I know of a prominent, successful black Belizean family who are Anglophiles: they adore the British. They were raised that way by the family patriarch, who was a civil servant in colonial British Honduras, and clashed repeatedly with the early, anti-colonial People’s United Party (PUP), which he despised.
In those days, when I was a child in the 1950s, native resentment against the British began to crystallize, I suggest, with the movement of Belizean workers to the Panama Canal Zone, where our people experienced a different approach to power and development, that of the Americans who controlled Panama. This resentment against the British built on the unemployed rebellion initiated by Antonio Soberanis in 1934. And the Soberanis rebellion, for its part, followed in the footsteps of the Ex-Servicemen’s Riot of 1919.
In post-World War II British Honduras, there was a major class difference between the working and unemployed native masses, on the one hand, and the elite Creole families, such as the Hulses, the Longsworths, the Euseys, the Leslies, and so on and so forth, in league with the civil service administrators, who saw their ambitions as being tied to the power of the Governor and Colonial Secretary.
When I think of what happened to Jake Rogers in the middle 1950s, it occurs to me that perhaps the hurt I personally feel is misplaced. First of all, Jake Rogers was not a human being: Jake Rogers was a now mythical place in the sea a few miles south by east of the Spanish Caye range where the fishing was like nowhere else on planet earth. (There are only two people who are still alive who I know for sure experienced Jake Rogers: these are my father and my maternal uncle, Roy Belisle. They are both in their nineties.) I say that perhaps the hurt I feel is misplaced because, even if Belize now belongs to us, and too often I am not so sure of that, at the time Jake Rogers was destroyed by human hand this was a British colony. Punto final.
North of us, less than a hundred years before the destruction of Jake Rogers, and while the Caste War was still raging on the Yucatan peninsula, the French had actually installed a French emperor, Maximilian, on a throne to rule Mexico. French bankers were owed money by the struggling Mexican state, which had become independent in 1821. This is the same Mexican state we see today which is so powerful and nationalistic. The French of Europe simply sent a French emperor to rule Mexico. The Mexican upper classes collaborated with the French. Great Britain said nothing, did nothing; Germany said nothing, did nothing. The United States was in the midst of their great civil war (1861-65). Belgium looked favorably on Maximilian’s Mexican adventure, which lasted from 1864 to 1867, when Maximilian was executed. After all, Maximilian’s wife, Carlota (who went mad when he was executed), was the sister of Belgium’s King Leopold II, later notorious for his unbelievably savage atrocities in the Congo.
I cite the history of Maximilian in Mexico to give you younger readers a sense of how casually imperialistic the Europeans were around us. The settlement of Belize became a formal British colony roughly around the same period when Maximilian lorded it over Mexico. So then, strictly speaking, in our case Jake Rogers was simply theirs to do with as the imperial British wished.
Today, in this third millennium cultural colonialism imposed on Belizeans by the Europeans and orchestrated by the native leadership of the NGO’s financed by the Europeans, adult Belizeans are instructed and admonished to listen to our children. But in the days of my childhood, we children felt very fortunate when the adults and elders allowed us to listen on the perimeter to their discourse during Spanish Caye nights lit only by the moon and the stars. Children were not only certainly not to be heard: they were not even to be seen at “big people time.” In a sense, for us children Jake Rogers was like a dream, a dream come true for the adults.
It is possible that my maternal grandfather, “Pa Bill” Belisle, took me to Jake Rogers once, but I would not have been fully conscious of it. All I know is that we two returned to the caye from the south in my father’s sailing boat one time after night had already fallen, and Pa Bill had caught many fish. (I would, of course, have loved to say “we,” but I would have been no more than about six years of age.)
Around about the middle 1950s, talk began in Belize’s fishing community about dynamiting being done to parts of our reef system. It was just bits and pieces of talk, not much. I repeat, British Honduras was a total colony then, until 1964 when we became self-governing. I am almost positive that the British never announced on the monopoly government radio station (BHBS – the British Honduras Broadcasting Service) what was going on, but, as the UWI Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, has specifically pointed out, the British always kept records, very good records. And, two or three years ago, there was a release from the geology section of the independent Belize government about the seismic surveys (shout dynamite, Belizeans) which had taken place around the period to which I am referring in the middle 1950s.
I must confess, there is a very, very tiny possibility that it was Hurricane Hattie which destroyed Jake Rogers, but I man prefer to think it was dynamiting for oil. North of Spanish Caye, there used to be a great fishing grounds along that reef which begins at the Spanish Caye channel marker and runs slightly northeast towards the Middle Rock beacon in the direction of Stake Bank, and I know that the fishing on the “edge” of that reef was essentially destroyed by Hattie in 1961. But, the glory of Jake Rogers had already begun to fade from our consciousness at Spanish Caye in the years before Hattie struck in 1961. So, I will always believe that Jake was a victim of man and not of God. Jake Rogers was sacrificed to the American oil companies with whom the British made deals about which we “British subjects” were kept in the dark.
I say today, to those of you prominent and successful Belizeans who want to continue thinking like British subjects, you are relics of the past. It is, needless to say, intelligent to recognize the awesome power of white supremacy, but only a very few of us natives will ever benefit from white supremacy. That would be those of you who adore the British and the Europeans. The rest of us will continue the fight against slavery, colonialism, imperialism and racism which began way back when the Europeans first entered Africa and America with their guns and their cannons. In the words of His Imperial Majesty, Haile Selassie I, Rastafari: Until the philosophy which makes one race superior, and another inferior, is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned, totally destroyed, everywhere is war …
Power to the people.