VOL. 36, NOS. 1 & 2
Copyright reserved and reproduction without permission strictly forbidden.
IDEAS AND CARIBBEAN
iii Guest Editorial
1 The Social Sciences as Critical Theory
16 Freedom of Thought and Expression:
Nineteenth Century West Indian
46 J. J. Thomas and Political Thought in the Caribbean
59 Healing the Nation: Rastafari Exorcism of the Ideology of Racism in
85 Through the People's Eyes: C. L. R. James's Rhetoric of History
Consuelo Lopez Springfield
98 Autonomy: Tactic and Self-Determination -
The Sandinista Policy Towards the Indigenous
Peoples of Nicaragua
Hans Petter Buvollen
NOTE FOR DISCUSSION
114 German Idealism and Jamaican National Culture
127 Pam Mordecai's Journey Poem
141 In Retrospect: A Look at Trends in the Social Poetry of Spanish America During the
153 The Writing of Caribbean Political Thought
166 BOOK REVIEWS
181 NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS
182 INSTRUCTIONS TO AUTHORS
UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES
The Hon. R. M. Nettleford, O.M., Professor of Continuing Studies,
Everton Pryce, School of Continuing Studies, Mona (Associate Editor)
G. M. Richards, Pro Vice-Chancellor, St. Augustine, Trinidad
Roy Augier, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Mona, Jamaica
Keith Hunte, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Cave Hill, Barbados
Lloyd Coke, Department of Botany, Mona
Neville McNorris, Department of Physics, Mona
All correspondence and contributions should be addressed to:
School of Continuing Studies,
University of the West Indies,
Mona, Kingston 7, Jamaica.
We invite readers to submit manuscripts or recommend subjects which they
would like to see discussed in Caribbean Quarterly. Articles and book reviews of
relevance to the Caribbean will be gratefully received. Authors should refer to the
guidelines at the end of this issue. Articles submitted are not returned. Contributors
are asked not to send international postal coupons for this purpose.
Jamaica J$60.00 (J$90/1991)
Eastern Caribbean J$90.00 (J$120/1991)
United Kingdom UK9.00 (15.00/1991)
U.S.A., Canada and other countries US$22.00 (US$30.00/1991)
Exchanges are conducted by the Gifts and Exchanges Section, Library, University
of the West Indies, Mona, Kingston 7, Jamaica.
Back Issues & Microfilm
Information for back volumes supplied on request. Caribbean Quarterly is
available in microfilm from Xerox University Microfilms and in book form from
Kraus-Thomson Reprint Ltd.
This journal is abstracted by AES and indexed in HAPI.
Subscription orders may be forwarded to the Editor or the Resident Tutor at the
University Centre in any West Indian Territory served by this University.
If the relative recency of settlement and emergence of civil society in the Caribbean
tempts anyone to believe that the region's 500-year-old period of 'modern history'
is incapable of explanation and theory, then what follows in this double-issue of
Caribbean Quarterly should prompt a long overdue revision of such a view.
The very encounters of different worlds over the past half a millennium took
place on what was new and foreign soil for all who came originally from elsewhere
though not for those whom they found in the region. The early encounters were of
such a nature that all the inhabitants were soon enough transformed into protago-
nists and antagonists, both locked in conflict and in urgent need of appropriate
ideational structures to support not only the efforts by the one to maintain estab-
lished power bases but also the quest by the other for a sense of place and purpose
in what for a long time remained as a fragile social dispensation and an oppressive,
Such actions took various forms as legal instruments and public policies
reinforcing this constituted authority of colonial rule as well as an exploitative
economic power-structure, and as survival strategies and cultural resistance through
the lively exercise of the popular collective intelligence and the creative imagina-
It is against the background of such historical experience and the persistent
ensuing challenges of discovering not just how to define self and society but how to
mobilise appropriate modalities of action for tolerable existence that have devel-
oped the enduring issues of class, race and culture; of colonialism, self-determina-
tion and freedom; of identity and the imperative of an indigenous worldview and
ontology for the Caribbean.
It makes eminent sense, then, that Everton Pryce, the guest editor of this
double-issue, should introduce the volume with a disquisition on the social sciences
as critical theory. For his essay prepares the reader to grasp the continuing
importance of the role that ideas play not only in the shaping of human society
everywhere but also in determining the emergence and development of Caribbean
peoples, as J. J. Thomas and the Free Coloured contenders for recognition and status
in the nineteenth century as well as C. L. R. James, the Rastafarians and the freedom-
fighting Sandinistas in the twentieth century discovered and so clearly understood,
to the benefit of the region.
The essays, papers, articles, and lecture appearing in this issue of Caribbean
Quarterly deal with topics, concepts and problems that turn on the role played by
ideas in the shaping of the socio-cultural reality of the modern Caribbean. They are
all concerned more or less directly with exposition and analysis of ideas, within the
tradition of social inquiry, as a platform for examining issues that have been, and
continue to be, of importance to a region of the world whose existential reality was
forged in the crucible of the exploitation of labour, the psychic-violence of racism,
and the vilest consequences of social and economic marginalisation.
Whether the focus is on the role played by ideas in literature, in history, in
creative thought, or in a fledgling scientific methodology for probing the Carib-
bean's reality, the contributions to this issue of the journal share significant
connections between them. The conceptual and thematic links, and the progression
and continuity of the arguments, bestow on them a certain unity, sufficient, I believe,
to justify their publication here together under the theme: Ideas and Caribbean
My essay "The Social Sciences as Critical Theory", with which the issue
begins, is addressed to the challenge facing any genuine attempt at social criticism
within the social sciences per se; a challenge which must confront the need to infuse
the social sciences with the rigid rules governing scientificity as well as the
appropriate modalities, constructs and frameworks through which investigation and
analysis of society's myriad contradictions can proceed. This challenge I argue,
though universal, is very much a Caribbean concern.
Expression is given within the essay to what one might call a transformation-
ist conception within the social sciences of the nature of humankind: the view that
the character of human beings varies both through history and across different
societies and cultures. It examines, in effect, the methods developed in the natural-
physical sciences for studying the physical world, and the implications of this for the
development of social criticism of human beings and their environment in the Car-
ibbean and the wider universal dispensation, which is best suited to "both explana-
tion and criticism as a function of theoretical knowledge".
For this reason, I argue that in order for us to overcome "The creeping
epistemological crisis" that threatens the social sciences in the Caribbean as much
as the world over in light of end-of-century realities which demand of us preparation
for a 'technological' 21st century, the social sciences must increasingly be looked
on as critical theory by its practitioners, which caUs for a "more socio-culturally
determined paradigm which can no longer live under the illusion of the "universal-
ity" and "neutrality" of science". The new paradigm, in other words, must not only
provide a comprehensive understanding of material reality; it must also prove
capable of demonstrating that humankind's relationship to reality is practical and
modificatory, rather than theoretical.
This idea is given strong support in Rex Nettleford's story of the Free
Coloureds during the last decades of slavery in Jamaica. First presented as a paper
at the International Society for the History of Ideas 14th Conference, held in Venice
in 1975, Nettleford's essay "Freedom of Thought and Expression: Nineteenth
Century West Indian Creole Experience" examines the Free Coloureds' cognitive
appreciation of their existential reality as deputy-whites in the social and political
landscape of nineteenth century colonial Jamaica, and the way in which this, with
all the baggage of a distorted objective reality, informed their incipient and lop-
sided world-view for freedom of expression to participate in the legal, social,
political and economic life of nineteenth century Jamaican society.
Acutely'aware of their marginalised status as second-class citizens in Jamai-
can society during slavery, forced to "be what they either were not or could not
totally be, in order to exist in that society", and lacking the ability to articulate "any
cogent body of ideas about freedom", the Free Coloureds in their aspirations for
freedom of expression and thought, up to the end of the 1820s, "subjected them-
selves to the terms set by their White 'superiors"'. Their appreciation of the social
reality of Jamaican slave society coupled with the superior coercive power of the
colonial state, made them come to see virtue in acquiescence to the status quo.
Mimicry and the psychology of dependency, furthermore, rendered the Free
Coloureds lacking in "anything approaching an independent ideology for freedom",
The strategy of survival of the Free Coloured contenders for recognition and
status in nineteenth century Jamaica was in stark contrast to the strategy of survival
and freedom of the Black slaves, whose struggle for freedom and expression took
the form of resistance against the principle of racism on which power was organised
in the slave society, which culminated in creative expressions in "religious ceremo-
nies, songs, stories, dances and drama" all of which provided an immediate
epistemological fountain for the Black slaves as the basis for endurance.
What is compelling about Nettleford's story is the awareness that although the
Black slaves confronted pretty much the same social reality that obtained in
Jamaican slave society with the plight of a lack of advanced education thrown in for
good measure, they "did not", he points out, "scruple to adopt a body of ideas
embedded in Christian doctrine to support their final struggles for freedom and
indeed for rehabilitation in the immediate post-emancipation period". How para-
doxical, then, that it is the "Free Coloured Phenomenon", as Nettleford describes it,
that has persisted as "sins" among a still-to-be liberated people in the twilight of the
20th century! There are lessons a-plenty in all of this for those bold enough to
attempt to think their way out of the debilitating experience of dependency in the
And yet there is no sound reason why our intellectual, if not spiritual, growth
should suffer from a lack of form and purpose, for the annals of our history is littered
with a gallery of creative thinkers whose creative beings were shaped by the quest
for self-definition and certitude of the subject peoples of the region, and whose
legacy of thought and vision have helped to plummet the Caribbean into the
mainstream of history.
One such creative being is the Trinidadian-born nineteenth century anti-
colonial figure, J. J. Thomas, whose ideas are the subject of probing of Rupert
Lewis' article, "J. J. Thomas and Political Thought in the Caribbean". The signifi-
cance of Lewis' contribution lies in his very sound attempt to locate the ideas of
Thomas by the sheer intellectual merits of his creative endeavours, "alongside the
post-enlightenment European polemical writers". It is only by such efforts, Lewis
suggests, that we in this part of the world can hope to begin the arduous process of
getting beneath the philosophical bases of "our thought and action" towards
developing our "rich intellectual tradition", which, I might add, even now cries out
for serious attention in the social science faculties of the region's university, and in
the syllabuses of age-old courses on Modern Political Thought.
J. J. Thomas was forging an epistemology of Caribbean society based on "a
certain integrity, strong sense of history, rootedness in his Afro-Caribbean base",
long before 'Caribbean Studies' became fashionable in the arts and social science
departments of universities in North America and Europe, and the University of the
West Indies. By his possession of the spirit of truth and a profound sense of social
justice also, his ideas became one of the planks to the nineteenth century antecedents
of Garveyism. And the persistence in the popular consciousness of the philosophi-
cal ethos of Garveyism towards which J. J. Thomas contributed soars, because
"racism remains entrenched in many parts of the world".
Modern Jamaica is far from being a haven of racial tolerance, but it has,
admittedly, moved a long way towards forging a sense of national identity. Despite
the economic hardships which have followed since independence, that sense of self-
confidence which has given birth to a vibrant cultural nationalism has not been lost.
Full credit for this turnaround in the social values of the society, however, is due
entirely to the much vilified Rastafarians who have been the only group of
Jamaicans to have faced social reality in any total sense and have thrown up alter-
native designs in social living via a challenging ontology and seemingly paradoxical
Barry Chevannes, in his paper aptly titled "Healing the Nation Rastafari
Exorcism of the Ideology of Racism in Jamaica", advances a compelling case for the
integration of a cultural phenomenon like the Rastafarians to development planning
and the ideational scaffoldings that must support such planning. Nurtured by a
society that is small, post-colonial and racist, the Rastafarians' challenge to this
"debilitating feature of colonial underdevelopment", says Chevannes, was the de-
velopment of the "methodology of ideological transformation through symbolic
confrontation" which achieved "a readjustment to the reality of being black".
The operative word here is "reality", for, lest the reader mistakenly believe that
the Rastafarians are about the business of propagating reverse-racism, the call for
Blackness in the sociology of post-independence Jamaica seeks to address the
profound need for the society, still groping for a sense of place and purpose and with
its roots in Africa, to express itself by placing the ontology and epistemology that
is derived from the experiences of the Black majority, at the centre of the cosmos.
And whether this idea (Ideal?) is expressed through the medium of religion, music
or art, the message is no less pertinent for the society. For before Jamaican society
and its extension in the diaspora can have a national development theory as guide to
praxis, it has to first come to terms with the "role of identity in development".
In her essay "Through the People's Eyes: C. L. R. James's Rhetoric of
History", Consuelo Lopez Springfield focuses on the rhetorical skills of one of the
20th century's foremost thinkers, the late C. L. R. James. The author traces the
inward stretch of the imagination and the outward reach of the intellect of this great
Caribbean thinker through his copious writings, pointing out that his trust in the
humanity of the "common folk", and his confidence in insisting on seeing the world
through their eyes, led him to attempt to understand the "laws of nature" and of men,
"and to synthesize the two into one great, sweeping force".
James's lifelong concern with seeking to understand humankind's historical
process of development, the author informs us, led him to using out of necessity all
possible "means of persuasion" whether speeches, essays, plays, novels, or full
length studies on topics as diverse as Trotskyism and cricket to reach his
audiences around the world. In all of this, "history" served James "as a rhetorical
For this quintessential Caribbean thinker, history is the nervous system of
human society, and as such, no society can function adequately without a sense of
history or the importance of history to its existential reality. This is why, Springfield
suggests, his admiration for visionaries like Edmund Burke and V. I. Lenin, who
themselves grasped the lessons "of the past and present to indicate future progress",
led him ultimately to the profound conclusion and guiding principle of his own life
and work, that "In every sphere of social knowledge, continuous development
reveals the past in truer perspective (sic) and shows us our own great contradictions
as merely the logical climax of embryonic movements maturing through centuries".
The themes of national development and self-identity through history are
linked together vividly in Hans Petter Buvollen's article on the Nicaraguan
Sandinista revolution of 1979 which takes the reader behind the scenes of one of the
challenges faced by one of the popular revolutions of the 20th century. Buvollen's
article, "Autonomy: Tactic and Self-Determination The Sandinista Policy
Towards the Indigenous Peoples of Nicaragua", points to a number of lessons for
multi-ethnic post-colonial nations in Latin America who might still nurture ambi-
tions of entering the 21 st century with a political philosophy of the 18th century, and
political institutions of the 19th century including notions about the "nation state"
and the myth of "sovereignty" and decision-making processes which may appear to
be formally democratic but which were designed for a world which no longer exists
except in manuals of constitutional law.
By basing their revolution on the ideology of nationalism and anti-imperial-
ism with strong elements of Marxist interpretation of historical materialism, the
Sandinistas overlooked the critical importance of the national identity question or
the stubborn issue of "ethnicity" which in the case of their society meant the
linguistically, historically, culturally and economically distinct Indian "ethnic com-
munities" on the Atlantic Coast of the country who were unprepared to surrender
their identity in the interest of sovereignty via-a-vis United States imperialism, and
their right to self-determination within their own framework. By resorting to armed
resistance against the Sandinista army, which in the context of the struggle waged
by the U.S.-backed "Contras" against the regime threatened the revolutionary proc-
ess, the Indians brought to light an important social and political contradiction,
which is that state power even in socialist-constructed societies is really power
based on the interests of the dominant and powerful national groups, which in the
case of Nicaragua is "the non-Indians or 'Latins"'.
But what does a revolutionary regime do when faced with an organised group
of people struggling for "nationhood" within the "nation state" by the methodology
of an ideology which "rejects Western philosophy and strives for a totally autono-
mous Indian society, scientifically as well as ideologically"? On this question,
Buvollen tells us, the Sandinista regime decided to bend with the force of reason and
common-sense, perhaps avoiding the kind of bloody conflagration that is today a
feature throughout the world where ethnic groups are engaged in armed struggle
against the nation-state. "In order to consolidate the revolution", writes Buvollen,
"the Sandinistas have based their policy of nationalism and anti-imperialism on the
principle of a multi-ethnic nation with equal rights among classes and special rights
for the ethnic groups to administer their region according to their own premises
within the framework of the nation-state. With the military, political and economic
pressure on the Nicaraguan revolution, the recognition of autonomous rights for the
indigenous population seems to be an important mechanism for national unity and
for conflict resolution".
For what the reader may choose to regard as an added comment to the first
essay in this issue of Caribbean Quarterly, Keith Hart's lecture on "German
Idealism and Jamaican National Culture", first delivered at the Institute of Social
and Economic Research (ISER) at the Mona Campus of the University of the West
Indies on April 20, 1988, and reproduced here in print for the first time, is both
timely and thought-provoking. In it Hart takes issue with the domination by the
Anglo-American empiricist tradition of the social sciences as developed in the
Caribbean. He sees that tradition as inherently "conservative" and pessimistic,
lacking the framework for unlocking the door to the region's myriad social,
economic and political problems. He finds in Jamaican culture "political inspira-
tion" and "social insight", which he says, can form the ideational scaffolding for a
paradigm of development for the society which can find a precedent in the German
tradition of philosophy "sometimes known as idealism, rooted in the thought of
Kant and Hegel, from which a great deal of modem social thinking can be
On this basis, Hart feels that Caribbean intellectuals should bring such an
approach to the forefront whenever they are considering "which elements of
previous social thought they wish to incorporate into their own theory and practice
of development". In addition, he sees no future greatness for Jamaica and by
extension the Caribbean unless its social planners and thinkers take seriously the
"claims of culture to be incorporated into their thinking about political and
Speaking directly of culture, this issue of the journal carries two important
pieces of work of literary criticism which are of general interest and relevance to the
Caribbean and neighboring mainland of Central South America. Caribbean
Quarterly is grateful to Kamau Brathwaite for his contribution of the piece "Pam
Mordecai's Journey Poem", which itself forms part of his larger work now in
progress and probes in-depth the first book of poetry of one whom Brathwaite sees
as "the most active of all our Women Poets" in terms of publication.
The other contribution of literary criticism comes from Anne-Maria Bankay
whose essay, "In Retrospect: A Look at Trends in the Social Poetry of Spanish
America During the Sixties", represents a critical examination of the significance of
"Committed or Social Poetry" in Spanish American literature which has its basis in
the social milieu of Spanish America with all the afflictions of tyranny, poverty,
cultural imperialism, assassinations, torture, detention, and the ideology of white
Bankay shows how the tradition of Social Poetry in these circumstances
reflects the pulse and heartbeat of the region, and how the Cuban revolution of 1959
legitimised the tradition by projecting "the arts as having a role to play in transform-
ing society by creating an awareness and, as a consequence, change in the indivi-
The issue also carries a review article by Rupert Lewis entitled "The Writing
of Caribbean Political Thought" which looks in detail at the contribution of Gordon
Lewis' tome Main Currents in Political Thought: the Historical Evolution of
Caribbean Society in Its Ideological Aspects, 1492-1900, and of Denis
Benn's The Growth and Development of Political Ideas in the Caribbean
1774-1983, to the development of a body of theory and ideas about contemporary
Four standard book-reviews by Minkey Jefferson, Joseph Palacio, A. James
Arnold, and Edward Greene complete this double-issue.
THE SOCIAL SCIENCES AS CRITICAL THEORY
'learning what is the case without learning how it
can be criticized is a poor substitute for educa-
Eugene J. Meehan
One of the most striking intellectual developments to have emerged from the
'scientific-technological revolution' of the 1930s up to the present time has been the
growth in popularity of the social sciences, though they by no means share the same
level of popularity in all quarters. Some critics fear the social sciences' dispassion-
ate examination of society, while others' criticism, notably Karl Popper's, goes
further by questioning not just the use of the social sciences, but their claim to be
sciences'. Much of this discourse, although universal, is very much a Caribbean
concern even if the dialogue is muted and the conversations are indirect. But this is
all the more reason why we must examine the progress of the 'scientific-technologi-
cal revolution' that has taken place in the wider world if only to see how our
experience is impacted on by what goes on in other parts of the world.
The response of social scientists to this debate as a going concern has assumed
the general agreement that the increasing complexity and rate of social change in
modern society 'has meant that most people are ignorant of what is going on in those
segments of society beyond their own immediate experience'2, and that in order to
make the world a more 'manageable place to live in', it is therefore important to
organise 'our experiences of the world'.
Some commentators have pointed to what they regard as the self-contradictory
consequence of this specialisation in the acquisition of knowledge in the social
sciences. They say that apart from their use in allowing us to get a clear view of
particular aspects of human life, and perhaps to deal more effectively with specific
social problems, they also impede the expression of any comprehensive view of
human society, of any general social criticism, or of any broad alternative concep-
tion of a new society or civilization. This problem, of course, is faced by the social
sciences in the Caribbean as well as in every human society the globe over.
In the Caribbean, the main driving force behind the development of the social
sciences over the past twenty or more years has been the desire to arrive at a more
comprehensive view of a region that has emerged out of four centuries of conquest,
colonialism, genocide, slavery and nationalist fervour; and to draw from this a
general body of social criticism towards informing a broad alternative conception
of a new civilization for the region and its people.4 The body of theory and ex-
planation which has come from this enterprise turns on, and is informed by, the
region's experiences of race, culture and class against the background of a history
of colonial rule and economic exploitation5.
But despite this attempt by the social scientists of the region to use their
creative intellect and creative imagination responsively to the region's socio-
cultural, historical and existential reality, the classical empiricist "scientific out-
look" would question whether much of this lends itself to the quantification
techniques as practised, say, in the behaviourial sciences. How much of this theory
and explanation, in other words, is produced on grounds of scientificity?
There is no denying the validity of this question and the urgent need for an
answer to it. For the social sciences in the Caribbean cannot continue producing an
ontology for the region's social reality only to have it dismissed as "unscientific"
and relegated to the domain of "ideology"6 by the utilisation of the assumptions of
classical empiricist philosophy of science with regard to the aims of science and the
criteria for choosing between competing scientific theories.
Hence, the criticisms levelled against the social sciences' claim to be science
cannot automatically lead to a dismissal of the social sciences. What is necessary,
especially in face of end-of-century realities, is for us to look at the problem again
before moving on, against the background of the necessity of the increasing
application of the methods developed in the natural-physical sciences to the analysis
of man and society.
This essay attempts, in a very limited way, to establish a system of criteria that
entails the possibility of justifying a choice between description or criticism in the
social sciences per se. On a general level, the question posed is suggesting that,
whatever our answer, the grounds on which we choose to make a choice must be
clearly stated, since it is by so doing that it will be possible to validate the choice
made in terms of the question whether the choice should not or could not be made
on grounds of scientificity. In the final analysis, I argue for the use of a critical
theory in the social sciences that creates no distinction between facts and values, and
is committed to both explanation and criticism as a function of theoretical knowl-
Methodology of the Natural Sciences
The social sciences' claim to being scientific can best be understood against
the background of an examination of the methods developed in the natural sciences
for studying the physical world.
Karl Popper contends that the aims of the natural sciences constitute essential
ways of understanding the physical world by a mode of inter-related processes.
These processes consist of(1) the propounding of theories, and (2) the subjection
of those theories to experimental exactitude.7 According to this view, the natural
sciences accomplish their task by assuming the uniform structure of the physical
world as summed up in the term "Laws of Nature". From this position, the testing
of the theories of the natural sciences can successfully be undertaken by the
instituting of artificial (human) constraints on observable phenomena given the
assertion within the corpus of natural science about nature being isolated from the
living practice of men. In this sense, the progress of natural science is logically valid
since it is based on the logical methods of observations, testing, experiments and
predictions. Further to this, the 'status' of a scientific theory is conditional upon
there being the logical possibility that it could be proved false. The theory, in other
words, must be capable of falsification'. It is therefore necessary, goes Popper's
argument, to describe what sort of instances could falsify a theory.
This degree of approbation furthermore, as a condition of testing, would, it is
claimed, bring out the practical value of a scientific theory (the laws of thermody-
namics being a case in point) so that the programmatic consequences to follow from
it would consist in determining the limitations of the scope of practical possibility
within which it can operate. For example, two specific laws of thermodynamics state
that (a) "One cannot build perpetual motion machines", and (b) "One cannot build
machines that are one hundred per cent efficient". The practical value of these laws,
going by Popperian logic, would consist of instructing engineers or mechanics
about the limits of practical possibility within which they can operate in the building
of machines, engines, etc.
Hence, with respect to variations and possibilities of the laws here and there,
the main task of the natural scientist consists of seeking to falsify theories by stating
no claim to finality or completeness but to keep on adding to, modifying, re-formu-
lating and re-arranging their generalisations and recommendations as new experi-
ences and new problems are presented.
Quite clearly, several critical implications for the way forward in the social
sciences arise from this exposition of the methods of inquiry of the natural sciences.
Briefly stated, they can be summarized as follows:
(1) the social sciences must be able to predict and explain events with the
help of laws;
(2) social science must be able to test those laws essentially by observation;
(3) from this it must be able to develop a body of scientific knowledge about
human history and society;
(4) for a theory within the social sciences to be universally valid, all its
observable statements must be borne out by experience;
(5) belief in the scientific predictions of social events (for example, in
revolutions), and at the same time 'progress' in the social scientific
discipline, is achieved by the number of falsifying instances observed;
(6) finally, and most important, value judgements or ethical considerations
must be excluded from the process since as scientists we ought to be
concerned with judgement of facts rather than with judgement of
values, albeit of social events'. This sanction is asserted with particular
force since the principle 'judgement of values' is regarded as detrimental
to the social scientist's scientific pre-occupation with man and society.
I will return to this issue later in this essay.
Aims of the Social Sciences
There are hardly any social scientists anywhere in the world who would claim
to fulfill all the above conditions in the pursuit of their work. Rather, what they are
probably more likely to stress is that while they attempt to proximate to those
conditions the essential difference in the subject-matter with which they are
concerned society and the contradictions of the social reality therein should
not be overlooked.'0 What this means is that the aims and methods of the social
sciences vis-a-vis the natural sciences must share an essential difference since to be
a social scientist to be engaged in studying the contradictions inherent in the
social reality of society is of necessity to be social; by which is meant to be a part
of that contradictory object or reality that is the focus of study. This essential
difference, furthermore, is not reducible to exclusive compatibility with the above
In fact it can be argued that what the social scientists are alluding to is that while
the aim of social science is to apply the standard methods of science to the study of
society and the search for solutions to social problems, this enterprise requires
values as well as facts. The argument is a convincing one, for different kinds of
processes require different techniques of inquiry with different kinds of hypotheses
and appropriate methods of testing them. Social processes in particular, unlike
physical or biological processes, are the result of self-conscious agents acting with
deliberation and passion, so that the way in which the actions of human beings make
up the processes of society precludes the systematic investigation of the latter by
artificially constructed experiments, as is done in say, chemistry". This implies that
when the critical mass of society gain knowledge of their own social relations and
their own distinctive mode of historical development, the newly-acquired knowl-
edge represents the gain of a new source of power for changing and transforming
their social relations.'2
Of course, this is not how the Positivists who subscribe to the "scientific
outlook" quite see the mode of procedure in scientific inquiry. The Positivists
maintain that the analytical procedures of concept-formation and theory-formation
do not themselves change the domain of observed 'reality'; hence, abstractions add
nothing to the empirically derived 'facts', facts that are directly observable in the
same manner by different scientists.
