“To distinguish between the curved and the straight.”
– Horace (ca. 30 B. C.)
“Those men … who have written not what they saw, but what they did not hear so well … wrote with great detriment to the truth, occupied only in dry sterility and with the fruitlessness of the surface, without penetrating into the reason of men.”
– Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas (1559)
“Mr. Writer, why don’t you tell it like it really is?”
– Stereophonics (2001)
(Publisher’s NOTE: The above quotes are taken from Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest, by Matthew Restall, Oxford University Press, 2003.)
I do not agree with Clinton Uh Luna’s opinion of Samuel Haynes as a “hero of the Baymen’s clan.” I believe that Uh Luna’s reason for coming up with such an opinion has to do with certain parts of the Haynes poem which Rt. Hon. George Price chose for Belize’s national anthem. That poem was originally titled “Land of the gods,” and I believe it was written by Samuel Haynes while he was in self-imposed exile in the New York/New Jersey area in the early 1930s. The esteemed Mr. Haynes’ sojourn in the United States began in the early 1920s with Haynes working in Harlem as a high-ranking official of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA).
Before proceeding, let me say, brazenly and controversially, that I consider it a typically Belizean stunt for “them” to change Haynes’ poem to “Land of the free,” because the official line was that Belizeans believe in only one God, so Haynes’ poetic reference to our being a “land of the gods” was inappropriate. For me, this change was petty, disrespectful, and so typically Belizean. A poem is a poem is a poem. Haynes was a devout Methodist: he believed in only one God. There is a thing called “poetic license,” which allows the poet all kinds of latitude. Mr. Haynes was dead when you changed his original composition because of your religious uptightness. Disrespect.
That said, 94 years later I can say that I believe Haynes failed as a negotiator in the aftermath of the July 1919 Ex-Servicemen’s rebellion, because a number of those Ex-Servicemen went to jail, for periods up to six years. No one was killed in that uprising. I believe Haynes was in a position to demand amnesty for the rebels from the colonial establishment. But, I may well be wrong.
In 1990 Muslim Trinidadian rebels under the leadership of Yasin Abu Bakr took over the Trinidad House of Representatives and held Prime Minister A. N. R. Robinson and much of his Cabinet hostage for six days. I think there were casualties in this violent coup d’ etat attempt, but Bakr negotiated an amnesty for himself and his gunmen before laying down his arms.
The Caribbean has buried this Jamaat al Muslimeen incident in history because the CARICOM governments do not want people in the other territories to “get ideas.” You have to go into Google to find out something about it.
Now 1919 and 1990 are seven decades apart, and in 1919 British imperial colonialism was in full effect in British Honduras, whereas by 1990 Trinidad was an independent nation state. My criticism of Haynes’ negotiating performance in 1919 may well, to repeat, be unfair. But, I am absolutely positive he was sincere, and I am sure that he was not “Baymen’s clan.” Samuel Haynes was roots, and a Belizean hero. (Incidentally, Belizean feminists also criticize his poem’s lyrics.)
Belize’s foremost Haynes’ advocate is Adalbert Tucker. I would like to see him and the Haynes’ critic, Uh Luna, debate each other. The rest of us Belizeans would learn a lot in such a debate. The larger issue is electric, perhaps even explosive: it is the issue of Creoles in collaboration with British colonialism as opposed to oppression of the Maya in British Honduras. But, both Bert Tucker and Clinton Uh Luna are gentlemen and scholars. There would be no problem between them: there could perhaps be a problem in the audience. Who knows?
There are some of you who may consider such subjects to constitute sterile intellectual discourse. In response, I would ask you to look at the faces of the Maya and Mestizo cane farmers who met on Sunday morning in San Roman, Corozal District. The cañeros have been the backbone of the Belizean economy for decades, but they are not really represented in the talking and discussion sectors of Belizean public life. The cane farmers are not represented in any kind of “sterile intellectual discourse.”
There is a history here, and it is a history which the oligarchy of Belize, the “Baymen’s clan,” do not want to be disseminated. If that history had been disseminated, this BSI/ASR would not have dared to come to Belize City to hold such an arrogant press conference as they did on Tuesday morning. BSI/ASR are trying to isolate the cane farmers, in an attempt to weaken their solidarity.
When Haynes’ Ex-Servicemen rose up in Belize City in 1919, the ancestors of today’s cane farmers were already living in the Corozal and Orange Walk Districts. They had come into British Honduras seeking refuge from the Caste War, a brutal war in the Yucatán which broke out in 1847 and lasted for much of the second part of the nineteenth century.
Generally speaking, there is a difference between the populations of the Corozal and Orange Walk Districts, and we are referring to the villages. In the Yucatán, there were two different groups of Maya which developed as the Caste War proceeded. In the southeastern part of the Yucatan were the Santa Cruz Maya, who became known as bravos, and in the southwestern part of the Yucatán were the Icaiche Maya, who became known as pacíficos. But it was out of the said pacíficos, whom the bravos considered as having yielded to the Mérida and Campeche ladinos, that Marcos Canul and his rebels emerged in the 1860s. Canul was killed in the area we now call Orange Walk Town in 1872, at a time when British forces here were largely West Indians brought in from the British Caribbean. There is little doubt that some of the 1919 Ex-Servicemen who rebelled in Belize City were descendants of West India Regiment soldiers. The Corozal District villages, to get back to the paragraph’s opening point, are more Santa Cruz, while the Orange Walk villages are more Icaiche.
There is a history here, but the colonial authorities did to that history what the Trinidad and Caribbean authorities have sought to do with the Jamaat al Muslimeen history: they buried it. The colonial interest was always to foment and consolidate divisions amongst the native peoples, whereas our nationalist interest, by definition, must be to unite and mobilize those said native peoples. How do you unite the Belizean people if you don’t seek the truth and then let it be known to the people?
There are times when I am not sure what Clinton Uh Luna means by the “Baymen’s clan.” But, it seems to me that when I find Belizeans who refuse to acknowledge the historical truths and refuse to support the dissemination thereof, it must be that I am looking at the clan.
What I know is that I have ancestors who came over here from West Africa on slave ships. I honor those of my ancestors by using the “X” in the middle of my name in order to respect my ancestors whose names have been destroyed by slavery.
In Belize, I am considered all kinds of things, some of them undesirable, but there has been a consistency to my discourse over these 45 years of public life. I stand for my country, and my countrymen and countrywomen. That is why I seek the truth. The truth will make us free.
Power to the people.