Vol. 46. No.2
Developments in African History and the African Diaspora at the
of the West Indies, (the UWI), 1968-1998: A Personal Odyssey.
Fitzroy Andre Baptiste
The Concert of the Caribbean in the Politics of Language regarding
Baits in the Caribbean : The Duchy of Courland's attempts to colo-
Tobago Island, 1638 to 1654
Contrasting Experiences of Blackness in Lowland Central America:
Case of Nicaragua
Double G(l)azing: Regarding a colonial imagination in Patrick Fer-
'The Traveler's Tree',
? + QOO
VOLUME 46, No .2
(Copyright reserved and reproduction without permission strictly forbidden.)
Developments in African History and the African Diaspora at the University 1
of the West Indies, (the UWI), 1968-1998: A Personal Odyssey
Fitzroy Andre Baptiste
The Concert of the Caribbean in the Politics of Language regarding The 16
Baits in the Caribbean The Duchy of Courland's attempts to colonize 25
Tobago Island, 1638 to 1654
Contrasting Experiences of Blackness in Lowland Central America: The 45
Case of Nicaragua
Double G(l)azing: Regarding a colonial imagination in Patrick Fermor's 67
'The Traveler's Tree'
Two Book Reviews by Patrick Taylor 85
Books Received 90
Notes on Contributors 93
Information for Contributors 94
UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES
The Hon. R.M. Nettleford, O.M. Vice Chancellor, Editor
Compton Boume, Principal, St. Augustine Campus, UWI
Sir Keith Hunte, Principal, Cave Hill Campus, UWI
Sir Roy Augier, Professor Emeritus,Dept. of History, Mona
Neville McMorris, Dept. of Physics, Mona
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Abstract and Index 1949-1990 and 1991-1996 Author Keyword and Subject
Index available. The journal is abstracted by AES and indexed by HAPI
Caribbean Quarterly, Volume 46, number 2, June, 2000 comprises five
articles and a book review. Jan Carew (quoted on page 70, this volume) states
that: It is our duty to rewrite the history of our people. It is a task that could very
well last two and a half centuries" All the articles in this volume perform this "duty"
they challenge the colonial viewpoint be it expressed historically, linguistically,
racially, religiously or culturally They also give the reader insight into how the
Caribbean has molded and formed these concepts into a distinctly Caribbean
The first essay is a highly personalized one written by Fitzroy Andre
Baptiste, Developments in African History and the African Diaspora at the Univer-
sity of the West Indies, (the UWI), 1968-1998: A Personal Odyssey This essay is
of significant importance for persons engaged in the quest of discovery of self, of
region and of history The author states that the essay concerns itself with "the
establishment and development of African Studies within our regional institution.
Part of the odyssey reveals the academic politics that bedevils The UWI (and all
Universities). However, there are successes... History will be the final judge" The
essay concludes with recommendations for future developments in the field.
In "The Concert of the Caribbean in the Politics of Language regarding
The Bandung Peoples" by Keith Baird the author notes "The Caribbean region as
a socio-political entity is the creation of European imperialist design and activity,
and is intimately involved in the politics of language. After exploring this concept he
postulates that: The acts of domination by linguistic means have occurred over
centuries, and in one form or another still continue" The author states that one aim
of the paper is to stimulate a preliminary discussion of this phenomenon and he
also makes some suggestions as to how the damage wrought on Bandung
peoples by sustained verbal abuse may be reduced, and recurrences prevented.
Baird concludes that the Caribbean with its diversity of peoples and cultures is a
fitting laboratory for the study and treatment of the mental traumas and intellectual
dislocations inflicted on Bandung peoples by means of colonialist discourse.
The article, Baits in the Caribbean The Duchy of Courland's attempts to
colonize Tobago Island, 1638 to 1654 by Karin Jekabson, researches some little
known historical incidents and by using Latvian archives and documents chronicles
the Duchy of Courland's three attempts to colonize Tobago Island from 1638 to
1654. The author asks how the attempts were made by this tiny independent Baltic
Sea duchy, and what were their consequences.
Contrasting Experiences of Blackness in Lowland Central America: The
Case of Nicaragua by Gail McGarrity examines what she terms "another artificial
and irrational distinction that has been made between a predominantly black or
African descended Caribbean and a predominantly mestizo / white or Spanish
Latin America". The essayist points out that this series of reflections on the
complexity of the African presence in Nicaragua is presented in the tradition of the
great African American anthropologist St. Clair Drake, who inculcated her with the
determination to consistently challenge dogmas and categories.
The last article, Double G(l)azing: Regarding a colonial imagination in
Patrick Fermor's 'The Traveler's Tree' by Michael Burke, demonstrates the insidi-
ousness of colonialism. He argues that, despite what Fermor claims or disclaims,
The Traveller's Tree is inextricably embedded in another story, as it is in fact a
chapter in the geography of a larger colonial project of power and control, and that
Fermor, whether on an "official" basis or not, was an agent of the colonial project
and that his "images and imaginings" were not harmless when constructed in the
Caribbean nor when consumed at the metropole. Burke also points out that Fermor
was no stranger to covert surveillance or clandestine military operations and
served in such a capacity in Greece during the second World War
Finally, a book review by Patrick Taylor of two texts, on the scope,
complexity and importance of Christianity in the history of the Anglophone Carib-
bean which is richly demonstrated in these two books. Taylor posits that though
these two books are very different they share a fundamental concern with under-
standing the ways in which Caribbean peoples have moulded Christianity in terms
of their own experiences.
E nOmero 2 del Volumen 46 del Caribbean Quarterly de junio del ano 2000
comprende articulos y una resena de libro. Segin Jan Carew (citado en la pagina
70 de este volumen: Es nuestro deber re-escribir la historic de nuestro pueblo. Es
una tarea que bien podria tardar dos siglos y medio. Todos los articulos en este
volume, cumplen con este deber retan a la perspective colonial manifestada en lo
hist6rico, lo linguistico, lo racial, lo religioso o lo cultural. Tambien le proporcionan al
lector el conocimiento de c6mo el Caribe ha disenado y convertido estos concepts
en una expresi6n que es singularmente Caribeha.
El primer ensayo es uno muy personal escrito por Fitzroy Andre Baptiste,
Developments in African History and the African Diaspora at the University of the
West Indies (UWI), 1968 1998: A Personal Odyssey (Sucesos en la Historia
Africana y la Diaspora Africana en la Universidad de las Antillas, 1968 1998: Una
odisea personal). Este ensayo tiene una importancia significativa para aquellas
personas involucradas en la busqueda del autodescubrimiento, de la region y de la
historic. El autor declara que el ensayo se preocupa de: El establecimiento y el
desarrollo de los Estudios Africanos dentro de nuestra instituci6n regional. La
odisea en parte descubre la political academic que aflige la UWI (y cualquier
Universidad). Sin embargo, hay exitos... La Historia sera el juez final. El ensayo
terminal con recomendaciones de desarrollos futures en el campo.
En The Concert of the Caribbean in the Politics of Language regarding The
Bandung Peoples, (El Concierto del Caribe en las Politicas Linguisticas con
respect a los Pueblos Bandung) por Keith Baird, el autor senala que: La region
caribeia como entidad sociopolitica es la creacion del diseho y la actividad
imperialista europea y estb intimamente involucrada en las political linguisticas.
Despues de explorer este concept, declara que: los actos de dominaci6n lin-
guistica han estado ocurriendo desde hace siglos y continuaran de una forma u
otra. Segun el autor, un objetivo de su trabajo es fomentar una discusi6n preliminary
de este fen6meno y tambien hace algunas sugerencias en cuanto a c6mo reducir
el dano causado por el abuso verbal sostenido y la prevenci6n de recurencias
entire los pueblos Bandung. Baird concluye que el Caribe con su diversidad de
pueblos y cultures es un laboratorio adecuado para el studio y tratamiento de los
traumas mentales y deslocaciones intelectuales causados a los pueblos Bandung
por medio del discurso colonialista.
El articulo, Baits in the Caribbean: The Duchy of Courlands attempts to
colonize Tobago island. 1638 to 1654 por Karin Jekabson investiga algunos
incidents histbricos poco conocidos por medio de los archives y documents
Latvios represent los tres esfuerzos del Duque de Courland para colonizar la isla
de Tabago entire 1638 a 1654. El autor pregunta como se realizaron estos
esfuerzos por este pequeno pueblo independiente del Mar Baltico.
Contrasting Experiences of Blackness in Lowland Central America: the
Case of Nicaragua (Experiencias Conflictivas de la Negritud en la Amercia Central:
el Caso de Nicaragua) por Gail McGarrity examine lo que ella denomina otra
distinci6n artificial e irracional que se ha hecho entire un Caribe mayormente negro
o desendientes de africano y una America Latina predominantemente mes-
tiza/blanca o espanola. La ensayista senala que esta series de reflecciones sobre
la complejidad de la presencia africana en Nicaragua se present en la tradici6n
del gran antropologo afroamericano St Clair Drake, quien la inculc6 con la deter-
mincaci6n de retar de modo consistent las dogmas y categories.
El articulo final Double G(l)azing: Regarding a Colonia Imagination in
Patrick Fermors the Travelers Tree por Michael Burke, de nuestra lo peligroso que
es el colonialismo. Argumenta, que a pesar de lo que Fermor declara o rechaza,
the Travelers Tree yace inextricablemente en otra historic ya que de hecho es un
capitulo en la geografia de un proyecto colonial mayor de poder y control y que
Fermor sea de base official o no, fue una gente del proyecto colonial y que sus
imagenes y imaginaciones no causaban daho al construirse en el Caribe ni cuando
esta consumido en el metropolis. Burke tambien seiala que Fermor no era ningun
extranjero como para convertir de la supervision o operaciones militares clandesti-
nas y trabajo en tal capacidad en Grecia durante la segunda Guerra Mundial.
Finalmente, hay una reseia de libro por Patrick Taylor de dos textos sobre
el alcance, la complejidad y la importancia del cristiandad en la historic del Caribe
anglofono que se demuestra muy bien en estos dos libros. Taylor argument que
a pesar de que estos dos libros se han muy diferentes, comparten la preocupacion
fundamental de la manera en que los pueblos caribeios han diserado la cristian-
dad en terminos de sus propios y experiencias.
Ce numero 2 du Volume 46 de Caribbean Quarterly content cinq articles et
un compte-rendu critique. Comme la dit Jan Carew, cite a la page 70 de ce numero,
< il est de notre devoir de reecrire I'histoire de notre people. C'est une tache qui
pourrait tries bien durer deux siecles et demi Tous les articles publics dans ce
numero remplissent ce ( En effet, ils contestent le point de vue colonial
que ce soit du point de vue historique, linguistique, racial, religieux ou cultural. Ils
donnent aussi au lecteur une idee de la maniere don't la region des Caraibes a
model et elabore ces concepts en une expression nettement caraibeenne.
Le premier article, intitule La Diaspora africaine de IUniversite des West
Indies (UWI) et les evolutions en Histoire africaine, de 1968 a 1998, present le
point de vue tries subjectif de Fiztroy Andre Baptiste. C'et essai aura une important
signification pour ceux qui pour suivent la quete pour la decouverte de soi, de la
region et de 'histoire. Selon I'auteur, cet essai se preoccupe essentiellement de (
mise en place et I'evolution des etudes africaines dans notre institution regional.
Une parties de cette odyssee revele les intrigues academiques qui perturbent I'Uni-
versite des West Indies (ainsi que toutes les universities Pourtant, il y a des
reussites... L'Histoire sera done le seuljuge> L'article s achieve par des recomman-
dations pour I'evolution a venir dans ce domaine.
Dans I'article de Keith Baird, intitule (
politique linguistique concernant les peuples de Bandung>, ce dernier fait remarquer
concue et mise en ceuvre par limperialisme europeen, et etroitement imbriquee
dans une politique linguistique. Apres avoir explore ce concept, il formule le postulat
selon lequel <(la domination par des moyens linguistiques s'est exercee durant des
siecles et continue de le faire sous une forme ou une autre Aussi I'auteur
declare-t-il qu'un des objectifs de son article est dinciter a une discussion prelimi-
naire de ce phenomene. II fait egalement quelques suggestions sur la fagon d'ont
on pourrait attenuer les dommages causes aux peuples de Bandung par des abus
de language prolongs et en empecher les recurrences. Baird conclut que les
Caralbes constituent un laboratoire approprie pour letude et le traitement des
traumatismes mentaux et des perturbations intellectuelles, infliges aux peuples de
Bandung par le discours colonialiste.
L'article de Karin Jekabson sur Les Baltes dans la region des Caraibes
Les tentatives du duche de Courland pour coloniser File de Tobago entire 1638 et
1654, est une recherche sur des incidents historiques peu connus et, en utilisant
les archives et des documents de Latvie, etablit la chronique des trois tentatives
faites par le duche de Courland pour coloniser lile de Tobago de 1638 a 1654
Lauteur demand comment ces tentatives ont pu etre fates par ce tout petit duche
de la mer baltique et quelles en ont ete les consequences.
Le quatrieme article, Contrastes dans I'experience des noirs dans les-
plaines d'Amerique central le cas du Nicaragua, examine ce que Gail McGarrity
predominance noire ou d'origine africaine et I'Amerique latine a predominance
metisse/blanche ou espagnole>>. L'auteur de I'essai signal que cette serie de
reflexions sur la complexity de la presence africaine au Nicaragua est presented
suivant la tradition du grand anthropologue afro-americain, Saint-Clair Drake qui lui
a inculque la volonte de contester les dogmes recus et les categories preetablies.
Dans le dernier article, Double fixation/vitrification De I'imagination coloni-
ale dans The Travellers Tree (L'arbre du voyageur) de Patrick Fermor, Michael
Burke demontre le caractere insidieux du colonialisme En effet, en depit de ce
que Fermor revendique ou denie, The Travellers Tree est inextricablement insere
dans une autre histoire puisqu'il represent, en fait, un chapitre de la geographic
d'un project colonial plus vaste, de pouvoir et de contrele. De plus, que se soit sur
une base officielle ou non, Fermor etait un agent du project colonial et done ses
) n'etaient pas inoffensives lorsquelles etaient
elaborees dans les Caraibes ou consommees dans la metropole. Burke fait
egalement remarquer que Fermor n'etait pas stranger a la surveillance a couvert
ou aux operations militaires clandestines. C'est dailleurs a ce titre qu'il a travaille
en Grece lors de la Deuxieme guerre mondiale.
Enfin, Patrick Taylor nous propose le compte-rendu critique de deux
ouvrages qui demontrent abondamment I'envergure, la complexity et I'importance
du christianisme dans I'histoire de la Carafbe anglophone. Taylor advance que,
malgre leur difference, ces deux livres partagent une preoccupation fondamentale
qui est de comprendre comment les peuples caraibeens ont fagonne le christian-
isme a partir de leurs propres experiences.
Redacteur en chef.
Developments in African History and The African Diaspora at
The University of the West Indies, (the UWI), 1968-1998:a
FITZROY ANDRE BAPTISTE
We must acknowledge that we would not be into African Studies in the
Caribbean and the Hemisphere today, without the 11-15 millions of our African
ancestors who were forcibly transported from their Homelands in West and Central
Africa, to experience a near 400-year holocaust of slavery in the Americas. When
I used the word holocaust to describe the trans-Atlantic slave trade and New World
slavery in a presentation in Toronto in June 1998,1 a Jewish Professor at a North
American University slided up to me and virtually told me that Jews have a
monopoly on that word in relation to their experience under Hitler's Nazi regime. I
politely answered to the Professor that African and black people have as much or
greater proprietary right to the word as Jews, with whose experience we as a
people empathize. Let us pay "nuff respect" to our ancestors in slavery and in
freedom, whose blood laid the foundations for our societies and our 'livity' today
In the 18th century, a first generation of educated Africans astride the
Atlantic World inaugurated an intellectual tradition in African Studies, including
what today we call African Diaspora. The first generation of writers included:
(1)Anton Wilhelm Amo, Born in the then Gold Coast (today's Ghana) in
1703, he was taken to Holland in 1707 as a slave-boy by an employee of the Dutch
Company in the West African commerce. By processes which need not be
recounted, Amo entered the household of a German prince who, recognizing his
intellectual capability, sponsored his education up to University level at Halle,
Wittenberg, and, probably, Helmstedt. He later taught at the first two and Jena.
Amo's B.A. degree dissertation at Halle in 1727-1729 was titled "De Jure Maurorum
in Europa" or "About the Rights of Africans in Europe" whose legal system, he
noted, was derived from the Ancient Roman one. Amo went on to get his Ph.D.
degree at Wittenberg in 1734. The Gold Coast-born African in the diaspora in
Europe of the Enlightenment documented his 'African consciousness' by always
affixing the word "Afer" or "Africa" to his name.
(2) James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, author of A Narrative of the
Most Remarkable Particulars in the Life of James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, an
African Prince as related by himself. It was published in 1770 in Barts, England.
Reputedly born in Bornu, Nigeria, the writer set down his diasporic experience in
the New World, including Barbados.
(3)Phillis Wheatley, the African-American female poet and author of
Poems on Various Subjects Religious and Moral. The work was written in Boston,
Massachusetts, in the formative USA but published in London in 1773. According
to the publisher, Wheatley was sold into slavery when a mere 7-8 years of age.
(4)Ignatius Sancho, whose Letters was published in London in 1782 after
his death. Born on a slave ship in 1729, we are told, Sancho came to England
when 2 years of age and rose to become butler to the Duke and Duchess of
Montagu. In their will, the British aristocrats provided for Sancho's freedom.
(5)and (6) Ottobah Cugoano and Olaudah Equiano. Their respective
works were Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicket Traffic of the Slavery
and Commerce of the Human Species; and The Interesting Narrative of the Life of
Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa the African. The manuscripts were publish-
ed in London in 1787 and 1789, in the context of the birth of the trans-Atlantic
Abolition Movement. Both Cugoano and Equiano were reportedly sold into slavery
to the New World when about 12/13 years old. The former's "home" was the Gold
Coast; and the latter's Iboland, Nigeria.
Writings and activities about Africa and the diaspora by black people
escalated in the 19th century, in the context of the long march of Abolitionism in the
Atlantic world; the notorious Berlin Conference of 1884-5, which placed the stamp
of legality on the North Atlantic scramble and partitioning of the African Continent;
of the "roll-back" of Emancipation including Jim Crowism by the same interests, in
the United States; and a new version of Scientific Racism called Eugenics. Eugen-
ics declared itself to be a science for social-engineering a country's genetic pool in
order to achieve the presumed most positive "stocks" around the North Atlantic tier
The eugenic means adopted in the United States, Canada and Latin
America came to include selective pro-white immigration; cutting the Fallopian
tubes of African, native American and poor white women; and the syphilis experi-
ment on poor African-American men in Alabama. In retrospect, the last two were
strategies of racial/ethnic cleansing and genocide analogous to contemporary
happenings in the Balkans of Europe and Rwanda-Burundi in Central Africa.
Between 1800 and 1900, a battery of sons and daughters of the African
diaspora in the Caribbean and the Americas sounded a continuing theme of
intellectual and organizational resistance to the oppressors of the Atlantic system.
They included, in Africa-America, Paul Cuffe, Frederick Douglass, Gabriel Prosser,
Denmark Vesey, Martin Delaney, and A.M.E. Bishop McNeal Turner as well as
Sojourner Truth, Harriet "Moses" Tubman, Ellen Craft, the mother and daughters
Delaney and Margaret and Charlotte Forten.
The Caribbean was represented by John Russwurm and Robert Campbell
of Jamaica, Edward Blyden of the Danish West Indies; and Canon Phillip H.
Douglin of Trinidad. Russwurm, who graduated from Bowdoin University in Maine,
USA in 1826, was an activist in the US Emancipation struggle. He also made the
Back-to-Africa trip to Liberia in the 1830s, contributing to journalism there. Robert
Campbell also was in the United States, from where he migrated to Lagos, Nigeria.
There, he engaged in journalism and contributed to the growth of the Nigerian and
West African anti-colonial movement against Britain.2
The least known of this Caribbean triad is Canon Douglin. He is the
grandfather of Rawle Douglin, the outgoing Bishop of the Anglican Church in
Trinidad and Tobago. The Bishop and his family were kind enough to open up the
family and Anglican Church archives, to enable a St. Augustine student, Shirley
Mark-Mason, to research the life and career of his grandfather in the second half of
the 19th century for her Caribbean Studies. The result was eye-opening. One of
the "Liberated Africans" to enter Trinidad and the Caribbean from the Sierra
Leone-Gambia-Liberia region of West Africa just before or after Emancipation in
our territories in 1834-1838, Douglin joined the ministry of the then Established
African Church in Trinidad. He was sent back to the Rio Pongos by his Church to
proselytize the Christian Faith in the 1860s. That he did, but ran foul of Church and
State on account of his view that the time had come for Africans and blacks to take
over the leadership of the Church in Africa. This earned him deportation back to
Trinidad. There, he rose to become the first black Canon of the Anglican
Church, with a base in Princes Town. He used the pulpit and the press to lecture
on the history of Africa and the diaspora. He also participated actively in the annual
Emancipation Commemoration, before it was banned by the British Authorities in
favour of the Eurocentric Discovery Day In 1888, on the 50th anniversary of
Emancipation in 1838, Douglin gave a major address on African History and
Pan-Africanism. Mark-Mason and another student pulled the text from the micro-
film of a local newspaper and incorporated it in their Caribbean Studies papers.3
By 1888 and for the next 70 years, the era of Pan African Congresses
prevailed. The era also saw a climax to Pan-Africanism and to Back-to-Africa
movements. The Caribbean contribution to these processes are well-known and
need not detain us: Robert Love, Marcus Garvey and Claude McKay of Jamaica;
Richard B. Moore of Barbados; and Henry Sylvester Williams and George Pad-
more of Trinidad and Tobago. Their United States contemporaries included
Booker T Washington (BWT was a Pan-Africanist, despite his stereotype as an
"Uncle Tom") and W.E.B. Du Bois. 4
1945 into the 1960s marked the stage of decolonization of constitutional
engineering by the British to hand over power to successors in the colonies in
Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. In the United States, the Rosa Parks or Martin
Luther King-led Civil Rights Movement was at a new flush of activism. In this
context, the British Government decided to set up new Universities Colleges in
Nigeria (Ibadan); the Gold Coast, later Ghana (Legon); East Africa (Makerere); and
in Jamaica, British Caribbean (The UWI, Mona). Those University Colleges were
affiliated initially to the "mother" University of London in Britain.
This "academic engineering" was a vital component of the overall British
design of decolonization. The mandate of the British Professors that staffed the
new University Colleges such as our founding UWI was to teach courses on
"Britain and Europe in Africa and the Caribbean" 5 Hugh Trevor-Roper, Professor
Regius of Oxford, pronounced the Eurocentric canon in 1963:
(The African past was nothing more than the)
"unrewarding gyrations of barbarous tribes in pic-
turesque comers of the globe History is essen-
tially a form of movement, and purposive
movement too Perhaps, in the future, there will
be some African history but at present there is
none: there is only the history of the Europeans in
Walter Rodney of Guyana entered the scene about this time and began to
establish a new canon concerning the history of Africa, especially of Black Africa,
at The UWI. Here I and all of us pay tribute to this pioneer of African History within
our UWI system. He also pioneered a tradition of outreach into the community for
University teachers in the field of African History and African Studies. He paid a
first price, namely expulsion from Jamaica in 1968. He paid a second and ultimate
price, namely political assassination by the Burnham regime for his politics of trying
to bridge the divide between the African and Indian elements in his native Guyana.
I began my career in African Studies in October 1968 at the St. Augustine
Campus of our University, in the midst of a crisis surrounding Walter Rodney's
expulsion from Jamaica by the Shearer Government. Staff and students of St.
Augustine were marching in Port of Spain in protest against the Government of
Jamaica's action against Rodney Within Trinidad and Tobago and regionally,
"Black Power" was in the air In early 1970, the Government of Eric Williams was
hit by the double bombshell of the "Black Power Uprising" and the Mutiny in the
Regiment or Army 8
In this charged atmosphere, Patrick Emmanuel and William "Bill"
Riviere, two of my best friends and colleagues at St. Augustine, were nabbed in the
State of Emergency dragnet of the Williams Government and detained at Nelson
Island in the Chaguaramas Peninsula for alleged "subversive" activities. True to
friendship, I would accompany Patrick Emmanuel's then wife (Bill's wife was
pregnant and could not travel) to Nelson Island, to see Patrick and Bill. For doing
so, I began to feel the political heat. As a Grenadian, the University had applied for
and had been granted a Work Permit for me to work at the regional institution.
Notwithstanding, Trinidad and Tobago Immigration began requiring me to visit their
headquarters in Port of Spain monthly in order to have my status in the country
"validated" This was occurring in the later half of 1970 and into 1971, when
Professor Lloyd Brathwaite, then new Principal of the St. Augustine Campus,
intervened and put Trinidad and Tobago Immigration in its place. He had heard of
my situation, he later told me, from a colleague. He summoned me to his office;
and received confirmation from me. He instructed me that on my next visit I should
ask to speak directly with the Chief Immigration Officer and remind him of my status
in Trinidad and Tobago as an employee of The UWI under a valid Permit issued by
his Office and the Government of Trinidad and Tobago. Further, I was to tell the
Chief Immigration that, if his Office and the Government of Trinidad and Tobago
had evidence of activities of my part that placed my status under question, they
were to inform him and the University in the established procedure. I did as told.
Trinidad and Tobago Immigration and, behind them the Ministry of National Secu-
rity as I later learnt, stopped harassing me and my family Professor Brathwaite
and Patrick Emmanuel have passed on. Allow me to pay my respect and yours, I
am sure, to them. Our respect, too, to Bill Riviere, who has paid a heavy price for
In the wake of the US invasion of Grenada in 1984 an episode that I
criticized on Trinidad and Tobago Television on grounds of international law the
Seaga Government of Jamaica meted out another dose of visa treatment to me. I
had to get an entry visa every time that I went for meetings of the University
Committees and of the Staff Union, the West Indian Group of University Teachers
(WIGUT), which were frequent. Once the Jamaican High Commission in Trinidad
and Tobago told me that the visa would be with Immigration, when I would arrive in
Jamaica. It was not there. I was pulled out of the line; taken into the Office of
Manley Airport; and subjected to the most humiliating treatment, as if I were some
terrorist. The then Vice Chancellor of the UWI was informed of the episode, but did
Let me get back to the crazy political atmosphere of Trinidad and Tobago
of the late 1960s and the early 1970s, when African Studies got off the ground
within the Eric Williams-conceived Unit or Institute of Afro-Asian Studies. At the
time of the "Black Power Uprising" and the Mutiny in the Regiment, a member of my
foundation class in African Studies (History and Government and Politics in West
Africa, including the theme of military coup d'etat), was an officer in the Trinidad
and Tobago Regiment. It was alleged by the Black Power activists that he was
involved in the Regiment conspiracy to overthrow the Williams Government and
had leaked information about the plot to the Government at the last moment. I was
then ordered by some of the Black Power elements to fail him in his examinations.
I looked at them in the eye and told them "No". He would pass or fail on the basis
of his work and not because of politics, I said. 9
Then there was an academic colleague now a Professor Emeritus -
who offered me a lift in his car one day I accepted. Within the compound of the
Campus, he proceeded to accuse me of teaching "Black Power" in my classes.
ordered him to stop his car; told him that he was a Fascist fool; invited him to sit in
at my classes anytime; and got out of his car and walked off.10 The pressures
came from the Left and the Right of the political spectrum. I was firm on maintain-
ing the middle ground of sanity
Needless to say, the political climate of the day impacted adversely on the
development of the African and Asian Studies Programme at St. Augustine.
Though he was the brain behind the "Afro-Asian Studies" concept at St. Augustine,
Williams and the PNM had a concern lest the search for identity by the African and
Asian (Indian) components in newly-independent Trinidad and Tobago might end
up in what he termed "Mother Africa" and "Mother India" and, thereby, detract from
the goal of nation-building. Rattled by the "Black Power Uprising" the Williams
Government set up a Commission to examine the existing curriculum at the
secondary level. The Commission was asked to make recommendations as to
revisions. Appointed to head the Commission was the Reverend Pedro Valdez, a
well-known local educationalist and then Principal of the 'prestige' St. Mary's
College. The Valdez commission reported that it saw a place for "Afro-Asian
Studies" within the curriculum of some new Junior and Senior Secondary Schools
then about to come on stream under a Government of Trinidad and Tobago and
World Bank arrangement.
An "Afro-Asian" component, the Commission advised, should be incorpo-
rated into a projected Social Studies programme in the Junior Schools; while, in the
Senior ones, courses in History, Geography and International Relations should
have an "Afro-Asian" component. Moreover, there should be opportunities pro-
vided within Junior and Senior Secondary Schools for more language teaching.