Reality to the Positivists, then, is directly observable; an observable pattern of
events can be seen without interpreting their 'meaning'. But the methodological
progress of social science has long been affected by the marxist methodology of
social inquiry by which social science of necessity treats of 'reality', 'facts', or
'matter', in so far as they appear at all, as social rather than natural categories. In
fact, all natural categories within social science are, ipso facto, socially mediated.
This is why there remains strong support within debating circles in the social
science community for the marxist view which contends that the natural sciences
per se provide no immediate understanding of material reality because, after
all,man's relationship to reality is not primarily theoretical but is instead practical
and modificatory. Even within capitalism, as we know it, an altogether peculiar
mode of objectivity pertains, where men are not 'confronted' first with the 'exter-
nal' means to the satisfaction of their needs; they do not 'stand' in any epistemologi-
cal relation to them. Rather 'They begin, like every animal, by eating, drinking,
etc., hence not by "standing" in a relation, but by relating themselves actively,
taking hold of certain things in the external world through action, and through
satisfying their needss. (Therefore they begin with production)'."
It is therefore the social relations of society which are the subject-matter of
social science and set its problems. As one social scientist puts it, 'Were the goal of
sociology merely that of satisfying scientific curiosity, we could hardly expect
much more interest and support than that given to paleontology or archaeology (sic).
Whatever one's conclusions about the need for personal involvement as the means
of understanding society, there seems little room for doubt that this is essential in
most research on social problems'4. What this argument emphasises, in effect, is
that the method of social science proceeds from the real life process engaging men,
the production and reproduction of material existence, of which intellectual and
cultural activity is an 'ideological reflex': it emphasises societies as systems of
relations among human beings.
The Critics and Popper's Falsificationism
Critics of the social sciences like Popper, Mill and Weber,5 have argued that
science as an enterprise must be value-free or 'value-neutral', concerned merely
with the judgement of facts as they are established by the empirical methods of
science primarily because it is descriptive and explanatory. They argue, further, that
as regards the social sciences there can be no a priori or empirical correlation
between science and social policy. In addition, they argue that a scientific theory of
man and society that purports to be objective about reality in both its methods and
its ends is a misconstruing of the fact that as far as 'science' is concerned an
'objective' is essentially value-free with ethics and values having no scientific basis
since they are propositions that cannot be subjected to scientific testing. Evaluative
arguments, in other words, belong to the domain of morals.
As J.S. Mill puts it, we cannot have 'universal practical maxims' because a
universal social theory is impossible to attain precisely because we cannot perform
empirical observation and test on all the observable conditions of the theory. Our
own experiences of recurring instances are limited and therefore we cannot deduce
(reason rationally on the basis of the data of the particular case before us) theories
'of conduct' that are 'proper to particular cases'16.
Scientific knowledge, going by Mill's account, emerges from the senses; that
is, facts are derived through observation and experience. The subject is expected to
compare a theory or hypothesis with the observed 'real world', and on the basis of
these results develop empirical generalizations or assert causal connections. The
limitation to accrue from this upon our knowledge implies that theories in the social
sciences that make universal claims are 'provisional', and should aim to fulfil
'piece-meal social engineering' by attempting to improve the existing institutions
of society in stages, rather than by attempting to achieve total change in the 'whole'
The fundamental criterion posited by the apologists of a value-neutral thesis
in its relation to the claim of a theory to scientific status is deserving of further
critical examination before an attempt is undertaken to respond to Mills' claim.
Popper argues, for example, that a 'true' scientific theory is one that can be falsified;
if an instance can be observed that contradicted the basic assumptions of a theory,
then the theory is hailed to be scientific. In fact, Popper tried to work out a criterion
for distinguishing genuinely scientific from non-scientific or metaphysical propo-
sitions"8. This led him to a question of scientific rationality, which was constitutive
of the moral dictum that what distinguished a scientist from the non-scientist was
that the former was prepared to subject his theories to empirical testing, even to the
extreme (if necessary) of specifying in advance the conditions under which he
would be prepared to give up his theory. For Popper, history, logic, and morality all
pointed to falsifiability as the demarcating criterion of science.
More than this, one theory is rejected if it fails the test of the 'fit' between data
and theory. Clearly, the most important and fundamental idea operating in the
empiricist's overall view of rational scientific progress is that there is a clear
distinction between observational laws or hypotheses and theoretical terms or
hypotheses, and, as I have noted earlier, with the former remaining neutral or at any
rate autonomous, based exclusively on reference to real physical entities, while the
latter do not correspond to any real physical phenomena and play no part in the
derivation and composition of the former they are purely a matter of 'psychologi-
There is, then, the implicit assumption that observation knowledge what we
may call 'background knowledge' is unproblematic; there is, if you like, no need
to question it. As such, all that is needed to help science progress, going by this view
and assumption, is a rational method of choosing between competing scientific
theories. In Popper's view, a theory which is scientific must be one which is capable
of being empirically falsified (although not substantially), and the task of real
scientists is not to construct experiments which try to prove a theory but, instead,
ones which.will refute one. The question is: how practical a guide is this as far as the
social sciences are concerned?
Towards a Critical Theory in the Social Sciences
Let us examine the view which suggests that to arrive at a 'true' scientific
theory implies that 'responsible' scientists should always be eager to devote their
energies to trying to falsify a theory; which is the same as saying that a scientist
should continually try to devise means of going against the 'laws' of a theory.
Marxism affords a good point of departure.
Marx, for all his flaws, developed a set of laws pertaining to the development
of capitalism which affirmed that there is a deterministic relationship between the
forces of production and the relations of production, and that within the bounds of
the laws themselves there is room for various possibilities as to how capitalism as
a system of production, distribution, and exchange of resources can manifest itself.
Given this and bearing in mind that these laws are dependent upon the existence of
capitalism that is to say, they encapsulate specific features appearing only under
the capitalist mode of production and that they are not simply Marx's laws but
rather Marx's laws based on the concrete inegalitarian and contradictory reality of
a particular type of society, then, by Popper's standards and views, a 'responsible'
scientist eager to falsify the laws of capitalist development must at the same time
seek to ensure the survival of capitalism, since the laws cannot be 'tested' or falsified
without recourse to observation and experience essentially within a capitalist
system. The scientifically-minded person must try to preserve capitalism so as to see
whether Marx's laws cannot be falsified.
Clearly, this is in every sense unacceptable. For, quite apart from the difficulty
of arriving at an answer to the question of how we arrive at a criterion of failure, it
seems that Popper's falsificationism entails the injunction that the social scientist
willing to validate his or her claim to apply the scientific method to the study of
capitalist society and to the solution of social problems within it, should be content
to remain with the known 'evil' rather than assert the need for the 'uncertain good'.
But while I would accept the main criticisms of those like Popper, that there is no
a priori correlation between striving for 'progress' in the social sciences and the
attainment of freedom, if the choice were between preserving capitalism on the one
hand or striving for "socialism" on the other, for example, I would be forced to argue
that, given the heavy 'social costs' attendant upon such a change, the means (i.e. the
methods) by which we undertake the task of understanding our world must be dia-
lectically responsive to the contradictions of capitalist society, while at the same
time we ought to ensure that the ends we desire reflect a critical spirit for both a
scientific method of analysis and a critical disposition towards the programmatic
consequences of the means employed.
The simple fact, of course, is that reason in isolation does not produce change
and there is no neutral observational language which will describe the 'real' social
world in an objective and straightforward manner. The regulative social scientific
value cannot rely on a philosophy of logic alone; the use of a logical and critical
method of organising our experience of the social world cannot in themselves
produce fundamental change". So although we have said earlier that a social-natural
scientist is a social-natural scientist precisely because he or she is also a part of
nature, Chomsky reminds us that some of them have been (and are) social reformers
and political radicals, while many others have regarded themselves first and
foremost as impartial scientists engaged in providing objective descriptions and
explanations of social events20. Hence, by this account even the most disinterested
and objective description implies a critical view. Furthermore, to point to the causes
of a problem may also be to show how they can be removed, and by whom21
It is all but impossible, then, for discussion of the 'facts' relating to social
processes within the social sciences to proceed exclusive of ethical questions,
because ethical words are themselves used to make assertions 'whether of the
ordinary factual or peculiarly ethical kind'22. More specifically, within the social
sciences values are a part of life and language, and hence there can be no distinction
between evaluative and cognitive statements. This is why it is essential for social
science to reject the Kantian dualism in favour of the unity of sein and sollen; a unity
which is quite irreducible to that propounded by Comte. For, given the nature of the
social inter-relationships between groups and their consciousness of their relation-
ships to each other within society, a scientific conception of man and society that
rejects the fact and value distinction is valid, if only because there is essentially a
peculiar relationship between man as an object and man as a subject. There is not a
world ('reality') 'out there' that man relates to and acquires knowledge of ;
'knowledge is not just a passive response to perception and reality'23. The very
terms we use as social scientists to describe events and processes are influenced by
our opinions, beliefs, cultural background, and so on, and, as Schumpeter points out,
a fixed method and a fixed theory of rationality must also complement a naive
conception of man and his social environment24.
In concrete terms, what I am attacking is the rigidity and the potentially
subversive nature of the 'rules' of empiricist methodology, which are not only
violated by the history of science, but themselves violate that spirit in man which is
essentially critical, sceptical, and humanitarian. Our relationship with the physical
world and our observation (experience) of it are much too complex to facilitate rigid
rules and strictures. To cite Feyerabend, "A complex medium containing surprising
and unforeseen developments demands complex procedures and defies analysis on
the basis of rules which have been set up in advance and without regard to the
everchanging conditions of history"2.
What all this suggests is that in the final analysis the knowledge the social
scientist produces is a social product, a product of his or her own society. That
knowledge, most importantly, is based upon a willingness to doubt and to question
institutionally-approved opinions. This process undoubtedly engenders anomalies
within the scientific enterprise with the increasing inability for scientific theories to
'fit' neatly and adequately with experimental laws. Consequently, the history of sci-
entific experience is not based solely on the method for the production of scientific
knowledge as suggested by sophisticated logical empiricists, but involves also an
important element of faith and belief. Indeed, if scientists followed Popper's
strictures, science would have died long ago!
On the eve of the 21st century, the social science community the world over
must come to recognize that the age of "science for science's sake" is over. The new
dispensation to come which will see a move from a civilisation of raw materials,
production and capital to one of knowledge, information and "immaterialization"
will call for a more socio-culturally determined paradigm which can no longer live
under the illusion of the "universality" and the "neutrality" of science. "Pure
science" can no longer be elevated above other disciplines as an epistemological
virtue, and the other 'sciences' such as morality, politics, etc. be relegated to
passion, emotions, and so forth.
What this means for the new emphasis on Science and Technology (S&T) as
the bedrock of this stubborn, wearying and contradictory region's development for
the 21st century, is that a science and technology sensibility has to be honed and
sharpened among the majority of the population as a matter of priority. But the
emphasis on the technological fall-out of science has to be balanced between a
science and technology knowledge-base and the full mobilisation of the creative
action, self-confidence and ancestral wisdom of the people. We dare not approach
the highly technical 21st century in the Caribbean by merely trying to find electronic
hardware in which to imprison our souls. Much of North America and Europe is
already trying to rationalise the S&T syndrome on the basis of more humane
considerations; and "Gorbachev and Reagan (followed by Bush) now know that
power can no longer be measured in terms of nuclear warheads the technological
fall-out of science"26
The redefinition of the purpose of S&T on a planetary scale has become one
of the fundamental conditions of the new democracy which is needed to face the
challenges of the 21st century. Policy-makers and social planners in the Caribbean,
who even now have an eye on the "commercial benefits" of S&T, should come to
understand this, recognizing that the absence of a universal consensus on cultural
values, norms and standards has biased the use of S&T for productivity and profit
with very little concern for the harnessing of these powerful instruments of change
in favour of more meaningful and purposive action. Thanks to a manifest lack of
foresight, the models of development which are promoted throughout the Carib-
bean, directly and with the help of "aid", emphasize growth and productivity. But
the methods and the means used to attain these objectives disempower the mass of
the population by considering them as mere components of a chain of production.
The new problematique facing the fusion of S&T and culture in the Caribbean on
the eve of the 21st century, however, is to see how the science and technology
knowledge at our disposal can be used to empower humankind to combat poverty,
misery, social injustice, marginalisation, the disrespect of human dignity and human
rights as well as the overuse and abuse of nature and its finite resources.
To be sure, despite the marvels and advance of science, the world remains
uncertain and the future is no less in doubt27. But the fusion of science natural and
social and culture is the only reliable path for a survival in dignity of a region of
the world whose history chronicles the exploitation of labour, the psychic-violence
of racism, and social and economic marginalisation. It is the way for rediscovering
harmony in "order" as well as "disorder", in the physical as well as the spiritual
realms. What's more, it is the key not only to survival in the 21st century but also
for the peace of humanity with itself as well as with the environment. It is the
highway for the expansion of the mind and of the heart; of knowledge and love; and
of humility, modesty and humour which may help to prevent us from taking
ourselves so seriously as to forget what our purpose is on this planet.
Given this, one premise which must be accepted from the outset in the social
sciences is that, in opposition to the subject-object distinction of logical empiricism,
the subject is involved with the social world he or she is attempting to study. As J.
Mepham candidly puts it, 'there is not first a subject and a world, and then a language
created at their point of contact. Because to be a subject is already to live in a
world'28. Another important difference is that society ought not to be seen in such
a way that it can be reduced to discrete objects and atomistic events. Instead, society
is best perceived as presenting contradictions where the focal point of study is not
to isolate, but to consider the relations between these contradictions29. An entirely
different role must also be assigned to 'facts'. They cannot be seen as being isolated,
or as opposed to values or to theory; rather, they must form part of a total structure,
and be considered only in relation to that totality"0. Indeed, facts and values must
come to be seen as inseparable, since the values people hold are continually
interacting with the 'facts', thus becoming a purely factual point of view in itself.
There is indeed room in the social sciences, especially in the Caribbean, for the
judicious borrowing from the physical sciences, logical empiricism, and philosophy
of science. But while we must pay our respect to logic we must do so without
becoming its slave. Equally, as social scientists, we must measure where we can but
avoid trying to measure the immeasurable and under no circumstances limit
ourselves to what measurement can produce. The arts and culture have a pivotal
place in the methodological devices of the social sciences, and the warning has
already sounded that we ignore this challenge at our peril". Increasingly, the social
sciences must make peace with culture and human values, for it is the cultural values
of our society which determine scientific thought, creativity and innovation32.
To overcome the creeping epistemological crisis that threatens the social
sciences in the Caribbean as much as anywhere else in the world, and be able to find
some workable solutions before we enter the 21st century, I suggest that the social
sciences be increasingly looked on as critical theory. A critical theory of society, in
my view, discovers its greatest virtue in promising an explanatory theory which is
committed to the possibility of rational criticism of prevailing beliefs and practices,
guided by an interest in emancipation, while based on a normative foundation that
is neither arbitrary nor unjustified"3. All science is critical in this manner, in the sense
of one scientific theory criticising other theories or beliefs. To be sure, this criticism
between scientific theories is not exclusive to the social sciences since the pheno-
mena very often take a social form as Galileo's attack on the church demonstrated.
But this in effect does project the critical function of theoretical knowledge per se
- the critique of what we called earlier institutionally approved opinions that are
themselves critically presented.
This critical analysis of theoretical knowledge ought to be firmly based on the
idea of contradiction, where at the level of theoretical propositions one theory
contradicts another, leading to the situation where each theory is critical of the other.
Given this, therefore, the social sciences must be both critical and explanatory, since
the theories and the beliefs of the critical mass who form the object of study
constitute aspects of the reality being studied. For example, the economic theories
of bourgeois political economy are based upon the system of bourgeois economy
which appear natural and real. But as Marx demonstrated in Capital, the German
Ideology, and the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, the laws of the
market-place present themselves with the force of natural necessity not because the
market is in any real, ultimate sense a natural order, but because the blinkers have
not been removed from men's eyes; because the laws of capital accumulation
operate, as it were, behind men's backs, concealing the fact that the interaction of
things to which they refer is in reality nothing more than an expression of the social
relationships of men to each other34.
The social sciences in the Caribbean and the wider world for that matter, face
the need to grasp new horizons which promise "greater texture" and the "internal
richness matching the complexity of the real world"". It is primarily for this reason
that I construe the student of social science as primarily a critic, and the critic's task,
surely, is to renderjudgement as fairly and objectively as he or she can. In all of this,
I have no doubt that the "scientific outlook" will survive, but we must attempt to
construct within the discipline a new trans-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary
approach based on the complementarity of the different realms of comprehension
as well as intuition so as to consciously and comprehensively overcome the limits
of "rationality" which have imprisoned the human mind within a closed and mono-
lithic system and reduced to a crisis-point the positive role of cultural diversity.
Inquiry need not be black or white; various shades of grey are useful. Tolerance does
not mean a loss of integrity,and concern with values need not imply a loss of
"scientific" status. We owe it to humankind to avoid at all costs transforming the
social sciences into rigorous orthodoxy.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
1. K.R. Popper, The Poverty of Historicism, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1960.
The Open Society and Its Enemies, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1962,
2. J.D. Douglas, The Relevance of Sociology, Appleton-Century-Crofts, New York, 1970.
3. T. Burns, 'Sociological Explanation', in The British Journal of Sociology, 1967.
4. See Denis Benn, The Growth and Development of Political Ideas in the Caribbean -
1774-1983, Institute of Social and Economic Research, UWI, Mona, 1987, Chps. IV-VI.
5. See M.G. Smith, Culture, Race and Class in the Commonwealth Caribbean, School of
Continuing Studies, UWI, Mona, 1990 (Second reprinted edition).
6. This problem is discussed in A. Ryan, The Philosophy ofThe Social Sciences, Mac Millan Press
Ltd., 1970, Chp. 10.
7. K. Popper, Conjectures and Refutations, London, 1963.
8. Classical empiricist philosophy of science asserts that hypotheses or theories that are made
'independently' of 'observed facts' about the physical world derive their meaning from the
meaning-structure, as it were, already accumulated in observational or experimental laws. The
progress of science, according to this view, is dependent upon the absolute 'theory-independent'
distinction between 'observational terms' and 'theoretical terms', the former making reference
to perceived things and processes, and are generalizations of directly observable phenomenon
(based on sense experiences), while the latter make use of terms and concepts that are not directly
observable thus deriving their 'acceptability' (meaning or assertions) on the basis of the
empirical evidence contained in observation terms; depending upon whether they 'fit' the 'facts'
(evidence) or are disproved (falsified) by the evidence. Within this two-tier structure of science,
the 'meaning-independence of experimental laws' is given a special neutral position of
ascendancy above theoretical statements, whose functions as guides for explaining experimental
laws render observable evidence relatively unchanged and impervious to theproliferation of new
scientific perspectives and ideas. See I. Scheffler, Science and Objectivity, Bobbs-Merril Co.
Inc., 1967, p. 46, and D. Shapere, 'Meaning and Scientific Change', in R. Colodney (ed.), Mind
and Cosmos, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1966, pp. 42-44.
9. The idea here is that the progress of science is said to be a rational enterprise whereby our
empirical knowledge can be seen to progress without the interference of subjective distortions
which include belief, perceptions, emotion, values, and so forth. Hence, since the falsification
of theories (i.e. subjecting them to justification with experimental laws to determine disagree-
ment or agreement, 'meaningful' or 'meaningless' statements) does not change the domain of
observed facts, this naturally facilitates a 'solid growth of knowledge which represents progress
in empirical understanding'. By this account, truthful explanations about the physical world (the
explanations of observable statements by theoretical statements) is in the final analysis based on
logic and empirical facts. In other words, since our empirical knowledge about the physical world
can be regarded as probably certain, and theories are continually in a state of flux, the method
by which we choose between theories cannot be arbitrary but must be based upon the neutral
principles of logic.
10. Strong support for this position can be found in G. Myrdal, Value in Social Theory A
Selection of Essays on Methodology, Harpen and Brothers, New York, 1958, R.K. Merton and
R. Nisbet, Contemporary Social Problems, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1971, and Bums,
11. See Douglas, op. cit., pp. 202-206 for the consequence of this.
12. Marx thought that philosophy should change the world rather than seek to understand it; logical
empiricism reversed the relation.
13. T. Carver (ed.), Karl Marx: Texts on Methods, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1975, p. 190.
14. Douglas, op. cit., pp. 188-200. cf. also Bums, op. cit., p. 366, and Myrdal, op. cit., pp. 48-55.
15. Popper, 1960, op. cit., J.S. Mill, System of Logic (Book VI), n.d.; M. Weber, The Methodol-
ogy of the Social Sciences, The Free Press, 1949.
16. Mill, ibid.
17. Popper, 1960, op. cit., Chps. 3/4.
18. Popper, 1963, op. cit., p. 34.
19. See A.W. Gouldner, 'The Sociologist as Partisan: Sociology and the Welfare State', American
Sociologist, May 1968. Kuhn contends that there is no such thing as an objective, standardized,
value-free observation-language. On the contrary, observation-language is itself also theory-
related. What one observes about 'reality', Kuhn argues, is determined or affected by what one
thinks about 'reality'; scientific knowledge therefore occurs through ignoring the bulk of what
has been observed. As such, new theories do not develop gradually or piecemeal as a result of the
falsification of this or that experiment. Rather, paradigms are not comparable, they are
incommensurable, and as a result of this phenomenon it logically leads to meaning-change at
the level of observation statements, given the theory-dependent nature of scientific practice.
See T.S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (2nd. edn.), The University of Chicago
20. N. Chomsky, Problems of Knowledge and Freedom, Barrie and Jenkins, London 1971,
21. See Van Den Berge in G. Sjoberg (ed.) Ethics, Politics and Social Research, Routledge and
Kegan Paul, London, 1967.
22. See Q. Gibson, The Logic of Social Enquiry, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1960,
23. R. Edgley, 'Dialectic: A Reply to Keat and Dews', in Radical Philosophy, No. 21, Spring 1979,
24. Cf. J. Schumpeter, 'Is the History of Economics a History of Ideologies?' in Braybrooke,
Philosophical Problems of the Social Sciences, Collier-MacMillan, London, 1965, pp.
25. P.K. Feyerabend, Against Method, NLB, 1975. See also his 'Problems of Empiricism', in
R.G. Colodney (ed.), Beyond the Edge of Uncertainty, New Jersey, 1965, and 'Consolations
for the Specialists', in Lakatos/Musgrave (ed), Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge,
Cambridge University Press, London, 1970.
26. Rex Nettleford in personal communication.
27. For the views of some of the world's top leaders in science and the arts on the dangers and
possibilities facing the world in the 21st century, see the "Reality Revolution" in Leaders,
Volume 12, No. 4, October-November-December, 1989, pp. 26-41.
28. J. Mepham, 'The Structuralist Sciences and Philosophy' in D. Roby's Structuralism, Oxford
University Press, 1974.
29. R. Keat and J. Urry, Social Theory of Science, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London 1975, p. 30.
30. This point is developed further by K. Kosik in Dialectics of the Concrete Totality, The Hague,
1976. See also L. Goldman, 'Is there a Marxist Sociology?', in Radical Philosophy, No. 1, n.d.,
and L. Colletti, From Rousseau to Lenin, NLB, 1972, pp. 229-237.
31. See Rex Nettleford, 'Cultural Identity and the Arts New Horizons for Caribbean Social
Sciences?', in Social and Economic Studies, Volume 38, No. 2, 1989, pp. 234-263.
32. For more on the interfacing of science (whether the "hard and fundamental" sciences or the "soft
social and human sciences") and culture, see the study by the Japanese Institute for Research Ad-
vancement (NIRA) published in 1988 under the title Research Output: Agenda for Japan in
33. See H. Marcuse, One Dimensional Man, Abacus, 1964.
34. The implications accruing from this example for the functions of social science in the Caribbean
as much as anywhere else in the world, are articulated by Roy Edgley in a manner that seems
to offer tremendous potential for grasping the role of critical theory as a function of theoreti-
'As social science in distinction from natural science it must
comprehend those other theories as part of its real object, part
of the social reality it seeks to understand. It does this by
theorising their structural unity with the rest of society, i.e. by
explaining their structure in terms of their material base ...
Marxist critique, in criticising other theories for their 'cogni-
tive' defects . their contradictory structure, traces those
defects back to the material base not as an otherwise neutral
cause but as a cause having a similar contradictory structure,
a structure that is thus 'reflected' in theory'.
See R. Edgley, op. cit., p. 31.
35. R. Nettleford, op. cit., p. 248.
FREEDOM OF THOUGHT AND EXPRESSION: NINETEENTH
CENTURY WEST INDIAN CREOLE EXPERIENCE*
In 1830 the Jamaican Legislature passed a bill stating that "All such persons of free
condition shall henceforth be entitled to have and enjoy all the rights, privileges, and
immunities and advantages whatsoever to which they would have been entitled if
born and descended from white ancestors"' (my emphasis). By this enactment a
class of Jamaicans (with counterparts scattered all over nineteenth century West
Indian plantation society) acquired recognition and status tantamount to full citizen-
ship in a society which had up to then treated them as second class inhabitants; and
as such they were deprived of most rights and privileges, not least among them
freedom of expression. That class of Jamaicans (referred to in the quotation above
as "such persons") were none other than the Free Coloureds that group of native-
born and native bred West Indians who were to give special character to the West
Indian social order during slavery and were to confound the otherwise simple
arrangement of White, free, propertied and powerful overlords at the top and black,
enslaved and powerless labour at the base.
In the order of things the Free Coloured had been neither the one nor the other.
