The shortest month is also the month of Black History

The Importance of our African- ancestral history

FROM ‘Negro Week’ in 1926 to ‘Black History Month’ in the 1960s, the month of February is nothing but ‘just another month’. It was an initiative taken up by Carter G. Woodson, the son of former slaves after he came to the realisation that the history of Africans is not relatively celebrated, taught or even recorded in schools and books. While this holiday is strongly observed in the United States of America and Canada it does not change the fact that it has no form of relevance to Guyanese.

As I was watching the 2019 Academy Awards, Spike Lee who is the director of the movie ‘BlacKkKlansman’ after receiving his award said, ‘The word today is irony, the day: 24th, the month: February; which also happens to be the shortest month of the year, which also happens to be Black history month.’ So short, that by the time you read this column it’s already March. Is it really an irony that the shortest month is also Black history month? Maybe. Nonetheless, it is also a month that we reflect and remember where we came from.

The first set of slaves and settlers dated back to the mid-seventeenth century. In Guyana, Africans came to work, most of whom were forced against their own will on the various sugar estates across British Guiana. Slaves were bought at auctions by European plantation owners, and families and friends were usually separated in this process. Due to the inhumane treatment; (severe punishments, lack of food and clothes, poor housing, forced labour, etc.) Africans would usually rebel. In 1763, an enslaved African, who is now known as Guyana’s national hero, led a rebellion against the whites. One of the many forms of a fight for Emancipation, sadly they were not victorious, yet still, it is of great significance.

A bronze statue, symbolising Cuffy/Kofi in the Square of the Revolution reminds us of this event. Other rebellions include The 1823 Demerara Rebellion (over 10,000 slaves participated which made it one of the largest revolt in the Americas, The Damon’s rebellion (1834) which is now remembered by a statue in Essequibo and many others, some of which were so small they were not documented or seen as significant. In fact, every act of rebellion, in this case, led to the free country we know today as the Co-operative Republic of Guyana.

Our ancestors taught us that if you stay true to who you are and what you believe in then anything is possible, even freedom after four centuries of oppression. While there is still ethnic tension between Indo and Afro-Guyanese, we should take heed that oppression of race/ethnicity is a social construct created by slave masters that tallied them up to the social ladder above both Africans and Indians. Perhaps it was ignorance or greater evil, whatever the case may be, but racism is undisguisable and wrong. The physical shackles are off but the emotional bonds still remain because I may never know what the pain of intense open-wounded lashes feel like; what it feels like to be kidnapped from my homeland; separated from my family and stripped of not only my clothing but my religion, or have the ability to live my life as I wish with dignity. Sometimes I weep at the silence of deprived culture reminders, the ones that make us want to strive for the betterment of Guyana because we are living in a land that is stained by the blood and sweat of our ancestors.

They were more than slaves; they were human beings with names. They held Islamic or specific tribal beliefs. All in all, my thoughts were not to write you a history textbook, it was to enlighten you on the importance of history. The importance of Black history should be remembered every month of the year, we should always remember. So next time you hear the word ‘Freedom’, I hope you understand the strength it has, because in the mid-seventeenth century up until 1837, our African ancestors starved to feel it’s true meaning.

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