Such language teaching should embrace not only French and Spanish, but also an
African language and an Indian language. The overall aim, the Valdez Commis-
sion, said, should be "to use Afro-Asian Studies and cultural forms to foster an
appreciation for our national unity and not to produce divisions. The Williams
Government never implemented the recommendations of the Valdez Commis-
Some twenty years down the road, the Patrick Manning, PNM Government
set up another curriculum-reform Commission, headed by Carol Keller, noted
member of The UWI Faculty of Education at St. Augustine. The Commission was
bombarded with proposals from UWI staff including Brinsley Samaroo and myself,
supported by African and Indian organizations in the national community, to intro-
duce courses in the history of Africa and Asia as well as courses in Yoruba and
Hindi within a new Multicultural Studies Design. Keller and his Commission de-
clined to recommend 12 To this day, this very important curriculum objective
remains unfulfilled in the Primary and Secondary School levels of the education
system of race-divided Trinidad and Tobago. "Race" was a four-letter word that
people in Trinidad, especially people of African descent, did not want to hear That
is, so long as PNM was in power. With PNM the political "outs" and Panday's
Indian-based UNC the political "ins" they are now ready to shout the word and,
indeed, to flaunt their "Africanness" in clothes etcetera.
However, the development of the African and Asian Studies programme at
St. Augustine was stymied by opposition from established Departments, especially
the powerful Department of History across the regional University I am the guest
of the Cave Hill arm of The UWI Department of History Accordingly, 'broughtupsy'
demands that I should not say anything about my troublesome relationship with the
Establishment of the UWI Department of History over the past 30 years. I have
recorded my experiences up to 1990 in three papers. One is entitled Caribbean
Studies at the University of the West Indies: 1963 to the Present (1979) From
Chaos towards Order It was tabled before the 24th Seminar on the Acquisition of
Latin American Library Materials or SALALM, which was held at the University of
California, Los Angeles, between 17 and 22 June, 1979 It was later published in
the SALALM book, Windward, Leeward and Main: Caribbean Studies and Library
Resources: Final Working Papers of the 24th Meeting. The second paper, unpub-
lished, is The State and Prospects of African-Caribbean Studies at The University
of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad. It was done at the request of UNESCO
for the Meeting of Experts on The African Negro Cultural Presence in the Carib-
bean and in North and South America. That meeting was held here in Barbados
between 21 and 25 January, 1980. The third, also unpublished, is entitled The
Prospects for Teaching and Research in African (Black) Diaspora Studies at The
University of the West Indies, St. Augustine. It was presented at a Roundtable on
Research and Teaching in African and Diaspora Studies in Atlanta, Georgia, USA
between I and 5 November, 1989. The Roundtable was organized by the Joint
Committee on African Studies of the American Council of Learned Societies and
the US Social Science Research Council.
Suffice to say that I had two difficulties with the UWI Establishment. One
was that they saw the African and Asian Studies Unit at St. Augustine as a rival for
staffing and funding. Accordingly, they set out to absorb Afro-Asian Studies into
the Empire of History, if not to kill it. Some of the pressure-tactics on me were
crude. One senior member of history threatened to block my upward career
movement within The UWI if, in his words, 'I did not play ball with History on the
Afro-Asian Studies matter' The implication was that I would get promotion with the
assistance of History, if I played ball. I ignored him. I got my promotion on my own
More importantly, certain members of the History Establishment and I had
vastly divergent visions for "Afro-Asian Studies" I saw it as multi- and inter-discipli-
nary In the words of one member, however, "Afro-Asian Studies" extended only to
a token course in the history of Africa and India, to pander to the sensitivity of the
respective constituencies in Trinidad and Tobago. Moreover, the member said that
he did not subscribe to the view that Africa especially had any history before the
onset of the European era. "We teach and research what we know and the raw
materials come only for archives" namely the European and colonial archives. A
true disciple of Trevor Roper.14
By 1990-2, the History Department achieved its goal of absorption of the
History part of Afro-Asian Studies. This amounted to two staff on the Unit's budget.
The other part on the Cultural Anthropology of Indian Communities Overseas was
given to the Department of Sociology. With it, Sociology added a staff in the form
of the Visiting Professor of Indian Studies, provided under an arrangement be-
tween the Governments of India and Trinidad and Tobago and The UWI since
1967 The scatterization of the original multi-disciplinary concept continued when
a position in Hindi, also provided by the Government of India, was assigned to the
Languages and Linguistics Department. It is now part of the Department of Liberal
Arts under the new Governance of 1995.
Long before 1990-2, however, I had decided to make the best of a bad
situation relating to "Afro-Asian Studies" Firstly, I engaged in outreach to the
community in Trinidad and Tobago. Before 1975, 1 delivered lectures on African
and West Indian history for Lloyd Best's TAPIA, A.N.R. Robinson's Democratic
Action Committee (DAC) and for Esmond Ramesar's Extra-Mural Department of
The UWI. Concerning the last, I would come from a day's work at the University;
board a taxi at St. Augustine-Curepe about 6.30 p.m. for San Fernando, lecture
and answer questions between 8 and 9.30 p.m. stay on till about midnight to
socialize with the very hospitable San Fernando folks; leave San Fernando by taxi
about midnight for Curepe; and return home in St. Augustine about 1.30 to 2.00
From 1975-6 till today, my outreach activities took in Trinidad and Tobago
African organizations such as Club L'Ouverture, the National Joint Action Commit-
tee (NJAC) and its research arm, the Caribbean Historical Society, the Traditional
African National Association (TANA) and the Emancipation Support Committee.
The leadership of the last three came out of the "Black Power" events of 1970.
Many of the leaders in 1970 were students at the St. Augustine Campus of the
UWI. A few of them then and afterwards had read African History with me. All of
us and others share a common interest in promoting knowledge of Africa and the
African diaspora in a society which, like Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean, is
very Eurocentric by its history and socialization.
NJAC, TANA and the Emancipation Support Committee have been instru-
mental in bringing noted Afrocentric scholars as Professor Ben Jochannan, Ivan
van Sertima, Hendrik Clark (recently deceased), Asa Hilliard and Leonard Jeffries
on lecture stints in Trinidad and Tobago. I have collaborated with them to bring
most of these scholars to lecture at St. Augustine. In 1984, TANA, then led by
Khafra Kambon, raised money from the business community of Trinidad and
Tobago for me to go to Egypt on a Ben Jochannan-led tour of the ruins of
Pharaonic Ancient Egypt. Since then, I have used the slides from that visit in my
teaching on African Civilizations in the UWI and at Universities in the United
In 1984 the Government of Trinidad and Tobago reinstated Emancipation
Day as a National Day In 1987-8, I teamed up with friends such as Patrick
Edwards (now Deputy High Commissioner of Trinidad and Tobago to the Court of
St. James in Britain), Ralph Henry (now at the CARICOM Development Bank),
Vernon Guischard of Club L'Ouverture, Khafra Kambon and the late Lancelot
Layne, to found the Confederation of African Associations of Trinidad and Tobago,
(COAATT) as the umbrella body for all African organizations in the country Soon
afterwards, COAATT was incorporated by Act of the Parliament of Trinidad and
Though the original ideal of COAATT has been sundered by factionalism
between some of its principal African founding bodies, COAATT under resourceful
leadership became a household name in connection with the annual Emancipation
Observance from 1988 to the recent past. With active support from successive
Governments of Trinidad and Tobago, COAATT brought a string of distinguished
sons and daughters of Africa and the diaspora to participate in the annual Emanci-
pation Observance. In 1988, the visitor was the Ooni of Ife, spiritual leader of the
Yoruba of Nigeria and their Orisa religion that was carried and reinterpreted in the
African diaspora to Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba and Brazil particularly The Ooni's
visit was the occasion for the first public worship of the Orisa Faith in Trinidad and
Tobago. The venue was the Jean Pieffe Stadium, within the larger National
Stadium Complex in Port of Spain. The worship was covered by the national
electronic and print media. Distinguished visitors in succeeding years included
Wole Soyinka in 1990 (his visit had to be cut short on account of the attempted
coup by the Muslimeen); Haiti's Minister of Education in 1991, on the occasion of
the 200th anniversary of the outbreak of the slave revolt in Saint Domingue and the
ensuing War of Haitian Independence; President Aristide of Haiti, in exile, on the
occasion of the 500th anniversary of Columbus' and the West's arrival in the
Americas; Mae Jemison, first female African-American in space in the US NASA
programme in 1993; Nigeria's Ambassadors to London and to the United Nations
in 1994 and 1995; and the Head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in 1997
The COAATT format for the Emancipation Observation comprised a Dis-
tinguished Lecture by the visitors on some issue of importance to the Black World;
an Ecumenical Service and Exhibitions on themes in the history of Africa and the
African Diaspora. Lloyd Best of Trinidad and Tobago and Professor Rex Nettleford
of Jamaica, gave Distinguished Emancipation Lectures. Exhibitions on the Saint
Domingue slave revolt and ensuing events in Haiti; on Afro-Spaniards who accom-
panied Columbus in his New World venture; on "Blacks in Science and Technol-
ogy" and on "The History of Ethiopia" were held in 1991, 1992, 1993 and 1997 in
honour of the visiting dignitaries.
Much to the chagrin of the extremist Africans in Trinidad and Tobago,
COAATT invited representatives of the Muslim and Hindu Faiths to take part in the
annual Emancipation Ecumenical Service. We went further The Muslim Mosque
in.St. Joseph and the Hindu Mandir in St. James were the venues of such Services,
This was COAATT's way of recognizing the plurality of Trinidad and Tobago, while
pursuing this specific African-consciousness agenda. In like manner, COAATT
supported the call of the Indian community in Trinidad and Tobago for Parliament
to legislate Arrival National Holiday, commensurate with Emancipation Day Fi-
nally, COAATT angered members of the Afro-Christian community in Trinidad and
Tobago when we called on Government to revise the heavy Christian and Eurocen-
tric bias in the calendar of national day. I personally felt the wrath of my fellow-wor-
shippers at a Fundamental Christian Church in Tunapuna for this, as well as for my
associations with "devilish orisa" people. I dealt with them by quoting the Scrip-
tures: "Judge not lest ye be judged"
Within The UWI, I collaborated with my professional colleagues at Cave
Hill and Mona to consolidate the teaching programme in African History I am
talking about Bernard Marshall, Paul Zeleza and Allister Hinds at Mona; and Alvin
Thompson, Alan Cobley and Richard Goodridge in Cave Hill. Of this group, I wish
to single out Alvin for special mention. For a long time, he and I were the sole
stabilizers at Cave Hill and St. Augustine. In the course of time, the regional team
of teachers in African history was broadened, especially at Cave Hill. Today, Cave
Hill, the youngest of the three UWI centres and the last to get into African History,
has the strongest core of African History specialists. It is appropriate that this core
has taken the initiative to mount the current lecture-series.
At St. Augustine, I began using the Caribbean Studies project to get
students into research on Africanisms in Trinidad and Tobago and elsewhere in the
region. To help this thrust, I reached out in the community to the expertise of
Professor J.D. Elder, lyalorisas Melvina Rodney, Molly Ahye, and Baba Forde of
the Orisa Faith; and Bishop Eudora Thomas of the Spiritual Baptist Faith. The
result has been some quality Caribbean Studies papers on this theme of African-
isms, especially with the introduction of teaching in African Diaspora in 1993-4.
Increasingly, students come up with the research ideas. Some have transformed
themselves into anthropologists, going into the field and producing research papers
on communities as the Boboshanties, the Nyabinghis and the Kabalists in Trinidad
At the postgraduate level, 1996 saw the award of the first Ph.D. for a thesis
that combined Caribbean (Trinidad and Tobago) history with African Diaspora.
The successful candidate is Claudius Kelvin Fergus. He replaced me at St.
Augustine while I was at Oberlin College in 1989-9 on a Fulbright award. Two other
Ph.D.'s on topics that are more clearly African diasporic are in the pipeline.
Emmanuel Kwaku Senah, who lectured in this series earlier, is neanng completion
of his study entitled "Trinidad and the West African Nexus in the Nineteenth
Century" Senah, who hails from Ghana, is using his intimate knowledge of the
cultures of the elastic frontier from modem east Ghana to West Nigeria to re-exam-
ine the findings of Andrew Carr and others on the Rada expression that is still
practised in Belmont, Port of Spain. The third Ph.D. in-making is that of Michael
Toussaint on Afro-West Indian Migration to the Spanish Main: The Trinidad-Vene-
zuela Referent in the Nineteenth Century" I must confess that this dimension of
diasporic history had missed me, till young Toussaint hit on it. We await his
completed thesis with keen anticipation.
From the preceding, it is clear that a stimulus at the undergraduate and
graduate levels has been a new thrust into the teaching of African Diaspora. Such
teaching began in 1993-4 at St. Augustine. Before this conjuncture, however, I had
given my first public lecture on "The Historical/Geographical Background to the
African Diaspora" in Cave Hill, Barbados in a 1969-70 series on the African
Diaspora or Africans Abroad. The series was part-sponsored by a Caribbean unit
of the Centre for Multi-Racial Studies of Sussex University That lecture was
followed by two others in the 1970s: "Africa and the West" delivered to the annual
conference of the History Teachers' Association of Trinidad and Tobago (1971);
and "The African (Black) Diaspora in Historical Times" in the "Africa Week" pro-
gramme of Club L'Ouverture at the Town Hall, San Fernando on 13 November,
1979. In 1989 and 1992, I had participated in US SSRC-sponsored Workshops on
teaching and research in African Diaspora at Atlanta, Georgia and at the University
of Ann Arbor Next, Howard's Black Diaspora Research Committee had afforded
me my first opportunity to teach two courses on The African Diaspora from earliest
times to 1800 C.E. and from 1800 C.E. to the present, during my Sabbatical Leave
from St. Augustine in 1989-1990. Colgate University had provided a second
opportunity to teach the latter course in the winter/spring semester of 1992; while
soon afterwards CONEXOES, the journal of Michigan State University's African
Diaspora Research Project, had published a "model" African Diaspora course,
done by me, for possible use by a wider academic community in and outside of the
It was this course on The African Diaspora from 1800 to the present in the
New World that reached St. Augustine in the second semester of 1993, on my
return from a year's leave at Colgate and in Nigeria. It was a touching moment in
my career There were about 70 students waiting to read this course. I took in all.
Teaching of the pre-1800 course, which examines the roots of negative imaging of
Africa, Africans and things "African" and "black" from Late Classical Times through
the Middle Ages to the Age of European Expansion in the West and East of the Old
World, began in the first semester of 1993-1994. The enrollment was about 60.
Thereafter, I had to impose a quota of not more than 50 for each course. The quota
has been filled so far With such class numbers, plus those in other African History
courses, the History Department assigned me three Assistants Claudius Fergus
and Michael Toussaint as Tutors in the Year I foundation courses in African
Civilizations and the Year III courses in African Diaspora, as well as Reginald
Clarke, senior librarian/Africanist, to teach the Year 11 course in the history of
Africa from 1800 to 1900 and from 1900 to the present. The enrollment in all the
African History/Diaspora courses at St. Augustine has been close to 100 in each
semester since 1993-4.
A feature of the assessment for both African Diaspora courses is a 15-
page coursework essay, inclusive of bibliography Students have a choice of
between 4 and 6 topics. The readings for each topic are extensive. They include
data on epistemology and pedagogy relating to African studies. Also new data are
always being fed in, for example, from my on-going research on "Africans in the
Indian Sub-continent" and on the imaging of "blackness" in the Islamic-Hindu
culture system of the Indian Sub-continent. I visited India between 15 December
1996 and 27 January 1997 and did archival and field research into this 'invisible'
aspect of the global African diaspora, astride the Indian Ocean and the Arabian
Sea before and after the onset of the Islamic era of world history To date, I have
published a 2-part article on my findings in Lloyd Best's Trinidad and Tobago
Review (second half of 1997). The article, with some revisions, has been re-pub-
lished in Africa Quarterly, journal of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations in
1998, at their request. The St. Augustine African Diaspora I class of 1997-8
benefitted from these findings.1
For African Diaspora II, we have added to the Library resources on areas
such as Black Women in Slavery and Freedom, including data from the Moorland-
Spingarm Library of Howard University; and on Blacks in Canada, with the help of
Mr and Mrs. Cordell Hull and Ms. Phyllis Shepherd, Trinidad and Tobago-born and
living in the West Indian diaspora in Canada. Currently, the data-bank on The Life
Conditions of Blacks astride the Atlantic World on the eve of the 21st century and
the new millennium is being built up.
The thrust into African Diaspora Studies at St. Augustine in 1993 has
influenced, partly, the structuring of a course on the Indian Diaspora there. It is
taught currently by Dr Ken Parmasad. Ken Parmasad has also benefited from
ground work laid by an unbroken chain of Visiting Professors of Indian Studies at
St. Augustine since 1967 under the Afro-Asian rubric. Indeed, Visiting Professor
Promode Misra pioneered a course in Indian Diaspora before his return in 1993 to
India. He then introduced such a course at his University He and other Visiting
Indian Professors to St. Augustine have been playing a role in the thrust into
teaching and research on the Indian Diaspora, within Universities and Centres in
India today. I visited a Centre for the Study of the Indian Diaspora at the University
of Hyderabad during my project on the African Diaspora in 1996-7 and maintain
links with it.
The thrust into African Diaspora at St. Augustine has also influenced the
start-up of similar courses in the History Departments at Mona, Jamaica, Cave Hill
and at the College of the Bahamas. I have shared my St. Augustine 'kit' which
included a Student Pack of materials, with my colleagues at these centres of our
University I have done likewise with colleagues at US Universities. Some are
from the West Indies. The University Libraries of Colgate and Oberlin are the
beneficiaries of a lot of materials on the history of Africa and of the African
Diasporas, collected by me in the past 30 years. Some are by transference from
the St. Augustine Library which, according to visiting Africanist friends, has a very
good Africana Studies Collection. I must pay tribute to the professional staff of the
St. Augustine Library for the part they have played in "30 Years of African Studies
at the UWI" at that Campus.
To conclude: I have done in this presentation something that is against my
natural character, namely talk about myself. However, I am in the autumn of my
University career; and I am grateful for the opportunity afforded me by my Cave Hill
colleagues to place on record my personal odyssey in this field of the establishment
and development of African Studies within our regional institution. Part of the
odyssey reveals the academic politics that bedevils The UWI (and all Universities).
However, there are successes or so I feel. History will be the final judge.
Where do we go from here? Personally, I want to put down some of my
work of these past 30 years in texts for students of The UWI and for a wider
Caribbean readership. Secondly, I want to ensure a smooth succession to me at
St. Augustine. My other wishes can only be realized with the co-operation of the
African Studies community of The UWI and beyond the University. I think the time
is ripe for us to establish a postgraduate degree programme in African Studies
across The UWI especially on African Diaspora. Relatedly, we should revive
ASAWI or The African Studies Association of The UWI, including the Bulletin or
Journal. Next, the University should give serious consideration to sending our
students reading African History on Study Abroad to countries as Ghana and
Nigeria. I was working on a Study Abroad to Ghana for the break of 1998, along
with a group of St. Augustine students and some interested persons in the wider
community However, the strike of our non-academic colleagues at St. Augustine,
as well as the unexpected award to me of a second Fulbright, put paid to this
project. The project should be revisited, but on a cross-Campus basis. Finally, we
should get together and plan a conference on "Africa in the Caribbean" early in the
new century and millennium. Cave Hill and Barbados must play a leading role in
the convening of such a conference. Historically, Barbados was the incubus of the
New World slavery-system. The territory is replete with the legacy of that system.
Currently, I know, there is an upsurge of interest in Africa and the Diaspora in
Barbados. Lastly, Cave Hill has the best critical core of Africanists with the UWI.
More precisely, the author likened the Atlantic slave-trade-diaspora in and New World slavery of Af-
ricans, to the diaspora and holocaust of the Jews: "Developments in African Diapora Studies:
1965 to the Present A Personal View" The paper was circulated at a Seminar entitled "Cross-
ing Borders" that was held at the University of Toronto, Canada, between 28 June and 4 July,
1998. The Seminar was one of many sponsored by the Ford Foundation. The Toronto Seminar
brought together academics from Trent University, Toronto, Canada; St. Lawrence University,
New York State, USA; and the author's University of the West Indies, (The UWI), St. Augustine,
Trinidad and Tobago.
2. For some of this, see Seminar paper in note 1 In addition, these individuals and themes are dealt
with in the author's course at The UWI, St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago, entitled "The Afri-
can Diaspora II: A.D. 1800 to Present Times" The author taught this course under a different ti-
tle at Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio in the Spring Semester of 1999 under a Fulbright Visiting
3. Shirley Mark-Mason, "Liberated Africans, Freedmen and Descendants: Profiles of Two Black Mid-
dle Class Families in Trinidad: The Douglins and the Joneses" 1994-5 Caribbean Studies Pa-
per; and Allyson James, "Scientific Racism: A Case for and against 'Scientific Racism' by late
19th Century Trinidad Exponents" 1993-4 Caribbean Studies Paper. The full text of Reverend
Phillip H. Douglin's address on the occasion of the Jubilee of Emancipation as published in the
San Fernando Gazette of 11 August, 1988, can be found in James' Paper. Mark-Mason has
several quotations from Douglin's speech in her Paper. The microfilm of the speech is in the
West Indiana and Special Collections Division of the Main Library, The UWI, St. Augustine, Trini-
dad and Tobago.
4. Robert Love and Henry Sylvester Williams are the subjects of presentations by Joy Lumsden and
Marika Sherwood at a conference "Caribbean Intellectual Traditions" that was hosted by the De-
partment of History, The UWI, Mona, Jamaica between 31 October and I November, 1998. The
conference was part of the 50th Anniversary Celebrations of the UWI.
5. On this "academic engineering" see the author's unpublished paper, "Methodological Issues relat-
ing to African Civilization" It was presented at the Third Annual Conference on African Studies,
Central Connecticut State University, New Britain Campus, USA, on 2 November 1996 (41 pp.),
pp. 16-18. A copy of this paper is in the West Indiana and Special Collections Division of the
UWI, Trinidad and Tobago.
6. For the quote, see essay by Caroline Neale, "The Idea of Progress in the Revision of African His-
tory, 1960-1970" in Bogumil Jewsiewicki and David Newbury (eds.), African Historiogra-
phies:What History for Which Africa?, Sage Publications, Beverly Hills, London, New Delhi,
1986, pp. 113-114. The full text of Trevor-Roper's article is in The Listener, November 1963
p. 871. "The Rise of Christian Europe"
7 For a recent book on Walter Rodney, see Rupert Charles Lewis, Walter Rodney's Intellectual and
Political Thought, Press University of the West Indies, Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad and To-
bago, in co-operation with Wayne State University Press, Detroit, Michigan, 1998. A conference
in honour of Rodney was held at Binghampton University, New York State in November 1998.
8. See, for example, Selwyn Ryan and Taimoon Stewart, assisted by Roy McCree (eds.), The Black
Power Revolution 1970. A Retrospective, Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER),
The UWI, St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago, 1995.
9. The student in question was Captain Julian Spencer. He died recently.
10. The identity of the academic, now Professor Emeritus, is withheld by the author.
11 This is dealt with in the author's 1980 UNESCO-commissioned paper mentioned at p. 11 of this ar-
12. Ministry of Education (Task Force), Report of the National Task Force in Education (Green Paper),
Ministry of Education, Government of Trinidad and Tobago, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago,
13-14. The identities of the academics are withheld by the author.
15. The author used them recently in teaching a course, African History From Earliest Times to 1000
C.E. at Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio, in the Fall Semester of 1998, under a Fulbright award.
16. Deke Cateau, "300 Decades of Knowledge: The Bobo Shanty Community of Tunapuna, Trinidad"
1996-7; Tricia Charles, "A Study of the House of the Order of Nyabinghi", 1997-8; and Michelle
Richards, "Religion and Superstition in the Community of Fifth Company", 1994-5. These Carib-
bean Studies Papers are housed in the West Indiana and Special Collections Division of the
Main Library, The UWI, Trinidad and Tobago.
17 CONEXOES, v. 5 #2, November 1993, p. 12.
18. Trinidad and Tobago Review, v. 19 #7-9, August 1997, pp. 13-14 and 21, Part 1, and v. 19 #10-
12, December 1997, pp. 14 and 27-33, Part 11 Also in Africa Quarterly (New Delhi), v. 38 #1,
1998, pp. 75-90, Part 1; andv. 38 #2, 1998, pp. 91-126, Part 11.
The Concert of the Caribbean in the Politics of Language
regarding The Bandung Peoples
KEITH E. BAIRD
In the memorable year 1492, hardly twenty years after printing had been
introduced into Spain, Queen Isabella was presented with a copy of a grammar of
the Castilian language written by her historiographer royal, Elio Aiitonia de Nebrija.
This was the first grammar ever written of a non-Classical European language.
The story goes that when the book was handed to her by a courtier Queen Isabella
inquired, "What is it for?" "Your Majesty," the courtier replied, "language has
always been the companion of empire." (Sale 1991, 18). The Caribbean region as
a socio-political entity is the creation of European imperialist design and activity,
and is intimately involved in the politics of language.
It is a matter of historical fact that European nations have utilized military
power to establish and maintain rule over indigenous peoples of Africa, Asia, and
the Americas. What is not so readily apparent is that these dominating nations
have devised and deployed terms of discourse in their languages which serve to
justify, confirm and perpetuate their ascendancy over the subjugated peoples. The
dominators have promulgated their own account of their imperialist activity and
defined to their own advantage the identity, status, and appropriate destiny of the
dominated. In this way, the European overlords (and their neo-European inheritors
and continuators in the Americas) determined how the historic encounter between
European and non-European peoples was to be conceptualized and in what terms
of discourse it was to be discussed.
David Spurr (1993) shows how this "colonial discourse" constitutes a
"rhetoric of empire" as he seeks "to describe the aspects of this language which
survive beyond the classic colonial era and which continue to colour perceptions of
the non-Western world" (8). He calls attention to Jacques Derrida's view of the
confrontation which opens communications between peoples and cultures as an
Derrida argues that the writing produced by this
confrontation always involves a "violence of the
letter" imposed by one culture upon the other, a
violence, in other words, "of difference, of classifi-
cation, and of the system of appellations." The
very process by which one culture dominates an-
other begins in the act of naming and leaving
unnamed, of marking on the unknown territory the
lines of division and uniformity, of boundary and
Indigenous peoples of the Americas, Africa and Asia have been charac-
terized in the languages of dominating Europeans in such terms as "primitive"
"savage" and "backward" their nations have been derogated as "tribes" and their
rulers disparaged as "chiefs" The status of "Amerindian" African and Asian
peoples within humankind was thus conceptually diminished so that the dominators
from Europe could with easier consciences ruthlessly establish and maintain
control over them. Furthermore, by displacing the use or importance of the native
languages of the dominated peoples and imposing the European languages in their
stead, the conquerors could determine the way in which the account of the
conquest and its sequelae would be conceived, communicated and thenceforward
A point made by the linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf has a direct bearing on
the connection between language and thought in relation to our conceptions of
reality, with particular regard, for our present discussion, to designation and evalu-
ation of ourselves and others. Whorf remarks that
thinking is most mysterious, and by far the
greatest light upon it that we have is thrown by the
study of language. This study shows that a per-
son's thoughts are controlled by inexorable laws
of pattern of which he is unconscious. These
patterns are unperceived intricate systematiza-
tions of his own language.... And every language
is a pattern system, different from others, in which
are culturally ordained the forms and categories
by which the personality not only communicates
but also analyzes nature, notices, or neglects
types of relationship or phenomena, channels his
reasoning, and builds the house of his conscious-
ness. (Whorf 1956:252)
A number of African, Asian, and Caribbean peoples formerly under Euro-
pean rule have now become independent nations. Because of conditions arising
from their common experience of exploitation which Walter Rodney (1972) has so
well documented in the case of Africa, these liberated peoples have together been
perceived as constituting a distinct socio-political universe. Prior to the recent
changes in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, the idea had gained wide
acceptance and verbal currency that there existed "three worlds of development"
the "First World" of the United States and its allies, the "Second World" of the Soviet
Union and its allies, and the "Third World" of non-aligned, but variously committed
nations, most of them "new" of South and Central America, Asia and Africa
(Horowitz 1966). The Euro-supremacist hierarchical ranking in this formulation is
quite explicit in Horowitz's statement that his work offers a language for dealing
with international stratification, and a style of handling social facts (viii)
According to Third World Guide (1986-87), the term "Third-World" was first
used by the French demographer Alfred Sauvy in 1952 on the analogy of the "tiers
etat" (third state) of French society before the revolution of 1789, made up of
people deprived of privilege, as opposed to the two higher ranks of the clergy and
This "third state" was characterized by its political
marginalization in the society of the period, and
by the common interest in overcoming it. Thus
the original sense which remains valid refers to
all those countries, differing greatly among them-
selves, which are marginalized in the current in-
ternational system. (7)
Because the nations and peoples of the Caribbean constitute a part of
what is designated the "Third World', it is useful to cite here as well the definition
given in an authoritative reference work. The New Columbia Encyclopedia (1975)
offers the following definition of "Third World"
technologically less advanced nations of Asia, Af-
rica, and Latin America, generally characterized
as, in addition to being poor in money income,
poorly fed and largely agrarian. The nations also
tend to have a high rate of illiteracy and disease,
rapidly growing populations, and new, relatively
inexperienced, and often unstable governments.