So, of all the groups living in Jamaican society during slavery, the Free Coloureds
were the ones required to be what they either were not or could not totally be, in order
to exist in that society. Such existence came to depend on the degree to which they
could approximate to the Whites not only in biological but also in cultural terms.
This, in itself, was tantamount to a denial of "self' and therefore a less than subtle
infringement of free thought and expression to which the Free Coloureds, being free,
might have been deemed entitled. But as Coloureds they were to become the major
aspirants to that very freedom of thought and expression, the possession of which,
together with other basic civil rights, marked off the free and powerful Whites from
"others" in the society.' In the circumstances they not only subjected themselves to
the terms set them by their White 'superiors', they also paid a price, in psycho-
*Paper presented at the International Society for the History of Ideas 14th Conference, Venice, 1975.
cultural terms, that was to shadow them into posterity. For their heirs and descen-
dants were to intensify and crystallise in their persons class consciousness, cultural
pretensions, and the so-called "identity crisis", a feature of which has been the
incapacity to find form and meaning for the objective realities of their own
existence. And the absence of that psychological security which is a validating
condition for the exercise of free thought and expression has been evident for a long
time in the conscious (and sub-conscious) aping of belief-systems, values and
lifestyles which are the creations of a presumed superior race and class of persons.
It is such aping which has become a characteristic of the dependency syndrome; of
post-colonial life in plantation America of which Jamaica is historically and
culturally a part.
Persistent imitation or undiscriminating appropriation of external values is
bound to result in intellectual and spiritual impoverishment and such impoverish-
ment can hardly be said to be the stuff from which ideas about free thought and
expression are born. Rejection of the impoverishment and its causes can sometimes
prompt responses which betray a determination to break the bond that would seek
to imprison one in the process of imitation and blind appropriation. But the story of
the Free Coloureds during the last decades of slavery in Jamaica does not reveal an
energy towards any such response. Instead, the Free Coloureds' eagerness to meet
the criteria set for them to be what they could not be provided West Indian slave
history with one of the many paradoxes of that history though it could be argued
that their ready choice in the matter was itself evidence of some capacity for free
thought and expression. And such an argument could find support among some
people. The period under discussion could, however, be seen as one that was
plagued, if not determined, by forces which even today remain positive threats to
some people's freedom of thought and expression. The reference is to such forces
as racial discrimination and racial conceit, cultural domination reinforced at times
by imperial arms parading as imperial protection, and the gauche provincialism of
a 'settler' or transient superordinate group claiming exclusive rights for themselves
over all others in the society they dominate and rule.3
In early nineteenth century Jamaica, a set of very carefully articulated statutes4
legitimised this domination over the slaves who were, in any case, considered as
property and non-persons in law and were therefore not citizens in any political
sense. It is true that while the imperial economic order worked in the interest of
Mother Britain, and the conscience of the British nation remained unstirred, the
slaves did what they could to clear the way for their own total freedom and to
uncover the glaring internal contradictions of slave society, whether through armed
resistance and sabotage, cunning and tactical acquiescence or through a combina-
tion of all these means. But with the Free Coloureds a different problem presented
itself. In law they were persons, albeit second-class citizens. The statutes that kept
them in their place were of a different kind and certainly less dependent on the use
of punitive force than the slave laws were. But implicit in the enactments affecting
Free Coloureds, and even in those that sought progressively to ameliorate them,5
were the sort of assumptions that left the two major free classes6 in Jamaican slave
society with the vilest forms of psychological warfare. To become first-class
citizens with the right to enjoy freedom of that special kind reserved not just for the
free but for the white free, the Free Coloureds had to deny that part of themselves
which was made out to be the primary cause of their deprivation. And so, whether
by their own volition or whether through the pressure of legal sanctions and social
conventions, the pursuit after the attainment of whiteness in all its biological and
cultural manifestations was to heighten the already blatant contradictions of plan-
tation slave society.
Ever since the middle of the eighteenth century developments in Jamaican
society had brought not only texture but contradictions to the slave society polarised
between the superordinate and subordinate, between the free and the slave. The
absence of sufficient numbers of European females in the frontier ruggedness that
was Jamaica indeed the absence of plantation owners with complete families in
the island gave rise to frequent and widespread miscegenation between the bands
of European bookkeepers, overseers and attorneys on the one hand and the "better-
looking slaves" transformed into a 'housekeeper' sub-class on the other.7 The
offspring (mulatoes) were many of them to be born free or later to be manumitted
into freedom.! By the end of the eighteenth century many had become the progeny
of further unions between mulatoes and whites, mulatoes and mulatoes, free
blacks and mulatoes. This in turn gave rise to a consciousness of gradation of
colour.9 For what was principally at stake was the right to being "free" in a society
that depended for its economic and social survival on the enslavement of what had
fast become the majority segment of the population of Jamaica.'0 Being free and
being coloured meant much, naturally, to the Free Coloureds if only because in
many a case being coloured meant being free, or nearly so. To the Whites, however,
being Coloured was the disqualifying factor. In plantation slave society where the
presence of involuntary Black African labour implied a potential threat of violence
to the rulers of the slaves (and of the society), maintaining the status quo where
Whites were superordinate became an end in itself, or almost so. Anyone, then, with
slave blood (and by the late eighteenth century "slave" meant "African" and
"black") in his veins could not be granted the status or recognition which could
mislead his African kith and kin into believing that such status and recognition were
readily available to those who were slaves.
What, it may be asked, if such a person were free whether by the terms of
the law (as indeed many Coloureds actually were at birth if generationally they were
safely removed from their African ancestry) or whether by the terms of some of
manumission (as in the case not only of Coloured slaves set free by their father/
owners but also of full-blooded African slaves granted freedom by some kind of
grateful master). In the case of the manumitted Black, the social order and its
operational devices transformed this new-found freedom into little more than cer-
tification that ex-slave Y no longer belonged to master Z." In terms of participation
in the civic process of the society, such a manumitted being had little or no say and
had little protection in law. Freedom of movement within the society: was duly
restricted by their having to travel with passes (certificates of Freedom);12 and
though the provision was seldom complied with, a statute called for the wearing of
"a blue cross on the right shoulder, on pain of imprisonment"."1 The Free Coloureds
were treated only slightly better. The society (sc. the White establishment of
planters, Anglican priests, crown officials) took pains to define, over time, the legal
position of these Free people.
First, it was necessary to define who among these growing numbers of Jamaicans
were eligible for full citizenship and therefore able to enjoy all .the freedoms of a
white person. This depended on the dilution of colour. "Until the third degree of
colour had been achieved, the coloured person, even if born ofa free mother, had no
civil or political rights".14 Bryan Edwards, in his eighteenth century history,
confirmed this generational distancing from black ancestry as a precondition for the
enjoyment of civil rights. An Act of 1761 pulled together all previous enactments
by the Jamaican legislature delineating the legal status of the mulatoes and disinher-
iting them "from the rights promised the children of white fathers in the early days
of settlement".' The Free Coloureds themselves were not slow to point out the fact
(as late as 1823) that while coloured West Indians enjoyed rights and respect in
England itself, "the local legislature" [i.e. of Jamaica] had denied them similar
treatment "by restraints and disabilities ... [imposed on them] in the colonies"."
What were these restraints and disabilities? Between 1761 and 1813,"8 they
could not inherit more than 2,000 in currency or worth of property. Up to 1796 they
could not give evidence before the courts in cases "of any assaults, batteries,
breaches of the peace or any violence committed by any person or persons
whatsoever" against them; and though in 1813 there was further alleviation to allow
them to give such evidence, it would not be admitted unless an Anglican baptismal
certificate was produced on every occasion when a Free Coloured person gave
evidence. Here was a clear case of denial of the freedom of expression. Not even in
the matter of freedom of religious expression did they have a choice. Moravian,
Methodist, Native Baptist and African Animist forms of worship were all accessible
in the society by the second decade of the nineteenth century.'9 But the law tied
Anglican adherence to recognition and status and the right to free thought and
expression. The removal in 1813 of the limitations on the Free Coloureds' economic
status was bound to lead to an increase in political and legal privileges but, accord-
ing to Sheila Duncker, how much and by what means were important questions yet
to be answered. The very matter of economic limitations had received further re-
enforcement in 1772 when a piece of legislation made it mandatory for Free
Coloured proprietors (by this time many had inherited property) to employ one
white man for every ten slaves or pay a fine.20 In other words, no Free Coloured could
in the language of the day "save deficiency"; for though he owned property (land and
slave) and was part-white he was not white enough to be considered as meeting the
full quota of Whites which the security needs of a potentially violent and dangerous
society dictated. It is necessary to state that the law made no distinction between a
free person of colour and a freed black: they were both of African descent,
potentially a threat to the 'prescriptive' White dominance in the society. As far as the
Free Coloureds were concerned, there was little justification for White suspicion
about them. Yet the continued means at their disposal must have served to harden
the position of the White Establishment. For it was not until 1822 that any major
concession was granted. Evidence by Free Coloured persons was from then admit-
ted in court for all cases without the need for the Free Coloureds to produce
baptismal certificates. The core of White ruling class resistance nevertheless
remained because, as the then Attorney General wrote, "Free Coloured persons are
ineligible to the office of magistrate or to be Vestrymen, or Churchwarden or to
serve on juries, and are not to vote for the election of, or to be elected members of
the assembly or to save deficiency on the property of white persons . ."2 Small
wonder, then, that in practice the Free Coloureds were not guaranteed justice under
Nor could they rely on the Established Church for much support. In 1823 the
Rev. Mr. Bridges could write of the Free Coloureds in the following manner: it was
a "failure of usual prudence which led them to anticipate their rising fortunes and to
demand admission to the privileges of freehold suffrage, or while the blood of pagan
African still flowed thick and doubly in their veins to affect to consider it an
unnecessary degradation to be obliged to produce evidence of their conversion to
Christianity, before they were permitted to bind themselves by Christian oath".22
Christian charity would not be extended easily to lesser mortals. The Rev. Mr.
Bridges and most of his kind could be depended on to support the Whites in matters
designed to maintain the status quo. Governor Manchester was cut in the same
mould.23 Though he himself sired many brown children (his wife did not accompany
him to Jamaica) he shared with planters and attorneys, similarly connected, a deep
distrust, if not contempt, for the Free Coloureds especially those of the male sex. The
evidence of Whites treating their brown offspring well did not prevent the attitude
described above. They certainly had no intention of yielding easily to Free Coloured
demands though some, like the same Rev. Mr. Bridges, did not rule out the
possibility of 'gradual improvement'.24
From the above it can be seen that the Free Coloureds, along with the Freed
Blacks (both sets, members of a growing creole group), were denied freedom of
expression by being kept out of such crucial institutions as the courts, the Assembly,
the systems of voting, the leadership structures of both local government (Vestry)
and Church where they could have had a 'voice', as well as out of certain business
and commercial enterprises, at least for a while. Of course, the harsh realities of early
nineteenth century Jamaican plantation society forced the White Establishment to
make accommodations and effect compromises which produced openings, how-
ever limited, for the Free Coloureds. One such accommodation was the device of
Special Privileges enactments which in effect suspended many of the provisions of
the 1761 Act outlining the disabilities of the Free Coloured (or Freed Black) class.
These special privileges bills were passed very frequently up to 1802; but they were
virtually in abeyance from then until 1823 when the amelioration measures follow-
ing the 1823 Petition gave the Free Coloured much hope for liberation from the
disabilities and as a consequence prompted a spate of applications for special
privileges. After 1830 these privileges acts were no longer necessary. But while they
lasted they did some good for a few selected Free Coloured families without doing
enough for the class as a whole. They probably stemmed the tide of possible violent
revolution by building up hopes to full citizenship among ambitious aspirants, es-
pecially those who were willing to satisfy the requirements of industry, good
conduct and all other criteria set out by the White Establishment.25 Yet despite the
granting of such special privileges, Free Coloured holders of such privileges still
"might not be Councillors of the Assembly, nor judges in any of the Courts, nor in
public offices, nor jurymen" and some were even "precluded from voting at
elections of assembly members".26 There was something self-serving about the
Whites' granting of these privileges: the character references necessary for the Free
Coloured applicants to be considered for such privileges had to come from Whites
who did not scruple to indulge their whims and fancies in assessing their 'inferiors'.
The fact that a barrage of petitions and memorials flowed from the Free Coloured
population between 1800 and 1830 agitating for the disappearance of the disabilities
is proof enough that the special privileges enactments benefited only a few.
It must be recognized, however, that because the Free Coloureds could express their
dissatisfaction through petitions, there existed in early nineteenth century Jamaican
society some basis for freedom of expression. It is this assumption by the Free
Coloureds themselves that gave form and purpose to their own fight for civil rights
generally and offers greater insight into the nature of Jamaican plantation society as
it operated at the time.
It did not operate in isolation. It was a colony of Great Britain. The conventions
of imperial rule gave to local legislatures with 'representative government' a great
deal of autonomy over the enactment of laws for the internal governing of such
colonies but the Mother country could disallow any law which contravened British
policy and legal practice." There was always a higher (external) force which could
be appealed to. Even the slave as property suffered under the control of his owner
on the basis of a deep respect for English commonlaw conventions; in the final
analysis it was the respect for the rights of "persons" (also a concern of English
commonlaw and soon enough of English evangelical fervour) that helped to render
the position of the slaveowner (an owner of "persons") untenable in British legal -
and moral eyes. The English Parliament therefore had real power over the
Jamaican White ruling class who, in any case, saw themselves as Britons overseas.28
They were not to be allowed to have it both ways despite the attempts by contem-
poraries like historians Edward Long and Bryan Edwards to argue their case out of
the dilemma that faced them right to the end of slavery and beyond.29 Nevertheless
the claim (and demand) for rights were on-going concerns among the creole, but
Eurocentric, White population in their dealings with their Mother Parliament (and,
before the American Revolution, the King). It was that most Jamaican institution,
the House of Assembly, that led the White "fight" for constitutional autonomy (not
independence). So by the late eighteenth century the Jamaican Assembly had won
for itself substantial privileges in the regulation of its own affairs.30 It had even done
more; it had sought to guarantee the perpetuation of this by looking to its own
internal integrity.3 The discipline and probity of its members with respect to such
matters as regular attendance,32 non-abuse of parliamentary privilege," and even the
non-holding of "public office of profit under the Crown",34 exercised the minds of
Assemblymen from the late eighteenth century right up to the end of the second
decade of the nineteenth. The Jamaican Legislature could be as good as the mother
of Parliaments. But it was its autonomy, above everything else, that it sought to
secure implying not only its deep concern for its "creole" status as the historian
Edward Braithwaite rightly insists, but also its capacities for free (White creole)
expression and the rights which would enable the Assembly to promote the over-
riding self-interest of the White ruling class, viz the economic prosperity to be had
out of the unhampered cultivation of sugar by slave labour.
Freedom of expression and full constitutional rights for the White creole class
would mean, then, a continuing control of all the rights and freedoms of both the
Free Coloured class and the Black creole and, up to 1807, imported slaves. The over-
riding power and authority of the British Parliament therefore provided a modicum
of hope for the oppressed creole classes while to many assemblymen and their
planter peers it spelled British parliamentary tyranny. It was to the ultimate
advantage of the oppressed groups that the threat of foreign invasion as part of the
prevailing Anglo-French international powerplay35 and the endemic fear of insur-
rection by the slaves, who had by now considerably outnumbered the Whites,6
made the metropolitan British presence indispensable. The White ruling class was
itself forced to develop a relationship between itself and the Mother country
guaranteeing protection from Britain in return for good behaviour on the basis of
observance of canons of political decency that obtained, or were expected, wherever
Britons lived. Did not Edward Long, the Jamaican historian, declare in 1774 that
"the native spirit of freedom, which distinguishes British subjects beyond most
others, is not confined to the mother country: but discovers itself in the remotest
parts of her empire, and chiefly in a resistance to acts of oppression, and such
unwarrantable measures, as they know, or at least believe, have a certain tendency
to abridge them of (their) rights"?37 (my emphasis). To many in the British
Parliament the Jamaican Free Coloureds were British subjects" among others to be
found "in the remotest parts of the British empire". The treatment meted out to them
(and for that matter to the Freed Blacks) in early nineteenth century Jamaica by the
Jamaican White ruling class could hardly be justified therefore. The point was not
lost on the Free Coloureds some of whom had firsthand experience of metropolitan
civility through visits to and schooling in Britain. So the Free Coloured Petition of
1823 rued the fact that while they (the Free Coloureds) were regarded as "free
denizens of England" by the Mother country, they were divested of the status "in the
colonies".38 They knew, then, that the restricted freedom to express themselves
through petitions was theirs if only by the fact that the Mother country would not
allow otherwise with respect to her own "free denizens".
Nevertheless, they were residents of Jamaica and not of England and so they
would have to face the realities of the entrenched power of the ruling and often
hostile Whites. They therefore used the instrument of the Petition, albeit a minimal
means of free expression, to advance their claims for greater freedom and corre-
spondingly fewer disabilities. At best, the successful use of this minimal means of
free expression could be said to have re-inforced the view since held by many in
Jamaica that free expression is "an indispensable condition of nearly every other
freedom".39 Such freedom of expression as inhered in the device of petitioning
offered the Free Coloureds in the early nineteenth century undoubtedly received the
blessing and protection of the British Parliament because such an opportunity to air
grievances had long been established in British political theory and practice as both
an individual and a social good. To the Free Coloureds the opportunity to petition
no doubt provided all the goods that free expression is said to provide goods such
as individual fulfilment, participation by individuals in the decision-making proc-
ess of the society, the maintenance of a balance between stability and change in the
society and, last but not least, the attainment to truth. Certain Free Coloured
individuals undoubtedly attained personal fulfilment. Those who spearheaded the
petitions and spoke on behalf of their class acquired status and authority among their
peer group as well as notoriety among the White Establishment.40 Among the wider
class of Coloureds the removal of disabilities through the successive petitions
between 1800 and 1830 gave new opportunities for the acquisition of propertied
wealth and freedom to worship in denominations of their choice.
The persistent use of petitioning did result in the fuller participation by the Free
Coloureds in wider areas of Jamaican political and social life. The Act of 1830 gave
them all the privileges hitherto exclusively possessed by the White population.
Sheila Duncker, a reliable student of the period, seems less convinced of the efficacy
of the use of these petitions41 since, not long before the 1830 Act was passed, the
position of the Whites had hardened in the face of much petitioning. As recently as
1826 the Jews had received privileges without restrictions, thus confirming the long
held view that Jews were regarded as superior to Christian Coloureds in the social
structure of the time.42 And up to early 1830 Jamaican Whites believed that it would
have been dangerous to extend full privileges to all Free Coloureds though it was
conceded that some were undoubtedly worthy of the prize.
The clamour for such rights by Free Coloureds was indeed regarded as
insolence by many in the Establishment.43 Moreover, many Free Coloureds in good
circumstances did not wish for the distinctions between their kind and less privi-
leged Coloureds to be abolished. Duncker is not to be fooled, then, by the 1830
measure giving all Free Coloureds full privileges. She speculates as to whether the
British Parliament was ready and willing to assert its authority for what seemed a
"good cause".44 She might have said a "proper cause" in the light of Britain's own
concern with reform and moral regeneration at home then. She seems more certain,
however, in the view that the unconditional surrender by the planters was something
of an investment by the Whites in the future support they expected from the Free
Coloureds should slavery be abolished.45 After all, both classes of creole Jamaicans
shared a common interest in the ownership of property. In fact the Whites had
periodically made such an investment largely to make sure that Free Coloured
loyalty was forthcoming in case of external attack or internal black rebellion. Free
Coloured loyalty was often rewarded not so much to ensure the Coloured class
greater participation in the society or freer expression, as to re-inforce White
supremacy. Their loyalty to the Whites in the Second Maroon War was recognized
with a grant of a few token privileges;" but such rewards were simply to guarantee
against slave wrath and possible future alliance between slave and Coloureds as had
happened in the neighboring island of St. Domingue (Haiti). After 1826 there was
urgent need to placate the Free Coloureds who were growing more aware of their
numerical importance and of the rising force of the abolitionist movement in Britain
itself. By 1829 it was the creole Whites who were petitioning the Jamaican
Assembly to introduce a general enactment of privileges to all Free Coloureds.47 As
Duncker rightly insists, the change of attitude among the White planters, who had
earlier regarded any Free Coloured involvement as a "ruin to the island",48 must be
seen in terms of the impending success of the Abolitionist movement and the
common dangers expected to be faced by Whites and Coloureds against the
numerically overpowering Blacks about to be freed. Duncker's understandable
cynicism is expressed in a cool-headed summary thus: "The Whites probably felt
that if the colony was soon to be engulfed by free blacks, it was a relatively small
matter whether the free coloureds shared their own exclusive position for a few
remaining years or not".49
The Free Coloureds were seemingly flattered by the cynical and self-serving
generosity of their White "fellow-subjects". In fairness it was something of an
achievement following on their own sustained efforts. But it took some time before
the newly won power was reflected in the membership pattern of the key social and
political institutions that were to ensure in a practical and positive way free
expression for the Free Coloureds as a class. The shared exclusivity of freedom
enjoyment was not to last for long, however. For by 1834 everyone was about to be
fully free in the society. Slavery was abolished and, despite the provisions for an
Apprenticeship System which kept many as half-slaves for some four years more,
the society was never to be the same again. Freedom of expression and all its
attendant goods were now open to the entire society, though the (former Free)
Coloureds hereafter seemed to wish to put their energies into helping to shape a
system that would either make them heirs to the White plantocratic rule or partners
in that rule over the ex-slave. The phenomenon of the post-slavery period falls
outside the discussion in this paper. But what developed after slavery with the
Browns50 (as the Free Coloureds came to be called) had its roots in the attitudes and
views built up and re-inforced in the generations before emancipation and this
despite the existence of one Edward Jordon, the Free Coloured founder-editor of an
influential newspaper which eventuallyjoined the abolitionists in the fight for negro
freedom (as distinct from Free Coloured liberation) and spoke out spiritedly against
The fact of the matter is that the fight for civil rights by the Free Coloureds in
the generation before emancipation was predicated on no proposition that the denial
of freedom to any human being of whatever social origin was wrong. The Free
Coloureds as a class did not concern themselves with the issue of the abolition of
slavery. They showed no interest, then, in the fundamental change of Jamaican
plantation society; they were merely concerned with improving their own lot within
that society. They seemed to have followed to the letter the tutelage given them by
their superiors (the Whites). The appeal to self-interest superseded any commitment
on principle to human rights. An incipient political theory about independence and
the rightness of creole control of local decisions offered by historians Long and
Edwards got lost, in any case, in the dilemma of a dual loyalty and in the undying
faith which these two expatriate Englishmen, albeit with creole Jamaican sensibili-
ties, seemed to have had in the ultimate superiority of metropolitan political wisdom
and authority over any exaggerated claims to creole autonomy. The Free Coloureds,
even if they were willing and able, would have had little to proceed with by way of
political ideas. Their claims to freedom were based appropriately on their White
pedigree (such as it was) and on their loyalty to and cooperativeness with their white
kith and kin in the power structure. In fairness the Free Coloured class sometimes
betrayed deeper appreciation of realities, as in their reference in the 1816 Petition to
their indigenous character since blacks and whites were immigrants and they were
the natural result of the Jamaican situation. They even sometimes betrayed cog-
nisance of the fact that they out-numbered their white overlords. But these last two
bases for claims were less important than the others betraying their allegiance to the
social structure which attributed superiority to all those of white ancestry and
established a frame of reference based on a value-system rooted in White (metro-
politan and colonial) habits, prejudices and experience.
So the very struggle for freedom of this or that would naturally take place
within the bounds of certain rules rules established according to the standards set
by the White ruling class. The Petition, then, was accepted as a proper (even if
inadequate) vehicle for fighting one's battles. The Free Coloured struggle for
freedom of expression and other civil rights exclusively enjoyed by White citizens
in Jamaican slave society followed very closely, therefore, the rules of the game of
what Wilmoore Kendall in a 20th century essay referred to as "the discussion
process"." For early nineteenth Century free Jamaicans would have made, in fact
did make, claims to possessing democratic sensibilities precisely because they
assumed the possibility of discussion (dialogue, debate) between competing groups
of citizens. In this the slaves who were property and not citizens had to be
discounted. It hardly mattered that they constituted a giant majority: Bentham's
felicific calculus was yet to be devised and emancipation was still some distance
away. Those who were eligible for citizenship were those who were Free. But manu-
mitted ex-slaves, because they carried the tinge of slavery, had to be cleansed and
purified before they could, as it were, enter into discussion with fellow citizens, in
the society. So would the miscegenated beings who were too near generationally
(and, as it turned out, physically) to their slave or African ancestry. The real citizens,
then, who could participate fully in the "discussion process" guaranteed by British
political traditions, would be all the Whites and those Free Coloureds sufficiently
purified. Such traditions had hitherto been invoked by the planters from the
hallowed halls of the Jamaican Assembly whenever they thought that Mother
Britain was threatening their freedom of thought or expression and, above all, their
action, particularly when such action had to do with the control and disposal of their
property whether land, house, estates, stock or slaves. Their discussion process with
the British Parliament and Crown would have laid down certain guidelines regard-
ing rules of procedure. Such rules would naturally apply to any group of citizens
within Jamaica who sought "discussion" about rights and privileges with the ruling
group. The Free Coloureds, though de facto half-citizens, saw themselves as
potentially full citizens and none of them would have wished to be considered slaves
(i.e. non-Free). So they would wish to enter into the "discussion process", which is
what freedom of expression presumes, in the spirit of the rules as laid down, And the
rules laid down by the White Establishment of early nineteenth century Jamaica bear
close resemblance to the sort of rules or principles which Kendall cites as necessary
to any discussion process concerned with seeking after truth, as to be found in as
exclusive a community as an academic one."
It was cited above that attainment of truth was one of the greater goods to
derive from freedom of expression. The Free Coloureds threw up no philosophers.
In fact the society they came to accept did not believe in the value of ideas qua ideas.
The people who controlled it were for the most part very practical men of very
practical affairs. Edward Long and Bryan Edwards were glaring exceptions. The
raison d'etre of plantation slave society was commercial profit. Everything had
come to revolve around the cultivation and profitability of sugar. Questions of rights
and status had come to be directly related to the effect of these on the production
process, and vice versa. The search for truth, the definition of truth, could hardly
escape this imperative. Yet it is necessary to state that, despite itself, late eighteenth
and early nineteenth century Jamaica had begun to become a society with some inner
logic and consistency capable of transcending the classic plantation slave system.
