A good friend and compadre posed the above question to me, when, after reading some revealing history on the whole “Anglo-Guatemalan dispute,” I concurred with the suggestion that we had all been set up by the English colonial masters, to erase the idea of emancipation celebrations, and instead focus on an event that had previously been of little consequence in the collective memory of our forebears – the Battle of St. George’s Caye, which reportedly climaxed on September 10, 1798.
In the 1950s and 1960s in Belize City when I was growing up, “the Tenth” was the biggest thing for those of us who considered ourselves “Belize Creoles.” “Tenth” was special. It was jubilation and bramming. As primary school children, however, I can recall dreading the afternoon schools parade that had us “punishing” in the long march through the city streets under “boiling sun hot,” dressed in our white shirts and pants. The most enjoyable aspect for me was the prize that awaited us at the end of the ordeal – a “bottle of lemonade” and a “bag a ting,” which would contain some locally made pastries and sweets. Eventually, in later years, it became just an “ideal” and a pack of biscuits. The morning “Citizens Parade” was where the real fun was, and it remained the biggest thing in September until it began to wane with the advent of Independence Day, and then finally suffered a TKO from Carnival.
Since Independence in 1981, I don’t think primary schools march anymore; and the high schools, the higher forms only, along with “uniformed services” (BDF, Police, Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, etc.) would go through the motions in an Independence Day parade on September 21; but the Tenth has lost its luster, with only a small “citizens parade,” while the biggest thing in the September celebrations is now the Carnival. The stark reality is that the Tenth is not “the Tenth” anymore.
Part of the decline of “the Tenth” no doubt has to do with the controversies surrounding the reflections on, and re-evaluation of, its historical role in the establishment of the new nation of Belize. In the drive toward Independence, the “shoulder to shoulder, master and slave” story was questioned by the leaders of the independence movement, who also considered the popular narrative of the Baymen beating “the Spaniards” as divisive, since most “Creoles” extrapolated that to mean “yellow belly Pania,” derogatorily referring to all people of a Hispanic orientation, which even then constituted a significant portion of our population in the northern districts. The invading “Spaniards” in 1798 were mostly white Europeans, as opposed to the indigenous Maya or mixed races we now refer to as Mestizo. The Tenth, then, was predominantly considered a Creole celebration, although the Belize Creole culture and language was already shared by many Belizeans of Maya and Mestizo heritage, who willingly joined in the celebrations. For some of them, though, it remained a problem. The situation is further complicated by the revelation, in last week’s Amandala editorial, that there were some blacks, former Baymen slaves, among the invading Spaniards who razed the settlement in 1779 and took the captives away in chains, marched them to Merida, and thence to jails in Cuba. So, what was going on with the remaining slaves two decades later in September, 1798? To be a real unifying force, there needs to be more clarity on the Tenth.
But, “if not the Tenth?” Well, already, as we have noted, Carnival, a basically non-political expression of colorful and reckless abandon and debauchery, where the depressed population just releases its pent up energy, has become the biggest event in September; and the Tenth parade is miniscule in size compared to times past. But Carnival lacks the philosophical depth and national purpose that the Tenth once presumed to encapsulate.
The emancipation story raises questions — questions about the Tenth, and about the intent of the then leaders of the colony, former slave masters.
The question my friend and compadre didn’t ask was, “Why not Emancipation?” Why wasn’t the fiftieth anniversary of Emancipation celebrated in 1888, when information now revealed indicates that the one Simon Lamb did lead a group of citizens who presented their desire and plan to the then Governor of British Honduras for an Emancipation celebration.
There is so much we don’t know about our “history;” indeed, we still have to be searching between the lines of “his story” to figure out what was really going on. But it is not that hard in some cases. Of course, why Emancipation? To the English Governor of the colony, why spend time, money and resources having the natives remind themselves of what their grandparents endured in slavery, when at present we (the British and pro-British colonial ruling class) are still exploiting and controlling their children and grandchildren with a “slavery system” that keeps them impoverished with low wages and no access to land? Instead, why not wait a few years, until 1898, and let’s start commemorating an event never celebrated before, the 1798 Battle of St. George’s Caye, which was not much of a battle, but, as things have turned out, was the last time the Spanish crown sent its forces to try and evict the Baymen from the settlement at the Belize river mouth and their headquarters on St. George’s Caye. So, hurrah for the Baymen! (Conveniently ignored is the fact that the slavery system had continued for another 40 years after 1798, until Emancipation proper in 1838.) But, with major allocations for a big celebration approved by the Governor, Simon Lamb was obliged to be a good citizen and join in the celebration of Centenary in his “sweet home Belize.”
