On 5 October 1584, less than a week before the first of the two crucial Privy Council meetings to debate the crisis in the Netherlands, Hakluyt personally presented Elizabeth with a thick dossier setting out Ralegh’s grand strategy.
The genius of the dossier on which Hakluyt had worked continuously for three months was its ability to explain fully and persuasively, in non-technical language, the New World’s potential to redress the imbalances of the Old. The central premise, worked out in astonishing depth, was that nurturing a colonial empire in North America would create fresh markets for English labour and goods, thus compensating for the catastrophic drop in international trade that was likely to be triggered by war with Spain.
Hakluyt divided his dossier into twenty-one chapters and began with a series of moral arguments. Colonization, preferably in the (as yet) unsettled lands between present-day North Carolina and Virginia, where the climate was less harsh than in Newfoundland, would be “greatly for the enlargement of the Gospel of Christ whereunto the princes of the reformed religion are chiefly bound amongst whom Her Majesty is principal.” Since the indigenous people of North America worshipped idols and Elizabeth enjoyed the title Defender of the Faith, it would be both a godly and charitable thing to convert the infidels. As Hakluyt had sharply reminded Sidney in 1582, the first aim of overseas discovery was always “God’s glory.”
Having established a moral basis for colonization, Hakluyt turned, point by point, to the practical arguments which Ralegh saw as central to his case. An aggressive Atlantic policy, he explained, would do much to insulate English merchants from the risks of trading in Europe, as the New World would supply them with the exotic commodities which so far had to be imported from Asia and Africa and could at present be purchased only in Antwerp, Seville, Lisbon and Venice. New employment would be created throughout England for cloth workers and others in the finishing and manufacturing trades, who would find fresh purchasers to buy their goods in North America. As transatlantic trade increased, the queen’s revenues from customs and excise duties would rise correspondingly. Besides, a thriving colony in North America would be a convenient place to send the unemployed, criminals and bankrupts, who might otherwise be idle or in prison but would now be able to lead productive lives.
– pgs. 69-71, ELIZABETH: THE FORGOTTEN YEARS, by John Guy, Viking, New York, 2016
The history of the American continent does not begin with Christopher Columbus, or even with Leif the Lucky, but with those Maya scribes in the Central American jungles who first began to record the deeds of their rulers some two thousand years ago. Of all the peoples of the pre-Columbian New World, only the ancient Maya had a complete script: they could write down anything they wanted to, in their own language.
In the last century, following the discovery of the ruined Maya cities, almost none of these records could be read by Western scholars. Except for the Maya calendar, which has been understood for over a hundred years, the situation was not much better than this when I was a student at Harvard in the 1950s. Today, thanks to some remarkable advances made by epigraphers on both sides of the Atlantic, we can now read most of what those long-dead scribes carved on their stone monuments.
– pg. 7, Preface, BREAKING THE MAYA CODE, by Michael D. Coe, Thames & Hudson, 1992
When I was about 12 or 13 years old, growing up in Belize, British Honduras, before Hurricane Hattie overturned things in 1961, I began to feel, through reading, a relationship with the Plains Indians of North America. I began to admire Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce, Geronimo of the Apache, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse of the Sioux, and the way of life of their people.
I was a practicing Christian (Roman Catholic) at the time, and the various Indian tribes in North America were definitely not Christians. It was the Europeans who entered/invaded North America and commenced to slaughter the said Indians, steal their lands, and imprison them on so-called reservations, it was those Europeans who professed various forms of Christianity.
I did not know much about the religions of the Plains Indians, and I guess I still don’t, but I understood their primary religious focus to be the land, the creeks and rivers, the plant and animal life, the mountains and valleys, the sun and the moon and the stars and the skies – planet earth overall, and a supernatural Great Spirit. The Indians did not know of Jesus Christ before the Europeans came. They lived a communal lifestyle, however, which just happened to be quite similar to that which Jesus and his fisherman Apostles had lived in Judea.