The Free Coloureds themselves their presence, their numerical growth, their
acquired wealth had created a new dimension that challenged the raw assump-
tions about purity of race; there were many creole Whites born and bred over several
generations in Jamaica despite the goings and comings of absentee landlords and for
some of them attachment to Jamaican soil was real and deep; after 1807 when the
slave trade was abolished, the already growing band of creole slaves grew even
faster and the deepening of slave activity in the creation of Jamaican social
institutions became evident; above all, the validity of slavery itself was being
questioned. The process of creolisation the indigenisation of experience, institu-
tions, social relations was apace on several levels. The society was implicitly
setting for itself a new truth.
Now, for any society, its own truth can be said to inhere in that corpus of
values, beliefs, procedures, mechanisms and institutions which support, reinforce
and guide the governance and inner workings of that society and which are held in
custodial care by a ruling legitimised group of persons at any given time. That ruling
group of persons may be a specific class of persons (an economic and social or
intellectual elite), a specific family and their close associates (a dynasty), a specific
group of persons institutionally organised into an authority group overtly backed by
monopolised force (e.g. the military, a Party), or the ruling group may be a broad-
based group of citizens (often referred to as the masses or 'the people') who elect
via free and frequent elections legislators and whose continuing participation in the
governmental process is guaranteed by special procedures and political mechanism
designed to make violent change unnecessary.
From what is known of early nineteenth century Jamaican society it is clear
that the ruling group of persons in that society constituted a certain class of persons
who had to be White, economically viable in the ownership of property or in the
holding of a particular kind of job (whether bookkeeper, overseer or attorney) and
with the proven capacity to exercise political power and control."5 From that exalted
and exclusive position of power and authority they guarded the destiny of the
society they inherited and were determined to direct. White superiority and white
dominance constituted the truth of that society and this they guarded jealously. In
their lurking insecurity (slave resistance was a chronic constant in West Indian slave
society), they were contemptuous of all who sought to enter their exclusive 'club'
of rulers, intolerant of those who sought to question without modesty or moderation
the basis of their power, and mercilessly vindictive towards any who would dare to
seek to remove the foundation of racial superiority and black enslavement on which
their power and authority rested. Free Coloureds who displayed ambitions to status
earned their contempt; white missionaries who introduced the 'irrelevancy' of the
Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man with self-righteous arrogance were
the victims of planter intolerance; and slaves who took their courage in their hands
and fled to freedom or resorted to armed resistance suffered the atrocities of Estab-
lishment violence which fill the historical records of the entire slave period."
Yet by reason of the colonial connection, the imperial arrangements and the fact that
many shared lineage with the Free Coloureds, the Jamaican Whites were not totally
averse to a selected group of Free Coloureds participating in the process of
discussion. Truth, after all, can at times come from the most unexpected of sources.
No one, for example, could have convinced an early nineteenth century Jamaican
white planter that he was politically inept simply because he dwelt on the periphery
of empire. By analogy, it was possible for some Free Coloureds to be included. But
this was not to mean that useful and beneficial ideas could come from just about
anybody. When the Free Coloureds in their 1816 Petition offered the view that as
free persons (like their White "fellow subjects") they should be allowed to "partici-
pate into the full enjoyment of the benefits of the British Constitution",`6 they met
with the typical response from the White Assembly. Full-fledged Free Coloured
participation in fact non-White participation in the operation of the Jamaican
version of the British Constitution was not part of the prevailing truth about early
nineteenth century Jamaican society. The Assembly's Resolutions re-affirmed "that
the free people of colour in this island have no right or claim whatever to political
power, or to interfere in the administration of the government as by law established
in the Governor, Council and Assembly".57 The moral of this exchange is that while
the Free Coloureds were free to express through the Petition a view about their civic
status in the society they had no right of access to the very institutions that would
ensure them the fullest possible and meaningful exercise of that particular freedom.
Moreover, their involvement in such institutions would be conceding the notion of
equal privileges for all free persons in nineteenth century Jamaican slave society and
this would constitute a major onslaught against the 'divine' and established truth
about Jamaican Society. There would be a total collapse if the social system were
interfered with, according to White opinion at the time. Bryan Edwards thought that
the stratification of Jamaican society was God-ordained,5 thus threatening to place
the truth of the society beyond the pale of rational discussion. He did concede, it is
only fair to say, that privileges to Free Coloureds (a kind of practical admission into
the society's total discussion process) were not impossible though he warned that
such privileges should "not serve to confound, but to keep up and render useful those
distinctions which local causes have created and which it is not in the power of man
to abolish"59 (my emphasis).
Edwards was to be proven wrong on this last point, to be sure. But while it was
within the power of the White Establishment, all attempts by the Free Coloured class
to join the discussion process in the pursuit of the truth about Jamaican society met
with the strictest application of the rules of the game. So if they wanted admission,
the Free Coloureds had to prepare themselves for entry and demonstrate a capacity
for meeting the requirements as defined by the White ruling class. They could be
granted special privileges if they proved that they were in possession of such White
virtues as literacy (as against slave ignorance), Christian morality and Anglican
adherence (in contrast to Black immorality and African paganism or the nativistic
cultism of the slaves), industry (as against the proverbial indolence of certain of the
Black population), peaceableness and loyalty (in contrast to the much demonstrated
bellicosity and undependability of many a slave)." Bryan Edwards was blunt. "I
think," he wrote, "that some useful regulations might be made to apportion greater
privileges to the coloured people according to their approximation to the whites"61
(my emphasis). He saw this as a necessity for the discussion process to move
forward though on the terms and at the direction of the controllers of the exclusive
society the ruling Whites. The point here is that there are requirements to be met
and an apprenticeship to be served in any move to acquire membership in an
exclusive club. The Free Coloureds played the game by the rules and with aplomb.
The Free Coloured petitions took pains to declare the loyalty of the class before
stating the claims of the class.62 They could indeed genuinely claim non-collabora-
tion in the slave uprisings from the previous century to the 1820s. Had they not
fought on the side of law and order (and of the Whites) during the Second Maroon
War? And although they knew they could not become commissioned officers in the
militia had they not served dutifully and all this despite the fact that there was the
distinct possibility always of "a free man of colour, possessed of 100,000 [being]
commended by his clerk"?63 Other obligations that had to be met had to do with the
Lockean notion that ownership of property conferred civic status on the owner by
reason of his having a stake in the society. Several Free Coloured persons were to
own property acquired largely through inheritance from their white fathers or their
white 'commonlaw husbands' as many attorneys and Planter/owners turned out to
do. In fact, prevention of their full participation in the discussion process, despite
their meeting the requirement of possession of viable and visible wealth, was one
reason for the growing and intensified Free Coloured pressure in the 1820s against
all remaining disabilities. Many had also acquired education of a kind superior to
several of their white compatriots and so regarded themselves as well qualified to
enjoy the privileges reserved for their White fellow subjects. One John Swaby,
according to the Jamaica Almanack of 1828, not only owned 217 slaves and 331
head of stock. He had also been to Charterhouse, a major English public school, and
had been a lieutenant in the British army." Such a phenomenon was bound to place
severe pressure on the rules governing the satisfying of requirements as a pre-
condition for enjoying rights. The most difficult obligation of all in the scheme of
preparation would have been the dilution of colour. It took three generations to
become a Jamaican white, by law. In the meantime liaison had therefore to be
carefully worked out to ensure that offspring would enjoy in the next generation
what Free Coloured or black mothers could not in their own. So in the fight for
freedom the Free Coloureds helped to perpetuate the very basis on which the
majority of the population were denied that freedom, viz, their colour or racial
origin. This was only one of the paradoxes of the fight by Free Coloureds for
freedom of expression and allied rights in early nineteenth century Jamaica.
Yet another paradox revealed itself in the presumption that in any discussion
of this kind freedom of expression must be claimed, as Kendall rightly says, in an
atmosphere of "courtesy and mutual self-respect".65 This, according to the conven-
tions of such an exercise, will guarantee progress of the discussion and success for
the claimant. The success may be long in coming and the progress of the discussion
slow but certainty is at the end of the road. The Free Coloured fight for civil rights
was often 'polite'. The class retained throughout an exaggerated respect for law and
order. They were, after all, property owners like the very Whites who strove to keep
them out of the discussion. They admired the British constitution of which the
Jamaican constitution was merely an extension and they swore allegiance to a
political system that was beginning to propagate the virtue of agreeing to disagree
agreeably. They would be agreeable as much as they could about their protest by
being constitutional. Their own self-respect was, in any case, at stake for if they
behaved like the mob they could hardly expect to be regarded as better than
rebellious slaves from which class of mortals it was in their interest to dissociate.
Courtesy and mutual self-respect between themselves and their "fellow subjects",
the Whites, would have to be the order of the day.6 Sheila Duncker describes the
Free Coloured rebellion as "basically constitutional".67 Their response to the quite
oppressive and discriminatory laws against them was one of "infiltration" rather
than "revolution".68 It is the kind of response that will deprive the Free Coloured
struggle for freedom of expression and civil rights of the heroism and epic
dimensions that are usually given the great struggles against religious persecution,
slavery and racial discrimination; but the Jamaican Free Coloureds clearly based
their objectives and styles on the assumption that they were not only Free but part-
White and therefore had a natural stake in the process. By being able to send up
petitions they were in fact already in the process of free exchange, albeit on limited
terms. They were after allfree persons in a slave society and a distinction had to be
made between the slave and the free man, despite the fact that one set of free men
(Whites) made little or no distinction between another set of free men (Free
Coloureds) and slaves. The latter sets of men were disqualified in part and whole
because they carried the stain of Africa in their veins. Yet many of the Free
Coloureds themselves could be very accommodating. On November 29, 1816, a
group of Free Coloureds apologised in a memorial for the impropriety of certain of
their class who had petitioned for the lifting of disabilities.69 Yet some others
appealed to the "benevolence"70 of friends in the British Parliament rather than
assert that what they were demanding was theirs as of right. Many Free Coloureds
of wealth and education desired that the distinctions that existed between them-
selves and others not as well endowed should be maintained. The distinctions
between the Free Coloureds and the slaves just had to be preserved. The identifica-
tion with the class interests of the ruling White group conditioned the style of the
Free Coloureds' struggle. For an entire generation the absence of a revolutionary
spirit marked by the constitutionality of Free Coloured agitation characterized the
dialogue between Whites and their half-caste compatriots. The Free Coloureds were
not totally unaware of the potential power of their increasing numbers and in 1823
a letter over the signature of two leading Free Coloureds spoke of overthrowing and
destroying "by one energetic effort" but this threat remained safely veiled in the
realm of rhetoric.7 Whatever force they used was used in the service of the militia
- with them as subordinates. The lack of vigour and revolutionary drive in the
nineteenth century Free Coloured 'revolt' against disabilities and deprivation of
civil rights was a legacy said to be bequeathed to the tradition of social protest in
The Free Coloureds played by yet another rule that of conceding that history
and tradition had produced an orthodoxy (or orthodoxies) which had to be pre-
served, with the White ruling class (representing the community) as custodian. It
followed, too, that no part of that orthodoxy could be "set lightly aside".73 As stated
above, the Free Coloureds were not out to change the orthodoxy(ies) of Jamaican
society at least not in any fundamental sense. In fairness to them it should be
stated that in early nineteenth century Jamaica the white missionaries were them-
selves of a similar mind. Only after they had suffered persecution at the hands of irate
planters did they turn their attention to pressing for outright abolition of slavery. The
Free Coloureds believed implicitly in slaveholding: many of them owned slaves
themselves. They gave little support to the abolitionist movement in the early days
and when some lent support towards the end of the 1820s and after 1830, the die was
pretty well cast. In any case they left and actually shared much in common with the
Whites and for them this commonality of interest was a larger part of the orthodoxy
of Jamaican plantation slave society.
For one thing, both Whites and Free Coloureds were owners of property,
including slaves. Many of them felt that they had as much to lose should slaves be
emancipated and they shared the common fear of imperial disintegration should the
negroes be set free.74 They shared with the Whites, then, the common desire to keep
the Blacks in their place. They also had the ownership of houses in common with the
Whites. Both were therefore subject to violations against their real estate should
slave resistance assume violent proportions. Both groups also shared the same
standards of respectability and, more or less, the same lifestyles though many a self-
conscious Free Coloured would make claims to higher standards of life and moral
living (and not without justification) over those of their White compatriots. Both
Whites and Free Coloureds shared the status of being free (i.e. non-slave) even if
one set was freer than the other. The Free Coloureds did not object to laws
discriminating on the basis of Free and Slave but they were outraged by those which
discriminated on the basis of White and Others. Following the example of the
Whites, the Free Coloureds came to be among the principal protagonists of the
doctrine of the aristocracy of the skin a cardinal point in the orthodoxy of the
society that neither they nor the Whites wished to "set lightly aside".
So between these two groups there was little interest in the promotion of
freedom per se. The Free Coloureds' struggle for civil rights was in direct response
to their immediate situation of humiliation through disabilities imposed by law and
social custom. Up to the end of the 1820s there was no sign of any cogent body of
ideas about freedom fertilizing the movement. The orthodoxy of a deeply stratified
plantation society did not prompt an essay into abstractions of the Gallic revolution-
ary kind which had been evident less than a generation before in the neighboring
The Whites of course privately made no distinction between the Free Coloureds
and the Blacks who were both descendants of Africans, the source of slaves. They
viewed the Free Coloureds' claim of total freedom (through privileges and rights)
as a serious threat to the orthodoxy of plantation life. Wholesale concessions would
be wrong for this would adversely affect the entire fabric of that life. In 1787 a Dr.
Williamson could write without contradiction as follows: "The Constitution of this
island in its political establishment renders it necessary to keep up distinctions in this
society, which excludes all persons of colour from admission into that of white"
(my emphasis). Dr. Williamson seemed convinced that the arrangement was
necessary though at first sight it seemed "extraordinary". To all liberal-minded
readers he volunteered the comforting assurance that although not "permitted to
associate", the Free Coloureds were not completely devoid of "the kindly offices of
friendship" (i.e., of the Whites). Any change in such an arrangement would have to
be weightily pondered. As late as 1823 official despatches recorded the view that
'difficulties must attend any change in the relations of the society when sanctioned
by custom and long prescription (my emphasis). Freedom of expression and allied
rights were not to be had simply for the asking. The Free Coloureds in their search
for entry into the legitimate process of free discussion (in short, into civic partici-
pation) had to understand the inner strength and power of that social and political
orthodoxy which was sanctioned by custom and long prescription. The Free
The orthodoxy, it must be pointed out, was primarily concerned with what may
be called the frame of reference within which ideas and opinions about freedoms and
rights for Free Coloureds could be usefully discussed. The frame of reference was
firmly rooted in the method of constitutional petitioning to the acknowledged higher
orders, the Whites, whether local or metropolitan. Such petitioning would in turn be
validated by the fact that the petitioners will have met certain set criteria. Such
criteria were articulated in law but many others were embedded in custom and
conventions. The hierarchy of colour found expression in both media, giving
legitimacy to carefully measured drops of white blood that flowed in the veins of the
Free Coloureds. The acquisition of privileges would ipso facto mean the elevation
to whiteness which was in any case necessary to determine eligibility for rights and
privileges a vicious circle. But having laboured to gain whiteness and privileges,
the Free Coloureds would in turn guard their new found status jealously against all
newcomers whether they be their own less endowed Free Coloured colleagues, the
manumitted Blacks recruited from the slave class or the slaves which many of them
did own. Contemporary (White) writers wrote of the harsh, tyrannical and inhu-
mane treatment of slaves by Free Coloured masters. Stewart attributed this to lack
of education on the part of such masters but Bryan Edwards blamed the phenome-
non on the psychological insecurity of the still disadvantaged Free Coloured class.
They were clearly more apprehensive about their power and authority, such as they
The frame of reference, then, was delineated in terms of law and custom on the
basis of which the Free Coloureds were expected to operate. But even though they
did, their very claims were tantamount to a questioning of certain fundamentals
about that frame of reference. Yet, even if the Whites conceded that the frame of
reference was subject to change in certain of its specifics, the Free Coloureds were
expected to establish why they should not approach their problems through consti-
tutional methods and why descendants of slaves (for this is what Free Coloureds
were) without the benefit of acceptable education, Christian morality, visible
property or a decent income and the like should be given a say in a society destined
for civilised (sc. White British) hands. In any case, any ultimate decision about
change so fundamental and far reaching would have to be made by those civilised
beings who saw themselves as the embodiment of the will of the community. The
Free Coloureds understood only too well the point of this argument. The frame of
reference, when it changed, changed according to the rules of the game. It was a law
passed by the Assembly comprising the representatives of the White ruling class
which abolished the disabilities of the Free Coloureds thus bringing the latter group
fully into the discussion process of Jamaican public life and in effect changing the
frame of reference within which the relations between these two classes of Jamai-
cans were hitherto conducted under slavery. Also, when the ultimate decision to
grant full rights and privileges was taken by the Whites in 1830, the Free Coloured
class was eminently ready to enter fully into the process. They had met the frame of
reference's original cause of existence by conscious acquisition of the qualities
which were prescribed by the Whites as a precondition for their participation. The
liberal spirit had once again triumphed in the tradition of change by revolution,
bloodshed and the violent forging of a new order! An act of the colonial legislature
was indeed equal to the task.
The Free Coloureds themselves seemed to have accepted the fact that short-
term deprivations and barriers which greeted their fight for civil rights over a period
of thirty years were really all part of the game. They were no doubt reinforced in this
view by their own identity of interests with the ruling White class discussed above
and by a corresponding commitment to the orthodoxy of a social structure which
promised them status in the long run (three generations in law) but denied them full
rights seemingly in the short. They were never really deprived of the right to petition
and this gave them a sense of security despite their problems. The system of special
privileges held out further hopes for all who were willing to display industry and
exercise ambition. Moreover, the use of the Free Coloured class by the Whites as
buffer between themselves and the potentially rebellious Blacks gave the Free
Coloureds a sense of purpose despite the disabilities.
But it was through the system of special privileges that many of the Free
Coloureds were able to gain access to some of the society's channels of communi-
cation so that they could, as it were, prove themselves. Even in this there were
serious limitations for it was not until after 1830 that they were able to sit in the
House of Assembly or hold office in the militia, in local government or in the
Established Church. Access to the press was also limited, though less so by the end
of the 1820s. Yet by reason of a growing wealth, many a Free Coloured could travel
to England and establish connexions with articulate and fairly influential Parlia-
mentarians. Through improved education many others at home could craft the sort
of petitions that had to be taken seriously by the local legislature. The achievements
of many individuals among them also brought to these individuals their own
legitimation and authority within Jamaica, and by 1823 the Jamaican House
Assembly had to remove major disabilities, albeit grudgingly. Entry by the Free
Coloureds into the total discussion process was being slowly but surely accommo-
dated as a result not only of external factors forcing on stubborn planters the reali-
ties of a changed situation but also by the efforts at self-improvement and the
achievements of many of the Free Coloured class itself.
The Free Coloureds had been willing to wait their turn, seemingly. For they
understood that if they failed to persuade the White ruling class of their point of
view, "isolation within or banishment from" the society would be their fate.81 The
one or other was the fate of many who were relegated to second-class citizenship
throughout their life-time for a generation and more when efforts to remove the
disabilities met with deaf ears. Persons like Lecesne and Escoffrey were indeed
exiled in the 1820s only to return in triumph after 1830. But in addition to isolation
and banishment there was the third possibility of armed rebellion. The Free
Coloureds avoided this necessity by "infiltration" and by playing the game of
gaining civic status and recognition in terms of rights, freedoms and, not to be
forgotten, privileges, strictly by the rules. Their choice of method seemed a
conscious and some would say inevitable one. But this latter view will no doubt be
What cannot be debated is the fact that the White ruling class of Jamaican slave
society was a very powerful and ruthless one a class indulged for nearly two
centuries by a "freedom-loving" Mother Country and allowed to bully a succession
of Governors in the name of off-shore liberty and colonial autonomy. They were
ruthless in suppressing one slave rebellion after another and in devising quite a
brutal system of legal control of their chattels. As Elsa Goveia, the historian, asserts,
"the primary function of the British West Indian slave laws was either directly or
indirectly repressive".2 The principle of repression heavily outweighed the prin-
ciple of protection and the survival of the master (and, by extension, of the slave
system) was the measure of all things. His rights had, indeed, to be unassailable in
order to exact obedience from and passively among the enslaved. This undoubtedly
bred fear and gave rise to a variety of responses among the oppressed in such a
society. Deprived of freedom of speech, the oppressed slaves were to take refuge at
times in the creation of myths, songs, stories and dances"8 which are all usually sub-
sumed under the picturesque but misleading title of "folk-lore". A study of this
special brand of nineteenth century Jamaican experience of expression is outside the
scope of this essay. It is nevertheless important to mention it as a legitimate
departure, both substantively and methodologically, from the conventional schol-
arship which surrounds freedom of expression in Western universities where free
expression is seen largely in terms of unhampered but rationally conducted discus-
sion, the dialectics of argument and counter-argument, or untrammelled dissent
through rhetoric. But the West Indian slave concerned himself with freedom of
thought and expression through his creative expressions in religious ceremonies,
songs, stories, dances and drama. These in their very significant way offered
trenchant social criticism, defied certain orthodoxies of plantation life and replaced
them with new ones, and revolutionised certain social institutions despite the
dictates of the ruling class. They afforded the slave the enjoyment of a peculiar
freedom of expression sufficiently threatening to the social and political fabric to
invite from the ruling class retaliation in the most repressive laws against slave
customs and folklife. It is necessary to say that much of this developed in the late
eighteenth century and the early nineteenth when generations of creole (native-born
and native-bred) slaves were reared in the island. Between 1790 (after the end of the
Second Maroon War) and the eve of Emancipation (say 1830 1831) the society
was marked by an ominous quiescence among the slave population as a whole. Were
they too busy adjusting to the new environment? Or were they robbed of the
revolutionary fervour with the cutting off of fresh supplies of slaves from West
Africa from which new recruits were always in the vanguard of armed resistance
against their involuntary exile? The events of 1831 with the outbreak of the Sharpe
(slave) rebellion were to take the Jamaicans by surprise.84
Before that, the period of quiescence had clamours for amelioration and
isolated incidents but no great rebellions."5 It was against this background that the
constitutional clamour for rights for the Free Coloureds took place. This class of
half-citizens were no doubt affected by the fear born of Establishment ruthlessness
and of a conditioning around to the notion of the natural aggression to be found
among slaves. They were in any case caught in the middle in more ways than one and
they played it the safest way in their own self-interest. And their direct descendants
were to remain in that position for generations later, breeding the distrust of the
Blacks and inviting a continuing contempt from the Whites.
For the Free Coloureds' narrow self-interest had resulted in their pre-occupa-
tion not with freedom but with privileges, with the trappings rather than with the
substance. They were to contribute nothing, or at best little, to the struggle for a
totally free society such as had begun with the enslaved segment of the population
over a century before. They were instead content to aspire to the standards, virtues
and prejudices of plantation "Whitedom" in their pursuit of status which is not the
same thing as the pursuit of freedom to think and to express. As a class they produced
no significant forms of cultural expression born of their own creative effort during
the period under discussion. They desired to be white rather than to be themselves.
In that state of mistaken identity and cultural dependency they gave little of their
energies to the founding of, say, an independent language or religion. Neither did
they reveal artistic manifestations reflective of the unique aspects of the society
which bred them. And where the Blacks (whether slave or Freed) displayed free
expression in these things, the Free Coloureds joined with the Whites to deny to such
manifestations any legitimacy, cultural validity or authority. The denigration, then,
of all manifestations of thought and expression that were free of White prescription
was to become a way of life in Jamaican slave society and the society that succeeded
it into legal freedom."6
The will to be themselves would have been in itself a fine enough example of
freedom of thought and expression among the Free Coloureds. But the political,
economic and cultural forces of early nineteenth century Jamaican society seemed
too powerful for them. The battle they came to wage was therefore less for freedom
of thought and expression and more in the pursuit of what they were not.
The trouble with the Free Coloureds of early nineteenth century creole
Jamaica, then, was that in their fight for freedom of expression and other civil rights
they failed to commit themselves to a belief in the prudence or necessity of universal
privileges for everyone in the society. From the much treasured tutelage of the
Whites they inherited that distrust for ideas reminiscent of the Burkean disdain for
metaphysical abstractions. This was to prove a marked contrast to the Blacks, who,
despite the lack of advanced education, did not scruple to adopt a body of ideas
embedded in Christian doctrine to support their final struggles for freedom and
indeed for rehabilitation in the immediate post-Emancipation period. The Free
Coloureds seemed to have lacked anything approaching an independent ideology
for freedom. Instead they shared with the White ruling class the negative view that
the granting of privileges to all in the society would constitute a major onslaught
against the chances of survival of that society and the survival of that society was
deemed to rest on the claim that power, status, recognition, authority and freedom
were naturally vested in those of White ancestry. The opportunity to assert a new
consciousness based on the realities of their unique position in a transplanted society
either escaped them or was carefully avoided. The Free Coloureds made the unpar-
donable error of insisting that they were eligible for freedom because they, too,
were of white blood.
Their stand was unpardonable because the Whites in their very midst did not
regard them as White and made sure that any elevation to that much coveted ethnic
status would take at least three generations. In an effort to counter this illogical
device, the Free Coloureds themselves defied the logic of their part-African
ancestry by taking steps to deny as far as was possible any connexions with the slave
race. The cultural implications of such a phenomenon were to reach far beyond
slavery and into the twentieth century.
For the legacy of this Free Coloured phenomenon was bequeathed almost
intact to generations of descendants many of whom are yet to be totally liberated
from the distortion of objective reality in the quest for cultural and political
liberation. The paradox is that, as heirs to White cultural and political leadership,
descendants of the Free Coloureds virtually took the rest of the society a good deal
of the way with them, aided and abetted by the independent forces of Christianisa-
tion (through the work of White missionaries) and the deepening of colonialism
with the advent of crown colony government. The Free Coloureds and their
descendants were to become indeed the colonial St. Paul to the metropole's Jesus.
