Preparing For Birth (Of Our Nation)
Youlou was entering the final days of her pregnancy. Hers has been a turbulent time, going back generations, no different from those of generations of her ancestors. Through them she had vaguely heard talk of the atrocities committed by the invaders whom the native people of America had called “pale-skins” and people who “speak with forked tongues”. Her limited understanding of those people was of people who “came, conquered and devastated”.
Word of mouth stories related the horrors suffered by her ancestors – stories of rape, torture, murder and exile. But what a time for this young girl to be recalling these sordid tales! She should be focusing on her own predicament. Yet they kept haunting her and the imagination ran riot furthering her own mental and physical suffering. Who was she really? What identity would she bequeath to her infant, what future lay in store? Would faith alone be enough to see the infant through?
She herself was a mere 10-year-old, fated to become a mother in the upcoming days. Not that her condition was different from the fate of many other unprepared mothers in neighbouring islands, for child abuse was very much a product of the system of oppression which her people had endured for centuries.
It was not just her native Garifuna and Kalinago who had suffered these indignities and brutal exploitation. The “pale skins”, having deprived her people of their lands to make way for plantation slavery, brought in others on whose backs the Empire would be built – African slaves who bore the brunt of the burden, Indian indentured “servants”, virtually slaves themselves and only one notch up the ladder above the Africans, and various second-class Europeans (Portuguese, Irish, Scots) who were to serve as buffers between the rulers and those at the bottom.
But even as these bitter thoughts engulfed her, more positive memories surfaced – her people had survived and so had those others brought in to underpin colonial rule. She had recollections of the stories of brave resistance, of valiant battles led by a heroic super-hero named Chatoyer. He, it was said, was not just a warrior, but an intelligent statesman, gifted with the skill of forging alliances to ensure his people’s survival. Even when stripped of land, culture, identity and finally exiled, his name and deeds stirred deep in the breasts of her people.
Yet, given the deadly advantages of modern weapons, her people had been no match in the long run and colonial rule took sway. The battles continued in the form of slave rebellions, the campaign against the inhuman slave system leading to emancipation, the struggle to end colonial rule. Emancipation came, but it took more than another century before the right to vote was won.
Other leaders had emerged to carry on Chatoyer’s battles, albeit in changed circumstances. George McIntosh was prominent in the early struggles for civil and political rights, a tradition continued by Ebeneezer Joshua. Yet it took the militant actions of working people in October 1935, (the name of Samuel ‘Sheriff’ Lewis was sometimes whispered) to propel the process.
But again, those thoughts kept riling her. Why was she being tortured like this, at a time when, it should be her upcoming ordeal foremost in her mind? Was it because, herself having had a mere 10-year experience, she was fearful of being able to nurture her child-to-be? Did the fact of her own immaturity, weak resource base, and troubling inexperience, tell her that she was about to give birth to a child with a very uncertain future?
The last 18 months of her life had been one of great turmoil and strife, very unsuitable for preparing a mother-to-be or infant-to-be-born. It was virtually a case of being battered from pillar to post. Now on the eve of the historic moment, she did not even know the name of her child’s father, so what should she call the new-born? What melodies should greet the infant if her own native melodies had been suppressed and hidden? How could her people celebrate the moment without even colours rooted in their history and experience? How could she provide for this child in such an environment?
But the inner strength, forged in centuries of the fight for survival, of the struggle against oppression, came to the fore. The mother, she herself, might be malnourished, but she was determined to be strong, to face the uncertain times ahead with fortitude, to call upon the spirits of her ancestors to give birth to a healthy young child, expected on October 27. She was determined, in spite of the odds to ensure the birth, survival and development of her precious Nation.
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.