August 16, 2013
I am responding to the letter from Mr. Nathaniel Wander, printed in your August 9, 2013 issue, in which he commented on the subject raised by Evan X Hyde ON JEWS AND CREOLES and these two peoples’ different views on money.
Mr. Wander’s letter, albeit well- intentioned, is full of broad statements that can only give the wrong impressions. I cannot address all I would want to in this letter, namely, by inference on Mr. Wander’s part, the African’s lack of a “Book,” lack of a “communitarian ethos,” lack of value of family as publicly created via marriage, and failure to give great weight to the training and education of offspring. I’ll just concentrate on what irks me most.
In my opinion, Mr. Wander was disappointingly disingenuous in his summation of the Jewish attitude towards money, Creole term for finance; was at best condescending towards Creoles and is evidently misinformed about African history and the slave trade. Rather than addressing the Creole “attitude” towards money, which I believe was Mr. Hyde’s point, Mr. Wander pointedly inferred what could only be interpreted by this reader as Creole “ineptitude.”
Let me address the latter first. Mr. Wander stated that “for the most part, African slaves did not come from literate societies.” I cannot believe that in 2013, with all the information that is readily available to the public by one keystroke, the myth of African or Black societies’ inferior literacy is still being bandied about! Granted, I don’t know Mr. Wander’s definition of literacy, but I make my point by what follows and has been documented. Regarding “money” skills, African empires had been trading with people from the East for centuries before the slave trade. That requires some astuteness in money matters!
Next, knowledge in other areas. Consider this: the slave trade meant the loss to Africa of indigenous artisans and craftsmen, along with the knowledge of textile production, weaving and dying, tailoring, metallurgy and metalwork, woodworking, basket making, potting skills, architectural and agricultural techniques upon which its societies depended. These were the expertise and skills that Africans brought to the New World, along with their physical labor and ability to acclimate to environmental conditions that made them indispensable in the development of the Western Hemisphere. Slave owners preferred slaves who were from specific areas of Africa according to the skills and knowledge they possessed. Examples: South Carolina and Georgia in the United States developed economies based on rice production taught to those planters by their slaves. Peru found the knowledge of slaves in gold mining indispensable! Advertisements in the U.S. for slaves up for sale played up their skills and knowledge. Once slaves were taught to read and write English, their literary skills emerged.
To Belize: I was born a little over a hundred years after Emancipation, not much longer than one lifetime in today’s terms. In that period there emerged in the majority Black or Creole population a plethora of woodworkers, carpenters and cabinet makers (pre-Mennonite); tailors and seamstresses, shopkeepers, shoemakers, sailors, boat builders. Reader, feel free to add to this list. The Jews were systemically kept out of government jobs, the professional occupations and land ownership so they turned to what they knew – occupations that involved the handling and exchange of money. On the other hand, Creoles were systemically kept out of occupations that involved the handling and exchange of money, but were allowed to hold government jobs, go into the trades they knew and, when they could through higher education, the professional fields as lawyers, doctors, nurses, etc.
I must mention the issue of oral traditions brought up by Mr. Wander. He says that with two million Africans dying during the Atlantic crossing alone, disrupting the transmission of folk traditions wouldn’t have been that difficult. Well, Mr. Wander, thirteen million survived, scattered across the Americas and the Caribbean. Would not a more logical explanation for any loss of oral traditions be that slaves represented many different African cultures? Seeing the subject matter originally brought up by the Publisher concerns Belize Creoles, a history of Belize tells us that in 1850 Africans still identified themselves according to the tribes they came from, being called “Congoes, Nangoes, Mongolas, Ashantees, Eboes” and others.
Which brings me to another point. Mr. Wander, like most non-African folk, treats Africa as one country. News flash! Africa is a continent of many different countries, languages, cultures and traditions.
Why do I say Mr. Wander was at best condescending towards Creoles? He placed accountability for whatever deficiencies they have in the area of finance on the supposed “illiteracy” of the societies they originated from, on the horrendous slave trade, loss of oral traditions, fractured family systems and on the educational system in Belize (see his comments on “Where do you start?”). In other words, don’t feel badly, it’s not your fault!
As for being disingenuous, regarding The Book, Mr. Wander failed to note that as part of their religion, in the Talmud, Jews were taught money matters in detail. An example, they were not to charge interest to fellow Jews but could charge whatever they wished to non-Jews. The Talmud, formerly the Oral Law, was written, compiled, edited, taught and interpreted for centuries by rabbis who were merchants, artisans and professional men knowledgeable and accepting of business and finance in theory and practice (Marvin Perry). Simone Luzzatto points out that Jews honed their financial skills over centuries during their exclusion from other sources of livelihood. In Europe, Jews got a head start when they were hired as Court Jews to handle the financial affairs of the nobility.
Belize Creoles have not yet had the advantage of being included in the handling of the financial affairs of the rich and privileged or the country. Of note, the Talmud, the Rabbinic literature, was an Oral Law before it was written, beginning in 200 C.E., due to fear of the loss of oral traditions as a result of the millions of Jewish lives lost through conquests, uprisings, etc. I say this to make the point that before the slave trade, African societies did not experience this level of loss as to motivate them to write their traditions. Their conquerors, Muslims and Christians, came with their Books.
I’ll end by referencing an observation about the Jewish success in the financial area. Some ponder the contribution of that success to capitalism. In the other “Book,” the New Testament of Christians, Jesus, a Jew, teaches an opposite attitude towards money. As a matter of fact, he calls people to value spiritual riches instead. Jesus chased the Jewish moneylenders out of the temple. He encouraged the rich to sell their riches and give to the poor. He is famously quoted as saying, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” He was eliminated. Consider, reader, what is happening in the world today vs. what Jesus taught. Consider the millions on millions of people who are suffering worldwide from the encroachment of capitalists on their lands, usurping them for resorts for the rich, chemical industrialized food production, mining minerals and precious stones, drilling for oil, wreaking havoc on the environment and the natural order of things and depriving people of the land from making a livelihood. The displaced are forced into urban areas, without skills, looking for work. In other words, consider how capitalism has been creating ever increasing poverty and misery throughout the globe and widening the gap between the rich and the poor. This is not to cast dispersion on the Jewish success. It is merely to contrast two opposing attitudes towards money.