Moreover, the creolisation process was itself further distorted by the integra-
tion into the very process of the dependency syndrome, the imitative ideal, and the
notion that what was White was right and what came from Black thought much less
so. To express freely and to think freely came to mean thinking Anglo-Saxon and
expressing in terms of British ideals. The limitations of such an approach to social
engineering prompted responses, as ever, at the so-called folk level of the society
despite the rather heavy conditioning around to colonial dependency of Christian
peasants and the Crown-protected folk people. The open defiance at this level of
Jamaican life never failed to point directions towards the possibility of the exercise
of freedom of thought and expression in non-White (sc. non-dependency and
creole) terms. Primary economic and social institutions found their way into
Jamaican society through such efforts.
It was, then, left to demonstrate the capacity of such creole institutions and
creole persons (not only of White or half-White ancestry) to determine the future of
the society. Armed resistance in 1865 involving black and half-White creoles
brought the extreme of political dependency, rather than attainment of political
autonomy, in the imposition of Crown Colony Government. But this very develop-
ment was in time to school generations of the entire (creole) society in the ill effects
of the dependency, not least among these the stifling of free thought and the denial
of free expression despite the growing liberal tendencies manifested in British
colonial rule. Black defiance and claims to independence of thought continued in the
work of people like Marcus Garvey and in the work of religious cultist leaders like
Alexander Bedward. But all this growing simmering longing for self-expression
came to the boil only in the late 1930s with the sons of nineteenth century Free
Coloureds very much in the vanguard of the leadership of a once again constitutional
struggle while the sons of slaves provided the mass base for what turned out to be
a political-cum-labour struggle against colonialism. It was to take yet another 24
years to obtain the actual instruments of constitutional authority but only after a
careful game of phased transfer of power. The rules defined the criteria to be met by
the colonial aspirant (Jamaica) to independent rule. It was as though the sins of the
early nineteenth century had been visited upon the children of the twentieth.
For it may be finally said that the Free Coloureds' error of judgement in
identifying totally with the Whites had been further compounded by their playing
the game in their quest for freedoms totally by the rules devised and set out by the
Whites. On the other hand, another school of thought would probably credit them
with an understanding of realpolitik. For all entrenched Establishments do have the
power to silence the recalcitrant within the boundaries of their territorial jurisdic-
tions. The Whites of early nineteenth century Jamaica were indeed in possession of
the means of coercive power; and though their metropolitan counterparts in the
British Parliament did support the peaceful demands by Free Coloureds, there was
no guarantee that taking to arms would not have invited metropolitan (White)
defence to the colony in the name of law and order or of protection of kith and kin
or, more importantly, in the name of British imperial interests.
This dilemma was to remain with the progressive forces, pledged to give
meaning to freedom in Jamaica and other parts of the Caribbean, throughout a
further century and a half of colonialism and even to the present day.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
1. Duncker, Sheila: "The Free Coloureds and Their Fight for Civil Rights in Jamaica 1800-1830",
p. 35, (unpublished M.A. Thesis, University of London). I wish to record a special acknowledge-
ment and appreciation to Mrs. Duncker whose pioneer work on the Free Coloureds during this
important period of Jamaican history has helped me greatly in preparing this paper.
2. Duncker, op. cit. p. 35. Mrs. Duncker reminds us that during this period all legal questions were
dealt with on the basis of colour and class distinctions. There were laws governing the rights of
Whites and of Others (meaning Free Coloureds and Free(d) Blacks, as well as slaves, some of
whom could have been, and were coloured but the vast majority of whom were black).
3. The situation in the 20th century colonial world or the more comparable contemporary
experience in parts of Africa south of the Sahara.
4. See Goveia, Elsa: "The West Indian Slave laws in the Eighteenth Century", in Chapters in
Caribbean History, C.U.P. 1970. The tradition of representative government gave to the slave-
owning ruling class in the British colonies such autonomy in the determination of laws governing
the ownership and disposal ofslaves as property and of "the actions of slaves as an aspect of public
5. Such as those enactments passed 1876, 1813, 1823. See Duncker op. cit. pp. 20-34.
6. The two major free classes in early 19th C Jamaica were the Whites (numbering between 28,000
and 30,000) and the Free Coloureds (another 25,000) as against a slave population of some
330,000. There was a third Free group comprising a few thousand freed Blacks. Their lot was
not envied since the onus of proof of free status lay squarely on them and they existed in poverty
and humiliation but for a few exceptions among the highly skilled ones, who would have
migrated to the urban centres. (Note: the figures above are rough estimates based on such sources
as the British Parliamentary Papers, Returns of Registration of Slaves, 1832, the Higman study
(see Note below) G.W. Roberts, excellent study The Population of Jamaica Camb. 1957. See
discussion by Braithwaite (op. cit.) p. 168 (Note 9 below).
7. The housekeeper headed the much featured breed of plantation functionaries called household
slaves or domestics during the slave period. They are discussed by almost all contemporary
writersof the period. Orlando Patterson brings to readers a 'corrective' to the popularly held view
that slaves preferred household work to field work. See his Sociology of Slavery (1973) ed. pp.
57 & 58). Yet there is enough evidence to support the view that the housekeeper occupied a
preferred position in Jamaican slave society. The word soon became a euphemism for "mistress"
since she performed sexual as well as domestic functions. See also Braithwaite, pp. 155-159
(work cited in Note 9 below).
8. Manumission was one of the ways by which a slave could be set free. This was usually done for
the slave by a master rewarding his loyalty or some act of bravery. It involved the voluntary
payment of a Five-Pound sterling annuity to the Churchwardens. This was until 1816 avoided
by beneficiaries of legacies which may have willed the freedom of a particular slave. After 1816
an Act compelled such beneficiaries to meet their obligations in this particular.
9. Braithwaite, Edward: The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica 1770-1820 p. 167.
He quotes the following form "Marly", the anonymously
authored novel of the period:
sambo child of mulatto and negro
mulatto child of white man and negress
quadroon child of mulatto woman and white man
mustee child of quadroon (or pure Amerindian) by white
mustiphini child of mustee and white man
quintroon child of mustiphini and white man
octoroon child of quintroon and white man
10. Braithwaite, op. cit. p. 152 summarizes the average slave/white ratio for Jamaica for the period
covered by his study. See footnote 4 in which he discusses Barry Higman's calculations based
on the "Returns of Registrations of Slaves, 1832; Higman's study was in a post-graduate seminar
paper of March 1969 and entitled "Some Demographic Characteristics of Slavery in Jamaica".
11. Duncker, S. op. cit. p. 21.
12. Braithwaite, Edward: p. 170.
13. Ibid see also note 5 above for further comment on both Edward Long's and Bryan Edwards'
references to the practice. Also Journal of Assembly of Jamaica VIII 429 of November 12,
14. Edwards, Bryan: History, Civil and Commercial, of the British Colonies in the West Indies,
London 1793 Vol. II, Book 4, Chapter 1, pp. 16-17 also Michael Hanley to Bathurst, A/Jamaica
C.S. 101/4 September 22, 1823 who stated that the law governing Free Coloureds had the effect
of "visiting not the sins of the fathers, but the misfortunes of the mothers upon the children into
the third and fourth generation" ... quoted by Duncker (op. cit. p. 20).
15. Act of 1761, Act 21 Geo. III c 15.
16. See Duncker op. cit., p. 22.
17. Ibid see footnote referring to Petition from Free Coloureds House of Assembly on November
14th, 1823 and printed in the Royal Gazette Vol. XLV n. 47.
18. 1761 Act already cited; 1813 Act was 54 Geo. III, c 19. 1796 Act was 36 Geo III c 23 (March 25,
1796). See also Edward Braithwaite (op. cit. notes 7 and 12 on p. 170).
19. The Moravians were in Jamaica early in the second half of the 18th century. See "The Moravians
of Jamaica". The Methodists came later in the 1780s on the visit of Dr. Thomas Coke. See his A
Journal of the Rev. Dr. Coke's Visit to Jamaica and his Third Tour on the Continent of
Amer (Lond. 1789), Braithwaite p. 208. The native Baptists were established a few years later
(1793) first by one George Leile, a manumitted slave from Southern United States who came to
Jamaica in the wake of the American Revolution and Moses Baker, a baptist ex-slave who hailed
out of New York. See E. Braithwaite op. cit. pp. 163 and 253. African Animist forms were
retained in the form of slave religious belief-systems of obeah and myal. See Orlando Patterson
The Sociology of Slavery (Sangetrs Granada 1973 pp. 186-90, 190-95, also Hope M.
Waddell's Twenty-Nine Years in the West Indies and Central Africa: A Review of
Missionary Work and Adventure 1829-1858 (Lond. 1867) for descriptions of syncretised
religious forms of Black worship in Jamaica before emancipation and after.
20. Journal of the Assembly of Jamaica VI 467 of November 27, 1773 referred to in
Braithwaite op. cit. footnote 9 p. 170.
21. Parliamentary Papers Vol. XXIV 2nd Series Appendix C paragraph 475 p. 219; William
Burge in letter to Commission of Enquiry into the Administration of Criminal and Civil
Justice in the West Indies. See also Duncker op. cit. p. 46.
22. Bridges, G.W. The Annals of Jamaica 2 volumes (London 1827) Vol. II p. 371.
23. See Duncker op. cit. pp. 238-40.
24. Bridges, G.W. op. cit. pp. 314-5.
25. E.g. Bathurst to Manchester October 3, 1823 A. Jama CS 101/4 quoted in Duncker op. cit.
26. Long, Edward. The History of Jamaica (London 1774 Vol. II Chapter XII p. 246).
27. See Spurdle F.G. Early West Indian Government (New Zealand 1962) for discussion of the
legislature in early Jamaican government.
28. In petition and memorial to Britain during the crisis over Stamp Duties in 1774, the Jamaican
House of Assembly referred to their initial acceptance of the trade regulations as "colonists, as
Englishmen, and Britos..." Journal of the Assembly of Jamaica VI, 569 of December 23, 1774.
See also Braithwaite op. cit. pp. 68-9.
29. See Edward Braithwaite op. cit. pp. 73-79, the chapter on 'Political Ideas' for a useful
discussion of the efforts of both Bryan Edwards and Edward Long to find a theoretical
framework for Jamaican colonial politics at the time. The references to Long's additional manu-
script (Add. MS 12407) intended for the second edition of his history (unpublished) and
containing material for as late as 1799, are instructive and crucial to the argument that Long
despite his defence of Jamaican liberties was really, by temper, a metropolitan and in support of
Britain's position on mercantilism, the butt of attack by the Jamaican colonists. (p. 77 especially
of Braithwaite's text).
30. Braithwaite op. cit. Chapter 4 on the Assembly.
32. Ibid especially p. 55.
33. Ibid especially p. 56.
34. Ibid especially p. 57.
35. Besides the threat of Napoleonic ambition, there was the aftermath of the hostilities between the
American colonies (now the United States) and Britain culminating in the war of 1812). The
British navy was necessary in the region.
36. See Patterson, Orlando op. cit. Chapter IV for analysis of the slave population of Jamaica.
Patterson asserts that the astounding differential in the ratio between slaves and white masters
helps the reader to "understand the frequency of slave rebellions, the almost continuous fear and
tension on the part of the white community; and, to some extent, their barbarity to the slaves, this
being to a large extent a function of their own relative numerical insignificance" (p. 94). See
note 10 above.
37. Long, Edward op. cit. Vol. 1, pp. 39-40.
38. Duncker op. cit. p. 22 (footnote).
39. Savage, Richard. "Freedom of Expression" Sunday Gleaner, August 31, 1975, p. 8.
40. E.g. Alexander Dawson Simpson and Alexander Scholar who were signatories to a letter from
the Free Coloureds dated July 14, 1823 and stating "... for what else could induce submission
to a system so tyrannical as that we labour under and which possessing as we do a great physical
inferiority we might, by one energetic effort, overthrow and destroy?" Duncker, op. cit.
p. 189; E. Braithwaite (op. cit. p. 175) draws attention to the defiant acts of such Free Coloured
individuals as Thomas Roper a sergeant in the militia who abused his colonel "and white people
in general" (Lady Nugent's Journal, Philip Wright p. 237), Martin Halhead for "indecorous"
and persistently "intemperate" behaviour even when officially charged. (Halhead was to lead a
gang of Free Coloureds in threatening a boycott of the Kingston theatre in the face of a rumour
about racial discrimination against Coloureds. The Kingston group of Free Coloureds were to
display greater militancy after 1823. Out of this group came Edward Jordon editor of the
41. Duncker, S. op. cit. pp. 256-267.
42. Journal of the Council, Vol. 23, December 9, 1826. Act entitled the Jews "born within the
lenience of the king to the rights and privileges of other natural born British subjects". See
Duncker op. cit. p. 257 Edward Jordon asked the question whether the Jews were being used as
"tools of (the) exclusive prejudices" of the "colonial representatives' (i.e. the Whites) -
Watchman Vol. I, no. 22.
43. Kean to Murray December 13, 1828 No. 30, p. 130, Extension of privilege to Free Coloureds was
here regarded as "a concession to clamour and insolence"; quoted in Duncker (op. cit.) p. 254.
44. Duncker, S. op. cit. pp. 256-267.
46. Dallas, R.W. History of the Maroons London 1803) Vol. II p. 466. Dallas felt that despite these
token privileges the time had come for them to be adjudged by the criteria of religion, marriage,
education etc., so as to acquire "the qualifications of political society".
47. Votes of the Assembly November 25, 1829. See also Duncker op. cit. p. 263.
48. Journal of the Council Vol. XXI, 1810-1816 November 4, 1813. See also Duncker op. cit. p.
49. Duncker op. cit. p. 267.
50. The most famous of these in 19th century Jamaica after slavery precisely because he was
exception to his Brown compatriots in his unrelenting agitation on behalf of the masses (i.e. the
Blacks) was George William Gordon who was hanged in 1865 for alleged treason in the Morant
51. Edward Jordon was the most famous of the Free Coloured class in the immediate pre-slavery
years and soon after. He was editor of The Watchman which spoke out against slavery and racial
discrimination from the mid-1820s on. He was one of the first Coloureds to gain a seat in the
House of Assembly.
52. Kendall, Wilmore. "The Open Society and its Fallacies" in Limits of Liberty (Studies on Mills
'On Liberty') p. 40.
53. Kendall, W. op. cit. p. 41.
54. See Edwards, Bryan op. cit. Long, Edward op. cit.; Stewart, J.: An Account ofJamaica and its
Inhabitants (London, 1808); also Patterson, Orlando op. cit. especially pp. 15-69 and Braith-
waite, Ragatz, L.J. The Fall of the Planter Class in the British Caribbean 1763-1833 (N.Y.
55. Ibid but especially pp. 260-283 in Patterson (op. cit).
56. Petition of 1816 Ja. November 19, 1816, quoted in Votes of the Assembly 1816 p. 77. See
Duncker op. cit. p. 183. The Free Coloured petitioners further stated "that they are in great
degradation and contempt, and are still excluded from the just rights and privileges of white
subjects, to which your petitioners must ever consider themselves as a free people entitled". (my
57. Votes of the Assembly 1816 p. 77.
58. Edwards, Bryan. op. cit. Vol. II p. 21 (footnote).
60. Long, Edward. op. cit. Vol. I Bk. II, Chap. XIII, p. 333.
61. Edwards, Bryan. op. cit. Vol. II, p. 21.
62. E.g. the Petition of 1823 (see Duncker op. cit. pp. 192-3) Free Coloureds' expression of loyalty
was frequent otherwise. The Royal Gazette in 1814 (Royal Gazette XXXVI Nos. 6-17)
stated that "most of the inhabitants of colour evinced their loyalty and gratification at the triumph
over the enemy by private entertainments in different parts of the city". The enemy was
Napoleon. See also Royal Gazette XXXVIII No. 49. Free Coloureds from Kingston assured
the Assembly that they were "firmly attached to the Constituted Authorities of this island, and
ever will be devoted to his Majesty's Government, and the security of (our) native country".
63. Hansard of the House of Commons Vol. XVII, p. 1248 Dr. Lushington speaking and quoted
in Duncker, op. cit. p. 223.
64. Duncker, S. op. cit. p. 42.
65. Kendall, op. cit. p. 40.
66. Duncker (op. cit. p. 181) quotes from a letter which Free Coloureds sent to the Governor's
Secretary in 1813 expressing satisfaction with the 'moderate and consistent' plans which were
being considered for their improvement, then went on to state that they felt according to Duncker
that 'any specific claims or pretensions on their part would be highly unbecoming' (my
Self-respect was also expected of them by the Establishment. Commenting on a Free Coloured
plan to boycott the Kingston theatre in 1815, the presidingjustice of the Court of Quarter Sessions
for Kingston said "The Court must express its astonishment, that so great an outrage should
gave been committed by a class of people, who have so recently been favoured by the Legislative
by the great privileges, which, placing them in a more elevated state in the community, called for
that improvement in their manners as would show them to have been worthy of the state in which
they have been placed..." Royal Gazette, XXXVII, Vol. 20, No. 18 quoted in Braithwaite op.
cit. p. 196.
67. Duncker, op. cit. p. 177.
68. Ibid p. 179.
69. Royal Gazette Vol. 38, No. 49 (November 30 December 7, 1816) [Postscript].
70. Duncker op. cit. p. 187 quoting letter of one Richard Hill to one Mr. W. Allen whose influence
it was hoped could bring the situation of the Free Coloureds "under the notice of the British
71. Duncker op. cit. p. 189.
72. Nettleford, Rex. "Aggression, Violence and Force in the History of Jamaican Protest" in
Aggression and Violence (Rutgers University Press 1974) compare also T.G. Munroe's The
Politics of Decolonization (Jamaica) which is an analysis of the constitutional 'struggle' for in-
dependence between 1938 and 1962.
73. Kendall, op. cit. p. 41.
74. Duncker (op. cit. p. 204) quotes from p. 193 of the anonymously authored contemporary
novel "Marly" in which a Brown character rues the possibility of imperial disintegration should
emancipation go to the blacks. Edward Braithwaite also utilises this source extensively for his
work see note 9 above, for example.
75. Williamson, John. Medical and Miscellaneous Observations Relative to the West Indian
Islands (2 Volumes 1 Edin, 1817) Vol. 1, p. 52.
78. Wilmont Horton to Hanley (6th September, 1823) a copy sent to Governor Manchester by
Bathurst A. Ja. CS 101/4. This dispatch betrayed official commitment to "gradual development"
See Duncker op. cit. p. 230.
79. Stewart, F. Account of Jamaica (London 1808) p. 304.
80. Edwards, Bryan op. cit. Vol. II, p. 21. Edwards claimed that "it is the general characteristic of
human nature that men whose authority is most liable to be disputed are the most jealous of any
infringement of it, and the most vigilant in its support".
81. Kendall, W. op. cit. p. 41.
82. Goveia, Elsa. "The West Indian Slave Laws in the Eighteenth Century" in Chapters in
Caribbean History (C.U.P. 1970) p. 35. See also Bryan Edwards op. cit. Vol. III, p. 36,
83. See both Edward Braithwaite (op. cit. especially pp. 212-39) and Orlando Patterson
(op. cit. especially pp. 182-259) for further insights into the cultural dynamics of slave
life in Jamaica.
84. See C.O. 137/181, C.O. 137/185 also Mary Reckord's unpublished Ph.D. thesis (for
London University 1964) entitled "Missionary Activity in Jamaica Before Emancipation".
See also Philip Wright's Knibb the Notorious (OUP, 1973) also Bleby T. Death Struggles
85. See Patterson, 0. op. cit. pp. 272-3. The period produced rumours of conspiracies and
great panic among the Whites but no great rebellions until the Baptist War of 1831 which
lasted only two weeks but turned out to be the most costly in the history of the slave revolts
in Jamaica and according to Patterson had an effect on the outcome of the struggle for abolition
of slavery which came soon after. Neither Mary Reckord (op. cit.) nor Monica Schuler (in
an article on Akan Rebellions in Jamaica history) agrees with the latter point. See my "Aggres-
sion, Force and Violence .. ." essay in work already cited.
86. A very important aspect of Jamaica's (and the entire Caribbean's) effort to mobilise its human
resources around to fuller control of the society's present inhabitants have inherited in indepen-
dence, is the quest for ways of bringing cultural confidence to the people at large. Not
infrequently the greatest obstacles are to be found among the privileged middle classes and
thought-patterns have tended to persist in habits of blind imitation of metropolitan mores
and habits. The general masses who are steeped in Christian morality are sometimes trapped in
this mode as well, though in Jamaica there has long been evidence of liberal adaptation of
Christian orthodoxies to indigenous needs.
J. J. THOMAS AND POLITICAL THOUGHT IN THE
J. J. Thomas is an important post-emancipation figure who helped to lay the
foundation for a modern Caribbean intellectual tradition. 1989 marked one hundred
years since the publication of Froudacity but it is only relatively recently that any
attention has been paid to it by Caribbean scholars. This classic in polemical political
writing is discussed in the work of scholars of social and political thought in the
Caribbean such as C. L. R. James, Bridget Brereton, Carl Campbell, Denis Benn,
Gordon Rohlehr and Gordon Lewis among others.' The says by James and Rohlehr
make important critical evaluations of Thomas's place in Caribbean intellectual and
Rohlehr captures the mood of Froudacity when
he states: "Thomas takes Froude's book to pieces,
analyses it paragraph by paragraph and refutes
prejudice after prejudice, with that comprehensive
irony and controlled rage which has become one
of the characteristic features of black protest."
(Rohlehr 1971: 17).
C. L. R. James's introductory essay to Froudacity entitled "The West Indian
Intellectual" is the best critical piece on Thomas that has been published.
New Beacon publishers, in re-issuing Froudacity and Theory and Practice
of Creole Grammar twenty-one years ago, enabled a Caribbean generation a
century later to savour a little of Thomas's intellect and sagacity. For, certainly, the
most striking thing about these publications is that they are but samples of a deep
well of knowledge about the region and Trinidad-African culture in particular. In
Froudacity there are a number of themes that Thomas could have developed but the
polemical nature of the work and the evidently popular nature of the text did not
permit full elaboration.
In appending J. J. Thomas to the Modem Political Thought course taught at the
Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies I have had to justify it first on
the ground that Thomas is an important 19th century liberal thinker and Caribbean
nationalist. Secondly, I have argued that many of the sources used in teaching the
Modern Political Thought course derive from polemical-pamphleteering in the
socialist, liberal and conservative traditions. For example, there is the collected
journalism of Marx and Engels, including their well-known pamphlet entitled The
Communist Manifesto, Lenin's State and Revolution and numerous other works.
(John Stuart Mill's On Liberty, Mill's and Harriet Taylor's The Subjection of
Women, Edmund Burke's Reflections on the French Revolution and Thomas
Paine's Rights of Man). J. J. Thomas's Froudacity, from a Caribbean point of
view, can be placed alongside the post-enlightenment European polemical writers.
But to locate Thomas in that tradition is partly a matter of the exigencies of a course
borrowed from the British University system and taught in the Caribbean.
Especially since political independence in the 1960s and 1970s attempts have
been made in the academy to Caribbeanise some of the course offerings but this has
taken place without sufficient epistemological enquiry as to what this "Caribbean-
isation" means. That discussion, of which Lloyd Best's essay "Independent Thought
and Caribbean Freedom" was an important beginning for the 1960s' intelligentsia,
has not really been followed up in critical debate.2 This has meant that the philo-
sophical bases of our thought and action have not been fully explored. Public
figures, politicians, clergymen, writers and journalists touch on these issues in
speeches, essays and newspaper articles. Leftwing study groups especially in the
late 1970s also dealt with some of these issues but they have not entered academic
or public discourse in a systematic way.
Nevertheless, the Caribbean has certainly in the post-Emancipation years
developed a rich intellectual tradition from which a course on Caribbean political
thought could long have been derived. Gordon Lewis's work Main Currents in
Caribbean Thought is in this respect a pathbreaker and it is a development which
Thomas would have welcomed.
Thomas who was born around 1840 and died in 1889 was a scholar, teacher
and civil servant. He benefited from the reforms in colonial education made by the
Governor, Lord Harris. He attended elementary school, a teacher-training school in
Woodbrook, graduating in 1860, and went into teaching. He was able to enter the
colonial administration after passing a competitive examination which was intro-
duced by Governor Arthur Gordon. Thomas speaks very highly in Froudacity
about Governor Gordon. But due to racial discrimination, Thomas's life was made
difficult by the whims and fancies of his superiors in the colonial administrative
hierarchy and in the society. Moreover, ill-health plagued him for much of his adult
life. It was his own efforts at self-education, his intellectual curiosity, confidence in
his abilities and rejection of any notion of hierarchy based on skin-colour as well as
his firm grasp of the linguistic and cultural factors that were creating a Trinidadian
nationality which accounted for the creative works which we now have as part of his
From a psychological point of view what Thomas wrote about Sir Conrad
Reeves, the coloured Chief Justice of Barbados, could apply to himself. Thomas
"It therefore demanded extraordinary toughness
of constitutional fibre, moral, mental, and let us
add, physical too, to overcome the obstacles op-
posed to the progress of merit, too often by per-
sons in intelligence below contempt, but, in pros-
perity and accepted pretension, formidable indeed
to fight against and overcome. We shudder to
think of the petty cabals, the underbred indigni-
ties, direct and indirect, which the present eminent
Judge had to watch against, to brush aside, to smile
at, in the course of his epic strides towards the
highest local pinnacle of his profession. But with
him, as Time has shown, it was all sure and safe."
(Thomas 1969: 129).
Thomas touches here on the complex experience of racial insult and injury and
is insistent on his firm belief in merit as against Froude's 'dermatophilism'. Thomas
is very contemptuous of Froude and calls him an 'apostle of skin-worship'. A
century later Thomas's advocacy still has meaning not only in relation to South
Africa and the policy of Apartheid but also in the Caribbean where racial discrimi-
nation remains a regional issue.
Thomas was an individual of extraordinary abilities. He mastered the English
language, French, Spanish, French Creole, Latin, Greek and his first book-length
publication appeared before he was thirty. He is rightly accorded the status of being
one of the founders of creole linguistics. In 1873 Thomas was elected a member of
the Philological Society of Britain and his international reputation enhanced for a
time his standing in colonial Trinidad society. The writing and publication of
Theory and Practice of Creole Grammar codified popular language. It formed a
part of Thomas's otherprojects which included a study of the history of the West
Indies, the region's geography and agriculture and the Spanish language in Trinidad.
Long before we devised the term 'Caribbean Studies' Thomas was already involved
in that intellectual enterprise.
