“…it would seem that all the problems which man faces on the subject of man can be reduced to this one question: ‘Have I not, because of what I have not done or failed to do, contributed to an impoverishment of human reality?’”
Toward the African Revolution; Frantz Fanon
I confess to being obsessed with the idea of Caribbean/Guyanese Identity, especially as it affects mine – specifically, the African Guyanese community’s identity. We need to know the fullness of our story – I need to know all of who I am. This interest, by no means new, has been heightened to a state of preoccupation…a compelling curiosity…provoked by the deafening silence surrounding the subject of –
WHO REALLY WERE THE ORIGINAL PEOPLE TO SETTLE IN THE AMERICAS…IN GUYANA?
Barakara Village is a predominantly African Guyanese community on the Canje River in Region Six, located about 140 miles from the Canje Bridge; the residents, descendants of enslaved Africans, are still logging, working at tobacco, cane, rice, cacao and coffee cultivation, as did their ancestors in this formerly vibrant maroon settlement first populated in the 1800s.
A year ago, in April 2015, a few months before the clean-up Georgetown campaign began, not long before our national elections anticipating the “change” we all longed for, the following was included in my conceptual notes re an ideal future under new administration –
“At this juncture in Guyana’s history, as we prepare our era of unity epitomized by the APNU/AFC COALITION, we should recognize the need, first to clean up our front yard, the City Georgetown… all of Guyana’s peoples should feel a sense of commitment…
– beside their individual domestic environs, each group belonging to Guyana’s cultural mosaic must also clean up the spaces that commemorate and celebrate the memory of their ancestors (an African Guyanese symbolic space for example, is represented by the Parade Ground and The Promenade Gardens COURTNEY CRUM EWING’S SQUARE)
– essential to, and following on all this is the need in future, to respect individual as well as groups’ right to clearly define and express the meaning of their identity and historical experience
– we should neither usurp historical space nor distort/rewrite facts in an attempt at ascendancy; lest we naturally end up with a flawed and overall inaccurate record of our collective Guyanese history – revisionist history
– we must prepare the fallow soil of our children’s minds for broadcasting seeds which sprout visionary ideas inscribed on new horizons in education.
– Therefore, our moribund educational institutions and those who lead serve and inform them – historians, scholars tutors teachers academics parents all, must set out to remake their image as facilitators of a decadent system.
– also, we must be able to clearly see ourselves, in that vision of a better future in which we encourage our children also, to vision themselves while we pursue creative ways of TEACHING THE CHILDREN TO THINK and most important: USES OF THE IMAGINATION.”
…am delighted to hear that plans are moving ahead for Barakara Village (not Baracara Island) to be designated a Guyana heritage site – as it should be….can’t help wondering though, where else in the Guyana forests we’ll find old maroon settlements; there should be more interest in locating and identifying them.
According to information released by the Press and Publicity Unit, Ministry of the Presidency, “Barakarians are proud to celebrate their identity as an ancient village, but they are no less proud to be part of Guyana’s national identity”.
If Barakara residents are as proud of their heritage as they claim to be, they should be prepared to claim ownership of their birthright as an essential African dynamic in the shaping of our Guyanese national identity…they should become proactive in the presentation of the maroon culture of their ancestors as a feature of Guyana’s Cultural Tourism Product.
…my obsession can be attributed to almost two unbroken decades spent in my Yukuriba Heights environment, musing and receiving messages from maroon forest spirits – ancestors who are still with us here and will be when the truth of their story is depicted by artists along The Maroon Sculpture Trail we’re creating, in celebration of the Maroons of the Americas.
Who really were/are the Maroons of the Americas?
In a history of Maroons, the Wikipedia internet site relies heavily on Richard Price’s 1973 publication: Maroon Societies; Rebel Slave Societies in the Americas, and states (inaccurately sometimes) inter alia –
“Maroons (from the Latin American Spanish word cimarrón: “feral animal, fugitive, runaway”) were Africans who escaped from slavery in the Americas and formed independent settlements. The term can also be applied to their descendants.
The Maroons created their own independent communities which in some cases have survived for centuries and until recently remained separate from mainstream society. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Maroon communities began to disappear as forests were razed, although some countries, such as Guyana and Suriname, still have large Maroon populations living in the forests. Recently, many of them moved to cities and towns as the process of urbanization accelerates.”
Describing ‘Types Of Maroons’ –
“A typical maroon community in the early stage usually consists of three different types of people.
Most of them were slaves who ran away right after they got off the ships. They refused to accept the reality of being a slave and often tried to find ways to go back to Africa.
The second group were unskilled slaves who had been working on plantations for a while. Those slaves were usually somewhat adjusted to the slave system but had been abused by the plantation owners, with brutality excessive even when compared to the normal standards.
Others run away when they were being sold suddenly to a new owner.”
The last group of maroons were usually skilled slaves with particularly strong ideals against the slave system. Otherwise, they could have chosen the easier way out by blending in with the locals.
In his ‘Maroon Challenges to the Slave Regime’ Alvin Thompson’ states:
“Maroons challenged the system in at least three specific ways: ideologically, organizationally and militarily. Ideologically, desertion was a clear expression of Maroon rejection of the slavery system and the control of their lives by the enslavers. Organizationally, through the establishment of often viable administrative and political systems (settlements that ranged from a few dozen to several thousand persons) they demonstrated that they were able to develop meaningful alternatives to the slavery system. The fact that many of these communities lasted for several decades indicates their viability and attractiveness to would-be deserters. Militarily, the Maroons demonstrated their ability not only to defend their polities but also to attack plantation and other settlements, destroying several of them, forcing the enslavers to spend large sums of money to counter such attacks, and limiting the spread of the plantations geographically in several instances…”
Read also, Alvin Thompson’s Flight to Freedom: African Runaways and Maroons in the Americas, University of the West Indies Press.
In conclusion, it seems to me that our failure to engage in dialectic leading to a resolution of this issue of Guyana’s first people, contributes significantly to a national “impoverishment of human reality”.
Next week, facts supporting claims that the African presence in Guyana predates that of Amerindians; facts contained in a four part series on African Guyanese History. These introductory booklets, compiled by Eric Phillips and Jonathan Adams, Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Guyana Reparations Committee are entitled: In The Beginning, Africa Before Slavery, The African Guyanese Holocaust, and The African Guyanese Reparations Claim; a 5th booklet is entitled: Crisis in the African Guyanese Community.