To signal how deep our colonial legacy remains buried in our psyche, just think that Suriname – just a hop, skip and jump away – celebrated its 46th Independence Day anniversary yesterday, and not a single newspaper carried the news!! Yet, if Prince Harry has a hangnail, it’s front-page news!! Never mind the latest twist on his saga with Megan!!
What’s more incredible is that we also were ruled for most of our history by the Dutch, like Suriname. From 1616 or thereabouts until two hundred years later, they ruled the roost here, and carved out our coastlands from mangrove swamps with enslaved labour. In case you forgot, our National Hero Cuffy was as much Dutch as Akan!! The Brits only stepped in after 1814, and left in 1966. The Dutch, on the other hand, exchanged New York State with the Brits for Suriname, and stayed there ever since. And don’t ask who got the better of the bargain!!
If we think we’re “multi-cultural” – as the “land of six peoples” – then what about Suriname? There they have the Europeans, who’ve maintained a significant presence, unlike with us. There are also the Creoles – descendants of the enslaved Africans, who’re also distinguished by the Mixed group from European-African miscegenation. The latter maintain a distinct identity. Another difference is their Maroons – descendants of enslaved Africans, who escaped into the “bush” and set up six tribal groups!! After the Dutch ended slavery in 1863, they also looked around for “cheap and reliable” labour, and from 1863, brought in Indian Indentured labourers from British India. The Brits weren’t skimpish with their Indian subjects!! For good measure, since they ruled Indonesia (Dutch East Indies), they shipped in Javanese between 1890 and 1939!! Enough diversity for you??
And so we come to their independence, which arrived in 1974, and which was heavily influenced by our ethnic riots that preceded our independence eight years earlier in 1966. As the Dutch prepared to hand over the country to locals, 100,000 of them fled to the Netherlands, fearing our type of ethnic violence. And this was in the face of a conscious acceptance of the European (especially Dutch) positive view of coalition governments as the answer to diverse societies, and a billion-dollar handshake from the Dutch!
To cut a long story short, by 1980, there was the “Sergeants’ Coup” led by Bouterse, who then shot and killed fifteen opposition elements in 1982, and ruled behind the scenes until 1987, when he staged the “Telephone Coup”! Since then, he formed his own party, which ruled until it was deposed by the present coalition govt led by President Santokhi. He’s been convicted of drug smuggling and the 1982 murders.
Will oil save them?
…Barbados becoming Republic
Barbados is just a week away from cutting the last apron strings to “Mother England”, when it will become a Republic. The Bajans will have their own President, rather than a Governor General representing Queen Elizabeth. Under Mia Mottley, Barbados is fast moving away from the myth that it is “Little England”, and that somehow it was spared the ravages of slavery. What most present-day Bajans forget is that, even after the abolition of slavery, wages on the island were so low that over 20,000 of them emigrated to Guyana as indentured labourers!!
Anyhow, we hope that Mia will continue with the decolonisation programme in all areas of national life. As a Queen’s Counsel, will she now change the designation of “silk” to “Senior Counsel”?? And will she now end the relationship with the English Privy Council as Barbados’s court of last resort and join the CCJ?? Surely, any self-respecting ex-colony can’t have their erstwhile masters telling them how to interpret their law!!
Join the club, Barbados!!
Talking about “decolonisation”, have you noticed we’re now celebrating “thanksgiving” and having “Black Friday Sales”? Never mind the American thanksgiving celebrates displacing their First Peoples.
And we have our own Black Friday – when the PNC burnt down Georgetown in 1962.