The man whom J. J. Thomas criticised in Froudacity was not only a distin-
guished Professor of history at Oxford University but apparently a very well-known
English writer. For these reasons, C. L. R. James has pointed out that in writing about
the West Indies, Froude was somewhat stepping down from a pedestal since the
West Indies, toward the end of the 19th century, no longer enjoyed pride of place in
the Empire. But through his impressionistic memoirs of a trip through the West
Indian Islands, Froude continued his ideological campaign to ensure Britain's
position as a world-power. He saw the West Indies in the light of Britain's imperial
might, particularly after its acquisition of India. Froude was an imperialist in the
classic sense of nineteenth century expansionism and as such he wanted Britain to
grow in colonial strength and to overcome all other European competitors. He stated
this overall objective quite clearly:
"I, for myself, look upon Trinidad and the West
Indies, generally as an opportunity for the further
extension of the influence of the English race in
their special capacity of leaders and governors of
men.. ." (Froude 1969: 91-92).
Froude's philosophy of world domination had a material base, given Britain's
nineteenth century economic strength. Given this philosophy, his ideas on the
natural inferiority of Africans and the civilising role of slavery and colonialism fall
into place. Froude was against any extension of the franchise to Blacks and was
firmly of the view that power should remain in the hands of Whites. Froude's racism
was summed up thus: "Nature has made us unequal, and Acts of Parliament cannot
make us equal." (Froude 1969: 235).
Thomas received the book while on holiday in Grenada and within a month
wrote a series of articles in local newspapers which became the basis for Froudacity.
It is the challenging quality of the political debate between Froude and Thomas,
between an historian who had the backing of the British Empire and the confidence
that meant in the 19th century, and on the other hand, a black school teacher from
Trinidad, whose refutation of Froude shows a remarkable confidence and self-
assurance which makes one wonder whether 20th century Caribbean intellectu-
als really have anything over their 19th century counterparts except their numbers,
range of intellectual pursuits, and institutional support, especially over the past forty
years since the establishment of a regional University. Thomas's generation did not
have this infrastructure of university-employment, study leave, fellowships, grants,
scholarships, etc. Thomas's work is further remarkable because it was based on a
certain integrity, strong sense of history, rootedness in his Afro-Caribbean base at
the same time that he had assimilated Western culture. For instance, when Thomas
writes about Africa he says, quite naturally:
"As being familiar since early childhood with
members of almost every tribe of Africans (mainly
from or arriving by way of the West Coast) who
were brought to our West Indies, we are in a
position to contradict the above assertion of Mr.
Froude's, its unfaltering confidence notwithstand-
ing. We have had the Mandingoes, Foulahs, Hous-
sas, Calvers, Gallahs, Karamenties, Yorubas,
Aradas, Cangas, Kroos, Timnehs, Veis, Eboes,
Mokoes, Bibis, and Congoes, as the most numer-
ous and important of the tribal contribution of
Africa to the population of these Colonies. Now,
from what we have intimately learned of these
people (excepting the Congoes, who always ap-
peared to us an inferior tribe to all the others), we
unhesitatingly deny that even three in ten of the
whole number were ever slaves in their own coun-
try, in the sense of having been born under any
organised systems of servitude." (Thomas 1969:
The 'naturalness' of this comment is important. Unlike Black intellectuals a
century later Thomas did not have to embark on any search for roots. While Rohlehr
is right in observing that Thomas retained "too much reverence for British institu-
tions, culture and traditions", Rohlehr does not take into account Thomas's imme-
diate and intimate relationship with his African roots and his Afro-centricity.
Thomas did not suffer from the pathology that Fanon documented so well in Black
Skin, White Masks, since British colonialism had not yet achieved the kind of
psychological manipulation of Thomas's generation that it accomplished with the
later West Indian middle-class.
Thomas's comment on Trinidad's African roots is one of several points in the
text where we see evidence of his profound knowledge of the region.3 Thomas wrote
at an interesting point in Trinidad and Caribbean history when the new nationalities
were being formed, that is, the process whereby African ethnic groups in the region
were becoming creolised (Warner-Lewis). Froudacity is the political affirmation
of that process and Creole Grammar is its cultural counterpart. It is in this sense
that I call J. J. Thomas a nineteenth century anti-colonial figure whose intellectual
efforts provide the early rationale for decolonisation. However, what J. J. Thomas
stood for could only be realized in the twentieth century, and then only partially so.
There are several general aspects to the context in which J. J. Thomas wrote his
reply to Froude and which indicate the circumstances of Thomas's anti-colonialism.
First, there is the European colonial expansion in Africa and in Asia. Military and
political subjugation in the colonies was accompanied by the growth of racist
thinking. Froude was one of many exponents of colonial racist thinking. Secondly,
in the nineteenth century Haiti was held up as a symbol of the threat to white
domination and cited as the prime example of what would happen if Blacks were
given civil and political rights. Thomas's apparent ambivalence about Haiti draws
C. L. R. James in his Introduction to Froudacity into a sympathetic analysis of the
Haitian Revolution, based on James's exegesis of that revolution in Black Jacobins.
Despite Toussaint's enormous contribution to that process, James argues that "he
got into trouble because he did not develop sufficiently the resources of his own
people both materially and ideologically in order to resist the inevitable French
attempt" to overturn the revolution (James 1969: 42). James thus improves on
Thomas's treatment of Haiti but within the critical framework of the latter's
Thirdly, Thomas wrote in the context of the emergence of the post-emancipa-
tion black and coloured middle-class and particularly its intellectual component of
teachers, laypreachers, journalists and largely self-educated people (Brereton 1974,
Campbell 1975). Outside of Trinidad there was a similar intelligentsia. Prominent
among these were the Virgin Islander, Edward Blyden, whose book Christianity,
Islam and the Negro Race was published in 1887just two years before Froudacity;
Dr. T. E. S. Scholes, the Jamaican doctor who wrote on history and political
economy and was published at the turn of the century, and the Bahamian Dr. Robert
Love, an outstanding writer and politician in Haiti and Jamaica at the turn of the
century. In the U.S. there were Frederick Douglass, Alexander Crummell and Dr.
W. E. B. Dubois. In Froudacity Thomas draws attention not only to the writings of
men such as Douglass, Crummell, Blyden, Dr. Hyland Garnet, and Dr. Tanner but
highlights a Mrs. S. Harper as "giving in one embodiment the ideal Afro-American
woman of letters" (Thomas 1969: 192). Thomas's recognition of Mrs. Harper is sig-
nificant because he identifies for posterity a figure about whom we need to know
much more Moreover he does not share Froude's extreme sexism. Froude
approvingly paraphrased a French seventeenth century writer who argued that
moral virtues "could no more be expected out of a Carib than reason and good sense
out of a woman" (Froude 1969: 131).
Fourthly, the development of education, the role of Blacks in the church and
the development of cheaper printing presses and a public eager for democratic ideas
after slavery facilitated the public advocacy of these men and women of letters.
Finally, J. J. Thomas emerged at a time when the Caribbean colonies were
well on the way, notwithstanding large-scale Asian immigration, towards develop-
ing distinctive creole nationalities. By this is meant that the experience of over three
centuries of slavery had created new nationalities. By this is meant that the
experience of over three centuries of slavery had created new nationalities which did
not exist before (Robotham: 1988).
Froudacity remains as topical today as when it was written because,
although colonialism in the nineteenth century sense has by and large ended, racism
remains entrenched in many parts of the world. J. J. Thomas calls Froude an apostle
of skin worship who defies white skin and embodies all positive values therein.
Thomas rejects this and argues that "no one can deserve to govern simply because
he is white and no one is bound to be subject simply because he is black". This is the
theme which marked the point of departure for Thomas's critique. Race, therefore,
ought not to be a principle on which power is organised in society. Thomas
implicitly argues that merit ought to be the basis on which any rational orjust society
Thomas's anti-racist argumentation is rooted in his strong humanism but that
quality came at every instance into conflict with the realities of colonial society and
its inherent racism. An extension of his anti-racism is his point that there were black
as well as white slave-owners in Trinidad and that slavery should therefore be seen
as an economic and not a racial phenomenon. This perspective derives largely from
his knowledge of the less developed plantation system in Trinidad. The slave
plantation experience of that island, as a number of writers have shown, was a
special case. Higman points out that a "large number of slaves in Trinidad belonged
to both coloured and black freedmen, some of whom were their kin" (Higman 1979:
42). Thomas therefore argued that even under slavery it was not accurate to say that
the West Indian islands were ruled by Whites. He claimed, somewhat pedantically,
that the West Indies were ruled by slave-owners. But the fact is that in the region
Black slave-owners were an insignificant minority. Yet for Thomas, while Whites
were slave-plantation proprietors, it was not their whiteness that was important, but
the fact that they owned slaves. This made the most important feature of slavery the
fact that African people became commodities for trade and labour. The key issue
therefore was the property relationship. Thomas, however, overstated the class-
economic base of slave-ownership and understated the race dimension. Even so, the
relative weighting of race and class in the analysis of Caribbean society is one that
has befuddled 20th century Caribbean intellectuals as well. It is to his credit,
however, that nowhere in Froudacity does he see things in simple black and white
terms and shows a level of intellectual sophistication above that of Froude.
Thomas's grasp of Caribbean history and the history of the British Empire
enables him to understand the roots of white domination. Thomas therefore not only
refutes Froude but tries to understand what it is in the historical process that has led
to the white skin being associated with superiority and the black skin with inferior-
ity. In examining the slave trade and its impact on the psychology of Africans, he
"The formidable death-dealing guns of the invad-
ers, the ships which had brought them to the
African shores, and much besides in startling
contrast to their own condition of utter helpless-
ness, the Africans at once interpreted to them-
selves as the manifestation and inherent attributes
of beings of a higher order than man. Their skin,
too, the difference whereof from their own had
been accentuated by many calamitous incidents,
was hit upon as the reason of so crushing an
White skin therefore became, in those discon-
solate eyes, the symbol of fearful irresistible power;
which impression was not at all weakened after-
wards by the ineffable atrocities of the 'middle
passage'. Backed ultimately by their absolute and
irresponsible masterhood at home over the de-
ported Blacks, the European abductors could eas-
ily render permanent in the minds of their captives
the abject terror struck into them by the enormities
of which they had been the victims." (Thomas
Terror is the operative word in explaining the origin of this skin-worship, and
that terror, as the literature of slave society indicates, was institutionalized in
Caribbean society by the white plantocracy.
The same approach to world history that one finds in Thomas is also highly
developed in the two-volume work of the Jamaican writer, Dr. T. E. S. Scholes,
entitled Glimpses of the Ages (Scholes 1905, 1907, Bryan 1988). Thomas writes:
"The years of civilised development have dawned
in turn on many sections of the human family, and
the Anglo-Saxons, who now enjoy pre-eminence,
got their turn only after Egypt, Assyria, Babylon,
Greece, Rome, and others had successively held
the palm of supremacy. And since these mighty
empires have all passed away, may we not then, if
the past teaches ought, confidently expect that
other racial hegemonies will arise in the future to
keep up the ceaseless progression of temporary
existence towards the existence that is eternal?
What is in the nature of things that will oust the
African race from the right to participate, in times
to come, in the high destinies that have been as-
signed in times past to so many races that have not
been in anywise superior to us in the qualifica-
tions, physical, moral, and intellectual, that mark
out a race for prominence amongst other races?"
(Thomas 1969: 180-181).
This is a theme that is seen in Garveyism and certainly in an ideological sense
Froudacity heads in that direction. That book marks a state of mind that is in direct
transition to the ideas which became known as Garveyism. Toward the end of
Froudacity J. J. Thomas makes an optimistic assessment of where black people had
reached at the end of the nineteenth century:
"With the exception of those belonging to the
Southern States of the Union, the vast body of
African descendants now dispersed in various
counties of the Western Hemisphere are at suffi-
cient peace to begin occupying themselves, ac-
cording to some fixed programme, about matters
of racial importance. More than ten million of
Africans are scattered over the wide area indi-
cated, and possess amongst them instances of
mental and other qualifications which render them
remarkable among their fellow-men. But like the
essential parts of a complicated albeit perfect
machine, these attainments and qualifications so
widely dispersed await, it is evident, some poten-
tial agency to collect and adjust them into the vast
engine essential for executing the true purposes of
the civilised African race. Already, especially since
the late Emancipation Jubilee, are signs manifest
of a desire for intercommunion and intercompre-
hension amongst the more distinguished of our
people. With intercourse and unity of purpose will
be secured the means to carry out the obvious
duties which are sure to devolve upon us, espe-
cially with reference to the cradle of our Race,
which is most probably destined to be the ultimate
resting-place and headquarters of millions of our
posterity." (Thomas 1969: 193).
C. L. R. James has corrected Thomas's overstatement of the progress made by
Blacks in the U.S. government in the post Civil War years, citing W. E. B. Dubois's
classic study Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880. However, what is
important about this quotation is that Thomas has a perspective that is Garveyite in
its Pan-Africanist thrust. Thomas does not take up for discussion the agenda set out
in this quotation. That could only be done for a different audience and debate. How-
ever, it is a vital dimension of Thomas's intellectual and political perspective. To
call him an Afro-Saxon or to see in his politics mainly the colonial reformer is to read
Froudacity on a simple and literal level and not to differentiate between tactical
arguments to woo contemporary white and black readers against Froude and
Thomas's broader emancipatory strategy which is seen in the quotation above.
Thomas was a political realist and he read the situation well but that reading was
informed by a broader political outlook and by a strong sense of the movement of
history and a Garveyite type of racial uplift and consciousness which had to have a
global perspective. Thomas's defence of the Trinidadian and Caribbean Blacks
therefore extends in Garveyite fashion to a concern for Blacks in the diaspora.
On the other hand, Thomas not only identifies Froude as a white racist but
situates him adversely in British political and intellectual history:
"Why waste words and time on this defamer of his
own countrymen, who, on account of the material
gain and the questionable martial glory of the
conquest, eulogises Warren Hastings, the vicere-
gal plunderer of India, whilst, in the same breath,
he denounces Edmund Burke for upholding the
immutable principles of right and justice!"
(Thomas 1969: 141).
Thomas thus recognizes in Froude the debasement of the bourgeois morality and
principles which Burke, the conservative theorist, and others had advocated. Froude
does not merit the label conservative. He is a reactionary and a crass-materialist.
To what extent then was Thomas a nineteenth century liberal? He was
undoubtedly influenced by 19th century liberal ideology and would have known the
writings of John Stuart Mill. The influence of English liberalism on nineteenth
century Caribbean intellectuals deserves some research. The aftermath of the 1865
Jamaica Rebellion had led to debate among the British intelligentsia about the nature
of government in the colonies and the rights of colonial subjects. The Caribbean in-
telligentsia read and followed this in the colonial press and were familiar with the
major nineteenth century English publicists and writers. They also voiced their
opinions on the policy of disenfranchisement and the implementation of Crown
Colony government in Jamaica.
Thomas was influenced by English liberalism but he was not engaged in
applying these ideas in a mechanical or Afro-Saxon way. He had absorbed the
values underlying liberalism and would have been responding from the confidence
of his knowledge of the potential of people of his race and of the new nationalities
that had been formed.
Froude's ideas about colonial economic development sound remarkably
familiar to a late twentieth century Caribbean ear, given the region's involvement
with international finance capital and the International Monetary Fund. Froude
"But let governors be sent who would be gover-
nors indeed, like those who administer the Indian
presidencies, and the white residents would gather
heart again, and English and American capitalists
would bring their money and their enterprise, and
the blacks would grow upwards instead of down-
wards." (Froude 1969: 163).
Thomas, for his part, does not pay sufficient attention to the economics of black
progress although he is aware of the need for Blacks to have an economic base and
of the importance of land in providing such a base. However, one should not be too
harsh on Thomas as a century later the black middle-class is alarmed at its
impoverishment and the issue of Blacks in the corporate economic structure is now
on the agenda in the region.
J. J. Thomas had ideas on religion which indicate that he was opposed to
Froude's interpretation of religion which was geared toward the continuing subju-
gation of the African race in the region. Froude had advocated the use of the
Christian religion as a means of keeping Blacks in the Caribbean in check and
rooting out what he called the barbarian practices of non-European religion.
Thomas's view of religion is summed up in the following quote:
"Religion, as understood by the best of men, is
purely a matter of feeling and action between man
and man the doing unto others as we would they
should do unto us; and any creed or any doctrine
which directly or indirectly subverts or even
weakens this basis is in itself a danger to the
highest welfare of mankind."
Thomas again places his arguments on values that are profoundly humanistic.
J. J. Thomas is thus a Caribbean intellectual who reflects in his writings the
strivings of the early Trinidad nationality for self-expression. He merges in his
personality Europe and Africa, in a kind of composition that is historically distinc-
tive, one in which Europe plays its part but is not perceived as a superior dimension
in relation to Africa, notwithstanding Europe's dominance in the world at the time.4
1. Political theorists Gordon Lewis (1983) and Denis Benn (1987) devote a few pages to J. J.
Thomas. Lewis sees him as a nineteenth century British liberal,having read Thomas too literally.
Benn sees him as an anti-racist.
2. Lloyd Best (1967) reflects the very lively debate of the 1960s on a Caribbean epistemology.
3. For Trinidad's nineteenth century African presence and the development of what I have referred
to as the Trinidadian nationality, see Maureen Warner-Lewis (1989 a, b).
4. For discussion of this theme, see Rex Nettleford (1970).
1. Benn, Denis The Growth and Development of Political Ideas in theCaribbean 1774-1983,
Institute of Social and Economic Research, Kingston, 1987.
2. Best, Lloyd "Independent Thought and Caribbean Freedom", in Norman Girvan and Owen
Jefferson (eds.) Readings in the Political Economy of the Caribbean, New World Group,
Kingston, 1971, pp. 7-28.
3. Brereton, Bridget (a) "John Jacob Thomas: An Estimate", The Journal ofCaribbean History,
Vol. 9, May 1977, pp. 22-42.
4. Brereton, Bridget (b) "The Negro Middle Class of Trinidad in the later nineteenth Century",
Papers presented at VI Annual Conference of Caribbean Historians, Puerto Rico, April
4-9, 1974, pp. 50-65.
5. Bryan, Patrick "Black Perspectives in late Nineteenth Century Jamaica: The Case of Dr.
Theophilus E. S. Scholes", in Rupert Lewis and Patrick Bryan (eds.) Garvey: His Work and
Impact, UWI, Kingston, 1988, pp. 47-63.
6. Campbell, Carl "John Jacob Thomas of Trinidad: The early career of a black teacher and scholar
1855-1870"' African Studies Association of the West Indies Bulletin, No. 8, 1975, pp.
7. Froude, JamesThe English in the West Indies or the Bow ofUlysses, Negro Universities Press,
Greenwood, New York, 1969.
8. Higman, Barry "African and Creole Slave Family Patterns in Trinidad", Margaret E. Crahan and
Franklin W. Knight (eds.) Africa and the Caribbean The Legacies of a Link, The Johns
Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1979, pp. 64.
9. James, C. L. R. "The West Indian Intellectual", Froudacity, New Beacon Books, London, 1969.
10. Nettleford, Rex Mirror, Mirror: Identity, Race and Protest in Jamaica, William Collins and
Sangster, Kingston, 1970.
11. Robotham, Don "The Development of a Black Ethnicity in Jamaica", in Rupert Lewis and
Patrick Bryan (eds.) Garvey: His Work and Impact, Instituteof Social and Economic Research
and Dept. of Extra-Mural Studies, UWI, Kingston, 1988, pp. 23-38.
12. Rohlehr, Gordon "Froudacity: A Re-Examination", New World, Black Power Special Issue,
1971, pp. 17-20, 35-38.
13. Scholes, T. E. S. Glimpses of the Ages, or the Superior and Inferior Races So-Called,
Discussed in the Light of Science and History, John Long, London, 1905 and 1907 (2 Vols.).
14. Thomas J. J. Froudacity: West Indian Fables Explained, New Beacon, London, 1969.
15. Warner-Lewis, Maureen (a) "The Interaction of African Peoples and Cultures in Nineteenth
Century Trinidad", Paper presented to conference on "Cultural Vibrations: Transformations and
Continuities in the Yoruba Diaspora." April 27-28, 1989, Center for African Studies, Univer-
sity of Florida, Gainesville. See also (b) Guinea's Other Suns: Essays on the African dynamic
in Trinidad Culture (forthcoming).
HEALING THE NATION: RASTAFARI EXORCISM
OF THE IDEOLOGY OF RACISM IN JAMAICA*
In a recent and timely article Joop van Kessel and Andre Droogers have criticised
the failure of development theory in Latin America to view religion as anything but
the irrelevant remnant of an outmoded past destined to disappear or be relegated to
the private sphere of life with the transition of the countries of the region to moderni-
zation (1988). This failure, according to the authors, explains the wider failure to
produce any substantial result in the region over the last forty years of application.
Development processes, they argue, cannot succeed in Latin America if identity is
neglected, and since religion is an integral part of Latin American identity, the need
to integrate the anthropology of religion into development sociology becomes clear.
The problem, unfortunately, has been a far more generalised and broader
one. In many quarters of development studies religious movements as a constituent
part of social movements for change are still an undeveloped field, despite the
importance of religion in the so-called developing world; despite, also, the richness
of anthropological literature on the subject, particularly in Asia and Africa. But it is
notjust religion which development theory has ignored up to now, and with results
similar to Latin America, but the broader area of life we know as culture. Fortu-
nately, there seems to be a growing awareness of this shortcoming. In a series of
public lectures a few years ago at the Institute of Social Studies on the theme of
culture and development, Professor van Nieuwenhuijze declared:
It is high time ... to inquire, no doubt belatedly,
into the significance of culture or civilization for
the notion and practice of development. Clearly
this cannot be a one-eyed inquiry, in the sense that
*This paper, with slight modifications in title and text, has appeared as No. 68 in the Working Paper Series of the
Institute of Social Studies in the Hague. I thank the Institute for the Research Fellowship (1989) which made the
one would look, as has occasionally been done
without result, into socio-cultural constraints
hampering otherwise good economic develop-
ment policies in particular settings. There is need
to account for the significance of the cultural
frame of reference at both ends of the given inter-
national read, intercultural transaction con-
cerned with development. (1984: 4).
More recently Stavenhagen (1986) has entered a plea for ethnicity to be incorpo-
rated within the purview of development theory.
Still, as van Ufford and Schoffeleers remind us (1988: 4-6), the problem was
also as much the making of anthropology, given its evolution into a discipline
focusing almost blindly on culture to the exclusion of poverty and underdevelop-
Thus, the obligation to continue the discussion resting as much with develop-
ment theory as with anthropology, this paper explores the case of a religious
movement whose contribution to the solution of what must be one of the most
debilitating features of colonial underdevelopment, namely racism, has been a
decisive factor in the development of Jamaican nationalism. By keeping alive the
issue of identity and forcing it on national consciousness, the Rastafari movement
has helped to expose and by so doing overturn certain assumptions of the ideology
of racism, particularly among the middle classes.
To be a bit more specific, at the risk of appearing somewhat dramatic, this is
what the before picture looked like in the Jamaica of the 1940s:
In training and in outlook these middle classes are
European. They retain little or no trace of their
African origin except the colour of their skin.
Some have been educated at Oxford, the Sor-
bonne, Madrid. They are coloured Europeans, in
dress,... in tastes, in opinions and in aspirations.'
And in the early 1950s:
The coloured person in the West Indies represents
a unique phenomenon in the hybrid world. He is
generally almost entirely ignorant of African cul-
ture and despises what little he does know as being
primitive and connected with the undesirable, that
is the black .... For such individuals there is a
conscious ideal of self-identification with the
European or Englishman (Henriques, 1953:
The after picture, from quantitative research carried out among middle class tertiary
students in the early 1980s, now looks like this:
Africans, that is black Jamaicans, emerged as the
most accepted of all groups on all categories of the
Social Distance Scale, and also as the group to-
wards which the most favourable attitudes were
expressed on the Attitudes to Minorities Scale.
Such a finding suggests that the low esteem he
enjoyed from others is now a thing of the past ...
Since the largest group in the sample was of mixed
origin, it is not only the pure African alone who
accepts himself, his blackness, his kinky hair, but
the figures strongly suggest that Black is now
indeed both beautiful and desirable generally
(Richardson, 1983: 158).
Wondering, but without examining, what might have brought about this change,
Richardson mentions the Black Power movement and the fact of Independence. My
argument is simply that the main credit for this change belongs to the Rastafari.
Because Rastafari membership is still relatively small,2 its contribution is often
overlooked. But the story also has wider relevance. Blacks are lowest on the totem
pole in virtually every non-black country of the world. Thus, while the case of the
Rastafari may well enrich our understanding of the role of identity in development,
it also has direct implications for black identity in other parts of the world, including
Latin America itself where religion rather than race is the main focal point.
Class and Race
Before introducing the Rastafari, a brief word on the class structure of Jamaica
is necessary. Henriques, in the work cited above, drew the sketch of a three-tiered
triangle representing a lower, a middle arid an upper class, and correlating with
colour ranging from black to coloured to white, respectively. There has never been
any doubt among Caribbean social scientists that race and skin colour figure
prominently in the stratification systems of the Caribbean. The question is what are
their relative roles. Is stratification based on class or on race and colour, or both? If
class, then we are dealing with an open system, in which there are broadly shared
values; if race, with a system of ethnic segmentation, one prone to ethnic violence.
The divisions on the issue have been mainly between functionalism and pluralism.
M. G. Smith, adapting the economic model of pluralism developed by J. S.
Furnivall, has argued that Caribbean societies are plural societies, comprising
different racial segments within the same polities, with each having its own distinct
and separate cultural practices and norms (1965). They are brought together only by
the market place, and held together by the political system. Thus, in a country like
Jamaica, race is closely identified with culture.
Smith's model of pluralism has triggered considerable debate which has
continued into the present.3 Lloyd Braithwaite, from a functionalist perspective,
argued that Trinidadian society was integrated by a universally shared system of
values, among them the ascriptive norms by which skin colour was associated with
privilege, the closer to white the more of it, the closer to black the less (1955).
