(NOTE: I want to use my column today to reproduce a letter written by Rolando Cocom to this newspaper and first published in the Wednesday, September 26, 2012 issue of AMANDALA. As we prepare for our ICJ referendum battle, Belizeans need to begin considering why it was that British Honduras did not celebrate Emancipation Day (August 1, 1838), but instead focused on the Battle of St. George’s Caye, beginning with the Centenary celebrations of 1898. Mr. Cocom’s letter will assist us in such a process.
I do not consider myself an enemy of the Baymen’s Clan: I consider myself a severe critic. And the reason for my critical posture, going all the way back to 1969, is that today’s is a different fight and a different enemy from Yucatan’s Arturo O’Neil in September of 1798. More than that, Belize is a much different place. The Baymen’s Clan cannot defeat Guatemala today without the Belizean base, that base whose ancestors were emancipated in 1838 and whose ancestors came here from the Yucatan after the Caste War began in 1847. Put another way, I would say that the most important national concept we need today is unity. In 2018, 1798 is nationally divisive. Most of the Belizean base does not buy the narrative the way it is presented as submissive slave propaganda.)
THE BATTLE OF ST. GEORGE’S CAY, 1969 IN 1898
I can recall reading Knocking Our Own Ting about three years ago. I was captured by the opening lines: “The masters of any society, legitimate or illegitimate, have the power to shape historical accounts of events to suit their ends.”
The next day I found myself purchasing a copy of X Communications (1995). The writing style captured my interest, as did the life experiences balanced with some humor.
My focus, however, is to address issues which over the years came as a result of “fine tuning” the perspective of the Battle (“Tenth Perspective”, Amandala, 2007).
In 1969, Evan X Hyde argued that the celebrations of the Battle came about through the efforts of “the sycophantic Creole bourgeoisie” to legitimize their “supremacy in the civil service” (1995, 1).
You see, your 1969 thesis matches perfectly in the events of 1898 and deserves to be expounded upon.
At the time of your writing, you were not deeply interested in all the details of the Battle. The recorded facts are not in dispute (Judd, 1989). The essential question was, “When and why did the celebrations of the Battle take place? Why should we celebrate ‘slave loyalty’?” This is where the year 1898 becomes important. This is the year the Centennial Committee came into being.
However, before 1898 it is important to note that as early as 1823, the Battle was being used to project the idea of the “family affair of slavery in Belize” (Defense of the settlers). This idea would continue to inform many of the “patriotic” citizens and pseudo-historians, especially in 1898, but in contemporary times as well.
The pattern that emerged was that the Battle was used to harmonize the master-slave/labor relations that existed in the colony. More than that, the Centennial Committee used this celebration as a means by which they could validate their emerging Creole identity and assert their status as the Natives of the colony.
Scholarly works on this matter are those by Anne Macpherson (2003, 2007) and Karen Judd (1989, 1992). Their works are heavily based on evidence in the Clarion and the Colonial Guardian available at the Belize Archives in Belmopan.
There are many articles which base themselves on the idea that Simon Lamb initiated the Centennial Celebrations. However, Lamb is not listed as a Committee member (see Clarion, April 1898).
In fact, one of the celebrations that Simon Lamb did spearhead was the 1st August Emancipation Jubilee in 1888. The formation of the People’s Committee came into being as a reaction “to the August Emancipation Jubilee by marking the battle anniversary a month later with a private evening entertainment,” that same year (Macpherson 2003, 116).
The notion that Simon Lamb led the 1898 celebration is chiefly based on “quick information sources” at the National Library and Archives. In fact, I am led to believe that it is based on the unpublished manuscript of Ernest Cain. (Ernest Cain was the brother of H. H. Cain, editor of The Belize Independent and member of the local UNIA in Belize. The Belize Independent produced an article in 1934, “The Spirit of Simon Lamb,” stating that he was the leader of the Centennial celebration. The Belize Independent, as did the UNIA, at the time, also propagated the “shoulder to shoulder” concept/myth?)
Simon Lamb does appear in the committee, to my knowledge, however, by 1907, seven years before his passing in 1914.
I want to hypothesize that Lamb became active in its celebration upon realizing that the “Emancipation” celebration was not very well supported by the other members of the middle class and the colonial authorities. Interestingly, Emancipation Day continues to pass us by, year after year, without any celebrations.
It is interesting to read the speeches that were given on the occasion. No one dared to point out the inhumane treatment endured by the enslaved, much less did anyone mention the enslaved resistance against the “masters.”
Actually, there were members of the People’s Committee who, even though they could trace their African heritage through their maternal lines, never attempted to do so. No, there weren’t any benefits in doing that …
Here are a few quotes from the Bishop of Honduras who, on September 11th in 1898, addressed the congregation gathered in St. John’s Cathedral as a part of the Centennial Celebrations: “We are called to loyalty, dependence, promptitude and thanksgiving. The Baymen were loyal to their leaders, they would not desert their masters nor betray their country …” (Colonial Guardian, 1898)
“Your ancestors have conquered this country for England; remember that England is the greatest civilizing and missionary power in the world and that she only conquers by the power of God.” (Colonial Guardian, 1898)
Dear Publisher, in all this, I’m attempting to highlight the fact that your analysis was right on track in 1969 and to spur discussions on the matter. Yet, as I’m sure you have realized, it is important to point out that the symbolic meaning and significance of celebrating the 10th varies upon gender, class, and ethnic backgrounds through time and space.
Colonial Guardian, 16 September 1888. Belize Archives.
Clarion, April 1898, Belize Archives.
Cain, Ernest, “The Life Story of Simon Lamb.”
“Defence of the Settlers of Honduras” (London, A. J. Valpy, 1823)
X Communications, Evan X Hyde, Belize City, Angelus Press Ltd.
“White Man, Black Man, Baymen, Creole Racial Harmony and Ethnic Identity in Belize”, Karen H. Judd. Paper presented at the 15th International Congress, Latin American Studies Association, San Juan,Puerto Rico.
Macpherson, Anne S. “Imagining the Colonial Nation: Race, Gender, and Middle-Class Politics in Belize, 1888-1898,” in Race and Nation in Modern Latin America, edited by Nancy Appelbaum, Anne S. Macpherson, and Karin Alejandra Rosenblatt, 108-31. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.
Macpherson, Anne S. (2007). From Colony to Nation: Women Activists and the Gendering of Politics in Belize, 1912-1982, University of Nebraska.
Shoman, Assad. Thirteen Chapters of a History of Belize, (1994, Revised 2000), Angelus Press Ltd.