Colonialism in certain parts of the world was unconscionable in its brutality. In King Leopold’s Congo, for instance, up to half of the 20 million inhabitants perished. Millions were forced to harvest wild rubber, and if they missed their quota, their right hands were chopped off. The trade was notoriously one-way — shiploads of rubber and ivory were taken from the Congo while the Congolese got slaughtered in return.
In Kenya, the British colonialists were savage. They not only killed more than half of the 20,000 Mau Mau guerilla insurgents who dared to fight for land reforms and political freedom in the east African country, they reportedly held nearly the entire Kikuyu population of 1.5 million in detention camps, “physically and psychologically torturing them” for supposedly taking the Mau Mau oath.
In the case of Belize, the British did not have to mete out anywhere near such horrific brutality to keep control and produce whatever corporate returns they desired. They controlled us via the classic divide and conquer model. Those who the British considered safe were elevated. Those who they did not trust or who did not show enough emulation of British social and political values were relegated to a lower social status in the colony.
As students, we do not always learn these things because history is generally written by the victor. And the truth is, the story of the victor, the hunter, is always decidedly different from that of the vanquished, the hunted. For a while in Europe, King Leopold II was actually considered a “humanitarian.” In the case of the British in Kenya, the propaganda was that they were “civilizing the natives,” preparing them for eventual independence.
You see where the challenge of any education system is, to ensure that its nation’s history is taught, and taught candidly and accurately. That history cannot be taught by the colonizers. It has to be taught by the so-called natives, the ones with the integrity and courage to do so. We cannot yet say we have crossed such a threshold here in Belize. We still don’t even have a History Department at our own national university.
There are those in Belize who prefer the smell of rosy colored stories, while ignoring the heavy scent of betrayal lingering in the air. They would want you to think that this was a colony, and later a country, where we were beautifully and harmoniously integrated. But the truth is, we were a people divided — an enduring legacy of British colonialism we continue to reap to this day.
In colonial days, skin color and perceived loyalty to the colonialists’ ideals played a heavy role in determining your social and occupational status. Those of a “light complexion” – usually the sons and daughters of white men and black women – were specially selected by the British for positions of prestige in the civil service.
The so-called Creoles were “the chosen ones.” It was a designation they jealously guarded. No other ethnic group received equivalent affirmation or blessing from the British. It was the classic divide and conquer rule. The country was sectioned off in districts. There was no chance of any enduring unity among the different ethnic groups.
It’s a model that served the British well. The Mestizos and the Mayas in the north, who were primarily the descendants of refugees from the Caste War in Yucatan, were not exactly loyal British subjects; and the Caribs, who refused to yield to the British in St. Vincent, were viewed suspiciously because of “their rebellious and defiant past.” As a consequence, the Garifuna were assigned a low social status. We don’t always learn these things in school here, Jack.
The so-called Creoles of very light complexion had their choice of professions. Over the years they chose law, and education and the civil service. They reportedly had very little interest in business, and agriculture was pooh-poohed. For those Creoles who were not quite light enough, they were relegated to work in logwood and mahogany camps, and when those operations stalled they ended up becoming domestics, street vendors, construction laborers, etc. Again, they had very little interest in agriculture.
While the other ethnic groups were deeply rooted in the land, and had a healthy respect for farming and the ability to feed themselves, the so-called Creoles never harnessed that appreciation. The roots Creoles were landless, with very little options for upward mobility, quite unlike the lighter-skinned Creoles.
Today, the roots Creoles remain, by and large, landless and jobless.
Today, it is their children killing each other almost every other day.
It is their children who are probably the largest segment of the 30,000 school-aged children who are not in school, and it is their children who are mostly in prison.
Nobody in authority really wants to discuss why. We didn’t hear any of the elected representatives attempt to do so in the recent Budget debate in the parliament, and we cannot be sure such discussions are taking place around the Cabinet table. For sure, they are not taking place in the many classrooms across this land.
See, the usage of the controversial Health and Family Life Education (HFLE) teachers’ manual betrays just how backward and chained we still are in our minds. It is far easier for foreign elements, in this case the Peace Corps, to infiltrate our educational curriculum than it is for the teaching of African and Maya history to take root in our educational institutions. We are messed up in our heads. We are still enslaved, mentally that is, even as we are set to celebrate 31 years of political independence in a few days.
Our education system has to be more, much more than about facts and figures. It has to be about nurturing a love for country, about bringing us together as one. It has to be about teaching each other about the other, and about having us appreciate from whence we came. We have to teach our children about our history – candidly and accurately.
That is one of the enduring legacies of colonialism we have to correct. We don’t know the truth about ourselves. Our history is written by the slave masters. That’s always bad news for the slaves and their descendants. We can never get a fair shake.
In the end, the history books record the colonial masters as the heroes, on a civilizing mission to save us from ourselves, and we were the heathens in need of taming. It’s 2012, 31 years after Independence, and we are still getting screwed. It never ends. It is written.