I can’t pinpoint when it was that the Right Honorable George Cadle Price, whose mother was Maya, began to talk on the political rostrum and on our government monopoly radio station of a glorious Maya legacy which we Belizeans had inherited. My sense is this was the early 1960s. It is impossible to say how much Mr. Price really knew about the Maya, and where he had gained such knowledge, because in the early 1960s, when Mr. Price apparently began such a rhetoric, the Maya hieroglyphics had not yet been deciphered, and Nelson Reed did not publish his seminal book on the Caste War of Yucatan until 1964. I have to speculate that Mr. Price must have gained some knowledge of the Maya during his time studying in a Guatemalan seminary (late 1930s, early 1940s).
Before 1956, when Mr. Price replaced Leigh Richardson as Leader of the People’s United Party (PUP), the vast majority of the majority black population of British Honduras had been supporters of the anti-colonial PUP (first organized in 1950), but there was a split in the black population after Mr. Richardson was overthrown in 1956. By the early 1960s when Mr. Price began his Maya rhetoric, middle class blacks were generally claiming that Mr. Price was attempting to “Latinize” Belize. Nevertheless, overall, working class black Belizeans remained loyal to the PUP.
In Belize, then the only and capital city of British Honduras (which became a self-governing colony in 1964), my generation of black teenagers was hostile to Mr. Price’s Maya rhetoric. Ignorance is a dangerous thing, and we knew absolutely nothing of the Maya, past or present, nothing of the Caste War, nothing of the oppressed Maya population in Guatemala, nothing of the phenomenal Olmecs in Mexico. And so we, perforce, in our ignorance linked Maya with “Spanish.” For us, “Spanish” meant Guatemala and its racist claim to our country, so Mr. Price’s Maya rhetoric was unpopular amongst black youth in the capital.
By the time I returned home to Belize from an American university in 1968, I had learned enough about my African ancestry and the African motherland to know that something was seriously wrong with what we were being taught in Belize’s schools. I confronted, in a public and passionate manner, the Christian educators responsible for the curricula in our schools. This was, of course, guaranteed suicide for anyone who was contemplating electoral politics, but electoral politics was the furthest thing from my mind when the revolutionary United Black Association for Development (UBAD) was formed in February of 1969. I was a product of Belize’s maritime culture, and the culture of the sea is decidedly un-democratic: popularity does not form the basis for status and leadership on the sea.
In 1969, I still knew very little about the Maya, so that my call for a relevant Belizean history first specified African and “Indian” history. As the years went by, I learned more and more about the Maya. Finally, on a 1993 trip to Merida, I obtained a copy of Nelson Reed’s massively important work, almost thirty years after he had published it! In 2016, it is clear that the history of the Maya is far more important for Belizeans than the history of the Plains Indians. In this column, however, I have explained that my personal road to resistance began with the Plains Indians, and it was decades before I learned enough about the Maya. My ignorance was largely the result of how dedicated Belize’s racist, imperialist education system is to inculcating ignorance in Belizean children about our ancestors.
When our ancestors began accepting Christianity in the settlement of Belize two centuries ago, they had no choice. Voodoo, obeah, and other forms of African religion were outlawed by the white Baymen in the settlement. Our ancestors, like most human beings, were a spiritual people. The fact was that Jesus Christ taught a way of life in the New Testament which stressed communality, a spiritual perspective on life, and explicitly condemned greed for money and material things. Christ’s only known, recorded act of violence involved driving money changers and bankers out of the temple in Jerusalem. He declared outright that it was more difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than it was for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. In addition, and for those who perhaps prefer a more subtle message, the parable Jesus told which we grew up knowing as the “Parable of the Rich Young Man,” makes it clear, for any fool to see, that true Christianity and rapacious neoliberalism are totally contradictory to each other. True Christianity obviously appealed to our ancestors.
The Belize that I grew up in six decades ago was a truly communal, Christian place. Our people did not lust for riches, and we held no rich man in awe. Like the Indigenous people of America, our first commitment in the old Belize was to community solidarity. All this has changed. Today, we murder each other indiscriminately for money and material goods. In 2016, Belize’s culture is not a Christian one. The Christian cleric who is denouncing our heathen, satanic behavior is my former Holy Redeemer Boys School classmate – Bishop Dorick Wright. Keep on, Brother Dorick. You have condemned the sins of the kings; in so doing you have become a true prophet of Christ.
Power to the people.