What if they had thrown a spear instead?

What if they had thrown a spear that morning instead of greeting them with curiosity?

The riverside village was alive with movement. Children were running around, playing games which mimicked the activities of their elders. The boys pretended that they had just returned from the hunt, four of them struggling with the imaginary weight of their bounty. Their shouts of triumph spoke of years to come when they would assume the very real role of protectors and providers in their community. In the shade of the ancient tree, little girls played at grinding flour and making cakes. A few pretended to wash clothes. The women tended their gardens, nursed babies and kept a watchful eye on the children. The men sat in a circle planning their next foray into the jungle.

“Look, look!” shouted one woman who had gone down to the river’s edge to collect water.

As the villagers looked out on the river they were greeted with a strange sight. Floating down the river, on a vessel larger than they had ever seen, were men with skin that had no colour. They were clothed in a manner unlike anything they had ever seen. Several of the men appeared to have one eye which protruded from their faces like a hollow stick. The people were curious. The large vessel with the curious looking men approached the shore slowly, and meeting no resistance, docked and disembarked.

And so it began.

The white men were allowed access to the village
They impressed the villagers with things hitherto unknown.
And villagers from other communities were captured and taken away from their village to become slaves.
And the white strangers did not act alone.

Scene from the movie “Amistad” based on true events

Let’s Go There…

They were facilitated in the first instance by being granted access, and they were then aided and abetted by members of the community, made easy in a context of an already existing system of slavery. The villagers turned over their own slaves in return for various offerings made by the white man. The villagers also went on hunting expeditions with the white man to capture would be slaves from rival tribes, again in return for gifts and protection. As the white men grew comfortable and more greedy, and as captives escaped the slavers’ nets and returned with tales of horror to the village, the villagers realized that the white strangers had taken advantage of their ancient traditions in order to exploit. The slavery that the white men instituted did not resemble what was being practiced in the areas of Africa they sought to plunder.

But it was too late.

Having been granted access, the white man was able to overcome any delayed resistance now offered. His guns, medical knowledge and boats gave him superior fighting power, the ability to actually survive in this dangerous (to him) tropical climate and granted him access where once there was none. Hundreds of thousands of Africans were roughly displaced and cruelly deployed in lands way across the seas. Hundreds of thousands of Africans perished and were killed on the way to these alien territories. Hundreds of thousands of Africans were enslaved and brutalized and murdered by these white men who leveraged their position in a land that was not theirs, a land that they plundered again and again and again to enrich their homeland in Europe.

What if they had thrown a spear that morning instead of greeting them with curiosity?

To be clear: this question is not about casting blame for what was to come on those who were enslaved and murdered. A sequence of events occurred that ended in what has become an inescapable part of history. Access and then support from the village enabled the wicked motives of the white strangers.

Eventually, the slave trade, as the forcible removal of the peoples of African came to be known, was outlawed. Slavery itself was eventually abolished throughout the Americas, and European colonies demanded independence and self rule. Throughout the period there was resistance and revolt on the part of the enslaved peoples. There were also white people who organised and fought against the trade in slaves and practice of slavery.

Anti-colonialists who fought for independence from their European masters envisioned prosperous, orderly societies, where the dignity of the citizen underpinned ever law, every decision and governance on a whole, where cultural norms were truly their own, and not those superimposed by those who had no right to be in charge. Look around though:

The Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa.
Haiti in the Caribbean.

Is this what self-rule was meant to be?

Once again, centuries later, we have granted men, not of our own tribe, strangers to our village, access. Once again, some of our own village are aiding and abetting the stranger, to the detriment of the whole. And once again, we find ourselves on a course not really of our own choosing, so many of our own existing in unjust and hard and terrible, destitute circumstances.
 Access has been granted by the few who seek to enrich and protect themselves, while giving not one damn as to legacy, nationhood and true freedom for all.

Dylann Roof was welcomed by worshipers in their church Charleston, North Carolina. He was a stranger in their midst, a young white man, an incongruous presence in this old, black place of fellowship. Suppose the worshipers had suspended their prayer and study to probe a little, seeking to determine Roof’s reason for his being there? Suppose access had not been automatic, might the outcome of that terrible day have been different?

Dyalnn Roof. Photo courtesy of MSNBC
The Victims of the Charleston Massacre

Those of our village entrusted with the responsibility of keeping us safe and protecting our interests have granted access in return for their own protection and their own enrichment.

How else does one describe and explain a 1.5% “agent’s fee”payable on national capital projects?

This access has resulted in selective prosperity and mass impoverishment, creating a ripe context for Powerful Capital to set our economic agenda. Repeat after me: “I.M.F.”

Image courtesy of balcostics.com

This access has resulted in a new colonialism by a people who look nothing like us, under the guise of partnership and cooperation. But how can an impoverished, desperate people really partner with a larger, stronger, richer people? The loss of choice lands to these “partners” and potential environmental degradation is what we can count on. That’s not partnership.