Until recently most of the Third World was domi-
nated by Western nations through some form of
colonialism. The term "Third World" is intended to
distinguish these nations from two groups of tech-
nologically developed nations, on the so-called
Western nations largely influenced by the United
States and the other the Soviet bloc by the
Soviet Union. Communist China, which used to
be classified as a Third World country, might now
more accurately be described as a fourth power in
the balance of nations. (2733)
Much of the language of the definition cited in this reference work is
redolent not only of economic disadvantage "poor", "poorly fed" but also of
ignorance, sexual irresponsibility, and presumptuous incompetence "illiteracy"
"rapidly growing populations" "relatively inexperienced" "unstable" Ranked third
and last among the "three worlds of development" Communist China's dubious
placement notwithstanding, the so-called Third World countries are also desig-
nated by Western scholars and communications media as "underdeveloped" "less
developed," or, in ambiguous compliment, "developing" By the use of such termi-
nology the association of non-Western countries with inherent deficiency, imperfec-
tion and immaturity is inescapable; the conceptual infantilization and
marginalization of the peoples referred to in these terms is subliminally accom-
plished and their past and present victimization subconsciously justified.
In April 1955, representatives of twenty-nine African and Asian nations
liberated by their struggles and the "winds of change" in political relations met at
Bandung, Indonesia, to discuss matters of common concern and to plan co-opera-
tively for their future. Participating in this first Bandung Conference were delegates
from Afghanistan, Burma, Cambodia (Kampuchea), Ceylon (Sri Lanka), the Peo-
ple's Republic of China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gold Coast (Ghana), India, Indonesia,
Iran, Iraq, Japan, Jordan, Laos, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Nepal, Pakistan, Philip-
pines, Saudi Arabia, Siam (Thailand), Sudan, Syria, Turkey, the Democratic Re-
public of Vietnam, South Vietnam, and North Yemen altogether representing
approximately 1.35 billion people. The African American novelist and journalist
Richard Wright was present and has recorded some of his impressions of the
A stream of realizations claimed my minds: these
people were ex-colonial subjects, people whom
the white West called "colored" peoples Al-
most all of the nations mentioned had been, in
some form or other, under the domination of
Western Europe; some had been subjected for a
few decades and others had been ruled for three
hundred and fifty years. (1991-11)
Countries of Latin America have been in attendance at subsequent meetings of
these "Non-Aligned Countries", and by 1983 the total membership reached close to
a hundred. For the peoples of these countries, the reclamation of territory and the
accession to the exercise of self-determination constitute only two aspects of
national liberation. An important aim yet to be achieved is complete intellectual
emancipation from their former overlords and full recognition of their rightful status
as equals in the family of humanity The Conference at Bandung was animated by
such aspirations, and has continued to inspire and inform the collective efforts for
the progress of the formerly dominated populations of Africa, Asia, the lands of the
Pacific and the Americas. For this reason, in the place of the demeaning, tenden-
tious and deprecatory terms "Third World" "under-developed" "less developed"
and "developing" I propose the designation Bandung countries (or Bandung na-
tions, or Bandung peoples, and so on). Among the Bandung peoples, accordingly,
I number the nations of the Caribbean, and the more appropriately so since the
national populations of the area are composed mainly of people of African, Asian
and Amerindian origin.
Drawing on insights of Whorf above we called attention to the connection
between language and the thinking processes. The point of much of Whorf's
contribution to the study of language is that the way people think is in large part
determined by the words that they use; in other words, contrary to what one might
wish were the case, people think as they speak rather than speak as they think.
The circumstances of the encounter between imperialist European powers and the
Bandung peoples they subjugated necessitated for the dominators a colonialist
discourse which served a dual purpose in mind control, that is, manipulation of
mental processes. Not only did this derogatory discourse characterize the victims
as deserving of domination, but at the same time it provided to the dominators
justification and even commendation for their predatory activity In addition, these
demeaning terms of reference devised to designate and define Bandung peoples
serve as well to motivate and trigger negative attitudes and actions toward them.
By a cruel irony, colonialist discourse, whether by forceful imposition or
subliminal insinuation, has the propensity to programme colonized peoples into
unprotesting submissiveness. It will therefore be useful to examine some terms
which still are current in everyday speech, in the communications media, and even
in academic forums. The Caribbean area was intimately involved in the origins and
development of the plantation system which became the most notable form of
European exploitative activity in the Americas. In the Caribbean also developed, if
not originated, most of the language of Euro-supremacist derogation and socio-po-
litical domination of Bandung peoples.
In a UNESCO report issued a quarter of a century ago, Professor Base
Fafunwa of the University of Ife, Nigeria, listed a number of derogatory terms
commonly used in reference to non-European people. Among these objectionable
locutions are: Negro, Coloured, race, tribe, native, primitive, savage, vernacular,
pagan, uncivilized, backward, underdeveloped, Kaffir, Bushmen, jungle. On the
word "savage" Fafunwa remarks:
The word 'savage' is defined as wild, horribly wild, uncultivated with
implication of ferocity; uncivilized, existing in the lowest stage of culture. One is
tempted to ask: "Whose culture and whose civilization" are we employing as a
yard-stick? It is our contention that only some animals will fit into this category and
perhaps when animals learn to speak, they too may object to this description.
On "jungle", Fafunwa (1968) observes:
Land overgrown with underwood' is jungle in Af-
rica, Asia, Latin America, but 'everglade' in Flor-
ida and other places. (26)
Following are some of the derogatory terms of discourse still used in
reference to Bandung peoples in the Caribbean and elsewhere. Emphasis is here
laid on terms applied to Africans because in the Caribbean Africans (and the
objectionable terms applied to them) are more numerous.
RACE. The anthropologist F M. Ashley Montagu exposes the general
invalidity and pernicious effect of th i notion in his work Man's Most Dangerous
Myth:The Fallacy of Race (1964). H points directly to the origin of the concept of
"race" which gives factitious rise and ;'titious justification to hostile attitudes and
invidious exclusionist practices amon( ,eoples.
The modern conception of "race" owes its wide-
spread diffusion to the vhite man. Wherever he
has gone he has carrie it with him. The growth
of racism is associated with slavery in its various
It is within the context of the 'race' concept that observable superficial
physical differences (such as skin colour, hair texture, and physiognomy) among
the continental populations which have come to make up the Caribbean people
were employed as visual cues to establish and maintain the placement of an
individual or group in a socio-political hierarchy In this connection also has arisen
a vocabulary which has created and maintained invidious discrimination and
destructive animosities within Caribbean society which have over time been ex-
ploited by Euro-supremacist colonialists and neo-colonialists.
In another work, Montagu (1964 a) directly implicates European academia
in the political formulation and employment of the "race" concept during the eight-
In an age of nationalist and imperialist expan-
sion national pride played no small part in the
naming and classification of fossil as well as of
living forms of men. If the concept of race had not
existed it would have had to be invented during
this period. There were reasons for recognizing
differences of a biological nature between human
groups. Hence, the concentration on differences
became the principal occupation of the classifier
of the races he was only too convinced were
awaiting recognition and discrimination.
First, the races were assumed to exist. Second,
they were recognized. Third, they were de-
scribed, and fourth, they were systematically clas-
sified. If anything could have been more arbitrary
than this it would be difficult to name it. (xv)
Nevertheless, in ordinary conversation, in scholarly discussion, in the
press and in electronic media, the expression "race" "racist" "racial" "racialist"
"racism" "race relations" and the like continue to be used and propagated. The only
appropriate employment of the term "race" and its verbal progeny is to be found in
the statement "Race" is a racist concept. In substitution, neutral and universally
applicable designations such as "population" "ethnic group" "community" "soci-
ety" or simply "people" should be used.
NEGRO. The term "Negro" as used in English is the ignorant (or contemp-
tuous) mispronunciation of the Spanish and Portuguese adjective "negro" which
translates the English adjective "black" It was the Hispanic word "negro" that
Europeans used, in its polyglot deformations, to designate the captive Africans they
transported from Africa for forced labour in the Americas instead of the national and
subnational names such as Wolof, Mandinka, Ashanti, Ibo, Yoruba, Kongo, and so
on, by which the Africans called themselves. The use of the general term "negro"
conceptually disassociated the captives from their specific ancestral connections of
land, culture and history, thereby psychologically demoralizing and conditioning the
Africans for their single intended use as an unpaid labour force on the American
The Caribbean scholar and activist Richard B. Moore has treated the term
"Negro" at some length in his work The Name Negro: Its Origin and Evil Use. He
enunciates the right and responsibility of African peoples (and by implication, other
Bandung peoples) to insist on semantic parity with Europeans in the matter of
ethnic identification in his statements:
When all is said and done, dogs and slaves are
named, by their masters; free men name them-
People of African origin in the Caribbean as elsewhere who are being identified in
relation to that origin should be referred to as AFRICAN(S). (The compounding
form AFRO- can be used bef ore the national name, e.g .AFRO-TRINIDADAN.
NEGROID. This is a derivative of the derogatory term "Negro" and is
subject to the same objections applicable to the root word.
COLOURED This term reduces African, Asian, Ameridian and other
Bandung peoples to a Euro-supremacist skin-colour designation comparable to the
expression "black" "red" and 'yellow" Substitute AFRICAN, ASIAN, AMERIN-
DIAN as the situation may require.
WHITE. Like "black" "yellow" "red" and other colour terms, this designa-
tion has no reference to land, history, and culture, and is equally dehumanizing. Its
operative value, however, sets up and maintains an exploitative and hostile dialec-
tical relationship to the "non-white" and is a mode of color-cuing Euro-supremacist
domination. The precise humanistic term EUROPEAN should be used to signal
semantic parity in ethnic names appropriately applicable to world peoples.
MULATTO. This word means "produced in an unnatural mating, like a
mule. Substitute AFRICAN, and no-doubt on occasion, EUROPEAN might be
appropriate. AFRO-EUROPEAN, or EURO-AFRICAN would indicate African and
European ethnic origin (cp. EURASIAN).
BLACK(S) This term perpetuates the dehumanizing colour-coding to
which reference has been made above. Substitute AFRICAN. (It is interesting and
instructive as regards cultural and political domination to note that the Associated
Press Style Book (p. 7) states,"Do not use the word [African] for black or Negro").
Thus one can refer to AFRICAN Culture, AFRICAN AMERICAN Literature, AFRO-
BRAZILIAN Art (using the AFRO- combining form). Instead of the absurd "Black
English" in reference to tile complex of creole languages (e.g. Jamaican, Bajan,
etc.,) originating in the blending of African and English linguistic elements, I advo-
cate and employ the term AFRISH (cp. English, Swedish, Polish, etc.).
TRIBE. This term originated in relation to the three ethnic groups which
constituted the population of Ancient Rome. Europeans use the word only to
designate non-European peoples, but never Europeans (including even the Italians
in whose homeland the term originated). Substitute PEOPLE or POPULATION (cp.
the Welsh, Irish, Scottish, Flemish, Walloon PEOPLE or POPULATION.
CHIEF This is a term used by Europeans to avoid according royal rank
and dignity to traditional rulers of Bandung peoples whom they have dominated or
marked for domination, or worse (note the fate of the Amerindian people of the
Americas). In most African nations today, the title of the head of state is President.
As a result of colonialism some traditional nations became part of a European ruled
dominion, but the traditional rulers retained their royal status and the allegiance of
their people. With the restoration to independence of many of these traditional
peoples and politics, the traditional rulers still remain in place. The rulers of these
subnational entities should be referred to by their traditional titles, thus: the OBA of
Lagos, the SULTAN of Sokoto, the ALAFIN of Oyo, the ONI of Ife, the ASANTE-
HENE (king of Asante), the KUMASIHENE (the ruler of Kumasi), etc.
The acts of domination by linguistic means have occurred over centuries,
and in one form or another still continue. It has been the aim in this paper to
stimulate a preliminary discussion of this phenomenon and to make some sugges-
tions as to how the damage wrought on Bandung peoples by sustained verbal
abuse may be reduced, and recurrences prevented. The Caribbean with its diver-
sity of peoples and cultures is a fitting laboratory for the study and treatment of the
mental traumas and intellectual dislocations inflicted on Bandung peoples by
means of colonialist discourse.
Fafunwa, A. Babs. 1968. "Recommendations concerning terminology in education on race ques-
tions." In Final Report of Meeting of Experts on Educational Methods. Designed to Combat Ra-
cial Prejudice, UNESCO House, Paris 22-24-28 June, 1968. Paris; UNESCO.
French, Christopher W. And Goldstein, Norm. 1989. The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Man-
ual New York: The Associated Press
Horowitz, Irving Louis. 1966. Three Worlds of Development: The Theory and Practice of International
Stratification. New York: Oxford University Press.
Montagu, Ashley. (ed.) 196"4 a. The Concept of Race. New York: The Free Press of Glencoe.
Montague, Ashley. 1964 b. Man's Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race. Cleveland: The
World Publishing Company.
Moore, Richard B. 1960. The Name "Negro" Its Origin and Evil Use. New York: Afro-American Pub-
The New Columbia Encyclopedia. 1975. New York: Columbia University Press.
Sale, Kirkpatrick. 1991. The Conquest of Paradise. New York: Penguin Books.
Spurr, David. 1993. The Rhetoric of Empire: Colonial Discourse in Journalism, Travel Writing and Im-
perial Administration. Durham, N.C.. Duke University Press.
Third World Guide 86-87 1987 New York: Grove Press, Inc.
Whorf, Benjamin Lee. 1956. Language, Thought, and Reality: Selected Writing of Benjamin Lee
Whorf, ed. And with an introduction by John B. Carroll. Cambridge, Mass: The M.I.T Press.
Wright, Richard. 1991. The Color Curtain: A Report of the Bundung Conference. Detroit: The
Smith, N. (1994). Geography, empire and social theory" In Progress in Human Geography 18 (4)
Spurr, D., (1994). The Rhetoric of Empire. Durham: Duke University Press.
Stoler, A., (1989). "Making empire respectable: the politics of race and sexual morality in 201h century
colonial cultures" In American Ethnologist. 16 (4).
Taylor, D. (1941). Columbus Saw Them First" In Natural History. June.
Taylor, P (1989). The Narrative of Liberation. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Thomas, N. (1994). Colonialism's Culture. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Von Martels, Z. (ed.). (1994). Travel Fact and Travel Fiction. Leiden: E.J. Brill.
White, H. (1976). "The Fictions of Factual Representation" In The Literature of Fact. A. Fletcher
(ed). New York: Columbia University Press.
Whitehead, N. (1984). Carib Cannibalism. The Historical Evidence". In Journal de la Societe Ameri-
canistes. LXX (69-88).
Baits in the Caribbean: The Duchy of Courland's attempts to
colonize Tobago Island, 1638 to 1654
The Caribbean island of Tobago is southernmost of the West Indies.
Twenty-six miles long and seven miles wide, this fish-shaped island has verdant
mountains, beautiful white beaches, crystalline waters and an abundance of exotic
flowers and trees. Tobago is best known as the legendary desert island of Robin-
son Crusoe and home of Swiss Family Robinson: both literary works evoke an
image of a newly discovered tropical paradise, still unspoiled. The romance that
surrounds the island today masks its turbulent past.
The history of Tobago in the seventeenth century is one of the most
dramatic of any area in the Caribbean. The combination of climate, soil and
excellent harbours made the island an attractive target for European explorers.
Tobago was fought over some 20 times by the Spanish, Dutch, English, Courlan-
ders, and French as well as marauding pirates and privateers. They all occupied
this rich prize at one time or another, but the little-known Courlanders from the
Baltic were the most tenacious of all.
This article using Latvian archives and documents, is a study of the Duchy
of Courland's three attempts to colonize Tobago Island from 1638 to 1654.1 It asks
how the attempts were made by this tiny independent Baltic Sea duchy, and what
were their consequences? To adequately cover Courland's motives for coloniza-
tion would need to be addressed in a separate treatise.
Colonization has been a subject of vast historical literatures, large parts of
which have concentrated on the powerful European maritime nations. The pur-
pose of this article is to re-examine colonization in terms of a smaller state that
encountered additional and unusual problems in attempting to be a colonizer In
fact, the way in which the Duchy of Courland colonized Tobago Island differed from
all other contemporary colonialism. It is hoped that this study of Courland's colonial
policies will shed new light on the history of colonization generally
This article also contributes to the small but growing and sometimes
erroneous debate about the Duchy of Courland's colonizing ventures during the
seventeenth century. Works by English historians Burns (1965) and Southorn
(1952); Dutch historian Goslinga (1971); and Latvian historians, Spekke (1957),
Dunsdorfs (1937-1980) and Balodis (1991) are based mostly on secondary
sources, which often prove to be inaccurate and misleading. There is still a need
for a complete account of Courland as a coloniser based upon primary materials,
especially from Latvian archives. This article is a step in that direction.
The Duchy of Courland
The Duchy of Courland was a fief of the United Kingdom of Poland and
Lithuania. Gothard Kettler, the last Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights, had
obtained the territory of Courland on 5 March 1562 as a reward for honourable
service from the King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania.2
The tiny vassal state comprised an area of only 27,000 square kilometres
with a small population of approximately 200,000 inhabitants. It consisted of two
western provinces of modern Latvia which are situated on the Peninsula of Cour-
land (Kurzeme) and the Plains of Semigallia (Zemgale), between the Baltic Sea
and the Gulf of Riga. The capital of the country was Jelgava and the principal
frost-free ports were Ventspils and Liepaja. The duchy established its own admin-
istrative and judicial statutes through its constitution, the Formula Regiminis. The
constitution recognized the duke as a free and independent prince, who was not
subordinate to the Polish King in person, but only for his fief.
The central figure is Duke James Kettler of Courland (1610-1681), godson
of King James I of England, who came to power in 1638 and reigned until his death
on New Year's Eve in 1681.
Under the direction of Duke James, between the years 1638 and 1656,
over two hundred ducal ships were built one hundred-and-two merchant ships,
sixty-one armed men-of-war, thirty unarmed men-of-war and eleven vessels of an
Tobago 'Island of Despair': The first and second attempts at coloni-
The discovery of new lands in the Caribbean aroused great interest in the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Contemporary writers affirmed the magni-
tude and significance of the colonies with various connotations of paradise in the
new lands of the Caribbean.. Innocence, simplicity, fertility and abundance, all
qualities which in Renaissance Europe seemed unattainable, had made their
appearance in the reports of Christopher Colombus and Amerigo Vespucci, and
these reports were seized upon by enthusiastic readers. They encouraged an
appetite for wealth, trade and colonies whilst also enhancing the reputation of
There is ample evidence of the excitement exhibited in Europe by the news
of Columbus' discovery. Columbus' first letter had been printed and published
nine times in 1493 and had already reached some twenty editions by 1500. The
frequent printing of this letter and the reports of much later explorers; such as
Girolamo Benzoni's La Historia del Mondo Nuovo Venice (1565), Nicolas Mon-
ardes' Joyfull Newes out of the Newe Founde Wolde London (1577), Jean Lery's
Histoire d'un Voyage fait en la Terre du Bresil, autrement dite Amerique La
Rochelle (1578), R. Hakluyt's Discourse of Western Planting London (1584),
Machuca Vargas' Milicia y Descripcion de las Indias Madrid (1598) and Jean Bodin
The Six Bookes of a Commonweale Paris (1606); all testify to the great curiosity
and interest aroused in sixteenth and seventeenth century Europe by news of the
discoveries of new lands.4
Following the well-established pattern of other maritime powers, the Duchy
of Courland in the mid-seventeenth century entered the European scene as a
competitor for colonies in the West Indies. By this time, Spain had already claimed
possession of the most favourable islands. Duke James, believing that wealth
could be readily extracted from these distant lands, wanted a share of the riches
that Spain gained from colonisation. The Lesser Antilles became a battleground of
the expanding European empires fighting for the remaining uninhabited islands.
Thus, as historian Newton writes, swarms of colonists in the 1630's poured like flies
upon the rotting carcase of Spain's empire in the Caribbean, and within ten years
the West Indian scene was changed forever5
The Duke of Courland was determined to gain Tobago, a small Caribbean
island in the Lesser Antilles.6 His interest in Tobago dates from his early years
spent in the United Provinces, where he studied shipbuilding and economics at the
University of Rostock from 1634 to 1636. James spent much of his time in Zeeland
where the Dutch Tobago colonists originated and he almost certainly heard details
of their failure in Tobago. Nevertheless, James choice of this particular island
seems curious. Tobago Island was not in high demand. It was named by the
Spaniards as one of the islas inutiles a useless island. This term given by the
Spanish explorers of 1535 denoted all the Caribbean islands of the Lesser Antilles.
They called them inutiles because they afforded no prospects of gold and silver
unlike the Greater Antilles. The prevailing northeast trade wind made the approach
to the islands from the Atlantic easy, but to sail back to them from the centres of
Spanish power further west was extremely difficult. Moreover, the islands of the
Lesser Antilles had dense forests that made them unsuitable for cattle raising,
which for Spanish colonists was an essential industry.
Despite the Spanish disdain, on first appearance Tobago Island seemed to
be quite favourable. It had no gold or grazing areas, but its climate, soil and
excellent harbours made the island an attractive target for European settlers. The
best surviving account is a much later Latvian report commissioned by Duke
Kazimirs, James' successor, which favourably described it as a fertile island:
1 Tobago is one of the finest Caribee islands
with its moderate tropical temperatures. The is-
land is approximately 30 German miles.
2. The island is abundant with riches of rare and
beautiful trees; red, yellow, black, brown and ce-
3. At present the natural vegetation of the island
includes many varieties of superb fruits, nuts,
lemons, bitter oranges, oranges, bananas, cassa-
vas, sweet potatoes, guavas, red peppers and
much more. There are also many palm trees that
provide large capocs as well as Indian corn and
peas that grow to full size in only a month.
4. There are many different kinds of fish as well
as large and small turtles.
5. The island is also home to wild boars, pigs, red
hares and rabbits.
6. There are also many species of birds.
7 Tobago island also has a fine port named 'The
Cool Enclosed Cove' It is the only port in the
Caribbean that can accommodate well over one
hundred ships as well as being a perfect place for
8. There are no hurricanes.7
There also exists a literary description of Tobago. The island of Tobago
was the haven for Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe's fictional hero in The Life and
Strange Suprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner (1719). Ap-
parently Defoe had visited the island in 1659 and his novel described the hardships
of living in Tobago: the fictional Crusoe lived as a hermit on an uninhabited island.
I poor Robinson Crusoe, being shipwrecked dur-
ing a dreadful storm in the offing, came on shore
on this dismal unfortunate island, which I called
the Island of Despair.8
In fact, at the time there were hundreds of European colonists on Tobago
- Courlanders, Zeelanders and English settlers, and clearly Defoe used the island
as a literary device. Yet in one respect his usage was appropriate, for the fictional
character of Robinson Crusoe aptly called Tobago 'the island of despair' a fitting
term for the real life hardships and difficulties foreign colonists faced on the island.
The character Robinson Crusoe was depicted as having landed on the
southwest coast of Tobago Island where he then established his camp on the
island's highest hill. This is the exact site of the Courlanders Fort James. Crusoe
mentions Tobago's neighboring islands Cabagua and Coche, which are visible
from this elevated site, and gives what must have been a contemporary view of the
My next work was to view the country, and seek a
proper place for my habitation...Where I was, I yet
knew not; whether on the continent, or on an
island; whether inhabited; whether in danger of
wild beasts or not. There was a hill not above a
mile from me, which rose up very high and which
seemed to overtop some other hills, which lay as
in a ridge from it northward [the actual site of Fort
James]. I travelled for discovery to the top of that
hill, where, after I had with great labour and diffi-
culty got up, I immediately saw my fate, to my
great affliction that I was in an island, environed
every way with the sea, no land to be seen, ex-
cept some rocks, which lay a great way off, and
two small islands, less than this [Cabagua and
Coche islands] which lay about three leagues to
Before Duke James venture in 1639, Tobago's colonising history had been
bleak. Between 1614 and 1639 three powerful maritime nations; Spain, the United
Provinces and England; had unsuccessfully tried to colonise 'the Island of Despair'
Colonel John Scott, a contemporary English naval officer who resided in the island
of Barbados, documented the numerous European attempts made at colonising
Tobago Island. Scott states that entrepreneur Juan Rodriguez, was the first to
make an attempt at colonising Tobago Island in 1614. Rodriguez wished to
produce tobacco for the rapidly expanding European market, but he abandoned
the project after four months:
...it was once attempted to be planted by Johan-
nes Roderigo from Spaine. But ye Natiues [Kali-
nos tribe] being then upon it in great Numbers soe
discouraged him that after the expending of four
months Tyme in Courting the Indians to a Trade,
& finding it Bootlesse as all other his attempts,
and Sicknesse falling amongst his Soldiers which
occassioned Mutanyes, the sixth of May 1614
(he) bare up the weake Condition, they found in a
few weeks (the greatest part of them) Graves.
From whence we may conclude that Soldiers or
Planters long aboard, weakened by want and Sea
are noe fitt subject matter either for attacking or
planting Collonies in ye West Indies.10
This analysis of Spanish failure was accurate. As shall be shown, other colonisers
were defeated by the same obstacles.
Fourteen years later, the Dutch took an interest in Tobago.11 Jan de Moor,
Burgomaster of Flushing, sent Jacob Maersz to command the Zeelander settle-
ment in 1628. However, the settlement of fifty-six colonists failed because of
disease and attacks by the indigenous tribes. Another Dutch attempt was under-
taken in 1632 with 200 colonists from Flushing, under the leadership of Cornelis de
Moor, son of the Burgomaster of Flushing. The colony however faced major
opposition from Spanish colonists. In 1636 they were attacked by Diego Lopez de
Escobar, Governor of Trinidad who wanted to assert Spanish sovereignty of
Tobago. The Spanish raid on Tobago, which involved some 400 Spaniards and
3,000 native soldiers overwhelmed the settlers. Their small fort soon surrendered
and Cornelis de Moor was captured and sent to Spain, but later returned to the
The English tried to colonise Tobago the following year in 1637 It is
believed that James Hay, the first Earl of Carlisle, sent out private ships to take
possession of Barbados in 1629, but there is no evidence that Hay's colonists even
arrived on Tobago Island. Eight years later the English again attempted to settle
Tobago, when Reverend Nicholas Leverton led a party of Puritans from Barbados
in 1637 Once again, disease and the Kalinos proved stronger than the settlers. A
third English attempt at colonising Tobago was made in 1639 by Robert Rich, Earl
of Warwick. Rich sent out a party of colonists under the command of Captain
Marsham, but in an attack in 1640 Marsham was killed and the survivors retreated
The 9th of October, 1639 One Captaine Massam,
with between 2 and three Hundred English at-
tempted a Settlement there, but the Indians from
St.Vincents did strongly Gaule them from time to
time pretending they were not the owners of it.
Many of them were Murdered by the Indians and
Captain Massamm likewise dyed of ye Wounds
he received at Tobago. Those of his collony left
Sayled for Trinidada, 1640.13
The Duchy of Courland's first colonising venture in 1639, like all previous
European expeditions, was a failure. In 1639, only months after Duke James had
come to power, he sent his first colonists to Tobago with the approval of King
Charles I of England, who claimed sovereignty over the island.14 The English had
by then made at least five recorded unsuccessful attempts at colonising Tobago,
under the direction of James Hay (1627), Philip Herbert (1628), Nicholas Leverton
(1637), Captain Massam (1639) and the Earl of Warwick (1639). It seems as if
Tobago, having been a failure, was now being offered by Charles I to anyone
willing to try and who more appropriate than one of his relatives?
