We human beings have attained our highest levels of material and cultural development under the form of collective organization known as the “nation” or “the nation state”. Check the history of almost any people, including the people of Barbados, and you will see that this is a true statement.
In the case of Barbados, the vast majority of our people only began to make substantial progress after we had developed what approximated to a genuine nation state, with universal adult suffrage, representative Government and, ultimately, Independence.
But a poignant, nagging question that is always hovering over us is: “Do we Barbadian and Caribbean people possess the capacity and consciousness required to keep and preserve a nation in an increasingly dog-eat-dog, neo-imperialist world?”
As we prepare to celebrate Emancipation Day 2015, I cannot help but reflect on an experience that I had with a Surinamese delegation to Barbados one Emancipation Day some ten years ago.
One of our guests from Suriname remarked to me that the members of the Suriname delegation were genuinely shocked and bemused that so few Barbadians participated in the Emancipation activities.
Our Surinamese brother found it difficult to comprehend that a formerly enslaved people could be so indifferent to this most sacred anniversary day, and so negligent of their history and their ancestors. After all, Emancipation Day is Suriname’s major public holiday and is celebrated by virtually every black Surinamer.
And so, the fundamental question is : “How can a people keep and preserve a nation if they are bereft of a deep consciousness of their history and their ancestors?”
Clearly, a nation is built on a collective, shared sense of historical consciousness and continuity. There can therefore be no authentic Barbadian nation except it be self-consciously based on the actions, sentiments and strivings of our ancestors, ranging from Bussa to Barrow and beyond.
So once again I ask: “Do we Barbadians possess the self-respect, the conscious self-awareness, the sense of our historical path as a people, and the associated understanding of our own self-interest that is necessary if we are to keep and preserve our nation for the future benefit of our children?”
Well, way back in the 1930s, our National Hero Right Excellent Clement Osbourne Payne was preaching the message that it was important for African Caribbean people to commemorate Emancipation Day. Furthermore, in more recent times, this message has been consistently enunciated by a host of conscious Barbadian nationalists, including such “giants” as the late Leroy Harewood, Glenroy Straughn, Martin Cadogan, Ricky Parris, Kes Zacharias Gibson, Ikael Tafari, and Granville Williams.
(And, of course, we can also list a host of living, contemporary Barbadian nationalists who uphold this creed: Bobby Clarke, Elombe Mottley, Viola Davis, Kofi Akobi, Trevor Prescod, Onkphra Wells, Trevor Marshall, David Denny, John Tifase Howell, and the list goes on.)
Needless to say, the officers and members of our own Clement Payne Movement have long since internalized this righteous message, and for a number of years now we have been holding events to celebrate not only Emancipation Day, but also the July 26 Day Of National Significance.
There can be absolutely no doubt that the issue of “slavery” is the most fundamental one in the history of Barbados, and that it has had the most profound effect on the collective consciousness of the Barbadian people. Barbados, after all, was the classic example of a slave society.
It was in Barbados, with its high population density, limited land space, and flat terrain, that the white plantocracy developed to a high degree the science of breaking and making slaves! Indeed, Barbadian planters actually published books on this topic, and legend has it that the notorious Willie Lynch was transported from Barbados to Virginia in the United States that he might instruct American slave owners in this “high science”.
The African people of Barbados therefore suffered more mental, psychological and cultural trauma, as a result of slavery, than perhaps any other group of Blacks in the African Diaspora.
It is therefore critical that we Barbadians make full use of Emancipation Day for an intense national collective reflection of our history of slavery –– on the horrors of the terrible African Holocaust that saw the deaths of maybe as many as 100 million African men, women and children, and the particular way in which that holocaust manifested itself in our
It is only by taking time out as a nation to intelligently reflect on our history that we will come to some understanding about the need for us to repair the damage that was done.
It is also high time that we Barbadians come to a proper and sophisticated national understanding of the concept of “reparations” –– the organized demand that African people be compensated for the deprivations and losses which were inflicted on them historically as a result of centuries of a European organized system of slavery and slave trade.
This matter of reparations is not only about money payments! In fact, it is mostly about making self-made repairs on ourselves –– mental, psychological, cultural, organizational, social, economic, educational, religious and political repairs; the type we need in order to create and sustain a viable and healthy society
Finally, in commemorating Emancipation Day, we also reflect on and celebrate the tremendous achievement of all of our ancestral freedom fighters who, by their collective acts of resistance, forced the British authorities to pass the Abolition Act of 1833 and to terminate the system
So, in light of the foregoing, I now hereby extend an invitation to each and every citizen and resident of Barbados –– of all races and classes –– to join us at the Bussa Statue at 6 a.m. on Emancipation Day –– Saturday, August 1, 2015 –– in order that we may reflect deeply on our history and collectively revel in and sing the praises of Bussa and Nanny Gregg of Barbados, Toussaint and Dessalines of Haiti, Sam Sharpe and Tacky of Jamaica, Gabriel Prosser and Nat Turner of the United States, and all of our other immortal heroes and martyrs.
And let us –– by so doing –– demonstrate that we, as a people, do possess the consciousness and capacity required to keep and preserve our precious island-nation in this increasingly dog-eat-dog, neo-imperialist world!
(David Comissiong, an attorney-at-law, is president of the Clement Payne Movement.)