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Tales from Tortola- Part IV

Thomas C. Famous. Photo: Provided
Thomas C. Famous

“When you hear about slavery for 400 years. For 400 years?! That sounds like a choice.”

Recent words spoken by American entertainer Kanye West that speak to the complete lack of knowledge of the true horror of 400 plus years of European Colonialism and slavery. It is a time like this that a reminder of historic facts are needed.

For thousands of years there were three main tribes of indigenous persons populating the archipelago we now call the Caribbean Islands. The Taino, the Arawaks and the Caribs from which these island groupings are now aptly named. These relatively peacefully people built their civilisations on farming and fishing.

Then somewhere around the year 1492 onward, things changed drastically for them with the advent of European explorers.

Apocalypse

Unfortunately, for the indigenous populations, these explorers did not come to just visit and study the ecology and environment. They had grandiose ambitions of coercion, control and ultimately, complete colonisation.

History will record that the indigenous population of the entire Caribbean region was decimated to the point of near extinction within the space of one century.

What caused this apocalyptic series of events?

The European powers, inclusive of but not limited to; Spain, France, Holland, Denmark and Great Britain systematically; enslaved, tortured, raped and out right killed millions of these indigenous persons.

Essentially, it was mass genocide that eclipsed anything the world has ever seen or will ever see.

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He definitely saw profit in enslaving and selling native peoples kidnapped from Caribbean shores. Once he made allies among what he called “good Indians,” Columbus advocated fighting and enslaving native groups he presumed to be cannibals. By 1500, he and his brothers had sent nearly 1,500 enslaved islanders to European markets to be sold. Even “friendly” indigenous peoples were forced to mine gold en masse, speeding death from malnourishment, overwork and disease.

Washington Post October 8, 2015

Alas, the Europeans were only on phase one when they eradicated those millions of persons.

African Holocust

Phase two of their colonisation was the importation of enslaved Africans to work their agricultural plantations across the region. Over the course of 300 years over 20 million enslaved Africans, spread from Guyana to Jamaica and every point in between, were forced to grow crops such as; tobacco, sugar cane, arrowroot, bananas, citrus fruits, coconuts and yes, Bermuda onions.

You see, for over 300 years these Africans had no choice in the matter of where they were migrated to, what sort of work they would be doing, who they could marry or even who they could have a child with.

The death rate on the plantations was high, a result of overwork, poor nutrition and work conditions, brutality and disease. Many plantation owners preferred to import new slaves rather than providing the means and conditions for the survival of their existing slaves. Until the Amelioration Act was passed in 1798, which forced planters to improve conditions for enslaved workers, many owners simply replaced the casualties by importing more slaves from West Africa.”

http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/ism/slavery/archaeology/caribbean/

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Post Emancipation neglect

History will once again show that these Europeans essentially fleeced both the land and the enslaved Africans right up to the 1960s-1980s when most of the English-speaking colonies eventually gained their independence. Here are some prime examples of how British colonies were truly treated:

  • In their class-based structure, purposely built little to no schools, hence denying the populations proper basic education. My grandparent’s generation were provided with no public education, whilst in my father’s childhood 1,000 students were forced to share chairs and desks at Central School now known as Victor Scott Primary School in Bermuda.
  • The English, in their disregard of our medical wellbeing, provided no proper health care for the masses. Such was the case in the [British] Virgin Islands where there was no hospital until the late 1950s.
  • The English provided no form of public housing for the masses as seen in Jamaica were most of the population lived in rural areas in wooden homes.

Perhaps, most significantly, through their race based economic structures, the only persons allowed to own and operate major businesses where those who were of direct European descent and or mixed-race populations.

Essentially, even post 1834 emancipation, most persons of African descent were locked in a state of perpetual economic poverty.

Given all the above realities, would it come as any surprise that those persons in the Caribbean would seek to find a way towards a better life for themselves and their families? For some, it came by way of migration to other islands that may have had slightly better economies.

Such was the case with many from the lesser Antilles who headed to the Dominican Republic to work on Sugar Plantations in the 1930s-1960s. For others, particularly Jamaicans, they saw a way forward by migrating to Central America to work on the building of the Panama Canal. In the early 1900s. Closer to home, there was a mass migration of persons from St. Kitts to Bermuda in the late 1800s

Then came the unintended consequences of World War Two.

European Migration

Having lost millions of men in battle, alongside of massive devastation of their cities and infrastructure via mass bombing, Britain was in dire straits and heading back towards being a Third World nation. Then came the idea of importing manpower from the British colonies of the Caribbean and India. In order to move such a monumental amount of persons they decided to use former troop ships

One such ship was named the Empire Windrush which transported persons from across the Caribbean, including Bermuda, to the docks of London.

Over the course of nearly a decade, tens of thousands of persons from throughout the Caribbean sought to escape their 400 years of; enslavement, lack of housing, lack of medical care, lack of education and abject poverty by migrating to what was then their colonial motherland.

To their shock and dismay upon arrival they were met not with open arms from the people of Britain.

As documented in the BBC Two special ‘Windrush’, they were met with open hostility by much of the English population. Often denied proper housing, with many landlords putting signs in their doors stating, “No Irish, No Dogs, No Blacks”.

Subsequently they were forced to life in squalor in tenement housing in areas such as Notting hill and Brixton. Additionally, many were denied proper health care benefits and paid on an unequal wage scale as their English counterparts.

Despite the racism, over the years, many of them still brought their spouses and children, born into then British colonies, up from the Caribbean.