Most scholars accept the applicability of pluralism to Caribbean society up to
the end of slavery, but reject it as no longer a useful model for understanding the
dynamics of the modern societies of the region. Race and colour remain as
attitudinal remnants of the colonial past. Though 80% of Jamaica's population, for
example, are of African descent, 15% of mixed African-European and the rest
European and other white ethnic minorities, the fact is that upward social mobility
by blacks is changing the complexion of the middle classes. In a recent effort aimed
at reconciling both paradigms, however, Mills (1988) makes use of the Gramscian
concept of hegemony to argue that while Caribbean societies are stratified by class,
nevertheless race functions as ruling ideology. Concerned though he also was to
answer widely expressed criticism that Marxism, by its one-sided focus on class, has
no comprehensive answer to the realities of the Caribbean, he has in fact touched
upon the issue which I believe to be central in any explanation of the rise of the
Rastafari, namely, racism as an ideology.
Ideology of Racism
The following brief sketch of racism as ideology provides an indication of its
scope. I focus on the Black population, for it was primarily aimed at subordinating
them.4 The main thing to understand is that racial ideology always presents itself as
a cognitive system of binary opposites. All the qualities singled out for devaluation
in the racially different group are the opposites of qualities which provide the subject
group with a positive self-evaluation. Racism and ethnocentrism are always pack-
aged as "they" and "we".
Skin Colour: white vs. black
In European culture, white is a symbol of purity and goodness, its opposite,
black, a symbol of impurity and evil. By calling Africans "black" and themselves
"white",5 Europeans set the stage whereupon the enslavement and subsequent
subordination of Africans could be elevated to the level of mythology. Thus, one
common explanation of the racial difference was that the "darker" races were the
children of Ham, that son of Noah who was struck with a curse for having looked
on his father's nakedness. Both in the United States and throughout the Caribbean
may be found stories of creation which offer explanations as to why some men are
white, others black.6 While the tongue-in-cheek humour of many of them suggests
that they are not accorded mythological status, they are nevertheless significant in
that the common theme running through them all is that blackness is a mistake, due
either to error on God's part or weakness and sin on man's part.
The concepts of "white" being pretty and "black" being ugly went effectively
unchallenged until the emergence of Marcus Garvey in the 1920s. Even so, these
usages are not uncommon today.
The incongruity of black Christians praying that God wash them "white as
snow", was not merely an ecological but a religious one as well, for, as the prophet
Alexander Bedward saw it, even the skin colour of blacks was to be transformed into
white following ascent to heaven.7 And no wonder, if Jesus and his angels were
Body Norms: handsome vs. ugly
Skin colour represented only one aspect of the phenotypical differences
between whites and blacks, the remaining ones being hair quality (fine vs. coarse,
straight vs. spiralled), nose shape (straight vs. flat, narrow vs. wide) and lip size (thin
vs. thick). These qualities also contributed to defining who was beautiful, who ugly.
A common practice among mothers was the pinching of children's noses to make
them straight and thin.
Character: moral vs. immoral
Orlando Patterson tells us that Quashee, the Twi day-name for males born on
Sunday, was used by whites to personify their stereotype of the African slaves as
deceitful, lying, capricious and lazy (1967: 174-81). Applying Merton's concept
of the "self-fulfilling prophecy", he argues that the slaves responded "by either
appearing to, or actually internalizing" these stereotypes (p. 180). After slavery, and
certainly into the twentieth century, the term "Quashee" shed its connotation of
deceitful and acquired instead that of stupid or foolish. It was more hurtful to call one
Quashee than to call one stupid, since an element of race still clung to the usage.
Quashee was not the only proper noun to be used as stereotypes. Two others
Kofi, the day-name for males born on Friday, and Bongo, the name of one of the
Congo tribes and of a religious cult appearing among the Maroons, were also used
to mean stupid or uncouth.
No doubt, the misuse of these day-names was partly responsible for their
gradual disuse and the preference for Biblical and Anglo-Saxon names.
Another "failing of character" which became ideological was the accusation
by whites that blacks were sexually irresponsible. Ironically, the proof of irrespon-
sibility was not the large coloured population of the island, but "illegitimate births".
There were two issues here. One was the failure to enter into the legal institution of
marriage, and the other was what some sociologists have referred to as "serial
polygamy". The former was a target of theological teaching of the Protestant
Missionaries on holiness, as Robotham shows (forthcoming):
Not the study of the scriptures and the demon-
strated understanding of them; not good works nor
religious revelation were the decisive factors, but
the acceptance of certain social institutions as
superior and others as inferior and the adherence
to the superior system this was the critical
factor in "living holy" and entering into and sus-
taining a "church connection" (p. 83).
During the late 1930s and the 1940s, a group of upper-middle class women, at one
time led by the wife of the colonial Governor, used to stage mass marriages.
"Serial polygamy" referred to the series of consensual, or common law, unions
which many people enter during their first fifteen years of cohabitation, resulting in
a complex system of half-brothers and half-sisters. Many women therefore bear
children for different genitors, while many men sire children of different mothers,
often complicating the situation by their failure either to acknowledge or to bear
paternal responsibility. Naturally, these forms of male and female "irresponsibility"
have through the decades been placed at the root of crime, lawlessness and
Though the pattern of mating has not changed since emancipation, according
to Roberts and Sinclair (1980), the institution of marriage, which is the mating form
used by whites, although they too practise what could be called "serial polygamy"
except that it is legal,8 is one way of acquiring social respectability. Common-law
unions, once the spouses pass thirty-five or forty years of age, thus tend to end in
marriage at some point.
The Motherland: Africa vs. Europe
Racist arguments about the savagery and lack of civilization of Africa are now
too well known to need any exposition here.' They were very common in Jamaica,
where the ideology seemed to have taken root much more among those exposed to
the higher levels of the education system, for there is much evidence to show that
among the uneducated masses Africa was always cherished as the land of the
As Africa was the land of darkness and savagery, so was Europe generally and
England in particular the land of light and civilization. England became for every
school child up to the time of Independence in 1962 the "Mother country".
Culture: Savagery vs. Civilization
Not surprisingly, many of the more important aspects of Jamaican folk culture
were the object of ideological denigration. The folk religion, in all its variants, was
described by one of Jamaica's leading intellectuals of the 1920s and 1930s as the
mud, which he contrasted with the gold. The mud was that tradition of African
superstition and savagery, with its wild drumming, dancing, spirit possession and
polytheism, in which the ignorant masses were mired; the gold the tradition of real
religion, with its Easter morning pealing of bells, word of the one true God and
studied reflection (Delisser, 1913). To the missionaries and Christian preachers
themselves Afro-Jamaican religion was the work of the Devil himself. Christianity,
of which they were the bearers, was the work of God.
While not all Blacks were stuck in the mud, all Blacks, except the relatively
few who acquired a certain level of education, spoke "bad" English. In rural Jamaica
"good" English was the speech of the local elite, the school teachers, the justice of
the peace, the sanitary inspector, and so on. Nothing less was expected of them. Such
people using the dialect were thought to be common and lacking in "ambition".
"Good" English was thus the speech of the upwardly mobile, "bad" English the
speech of the uneducated and ignorant.
Using culture in the narrow sense of the fine arts, whites also inflated their own
culture and claimed racial superiority over blacks.
I have spent some time illustrating the ways in which racism entrenched itself
in Jamaica in the cognitive life of the people, because it is my view that the impact
of the Rastafari is to be sought here rather than elsewhere. Naturally, to make out a
claim for Jamaica as a special case is not only absurd, but makes questionable the
suggestion which I make at the end of the paper that there is much about Rastafari
that may have significance for other countries. For racist and ethnocentric ideology
has been the experience of colonialism, of Romans over English, English over Irish,
Japanese over Chinese. Racism against the Africans is unquestionably, however,
the most extreme. Thus, my main aim so far is to illustrate the varied ways in which
that ideology was propounded and in some measure internalised, in order to
contextualise what I argue constituted the raison d'etre of the Rastafari movement.
I say "in some measure", because behind the studied propagation of white
racist ideology always lurked the fear of threat to white racist superordination. The
country had experienced more slave revolts and plots than any other colony in the
hemisphere, hosted the only maroon settlement which forced the British into treaty,
had brought slavery to an end in 1834 with the greatest revolt in its history, had
witnessed the suppression of a rebellion in which peasants rallied and slew on the
basis of colour in 1865, and the overawing of a popular religious movement, whose
leader had agitated for the overthrow of whites in 1895. Now on the eve of the
appearance of Rastafari it was about to face the black nationalism of Marcus Garvey.
Marcus Garvey was not the first black nationalist in Jamaican history, but he
was the first to have fired the imagination of the masses on a grand and dramatic
scale. He led the largest social movement among American blacks prior to the civil
rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr., and led the largest ever international
black movement. The fact that Blacks in Africa and the Americas were inspired to
become his followers indicated that theirs was a common experience. In fact,
Garvey later revealed that what fired his imagination to uplift his race was finding
the Blacks of central America in the same position he had left them in Jamaica.
Garvey had an impact far greater than his own organization, the Universal Negro
Improvement Association (UNIA), or his actual teachings, far-reaching though
these were. Just the fact that he was such a great man of itself did much to change
the self-perception of blacks."
Linking the degrading conditions of blacks, which he found everywhere he
went throughout the hemisphere, with their lack of power, Garvey set himself the
task of building a power base through which, and only through which, blacks could
command the respect of the world. To this end, his first step was the formation of
the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). But at the same time keenly
aware that blacks were themselves partly to blame, owing to their lack of conscious-
ness and low self-esteem, he also set himself the task of educating the race. Thus
Garveyism was both a political and an ideological movement, whose points of focus
may be summarised as follows:
1. Founding of local economic enterprises, such as factories.
2. The launching of the Black Star Shipping Line, to foster and develop
international pan-African trade.
3. Campaigning for the decolonization of Africa, under the slogan "Africa
for the Africans at home and abroad".
4. Launching a back-to-Africa movement to encourage skilled and profes-
sional blacks to return and contribute to the development of Africa.
5. Publication of an organ through which to spread the ideas of race con-
1. The black race constituted one nationality, whose native land was Africa.
"Garveyism was Pan-Africanism at the level of popular mass organiza-
tion to confront the ideology of racism.""2
2. As the seat of many early civilizations, Africa played a role in the
development of world culture.
3. By its survival of European enslavement, where other races have been
wiped out, the black race has revealed its inner endowment.
4. The past achievements of the race and its survival are sources of pride
and self-confidence. They are also the sign of its present and future pos-
5. All races are equal. The present subjugation of blacks is transient; as
transient, for example, as the past enslavement of the English by the
6. Self-reliance is the only way forward to gain the respect of other nations.
These activities and ideas were in their time revolutionary. The UNIA boasted
of an eleven million membership at the height of Garvey's popularity in the early
1920s, scattered throughout the Americas and Africa. In French West Africa it
became a capital offence to read Garvey's paper, The Negro World. In the United
States the FBI, bent on crushing his movement, arrested Garvey on the trumped up
charge of using the mail to defraud. Sentenced to prison, Garvey was deported to his
native Jamaica, where he lost little time in entering the political life of the country.
Forced to attend to the declining fortunes of the UNIA, he left Jamaica for England,
where he died in 1940.
By his intense concentration on the black man, Garvey was mainly responsible
for the attention which increasingly larger numbers of Jamaicans began to pay to
events in Africa." The coronation of Ras Tafari in Ethiopia in November 1930 was
one which the founders of the Rastafari movement interpreted as the fulfilment of
prophecy. Before reaching the peak of his career Garvey was already a hero to the
Jamaican masses, in both the common and mythological senses of the word. Myths
had developed about what he said and did, making him superhuman." Thus, it was
alleged, in one of his many speeches he had prophesied that one was to come after
him greater than himself and that the people should look to Africa when a King
would be crowned for their redemption. As if to strengthen their belief, Tafari, as
Haile Selassie, took several titles of religious significance: "King of Kings and Lord
of Lords", "Light of the World", and, claiming descent from the Solomonic line,
"Conquering Lion of the tribe of Judah".
Leonard Howell, Joseph Hibbert and Archibald Dunkley, all three of whom
were returned migrants, Robert Hinds and Brother Napier were among the
earliest to start preaching that Prince Tafari was God. But they went further and
transposed the Biblical metaphor of the children of Israel in captivity, from which
Christianised blacks had always found inspiration and hope, into the reality itself.
Black people were the true Israel and Ras Tafari the returned messiah come to
deliver his people. Christ, they preached, was and had always been black. He was the
real King of the black race; therefore blacks owed no allegiance to King George.
Thus was the Rastafari movement born.
The movement took root mainly in the city of Kingston among the marginal-
ised stratum of the working class, peasants uprooted by social conditions in the
countryside and blocked from external migration.15 Right up to the end of the 1960s
this was the stratum most drawn to the faith.
Rastafari beliefs and practices have developed over the years and it seems best
to summarise them in this way. I identify three phases of growth up to the present
time, each covering approximately two decades.
In the first two decades, the 1930s and 1940s, beliefs centred on the identity
of God, as set out above. Propagating the faith took the form of street meetings. Each
preacher established his own "King of Kings" mission, which was attended by those
converted at the public meetings. Ritual practices varied from mission to mission,
but included baptism, fasting and celebration of special anniversaries, such as the
coronation, and the cultivation of head and facial hair according to the Nazarite vow
as set out in the Book of Leviticus.
The second two decades, the 1950s and 1960s, were marked by agitation for
repatriation and by the rise to ascendancy throughout the movement of a radical
trend which became known as the Dreadlocks. As I shall be dealing more fully with
the most important of the repatriation episodes, it should suffice to make two
observations. First, this demand to return to Africa had been institutionalized as a
part of Rastafari ideology by the early founders, following fast on the heels of
Garvey's Back-to-Africa movement, but except for one episode in August 1934,
they carried out no mass action towards this goal. According to the concept blacks
are Africans, or rather Ethiopians, for Ethiopia was the name of the continent before
the white man renamed it; Africans, or "Ethiopians", were seized and transported
to the Americas against their will; hence Repatriation, or return to the motherland.
But Repatriation is a divinely ordained act, depending on the will and action of God,
not on man. It is different from migration. In that August 1934 episode, it was
alleged, they expected the sea to part, just as in the time of Moses, but this time only
for those with a beard.
The second observation is that mass agitation for repatriation when it did take
place, in 1958 and again in 1959-1960, came against the background of increased
external migration to Britain and increased attention by old Garveyites to the
possibilities for migration to Liberia and other West African countries. In fact,
through the Ethiopian World Federation Haile Selassie made a land grant at
Sheshamane in Ethiopia for the settlement of blacks, in token of appreciation for
their support during the anti-fascist invasion of his country. The gift aroused great
interest, particularly among the Rastafari, when a Federation official visited Ja-
maica in 1955 and made the announcement. Scholars who argue that the movement
is essentially millenarian need to exercise caution, for only thrice in the six decades
(1934, 1958 and 1959) did the dream of the millennium result in mass millenarian
activity. The growth and impact of Rastafari have not been dependent on the dream
of the millennium.
The Dreadlocks emerged in the course of overturning the authority of the older
generation, whom they judged to be too compromising towards the society. They
were more separatist, symbolising their ideological stance in their spectacular hair
style. To the older generation the scissors and razor had been taboo; to the
Dreadlocks the scissors, the razor and the comb.
Other beliefs and practices institutionalized by the Dreadlocks were:
1. sacralisation of ganja (marijuana) as a sacrament;
2. development of an argot, focused on the concept of the personal
3. symbolic identification of the status quo with the concept Babylon;
4. ritual ascendancy over women;
5. extension of the concept of God as man to include man as also God.
Many of these beliefs and practices are the results of idealisation of beliefs and
practices already present within the culture of the folk, but carried to extremes. Such,
for instance is the God-man concept, which derives from folk belief in the
immanence of God; such also the sacred ritualisation of female subordination,
which has precedence in social and cultural life.'6 But in other instances, deliberately
and consciously they identified with traditions which were vilified under racist
ideology. For example, the Dreadlocks appropriated the names associated with
stupidity. One which soon became, and which still remains, a title of respect was
Bongo. The name Nati, referring to hair quality, is another.
The last two decades, the 1970s and 1980s have been marked by three far-
reaching developments. The first was the use of reggae music as the medium of
expression of Rastafari sentiments, and the mutual identity of the two; second, the
internationalisation of the movement, due to the impact of reggae, to migration and
racism in the metropoles of both the northern and southern hemispheres. These have
been well documented."7 Third, but not yet fully studied, is the triumphant entry of
Rastafari into the middle classes. With this last we come to the central point of this
As our "before" picture presented at the beginning would have made clear, the
middle classes, made up predominantly of the coloured population, were far from
immune to the ideology of racism. In his analysis of class consciousness in the
period leading up to the 1938 labour rebellion, Ken Post explains:
Race was also a very important factor in the
consciousness of the lower middle class. Along
with their collars and ties a light brown skin and
'good' hair and features were the marks of their
superior status, and were among the criteria for
getting a job. But race was not only important to
the lower stratum; it was crucial for the entire
middle class (1978: 103).
But the symbols of social mobility were not the only concern of the middle classes,
Post further explains. They "tended to reproduce quite faithfully the ideas of their
betters. Indeed, . it was the special task of many of them to develop and propagate
those ideas, since clergymen, teachers, journalists and others were concerned
specifically with cognitive practice" (p. 101). In other words, white colonial society
had produced the intellectuals on whom it could rely for its apologia.
To view the middle classes from this point of view alone would be one-sided.
As Phillips explains, in the pre-war years there had emerged among the middle
classes a nationalist movement split between those with a "Jamaican" and those with
a 'Pan-African tendency' focused on a wider set of Pan-Nationalist concerns"
(1988: 106). The latter, it is clear, were motivated by the racial contradiction, and
would have been influenced by Garveyite and pre-Garveyite black nationalism. For
the former the larger and more influential their nationalism derived from other
contradictions, such as the control by the colonial government of "education and
other matters vital to the middle class" (Post, 1978: 103).
Middle class nationalism, led by the "Jamaican" tendency, soon crystallised in
the formation of the People's National Party (PNP) in 1938, whose demand for self-
government, strengthened by the labour rebellion and meeting objectives of the
British government, led to a process of gradual decolonization which culminated in
independence in 1962. According to Munroe (1972), the main problem facing the
upper middle class, which led this process, was how to secure control of the country
without the arousal of the masses. Though the thesis overestimates the independent
political potential of the working class and underestimates the significance of the
black nationalist wing in the national movement," it aptly identifies the process as
"constitutional decolonization", and explains its results as the "growth and consoli-
dation of middle class dominance" over political life (p. 75) and a constitution
patterned off the British.
In effect, therefore, the independence movement avoided the issue of race.
Thus, the nationalism which Norris found among the educated in Jamaica on the eve
of political Independence lay "in the confidence that Jamaica can successfully build
a miniature Britain, America or a European-type state" (Norris, 1962: 72) rather
than build on the "cultural traditions or creative spirit of the Jamaican people"
Still, there was hope the Rastafari:
While the conformist is still over-deferential to the
white stranger, the Rastafarian expresses his defi-
ance by abusing him publicly. While the conform-
ist still looks on a white man as a source of
financial assistance and few would hesitate to beg
from him if the opportunity offered, the Rastafar-
ian prefers to live in appalling squalor, but does
not beg. (Norris, p. 98).
She found Rastafari to be "an instinctive kind of nationalism and an instinctive
search for dignity and naturalness as far removed from race hatred as straightfor-
ward national consciousness is removed from hatred of other nations", notwith-
standing its being a "crank" philosophy (p. 99). In other words, by electing to lead
a life based on the affirmation of being black, without at the same time being racist,
the Rastafari have seized hold of one of the main springs of national development,
namely a sense of national identity. In this respect, they represented, for Norris, not
so much a signpost leading the way to Rastafari, as a symbol of the harmony between
the reality of being black and the consciousness of and confidence in that reality.
This point must not be glossed over. Some commentators accuse Rastafari of
being a form of "reverse racism", sometimes comparing it to the Black Muslims.
Nothing could be further from the truth. As Father Owens observes, this judgment
derives from a failure to grasp the essence of a doctrine which not only "effectively
negates the white racism pervading the society, but which also strives to overcome
the logical premises which make any type of racism possible" (Owens, 1976: 57).
Most other Whites who have studied the Rastafari would share that view. This gives
the Rastafari a humanism with potential lessons for other groups and peoples.
Rastafari exorcism of the ideology of racism among the middle classes and
inspiring of a more wholesome sense of identity began in the period of the
Dreadlocks, with a millenarian episode which, not surprisingly blown out of all
proportion, had the effect of treating the Rastafari seriously for the first time and of
beginning a process of self-examination. Ken Post describes Jamaica as an open
society prone to external influences. Understandably, therefore, the impact on the
middle classes was in no small measure facilitated and enhanced by the rapid
acquisition of independence by African nations and equal status with other sover-
eign states of the world. But while external processes made the middle classes better
listeners, the Rastafari forced them to think, and to choose.
On New Year's day 1959, Fidel Castro entered Havana in triumph. The event
made a great impact throughout the Caribbean and the rest of the hemisphere. Later
that same year, one Reverend Claudius Henry, leader of a group of Rastafari,
proclaimed October 25 to be "decision day" when Israel's scattered children would
return to Africa.19 Undaunted by the failure of this prophecy, but less open to the
public, Henry quietly began planning for repatriation, when a police raiding party
swooped down on his headquarters and seized an arms cache and two letters. The
arms included two or three firearms and several rounds of ammunition, dynamite,
machetes and clubs. The letters, addressed to Castro, informed him that as they were
about to depart for Africa they wished to hand over the country to him. Henry was
charged with treason felony: intent to intimidate and overawe Her Majesty's
Government and to invite in a foreign power. As if that was not enough, weeks later
news broke that members of Henry's church were involved in guerrilla operations
in the Red Hills area above Kingston, and that two British soldiers were killed in an
operation against them. A manhunt soon resulted in the capture of a four-man squad
which included Henry's son, Ronald. These they charged with the murder of a police
infiltrator whom they had buried near their training ground in the hills.
The effect was electrifying, especially among the middle classes. Not since
the Morant Bay rebellion in 1865 had a group of Jamaicans taken up arms against
the state. As if that was not enough, here was a group of people who wore their
contempt of society by their hair and even facial expressions. It was time to put a stop
to the lunacy that was Rastafari. The police were notslow to take their cue from the
general public, as a wave of intimidation, shaving of locks, arrests, beating and im-
prisonment, descended on all Rastafari, in unprecedented scale and scope.
Acting wisely, a small group of Rastafari led by Mortimo Planno approached
the University with the suggestion that a carefully documented and publicised study
of their movement would go a long way in convincing the society that Rastafari was
essentially peaceful. It was a brilliant stroke, for the University, then an affiliate of
the University of London and headed by W. Arthur Lewis, was already making great
headway in challenging the pro-British, anti-Jamaican orientation of the middle
classes, by an already deserved reputation for scholarship and excellence, especially
in the field of tropical medicine. The sanction of such an institution would not be lost
on the real sources of influence and power.
The urgency of the situation led Lewis to assign three of his finest scholars, all
Caribbean, to carry out the investigation. The result after two weeks of intense field
work was The Rastafari Movement in Kingston, Jamaica by M. G. Smith, Roy
Augier and Rex Nettleford, which Lewis presented to the Government. Sketching
in brief outline the beliefs, the historical course and structure of the movement, the
scholars gave an analysis which exposed the appallingly bad social conditions and
poverty in the midst of which Rastafari was the only hope to large numbers of
people. After careful study, the Government seized upon one of the several
recommendations, that a mission be sent to Africa to explore the possibilities for
migration there, and acted swiftly. The Mission, which included three Dreadlocks,
set off early in 1961, and after visits to Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ghana, Nigeria and
Ethiopia, it returned to present a majority and a minority (Rastafari) report, both of
which were published and hotly debated in the press.
Predictably, initial middle class reaction was very hostile. Some felt betrayed
by the sympathetic tone of the University study, while many objected to the Mission
as a waste of taxpayers' money. But coming from the University, and backed by a
popular Government, both Report and Mission made it quite respectable for middle-
class persons to show sympathy towards the Rastafari. This was something new.
Roger Mais, the way artists often see ahead of their times, had a decade earlier
portrayed Rasta in heroic terms in his novel Brother Man. Now, however, the
University initiative was to mark the beginning of an entirely new stage in the
development of the society. No scholar has understood this better than Nettleford
and no title conveys more the essence of a book's content than does his Mirror,
Mirror (1970). With the issue of national identity confronting Jamaicans at inde-
pendence in 1962, history was kind to the country by providing three events in the
course of the sixties, three lessons for those who wished to learn: the Henry crisis
and its aftermath (Report and Mission), the Visit of Haile Selasie in 1966 and the
Black Power Movement in 1968-69. Different events but the same question, the
same search. Assessing the "lessons from the sixties", Nettleford noted "trends
which are irreversible", notably the fact that "the established order, despite its
misgivings about race consciousness, dares no longer to see itself psychologically
as an adjunct of Great Britain" (1970: 221). But we jump too far ahead.
To be brief, the three-day visit of Emperor Haile Selassie remains unparalleled
for the extraordinary level of popular enthusiasm, crowd size and tolerance towards
He cried as he stood on the steps of an aircraft
of Ethiopian Airlines which had brought him from
Trinidad and Tobago to Jamaica and surveyed the
vast and uncontrollable crowd which had gathered
at the Palisadoes Airport to greet him. The tears
welled up in his eyes and rolled down his face. It
... was an emotional welcome.
Because from Wednesday night people had
gathered at the Palisadoes from all parts of Ja-
maica, coming on foot, in cars, in drays, in carts, in
hired busses, on bicycles and by every means of
transport that can be imagined, and there never has
been in the whole history of Jamaica such a spon-
taneous, heart-warming and sincere welcome to
any person, whether visiting monarch, visiting
V.I.P. or returning leader of any Jamaican party.
Of the welcome His Imperial Majesty said
later that he was overwhelmed and deeply moved.
It demonstrated, he said, the close ties and affec-
tion which bind the people of Jamaica to Africa
and Ethiopia ...
And the enthusiasm was too much for mere
authority. The police were surrounded by the tide
of it all . The result: all the prearranged cere-
mony went by the way ... The emperor was in fact
hurried in nervous haste to the Governor-Gen-
eral's car to make his triumphant entry into King-
ston, . and to start what must have been the
biggest traffic snarl in the history of the city ...
The cries were everywhere: "The day has
come. God is with us. Let we touch the hem of His
As the Governor-General's car moved off,
people continued to mill around it and to place
themselves in its way, some shouting, "Remember
me. Prepare a place for me in thy kingdom" (Owens:
Later in the official state receptions, first with Government and then with Royal
guest as hosts, for the first time middle and upper-middle class elites actually came
face to face with the Dreadlocks. Indeed, it was said to be the in-thing to be seen on
friendly and familiar terms with them. Police action against them was muted for the
three days, and they made no attempt to conceal their smoking of ganja. The
treatment of the Dreadlocks during Selassie's state visit amounted to unofficial
legitimization of the movement.