Cartoon by Clovis of the Jamaica Observer 

Access has been granted and the stranger in our midst is being aided and abetted by our own. If history is anything to go by, we know how the story ends.

The Slave Trade, Maroons, Windscreen Wipers and Reparations: I want to know.

The white man was aided and abetted in getting us to this side of the world.  He went in with shiny baubles and found willing helpers all along the west coast of Africa. Slavery, we were taught, was not new in the motherland. Triumphant tribes dominated hapless members of the defeated tribe and put them to work. When pale skinned humans on huge boats showed up on Her shores, armed and heavy laden with trinkets, it would seem that our brothers thought little of handing their own conquests over to these strangers in exchange for bounty from the strangers.

Accurate representation of what happened in West Africa or not?

Those of us who survived the horror of the Middle Passage and the rough initiation into work and torture and rape and destruction of familial ties on the Pale Skinned’s  plantations were about to face yet another betrayal. Some intrepid warrior-slaves fled the plantations in Jamaica and headed for the hills. In that mountainous, beautiful terrain, communities of these braves lived and hid and warred with the British militia. Their survival was due in large part to their own skill at bush and jungle war craft. Legendary members of this mountain community live on today in poems and stories of their exploits: Tacky the Chieftain, Three Finger Jack and Nanny of the Maroons, herself a national hero of Jamaica.
Jamaican Maroons are often described as enslaved Africans and persons of noticeable African descent who ran away or escaped from their masters or owners to acquire and preserve their freedom.
But their survival was also due to agreements that they made with the British. These fearless braves secured their own survival at the expense of other runaway slaves who were seeking a way out of slavery and who also headed for the hills. They handed over these their brethren to the British as a peace offering.

What was the full story of the Maroons and their relationship with the British?

Consider too the story of another one of Jamaica’s national heroes, Paul Bogle. Paul Bogle led a protest against harsh economic conditions. He marched with a throng to the courthouse in Morant Bay. The British authorities of the day there panicked, responded with undue force, and it was at this stage that the protest morphed into a rebellion. Lives were lost in the upheaval. And the Maroons were the ones who captured Bogle and handed him over to the British. Paul Bogle was hanged the very next day.

Paul Bogle, National Hero

To be sure, there is great controversy today over Maroon history in Jamaica. I certainly do not have the answers.  And I am mindful of the absolutely true sentiment:“Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter”. 

Still I ask: what role did our own really play in our history, in our enslavement by Europeans, in our forced journey to the west?

Any discussions about the evils of slavery and its reverberations right into 2015 society must contemplate this question. I do not pose this question in a bid to excuse the white man or to in any way diminish what he did. The white man was the architect of this evil scheme to enrich himself and his own homeland at the expense of the lives, culture and humanity of the peoples of Africa. But full resolution never happens outside of the anything the full truth. The truth in all its uncomfortable, awkward glory is what I seek.

We were heading towards Downtown Kingston yesterday, H and I. It was a rare occasion that found us traveling together to work. I had just dropped my own car at the dealer for servicing and he graciously consented to pick me up there and drop me to work. The courtesy shuttle offered by the dealer would have seen me getting to office perilously close to 9:30am when I had a scheduled meeting.  In the vicinity of Three Miles, the usual swarm of windscreen wipers made their way hungrily through the throttling cars in the traffic. Every single morning, I, the lone person, the lone female in my car tell them “NO”. They beg, they press up against my window, they beg some more, I keep saying “NO.” They approached H’s big, black, heavily tinted truck. He barely shook his head indicating no, he opened not his mouth, they didn’t miss a beat and kept moving right along. I cussed and railed. These windscreen wipers had obviously looked at my sex and my car and decided that they would try with all their might to extract money from me.  Their quest for money was not based on the principle of  “I need, they all have, let me beg all.” Their quest for money was selective, based on who they perceived was a soft touch and who had money to give them.

Is the quest for reparations fair then? Peoples of African descent this side of the world justifiably seek reparations from former European slavers and colonisers, not unlike the Jews seeking (and getting) restitution from Germany as a result of the Holocaust. But without answers to the question of the role of our African brothers in Africa getting us onto the white man’s slave ships, and without answers to the role of the Maroons in our own history here in Jamaica, is our demand for reparations really based on principle? Are we merely going where we think the money is? 

Look, I don’t know the facts. There are people who have offered reasonable explanations about the role of Africans in the slave trade. I also know that Africa is not a country. But I think that political boundaries notwithstanding, there ought to be a natural unity amongst the black peoples of Africa. I also know that the Maroons were a source of trouble for the British slavers and colonizers, killing, marauding, burning and destabilizing the government and structures of the day. They also inspired many of their African brethren with their radical bravery and cunning against the establishment.

But, I am not convinced that we have answered head-on the question I posed earlier: what role did our own really play in our history, in our enslavement by Europeans, in our forced journey to the west?

I want to know.