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Racist Policies

As of 2014, the British government had put in a policy that sought to revisit the worst of colonial behaviour by declaring open war on those of the Windrush generation. Untold hundreds of persons were systematically:

  • denied the right to work
  • denied access to public health care benefits
  • denied entry back to the UK
  • deported to the Caribbean.

Only once exposed via various media houses and held to account by CARICOM leaders on Tuesday April 17, 2018, did UK Prime Minister Theresa M. May make a U-turn and apologised for this policy.

Then on Sunday April 30, 2018 her Home Secretary Amber Rudd resigned in disgrace.

No Surprises

These are but snapshots of what the people of the Caribbean have had to endure for the last 500 years. It would be fair to say that no one would ever chose to face genocide, slavery and outright racism.

Let us look at the historic track record of Great Britain over the last 500 years:

  • Genocide of indigenous tribes of the Caribbean
  • Enslavement of millions of Africans
  • Enrichment of British landowners
  • Compensation of British landowners for their loss of their slaves, post-Emancipation
  • Blatant neglect of the masses post-Emancipation
  • Racist treatment of Caribbean persons arriving in UK
  • Recent policy aimed at mass deportation of British citizens of Caribbean heritage

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the British Parliament is now attempting to once again starve her colonies in the Caribbean. To many in the UK, they have never viewed us as anything more than slaves.

My fellow Virgin Islanders, please stay vigilant.

14 Responses to “Tales from Tortola- Part IV”

  • keeping it a billion (08/05/2018, 11:03) Like (15) Dislike (0) Reply
    Teach them.
  • YES! (08/05/2018, 11:06) Like (20) Dislike (1) Reply
    The TRUTH shall be told.
  • STRUCTURAL (08/05/2018, 11:14) Like (15) Dislike (2) Reply
    It have always been about systematic oppression. This have not change; the agenda remains the same, just not in chains.
    • agree 100% (09/05/2018, 01:13) Like (20) Dislike (5) Reply
      @structural. Systemic oppression is elusive and has been designed that way to keep us distracted while they continue to take over and control in order to remain dominant. They have perfected the “strategy of graduality” over their four hundred years of experimenting on people of colour- Take a little at a time until they can control the whole thing and all there in. Keep us fighting among ourselves for the crumbs, not making us aware that we can wheel our own power if we can understand collective progression on all fronts that affect us as a people (harmoniously, politically, economically, spiritually, and communally). And this division will continue until human “beings” realize that their is only one race and no one is more superior than the other; and all this, while we are only playing into man-made systemic designs to keep a “fragile” part of our race of European descent in control. This is not to downplay the individual ones who understand the plight of our people and been one outside through it all. However, Those with the gold (I’ll-gotten riches) are the ones making the rules.

  • Thanks for this (08/05/2018, 11:33) Like (21) Dislike (1) Reply
    Historcal lesson that continues to resonate in our minds.For students past or present take note of some facts written here to help in writing of CXC or London or Cambridge or other History exams. Continue to educate inform and enlighten us with you articles.These photos continue to speak a thousand and more words.Thanks Mr Famous and keep up the good works
  • usa (08/05/2018, 12:55) Like (14) Dislike (0) Reply
    bouy this one deep deep
  • Bob said it right (09/05/2018, 01:54) Like (10) Dislike (0) Reply
    Still happening to this day. https://youtu.be/oV_U4U7w9rU

  • overseas (09/05/2018, 02:14) Like (13) Dislike (0) Reply
    If we going to hit YouTube up, we should also add this one to our collection. Change must come. https://youtu.be/cEXhZ8PwM-Y

  • The flood gates are finally opening (09/05/2018, 03:26) Like (17) Dislike (3) Reply
    Thank you Thomas C. Famous. Your name will be famous and prominently established in the ledgers of our history. Olde school for our oppressors. Younger generation please learn. It’s not about your own materialization. If we all don’t progress together, eventually, we all will fail. https://youtu.be/7Znh0OM9jiA
    • Wow! (09/05/2018, 10:53) Like (12) Dislike (0) Reply
      this is deep stuff at eighteen years old trying to take it all in. Why wasn't this taught to me while in school?
  • Hey VINO (09/05/2018, 03:37) Like (8) Dislike (0) Reply
    You need to get an interview with Quitos on his perspectives on what’s been happening in our country. That will be a bloggers fascination. He is of course a VI roots and should be contributing to our collective present and future outlook.
  • Welsah (09/05/2018, 03:50) Like (4) Dislike (3) Reply
    An interview with Quito. You mean we all need to get on the reggae express?
  • Rubber Duck (09/05/2018, 21:40) Like (2) Dislike (3) Reply

    Slavery existed long before Plantation slavery in the Caribbean. The ancient Egyptians had slaves. The Romans had slaves. Mostly white, including lots of English. Barbary pirates from North Africa raided the shores of the Mediterranean for slaves, which is why the villages are fortified and high up on hills. They took millions of slaves from the northern shores of France and Spain and from the West Coast of Ireland. Their descendants are the blue eyed Tuareg and berbers ( outcasts) of the African desserts. Tribes in Africa enslaved one another. The reason slavery no longer exists is because enlightened minds in England, Europe and eventually the USA outlawed it. This mindless painting of white people and particularly the British as evil racists does no one any good.

    • dude (11/05/2018, 09:59) Like (1) Dislike (0) Reply
      That Slavery was not like their slavery. The strangers and conquered tribes had to work for a period of yr b4 being accepted in society. They were not castrated dehumanized as the white supremacists did to the Africans. And do not let them misled you. THey only abolished the salve trade they never outlawed slavery. And that was b/c other nations decided to build and industrialize the way they did and they didn't want to lose their advantage just as they're doing with Financial services.


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