Path to Emancipation
HELEN DRAYTON Sunday, July 29 2012
I agonise when people want to, crassly, trade the dignity of ancestors for money under the guise of reparation. Money cannot compensate for the pain our ancestors suffered. Money cannot pay for their legacy of courage. Their children’s only entitlement is freedom, and equality of opportunity to pursue aspirations and achieve their potential.
This does not mean that national festivals should not be supported financially, but the Emancipation Support Committee needs to emancipate itself from the mentality of entitlement. It should reflect on the meaning of liberty which is the opposite of dependence.
Spain brought the first slaves to Trinidad around 1517. Among the ethnic groups that had arrived here first, were the Ibgo from Nigeria, Kongo from West Africa and the Malinke or Mandingo from Sierra Leone. Later, the Yoruba, Songhai, Ashanti and other ethnic groups arrived, some of whom were slaves in America and came here as “free” men.
From the fourteenth century when Portuguese and Spanish explorers landed in Africa, they found flourishing civilisations, and dynastic empires such as the mighty Kingdoms of Kongo and Benin.
The explorers saw well-organised and disciplined societies, social networks and sophisticated military operations, taxation and irrigation systems, and significant evidence of trade, in a variety of commodities, regionally and internationally.
The explorers described many places in the luminous continent as grand cities with “noble” buildings. The civilisations were hundreds of years old and impressed the explorers. In the case of Benin, the fortified city wall was longer than the Great Wall of China.
Slavery had always existed in Africa similar to every other continent. It was the world’s culture for thousands of years as evidenced from history 3000 BCE. The brothers of the biblical Joseph had sold him into slavery.
Slaves were economic tools peddled to the highest bidders by their own people—the Arabians, Africans, Indians, Chinese, English, Romans, Greeks, Russians, Scandinavians and Americans among others.
Kingdoms, tribes and countries invaded other lands to expand their power and control, acquire tradable resources, and get slaves to support commercial and domestic activity. The conquerors took men, women and children of every ethnicity, race and creed — the spoils of war — and acculturated them into armies of prostitutes, and to work in factories, gold mines, forests, plantations and homes. The backs of slaves were critical pillars of the Industrial Revolution. It is for the exact reason why today, slavers traffic more men, women and children, from and to every continent, annually, than during the peak-time transatlantic slavery of the eighteenth century.
Colonial ethno-centrists obscured their culpability in the repugnant trade of slavery by homogenising its worst aspect with an African identity. They distorted and pigeonholed the history of Africans as having started with colonisation and slavery.
As attested to by archaeologists, anthropologists and historians, the African continent has had a deep and inspiring history which rivalled that of other continents. Its leaders fended off invasion and occupation for thousands of years. Its leaders were as formidable as leaders anywhere else and had been reputed for their innovation, military prowess, courage, as well as brutality. Africa is not only the cradle of man, but it laid the foundation of modern cultures.
Alas, no group had endured the barbarism that Africans endured for over five hundred years of transatlantic slavery when it evolved to an industry based on race. It was viciousness — a Maafa or holocaust — of horrendous proportions sponsored and encouraged by churches, governments and civil societies worldwide.
For over five hundred years, European lords, African chieftains and North American powers operated the dreadful triangular system. They uprooted and traded over twelve million Africans into oppression. The tyranny started from the time slavers abducted and forced them to walk in coffles to infamous African ports, then chain-bounded them in vessels from hell that had sailed the dreaded middle passage.
The brutal separation from homes, family, language, religion and tradition was devastating. Worst of all was the emotional and lingering psychological impact of intergenerational persecution. For five hundred years, the devil’s disciples took men from their wives and children, evolving a pattern of behaviour. Evidentially, slavery continued for generations after abolition, and its adverse effects have not been fully exorcised.
People of African descent travelled a tortuous path. Despite horrendous adversity, the vast majority has triumphed and has thrived socially, economically and politically because they had seized opportunities to pursue their aspirations.
Trinidad and Tobago is our home. Our history is the history of Trinidad, so too, is the history of Africa, and the history of all the places from which all of our ancestors came.
Liberty is worthy of celebration, and Emancipation Day is an opportunity for remembrance, self-reflection, and to celebrate accomplishments. It is an opportunity to vow to leave welfare behind, for welfare, among able-bodied people, is slavery. It is an occasion for renewal of collective aspirations for a higher quality of family and community life.