they exchanged ideas, established relations, and gossiped about what was happening on the estates.
After emancipation they fought to become independent of the estates, having their own land and working on the plantations when conditions and pay were acceptable to them. They created villages out of the estates which had dominated the country’s landscape. When they were unable to get land, they struggled for it and forced the government in 1899 to introduce the first government land settlement scheme. They formed new friendly societies which they managed, moving away from control by the Ministers of Religion. Reverend S F Branch told the 1897 Royal Commission that “The labourer, by his lay, friendly and religious societies, all self-managed and not as heretofore directed by ministers of religion. . . The labourer shows he is testing the pleasure of thinking and determining for himself.”
This is a powerful statement that shows the state of the former slaves 59 years after emancipation. When cotton and arrowroot became the country’s chief agricultural exports the small famers and peasants were the ones who contributed significantly to the export economy. They shipped animals and provision particularly to Trinidad and Barbados. The Shakers, now Spiritual Baptists controlled their religion and worshipped in the way they wanted to and the way their foreparents did.
Today we have become a lost people, many of us living on Poor Relief or the occasional hand out and depending tremendously on remittances to survive. The State of our Society and country is really a sad one. We have to wake up and act and be like the people of 1897, thinking and determining for ourselves.
Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian