“After being laid off from his job at the auto plant, Bob applied for welfare, and in October he received a notice from the Selective Service Bureau telling him to register for the draft. Exasperated, Bob packed up his things and caught the next flight back to Kingston.”
– pg. 215, CATCH A FIRE: THE LIFE OF BOB MARLEY, Timothy White, New York, 1983
“ … Afro-Yucatecans forever altered the Maya communities in which they settled, in both town and countryside. Indeed, perhaps the most surprising result of my research into Afro Yucatán was the realization that by late colonial times, the Mayas of Yucatán had in a sense become Afro-Mayas.”
– pg. 5, Introduction, THE BLACK MIDDLE: AFRICANS, MAYAS, AND SPANIARDS IN COLONIAL YUCATÁN, Matthew Restall, Stanford University Press, 2009
“So while census records indicate that 13% of the colony’s population was Afro-Yucatecan in the eighteenth century, there were actually many more inhabitants with some African ancestry. I suspect that by 1821, most people in Yucatán had an African ancestor.”
– pg. 27, ibid.
Bob Marley flew from Kingston, Jamaica, to Wilmington, Delaware in February of 1966, the day after marrying Rita Anderson Marley. Bob’s mother, Cedella, had migrated to Delaware, was married there, and had been pressuring her son to leave Kingston. When the U.S. Army tried to draft him for the Vietnam War in October of that year, however, Nesta went home immediately.
There were many young men from Belize (as from Jamaica and other Caribbean islands), nevertheless, who felt that going back home was a waste of time, and they decided to try their luck with Uncle Sam. Throughout human history, the military has been an institution which offers opportunities for brave young men from the base of the social pyramid. In America in the mid-1960s, my generation saw that first hand when the mighty America began to scramble to get bodies for the rice paddies in Southeast Asia.
Bob Marley’s decision to return home to poverty-stricken Jamaica, incidentally, was not a problem with bravery. Bob Marley was a tough guy on the Kingston streets, which are as tough as they come. He had a street fighter reputation from youth.
This column is not about Bob Marley, It is about how successful black men have been in the Yucatán area going way back to the middle of the sixteenth century, with the military (militias) being the most notable vehicle for their upward mobility, as documented in the research of Penn State professor Matthew Restall.
For the past three weeks in the weekend issue of Amandala, we have been translating a work (from Spanish to English) by two Mérida, Yucatán scholars (Jorge Victoria Ojeda and Jorge Canto Alcocer), and we want to urge you readers to pay attention to this effort, because you will get a sense of an important development in the Yucatán just before the Battle of St. George’s Caye. (This is our San Fernando Aké series.)
We were always told that the naval invasion from the Yucatán in 1798 was led by one Arturo O’Neill. This seemed incongruous, because O’Neill is not a Spanish surname. Arturo O’Neill de Tyrone y O’Kelly was an Irishman who had gone to Spain in 1752 as a cadet in the Irish regiment. He joined the Spanish royal army during the reign of Charles IV. O’Neill was appointed governor and captain general of Yucatán in November of 1792. He served as governor of Yucatán until October of 1800, when he gave that position to Benito Perez Valdelomar. O’Neill fought against the British in Florida in 1781, and also against Napoleon after leaving New Spain to return to Europe.
The Spanish and the Irish were so tight because of religion: they were both Roman Catholics, and implacably opposed to Anglican England. Religion was a very big thing in those days. Today, the Catholics and the Anglicans are as one in Belize, but not so at the time of the Battle of St. George’s Caye.
In the 1790’s in the Central American and Caribbean region, the most feared warriors were the Haitians. The Spanish in Santo Domingo had used Haitians to fight against Toussaint L’Ouverture, who had emerged as Maximum Leader of the Haitian Revolution, an uprising of black slaves which began in 1791. By 1796, Toussaint had defeated French, British and Spanish armies, and the Spanish were seeking safe exiles for those Haitian leaders and their soldiers who had supported the Spanish against their own people.
So, that is what the San Fernando Aké paper is about. Some of these Haitians were actually given refuge in Spain itself, so important had they been to Spanish efforts to defend the eastern part of Hispaniola. Some were sent to Cuba, some to Florida, others to Trinidad, and a bunch of 115 or so ended up in Campeche in 1796. The said Arturo O’Neill was governor of Yucatán; he received the Haitians, and as per the instructions of the Spanish monarchy, found a place for them to settle – San Fernando Aké, near the northeastern coast of the peninsula.
Consider this now. In 1796, the Haitians were the most feared warriors in this region. O’Neill gets a bunch of them who have a record of gallant warfare in the most bloody Caribbean war theater of the 1790’s. Spanish Yucatán is having trouble with the British Baymen buccaneers, smugglers, and woodcutters immediately south of them in Belize. O’Neill settles the Haitians in San Fernando Aké in 1796, and by early the following year, 1797, the Baymen get word the Spanish are coming. Likely though, it was the Spanish and the Haitians. The Baymen panic, and decide to cut a deal with their own African strong men. Does it make sense?
After all the years of reading, I am near convinced that blacks of the Yucatán had a better deal in Yucatán than our people in Belize. All the research shows blacks were running from Belize to Yucatán, not the reverse. There was a different arrangement for blacks in the Yucatán. Once they accepted the Catholic religion, in most cases they married Maya and Mestizo wives. The children of these unions, and the children of their children, would be accepted as Yucatecans (fully Mexican) and gradually melt into the mainstream. That is why you will see Mexicans in the Yucatán who look just like me and you. Yes, they have African DNA, but in their souls they are 100 percent Mexican.
I want you to read the story of San Fernando Aké to get a sense of how things were in the Yucatán. There wasn’t any border back then. The border between Belize and Mexico was not fixed until 1893.
I don’t have a problem with your celebrating Centenary. The Tenth is a real fun time. I am a Belize City boy, from creation. But, I ain’t no Thomas Paslow fan, and I ain’t no Mansfield Bowen fan. The people who were supposed to be educating me, deliberately kept me in ignorance. I rebelled against that then, and I rebel against this now.
Power to the people.