The historiography on matter of claims to ownership is confused. Ander-
sons, Southorn and Goslinga believe that King James I of England granted Tobago
Island to Duke James in 1610 as a christening gift.15 Their assertion is doubtful
because King James I had granted the island to the Earl of Carlisle and later to the
Earl of Pembroke. Moreover, if it had been a gift from James I, a grant from King
Charles I in 1639 would have been unnecessary. Therefore, it seems the grant of
1639 was the starting point of the English 'passing over' of the island to Duke
In his first attempt, Duke James sent 212 Couronian peasants to the West
Indies in the hope of establishing the first settlement.16 The colonists arrived in
Tobago on 25 February 1639 and the colony failed within months because of
assaults made by the native inhabitant Ariwakos. An anonymous author wrote of
Duke James' first expedition in Tobago (1749):
Ten years after the failure of the Dutch colony, the
Duke of Courland, James, our King James I god-
son, a capable prince, an intelligent and gifted
man, who aimed to broaden his duchy's trade
dealings and shipbuilding industry, sent one or
two ships to America's seas to find some unin-
habited islands that could be colonised. His du-
cal agents have stated that Tobago island is very
In 1684 John Esquemeling, an English buccanneer also wrote of the
Courlander's first attempt at colonising Tobago:
It is widely known in Europe, that the Duke of
Corland founded a collony on Tobago. As well as
this, for a long period of time, the Corlariders did
not send any more men; Tobago was left to the
settlers who had first arrived.18
The primary sources printed by Mattiesen and Juskevics about this first
settlement reveal that the Courlander colonists were criminals who were sent to
Tobago as punishment for crimes committed against the state.19 It is not clear from
where these peasants were recruited, but in my opinion these criminals came from
the ducal domains in Jelgava and not from the nobles' estates, since the nobles
would have been unwilling to relinquish their labour force for Duke James' colonial
venture. These men chosen for Courland's first colonial venture had no maritime
experience, they were neither soldiers nor sailors, and as for the colonial experi-
ence, John Scott's following description aptly described them as 'new hands'
According to Scott, the Courlanders stood little chance of survival because of their
inexperience in the tropics:
The Duke of Corland sent a ship thither accom-
modated with Trade to buy it of the Indians and to
take possession on it in his Right these people
being new hands, as they phrase them in those
parts, and haueing noe experienced Planters in
their Collonie, and people that come soe farr from
the Northward and not any amongst them that
knew what was food or Phisick in their proper
Seasons, did occasion their mouldering to noth-
ing, 212 men.20
Like all colonists who had come before, the Courlander expedition was unsuccess-
Why criminals were chosen as the first colonists can be readily explained.
There was no time to recruit experienced seamen or farmers and in addition, the
duke could not afford to pay relatively high wages for experienced free men. On
his ascension, James immediately strove to send his first expedition to Tobago that
same year. Criminals held no social ranking in society, they were not landholders,
and they were not free: in other words they could serve as transported labour.
According to my reckoning, these convicts remained in Courland for the harvest in
September and departed in November later for Tobago Island, which accords with
the known fact that the Courlander colonists after twelve weeks at sea, arrived in
Tobago at the end of February.
Despite this first disastrous attempt at gaining Tobago, James undertook
another expedition in 1642 only three years later. James wasted no time in
arranging another expedition as Courlands domestic situation was turbulent. The
powerful Courlander nobility had lost confidence in Duke James over this first failed
colonising venture. The nobles had written numerous letters to the Polish King
asking for James dismissal. Therefore when James learned of the first colonys
failure, he quickly gained the Earl of Pembrokes consent to undertake a second
attempt, arranged for a Dutch captain to lead this colonial venture, constructed a
new double-decker ship and secured foreign colonists. Duke James had decided
this time to send only foreign colonists to Tobago. As Courland did not have a
surplus population, and, following the first colonial disaster that resulted in the loss
of 212 Courlanders, James could not spare any more men. 21
Duke James arranged for the second expedition to be headed by the
experienced Dutchman, Captain Cornelius Caroon, who had previously been
employed by the Dutch West India Company. He now sailed on Courlands behalf
with 300 Zeelander settlers, but there is no evidence to show that any Courlanders
accompanied them. These colonists, like the others who had come before, per-
ished at the hands of the indigenous Ariwakos tribe, probably being caught in the
midst of native politics as wars between the Ariwakos and Caribs flared. The
seventy remaining survivors had retired to Pomeroon (British Guinea). Again we
read from Scott's account, our only source of evidence:
The Duke of Corland maketh a second attempt,
by people from Zealand under the command of
one Captain Coroon ... a Gentleman of good con-
duct. But his old Masters of Holland haueing an
Eye that way advised him to carry a faire Corre-
spondancy with the Arrawacoes which he did to
the Disgust of the Careebs of St. Vincents, whoe
tooke their advantage, and destroyed a great part
of that hopeful Colonie. While they were in this
distress ye Arrawacoes from Trinidada came to
their relief, where there was but 70 left of 310
home they releiued.22
For the Spanish, Dutch, English and now Courlanders, the greatest diffi-
culty in colonising Tobago was the opposition of its numerous native inhabitants.
This problem was outlined by John Scott:
This Island is in length Nine Leagues, and in
breadth in noe place exceeds four; Severall small
Islands about it but of noe great Consequence.
The Length of the Island is East and West, the
east and Northerne part are much more uneuen,
the West and Southerne part being very Levell
but not soe well watered. The Goodnesse of the
Land hath occassioned seuerall to attempt its
Settlement, but haue either with ye Feauor and
Ague or by the hands of the Natiue Proprietors,
found little other wellcome then a Resting place
for their Bones.23
The 'Native Proprietors' Scott refers to were the indigenous tribes of
Ariwakos, Carib (also referred to as Caribbees) and Kalinos. The Kalinos tribe was
found solely on Tobago Island, but its population is not known. The Ariwakos and
Caribs were migratory races found in the Greater and Lesser Antilles. Both the
Ariwakos and Caribs who lived on the neighboring islands of Cabagua and
Coche, found no difficulty navigating from island to island in their canoes. They
came to Tobago for fresh drinking water, which was scarce on their islands and for
its ample food supplies. Tobago had dense forests that were ideal for hunting and
over thirty rivers and sea inlets that provided good fishing areas. Presumably
these visits were the cause of the conflicts between the Ariwakos, Caribs and
Kalinos tribes. In the sixteenth century, the three native tribes also had new
competitors for land the Europeans. The presence of both the indigenous tribes
and European colonists created greater competition for food and water resulting in
frequent confrontations. Ralegh gives an account of Christopher Columbus' first
hostile encounter with the tribes in 1498:
...after that they discovered many more which
they named the Virgines, which the naturals of
the country call the Caribas, for that the men of
that country are good warriors, and shoote well
in bowes, they poison their arrowes with an
herbe, whereof he that is hurt dieth, biting him-
selfe like as a mad dog doth.24
Scott also described Tobago as was one of the most difficult islands to
colonise because of the great numbers and opposition of the indigenous tribes:
Tobago, as is apparent from its history, was one
of the worst sites on which to plant a colony so
long as the Carib forces were free to pass in
strength between the Main and the islands.25
Apart from native opposition, there were other reasons for failure. For the
Courlanders the first and second colonial ventures failed due a combination of
reasons. These included inexperience, bad planning, under-capitalisation, lack of
manpower, the fact that no reinforcements were sent to Tobago to protect the
settlement and to extend cultivation and the inability to become accustomed to the
tropical climate and insufficient amounts of equipment, especially medicines. All
these factors contributed to Courlands two failures to colonise. It appears that
Duke James wanted to gain a colony, but for some reason failed to realise the size
of the task at hand.
The failure of the second expedition forced Duke James to recognize these
obstacles and take countermeasures in the third expedition, where his solution was
to allow the majority of settlers in Tobago to be foreigners. The use of foreign
colonists as settlers on Tobago stresses the fact that Courland was too small to be
a coloniser, for the non-Courlanders by their numbers helped the Tobago colony
survive against disease and the hostility of the indigenous population.
The Colonisation of Tobago: The Successful Third Attempt
Duke James' aspiration to become a coloniser succeeded with the third
attempt to establish a Tobago colony on 20 May 1654. However, the way in which
he finally colonised Tobago, differs from other contemporary colonialism. What
distinguished this pattern of colonisation from that of the Dutch and English, was
that the duke had decided to allow foreign colonists to settle Tobago on his behalf
- as it were, a franchised colony but under Courlander military control. This strategy
was the answer to a specific problem. Courland's first and second attempts had
revealed that the duke's major obstacle at becoming a coloniser was a lack of
manpower. The Duchy of Courland had a small population and James could not
afford to send any more men from his ducal domains. James therefore wanted
Courland to become a colonising power without having to send large numbers of
Courlanders as colonists, thus not depleting his own state.
The Courlander double-decker ship Das Wappen der Herzogin von Kur-
land armed with forty-five cannons sailed under the Courlander flag, a black crab
(often mistaken for a crayfish) on a red background. Duke James chose the crab
as a symbol of the importance of establishing the Tobago colony, for they were
found in abundance on the island and the colour red was associated with the
duchy's protector Poland. Registered in Ventspils, Das Wappen der Herzogin was
constructed for the purpose of transporting tropical products to Europe. Twenty-
five Courlander officers, 124 Courlander soldiers and eighty families of colonists
from Zeeland, were sent by the duke to occupy Tobago. Whereas no soldiers had
been sent in the first two colonisation attempts, now in this third settlement, the
soldiers accounted for over one third of colonists aboard. Two years later 120
reinforcement Courlander soldiers arrived in Tobago. The expedition attests to the
duke's desire to establish and protect a Tobago colony.
The majority of colonists who arrived in Courlander ships were foreigners.
The ship's Das Wappen der Herzogin von Kurland logbook lists the names of
crewmembers on-board. All of the surnames are foreign. The captain of the ship
was Jan Brandt, Reinert Janssen first helmsman, Victor Thim barber, Albrecht
Todtsen cook, Hans Schlott sail master, Cornelss Kogessen cabin guard,
sailors Maties Jakobsen, Elle Perssen, Jan Ennesver Kueper, Willem Brandt,
Corneelis Hanssen, Cornelss Cornelssen, Mens Petersen, Jan Andressen, Jurgen
Marcksen, Cordt Elfssen, Hans Larssen, Peter Roloffsen, Dirick Jansen, Viter
Modtzen, Andres Abrahamsen, Samuel Defuer, Simon Frantzen, Borlet
Romeedier, Peter Janssen, Laurentz Reimontzen, Pieter Dircksen, Jakob Cor-
nelissen, Jan Willemsen, Dierck Jansen, Jan Dussen, Durk Volluie and Jan
The only remaining report of Courland's 1654 expedition is that of the
Dutch contemporary historian Baron von Klopmann's dated 1780:
One of the Lesser Antilles, the island of Tobago
was acquired by the Duke of Courland... The first
ship the duke sent to acquire the island, the Das
Wappen der Herzogin von Kurland under the
command of Willem Mollens, landed with 124
men at the island of Tobago and cast anchor on
20 May 1654. As they found it unsettled and
covered with dense forests, they took possession
for the duke, their lord.27
Thus, on arrival Captain Willem Mollens officially declared Tobago a
property of Courland and named the island Jaunkurzeme [New Courland]. As was
the custom with Dutch colonial settlement, the new lands, bays and rivers that were
essential to a maritime colony for farming, waterpower, transport and trade, were
named after the ruler. A fort was erected on the southwestern shore of the island,
called Jekabforts [Fort James] that was surrounded by Jekaba pilseta [Jamestown]
(present day Plymouth). Other names such as Great Courland Bay, James Bay,
Courland Estate and Little Courland Bay soon appeared. Even the names of cities
and towns in the duchy appeared in Tobago, such as New Jelgava and Liepaja
Bay. These Courlander names helped give the mercantile territory of Tobago an
identity which would seem familiar and amenable to the values which the Europe-
ans had brought with them, encourage them in adversity and sharpen their ambi-
The limited information of the colonists arrival in New Courland comes
mainly from a letter by Captain Willem Mollens, appointed by Duke James as the
first Governor of New Courland (1654-1657). Mollens wrote to the duke describing
the conditions on Tobago:
No-one has ruled this island before, Your High-
ness. There are some Spaniards in Trinidad
which is twelve miles from here. I have learned
that the savages here possess some grains of
gold which I have not yet seen. There are also
pearls but again I have not seen these. A lot of
people arrive here, real savages from St.Vincent
island. From here they travel to the mainland.
There are also those who arrive from the main-
land. They cause problems, disturbing the
peace, which does not help and certainly does
not support Your Highness. I will one day get my
revenge for what they have done to us.
Captain Mollens stated that his men were the first Europeans to colonise
Tobago, but he was mistaken. The first recorded European settlement of Tobago,
as previously discussed, had been by the Dutch, twenty-six years earlier. In fact,
the Courlanders had chosen the same area on Tobago to begin a settlement as did
the Dutch almost thirty years earlier, but the island's tropical vegetation may have
at first hidden traces of the old Dutch colony. Mollens indicated nothing of the
previous disastrous colonising attempts made by the Spanish, English and Dutch.
This is particularly curious as Duke James himself was aware of the Zeelanders'
failed attempts at colonising Tobago, since he had met some of the people involved
between the years 1634-1636 during his stay in the United Provinces. Perhaps
James had not wanted to tell the Captain and thus discourage him from leading this
most important Courlander expedition, or perhaps Mollens knew but wished to
exaggerate his achievements. Certainly Mollens' colonists may not have been the
first Europeans in Tobago, but they were the first to complete building fortifications
on Tobago Island.
Already by 1658, there were 25,000 inhabitants in Tobago 700 Courlan-
der families (totalling no more than 4,500 people), 7,000 foreigners (mainly English
and Zeelanders), 500 soldiers and 13,000 slaves from Courland's only other colony
in the Gambia. Since Duke James did not have the military power to defend his
rights of ownership on the island, all colonists on Tobago Island were therefore
required to declare their allegiance to the Duke of Courland. This was the duke's
only way of ensuring that Tobago Island remained under Courland's control. The
primary sources, including the following list of colonists surnames, strongly suggest
that even the Courlanders were required to declare their loyalty to Duke James.
Five of the men listed below were Courlanders. The first name Jan I. Mulke, is the
Courlander name 'Janis Mulkis'. Burres is 'Burvim' or in the dialect form 'Buris',
also a Latvian surname. Also Jan Brewer is 'Janis Bruveris' Kennisch and
Perkens take on the Latvian written form of 'Kenins' and 'Perkons'. There is no
further information concerning these colonists.
The following is a declaration of loyalty by eighteen settlers on Tobago to
We promise and swear to His Holiness our God;
to our Highness and ruling prince, James, the
Duke of Courland and Semigallia, our merciful
Prince and ruler; as well as to Her Highness the
Duchess; and to their subjects of His Highness'
new land, Tobago island, under the protection as
settlers of this appointed Governor Willem
Mollens: to protect His Highness' fortifications
and all His Highness' ships, that are found in
these waters, these ships, as well as the land, will
be strongly protected; our conduct, will be most
fitting of good people, loyal subjects, and, if
deemed by God, will attack the enemies, then we
all together would undertake the task of protect-
ing the previously mentioned land, as well as the
ships and forts, faithful to the last man, and if
treason occurs, let God forbid, against His High-
ness' land, fort and ships, as well as against the
ships' commanders, if treason should occur, then
we will offer the best protection possible as faith-
ful subjects; we shall protect all secrets, all that
we are trusted knowing, will not be revealed; and
we strongly swear to comply with these events
and observations, as God as our Saviour,
Signed 10 May, 1655
Jan I. Mulke, Hendrick Bradeck, Willem Burres,
Jan Brewer, Hendrick Adams, Willem Kerst, Sa-
muel Vontz, Henrick Kennisch, Robert Perkens,
Edwerd Good, Joseph Hall, Jan Pitvogel, Rutgert
Kroswegh, Frans Tunstall, Tonas Mose, Jan
Stencks, Anthoni Damny, Wolter Wossid.29
Two years after the settlement was established, Duke James sent a small
number of Courlanders to Tobago Island in 1656. As Courland did not have a
surplus population, he encouraged only Courlanders without land holdings to be
colonists, these being servants and serfs, who could be tempted by the offer of
becoming landowners, something almost impossible to achieve in their homeland.
Also, perhaps to ensure that no more Courlanders would be lost, they were sent
only later as reinforcements, so that they arrived on Tobago island months after the
colony had been well established and secured.
Courland enforced a most unusual policy of land ownership and distribu-
tion, which was observed by Matthais Beck, the organiser of the Dutch West India
Company and later Governor of the island Curacao. On 1 June 1654, after the
unsuccessful Dutch war with Portugal, Beck fled from Brazil. He spent over six
weeks on Tobago, before being transferred by a Courlander ship to Barbados. On
his return to the United Provinces Beck addressed the directors of the Dutch West
India Company stating that all men on Tobago both indigenous and colonists
including servants, serfs and native inhabitants were landowners and became
free men. Even the Courlander peasants and native Kalinos servants could each
gain a sizeable property of thirty Morgens, which was equivalent to 25.5 hec-
Because of the loss of our ship's rudder, we with
our soldiers were forced to anchor at Tobago
island, where the Prince of Courland has sent his
colonists. We spent over six weeks there; before
we were able to travel on one of the Prince of
Courland's large ships from Tobago to Barbados.
During our stay on the island, we had a chance to
observe the island. The island is approximately
as large as Barbados. We also learnt from the
director, the kinds of settlers the Prince of Cour-
land allowed to cultivate the island the Captain
received 300 Morgens of land, and every picket
12 Reinlands 31. Lieutenant 24,Cornet [the low-
est rank of commissioned officer] 210, Sergeant
180, Corporal 150, Lands Corporal 120,Com-
mon soldier or servant 60, Native inhabi-
This agreement for distribution of land was forever and therefore once
obtained, could be inherited by the landowners' successors. The first three years
were free of payments, then after three years rent is charged, the same amount as
other neighboring islands, which is very little. The Prince of Courland's director,
previously mentioned, had built a fort which is guarded with seven cannons and
surrounded by guards, and is expecting more reinforcements. Barbados is well
settled, and after a few years, there was a shortage of forest land; including
important timber plantations, and especially sugar plantations. There are no longer
sugar cane plantations, and other plants are now being cultivated such as cotton
and indigo; like other places, a lot of the land is left as pastoral ground. Some
people who wish to keep their sugar plantations used coal which was transported
from England. Many settlers have emigrated to Tobago island, and just like the
Courlanders on Tobago, the Duke of Courland has not only granted each settler
large areas of land, as much as one could physically work and need, as mentioned,
but also supplied slaves which are transported by land and sea from Guiana and
the settlers pay for the slaves with native tropical fruits.
As in the first and second attempts, the Courlanders were again confronted
by the hostility and attacks of the indigenous tribes. In a letter dated 11 August
1654, Governor Mollens addressed the problem of the threat posed by the large
indigenous population. The document confirmed that there were more Caribs,
Ariwakos and Kalinos than Europeans on Tobago. According to Governor Mollens,
he counted 125 Kalinos and between 1,300 and 3,600 Ariwakos every day. The
Courlander ship's Das Wappen der Herzogin von Kurland log book notes that two
of Mollens sailors, Willem Brandtt and Corneelis Hanssen were killed on 20 June
1654 by the Ariwakos:
Your Highness, serene Prince!
Greetings to the Merciful Gentleman! I am in-
forming your noble prince, that along with my
people, I have taken over Tobago our New
Courland. I have encountered five savage chiefs.
Each chief [from the Kalinos tribe] controls 25
men and has his own canoe made from hollow
wood. With their 25 men they leave for war
against the ariwakos who live on Trinidad island
and on the mainland. These ariwakos arrive here
in 50 to 60 boats, each carrying 25 men. Our
islanders are very afraid of these ariwakos, as
they are devilishly strong and start major fights.
These ariwakos are enemies of all Christians. I
have intentions of securing friendships with them.
They accept axes, knives and glass/mirrors in
exchange for sleeping blankets which I can in turn
sell to the colonists...32
Governor Mollens knew of the importance of establishing relations with the
native Kalinos. As a means of promoting such peaceful relations, the Kalinos were
allowed to become landholders on Tobago. This was a most unusual policy not
documented in other Caribbean colonies of this period where the native inhabitants
owned land under European rule. Duke James had emphasised the need to
maintain friendly relations with the rulers of the indigenous people. This had also
been his colonial policy in Gambia, which he had acquired from the native King
Barra in exchange for annual payments. On one occasion the duke sent a letter of
condolence on the death of his wife to the King of Kombo, written in Latin, as this
was the correct language for correspondence on the diplomatic level. Unfortu-
nately it is not known how the letter was received.33
After two harduous trials, Courland finally succeeded in establishing a
colony on the Caribbean island of Tobago. In response to Courlands lack of
surplus population, James permitted the majority of colonists to be foreigners. This
unusual policy seemed successful, as Tobago became a great source of wealth
and prestige for the duchy from 1654 to 1658.
The discovery of new lands in the Caribbean aroused great interest in
sixteenth and seventeenth century Europe; encouraging an appetite for wealth,
trade and colonies. Following the well-established pattern of other maritime pow-
ers, the tiny Duchy of Courland entered the European scene as a competitor for the
island of Tobago.
Colonization proved to be a difficult feat for such a small nation and
resulted in two disastrous ventures. For the Courlanders the first and second
colonial attempts failed due to a combination of reasons, these being inexperi-
ence, bad planning, lack of manpower, under-capitalization and the fact that no
reinforcements were sent to Tobago to protect the settlement.
In the third expedition the small colonizer, in order to establish and main-
tain possession of Tobago Island, adopted novel solutions. As Courland did not
have a surplus population, the dukes allowed foreign colonists to settle Tobago on
his behalf. Thus, Courland became a colonizing power without having to send
large numbers of Courlanders as colonists. Further, all men on Tobago both
indigenous and colonists including servants, serfs and native inhabitants became
landowners and free men. Courland's colonial policies in Tobago differed from all
other contemporary colonialism and highlight the unusual problems faced by a
smaller state in attempting to become a colonizer
This article is based on the author's masters thesis: Karin Jekabson, A Coloniser Doomed to Fail-
ure: The Colonial Ventures of the Duchy of Courland, 1638-1681, The University of Melbourne,
2. A. Balodis, Latvijas un Latviesu Tautas Vesture [The History of Latvia and its People] (Riga
Kabata,1991), p.395 incorrectly states that the duchy was established in 1652. The final act as
far as the Livonian Order was concerned actually occurred in November 1561 with the Agree-
ment of Vilna, where the Archbishop and Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights submitted to
King Sigismund II Augustus of Poland-Lithuania. Gothard Kettler agreed to the secularization of
the Order in exchange for the Duchy of Courland as an hereditary grand duchy owing allegiance
to the Polish Crown. A formal act of submission was concluded with the Pacta Subiectionis on 5
March 1562. See: S.P Oakley, War and Peace in the Baltic, 1560-1790 (London: Routledge,
3. A. Spekke, A History of Latvia (Stockholm: M.Gophers, 1957), p.249, incorrectly states that Cour-
land during James reign possessed a total of forty-four armed ships. In fact, archival material re-
veals that the duchy owned one hundred and two merchant ships, of which forty-four unarmed
ships were built in Ventspils, Courland.
A compilation of all the Duchy of Courlands ships, their type, military capacity and role, is printed in
J. Juskevics, Hercoga Jekaba Laikments Kurzeme [The Era of Duke James in Courfand] (Riga:
Valstpapiru Spiestuves Izdevums, 1931),pp. 274-281.
4. Excerpts of these original texts are printed in J.H. Elliot, The Old World and the New, 1492-1650
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), p.102.
5. A.P. Newton, The European Nations in the West Indies 1493-1688 (Great Britain: A&C Black,
6. Spanish colonists named the island Tobago after the Y-shaped Indian pipe tabaco used to smoke
7 A Latvian commander's description of Tobago written on 6 May 1705: '1. Tobago ir viena no visla-
bakam Karibu salam, ar videja siltuma gaisu bez straujam gaisa parmainam, apmeram 30 vacu
judzu lieluma. 2. Sala ir apaugusi ar visadiem dargiem retiem un skaistiem kokiem, ka
sarkaniem, dzeltaniem, melniem, bruniem, melniem un ciedrkokiem. 3. Pat tagad, kad ta netiek
apstradata, sala aug dazadi skaisti augli, ka ananass, saukts visu auglu karalis, kokrieksti,
citroni, pomerances, apelsini, jams, bananas, kaseves, saldie kartupeli, gajeves, sarkanais pi-
pars un vel daudz citu. Tur aug ari loti daudz palmu koku, kas razo skaistus kapostus, tapat ari
Indijas un Gvinejas maiss un zimi, kas nogatavojas 4 nedelu laika. 4. Tur ir daudz zivju, ka ar
lielie un mazie brunurupuci. 5. Tapat tur sastopamas daudz palaistu majucuku, pakjecuku, jostuz-
veru, leguanu un sarkano trusu jeb zaku. 6. Daudz un dazadu putnu sugu, ko nevar siki uzskaitit.
7 Tur ir laba osta saukta "vesais maiss", kurai nav visa Karibija, kur drosi var novietot 100 kugu
un kur ir ari seviski erta vieta kugu buvesanai. 8. Tobago sala viesulvetru nav...' This is my trans-
lation from the original manuscript in Latvian catalogued in Juskevics, p234.
8. D. Defoe, The Life and Strange Suprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Manner, Vol.1
(Piccadilly: John Stockdale, 1719), pp.24, 25, 68, 72, 87 & 102.
9. Ibid., pp.50 & 51.
10. Colonel J. Scotts manuscript Description of Tobago (1669) as printed in V.T.Harlow, Expeditions
to the West Indies and Guina, 1623-1667, Series II, VolLVI (London: The Hakluyt Society, Bed-
ford Press, 1925), p.114.
11 C.J.H. Hayes, Modem Europe to 1870 (New York: Macmillan, 1970), p.337, mentions a Dutch
attempt to colonise Tobago in 1624 which is not confirmed in other documents.
12. C. Goslinga, The Dutch in the Caribbean and on the Wild Coast, 1580-1680 (Gainesville: Florida
Press, 1971), p.435.
13. J. Scott's description as printed in Harlow, p.115.
14. Balodis, p.397, states that this attempt was made in 1640 which is incorrect. Goslinga, p.437, in-
correctly notes that this expedition was sent in 1634. A.Bums, History of the British West Indies
(London: Allen & Unwin, 1965), p.127, incorrectly states that the Courianders attempted to found
a colony in 1637
15. See: E. Andersons, 'Pirmie Kurzemnieki sakari ar Rietumindijas salam' [The Courlanders first
experiences in the West Indies] (New York: Latviesu Humanitaro Zinatnu Asociacija Rakstu Kra-
jums II, 1963), p.28; B. Southom, The Gambia. The Story of the Groundnut Colony (London: Al-
len & Unwin, 1952), p.76; and Goslinga, p.434.
16. Southom, p.76, incorrectly states that 600 Couronians were sent on the first expedition.
17 E. Andersons, Tur Plivoja Kurzemes Karogi[There Flew the Couronian Flags](Melboume:
Gramatu Draugs, 1970), p.82.
18. J. Esquemeling, The Bucaneers of America A True Account of the Most Remarkable Assaults
Committed of Late Years upon the Coasts of the West Indies by the Bucaneers of Jamaica and
Tortuga (1684) (London: Allen & Unwin, 1951), p.116.
19. O.H. Mattiesen, Die Kolonial und uberseepolitik der Curtanischen herzoge im 17 und 18 Fahun-
dert[The Colonial and Foreign Policies of the Courtander Duke in the Seventeenth and Eight-
eenth Centuries] (Stuttgart: Berlag von W. Kohlhammer, 1940).
20. J. Scott's description in G. Carmichael, The History of the West Indian Islands Trinidad and To-
bago 1498-1900 (London: Alvin Redman, 1961), p.303.
21. E. Dunsdorfs in his works concerning Courland's attempts at colonisation fails to mention this
second expedition. See: Latvijas Vesture, 1600-1710 [Latvian History] (Sweden: Daugava,
1962), Muzigais Latviesu Karavirs [The Eternal Latvian Soldier] (Melbourne: Loma, 1967) and
Latvijas Vesture [Latvian History] (Nebraska: Amerikas Latviesu Apvieniba, 1980).
22. J. Scotts manuscript as printed in Harlow, p.116.
23. Ibid., p.114.
24. W. Ralegh, The Discoverie of the Large, Rich and Bewfiful Empyre of Gviana, with a relation of
the Great and Golden Citie of Manoa (which the Spanyards called El Dorado) And of the Prov-
inces of Emeria, Arromaia, Amapaia, and other countries, with their rivers, adioyning (London:
Robert Robinson, 1596), p.32.
25. G. Raynal, A Philosophical and Political History of the Settlements and Trade of the Europeans
in the East and West Indies, Vol. I-IV (Edinburgh: W. Gordon, 1976), p.279.
26. Names of the crewmembers on board the Couriander ship Das Wappen derherzogin von Kur-
landthat arrived in Tobago on 20 May 1654 printed in Andersons (1970), p.114.
27 Baron Ewald von Klopmann's description of the Couriander settlement of 1654: 'Die Infel Tobago
wurde erworben durch herzog Jacob von Kuriand unter konig Kari I. von England. Sei ift eine
der Unitillen unter dem Winde...Das erfte Schiff, das er nach der Erwerbung, um die Pflanzung
vorzunehmen, schidte, wurde Wappen der herzogin von Kurland genannt und wurde comman-
diert von Wilhelm Mollens. Mit 124 Mann warf es Unter auf der Infel am 20 Mai 1654. Da sie sie
unbefiedelt fanden, bededt mit dichten Waldem, ergriffen fie nach der allgemeinen Gitte und Urt,
nach welcher die Infeln der neuen Welt erworben wurden, von der Infel Befiz...' Translation of
the original printed in Mattiesen, p.435.
28. Captain Willem Mollens' statement concerning New Couriand on 11 August 1654: 'Saja sala bez
Jusu Augstibas vel neviens nav valdijis. Ir gan dazi spani Trinidade, kas atrodas 12 judzes no se-
jienes. Esmu uzzinajis, ka mezoniem seit ir dazi zelta graudi, bet neesmu pats nevienu redzejis;
ari peries, bet neesmu nevienu redzejis. Seit atrodas loti daudz cilveku: isti mezoni laivas no Sv.
Vincentas. No sejienes vini dodas talak uz cietzemi. Ir ari tadi, kas nak no cietzemes seit. Vini
rada grutibas, neievero mieru, neko nepalidz un neatbalsta Jusu Augstibu. Es kadreiz viniem at-
maksasu par to ko vini mums nodarijusi' My translation of the original in Latvian, printed in An-
dersons (1970), p.109.
29. The key words in Latvian are: 'Mes apsolam un zveram Visaugstakajam Dievam, musu
Augstdzimusais Firstam un valdniekam, Jekaba kungam, Kurzemes un Zemgales hercogam,
musu Zeligajam firstam un valdniekam, tapat augstdzimusajai hercogienei un valdniecei, ka ari
vinu mantiniekiem un pecnacejiem, kopa mes esam seit iekartojusies ka paklausigi pilsoni vina
Augstibas zeme, Tobago sala, Vina protekcija, un nometusies saja zeme Augstibas nozimeta un
iecelta Gubematora Vilhema Mollensa parzina...tad mes visi kopa uznemsimies seviski sargat
augsmineto zemi... uzticami lidz pedejam viram...piedavasim vispilnigako aizsardzibu ka uzti-
cami pavalstnieki' The original letter was in Danish. Despite a wide search I was unable to lo-
cate the original text. I have translated this document from a Latvian version; E. Andersons,
Senie Kurzemnieki Amerika un Tobago Kolonizacija [Ancient Courlanders in America and the
Colonisation of Tobago island] (Sweden: Daugava, 1962), p.114.
30. A Morgan was a land measure formerly used in the United Provinces. One morgan equalled 0.85
of a hectare. See: Collins Concise Dictionary and Thesaurus (Great Britain: Harper Collins,
1994), p.485. Andersons (1962), p.116, incorrectly states that thirty morgens equals 21.3 hec-
tares, thus stating that the land allotments were 4.2 hectares smaller than the actual size.
31. The term Reinland does not appear in any reference source. However, according to K.Bruels A
German and English Dictionary (London: Cassel & Co., 1929), p.476, the word reine literally
means "to clear, clean, cleaning". It is my assertion that reinland means cleared or cultivated
32. In Latvian the key phrases are 'Mums bija ar iespejams no direktora uzzinat uz kadiem noteiku-
miem princis atlavis apdzivot un kultivet so salu...to visu uz visiem laikiem un manto-
juma...Augsminetais Kurzemes prince directors ir uzcelis fortu, ko apgadajis ar septiniem
lielgabaliem un kareivju rotu...Kurzemes princis ne tikai atvel ikvienam tik daudz morgenu ze-
mes, cik pec vina spejam un iespejam vajadzigs, ka augstak minets, bet ari atbalsta ar vergiem'
Original letter was in Danish. I was unable to locate the original text. I translated this document
from a Latvian source; Andersons (1962), p.116.
33. Captain Willem Mollens' statement concerning New Couriand on 11 August 1654: 'Jusu Gaisiba,
Augstdzimusais First! Lai sveiciens Jusu first labdzimtibai, ka es ar saviem laudim esmu
pamemis Tobago vai Jaunkurzemi. Es esmu sastapies ar pieciem mezonu virsaisiem. Katra vir-
saisa riciba ir 25 viri un pasiem sava kanu laiva, kas izgatavota no dobta koka. Ar saviem 25
viriem vini dodas kara pret tautu, kas saucas aravaki, kas dzivo Trinidades sala un cietzeme. Sie
aravaki seit atrodas 50 lidz 60 laivas, katra pa 25 viru. Musu salinieki ir loti nobazijusies par siem
aravakiem, jo vini ir elligi stipri un pasak lielas kaujas. Sie aravaki ir ienaidnieki visiem kristi-
esiem. Man ir ceribas ar viniem noslegt draudzibu. Vini pienem cirvjus, nazus un spogulus un
pretim dod gulamos maisus, kurus es savukart varu pardot kolonistiem' My translation from the
original in Latvian, Andersons (1970), p.119.
Contrasting Experiences of Blackness in Lowland Central
America: The Case of Nicaragua
Introduction: Divisive and Irrational Divisions
We live in a world in which the powerful find it convenient to pigeon hole
reality, to group together human beings in such a manner that they are more easily
managed, manipulated and controlled. European colonial expansion into Africa,
for example, created havoc among traditional societies, when artificial national
boundaries between traditionally related and connected communities were erected
(Rodney 1973), and the diverse results are still being felt in the contemporary
period. One of the more grosser and arbitrary distinctions was that made between
Black Africa and the rest of the Continent. North Africa, including Egypt, came
increasingly to be referred to, and conceived as 'white', or occasionally, as includ-
ing some brown-skinned individuals, but certainly no 'blacks' The only way in
which it was possible to instil and perpetuate this blatant misrepresentation of the
reality of both ethnic and cultural intermingling and diversity throughout the African
continent was to aggressively suppress information and historical evidence that
would have exposed and discredited this ideologically motivated process of misin-
Within political discourse, emphasis was placed on only a relatively small
component of the cultural matrix of Northern African and some Eastern African
societies i.e. the Arab component, and this significantly cultural sphere of the
continent was artificially severed from the rest. Even within academia, and more
specifically within the disciplines of Anthropology and Archaeology, misrepresenta-
tion, manipulation and suppression of the facts became the order of the day.
Unable to deny the substantial contribution of ancient Egyptian cultures to the
development of Human Civilization, Egypt was bleached of its 'blacker' ele-
ments. It is common to hear, both in contemporary academic, as well as in lay
circles, that Egypt is actually not even part of Africa, (a perhaps, not unexpected
reaction to centuries of educational indoctrination, regarding the purported inferior-
ity of 'black' cultures and the superiority of 'white' ones).
Even at a supposedly enlightened liberal university, the University of
California at Berkeley, anyone interested in studying Egypt, either contemporary or
ancient, must do so as part of a larger course of study in Middle Eastern societies.
Although contemporary Egypt is undeniably politically, culturally and, to a lesser
extent, geographically a part of the region generally referred to as the Middle East,
it is, in like manner, unquestionably economically, culturally, politically and geo-
graphically an African nation. If, by some arbitrary set of demarcators, it is to be
separated conceptually from the Continent to which the development of the Arab
world itself is so intimately linked, then, so too, must Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia,
Djibouti, Spanish Sahara, Senegal, Mauritania and countless other parts of territo-
rial Northern and Eastern Africa be excluded.
As regards our area of the world, another artificial and irrational distinction,
again in both political and academic circles, has been that asserted between a
predominantly 'black' or African descended Caribbean and a predominantly 'mes-
tizo' / 'white' or Spanish Latin America. I remember during my first year as an
undergraduate at Stanford University having a lot of trouble with an Anthropology
professor who, from the first day of his course on Peoples and Cultures of the
Caribbean, made a firm distinction between the Black Caribbean (within which he
included former French, English and Dutch possessions), and the White Carib-
bean, (into which he grouped the formerly Spanish territories of Dominican Repub-
lic, Cuba and Puerto Rico). Although I was certainly willing to concede that the
proportion of persons of European descent to the total population in the Spanish
speaking islands was, in fact, higher then in the French or English, I could see no
reason to simply erase the other elements of these multi-racial societies from the
anthropological record. The professor eventually conceded that there were some,
albeit very few mulattos, in the Hispanic Caribbean, but refused to relinquish his
position that the black component was essentially negligible, in both demographic
and cultural terms.
While maintaining my position that the professor in question was practising
shoddy social science, his ethno-political position has to be situated within the
increasing politicization of Ethnicity and Culture, which characterized U.S. society
at a particular historical juncture, i.e. the early 1970's. According to the U.S.
census, all Hispanics (i.e. all those with either a Spanish surname or those who
reported Spanish as their first language), were considered to be 'white', regardless
of skin colour or racial origin. An emphasis on Race, that had characterized United
States society from its very inception, was supposedly being modified to incorpo-
rate notions of ethnicity. The concept of Civil rights was extended to encompass
cultural rights, which were to be safeguarded, not only for those who had tradition-
ally been victimized on racial grounds. The rights of those individuals who were
not, in fact, subjected to racial discrimination or colour prejudice, but who did
experience various forms of cultural alienation, by virtue of not forming part of the
majority 'wasp' sector of the population, were also to be protected.
Although this new attention to Ethnicity never eradicated the more vulgar
expressions of racial discrimination and prejudice from the U.S. social panorama
the U.S. obsession with Race was increasingly expressed in more euphemistic,
and less vulgar terms. Persons were questioned as to what 'nationality' they were,
when they completed applications for employment or admission to universities, for
example, as opposed to assumptions simply being made by the interviewer about
their racial identity on the basis of physical characteristics (as had been the custom
previously). Nationality, in this context had nothing to do with citizenship, but rather
ethnic and national inheritance. Mexicans in the Southwest, for example, were no
longer Mexican, but Hispanics (a term traditionally reserved for a relatively small
group of persons in New Mexico, who had historically distanced themselves from
both Mexican-Americans and Chicanos, on the grounds that they were the descen-
dants of true Spaniards, who had migrated to the area when it was still a part of
Mexico). As the criteria for inclusion in this broader demographic category was
linguistic, rather than genetic, many persons were accorded the status of 'discrimi-
nated Hispanic minority', when they were, in fact, members of the privileged
classes in such countries as El Salvador, Chile and Colombia. Everyone scram-
bled for their piece of the American pie, and the fact that some Hispanics were
dark-skinned, impoverished agricultural workers (whose ancestors had been ex-
ploited and oppressed ever since the territory of California had been transferred
from Mexican to Anglo -American control under the Treaty of Guadalupe in 1848),
while others were light-skinned members of the ruling elite of Latin America (whose
privileged economic and social position at home was often at the expense of a
dark-skinned majority) was conveniently obscured. American 'negroes and col-
oureds' were transformed into Blacks and Afro-Americans, who often found them-
selves to be at odds with Hispanics. These 'minorities' competed for both political
and physical territory pitted against one another, as they found themselves to be,
over the division of the crumbs of Affirmative action, in employment and education
on the one hand, and, all too often, in violent confrontations over physical turf in the
ghettos and barrios of Los Angeles in the West, and Brooklyn and the Bronx in New
York, to the East.
The fact that many of the Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Colombians and
Cubans, who were involved on the 'raza' or 'brown' side of so-called 'Black-Brown'
gang warfare against American blacks, were actually descended from African
slaves themselves, or reflected forms of African culture in their music, forms of
social and family organization and religion, seemed irrelevant, when they fought
'los mayates' (a derogatory term, commonly used for referring to black Americans
by Mexican Americans in California, literally translated as 'small black insects') or
'los negros' to the death in dilapidated urban areas, long deserted by members of
the majority Anglo population. The very term 'raza', a shortened version of 'la raza
cosmica', itself was originally coined to symbolize the fusion of three races,
European, African and Amerindian in the forging of the Mexican nation (Vascon-
celos in Morner 1967). Yet, the members of 'brown' gangs in Los Angeles, who
would often proudly refer to themselves as 'raza', would fight anyone who even
dared to suggest that such a thing as black Mexicans ever existed, or that
considerable evidence exists to support the thesis that the Olmec civilization
reflected the influence of early African explorers who visited Mexico long before
Columbus (Van Sertima 1976); or that blacks, for a considerable period of the
colonial era, constituted a substantial proportion of the population of Mexico City
(Aguirre Beltran 1989).
The fact was that, as the U.S. census guidelines clearly stated, an individ-
ual was either white, black, hispanic, Asian or native American, and each category
was mutually exclusive- one could not be both hispanic and black, or white and
asian only one or the other. Academic and census distinctions and categories
spilled over into popular culture, afro and black being conceptually and consistently
extricated from the intricate matrix of latino mestisaje. An otherwise quite insight-
ful article on the significance of a black woman's candidacy for mayor in Rio de
Janeiro was marred by the observation:
In Rio, where Afro-Brazilian success stories are
usually confined to soccer and samba, a black
woman is rattling Latin dominance of politics by
campaigning strongly in Rio's mayoral elec-
tions...... (Brooke 1992).
It is not Brooke's designation of Souza da Silva as a black woman that is
problematic. It is, on the contrary, refreshing to find a North American journalist
who has not had his or her analytical gaze impaired by the white Brazilian elite's
insistence on the reality of a racially egalitarian democracy. Even respected
anthropologists have fallen into the trap. In a poignant exploration of factors
contributing to infant mortality in the predominantly non-white (by almost anyone's
definition), Scheper Hughes sidesteps addressing the overwhelming importance of
attitudes to race and colour in determining the Brazilian psyche by blithely mention-
ing that nortenos have not developed a racial consciousness, and the only distinc-
tions she herself made were between those who were 'naturally' as opposed to
'sun- tanned' (Scheper-Hughes 1992).
To return to Brooke's observations on the importance of da Silva's mayoral
candidacy, the problem is that having commendably dismissed the myth, he then
proceeds to substitute the Brazilian myth with the North American one, when he
juxtaposes Afro-, with Latin-Brazilian. In actual fact, many serious students of Latin
American social history have persuasively argued that it is actually the African
element which provided the 'glue', which allowed for the formation of mestizo and
'creole' (1) society (Arellano 1981; Morner 1967; Aguirre Beltran 1989; Wortmari
1982:64-90; Katz 1986). Within colonial Hispanic America, the indigenous and
European worlds were light years apart in terms of cosmology, religion, forms of
social organization and artistic expression, and social and economic status.
Blacks, mulattos and other persons of African descent occupied an intermediary
status in social, cultural and legal terms, and thus provided a catalyst for the social
and biological blending, which eventually gave birth to the kinds of societies and
individuals that we recognize as Latin, mestizo or 'creole' America. The mulatto
element, like all other mestizo elements, along with creolized black and European
elements, is quintessentially 'latin' American rather than being conceptually or
otherwise opposed to the latter (McGarrity and Cardenas 1995).
How does the reality of U.S. race relations and the structural apartheid of
much of U.S. academic discourse impact upon contrasting expressions of Black-
ness in Contemporary Lowland Central America? The particular Central American
nation we will discuss is Nicaragua, a country which is usually included under the
rubric of Latin America, although there is an increasing consciousness (with the
emergence and growing importance of such organizations as the Association of
Caribbean States and of Afro-Latin political and cultural organizations in the
various territories) that the nations of Central America are Caribbean, as well as
Nicaragua was of intense interest to early Spanish colonial explorers
because of its substantial mineral resources. The native population was subjected
to a process of brutalization virtually unparalleled in the chronicles of Spanish
American history, a history itself soaked with the blood of indigenous people
(Wheelock 1984). The majority of the Nicarao and Chorotega peoples were
exterminated during the 16th and 17th centuries, unable as they were to withstand
the devastating impact of two insidious colonial policies:
a. The forced incorporation of indigenous people into various forms of servitude,
(such as encomienda, repartamiento and the system of reducciones).
b. The use of the native population as raw material for the infamous Indian slave
trade. This was a commercial process under which indigenous Nicaraguans
were shipped to Panama, Peru, Hispaniola, and to a lesser extent, other Spanish
territories, in order to counteract the effect of rapidly diminishing indigenous popu-
lations on colonial economic enterprises (Radell 1976:67).
When the Spaniards began their incursions into Nicaraguan territory in
1523, Denevan estimates that there were an estimated 1,000,000 indigenous
people in the Pacific region. He asserts that, by 1583, this population had already
dwindled to less than 10,000 (Denevan 1976:76). Stanislawski places the original
population in excess of 2,000,000 and claims that, by the mid-sixteenth century, it
had shrunk to less than 50,000. (Stanislawski 1983: 10). Radell (Radell 1976:73)
reports that the notorious Nicaraguan Indian slave trade came to an end, not as a
result of any explicit change in colonial policy, but because the supply of human
beings able to perform manual labour had quite simply been exhausted.
African slaves formed part of the entourage of early colonists like Gonzalez
Davila, Pedrarias, Cordoba and the traveller/historian Oviedo, to whom we are
indebted for much of our knowledge of the early days of contact between the
Spaniards and the indigenous Nicaraguan population (Oviedo y Valdes 1523).
Africans were increasingly imported into the colony to supplement the rapidly
decreasing local work force from as early as 1542 (Wheelock 1984:39; Wortman
1982:6, 85). When Indians in Segovia proved increasingly resistant to Spanish
domination and consistently prone to rebellion, African slaves were used to provide
the labour force in gold and silver mines in the 1540's. Segovia remained the
leader in Central American gold and silver production for more than a decade
(Wortman 1982:6). In the seventeenth century, Creoles and Spaniards developed
practice of granting land to free blacks and mulattos in frontier zones, to act as
human buffers against increasing encroachment on the part of sambos and miskitu
from the Atlantic Coast (the latter groups themselves reflecting a mixture of
indigenous, European and African miscegenation). One of these frontier guards-
men, Antonio Roque, was awarded the title of Captain of the Conquest, for
exemplary service in the defence of the important lakeshore city of Granada. He
was given fifty mulattos and blacks, with whose help he established a successful
settlement in the northern region of Nueva Segovia. Roque successfully 'subdued'
almost one hundred neighboring Indians, following a practise that characterized
colonial Nicaragua. Blacks, mulattoes and other population groups of African
descent were creole, as opposed to indigenous populations. As Stone reported, in
a discussion of the status of African slaves in the Central American context:
Despite their legal slave status the Negroes, be-
ing associated with the Spanish conquerors,
automatically came to occupy a position superior
to the vanquished Indians (Stone 1982:30-31).
Poignant proof of Stone's assertion that all other groups in colonial Central
America benefited from the subjugation and ruthless exploitation of the Indian was
the practice documented by Ayon. When an indigenous woman in Leon gave birth,
she was violently separated from her newborn and taken to serve as a wet-nurse
for the infants of mestizos, mulattos and whites. Ayon adds that even the poorest
Blacks, mulattos and mestizos had Indians to perform those tasks which they
considered to be beneath them (Ayon 1889: 193). It is important to note here,
moreover, that not only was the status of those of African descent an intermediary
one between that of indigenous people and Spaniards. Within the population of
African descent, (as was and arguably, still is the case in most of Latin America and
the Caribbean), the closer the individual was phenotypically to the European
master, the higher his or her social status. Mulattos, therefore, were accorded
better treatment, in some but by no means all cases, than were 'prietos'- dark
skinned blacks, much as mestizos in some, but certainly not in all cases, were
treated better than pure-blooded Indians.
The attitudes and behaviour of those of African descent, as was the case
with most mestizos, was decidedly ambivalent. Whereas in some cases they were
staunch defenders of indigenous rights, in others they were unwaveringly loyal to
the colonial overlords. Although they frequently entered into alliances with, mar-
ried and represented Indians as leaders in dealing with colonial administrators (as
was the case with the misikitu, for example), they generally enjoyed a higher social
status, and, more often than not, sided with Spaniards against the "naturales'
natives in military confrontations. Their role was markedly similar to that of the
Buffalo soldiers in the frontier Western United States (Katz 174-177) and to that of
black and mulatto Brazilians today in the Amazon region.
Africans and their descendants provided the bulk of the labour force for the
production of indigo (Arellano 1981) and also constituted an important component
of urban Nicaraguan society
"African slaves had existed in Central America
since the sixteenth century, serving in urban ar-
eas as domestic servants, traders, mule drivers
and craftsmen. They were allowed to marry free
men and women ... Africans, were able, however,
to buy their own freedom, and the prevalence of
this practice indicates considerable independent
commercial activity by them, as in Havana. Serv-
ing as carpenters, masons, street merchants, or
porters, they earned sufficient funds to free them-
selves, even in times when their price was high."
Arellano highlights the extent to which possession of slaves was a marker
of social status. However, cimarronaje the tendency of slaves to escape into the
hinterland and successfully establish independent maroon communities- was also
an established feature of colonial Nicaragua, from its earliest days. This tradition
of defiant challenge to colonial authority has doubtless contributed to the image of
contemporary Nicaraguans, from Sandino's mountain warriors, to the Sandinistas
and Miskitu insurgents of the contemporary period, as rebellious men and women,
with an unquenchable thirst for liberty and self-determination.
A comment concerning race relations in colonial Rio de la Plata, in the
southern region of South America, was also applicable to Nicaragua:
"the law places the Mulatto in the last place, after
the Europeans and their sons, Indians, Mestizos
and even Negroes, but public opinion ranks them
as equals of Negroes and Mestizos and as supe-
riors to the Indians." (Rosenblat in Morner
"Roque's Nueva Segovia represented the great-
est mestization in the colony in 1682, a portent of
later developments. The tax report frankly states
that the Spaniards there have no right to that
name. The caste population was four times that
of the Indians. Mestization was more advanced
throughout Nicaragua, Granada, and Leon than it
was in Santiago or in Ciudad Real. The slaving
raids of the sixteenth century had depleted the
province's Indian population, who were by 1682
mostly held in encomiendas to finance pensions
in Guatemala and military expenditures. Mestizo
labour was supplemented with slaves imported
for personal service and military duty. In the mid-
seventeenth century a shortage of slaves in Nica-
ragua led to a practice of breeding Africons with
whites to produce mulatto slaves for sale. African
women were kept solely for breeding purposes, it
was repeatedly charged, and a trade of their off-
spring developed with Peru.....Throughout the
colony there were more blacks and mulattos than
mestizos." (Wortman 1982:85-86).
Arellano (1981:11-12) reports that, by 1820, 'zambos' (products of African/
Indian unions), 'mulattos' (products of European, African unions) and 'cuarterones'
(individuals with a quarter African and three-quarters European blood) constituted
a full eighty per cent of the mestizo (i.e. mixed race population) of the Pacific and
Northern regions of Nicaragua. However, perhaps because African slaves were
imported in a gradual manner and there were no massive importations during a
relatively concentrated period of time (in contrast to Haiti and Cuba, in which sugar
plantation agriculture required more accelerated and intensive patterns of importa-
tion), they mixed very smoothly into the local indigenous and European popula-
tions. Arellano takes a different position on the relative level of slave importation.
He states that the number of slaves imported into the colony during the sixteenth
and seventeenth centuries must have been far greater than sketchy official docu-
mentation of the latter suggests. He argues that there is no other way of account-
ing for the huge percentage of individuals of African descent to be found in
Nicaragua by 1820, i.e. eighty per cent (Arellano 1981:12).
However, an alternate and equally persuasive hypothesis is that Africans
were, in fact, no strangers to Nicaragua, even before they came over as part of
colonial expeditions in the early sixteenth century. Considerable evidence exists to
support the thesis that African navigators were familiar with the area, now compris-
ing Mexico and the Central American republics, long before the arrival of Spanish
explorers. Writing in the 1930's about North African contact with Mesoamerica,
Cauvet (1930: 101-1020) asserts a relationship between the indigenous Nicara-
guan tribe, the Marabios and the Sudanese people, known as the Marabitine.
Huge Olmec heads, similar to the ones that characterize the period of overwhelm-
ing importance to the development of Mexican history, and increasingly being
discovered throughout Nicaragua, provide graphic evidence of the existence long
before the territory was 'discovered' by Gonzalez Davila in 1523, of inhabitants
possessed of distinctly Negroid feati es. When examining the historical record,
one is continuously being struck by descriptions of dark skinned, woolly haired
natives, observed in areas into which e is no evidence that African slaves were
introduced (Belt 1985). While it is ce inly possible that this is only evidence that
cimarronaje began very early in the ( Jionial era, the frequency with which individu-
als with African phenotype were obser ed throughout colonial Nicaragua might
also indicate pre-colonial African contact
By the late 19th century, the me .izo was a solid ethnic category, and the
fact that this mestizo was the product of Indigenous/ African/ European miscegena-
tion was frequently overlooked by all, but the most rigorous social historians.
Wortman succinctly summarizes the impact of African genes on the development
of colonial society:
'Some blacks and mulattos remained slaves, oth-
ers were freed and joined the mestizo in the politi-
cal limbo, and some escaped to the Caribbean
coast and to new tribes outside Spanish sover-
eignty. Indian and black blood entered the elite
Creole population, and if the citizenry continued
to claim pure blood, its physical appearance be-
lied its political pretense.(Wortman 1982:64).
Contemporary Nicaraguans on the Pacific Coast today consume 'comida
tipica" traditional dishes reflecting clearly African origin, like bajo and mondongo;
the instrument most closely identified with traditional indigenous culture, the ma-
rimba, has its roots in Southern Africa; and the predominant role of females in both
traditional peasant, as well as working class culture can be traced, not only to the
pre-eminence of females in indigenous Chorotega societies (McGarrity 1993:53),
but also to matriarchal and matrifocal aspects of many West African societies from
which early Nicaraguans were imported.
I remember watching American television and seeing truck loads of Sand-
inista youth 'los muchachos'- as they rode triumphantly through barricades into
Managua in 1979. It struck us all, at the time, that a lot of them sported big Afros,
were dark complexioned and did not have the features usually associated with
Central American mestizos and indios. When I asked the people with whom I
worked at Casa Nicaragua in San Francisco was told that these were all 'cos-
tenos', inhabitants of Nicaragua's Atlantic Coast. However, over the next ten
years, as I came to know Nicaraguan society better, I realized that my 'com-
paneros' at Casa Nicaragua were as much victims of the colonial legacy of a
distorted historical record, as were the rest of the population on both coasts of
contemporary Nicaragua. First of all, the participation of costenos in general in the
insurrection was relatively low, for reasons that I will discuss in the next section.
Secondly, estimates of the percentage of costenos and their descendants in the
total Nicaraguan population range from a low of less than 1% to a high of 10%
(Freeland 1995; Cidca 1981). The term often is extended to include Miskitu, sumu
and rama indians, and is not restricted to those of Anglo and African-Caribbean
descent. So these mulatto and black-looking Nicaraguans that we first glimpsed
on our television screens and later saw at every turn when we later visited
Nicaragua, could not possibly have all been from the Atlantic coast. Most were, in
fact, Pacific Coast mestizos, whose ancestors included both Africans and Amerin-
dians, and to a far lesser extent, Europeans. However, because these people are
culturally Hispanic, or what is popularly conceived of as being 'Latin American',
speak Spanish, watch the same telenovelas as Latinos from San Francisco in the
North to Tierra del Fuego in the South and listen to Roberto Carlos and Julio
Iglesias, i.e., participate in a hegemonic international 'Latino' culture, they usually,
but not exclusively identify as, and are identified by others as being Latino, as
opposed to black.
Although the irrational U.S classification has historically been that anyone
with a single drop of African blood is 'black', most of us who work in Latin America
are aware that racial and ethnic classification is far more culturally and socially
determined, than genetically based. A peasant woman in the Northern Nicaraguan
province of Jinotega, for example, is more likely to be classified as 'india' than
'blanca', even if she has fair skin, blond hair and blue eyes, because she is
illiterate, lives in a remote mountainous area, in a thatched bohio, and subsists on
a diet of tortillas and beans. An inhabitant of the Nicaraguan Atlantic Coast
community of Corn Island would probably consider himself to be 'black' (even if he
is light skinned, with blondish hair and blue eyes, and certainly far more European
phenotypically than most Pacific Coast mestizos), because he sees himself as
constituting part of the international Caribbean community. He listens to the latest
reggae music that the island's fishermen routinely bring back from the fishing
expeditions to the Pedro Banks, off Jamaica. His traditional diet includes such
Caribbean delicacies as lobster rundown, and rice and peas, and he is part of an
international network that connects him with English-speaking family and relatives
in New Orleans, Miami, Limon, Panama and San Andres. He is in Corn Island
because of the large influx of Caribbean peoples into the Coast, w'en it was a
British protectorate known as the Miskitu Coast. He is Protestant, probably
Moravian, and his father and grandfather were literate. He is not likely to ever have
been sympathetic to the Sandinista cause, because he views it as being a 'Span-
iard' or 'panyan ting', and he does not really trust Spaniards (the name costenos
use for all persons from the Pacific Coast, regardless of race or ethnicity). He
never forgets that Corn Island enjoyed the highest standard of living of any region
in Nicaragua, prior to the Sandinista Revolution. He is descended from people who
have always identified with Anglo Europeans, be they the pirate ancestors from
whom he inherited his blue eyes, or the British and American overseers on lumber
and banana plantations, who employed his people to act as overseers of the
miskitu and sumu people, (whom he has probably always viewed as backward and
primitive). The Somozas loved Corn Island and always enjoyed their strongest
base of support on the Atlantic Coast, an area that later became the 'frente internal'
- internal base of contra activity against the Sandinista government.
This Nicaraguan system of ethnic and social classification is bewildering to
North Americans, be they black, white or Native American. On one occasion, while
I was working for the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health, in Matagalpa, near the
Nicaraguan border with Honduras, we were visited by a group of North American
solidarity workers. Noticing my boss, who was brown skinned, with an Afro, and
what we would consider in the U. S. to be clearly African features, they converged
on him with questions regarding the racial question in Nicaragua. How were the
Sandinistas and Miskitu responding to black issues? Did racism exist? Was he a
part of a black political organization? Visibly embarrassed, my poor boss invented
some excuse about having to go to a Sandinista party meeting and rapidly disap-
peared. I was left to explain to the group what he, perhaps, had never really given
much thought to. His family had inhabited the province of Nueva Segovia, in the
north of Nicaragua, for four generations. He knew very little about the Atlantic
Coast and had, in fact, never even been there. Nueva Segovia, however, as we
discussed earlier had been an area into which many Africans had been imported
during the 17th century, in order to supplement the rapidly vanishing indigenous
population. He certainly had never considered himself to be 'black', because he
was from the Pacific Coast, and Spanish was his first language.
The popular perception both within and outside of Nicaragua, and indeed,
throughout lowland Central America, is that the Atlantic Coast is where all the
blacks are originally from, and that there are no blacks native to any other part of
the country. However, as we have attempted to explain here, what is actually
considered to be 'indio puro' a real Indian, has more to do with social and cultural
factors, than with purely physical traits, and the same is true with being 'moreno' or
'negro' For example, Nicaraguans would often claim that I had to be Nicaraguan,
(and not a mixture of native American and Jamaican, as is actually the case),
because I looked like a typical 'rivense' Rivas is a province in the south of the
country, close to the border with Costa Rica. African elements were absorbed into
the local population early in the colonial period (Wheelock 1980:49-83), to such an
extent that what is now popularly considered to be a typical 'india rivense' Indian
from Rivas is actually a mixture of African and Indian. As Carew has observed:
'Of all the major races that came to the Americas
during the Columbian era, the African, more than
any other, understood the profound need to cre-
ate a fusion of his culture with that of his Indian
host, through a mutual understanding and not by
aggression.' (Carew 1985)
Unlike the situation in other Central American societies, such as Guate-
mala and El Salvador, Nicaraguan society has traditionally been more fluid and
less subject to rigid racialist reinforcements of the status quo. Many of Nicaragua's
most prominent families, among them the Chamorro family, in fact, have mulatto
ancestors. One of the most prominent leaders of the contra forces in the early
1980's was 'el negro Chamorro', who would be considered to be mulatto or a
'brown man' in most parts of the Caribbean. The 'mulatoization' of the Chamorro
family is not difficult to explain when we look at the fact that their traditional home
is in the colonial city of Granada, situated on Lake Granada, which is connected to
the Atlantic Coast by a system of rivers. Sir Francis Drake used Granada as a
base for his activities, as it was an important commercial centre, linking the
Caribbean with Pacific Central America (Wheelock 1984:45; McGarrity 1993:128-
General German Pomares, whom many consider to be the most valiant of
all those who led the insurrection against Somocista tyranny, was quite African in
appearance, and is commonly categorized ethnically as a 'zambo'. A native of
Jinotega, he is one of the most beloved of revolutionaries martyrs, revered even by
those who were critical of other Sandinista rebels. It is important, too, to dispel the
myth of an impenetrable barrier between the Pacific and Atlantic Coasts of Nicara-
gua. Although topographic features certainly have led to communication and
transportation difficulties that have still not been overcome, the Northern part of
Nicaragua has also traditionally provided a bridge between the two regions. It is a
region into which natives of the Atlantic Coast, like the sumu and miskitu, tradition-
ally came to work in silver and copper mines; into which African slaves, fleeing
Spanish colonial domination fled, and often continued on the Atlantic Coast; in
which Sandino formed his 'ejercito rebelde', a rugged, but heroic army of peasants
of indigenous, African and Spanish descent, who represented the first guerilla army
in the history of Latin America (Hodges 1986). The Rio Coco and Rio Bocay to the
North have traditionally facilitated the flow of both ideas and genes between the
Northern provinces of Jinotega and Matagalpa to the West (generally considered
to be Pacific Coast) and Zelaya Norte (the northern section of la Costa Atlantica) to
the East. The Rio San Juan, to the South, which runs from the Atlantic Coast into
el Lago de Nicaragua, in the centre of Nicaragua, has also been a traditional
conduit for the exchange of both commodities and customs between the different
coasts of the southern portion of the country.
Those misguided Sandinista mestizo militants from the Pacific Coast, who
alienated so many potential Costeno allies by berating the historical lack of partici-
pation of inhabitants of Atlantic region in anti-colonial and anti-imperial struggles,
were either ignorant of Nicaraguan history, or alternatively, simply chose to ignore
the latter. As in Mexico, (Muhammed 1995) struggles against racial and class
oppression have often been inseparable in Nicaragua. When anti-colonial rebels
rose up in Leon in 1811, one of their first defiant acts was to free all slaves. When
slavery was formally abolished in the newly proclaimed, but short lived Central
American Republic, established in 1825, of which Nicaragua was a member, the
territory became one of the first parts of Latin America and the Caribbean to outlaw
the pernicious practice.
After Independence, in 1856, when the North American filibuster, William
Walker, attempted to reintroduce slavery into Nicaragua, rage at his impertinence
fuelled the fires of a bloody uprising. One of the most distinguished officers in the
rebellion against Walker was a mulatto sergeant, Andres Castro, prompting the
declared southern racist himself to admit that Castro was indeed a formidable
opponent (Burns 1991: 213).
Jose Santos Zelaya, whom many consider to be the first real Nicaraguan
caudillo, is a controversial figure in Nicaraguan history. During his administration,
from 1893 until 1912, when U.S. marines invaded Nicaragua and removed him
from office, mulattos became more visible in the higher echelons of the army and
of public administration (McGarrity 1993:205). Zelaya was also responsible for the
reincorporation of the Atlantic Coast into the Nicaraguan nation, which was
achieved in 1893. Challenging the narrow notion that miskitu and creole history on
the Atlantic Coast has been totally separate from mestizo history on the Pacific
Coast is the fact that Zelaya was essentially able to achieve reincorporation by
appealing to the dissatisfaction of the miskitu masses with their sycophantic
monarchy's corruption. They increasingly came to see the latter, coupled with the
monarchy's traditional collaboration with the English, as to detrimental, not only to
their ethnic, but also to broader national interests. Proof also of the lack of a
veritable Iron Curtain, separating the Pacific from the Atlantic Coasts, is the fact
that Nicaraguan history, from the time of Independence on, is filled with accounts
of coups and countercoups, political and military initiatives, frequently organized
and launched from the Atlantic Coast. (Guardia 1909). Although lip service is given
by so many academics to the Iron Curtain theory, an even superficial perusal of the
historical record reveals that from Zelaya on through to the Sandinistas, the
histories of the two sections of Nicaragua have been intimately intertwined.
As in the rest of Latin America, there is, however, in Nicaragua, a negative
connotation attached to being moreno or negro. Although plantation slavery did
not exist on a massive scale and thus exert a determinant influence over the
dominant cultural norms and the configuration of the pigmentocracy, (as was the
case in Cuba, Jamaica or Haiti, for example), the Nicaraguan upper class has
always been lighter and more European than the darker masses, and in a predomi-
nantly brown country, lighter complexion (maintained by generous infusions of
European blood, as the coffee oligarchy has traditionally contained important
British, German and North American elements, who married into local elite fami-
lies) has, in many, but certainly not all instances, been an important social demar-
cator. However, Nicaraguans had no problem with the fact, speaking in purely
phenotypical terms, that one of the nine commandantes on the National Directorate
was a 'zambo' (the term in much of Central and South America applied to mestizos
of Indian and African descent, devoid of the negative connotation usually attached
to 'sambo', the English expression), namely Carlos Nunez; nor that Tomas Borge,
one of the three most powerful survivors of the original Sandinista movement, is a
relatively pure Indian; nor that Ray Hooker, one of the most respected Nicaraguan
academics, is a proud descendant of Afro-Jamaicans. The great Nicaraguan poet,
perhaps the most distinguished classical poet ever produced by Hispanic America,
declared in the late 19th century, long before if was fashionable for elite creoles to
admit to any kind of mestizo ancestry:
"Is there a drop of blood from Africa or Chorotega
or Nagrandano Indian in my veins? Perhaps
there is, despite my hands of a marquess." (Dario
in Morrier 1967:147).
Afro Costeno Groups: Creoles, Garifuna and Miskitu
Some authors, while recognizing that there are several groups de-
scended from African ancestors on the Atlantic Coast, restrict their discussion of
blacks in Nicaragua to the Creoles (Freeland 1995). Their position is that, since
members of the other groups are not self-consciously 'black', then they are not
therefore 'black' in the political sense of the term. This is similar to the argument
advanced by much of the North American press when they reacted to defense
counsel's closing arguments in the recent O. J. Simpson's murder trial. Because
O.J. Simpson was not militantly and self-assertedly 'black', because he was
accorded the colour-less social status which the American public traditionally
reserves for outstanding black athletes, because he was married to a blond, white
woman and lived in a predominantly white neighbourhood, many white members of
the press advanced the position that he could not possibly have been a victim of a
racist frame-up (a form of victimization presumably only reserved for assertively
'black' persons of African descent), because, in almost a Latin American 'money
whitens' sense, he was no longer really black.
We reject this position as not only absurd, but irrational and divisive, and
draw parallels between this type of reasoning and the thesis that holds that racism
in Latin America is not a problem because firstly, most persons of African descent
there do not self-identify as 'black', and secondly, because there is a complex
configuration of racial types and forms of racial identification, as opposed to the
concept of a binary system which both U.S. officialdom and popular culture ad-
vanced until quite recently. In rejecting these definitions of what it is to be black,
we are reminded of Harnecker's distinction between objective class status and
self-consciousness or subjective class status (Harnecker 1981:16). The particular
manner in which blackness has been defined and asserted in a given nation state
has historical, cultural, economic and social peculiarities. As most of the literature
on Black Consciousness, Black Power, Black Culture, the Black Movement and,
indeed, Blackness, itself, has been published in English, in the United States,
within a particular social and political context, expressions of blackness from
outside of the English-speaking world have unavoidably been marginalized.
Added to this, the fact that the Latin American concept of mestisaje (a potentially
positive, egalitarian and democratic, biological and social phenomenon) has
tended to be promoted hand in hand with blanqueamiento (a white supremist, elitist
ideology, which holds that the only way for multi-racial societies to progress is for
the darker elements in the Latin American case, the indigenous and African ones
- to be progressively diluted, and eventually erased by the introduction of 'white'
genes into these 'inferior' genetic pools) has meant that both social and individual
progress and advancement have traditionally implied a negation of blackness and
'All were oppressed and alienated cultures,
whose roots to the past had been cut. The im-
possibility of achieving a complete cultural iden-
tity reveals one of the most subtle aspects of
domination Beyond its exoticism, this broad
range of cultures has allowed class domination to
draw upon prejudice as a facade that hides and
justifies the position of inferiority of the great ma-
jority of the region's inhabitants. This racial preju-
dice never ceased to be a fundamental
mechanism in the forging of the Patria Criolla.
First, it guaranteed the 'purity' of Spanish ances-
try by contrast to Indian or mestizo ancestry.
Later on, after Independence, it enshrined the
criollo, that intimate blend of Spanish and mes-
tizo, as the typical system. The exclusion of Indi-
ans and blacks (but not of mestizos and mulattos.
Author's clarification.) was an inviolable social
Our position is that a more enlightened and ultimately more enriching
exercise is to apply the same kind of scientific gaze to the study of African
retentions, African mestisaje and blackness in Latin America as has traditionally
been applied to the subject of those of African descent in the English speaking
world; without, however, applying the narrow, culture specific delineators that have
limited much of Afro-American scholarship, as applied to U.S. as well as to other
societies. This facilitates the collection of rich, multi-cultural data, as well as the
development of new theoretical paradigms, for instead of imposing foreign-devel-
oped, albeit Afrocentric (as opposed to traditional Eurocentric) categories onto the
data, we will be allowing the participants in African descended societies to assume
a determinant role in both defining and interpreting their particular experience of
'blackness' In many cases, the actual use of the term may itself be alienating,
while the use of parochial, local terms, such as moreno, prieto, mulatto, trigueno,
will prove more appropriate and lead to the discovery that these societies may not
be as anti-black as offensive terms and ways of discussing black culture and
people may lead one to conclude (Torres-Sailant 1995).
Popular lore purports that Africans first arrived on the Atlantic coast after a
ship carrying slave cargo sank off the coast of Cabo Gracias a Dios, in the northern
section of the Mosquitia (Guerrero 1982:144-149). More rigorous ethnohistorical
research has revealed, however, that the first individuals of African descent prob-
ably came to the Coast as slaves to English colonists, who were based in the island
of Providencia in the late 1630's. When the Spanish attacked and destroyed the
Spanish settlement at Providencia in 1641, those British slaves who were already
working on the Nicaraguan mainland remained there, managing to elude reincor-
poration into the slave system. Their numbers were augmented by other pre-
viously British owned slaves from Providencia, who escaped from the island to the
Nicaraguan mainland, during the chaos occasioned by the Spanish ambush.
Many of these creolized Africans, who were originally from the area in
West Africa now known as Ghana, Togo, Gambia and Benin, intermarried with the
miskitu and were gradually absorbed into what has become, since the arrival of
Europeans, a genetically Afro-Indian, culturally Amerindian ethnic group; still oth-
ers established independent settlements along the Atlantic litoral. (Cidca 1982).
Despite popular misconceptions, not all Africans or blacks who came to the Atlantic
Coast of Nicaragua were slaves. In fact, given Arellano's emphasis on the prepon-
derance of those of African descent in colonial Pacific Coast Nicaragua, it is quite
probable that there are actually more Pacific Coast residents descended from
African slaves (as distinguished from free blacks who entered the territory), than
there are Atlantic Coast inhabitants of African slave descent. Even if we include all
those of any kind of African descent on the Coast, either free or slave, including the
miskitu, the combined numbers do not approximate even 1/5 of the Pacific mestizo
population, which we have already established contains a significant African ge-
Just as not all blacks arrived in Nicaragua as slaves, not all slave owners
on the Coast were white. One of the largest slave owning families, and one of the
most prominent Costeno families to this day, rapidly transformed from white into
mulatto, and eventually negro 'esclavistas' and large landowners. To be black in
Nicaragua did not mean that one was necessarily a slave; to be white did not
automatically mean that one was wealthy or upper class. In fact, most of the whites
who frequented and later settled on the Coast were buccaneers and pirates,
frequently from the lower social classes in the Mother Country. The miskitu royal
family was not obliterated, but rather maintained by the British colonialists. The
miskitu king was traditionally taken to Kingston to be crowned; his closest advisers
were usually Jamaican or creoles of Jamaican descent; he allowed miskitu sub-
jects who had fallen into disfavour to be taken to Jamaica to work as slaves, when
colonial administrators there experienced problems with the African supply, and
miskitu warriors were considered masterful at hunting down runaway slaves on the
It is important to note that due to the specificities of English colonial and
American neo-colonial relations in the region, the Atlantic Coast was more devel-
oped, in many respects, than was the Pacific. In 1849, Moravian missionaries from
Germany obtained British permission to enter the territory. Their attention to the
health and educational well-being of the local population, particularly the Creole,
helped to create a well-educated workforce, in sharp contrast both to the miskitu
labourers in the mining enclaves to the north, as well as to the majority of the
mestizo peasants in the west:
'...Bluefields was described as American to the
core. The area thus presented a picture quite
different from other parts of Nicaragua, and of
Central America as a whole The English lan-
guage Bluefields Messenger reflected the cosmo-
politan' character of the town in 1894. It carried
daily advertisements of the Bluefields Banana
company, with its bi-weekly passenger service to
New Orleans of wholesale grocers, with fancy
lines; of U.S. and British trading and insurance
companies, which maintained agencies in Blue-
fields' (Dozier in McGarrity 1993).
British colonialists remained in the Mosquitia (the Atlantic Coast) officially
until 1787 and unofficially for a further hundred years, until the Coast was officially
reincorporated into the Nicaraguan state. During the period of British control, both
slaves and free persons of colour continued to arrive in the region and add to the
cultural diversity that has become synonymous with the Coast. The linguistic,
genetic and musical contributions of Amerindians, Afro-Caribbeans, Euro-Carib-
beans and adventurers from all parts of the British Isles gave rise to a vibrant
language, culture and folklore. The 'palo de mayo' or maypole, which is the
regional dance of the Atlantic Coast, is itself proof of the intensive miscegenation
that continues to characterize the zone. African rhythms, and tecl'iques reflective
of English peasant dance forms merge together in this form of creative expression,
vigorously participated in by Costenos of all colours, classes and political affili-
The ecological characteristics of the Atlantic region facilitated cimarrona je
- the establishment of maroon communities described above as being endemic to
slave society on the Pacific Coast, as well. The example of free Jamaican 'gentle-
men of colour', who often visited the Coast, and sometimes settled there perma-
nently, fuelled the fires of liberty and mitigated against views entrenched in other
Spanish American territories that only whites could be masters and gentlemen, and
that blacks and Indians were always relegated to the bottom of the social pyramid.
The garifuna or black caribs further complicated a clear cut vision of an equivalency
between ethnicity, colour and social class. Originally from St. Vincent in the
Eastern Caribbean, these people view themselves and are viewed by others as an
indigenous group, mainly because they speak an indigenous language. However,
phenotypically they are decidedly African. In fact, darker skinned creoles are often
mistaken for garifuna, as creoles tend to be lighter. While their African appearance
is usually traced to the introduction into the Carib Indian group of runaway slaves
during the European colonial era (CIDCA 1982), some suggest that a pre-Colom-
bian, Mandingan migration was responsible for the creation of this Afro-Indian
group. (Van Sertima 1975:31, 217).
After the British left the Coast and it became reincorporated, 'creoles'1, as
they liked to be called, tended to range from lower-middle to middle class, as
opposed to working class, and this continued to be the case until the Sandinista era
ushered in a period of massive social dislocation and migration. Having benefited
from the higher standard of living, albeit based on neo-colonial relations of depend-
ence, that characterized the Coast under the prolonged period of British and North
American influence, the majority of Creoles were understandably not persuaded by
Sandinista calls for the need to be more integrated into the poorer, less educated
Pacific Coast society and economy. They were also understandably insulted by
assertions that they were culturally, though not ethnically or racially, inferior, and
that their Creole English represented a bastardized form of American English.
Even distinguished British journalists observing contemporary Costeno society and
language have displayed a dismaying ignorance of the patois roots of much of
Creole speech, and have misinterpreted it as reflective poor English and even
defective speech patterns (Ford 1993). The reality is that Nicaraguan Creole
English is in many respects closer to the standard dialects of the British isles, than
is contemporary American English.
Although some Creoles joined the ranks of the Sandinistas, most
notably some members of the prominent Campbell, Hooker and Taylor families,
many more were more sympathetic to the political platform of the contra and the
internal, right-wing opposition. As a people traditionally connected to the United
States, the English-speaking Caribbean and the Atlantic rim and Caribbean islands
of Central America, many opted to migrate, causing dramatic declines in popula-
tion. Still others, participated in coalition efforts to forge an Autonomy project on
the Atlantic Coast. The Garifuna, an endangered species, due to their rapidly
reducing number, tended to side with the Sandinistas (Freeland 1995), while the
Rama remained ambivalent.
Nicaragua, as a nation, represents a microcosm of many of the issues that
should be of interest to both organizations and individuals, who are seriously
interested in promoting concerted efforts and united action on behalf of the peoples
of Latin America and the Caribbean. Although many 'Latino' intellectuals give lip
service to a common mestizo identity, this identification more often than not
remains at a purely abstract and rhetorical level. As the Panamanian singer/
lawyer/ political activist, Ruben Blades, exposes in his salsa hit: 'Tu abuela done
esta?' this self-identification with a symbolic mestisaje invariably does not extend
to an open identification with, and pride in living black and Indian relatives. Latin
Americans of clearly African and Amerindian descent remain embarrassingly ab-
sent from Latin American political, academic and professional circles, although
they continue to be far more visible in popular music, culture and sports.
A former Jamaican ambassador to the U.N. constantly laments the tension
that he senses at international meetings between predominantly black Caribbean
delegates and predominantly white Latin American ones. He attributes this tension
not only to the obvious linguistic and stylistic differences between Anglophone and
Hispanic groups in the region, but more importantly, to the fact that Afro-Latin
Americans themselves remain shamelessly disenfranchised and marginalized
within Hispanic societies. Light skinned Hispanic diplomats, therefore, experience
a certain level of uneasiness and discomfort when confronted with representatives
of what some of them have been overheard to refer to as the 'the black crescent'.
Afro-Latin Americans are uniquely equipped to bridge the cultural, ethnic
and national divide that contributes to theuneasy relationship which my Jamaican
colleague describes. In the case of Nicaragua, some of you may remember that
during the 1980's, Nicaragua had an ambassador to the U.S. that never went
anywhere, never made any official statement, nor responded to any question put to
him, without consulting with his Afro-Nicaraguan charge d'affaires. It was clear to
many followers of the Nicaraguan situation that htis native of Bluefields was far
more accomplished and capable of representing his country than the Ambassador
himself, but Pacific Coast Sandinistas did not feel comfortable about being repre-
sented in the United States by a member of a cultural minority. This, in our opinion,
was an unfortunate strategic error because, despite their identification with, and
attachment to the Black Diaspora, costenos also tend to be intensely patriotic, and
comfortable with being not only bi-, but tri- cultural.
Although Pacific Coast morenos are not so culturally cosmopolitan, totally
integrated as they are into the majority mestizo culture, it is important to note here
that their experience also reveals much about lowland Central American attitudes
to race and colour. Although Nicaragua is by no means free from racial stereotyp-
ing and shares with the rest of Latin America a tendency to exalt European
standards of beauty and to evaluate whiteness with success and power (a natural
response to the existing social structures of Latin America), morenos are not
restricted to the lower rungs of society, as is the case in Brazil or Colombia, for
example. As a visiting Navajo member of the American Indian Movement said
during one of his many visits to Nicaragua:
"this is the damnedest little country. The people
who claim to be white the mestizo sure look
indian to me. The ones who say that they are
indian the miskitu, rama and garifuna look like
black people to me, and the ones who proudly
claim to be black look damn near white (lighter
skinned Creoles, from Pearl Lagoon, Corn Island
and Waspan). (Wauchope 1980).
The Sandinista experiment in Autonomy remains one of the most progres-
sive approaches to reversing the legacy of oppressing Indians and blacks, that has
plagued Hispanic America since the conquest. It is important, now that Nicaragua
is out of the limelight and no longer of concern to U.S. policy brokers and analysts,
that we not lose sight of the many lessons we can learn from this Afro/Indian nation,
that was brave enough to confront the United States and to attempt to provide a
better future for all of its citizens, regardless of race, creed or colour. A reinterpre-
tation of Nicaraguan history, in the tradition of Wolfe, was one of the more positive
characteristics of the more progressive intellectual sectors of Sandinismo, a sector
that for a variety of reasons, both internal and external to Nicaragua, was pre-
vented from flourishing. This series of reflections on the complexity of the African
presence in Nicaragua is humbly presented in the tradition of the great African
American anthropologist St. Clair Drake, who inculcated me with the determination
to consistently challenge dogmas and categories, and to work in the griot tradition,
quoted in Carew:
'It is our duty to rewrite the history of our people.
It is a task that could very well last two and a half
centuries.' (Carew 1985:43).
As Pablo Neruda was fond of repeating: "Un pueblo que no conoce no puede ser
1. It is important to note that the differing definitions of creole or 'black' in the Nicaraguan context have
led to confusing and misleading census data. CIDCA reported in 1982 that they considered ear-
lier estimates of 10% to be excessive. Freeland (1995) places the percentage of the total popula-
tion at less than 1%. Our position is that both estimates are misleading. The definition of creole
is a decidedly problematic one. How are the children of one creole and one non-creole parent
defined? Are black people from the Coast who trace African ancestry, do not claim indigenous
status (as black miskitu, rama and garfuna do) but who are not 'culturally' creole, still included
within the group for census purposes?
Finally, the devastating impact of accelerated migration of the Creole population away from the Atlan-
tic Coast to other parts of the 'Creole diaspora' ( Atlantic rim of Costa Rica, Panama and the Co-
lombian claimed islands of Providencia and San Andres), as well as to the United States can not
be ignored. These migrants continue to identify as Nicaraguan creoles, wherever they establish
new roots, and need to be included in official population estimates.
Aguirre Beltran, Gonzalo 1989. La poblacion negra de Mejico: studio etnohistorico, Xalapa, Univer-
sidad Veracruzana, 1989.
Arellano, Jorge E. 1981. La Esclavitudnegra en Nicaragua. Managua: Ventana (Barricada)
Ayon, Thomas. 1889. Historia de Nicaragua desde los tiempos mas remotos hasta el ano de 1852.
Belt, Thomas.1885. El naturalist en Nicaragua. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Brooke, James 1992.'Black Woman Runs Strong Campaign for Mayor of Rio' San Francisco
Chronicle. November 14.
Bums, Bradford. 1991.Patriarch and Folk: The Emergence of Nicaragua. 1798-1858, Cambridge:
Harvard University Press.
Carew, Jan. 1985. "The African and the Indian presence: some aspects of historical distortion", in
Race and Class, XXVII.
Cauvet, Gaston E.J. 1930. Les Berberes en Amerique. Alger, J. Bringan.
CIDCA, 1982. Notas sobre la historic demografica y poblacion actual de los grupos etnicos de la
Costa Atlantica. Nicaraguense. Managua: CIDCA.
Dozier, Craig L. 1985. Nicaragua's Mosquito Shore: The Years of British and American Presence.
University: University of Alabama Press.
Ford, Peter. 1993. Tekkin a Waalk along the Miskito Coast. London: Flamingo.
Freeland, Jane. 1995. "Nicaragua' In No Longer Invisible. Afro Latin Americans Today. ed. Minor-
ity Rights Group. London: Minority Rights Publications.
Guardia, Ricardo F. 1909. Cartlla historic de Costa Rica. San Jose: Avelino Alsina.
Guerrero, Julian N. and Lola Soriano Guerrero. 1982. Las Nueve Tribus Aborigenes de Nicaragua.
Hamecker, Marta. 1981. Social Classes. Theoretical Review, Jan.-Feb: 15-39.
Helms, Mary W. 1977. Negro or Indian? The changing identity of a frontier population. In Old Roots
in New Lands. A.M. Pescatello, ed. pp.132-157 Westport: Greewood Press.
Hodges, Donald. 1986. Intellectual Foundations of the Nicaraguan Revolution. Austin: University of
Katz, William Loren. 1986. Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage. New York: Atheneum Publ.
McGarrity, Gayle. 1993. "Social, Cultural and Historical Determinants of Childhood Malnutrition in Ur-
ban Communities of Managua and San Jose." Doctoral Dissertation. Department of Anthropol-
ogy: U.C. Berkeley
Momer, Magnus 1967.Race Mixture in the History of Latin America. Boston: Little, Brown and Co.
Muhammad, Jameelah S. 1995. Mexico. In No Longer Invisible. Afro Latin Americans ed. Minority
Rights Group. London: Minority Rights Publication.
Oviedo y Valdez, Gonzalo Femandez de 1535 .Historia general y natural de las Indias, islas y
Tierra Firme del Mar Oceano. Paragua.
Newson, Linda A. 198. Indian Survival in Colonial Nicaragua. Norma: University of Oklahoma Press.
Perez Brignoli, Hector 1989. A brief history of Central America. Berkeley: University of Calif. Press
Radell, David 1976 The Indian Slave Trade and the Population of Nicaragua during the 16th Cen-
tury." In: The Native Populations of the Americas. W.M. Denevan, ed. Madison: University of
Rodney, Walter. 1973. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. London and Kingston: Bogle I'Ouverture
Stanislawski, Dan. 1983. The transformation of Nicaragua. 1519-1548. Berkeley: University of Calif.
Stone, Samuel. 1982. La Dinastia de los Conquistadores. 3rd ed. San Jose: EDUCA
Torres-Sailant, Silvio 1995 'The Dominican Republic.' In No Longer Invisible: Afro Latin Americans.
eds. Minority Rights Group. Minority Rights Publ. London.
Van Sertima, Ivan 1976. They Came Before Columbus. New York: Random House.
Wortman, Miles L. 1982. Government and Society in Central America. New York: University of Colum-
Wheelock, Jaime. 1984. Raices Indigenas de la Lucha Anticolonialista en Nicaragua. Mexico: Siglo
Wheelock, Jaime. 1980. Imperialismo y Dictadura. La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales.
Double G(l)azing: Regarding a colonial imagination in Patrick
Fermor's The Traveller's Tree
There is no fate so uncertain as the fate of books
of travel. They are the most assailable of all
men's literary productions. The man who writes a
travel-book delivers himself more than any other
into the hands of his enemies.
Joseph Conrad (1926)
I believe that post-colonial studies needs always
to remember that its referent in the real world is a
form of political, economic, and discursive
oppression whose name, first and last, is colonial-
Stephen Slemon (1995)
Introduction: "Site(s) of Investigation"
In an unspecified fall and winter after WWII, Major Patrick Leigh Fermor, an
Englishman, travelled with two friends, Joan, an English woman and Costa, a
Greek man, through the Caribbean islands. An account of this journey was
published by Fermor (1950a) as The Traveller's Tree.1 Fermor made only a
modest claim for this travel narrative, which "reduces itself to a personal random
account" whose "ultimate purpose" was to "retransmit to the reader" interest and
enjoyment, and to "give pleasure"(x). He also cautioned that the book was not a
guide to the region, listed other shortcomings, and claimed that it would be
"impolitic" to prolong its "catalogue of omissions. He disclaimed any status as
authoritative political or economic commentary for the book and "jettisoned" those
aspects without "compunction. His claims and disclaims, however, require close
scrutiny Fermor's narrative, I will argue, is much more than an innocent, random,
personal account.2 Indeed, this travel book, in its claim to "retransmit" in fact
constructs, represents, and reproduces a form of knowledge for a specific
readership that is considerably more insidious than innocuous.
In this paper I will contextualize the unequal political, economic, social, and
spatial relations that inform and constitute Fermor's narrative and which he not
overlooks, but occludes in his text. Though I focus on Fermor's depiction of land
and life in Dominica, particularly the Carib Reserve, and neighboring Barbados, I
will draw on other examples from his Caribbean writings to substantiate my claim.
In short, I will argue that, despite what Fermor claims or disclaims, The Traveller's
Tree is inextricably embedded in another story, is in fact a chapter in the geography
of a larger colonial project of power and control. No one, as Said (1993:7) notes, is
beyond geography and no one is free from the struggle over geography That
struggle, Said observes, is "complex and interesting because it is not only about
soldiers and cannons but also about ideas, about forms, about images and
In the first line of his preface Fermor (1950a:viii) states: "Geographically,
the Caribbean archipelago is easy to split up into component groups. In the very
next paragraph he notes that no such easy summary is possible "for the inhabitants
of these islands" Fermor, though he conspicuously situates himself outside
professional or academic disciplines, is describing and discussing places and
peoples. It is, Fermor (ix) writes, "with these aspects of the Caribees that this book
is concerned, with their life as it impinges on an interested stranger, their buildings
and food and religions, their history and the perceptible texture of their existence.
Fermor, in other words, is writing geography. Though I heed Marcus and Fischer's
(1986: ix) caution not to needlessly excoriate the sins of our ancestors, I am also
mindful of Clifford's (1986:2) critical attention to the persistence of ideologies that
claim "transparency of representation and immediacy of experience.
If I appear, then, to exhume a colonialist corpse it is not inevitably to
excoriate; rather, it is to examine and interrogate, to question representations and
reveal not inadvertent omissions but intentional exclusions. This interrogation is
intended to disclose, in Duncan's (1993: 39) terms, not only the "sites" represented
by Fermor (Caribbean lands and peoples) but more importantly Fermor's
ideological "site of representation" from which those representations emanate.
Claims of mimesis are certainly problematic, as Duncan argues, since sites
represented are refracted through the ideological lens at the site of representation.
This paper, then, its "site of investigation" is located within the broader discussion
and debate surrounding issues of representation, de-colonization, and post-
colonialism in cultural studies. Crush (1994:336) recommends several aims for a
postcolonial geography, two of which will be undertaken here: (1) to analyse the
forms of geographic representation in colonial writing; and, (2), to attempt to
recover some of the overwritten places occupied by the colonial underclasses.
Fermor's travel narrative is embedded in, informed by, and constitutive of
a larger history, that of "colonial discourse" defined by Hulme (1986:2) as an
"ensemble of linguistically-based practices unified by their common deployment in
the management of colonial relationships. Colonial discourse, Hulme argues,
produced large parts of the non-European world for Europe in the guise, among
other forms, of imaginative literature and personal memoirs.3 Fermor's story,
then, despite its non-professional veneer cannot be separated from unequal
colonial relations of power, nor be dismissed as an ideologically neutral, non-
political representation. Indeed, though Fermor (x) argues that "there is no rigid
canon for a book of this kind, his narrative exemplifies a form of "geography" that
was part of European colonial expansion and domination. Brewer (1991 344)
notes that studies of travel writing can be placed into two groups. The first is
concerned more with writing as literary activity than with travel as a social
phenomenon. The second is not concerned with genre at all but discusses travel
writing in the context of colonialism and neocolonialism. While my primary focus
here is the latter, it must be acknowledged that since language, mediated by
socio-cultural specificities, is the medium of communication, then discussion of
travel writing narrative and description will necessarily involve some concern
with the genre. Butor (1974. 10) succinctly puts it thus: "Even before the
conqueror, the explorer seizes with his language the land he crosses.
Clifford (1988:26-7), among others, notes how professional "scientific"
anthropology disengaged itself from the earlier reports of missionaries,
administrators, traders, and travellers. This ostensible disengagement was, as
Pratt (1986:197) notes, an assertion of authority Yet, as Pratt notes, we must be
suspicious of any disciplinary boundary between ethnography and travel writing, as
ethnographers often characterize their writing in contrast to (mere) travel books.
Levi-Strauss (1973:17), for example, begins his journey in Tristes Tropiques with
the unequivocal, "I hate travelling and explorers. Levi-Strauss so inscribes his
professional distance from, and asserts authority over, mere travellers and
explorers. Fermor, the traveller, defines his non-professional distance but in doing
so does not renounce any claim to authority Rather, Fermor asserts his authority
to "retransmit to the reader" (x) while abandoning accountability under the rubric of
(mere) travel writing. This claim to authority without accountability demands closer
Two related sets of questions will thus inform my interrogation of Fermor's
text. First, in accord with contemporary (self)-critical moods, is to inquire, as
Fischer (1986: 198) suggests, "into what is hidden in language, what is deferred by
signs, what is pointed to, what is repressed, implicit, or mediated. Second, to
question, like Thomas (1994: 25-6), the claims made by particular texts, "how and
why they employ notions of national racial or cultural difference and what political
concerns are embodied in, or furthered by, particular descriptions.
Colonizing Images: People
Ethnographers "arrival scenes" as Pratt (1986:42-3) notes, are "straight
out of the tropology of travel writing." Though Pratt points out that nocturnal arrivals
are relatively rare in both travel writing and ethnography, Fermor's arrival in the
darkness of a tropical dawn appropriately, I think, frames his particular field of view
Unlike Levi-Strauss, who years before had arrived by ship at Fort-de-France,
Martinique, in the bright afternoon, titillated by the promise of an illicit sexual
encounter with two young German women (1973:29), Fermor's arrival at Point-a-
Pitre, Guadeloupe, was into a dark dawn (1950:1-3). With "unnatural spee,
Fermor's ship advanced down the gulf into the Caribbean dawn "suspended in the
very centre of motion and change and instability" while surrounded by "dark
shapes" "black vegetation, "dark filaments" and more "darkness. Moreover, on
the way to a hotel he "had not passed one white person" but "hundreds of black
faces." After a nap he remembered where he was when he saw that the street was
"full of Negroes" and immediately pronounces that "towns in the Antilles do not
have much of a chance" since their "purpose... was to serve as a warehouse, a
market for slaves. Similarly, the harbour had been built for "incoming slave-ships
and for outgoing cargoes of sugar and rum" (4).
This first lesson in historical geography is curiously devoid of history
Fermor temporarily shifts from the allegorical mode to a matter-of-fact transparent
language that yields more than a little opacity and occlusion to even cursory
analysis. The non-metaphorical language of history that Fermor deploys here
tends, as White (1976: 31, 35) points out, "to treat language as a transparent
vehicle of representation that brings no cognitive baggage of its own into the
discourse. But, as White notes, "all language is politically contaminated. In
Fermor's history, then, slave-ships and slave-markets are de-contextualized from
the exploits of the Royal African Society and the horrors of the middle passage,
outgoing cargoes of sugar and rum are dis-associated from the slave labour that
produced wealth not in the colony but at the metropole. Fermor's text, allegorical
and literal, is contaminated by a scarcely repressed racism that becomes less
covert when we read on. Not that racism and racism, or geography and
imperalism, were strangers to each other4 For, as Rothenberg (1994.167)
remarks, imperialism could not have worked without racism and, though a
"simplistic equation" racism plus capitalism equalled imperialism.
When contextualized, Fermor's text his site(s) of representation is
revealed as racist colonial discourse. Though, as Godlewska & Smith (1994. 130)
point out, the language of empire, "a rhetoric of superiority" lost credibility in the
middle decades of this century, we should note that decolonization occurred more
slowly in the British West Indies. The years immediately before and after Fermor's
visit were a time of increasing organization of labour unions and political parties
united in their resistance to colonialism. This resistance took the form of mass
public protest in many islands and arson and riots in others. Richardson(1992:181)
points out that, while the "political changes at mid-century in the British Caribbean
were rapid and momentous compared with the cumulative inertia of three centuries
of plantation oppression, it still took public protest in some cases to end de facto
colonial rule. Now we may begin to discern the reasons why Ferrnor's "ship" on
arrival in the Caribbean moves with "unnatural speed" and is "suspended in the
very centre of motion and change and instability" surrounded by "black vegetation"
and "darkness" (1). Colonial discourse, like most colonial products, was consumed
not in the colony but at the metropole. Given the mass post-WWII emigration from
the British West Indies to England, racist representations like Fermor's could only
have had dire social, economic, and political implications when consumed at the
metropole. The "mother country" was less than accepting of her black "children"
who were, as Richardson (1992:142-3) notes, "subjected to racial slurs and insults
at work and relegated to the worst housing conditions in the unfamiliar British
cities. At this time, Jackson (1989:140) notes, black people were commonly
represented in the British press as a "problem group. Fermor's narrative was not
simply colonial in ideology but colonizing in practice. Racist colonial discourse, in
the (dis)guise of innocent travel writing, constructed at the colony but produced for
consumption at the metropole, had severe repercussions for black emigrants to
England at the time and still reverberates today
Fermor also deployed throughout his text less gross rhetorical devices to
depict Afro-Caribbean peoples, but although more subtle they are at base
insidiously racist. Ryan (1994: 164) notes how the visualizing colonial gaze
exoticized and sexualized natural and cultural differences so as to render them
describable In this way representations, or to use Fermor's term,
"retransmissions" regardless of their accuracy, are produced and rendered
meaningful for their intended consumers. Fermor, too, employs the exoticizing,
sexualizing mode of regard in producing and consuming black Creole women.
"Negro women, he writes, "ought always to wear bright colours and compact,
dashingly tied turbans" (15). (Read: conceal their hair) Black women are
essentialized as "African queens. "While mulatto girls with skin the colour of a
"dark Greek girls" should "affect a sort of Italo-lberian swank" (14, 15). Alas, for all
Ferror's attention to visually dressing (and undressing?) Creole women he, "had
to wait till Trinidad to see the right way for Negroes to dress" (15)! In Fermor's gaze
there is a right way for essentialized "Negroes" to dress; he Europeanizes and so
standardizes a generic black West Indian. But, as Bhabha (1984: 127) in a
discussion of "minicry" in colonial discourse points out, "mimicry is at once
resemblance and menace. The civilizing imagination privileges its own superiority
by exaggerating "natural" and cultural difference but contradicts its own discourse
since the success of the mission depends on transforming difference into a
semblance of itself "civilization" The more that Caribbean peoples came to
resemble Europe in claiming political voice and economic independence the more
Fermor is menaced by that resemblance. The civilizing mission of the colonial
imagination must, finally, confront itself and its product in the process.
So much, for now, of the racism that, whether more subtle or less gross,
(mis)informs and underpins Fermor's depiction of Afro-Caribbean peoples, for,
before long, he openly admits that "the future looks very dark indeed, though
perhaps a shade less dark in the French West Indies than the British" (89)
According to Fermor the "violent colour-consciousness of Cesaire" and the
"illiterate rancour of the Negro masses" will "precipitate the islands to disaster"
(87-88). All, Fermor opines, because of "Las Casas's alternative" to import black
slaves who are "the cause of all the subsequent sorrows of the Caribbean" (108).
Fermor sounds too much like Chester (1908), another military man. who equated
and explained Haiti's "degeneration" with its "blackness So much, then, for
Fermor's (x) innocent claim to retransmit interest, enjoyment, and give pleasure to
the reader It seems that his real interest, implicit and repressed in places and
more explicit in others, is to perpetuate racism and promote a specific political
purpose for the colonial project. But Fermor's imperial imagination is by no means
unfractured and in no way secure. When he later saw, in Grenada, a black man
sharpening a cutlass on a "screaming and spark-shedding disc," pausing every
now and then to "examine minutely the edge of the glittering blade," he is
disconcerted. His imagination is severed by, "An oddly disquieting vision" (189).
The same tool made in England, that helped to shape the colonial landscape
cleared forest, cut cane and bananas, reaped wealth for England that same tool,
in the same hand, has the means to sever some if not all the connections between
"mother country" and creole "child"
To claim as I do here, that Fermor's site of representation was politically
contaminated by racist and colonists intentions, is not, however, to isolate him for
indictment. Rather, it is to situate him, to reveal his origin among the geographers,
academic and amateur, of the "new geography" and the "new Imperalism" which,
as Hudson (1977) demonstrated, was built on a foundation of racist ideology
Darwinian evolutionary biology theory, as Peet (1985) points out, was diverted into
late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century geography and served to legitimize
the perverted intentions of the "age of Empire." Fermors colonizing discourse was
a part of this broader geographic and ethnographic project of power and control
that produced the images of other peoples in other lands for consumption in, and
by Europe. Travel writing, as Said (1993:99) puts it, is one of the arts and sciences
that brings "the non-European world into representation, the better to be able to see
it, to master it, and above all, to hold it."
Colonizing Images: Caribs, Time, and Space
From the French eepartements of Guadeloupe and Martinique, Fermor
then moved on to the British colony of Dominica and it is here that I picked up his
narrative. The apparent highlight of Fermor's foray in Dominica was a visit to the
Carib Reserve, an account of which was published as "The Caribs of Dominica" in
The Geographical Magazine and it is on these accounts that I will now focus.5
Ethnographers, of necessity, are also travellers, they must travel to reach the
subjects of their study But, as Pratt (1986) notes, personal narrative is
conventionally subordinated to description, abbreviated to the "arrival scene" or
published in a separate narrative account. Fermor, unconstrained by the strictures
of professional ethnography, is able to combine narration and description in a
single account. Indeed, his account of the journey to the Carib Reserve is part of
his strategy for depicting, among other things, the Caribs. Fermor ficitonalizes
distance time and space on this journey so as to emphasize for his purpose the
remoteness of the reserve both spatially and temporally By exaggerating distance
the trip becomes not simply a journey but an expedition, forward to a remote
(exotic) place but also backward to a remote (primitive) time. (When I checked
Fermor's route on a map his exaggerations are evident.) Leaving "the only road of
northern Dominica, Fermor and his party set out on theirjourney In pointing at his
adventure Fermor, of course, points away from other questions. Why, for example,
is there no driveable road to the reserve, why has the colonial government not built
one? The expedition requires porters, "three enormous Negroes" who on the
same page are also "lean and gentle" as well as "slender and graceful "! Moreover,
the "caravan" had "assumed the portentousness of an expedition of Mungo Park
into the jungles of Africa. Joan is not described; her horse, rather, bears "a figure
that looked as purposeful in its dark glasses and great straw hat as a mid-Victorian
lady heading for the mission-field in Uganda" (1950a: 105)! The mission and its
destination is romanticized by comparing it to nineteenth century British travel
writing (colonial discourse), while the English woman is de-sexualized to fit the
"proper" contours of the colonial imagination.6
Fermor employs a geographical imagination in this passage to accomplish
two things. By one account the party travels "all day long" to reach the reserve
(1950a: 106). As remarked above he exaggerates distance to emphasize the
reserves remoteness and so the scope of his adventure. In the other account
(1950b: 256), however, no sooner than he leaves the road and crosses a river he
is "in the upper marches of the Carib domain. Then, he travels "all day long"
presumably through this "Carib domain" before reaching the settlement or seeing
any Caribs. What Fermor does in effect is to enlarge the reserve from its actual
size of 3,700 acres to make it fit the more magnanimous paternalistic dimensions
of the colonial imagination. This literary enlargement, without cartographic or legal
basis in colonial law, though serving aggrandizing colonial interests, misrepresents
Carib access to land the base of their livelihood and obscures the process of
colonial occupation and Carib marginalization. In other words, Fermor's "retrans-
mission" to the metropole has very real economic implications for those at the
At last the road widened into a clearing where a "group of shingle huts lay
back under the trees, and by the edge of the path a group of men were standing,
as though they were expecting us" (1950b.: 256 my emphasis). This arrival scene
though less allegorically grand than the first, is not without significance. First, the
huts "lay back" which is to say that they were not busy but idle, or lazy, or "Indian"
Next, Fermor mystifies the arrival and has the men waiting as "though expecting
us." This implies that the men could not possibly have known that he was coming,
which is to invest them with some other sense, closer somehow to nature than to
civilization. But of course the people would have heard days before Fermor even
set out that an Englishman was coming to the reserve, not to mention that they and
the dogs, which are not mentioned, would have heard six people and two horses
coming along the track! Immediately upon arrival Fermor's preoccupation with race
surfaces again. "So sharp was the contrast of their complexion and bearing with
those of the islanders, he writes (1950b: 256), "that I thought for a moment that
they were white men. But they were Caribs.
For Fermor, Caribs are taken to be "genuine" natives unlike Afro-
Caribbeans who are dislocated natives and so less "authentic" He now has
opportunity to exercise an ethnographic curiosity that is, modem anthropology
notwithstanding, as old as the first traveller His implied mission is soon revealed
as he is "meeting with the last survivors of this almost extinct race of conquerors"
By labelling the Caribs as "conquerors" he, of course, legitimizes and justifies the
European conquest of Carib islands. These "last surviving Caribs" are also
"forest-dwellers" (1950b: 256), which locates them both as almost extinct, now, in
the present, but also in a primitive past. Fermor's mission is to record and so
redeem these last surviving "forest-dwellers" of the Caribbean for posterity This
anthropological mode, "culture collecting, in Clifford's (1988: 231) words, "implies
a rescue of phenomena from inevitable historical decay or loss. Collectors, Clifford
adds, typically gather the "traditional" something by definition "opposed to
modernity So Fermor, in this "collecting" mode duly describes and photographs
the traditional occupations of basket-making and canoe-building. Which is not to
say that this should not be done, rather it is the way in which it is done that requires
Fermor's description of the Caribs he meets is, literally, little more than skin
deep. He devotes extensive passages, however, to historical descriptions of the
island Caribs gleaned from the late seventeenth century account of French
missionary Pere Labat. Such descriptive strategies, as Marcus & Fischer (1986 1)
point out, serve to devalue contemporary peoples relative to their ancestors and is
itself an exercise in power Fermor forgoes an opportunity to hear the voices of
living Caribs and instead privileges his own voice and that of Western history "The
presence of these men" he writes, "sends the mind winging into the vague
centuries before Columbus (1950b:259). The Caribs, Fermor (1950a:109) relates,
moved north in the Antilles, they "massacred and sometimes devoured the men,
and married the women" others "moved on, rapidly eating and marrying their way"
through the islands until they stopped to, "as it were, digest their conquests.
Fermor, if I can extend his metaphor, swallows unmasticated and then excrements
undigested a figment of Columbus' tale that obstructs his credibility Carib
cannibalism, as Hulme (1986: 3) cogently argues, was a special defining feature of
colonial discourse as it pertained to the native Caribbean a political not a cultural
Not that this is the only way that Fermor, instead of depicting, diminishes
the Carib people and their ancestors. It is evident that, for Fermor, Caribbean
history started in 1492, for the "only traces of that dim pre-Columbian age are
half-a-dozen lumps of stone scattered among the islands, incised with a few
barbaric golliwogs, and all the rest is surmise" (1950b:259).8 By reducing Carib
petroglyphs that is Carib writing to aesthetic objects Fermor can then negate
their political significance as a statement of occupation and presence. Apparently,
then, Caribs were without writing and history before Columbus. Caribs were not
even real people before Europeans arrived for, as Fermor (26) claims, "it is the pen
of Father Labat that suddenly transforms these aboriginal phantoms into real and
vivid people. Apparently no thing is real not even people, until it is inscribed by
rendered to, and for Europe!9 As a Spanish grammarian reported to Queen
Isabella in 1492, "Language is the instrument of empire" (quoted in Pagden 1993.
118). "To conquer and, above all, to convert, to transform cultures into some
semblance of your own, Pagden notes, "relied in the first instance upon speech.
Labat's pen, then, inscribed the language of a civilizing mission, one continued by
Fermor Language that, as Pratt (1992: 152) argues, produces others "reductive,
incomplete beings suffering from the inability to have become what Europeans
already are, or to have made themselves into what Europeans intend them to be.
Fermor's "personal account" far from being an individual account, as he
suggests, is steeped in and saturated by a colonizing narrative of power and
control. From Labat he recounts the many "mental limitations" (110) of the Caribs.
and notes that they spoke three languages (113), but, of course, all three
languages were "uncouth" (116), which is to say not English When George-
Frederick, the head of the Council, does try to be heard, Fermor dismisses "his
discourse of minor vexations" (121). I seriously doubt that Frederick's concerns
were "minor vexations. Thus Fermor attempted a double denial of Carib existence.
First, he negated Carib history a presence inscribed in stone before Columbus,
but which Labat and he overwrite. Then he negates the present voice of Frederick.
In this way he denies Caribs the capacity for both wanting and speech. Again
Fermor privileges his own view, a natural history gaze on "the last specimens of a
race that is almost extinct (264 my emphasis). But we are reassured because
Fermor will have memories to recount and photographs of these "last surviving
Caribs" in some or other Royal Society in London, filed in a museum tray In other
words, he will document Carib existence before they become, finally extinct.
Fermor's depiction of the Caribs or more accurately the Carib on the
whole diminishes them relative to their ancestors and, of course, relative to Europe.
His reference, for example, to Frederick as "king" is no less than a mockery of the
man and the Carib Council. Amerindian "kings" and chiefs had to be invented by
European states disconcerted by having to negotiate with indigenous societies
where headmenn" had no power of coercion only persuasion. Fermor's reference
to "king" mocks the unequal power relationship between the Council and the
colonial government. And, I wonder, did Fermor address Frederick as "king"?
Fermor's mockery is complete when he relates how in the 1930s a Carib "riot" was
"quelled" by the British navy and "the kingship was abolished and the royal mace
carried away to Government House in Roseau" (264). Fermor is so blinded by his
colonial imagination that he does not even recognize the contradictions in his own
narrative. He is so encumbered by his mission of redemption to see that the Caribs
have survived, are surviving, and are standing in front of him.
Caribs, Fermor (1950b: 262) remarks, are indifferent to money, show
"inaptitude or scorn for trade" and "contempt for laws and taxations imposed from
without. Yet he (1950b: 264) soon concedes, though retaining the Carib
contempt for "excise duty" that "Travel by sea is still a passion among the Caribs,
for trade, for smuggling, and sometimes purely for fun The Caribs, Fermor claims,
are inept at trade yet they travel to the French islands of Guadeloupe and Mane
Galante to trade! From his nationalistically contaminated colonial site of
representation the Caribs both are, and are not traders but they are "accomplished
smugglers"! Trade, then, that is on terms more favourable to the Caribs but outside
the colonial purview is denigrated as smuggling. Given, though exaggerated by
Fermor, the difficulty of communication with Roseau it is little surprise that the
Caribs would prefer tax-free trade by the more direct sea route with Guadeloupe
and Marie Galante. Caribs, as Banks (1956:79) who was on the Reserve in 1950-1
points out, also sell their labour in Guadeloupe and are in demand there for the
same jobs from which they are excluded in Dominica. But Carb labour is one
aspect of life conspicuously absent from Fermor's discussion, as if fruit just
magically fall off trees, forest is cleared for agriculture, canoes built, and fish
caught, all without labour Once again, when we pay close attention as much to
what Fermor is saying as to what he is not saying we realize that his claims and
disclaims are, through and through, politically contaminated.
Fermor's depiction of the Caribs is fractured by ambiguity, ambivalence,
and contradiction. He at once elevates and depreciates the people who have a
"dignity of presence that even their hideous European rags could not stifle" (1950b:
256). A "king" dressed in rags? Are the rags, I wonder, hideous because
European and so unauthentic for Caribs or because they are rags? He, of course,
leaves unasked the more important question of the unequal colonial relationship
that produces poverty at the antipode. Major Fermor, I must conclude, is an
unreliable witness; or rather, he is a biased witness selectively producing evidence
in his own interest and that of a larger colonial project. Yet, even here his text is
fractured with contradiction. These "last surviving" "almost extinct" (1950b: 256,
264) people, "about a hundred pure-blooded" (1950a:118), we are told (1950b:
259) also inhabit the Amazon and Orinico basins "where both Arawaks and Caribs
On leaving the reserve Fermor imagines that the "three Negro porters look
substantial and normal after the Caribs, who, even after such a short time, began
to seem as curious and unfamiliar as Martians" (1950b: 264). While collecting and
compiling his natural history specimens he venerates, denigrates, then finally, and
completely "others," the Caribs. This is not to suggest that the practice of seeing
people as objects of study for natural history is peculiar to Fermor as this European
way of seeing non-European peoples is evident in, among others, Humboldt (1878)
and Ratzel (1896). Indeed, in 1941 one of the articles on the Caribs by
anthropologist Douglas Taylor appeared in the journal Natural History But while
Fermor (1950a:119) claims to have consulted Taylor's book on the Caribs, what
distinguishes his natural history gaze from Taylor's is its overwhelming racism. So
Fermor leaves with the same racialized gaze that he entered and now detects a
miscegenatee fringe" between the margin of the reserve and the "heart of the Negro
world" (1950b:264). A world that he also claims (1950a: 118) is a "black tide" that
will rise and sweep the Caribs "off the face of the earth for ever This "black tide"
I suggest, is the same one that surrounds Fermor's ship, the colonial vessel from
which he conducts his survey, "in the very centre of motion and change and
instability" and is a tidal wave of resistance to colonialism that promises to engulf
the colonial imagination in the West Indies, as throughout the British Empire.
Colonial Imaginings: Places
Fermor's representations of Caribbean peoples are unreliable, as I have
argued, because distorted at the source by a racist colonial ideology Are his
representations of Caribbean places any more reliable? This question can readily
be answered by comparing Fermor's depictions of landscapes in Dominica and
Barbados. Indeed, such a comparison will reveal as much of his point of view as it
does of his field of view Again, we will find that Fermor's (1950a:x) "personal,
random account" is situated in what Pratt (1986: 215) calls an "observational
discourse" which "reduces... to two singularly European bourgeois forms of looking:
the rural landscape panorama and the examination of a laboratory specimen." We
have seen how Fermor gazed on Carib "specimens" How did he regard
Though Fermor at times describes architecture and landscapes he more
often does not attempt to depict them in themselves but as they are filtered through
his emotion and imagination. Because of this tendency we can learn more about
his "site" than about the "sites" represented. Thus, Roseau, Dominica's capital, is
"simple and innocent" and "utterly different in feeling from the sultry, brooding,
rather wicked atmosphere that hangs over Fort-de-France" (1950a: 99). Union
Jacks flutter in the breeze and between the Bible Reading Society and the Gospel
Mission the "brass plate of Barclay's Bank gleamed in the morning air How
"innocent" I wonder, is this scene through other eyes? Bibles and Barclays
repose innocently beneath the F;ag like lambs with lions? There are other views.
An advertisement in the 1929 Handbook of the British West Indies proclaims:
"Overseas Trade, Barclays Bank (Dominion, Colonial and Overseas) Formerly the
Colonial Bank. But, as Kincaid (1995:93) reminds us, the Barclay brothers were
slave-traders before expanding into the banking business. This reflection, we can
be sure, does not appear in Fermor's view Rather, if Caribbean towns manage to
"escape the gloom and the ungainliness which is so often their lot" then they can be
"delightfully comic" (1950a: 100). Though, we should also recall, that Antillean
towns do not have much chance because they were built as warehouses and slave
markets (4). Roseau, even though an "almost European" town seems "unnatural"
(100). What does seem natural to Fermor is the "shady road... like that of an
English park" (my emphasis) to the most beautiful Botanical Garden he had ever
seen. "Lawns as perfect as the most ancient and august in England" were shaded
by enormous trees. It "was a casual and empty paradise, with no other purpose it
seemed, than to furnish a solitary refuge for the Marvellian reveries of the wisely
recumbent gardeners and me" (100). In stark contrast Fermor is threatened by the
natural vegetation of Dominica's montane landscapes.10 The "damp, sad forest
and volcanoes" were "grounds for complaint" (104). Unlike the shady road to the
garden a mountain road is "enclosed between dank wet woods, heavy with
melancholy" (123). The forest is "dark and desolate, a strange labyrinth, dripping
and rotting (124,126) where Fermor is most uneasy He prefers landscapes
framed in another way
Looking out of the window we saw a strange and wonderful sight. A
brilliant lawn rose from the banks of the river to the forests edge... In the middle of
this smooth expanse stood a little grey Norman abbey, its architecture. looking as
authentic in detail as Iffley Church or Barfrestone... as though a team of seraphim
had uprooted it from the yew trees and gravestones of an English village, and flown
it across the ocean to this tropical glade. (123-4).
Fermor appears only to be comfortable in a cultivated landscape. It is
evident that England is at the centre of his field of view and is the ideal against
which all other landscapes natural or cultural are ranked, measured, and found
to be lacking. This idea of, and way of seeing landscape is not an aberration
unique to Fermor Rather, as Cosgrove (1984. 1) argues, this idea of landscape
emerged as an aspect of the European elite mentality So while there is little
among Dominica's expanse of mountains and forests to satisfy Fermor's idea of
landscape as an aesthetic object, he finds Barbados much more to his liking.
In Bridgetown, Barbados, he is both "compensated and bewildered by the
very familiarity of everything" as it was a "completely English town" (131). There is
a Hastings, a Worthing, a large savannah with racecourse and grandstand, polo
grounds, and the "cricket pitches and golf links melt into the open country" (132).
Gazing further, the "rest of the island is a low rolling panorama of cane-fields"
resembling a small English county and "reminiscent of an English pastureland"
Further afield the "air is clear and invigorating, and, at moments, almost European"
(133). Indeed, Fermor (136) imagines that the Barbados countryside could have
"drifted loose from the coast of England and floated all the way to these tropical
If Dominica's landscape represented menace to Fermor, an inability to
completely Europeanize a landscape, then Barbados' countryside represented
familiarity, resemblance. The term "countryside', as Bunce (1994. 3) points out,
came into usage to describe gentrified rural landscapes of eighteenth century
England. But while the Barbados landscape, like England's, is an entirely
humanized one, it differs in that it is a colonized landscape. So while Fermor
praises the Barbados landscape and also recounts Barbados' history he separates
that "history" from the countrysidee" He detaches the landscape as an aesthetic
object of a bourgeois way of seeing from the history of institutionalized racism that
produced the landscape. The countryside that Fermor depicts, then, is not a
socio-culturally produced artefact with precipitous political and economic gradients
between elite and marginalized people and places, but a socially fabricated artifice
with entirely aesthetic dimensions. To say, however, that a representation is an
"artifice" is not to disregard the power of that representation but to recognize its
rhetoric. All representations are embedded in social relations and therefore
charged with an ability to convince or persuade an audience. Representations can
voice some silences, silence other voices, or privilege a dominant voice, and are
meaningful, reproducing relations between those representing and those
represented. Again it is possible, through reading Fermor's landscapes, to situate
his point of view in an elitist English way of viewing. English landscape tastes, as
Lowenthal & Prince (1965: 195, 202) point out, are not concerned with real nature
but idealizations of nature; and furthermore, the spectator's view is more important
than the lives of residents. Fermor's field of view is again warped by an ideological
bias at the point of view which distorts his representation. However, even
ostensibly neutral depictions of landscape like maps, as Harley (1988) argued,
have a political dimension an agenda that informs production, shapes meaning,
and influences consumption. Certainly, Fermor is an unreliable, even penurious
witness of people and the places they inhabit. Ironically, the idealized English
landscape against which Fermor measures all others is now, as Lowenthal (1994
24) argues, an anachronistic "museumized ruin"
Fermor's beloved English countryside may be one in which, as Bunce
(1994:35) puts it, "social and economic realities have been painted out by apic-
turesque brush. But there are other political economic elements in the Caribbean
landscape that Fermor sees very well. He is concerned that the Caribbean is
"awash" in a "strange brown liquid" Coca-Cola (48-50). Fort-de-France seems to
be a "vast metal advertisement for Coca-Cola" "The propaganda drive of this
firm" he writes, "has been so intensive and so ruthlessly efficient in its execution,
that never for a second are the words Coca-Cola out of one's sight." The words are
"printed on almost everything you touch" it "becomes the air you breathe, an entire
civilization the Coca-Cola age" and the bottle caps, he laments, will "form a metal
humus all over the western hemisphere. Fermor's real concerns are scarcely
concealed beneath the Coca-Cola sign. Coke's gain is England's political,
economic, even cultural loss. The "firm" is of course the United States whose
post-war extension of global hegemony was, like Coke's, "ruthlessly efficient"
Fermor's real concern, then, is the disintegration of the British Empire and the
entrenchment of American imperialism; a loss symbolized by the "Coca-Cola age"
The geographic proximity of the United States and the Antilles, Fermor notes, is
also visible in "frigidaires, wireless sets and motor cars. His interest, I argue, is not
in the aesthetic qualities or desirability of these "glittering external symptoms of
modem life" but in the loss of England's trade advantage- the commodities are not
"Made In England" The "Coca-Cola age" it happens, is not only the age of
decolonization and the extension of the American trade empire, but the "Coca-
Colonization of world Culture". 11
Conclusion: Regarding (post)-Colonialism
Fermor's representations of Caribbean peoples and places, I have argued,
are neither neutral nor innocent "travel writing" but implicated in and constitutive of
a larger narrative-colonial discourse. Even cursory reading of a sample of The
Traveller's Tree reveals the colonialist agenda scarcely concealed beneath the
claim to "retransmit" Fermor's rhetoric is the rhetoric of empire. But his Caribbean
transit coincided with a larger transition, a pivotal moment in the transfer of political,
economic, and militaristic power from London to the new Coca-Cola capital of the
world. Furthermore it was a time when, to borrow Clifford's (1988:26) phrase, the
"scratching of other pens" could be heard from the islands. Fermor's pen ascribed
more than it described and he was unnerved by pens that inscribed themselves.
These pens praised not the strength of an oak far away in England but the tall,
strong trunk of the local gommier, these pens spoke, like drums, not of continuing
submission but of increasing resistance, not of "history" but of our story 13 These
Caribbean pens recorded exile narratives of coerced travel. But as Sarup
(1994:98) observes, exile can be affliction as well as transfiguration, exile can be a
resource.14 This resource is one that the imagination of the "civilizing mission"
could no longer directly exploit.
We must acknowledge, however, like Spurr (1993) and Thomas (1994),
that colonial discourse was neither monolithic nor homogenous. Rather, just as
Fermor's narrative was fractured with ambivalence, ambiguity, and contradiction so
too was the larger project, in different times and places, incoherent and incohesive.
It was into these rifts that resistance, itself not monolithic or homogenous, was
inserted and extended. But is it necessary or productive to excavate this field of
colonial discourse in a so-called post-colonial time? We must remember, as
Thomas (1994: 2) argues, that colonialism was not simply a political or economic
relationship but a cultural process, "imagined and energized through signs,
metaphors and narratives" Moreover, not in a political, economic, or cultural
sense is there a discrete change between colonialism and post-colonialism. The
evidence is abundant that colonialism was replaced by another form of imperial
relationship with different centres of power and control. Neither imperialism nor
colonial discourse disappeared with decolonization.15 Certainly the end of
colonialism as Geertz (1988. 131) observed, radically changed the social
relationship between colonizers and colonized. But political economic
relationships were only exchanged for other more covert forms of domination. To
emphasize "post-colonial" then, as McClintock (1994 254) points out, is to shift
attention from an "axis of power" to an "axis of time" which does not adequately
distinguish between the beneficiaries and the casualties of colonialism. For these
reasons the reality that economic independence did not follow political inde-
pendence the field must be excavated, its stratigraphy examined and exposed to
reveal its continuities. Too much present inequality and human suffering is
obfuscated by, and impaled on this post. "To have been colonized", as Said (1989:
207) observes, "was a fate with lasting, indeed grotesquely unfair results,
especially after national independence had been achieved.
Reading The Traveller's Tree, then, allows a view of colonial discourse at
a particular spatial and temporal scale. This scale is interesting because Fermor
could see both resistance and inevitable decolonization, as well as the transfer of
the reins of post-war power from England to the United States. To read this book
separate from the political, economic, and cultural circumstances that facilitated its
production is to ignore its intersection with imperial power and control. A
contextualized reading, however, will reveal the intensely nationalistic ideological
co-ordinates of Fermor's "site of representations to be deeply embedded in the
imperial imagination. Fermor, whether on an "official" basis or not, was an agent of
the colonial project. His, in Said's words, "images and imaginings" were not
harmless when constructed in the Caribbean nor when consumed at the metropole.
Though others have praised Fermor, and his travel writing has been honoured with
awards (Cocker 1992: 194-5), I also learn from Cocker that Major Fermor was no
stranger to covert surveillance or clandestine military operations and served in
such a capacity in Greece during the second World War
Fermor (1950a: 1) entered the Caribbean on a ship which he perceived to
be in the centre of instability This ship, I have argued, was a survey-ship in the
midst of resistance to colonialism. He (1950a: 392-3) leaves the islands from
another position of surveillance and I suggest that we pay close attention to his
departing view Now, "the Negroes had come to an end" as he flew towards the
"red quadrilateral of British Honduras. Though I have had my say and allow
Fermor the final speech, I recommend that we very carefully read his departing
words, that we regard both the spectator and the spectacle:
There lay the islands in the night, suspended
between the stars and the sea's bottom with the
abstraction of thoughts: the stages of a thesis that
was still to be unravelled. Guadeloupe was the
exordium. The Lesser and the Greater Antilles
and Haiti swelled into a ponderous exegesis
waiting to be clinched and driven home at last
with the triumphant peroration of Cuba. And what
was the conclusion to be?
This was the first of several travel narratives produced by Fermor See Cocker (1992) for a list of
2. The analytical work on travel writing is perhaps exemplified by Pratt (1992). Other recent studies
include Porter (1991), Cocker (1992), Caesar (1995) as well as those edited by Von Martels
(1994), and Robertson et al(1994).
3. After writing this paper I read Hulme's (1990) analysis of the "rhetoric of description" in European
representations of the Native Caribbean. To my astonishment Hulme treats Fermor's
representation of the Caribs as transparent and even detects an "element of self-parody" in
Fermor's depiction. A very different reading from that presented here.
4. Anarchist geographer Peter Kropotkin (1842- 1921) in his many published works always contested
the extension of capitalism and Imperialism. For more recent studies of the intersection of
academic geography and Imperialism see Driver (1992), Livingstone (I 992), Godlewska and
Smith (1994), and Smith (1994).
5. The congruence of British geography (academic and amateur) and British Empire was exemplified
in the Royal Geographic Society. It is no surprise, then, that Fermor's article on the Caribs was
published in Geographical Magazine the journal of the RGS.
6. On race and sexual morality in colonial culture see Stoler (1989).
7 On alleged Carib cannibalism see also Arens (1979), Whitehead (1984), and Boucher (1992).
Indeed Myers (1984) after a comprehensive review of the "evidence for Carib cannibalism"
concludes that the Caribs must be acquitted of the charge.
8. It is of more than passing interest to note here that Humboldt (1878) speculated that petroglyphs in
the Orinoco basin were not carved by the occupants of the valley but were inscribed by an
earlier "higher" civilization.
9. For a different view of Native American writing and history see Brotherston (1979; 1985; 1992).
10. One convention of earlier travel writing was a description of flora and fauna. But even here
Fermor falls miserably by separating or conflating the geographic ranges of endemic birds and
I owe this most appropriate phrase to George Lovell.
12. Gommier is the local name for a canopy tree (Dacryodes excelsa) of the humid montane forest
from which Caribs made, and still make canoes. Many artisanal fishermen of the Lesser Antilles
still use canoes, also called gommiers, for offshore fishing.
13. For a sample of the oral and written history of resistance see the book of verse edited by Burnett
(1986), and also Taylor (1989).
14. This view of exile is most poignantly expressed in Barbadian writer George Lamming's (1960) title:
The Pleasures of Exile.
15. For a brilliant excavation of World Bank colonizing discourse see Ferguson (1990)
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Arthur C. Dayfoot, The Shaping of the West Indian Church, 1492-1962, Kingston:
The Press University of the West Indies and Gainesville: University Press of
Shirley G. Gordon, Our Cause for his Glory Christianisation and Emancipation in
Jamaica, Kingston: The Press University of the West Indies, 1998.
The scope, complexity and importance of Christianity in the history of the
Anglophone Caribbean is richly demonstrated in these two books. Arthur Dayfoot,
a former Prinicipal of St. Andrew's Theological College in San Fernando, Trinidad,
provides a thorough yet concise general history of the Church in the West Indies.
Shirley Gordon, author of several books on West Indian history and education,
deals with the Jamaicanization of Christianity in the immediate post-emancipation
period, when Jamaican culture has taken on a life of its own. These two books are
very different in scope yet share a fundamental concern with understanding the
ways in which Caribbean peoples have moulded Christianity in terms of their own
Though his interest is essentially the Anglophone Caribbean, Dayfoot
begins The Shaping of the West Indian Church, 1492-1962 with the Spanish
conquest and imposition of a hierarchically structured Church whose programme of
converting Aboriginal and African peoples had as much to do with power and
exploitation as it did with salvation. Not unlike some liberation theologians, how-
ever, he emphasizes that from earliest times there developed within Caribbean
Catholic theology a humanistic concern for the social well-being of exploited
peoples as exemplified in particular by members of the Dominican order such as
Antonio Montesinos, Bartolome de Las Casas and others who would follow in their
footsteps. This double-sided nature of the history of Christianity in the region, at
once colonial and anti-colonial, underlies Dayfoot's entire book.
Although the Spanish Catholic monopoly was broken by the incursion of
other European nations in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, controls contin-
ued to be placed on religious practice to the benefit of the white plantocratic elites.
Under the French Code Noir conversion of slaves to Roman Catholicism was
mandatory, but this did nothing to free them from the dehumanization of slavery
The English vestry system ensured planter control over the Church of England in
the colonies and planters shunned the conversion of slaves who might thereby
become more human and less docile. The experiment by the Society for the
Propagation of the Gospel at Codrington estate in Barbados had little effect and
even the most sympathetic of Anglicans such as the clergyman Morgan Godwyn
did not dispute the morality of slavery itself. Quakers, who had a more ambiguous
relationship to slavery, were restricted.
The humanistic side of Christianity in the English Caribbean really only
manifests itself beginning in the mid-eighteenth century when Moravians, Method-
ists and Baptists, particularly "Black" Baptists from the Untied States, began to
have an impact in the region. Influenced by pietism, these "nonconformist" evan-
gelicals shared a commitment to salvation based on an individual, experiential
transformation and emphasized an egalitarian, practical ethic not bound by eccle-
siastical or social hierarchies. Though they sanctioned slavery initially, they pro-
vided training opportunities and leadership roles for their converts, many of whom,
like the Demerara rebels of 1823, were soon professing adherence to a biblical
message of equality and freedom. The rebels stated that "God had made them of
the same flesh and blood as the whites, that they were tired of being slaves to
them, that they should be free and they would not work any more" (p. 155).
According to Dayfoot, an ethic of religious toleration, pluralism and indi-
genization triumphed in the nineteenth century and would be the defining charac-
teristic of the Christian Church, understood in its widest, most inclusive meaning,
into the next century (Throughout his book, Dayfoot defines "Church" in this
inclusive, ecumenical way). The Church of England joined other Protestant de-
nominations in their efforts to propagate Christianity, build schools and address the
needs of the general population. Roman Catholicism, strong in colonies that had
belonged to Spain or France, was tolerated and in most territories the Church of
England was disestablished (beginning in 1869). New denominations entered the
mission field such as Presbyterianism from Scotland and later Canada, the Disci-
ples of Christ from the United States and the African Methodist Episcopal Church
also from the United States. By the early twentieth century, the Holiness Move-
ment and Pentecostalism further exerted a North American religious presence. As
the Anglophone Caribbean was moving to political independence in the 1960's, a
growing interest in ecumenism, co-operation and development among the older
denominations, including the Roman Catholic Church, leading to the formation of
the Caribbean Conference of Churches in 1972. In general, however, moves
toward self-sufficiency, self-governance, co-operation and human development in
an indigenous Church were only partially successful.
Given his focus on the West Indian Church, it is not surprising that Dayfoot
does not fully address the region's African and Indian religious presence and its
ambiguous relationship with Christianity Thus the impact of African religion on
"Baptists" such as Sam Sharpe and Paul Bogle is hardly discussed. However,
Dayfoot acknowledges the importance of African religion and its influence on
Revivalism, the Spiritual Baptists, Garveyism and Rastafari. He states: "All through
the years, outside the recognized churches especially in rural areas, religious
activity had been going on, often "unorthodox" and continuing African traditional
ideas and practices" (p.184). Likewise, he acknowledges that Hinduism and Islam
continued to be strong religious traditions, particularly in Trinidad and Guyana, and
would exert an influence on the Church. Canadian Presbyterian missionaries, in
particular, learned and used Hindi, educated Indian boys and girls, trained Indian
teachers, and ordained Indian ministers and missionaries. In some respects, the
missionaries fostered a positive relationship with particular aspects of Indian cul-
ture, by adapting hymns and prayer to Hindu and Muslim traditions and by estab-
lishing community councils based on traditional models.
Dayfoot leaves the wider issue of pluralism and inclusivity between relig-
ious traditions for other scholars just as he does not address in any systematic way
the complex issues of ecumenism, development and social justice that play them-
selves out in the post 1962 independence period. (It is for Caribbean Church
historians to "continue the story" he writes in his Preface). The book's greatest
strengths are its historical depth and geographical breadth, both of which are
accompanied by a remarkable attention to detail. (One has only to think the Bible
hanging from the gallows in St. Vincent in 1791 to protest missionary conversion of
slaves! [p. 157]). The comprehensive historical treatment of a vast range of Chris-
tian denominations across the region make the work an essential starting point for
any future study of the Church, or of particular churches, in the West Indies. His
wide-ranging bibliography and detailed indexes will prove particularly helpful to the
general reader and researcher alike. Though this book is a major contribution to
the Church history and will take its place in the curriculum of theological institutions
within and outside the region, it should not be neglected by anyone interested in
Caribbean history or culture.
Our Cause for his Glory: Christianisation and Emancipation in Jamaica is
Shirley Gordon's second recent book on the formation of Afro-Jamaican Christian-
ity God Almighty Make Me Free (1996) deals with the role of black and white
Protestant missionaries in evangelizing African slaves in Jamaica and with the
ways in which slaves transformed Christian doctrine and practice in their struggle
to shape their own culture of freedom. Our Cause for His Glory is an extension of
this analysis to the immediate post-emancipation period, culminating in the 1865
Morant Bay disturbances. By focusing on one short but important period in Jamai-
can Church history, she is able to pursue particular issues in more depth than is
possible in Dayfoot's book. One of these issues is the influence of the native
Baptists. Whereas for Dayfoot the dominant tension within Caribbean Christianity
is between a hierarchical, divisive Church and a humanistic, inclusive one, Gordon
explores the tensions between Afro-Jamaican Christianity and Euro-Jamaican
Gordon displaces Philip Curti'ns opposition between two Jamaicas, one
European, the other African, into a duality of Euro-Jamaican Christianity and
Afro-Jamaican Christianity, though she barely mentions Curtin's seminal study of
religion in Jamaica during this period (p.122). The European missionaries who
came to the region with the Gospel of heavenly salvation wanted to create respon-
sible, hard-working British subjects. Jamaicans sought respectability, education
and social advantage in their chapels, schools and "free villages" and demanded a
say in the selection of their own teachers and preachers, gradually assuming
pastoral, missionary and other leadership roles in their churches. This Euro-Jamai-
can form of Christianity, Gordon argues, contrasted with the developing Afro-
Christian tradition. A synthesis or process of Jamaicanization had already begun
to take place in the pre-emancipation era as Jamaican deacons and preachers
adapted Christianity to local customs and needs. With the hard times and disillu-
sion that soon followed emancipation there was an increase in the number of
Jamaicans who attended Native Baptist and independent chapels. Drawing from
the repertoire of Afro-Jamaican religious experience, including Myal, they sought a
more active participation in worship and spirituality This Afro-Jamaican expres-
sion of Christianity was strongly expressed in the Revival of 1860-61
According to Gordon, Afro-Jamaicans found in the "native" expression of
Christianity a stronger claim to freedom in accordance with which they assessed
the specific conditions of post-emancipation life. She uses as examples the well-
known cases of George William Gordon and Paul Bogle both of whom were
involved in the events leading up to the Morant Bay disturbances of 1865 (and both
of whom have been officially recognized as national heroes in Jamaica). James
Underhill, secretary of the British Missionary Society, recommended land redistri-
bution as a solution to the economic plight and social distress. Gordon, a Jamaican
member of the Assembly and Baptist preacher went further, stating publicly that
heaven helped those who helped themselves. (Gordon's prayer, that God "grant
prosperity to our Cause for His Glory" [pp. 106-107] is the title of Shirley Gordon's
book.) Paul Bogle, one of Gordon's deacons, put Gordon's words into action by
petitioning the courts and organizing a demonstration. According to Shirley Gor-
don, these were the actions of Jamaican Native Baptists who stood up for their
rights as citizens, and once events turned violent, would die for doing so. (It is
interesting that Shirley Gordon equivocates between the terms "protest" and "riot"
[pp. 99, 108] the latter being the term used by Governor Eyre and some of the
missionaries who wanted to distance themselves from the rebels.)
Against the tendency of many of the white missionaries and some of the
new black preachers of the period-to portray Afro-Christian religion as ignorance
and superstition, Shirley Gordon insists on its Christian basis. Out of it would grow
a dynamic Jamaican popular culture and concern for social justice that would
manifest itself in Revivalism, Garveyism and Rastafari in the twentieth century By
emphasizing the Christian basis of this Afro-Jamaican culture, however, she risks
losing some of that culture's African elements, derived not only from the slave
period, but also from the Yoruba and Congo immigrants who came to Jamaica in
the post-emancipation period (p. 84). Not surprisingly, she has little time for
scholars who focus on the African influence on Jamaican culture, quickly dismiss-
ing Monica Schuler's claim (following Curtin) that the Jamaican Revival was taken
over by Myalists (pp. 7 94).
Advocates of either a European Jamaica or an African Jamaica may well
fault Gordon for her particular choice of a middle way However, she provides a
very useful synopsis of the issues relating to indigenization and the influence of
missionary Christianity during this period. Her short book is rich with details
gained from close reading of missionary writings, one of the main historical sources
for the period. Much to her credit, she attempts to "read between the lines" in
assessing the distortions and biases inherent in the missionary views of Afro-Chris-
tian religion (p. 88). She is also able to convey some of the complexities of the
period: while some black preachers condemned the Morant Bay "rioters, a few
white missionaries condemned the British troops and their Maroon assistants.
Though there are other books that deal with this period in Jamaican history quite
well, her short book is very readable and her focus on the Afro-Jamaican expres-
sion of Christianity very useful. Whereas Dayfoot makes it clear, however that
there is an active African (and Indian) religious culture in the Caribbean which is not
his topic, Gordon may inadvertently circumscribe some of the very strength of
African culture in Jamaica by emphasizing its Christian nature.
(Reviews of these books are invited. Interested persons should write to the
editor quoting the titles) of the books) concerned, prior to reviewing them.)
An Introduction to Caribbean Francophone Writing, Guadeloupe and Martinique.
Edited by Sam Haigh. Berg Editorial Offices, 1999 230- pages.
Panama Poor Victims. Agents, and History makers by Gloria Rudolf University
Press of Florida, 1999. 298 pages.
Maroon Societies, Rebel Slave Communities in the Americas. Edited by Richard
Price. The John Hopkins University Press, 1996. 429 pages
Jean Rhys by Elaine Savory Cambridge University Press, 1998. 306 pages
The Colonial Caribbean in Transition: Essays on Post-emancipation Social and
Cultural History Edited by Bridget Brereton and Kevin A. Yelvington. The Press
University of the West Indies, 1999. 319 pages.
Class Alliances and the Liberal Authoritarian State: the roots of Post-colonial
democracy in Jamaica, Ttrinidad and Tobago, and Surinam by F S.J. Ledgister
Africa World Press, Inc., 1998. 218 pages.
Women and Urban Change in San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1820-1868 by Felix V Matos
Rodriguez. University Press of Florida, 1999. 180 pages.
Emmanuel Appadocca or Blighted Life. A Tale of the Buccaneers by Maxwell
Philip. Edited by Selwyn Cudjoe. University of Massachuettes Press, 199, 275
An Introduction to Caribbean Francophone Writing Guadeloupe and Martinique.
Edited by Sam Haigh. Oxford International Publishers, 1999. 230 pages.
Presencia Criolla En El, Caribe Y America Latina Creole Presence in the Carib-
bean and Latin America by Ineke Phaf Vervuert Verlag, 1996. 129 pages.
Integrating The Americas: Shaping Future Trade Policy Edited by Sidney Wein-
traub. Transaction Publishers, 1994. 197 pages.
The Caribbean Legion: Patriots, Politicians, Soldiers of Fortune, 1946-1950 by
Charles D. Ameringer The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996. 80 pages.
Hispanic and Portuguese Collections An Illuistrated Guide. Library of Congress
1996. 84 pages.
Caribbean Baroque Historic Architecture of the Spanish Antilles by Pamela Gos-
ner. Passeggiata Press, 1996. 425 pages.
Spoils of War. Women of Colour Cultures, and Revolutions. Edited by T Denean
Sharpley-Whiting and Renee T White. Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc,
1997 176 pages.
An Other Tongue. Nation and Ethnicity in the Linguistic Borderlands. Edited by
Alfred Arteaga. Duke University Press, 1994 295 pages.
Trinidad Yoruba. From Mother Tongue to Memory by Maureen Warner-Lewis.
The University of Alabama Press, 1996. 279 pages.
A Turbulent Time. The French Revolution and the Greater Caribbean. Edited by
David Barry Gaspar and David Patrick Geggus. Indiana University Press 1997
Canadian Public Administration Volume 41, No 4 643 pages.
Latin America. An Interdisciplinary Approach. Edited by Julio Lopez-Arias and
Gladys M. Varona-Lacey Peter Lang, 1999 307 pages.
After the Dark Hurricane. Linking Recovery to Sustainable Development in the
Caribbean by Philip R. Berke and Timothy Beatley The John Hopkins University
Press, 1997 212 pages.
Drug Lessons and Education Programs in Developing Countries. Edited by Henry
Kirsch. Transaction Publishers, 1995. 331 pages.
Les Ameriques Haiti, Antilles-Guyane, Quebec by Jack Corzani, Leon-Francois
Hoffmann and Marie-Lyne Piccione. Belin Sup, 1996. 319 pages.
How Sweet the Sound: The Spirit of African American History Edited by Nancy-
Elizabeth Fitch, Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 2000. 542 pages.
Best Poems of Trinidad. Chosen by A.M. Clarke, Caribbean Classic No. 1 The
Majority Press, 1999. 66 pages
General Sun, My Brother, By Jacques Stephen Alexis, University Press of Virginia,
1999. 352 pages
Slavery in th Caribbean Francophone World: Distant Voices, Forgotten Acts,
Forged identities. Edited by Doris Y Kadish, University Of Georgia Press, 2000.
Francophone Writers of Africa and the Caribbean. By Renee Larrier, University
Press of Florida, 2000. 157 pages
Arms Akimbo African Women in Contemporary Literature. Edited by Janice
Liddell and Yakini Belinda Kemp. University of Florida, 1999. 268 pages.
Routes of the Roots. Geography and Literature in the English-Speaking Countries,
edited by Isabella Maria Zoppi. Bulzoni Editre, 1998. 781 pages.
The Poetics of Empire. A Study of James Grainger's The Sugar Cane (1764) by
John Gilmore. The Athlone Press, 2000. 47.50 Hardback; 16.99 Paperback.