What thoughts went through the mind of a person like Simon Lamb on the occasion of that first “Centenary” in 1898? Did he still have reflections on the days of slavery endured by his grandparents, and wonder at the absence of official endorsement of his original idea to celebrate Emancipation Day? The fiftieth anniversary of Emancipation was buried in the “dustbin of history;” and the one hundredth anniversary of the Battle of St. George’s Caye, the Centenary, became the biggest annual event in the colony.
What beautiful music and patriotic fervor attended the annual celebrations of the Tenth! Actually, it took a few years, maybe decades, for the imagination of the young population to catch a fire with the annual rhetoric; and eventually there were some wonderful patriotic poetry and music, and the immortal Queen of the Bay song. The Tenth was “everything” to us — exactly as the colonial masters envisioned it. Annual “bread and circuses” to keep the impoverished and exploited masses distracted and disunited.
Among the “bread and circuses” that the colonial administration afforded to keep us happy or at least “pacified,” even while hard times and continued exploitation of the masses was fermenting rebellion and a dream of nationhood by leaders like Tony Soberanis, there were songs that no doubt betrayed the “masters” strategy in keeping a docile population in check and blinded with adoration for their colonial masters. Check the lyrics, as I recall, of one such “patriotic song” that we were taught in school as children:
“Oh, brotherhood of Britain,
Which has stood the test of time;
Who hails from over all the globe and diverse race and clime.
This year, we forge another link to bind us more secure;
The loyal, patriotic Baymen as in days of yore.
March on, march on, together!
We are British; yes, we are!
Hurrah! Hurrah! For our good Queen,
And for Prince Philip, too!
Hurrah for the Baymen!
Hurrah for the yeomen!
Hurrah for the red, white and blue!”
In retrospect, I am a little embarrassed to think how we youths at school sang those tunes with gusto around September time. Of course, the daily morning ritual at primary schools also included singing “God Save The Queen.” (Is that the British anthem?)
Did we learn any songs about emancipation? Did we learn anything about slavery in Belize? Did we learn anything about the so-called “Caste War” in Mexico, which led to migration of many new residents in the northern districts of Orange Walk and Corozal? Did we learn anything about the Ex-Servicemen Riot in 1919? Or the visit of Marcus Garvey, and the installation of a chapter of his UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association), and the recruitment of our own Samuel Haynes, author of “Land of the Gods,” to join him in the U.S., or the largest single donation to Garvey and the UNIA by Belize’s “Coconut King,” the Hon. Isaiah Emmanuel Morter…?
The point is, attached to the wonderful aura of “the Tenth” was a conspiracy of silence and ignorance, “brainwashing,” orchestrated and dispensed upon us natives by our colonial masters.
Are we ready yet, in 2018, to “emancipate our minds”? If not now, when?
Spend some money on Emancipation celebration, like we once did for Tenth, and like we are doing for Carnival and Independence, and soon there will be many more songs expressing knowledge and understanding and inspiration for our future.
The road to emancipating ourselves from mental slavery begins with seeking the knowledge which our enslavers took great care to keep away from us. Only the truth can make us free; and then we will figure out what to do with, and how best to celebrate, “Emancipation Day,” “the Tenth,” “Carnival,” and “Independence Day.”
The important task at hand is for those of us with the means and the wherewithal, to seek out all the information relevant to our history as a people; then empower our educational system to “tell the children the truth” (beginning with African and Mayan history.) They will take it from there; and in time, they will determine the “what” that will become the unifying, enlightening, inspiring and motivational vehicle that will galvanize our passive and disconnected population into becoming engaged and active participants in the serious task of nation-building, and assertive guardians of our anthem’s mantra – “no tyrants here linger, let despots flee…” All 8,867; Belize forever!!