More than some comparable fortresses, Bunce operated like a factory in the industrial sense. It was, in a way, a proto-industrial production line, along which captive Africans were bought and sold, sorted, processed, warehoused and literally branded – marking them out as human commodities, at least in the eyes of their captors. These processes were part of an organized and globalized system designed to turn captive Africans into New World slaves, a process that was completed – for those who survived the Atlantic crossing – on the plantations of the Americas during the “seasoning,” a brutal period of punishments, beatings, cultural deracination and instruction designed to break the spirit.
– pg. 2, BLACK AND BRITISH: A Forgotten History, by David Olusoga, Macmillan, 2016
Theoretically, I’m supposed to wield a lot of power at Kremandala. After all, I am the chairman of the board. In real, everyday terms, however, I don’t have that much of a say. My children know how to use their authority, either as individuals or in tandem, to sidetrack, delay, or plain ignore me when it suits them. What can I say?
I’ve reached that point in my life when a man looks back and considers how things have been, how they unfolded, how good or bad it was, and how it might have been otherwise. What I see now, what I did not see when I was a young adult, is that we young Belizeans thought much of ourselves and our people back then in the 1960s and 1970s, and the reality has turned out to be different from our perception.
I remember that in August or September of 1964, the new, co-educational Sixth Form opened at St. John’s College (SJC) in two, adjoining, one-flat, ferroconcrete buildings which the Landivar Jesuits had used for many years to house the so-called internos. The internos were upper class students from Central and South America whom their wealthy parents sent to SJC to attend high school, primarily so they could learn English.
My personal Sixth Form class did not do the two years other classes have done to prepare for the Advanced Level Cambridge examinations. We only did a year and a half, because 1964 was when the epic change in the summer holidays took place in Belize. My class did a half year of Sixth Form, between January and July 1964, on the SJC high school campus, before we began a full year in the new Sixth Form, where we were joined by a first-year class of Sixth Formers which, for the first time in SJC history, included girls, mostly from St. Catherine’s Academy, but also from the Cayo high school.
There was one student who joined us second year SJC Sixth Formers that August/September of 1964 who had not studied with us during our half year on the high school campus. He was Geoffrey Frankson, and the word was that he had done his Sixth Form studies in Jamaica, and had come home (his mother was Belizean) to try for the British Honduras Open Scholarship because the competition here was less stiff than in Jamaica. That was the talking. As it turned out, Frankson did win the British Honduras Open Scholarship in June/July of 1965, later became a prestigious Rhodes Scholar, and practiced as a physician in Trinidad and Tobago.
Sometime in December of 1964, after the first term of my class’s second year (or the last term of our first year if you think about it), the State Department of the United States offered a full university scholarship to the most qualified student they could find in Belize. The Americans ending up choosing me as the scholarship recipient, and I really thought I was on top of the world at that point. I was only 17 when I won the scholarship in January of 1965, and 18 by the time I left for New York City and New Hampshire in August that year.
In my 1965 innocence, I was only seeing the benevolent aspect of the scholarship process, which was a historic one in my case insofar as relations between the U.S. and British Honduras were concerned. In January of 1964, British Honduras had finally become a self-governing colony, and with independence appearing to be imminent, the great United States of America for the first time offered us Belizeans some foreign aid. Mine was the first university scholarship Washington had ever given us.
I suppose I felt that I had earned the scholarship, because of my academic performances at Holy Redeemer Boys and St. John’s College. I did not consider the fact that the donors of the scholarship must have had some purpose in mind for me. My scholarship was not pure charity. I wasn’t seeing that in early 1965. I had been given an exciting opportunity. That’s all I was seeing.
Mrs. Nadia Cattouse Webb, the Belizean heroine who has lived in London for perhaps six decades or more, sent me a book by one David Olusoga a few days ago. (By the way, Miss Nadia, much thanks, maximum respect, and compliments of the season.) I’ve only just begun the book, but I already feel its power. Mr. Olusoga’s book is entitled BLACK AND BRITISH: A Forgotten History. The early pages about the enslavement process in Sierra Leone have had an effect on me. This is moving stuff.
I will always be grateful to the Americans for their scholarship, because life was uncertain for me at 17. I do believe, however, that it was intended that my spirit should be broken in some way. Let me put that another way. It was intended that I develop a view of myself and of the world which would amount to something like the domestication of a wild animal. I was not domesticated. I ended up rebelling. I didn’t go to Dartmouth to rebel, trust me. Rebellion was the last thing on my mind when I began my journey overseas.
Perhaps I had too high an opinion of myself. Perhaps I had been spoiled in Belize. I am willing to concede that. In writing North Amerikkkan Blues in 1971, my primary purpose was to prepare Belizean students who would come after me for the struggle ahead in foreign universities. Remember, no Belizean before my time had ever warned us who came afterwards how tough it could be abroad. We always thought in British Honduras that once a young man won a university scholarship, he was a “made man,” as we would say. We thought everything would be all good.
In a larger, societal sense, for sure we also thought that everything would be copacetic after self-government and independence. If you listen to Lord Rhaburn’s 1964 calypso celebrating self-government, you can hear the optimism and confidence in his lyrics. It took 17 years after self-government for us to achieve independence, and by that time we Belizeans had already lost some of our optimism and confidence. We entered independence as a divided people.
Today in 2016, it often appears that we have achieved little, that we may even have drifted backwards and downwards into self-hate, violence, selfishness, and greed. The people who enslaved and colonized our ancestors never went away. They still rule the world. The Europeans still call the shots. In the 1960s we Belizeans were really upbeat. We were ready to take on the world. Now new generations have arrived. You and I can only speak for our generation, and we were young and green. Perhaps it is because we have aged that we have grown skeptical. The struggle of our people goes on. We wish all God’s blessings on our youth.
Power to the people. Amandla. Ngawethu.