“The vital statistics of men and women in Belize during the period are almost non-existent. So I made up some of them. Fortunately, I am not a qualified historian and therefore, not bound by the rigid restrictions of the professional. I am an entertainer and a propagandist. The object of my propaganda, pure and simple, is the glorification of Belize in the hearts and minds of today’s Belizeans and future generations.”
– pg. 3, INTRODUCTION, Belize 1798 – The Road To Glory, Emory King, Tropical Books, 1991
In the beginning of slavery, the European and neo-European slavemasters were not interested in doing any kind of education of their slaves. One of the reasons for this was that all the slavemasters were interested in was field and forest production by and from these slaves, and this field and forest production involved more brawn than brains. Some kind of skill training was involved, but not at a sophisticated level. Those slaves who acquired status were those who could increase the work production from their own kind, and these became known as “slavedrivers.” The second reason there was no education of slaves in the beginning, was that one of the European justifications of slavery was that Africans were just dumb brutes and were not capable of learning anything.
A white American turned Belizean, Emory King, wrote extensively of slavery days in the settlement of Belize, and he did so from the perspective of the slavemasters in said settlement, who were known as “Baymen.” The Garifuna historian, E. Roy Cayetano, spoke recently about the importance of words, and he was referring specifically to the description of the Garifuna people as having been “deported” from St. Vincent by the British. Mr. Cayetano claimed that some Garifuna historians have accepted such a description even though “deportation” suggests that one did not have any right to the territory from which one was being removed. Since the Garinagu had an eminent ancestral right to St. Vincent, they could not have been “deported,” strictly speaking. In the case of “Baymen,” this description initially applied only to white men in the Belize settlement by the Bay of Honduras, but as time went along free mulatto residents of the settlement became known and chose to refer to themselves as “Baymen,” and later the “Baymen” reference spread even to black residents. So then, strictly speaking, who and what is a “Bayman”?
The late Emory King, brazenly and unabashedly, chose to romanticize slavery in Belize, famously referring to it as a “family affair.” This was ridiculous, but it sat well with those Belize white families who have been here from Battle of St. George’s Caye days and before, and it also sat well with those royal Creole families who embraced their European paternity and rejected their African maternity. But, this Emory King business is a long story, and I don’t want to go there today.
Where I want to go is to the point where the settlement became a colony under British rule, and a public administration evolved. Belize was not a typical British possession. The boss families of the settlement in the first sixty years of the nineteenth century were fiercely independent. They ran into financial problems which were so serious that they opted for British colonial status in 1862, I believe. Belize had always looked to Jamaica for “big brother” protection and advice. Jamaica was where most of our slaves landed from West Africa before being shipped here, and Jamaica was where the original Baymen had sought military/naval support in 1797 and 1798 for the St. George’s Caye business, and whenever there were slave rebellions. But once things were running normally, the Baymen families acted independently, until, to repeat, the financial problems of the 1860s.
The point of the column is this: at the stage where a public administration evolved in the latter part of the nineteenth century, this was when employment opportunities arose for “clerical” natives, natives who could read and write, in other words, in the said public administration. Again, this is a long story, and a very important one, but where I want to reach is the era around the time when I was born, after World War II, when natives were actually given scholarships and sent to England for tertiary study. When you read of Senegal’s Leopold Senghor and when you read the writings of Nigeria’s Chinua Achebe, you will understand that the French and the British were doing the same thing in their colonies – training bright and promising natives at the higher level so that these natives could assist them in administration.
In the beginning, there was just one British Honduras Open Scholarship, and it would have been of great interest to me when I was an emerging scholar in the early 1960s, if I could have read of the records of these scholarship winners and their experiences abroad. But, such records and narratives have never been available
Before my time, a brilliant native named Newton Stuart had won the Open Scholarship and travelled to England, in those days it was by steamship, to study. What a culture shock it must have been for him over there! To the best of my knowledge, Newton never returned to British Honduras. One of my sources has told me that he became a tennis professional in Britain, and he died over there.
I knew Newton’s mother, one of his brothers, and several of his sisters. I wonder if they thought of him as having been a failure or something like that. Colonial British Honduras was so stuffy and upright: the upper classes would have sniffed at Newton’s choices. I would say to Newton’s family and relatives and friends that, whatever happened in England, the pressure on him must have been immense, even unbearable. My personal situation in New Hampshire from 1965 to 1968 had to have been more comfortable than Newton’s, and yet there were times in school when I wondered if I would make it.
The case of Branston Clarke also fascinated me. Branston was an absolutely brilliant brother of Lionel and Ronald Clarke. I believe their father was a black Barbadian immigrant. The older people have told me of instances where they believed hocus pocus took place with the rewarding of the one Open scholarship, and in colonial days such hocus pocus would have always been in the favor of the “lighter shade of pale.”
Branston Clarke ended up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the home of Harvard, the United States’ most prestigious university. Around Harvard in Cambridge, there are other highly rated universities like Radcliffe, Wellesley, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and several more. So Cambridge is, simply put, an area of massive intellectual focus and lifestyle. This is where Branston Clarke lived, far removed from Belize, and this is where, apparently, he thrived.
After Hurricane Hattie in 1961, a Belizean teenager by the name of Dennis Young got an opportunity to travel to Boston to continue school. His grandmother had been an employee of the United Fruit Company here before she migrated. The young Dennis had been a close St. Michael’s College friend of Norman Fairweather and Paslow Kelly. In Boston, his academic performance was such that he won a scholarship to Phillips Exeter, a prep school in New Hampshire. These prep schools have a high percentage of their students accepted in the Ivy League. Thus it was, Belize’s Dennis Young was accepted to begin his Bachelor’s degree at Harvard in 1964. He went on to complete Bachelor’s, Master’s, and doctorate degrees at Harvard. There, he met Branston Clarke. Someday, Dr. Dennis, you must tell Belizeans the story of Branston. Inquiring minds would like to know.