The Black power movement in Jamaica was the work of the Guyanese
Lecturer in African History at the University in 1968, Walter Rodney. Rodney
formally launched a Black power group on the campus and, more importantly, took
his expertise extra muros among the Rastafari, including the Claudius Henry group,
whose leader had just been paroled from a ten-year prison sentence for treason
felony. The Government, which had had him under surveillance, took advantage of
his departure abroad to attend a Black writers conference in Canada, to ban him from
re-entry as a dangerous subversive. A protest march by University students against
the action triggered several hours of rioting and arson by unemployed youths
throughout the city. At several roadblocks which the youths set up, the only white
and coloured people let through without damage to their cars or injury to their
persons were those recognized for their work on behalf of black people.
The "Rodney riot", as the event became known, had its causes in grave
economic and social conditions. Industrialisation by development saw unemploy-
ment double from 13% at the beginning to 25% at the close of the sixties, while all
around were the signs of growing affluence. The riot once again did violence to
middle class consciousness by raising the question of racial identity. But this time,
thought found expression in action, as a group of intellectuals formed the "Abeng"
movement, so called from the horn used by the Jamaican maroons, and began the
publication of a weekly by the same name. Abeng ran for only six or seven months
in 1969, but, apart from the dissemination of radical black nationalist ideas its
significance is to be found in the organic link it sought to establish, in the Rodney
tradition, between the middle and working classes. It became a partisan voice of the
But the middle class University-based intellectuals, learning from Rodney,
understood that Rastafari critique of the society was already creating changes in the
consciousness of the masses. Thus, although many individual Rastafari became
active participants in the Abeng group and contributors and distributors of the
weekly, it was the adoption of the linguistic symbolism developed by the Dread-
locks, and by then part of urban street culture, which more than anything else proved
that the country was indeed in a new stage. The use of words such as grounding,
Babylon, beast, men was a regular feature of the newspaper,20 and of the vocabu-
lary of intellectuals, especially at the University. Rodney, for instance, titled his
reflections on the whole experience, Groundings with my Brothers.21 By 1971,
amid speculation about the date of election, the then Prime Minister reminded an
audience: "Only one man can call a general election, and that man is I man."
That election, when it finally came in February 1972, saw the use of other
Rastafari symbolisms. Understanding the positive symbol which Africa had be-
come largely through the impact of the Rastafari, both incumbent Prime Minister,
Hugh Shearer, and Leader of the Opposition, Michael Manley, made widely
publicised trips to the Motherland the year before. Each visited Ethiopia and
received gifts from the Emperor. Manley's gift, however, was a rod, which in the
traditional semiology of the folk represented spiritual power, a tradition the
Rastafari, with their brightly painted multi-coloured rods, had continued.
Coincidentally, there were many allegations of corruptions against the Gov-
ernment, so that when Manley, popularly known to his followers as "Joshua", in
exploiting this produced the "rod of correction" which Haile Selassie had given him,
he set loose very powerful emotions.
Thousands of Jamaicans came to believe that the
Rod was imbued with supernatural powers, and
everywhere he appeared people wanted to touch
this potent source of power, a few ascribing to it
Understanding quite well the potency of the symbolism, Edward Seaga23 then
claimed to have found the real rod, which was nothing more than a "stick of
detention". The PNP, however, did not fall for the humour of the campaign, as many
middle class persons treated it. Instead they responded by publishing a full page ad
refuting the claim and in a carefully staged moment at a public meeting Manley
dramatically reasserted possession of it by producing a box out of which he took it
and held it aloft.
Commenting on the episode, Adam Kuper remarks:
One cannot dismiss this sort of thing as merely
symbolic or as cynical vote-mongering. The his-
torical depreciation of blackness and African-ness
in Jamaica was achieved by the manipulation of
symbols, and these symbolic gestures help to lib-
erate people from ingrained feelings of inade-
quacy and impotence... Symbolic reversals of the
traditional value system have helped to undermine
the whole traditional structure of deference. It is
true that these things are merely symbolic as
opposed to the continued inequalities in Jamaica.
But this does not mean that the politicians are
being cynical. It would take a very cool man to
disrupt these attitudes while deliberately calculat-
ing to maintain the established system of privi-
lege. (1976: 106-71).
There can be no doubting the role of the Rastafari in this reversal of values, an
achievement accomplished without effecting any large scale conversion of the
population. Its methodology, if one may call it that, is one of symbolic confronta-
tion, and on many fronts, hair, language, dress and several other modes we have been
unable to detail in this essay.
Kuper puts it another way. Rejecting the class and race models of Jamaican
society, including the plural society model, as being rigid models out of alignment
with actual reality, and substituting the folk model of status used by Jamaicans, with
an ambiguity and a variability that he argues correspond more to real life, Kuper
diagnoses the Jamaican political system as fairly healthy, impervious to any threat
of division based on either race or class. Thus, he argues, black nationalism does not
provide any basis on which to change the system. Where then does he consign the
'Rastas' and 'rich whites' do not make up
Jamaica, except for television crews. But they
provide useful reference points for the self-defini-
tion, by contrast, of the 'ordinary Jamaican'
That "ordinary Jamaican" swept Manley into power in an election in which
60% of the new People's National Party voters and 44% of Jamaican Labour Party
voters who switched to the PNP identified positively with the rod (Carl Stone, 1974:
26). Although the rod was a symbol rather than the cause of their identification with
Manley's vision of correcting the ills of the society, Stone's figures showed that
identification with the Rastafari movement was proportionately greater than with
Responses to Rastafari Movement and to the Rod of Correction
% Sympathetic % Indifferent
and Supporting to Rastafari % Hostile
New PNP Voters 68 18 14
New JLP Voters 38 12 50
JLP Voters who
switched to PNP 36 31 33
Consistent JLP Voters 35 25 40
% Positively % Indifferent % Cynical and
identifying and unaware hostile
New PNP voters 60 18 22
New JLP voters 12 29 59
JLP voters who
switched to PNP 44 37 19
Consistent JLP voters 12 49 39
Source: Stone (1974), pp. 26 and 27.
More new voters (68% PNP and 38% JLP) expressed sympathy towards the
Rastafari than expressed identification with the rod (60% PNP and 12% JLP). The
new voters were mainly the youths who had reached the voting age of twenty-one
between the 1967 and the 1972 elections.
Not only the working class youths, but the middle classes as well were now
defining themselves closer to the Rasta than to the white reference point. A
fascinating development was the appearance and growth of the Twelve Tribes of
Israel, a Rastafari organization formed late in the 1960s, which, according to van
Dijk, has become a haven for middle-class Rastas, allowing them to preserve liberal
middle-class values, such as much greater equality between the sexes than among
other Rastas groups. For example, women "may speak as often and with as much
authority as the male representatives" and "are considered to be equal in all respects
but the male comes first, just as in the Bible" (van Dijk, 1988: 11). Also, there is
freedom for those who prefer not to grow the beard or wear dreadlocks, and freedom
for women to wear pants a licence which is taboo among the Dreadlocks.
Not all middle-class Rastafari belong to the Twelve Tribes. There are lawyers,
journalists, lecturers, doctors and other professionals who have been professing the
consciousness of Rastafari but are not members of the Twelve Tribes. Twelve
Tribes, however, is itself symbolic of the kind of "shift in consciousness"24 that has
been forced upon the Jamaican middle-class by the Rastafari movement. This does
not mean that the middle-class is becoming Rasta. Far from it. But it does signify a
tendency to identify more with the African reference point than with the European.
One of the most important aspects of Jamaican culture which facilitated the
change has been popular music. Originating in the ghettos of Kingston, reggae rose
to become a national music form whose popularity made the political parties use it
in their campaigns. Sections of the middle-classes used to deplore what they
considered its artless monotony. But when reggae made it internationally, begin-
ning with the song which made the first break-through on the English charts,
Desmond Dekker's Poor me, Israelite, through to the genius of Bob Marley and the
Wailers, Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff and a veritable constellation of stars, all shining
the light of Rastafari, international approval silenced all middle-class criticism and
opened the way for even greater identification. The name people in the rest of the
world associate most with Jamaica is Bob Marley.
The appropriation of Rastafari argot by the intelligentsia which began with the
Abeng movement proved not to have been a mere transient fashion but to have
signalled a profound and lasting change. In a recent paper, Velma Pollard traces the
use of certain Rastafari words of philosophical import in the works of two of the
country's major poets, Dennis Scott and Lorna Goodison, to convey a sense of black
identity. "[T]he culture of Rastafari," she observes, "has moved like yeast through
the Jamaican society infusing all these expressions with its power" (1989: 18).
As an ideology racism was internalised by black Jamaicans at both folk and middle-
class levels of the society. For the middle-class in particular it was important for
upward mobility. Their role in society also made them serve as the reproducers of
anti-black African and pro-white European ideas. Rastafari emerged in the 1930s
among the marginalised urban population as an ideological antidote. By forcing on
the country, especially the middle classes, whose dominance over social and
political life was consolidated during the period leading up to Independence, a re-
examination of its identity, the movement helped to achieve a readjustment to the
reality of being black. External factors (such as African independence) and other
internal (such as the short-lived Black Power movement) helped to bring this about,
but there is no denying the major role played by the Rastas.
To be sure, Rastafari remains a small fraction of the population of two million
people. Its impact is therefore assessed not by counting the number of adherents, but
by discovering its symbolic role. This the late Edna Manley, wife of Norman, the
man most identified with Jamaican nationalism, and mother of incumbent Prime
Minister (for the second time) Michael, understood very clearly when in the last
dated entry of her diaries she revealed that in the 1950s she was yet to understand
the Rastafari, but that when she did, what struck her more was not the belief in Haile
Selassie but "the identification with a Black God".
All the white imagery that consciously and uncon-
sciously had found its creative expression in the
white Christs all over Europe all over the world
carried there with the Christian religion, couldn't
mean the truth to the black people of the Caribbean
or black America, and this was true not only in the
case of the poor masses but also to the intelligent
thinking youth of the middle class (1989: 291).
All this has not meant the end of racism as ideology in Jamaica. Derek Gordon
in research carried out in 1983 found light-skinned persons moving up the social
ladder more quickly than blacks and remaining there in larger proportion (1988:
277). But whereas this was accepted reality in the 1940s, the middle class no longer
During the incumbency of Prime Minister Seaga in the 1980s an often-voiced
complaint was that the Government relied too heavily on foreign and local white
consultants and advisers. When therefore the new Manley administration an-
nounced the appointment of some local white advisers in March 1989, it sparked a
public controversy. Many blacks were of the view that appointments revealed yet
again a lack of confidence in the ability of blacks, at a time when they manifested
equal if not greater competence and loyalty to the country. So hot was the issue that
The Jamaica Record, run by a black entrepreneur, devoted two Sunday issues to
the debate. In his contribution, Nettleford observed:
Some feel that the deliberate and conscious defo-
cusing of social and economic issues away from
the reality of the Black imperative in development
is not the least among the causes of past failures
As with Latin America, so also with the Caribbean, it is being suggested, develop-
ment policies have failed because they ignore the issue of identity, in this case black.
Which is to say, assuming the argument to be true, that they will continue to fail to
the extent that they ignore the issue.
This leads me to a final suggestion. Norman Girvan (1988) argues that the
integration of European migrant labour into the industrialising economies of Latin
America in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries took place on a basis of a racial
segmentation of the labour force into "non-competing" groups. White workers were
assigned the role of supplying skilled, Indians and Blacks the role of supplying
cheap and unskilled, manpower. Thus, in the lowland temperate regions where
European migrants settled, Blacks were relegated to minifundios in the agricultural
sector and to the marginalised low-paying occupations of the city. Indians fared
This process was both reinforced by an ideology
of racism, and in turn reinforced it. Since it bene-
fited both white labour and white owners of capital
it was characterized by a powerful alliance of
attitudes and actions within the white community
as a whole in relation to non-whites. Therefore it
introduced a deep and abiding cleavage along
racial lines so far as the development of a true
"proletarian" consciousness, from the standpoint
of the relations of production, was concerned
The white proletariat of Latin America is therefore itself a carrier of the ideology of
racism. Girvan does not say to what extent Blacks and Indians have internalised the
sense of inferiority, but is quite clear that it was natural that black nationalism and
indigenismo were responses to the specific historical and contemporary conditions
of the respective peoples of Latin America.
This makes the identity question in Latin America somewhat more complex.
While it is true that religion plays a major role in it, the fact that "the struggles of
white proletarians and other exploited white groups lacked a racial dimension"
(Girvan, p. 20) makes their struggles that less effective and complete. Blacks in
Latin America, therefore, could learn from the experience of Jamaica and the
Rastafari movement, not necessarily in adopting the religion but in learning from its
methodology of ideological transformation through symbolic confrontation.
1. Eric Williams, The Negro in the Caribbean (Washington: Panaf Publications, 1942), p. 60,
quoted in Trevor Munroe (1972:181-82).
2. There are no figures of membership. Rastafari is still not included in census takes. One
"guesstimate" was 70,000 to 80,000 in the early 1970s.
3. See, for example, Vera Rubin (editor), Social and Cultural Pluralism (Seattle: University of
Washington, 1962), which is a collection of the views of some of the most prominent Caribbean
anthropologists and sociologists. See also, H. I. McKenzie, "The Plural Society Debate," Social
and Economic Studies, Volume 16, 1967. Recently Smith has been involved in an on-going
controversy with Don Robotham in the pages of Social and Economic Studies, Volumes 29,
32 and 33.
4. Throughout the history of slavery Jamaica had the highest incidence of revolts and plots against
the system. The successful Haitian revolt led by Toussaint L'Ouverture was thought possible in
Jamaica, and for a hundred years after Emancipation in 1838, whites lived in mortal fear of a
5. Donald Woods (Cry Freedom) had the South African judge ask Steve Biko why they called
themselves black when they really were brown. Biko retorted, "Why do you call yourselves
white when you are really pink?" "Precisely," said His Honour.
6. See Zora Hurston, Mules and Men (Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press, 1978)
and Daryl C. Dance, Folklore from Contemporary Jamaicans (Knoxville: University of
Tennessee Press, 1985).
7. Martha Beckwith, Black Roadways: A Study ofJamaican Folk Life (Chapel Hill: University
of North Carolina Press, 1929), pp. 172-73.
8. See M. G. Smith (1965), who shows that divorce and remarrying is a norm among the Jamaican
9. See Herskovits' summary of them in his Myth of the Negro Past (New York: Harper, 1941).
10. The historians tell us that many slaves resorted to suicide, believing that they would return to
Africa on death. In my own,research I found positive concepts of Africa that survived in the
families of orientation of informants born in the early decades of this century. See my Social and
Ideological Origins of the Rastafari Movement in Jamaica (forthcoming).
11. Among the many works written about Garvey and/or the UNIA, see E. D. Cronon, Black Moses
(Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1955); Robert Hill (editor) The Marcus Garvey and
Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, Volume I-III (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1983-85); Rupert Lewis, Marcus Garvey: Anti-colonial Champion (Lon-
don: Karia Press, 1987); Rupert Lewis and Maureen Warner-Lewis (editors), Garvey: Africa,
Europe, the Americas (Kingston: Institute of Social and Economic Research, 1986); Rupert
Lewis and Patrick Bryan (editors), Garvey: His Work and Impact (Kingston: University of the
West Indies, 1988); Tony Martin, Race First: The Ideological and Organizational Struggles
ofMarcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (Westport, Connecti-
cut: Greenwood Press, 1976).
12. Horace Campbell, "Garveyism, Pan-Africanism and African Liberation in the Twentieth
Century," in Rupert Lewis and Patrick Bryan (1988), p. 168.
13. Mainly, but not solely. Post correctly notes the role which "the refocusing of consciousness
outside the island onto the ancient African kingdom of Ethiopia" (1978: 161) played, and traces
the effect of Etiopianism on that consciousness.
14. See Barry Chevannes, "Garvey Myths among the Jamaican People", in Rupert Lewis and Patrick
Bryan, Garvey. His Work and impact (Kingston: University of the West Indies, 1988).
15. This process is traced in my Social Origins of the Rastafari Movement (forthcoming).
16. In a forthcoming article, The Phallus and the Outcast: the symbolism of the dreadlocks in
Jamaica, I attempt to show that ritual and ideological dominance over women was a necessary
sequel of their ideological and symbolic break with the society.
17. On reggae music and Rastafari, see Sebastian Clarke, Jah Music (Heinemann, 1980), Stephen
Davis, Reggae Bloodlines (Anchor, 1977) and Timothy White, Catch a Fire (Holt, Rinehart &
Winston, 1983); on Rastafari overseas, see Horace Campbell, Rasta and Resistance (Hansib,
1985). A number of publications have been put out on the Rastafari in Britain, among them E.
Cashmore, Rastaman (Allen & Unwin, 1979), Peter Clarke, Black Paradise (Aquarian, 1986),
Len Garrison, Black Youth (ACERP, 1979) and D. Hebdige, Reggae, Rastas and Rudies
(University of Birmingham, 1975). For a study based in Rotterdam, see P. Buiks, Surinamse
Jongere op de Krauskade (van Loghun Slaaterus, 1981).
18. For example, in 1948 the House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution calling on
the Government to aid the Back-to-African movement; between March and May 1954 the
Opposition PNP pressed for Government to invite Haile Selassie; and in November 1954, Gov-
ernment hosted a state visit from President Tubman of Liberia.
19. For a fuller presentation of his activities see my "Repairer of the Breach", in Frances Henry
(editor), Ethnicities in the Americas (The Hague: Mouton, 1976).
20. The derivation of Babylon and Beast is Biblical. See the Book of Revelation. Man refers to a
person of integrity and authenticity. Rastas refer to themselves as I man, and to another person
as di man. Men is the opposite of man. For a brief explanation of Rasta talk, see Owens (1970),
21. (London: Bogle-L'Ouverture, 1969).
22. Olive Senior, The Message is Change: a Perspective of the 1972 General Election (Kingston:
Kingston Publishers Limited, 1972), quoted in Adam Kuper (1976), p. 105.
23. Seaga studied folk religion in West Kingston, which he represented in Parliament.
24. To borrow a phrase of Ken Post.
1. Braithwaite, Lloyd, "Social Stratification in Trinidad: an analysis". Social and Economic
Studies 2 (2-3), 1953.
2. Delisser, H. G., Twentieth Century Jamaica, Kingston: Jamaica Times 1913.
3. van Dijk, Frank Jan, "The Twelve Tribe of Israel: Rasta and the middle-class", New West Indian
Guide 62 (1-2), 1988.
4. Girvan, Norman, "The Political Economy of Race in the Americas' in Rupert Lewis and Patrick
Bryan, Garvey: His Work and Impact, Kingston: University of the West Indies, 1988.
5. Gordon, Derek, "Race, Class and Social Mobility in Jamaica", in Rupert Lewis and Patrick
Bryan, Garvey: His Work and Impact. Kingston: University of the West Indies, 1988.
6. Henriques, Fernando, Family and Colour in Jamaica. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1952.
7. van Kessel, Joop and Andre Droogers, "Secular views and sacred vision: sociology of develop-
ment and the significance of religion in Latin America", in Philip Quarles van Ufford and
Matthew Schoffeleers, Religion and Development: towards an integrated approach. Am-
sterdam, Free University Press, 1988.
8. Kuper, Adam, Changing Jamaica. London & Boston: Routeledge & Kegan Paul, 1976.
9. Manley, Rachel (editor), Edna Manley: the Diaries. London: Andre Deutsch, 1989.
10. Mills, Charles, "Race and Class: Conflicting or Reconcilable Paradigms? Social and Economic
Studies 36 (2), 1987.
11. Munroe, Trevor, The Politics of Constitutional Decolonization: Jamaica 1944-62. King-
ston: Institute of Social and Economic Research, 1972.
12. Nettleford, Rex, Mirror, Mirror: Identity, Race and Protest In Jamaica. Kingston: Collins-
13. "This Matter of Melanin: Calling a spade a spade". The Jamaican Record, Sunday,
March 19, 1989.
14. van Nieuwenhuijze, C. A. 0., "Development Regardless of Culture?" in C. A. 0. van Nieuwenhuijze
(editor) Development Regardless of Culture? Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1984.
15. Norris, Katrin, Jamaica: The Search for an Identity. Institute of Race Relations; London:
Oxford University Press, 1962.
16. Owens, Joseph, Dread: The Rastafarians of Jamaica. Kingston: Sangster, 1976.
17. Patterson, H. Orlando, The Sociology of Slavery. London: MacGibbon & Kee, 1967.
18. Phillips, Peter, "Race, Class and Nationalism: A Perspective on Twentieth Century Social
Movements in Jamaica", Social and Economic Studies 37 (3), 1988.
19. Pollard, Velma, "Dread Talk The Speech of Rastafari in Modem Jamaican Poetry". Paper
presented at ACLALS Silver Jubilee Conference, University of Kent, Canterbury, August 24-
20. Post, K. W. J., Arise Ye Starvelings: The Jamaica Labour Rebellion of 1938 and its
Aftermath. The Hague, Boston and London: Nijhoff, 1978.
21. Quarles van Ufford, Philip and Matthew Schoffeleers (editors), Religion and Development:
Towards an Integrated Approach. Amsterdam: Free University Press, 1988.
22. Richardson, Mary F., "Out of Many, One People Aspiration or Reality?: An Examination
of the Attitudes to the Various Racial and Ethnic Groups within the Jamaican Society". Social
and Economic Studies 32 (3), 1983.
23. Roberts, George and Sonja Sinclair, Women in Jamaica: Patterns of Reproduction and
Fertility. New York: KTO Press, 1978.
24. Robotham, Don, Ethics and Ethnicity. University of the West Indies, (forthcoming).
25. Smith, M. G., The Plural Society of the British West Indies. Berkeley, University of California
26. Stavenhagen, Rodolfo, "Ethnodevelopment: A neglected dimension in development thinking",
in R. Apthorpe and A. Krahl, Development Studies: Critique and Renewal. Leiden: E. J. Brill,
27. Stone, Carl, Electoral Behaviour and Public Opinion in Jamaica. Kingston: Institute of
Social and Economic Research, 1974.
THROUGH THE PEOPLE'S EYES:
C. L. R. JAMES'S RHETORIC OF HISTORY
CONSUELO LOPEZ SPRINGFIELD
"The black people, on the basis of their own
experiences, approach the conclusions of
C. L. R. James,
1948 Minority Proposal
West Indians are team players, C. L. R. James asserted, fighters for democratic
rights, and masters of English language, Common Law, and literature. Born in the
diaspora, the product of an uneasy marriage between English and African civiliza-
tions, they carry not only the blatant scars of slavery but also the critical tools for
social progress. James's portrait of the West Indian people certainly mirrors his own
image. Eloquent, athletically accomplished, intellectually versatile, and passion-
ately militant, James personifies the intense fusion of European scholarship and the
grace and determination of the cricketer. His intellectual tendencies led him to the
elite ranks of literary and political circles. His blackness, coupled with a fervid
hatred for class oppression, drove him to find in the communities of common people
that very movement within society that expresses socialism.'
As British and classical education provided James with the tools for recording
proletarian history, European Marxism gave him a theoretical basis for interpreta-
tion. It was contact with the working class, however, that enabled him to understand
the currents of history. "I knew all the finest books of Western civilization," James
said; but "exposure" to ordinary Trinidadian people "who were alive" offered a
"special social education".' Between the ages of ten and eighteen, James's self
image was that of a warrior battling Puritanism, British literature, and cricket
"against the realism of West Indian life".3 Cricket gave him access to the working
class and led to a prevalent role: the people's interpreter of social history. Years later,
his voice weakened by age and by the exhaustion of constant travel, James spoke of
a small group of boys who "would come to me and ask me about my books and what
they should read"; and, he added, "they would keep me in touch with ordinary
people".4 So, too, did the groundsmen at the cricket field with whom James spoke
everyday between 3:15 and 4:15 and on Sundays. "They respected me because I
respected them," James said proudly; "they knew that I was quite straight-forward
in what I said in the press and I heard one of them say, "One thing we depend on from
James is that he's always saying something".5 These followers of sport, his instruc-
tors in the ways of "common folk", were the people James cherished; it was to them
he turned to populate his fictional settings.6 In the drama of human history, more-
over, they were its leading protagonists. Through their eyes, James attempted to
understand the laws of nature and of men and to synthesize the two into one great,
Intensely bored with the Victorian values of his middle-class family, James,
nevertheless, succeeded his father as a teacher in government service. He hated the
social and intellectual narrowness of his position, but few other careers were open
to blacks. Under the watchful eyes of the district warden, "a white man", and the
Catholic and Anglican priests who "overlooked" the schools, government servants,
like James, attended to apparent "good morals" and avoided political involvement.
To the young James who enjoyed rugged sports, intellectual scholarship, and social
discourse, it was a stifling atmosphere. By 1931, he began to take an interest in
colonial politics; this led to his writing The Life and Times of Captain Cipriani
which, at the time of its conception, caused his brother to warn, "you could end up
in jail".7 One year later, James left his teaching job, his family, friends, and his new
bride, Juanita Young, to embark on a writing career in England. Years would pass
before he returned home fortified in his role of revolutionary historian and activist.
James continued to reject not only the narrowness of middle-class culture but
also its intellectual confinement. Because he believed that all existing philosophies
"attempt the impossible: organizing in the mind what could only be organized in
society", he sought to understand how the working class emancipates itself by
complete opposition to "established society".8 James's "tool for analysis", accord-
ing to Kimathi Mohammed, a colleague of James, "was Marxist theory"; yet, "like
all tools, it had to be developed and perfected".9 His command of the intellectual
foundations of Western civilization supplied a framework for interpreting modern
social development. Combined, they enabled him to illustrate the roles of the great
masters as well as those of the masses in changing the outcome of history.
James admired visionaries who grasped the lessons of the past and present to
indicate future progress. Two political leaders, great pamphleteers and orators,
stood out among all others: Edmund Burke and V. I. Lenin. Emerging from Western
traditional thought, they embraced conflicting perceptions of social harmony and of
democratic order; but, to James, they articulated belief in the masses as the agents
of inevitable change. Burke, embodying late seventeenth-century sentiment, eight-