BARBADOS — Royal note to Barbados: no apology, no reparations but we love your culture – By Mohamed Hamaludin

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OPINION — By MOHAMED HAMALUDIN

Nearly 400 years after the British occupied the island that came to be known as Barbados, the Caribbean nation finally severed official ties with the former “Mother Country” when it replaced Queen Elizabeth II with its governor-general Sandra Mason as the titular head of state. It was surprising that it happened 55 years after independence.

The British presence dated back to 1620 when a Captain Simon Gordon, ignoring the Arawak who lived there for centuries, determined there were no inhabitants. Five years later, on May 14, 1625, a Captain John Powell arrived and, as Barbadian journalist Suleiman Bulbulia noted in a Guardian column on the eve of the severing of the colonial links, claimed it for King James I. “Los Barbados” (the bearded ones), so named by earlier Portuguese visitors for the beard-like appearance of its fig trees, became simply Barbados.           

Within two years, the British wiped out the Arawak and the island comprising 169.5 square miles was distributed to people “with good financial backgrounds and social connections with England.” The “strong connection and staunchly British attitude earned it the title of Little England.” Even more, though, the British “turned Barbados into a slave society which would be replicated in several parts of the ‘new world’.”

Barbados was the birthplace of British slave society and the most ruthlessly colonized by Britain’s ruling elites,” Hilary Beckles, a Barbadian historian and vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies, has written. “They made their fortunes from sugar produced by an enslaved, ‘disposable’ workforce, and this great wealth secured Britain’s place as an imperial superpower and caused untold suffering.”

It is a history that “underpins the development of global capitalism for the past 500 years,” Kevin Farmer, deputy director of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society, told The New York Times’ Jon Hurdle in 2018.

Farmer, like Beckles, argues that the wealth created by sugar, rice and cotton in Barbados and other parts of the “new world” up to the late 19th century came from the “blood, tears and death” of millions of enslaved Africans. So did the late historian and Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Eric Williams, nearly 75 years earlier in his 1944 book “Capitalism and Slavery.”

Slaves in Barbados did not accept their condition quietly. As Cuffy did against the Dutch in 1763 in part of what is now Guyana and was killed, another slave, Bussa, led a failed uprising in 1816 against the British in Barbados and was also killed. A statue dedicated to Bussa shows “a heroic black man with his face tilted triumphantly to the sky and holding broken chains from his outstretched arms,” Hurdle noted.

It is against this background that the messages of British royalty welcoming the new republic must be judged. Queen Elizabeth II sent a message to the 287,371 Barbadians “expressing warmest good wishes for your happiness, peace and prosperity in the future” and praised “its vibrant culture, its sporting prowess, and its natural beauty.”

Prince Charles, speaking at the Dec. 1 ceremony, remarked, “From the darkest days of our past, and the appalling atrocity of slavery, which forever stains our history, the people of this island forged their path with extraordinary fortitude.”

The “darkest days of our past”?

For at least 250 years, British ships and merchants transported more than three million enslaved West Africans mainly to the “new world” in a “triangular trade” that involved trading British-made goods for the Africans and then importing goods such as cotton, sugar and tobacco that they produced, The New Yorker’s Sam Knight noted.

It was much worse than that. The 182-year-old Anti-Slavery Society reported in 2007 that 24 million enslaved Africans were transported to Europe and what became the United States but “only some 10 million managed to survive long enough to reach the Americas and the Caribbean.” And life was so harsh for the survivors that “in the Caribbean, approximately one in every three Africans died within three years of arriving.”

And when the British government ended the slave trade – but not slavery itself – in 1833, it agreed to pay 20 million pounds sterling  — about 40 percent of its annual budget — to compensate not the former slaves but the slave owners for the loss of their “property.”

Journalist Earl Bousquet estimated that the payout to the enslavers would amount to 300 billion pounds today or roughly $400 billion. The eight-year-old Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Reparations Commission (CRC), of which Barbados is a  member, has been pushing for reparations but not in terms of financial compensation, Bousquet wrote in a CRC column.

The commission “is not seeking a cash payment but, instead, a covenant inspired by Reparatory Justice in which Britain and the European countries concerned would agree to fund certain development initiatives by CARICOM that would be to the mutual and general benefit of all Caribbean people and not only the descendants of slaves,” Bousquet, who chairs the Saint Lucia National Reparations Committee, wrote in July last year.

The U.S.-based National African-American Reparations Commission, responding directly to the comments by the queen and the prince, asserted that “the effects of slavery continue to violently reverberate across generations of Black people and many people were hoping for an apology from the prince. It is unacceptable that, centuries after slavery occurred, those responsible have done nothing to help those affected. The call for reparatory justice has been echoed by many people in Barbados … and across global Black communities for decades.”

Why not at least an apology? Afua Hirsch, a Guardian columnist, wrote that a British Cabinet minister once told her that Britain, in her words, “cannot apologize because the case against it — watertight in moral and ethical terms – might then become legal too” and “might pave the way for reparations.”

So, Barbadians, no apology, no reparations but you have a vibrant culture and great sports prowess.

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Mohamed Hamaludin is a Guyana-born journalist who worked for several years at The Guyana Chronicle in the 1970s and on publications in the Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands before emigrating in 1984 to the United States, where he worked at The Miami Times, the Miami Herald and the South Florida Times.  Though now retired, he writes a column for The South Florida Times (sfltimes.com) in which the above

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Comments

  • Ronald H Lammy  On 12/18/2021 at 6:28 am

    Eloquent, striking description of the savagery and the continuing disregard to this day.

  • wally n  On 12/18/2021 at 11:53 am

    Leave history in the rear view mirror, keep you eyes on the road, big bumps, holes on the road coming up. Oh the chinese willing to smooth your roads, be careful. you don’t replace predators.

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