In the second millennium of the Christian era, the peoples of the continent we know as Europe became arguably the most successful predator/killers in the history of planet earth. The fact that the Europeans became the best practitioners of warfare on land, sea, and then air, enabled them to acquire power over other continents and peoples, such as Africa, Asia, and Indigenous America. Thus, we read in the history books of a Spanish Empire and a British Empire. There was also a French colonial empire, and the Dutch did very well for themselves also.
In the last century of that second millennium A. D., the German people made their own bid to rule Europe and to become the German Empire. They were turned back in two world wars by the British and the French, while the United States of America, populated by a neo-European people, a relatively peripheral participant in those wars, emerged from the wars with the atomic bomb, whereupon they fought a so-called “Cold War” with Russia for world hegemony in our lifetime, and now the U.S. is the planet’s singular superpower – the ruler of the world.
Because it sometimes appears that the natural or preferred state of the human being is conflict, historians often view empires in the context of their becoming imposers of peace upon those territories under their control. The settlement of Belize benefited for perhaps two centuries, then, from a Pax Britannica, because we were under the dominion of the British Empire. It may be today that the peace from which The Jewel has benefited since our political independence in 1981 is a Pax Americana.
Our understanding is that there were entries of the Garifuna people into the Settlement of Belize in 1802, 1823, and 1832. However these various entries of the people who were then known as Black Caribs were related to each other, the significant thing, for purposes of the historical consciousness of the Belizean people, is that all the entries occurred while there was an enslaved African population inside the settlement. British imperial luminaries had exiled the Garifuna from Yurumein (St. Vincent in the eastern Caribbean) in 1797, and had essentially sought to exterminate them. The great Garifuna people, however, survived Balliceaux and they survived Roatan. They succeeded in reaching Belize.
We believe it is possible to describe the people who ruled Belize in the early nineteenth century also as “British imperial luminaries,” so that we would then be able to say that the same empire which sought to commit genocide against the Black Caribs in Yurumein, Balliceaux, and Roatan, decided to receive them into slave Belize a couple decades later.
Despite their refugee situation, the Garifuna were a free people who had preferred to fight rather than be enslaved or subjugated. The British presumably wanted to use the Garifuna as cheap labor in their mahogany camps, but they did not want them mingling with the enslaved African people in the settlement who at some point had begun to consider themselves as, and call themselves, “Creoles.” The British sent the Garifuna south to the Stann Creek and Toledo Districts, and prohibited them from staying in Belize Town, the settlement’s capital and administrative center, after sundown. In other words, the Garifuna were exiled from Belize Town.
The Garifuna, themselves a people whose DNA is predominantly African, were separated from the majority Creoles because the Garifuna were the victims of British bigotry and discrimination. But there were also brown Creoles and free black Creoles, British collaborators, who joined in that bigotry and discrimination. In addition, the British feared the Garifuna. So did those Creoles who were British collaborators.
In their interactions with African people, beginning with slavery and continuing through colonialism, the British were operating from that pedestal of power which they had gained by virtue of bloody war. At the individual level, however, the British and other European enslavers and colonizers could see how noble and gifted African people were, and thus was born the fear that, if all things ever became equal, such a people would rise to glory. A fear of African people contributed to the Europeans’ desire and need to terrorize Africans, to make the Africans themselves fearful of their European masters.
Belize, our precious Jewel, is a society where there is bigotry and discrimination which work against many Belizean children from their birth, and even when they are in their mother’s wombs. This was exactly the way it was in Cuba before the Revolution in 1959. Fidel Castro believed that the only way forward for his island nation was to create and open opportunities for all Cuban children, regardless of race or class.
As Belize celebrates Garifuna Settlement Day 2018, the last such before the critical International Court of Justice (ICJ) referendum next April, this newspaper presents the thesis to you that if bigotry and discrimination were removed in Belize tomorrow, the specific segment of the Belizean population which would begin to shine the most would probably be the Garifuna population. These are an impressively talented people. The proof is etched in stone: when the Roman Catholic Church gave the Garifuna teaching opportunities in Catholic schools in the early twentieth century, the Garifuna teachers succeeded beyond the Church’s dreams. There is little need to remark on the physical, athletic gifts of the Garinagu: they have excelled in sports, in the police, in the military, and wherever.
The British were colonizers for so long that they became devious and subtle in the extreme as colonizers. The challenge for Rt. Hon. George Price and the anti-colonial People’s United Party (PUP) when they tried to build the Belizean nation was the fact that the British had built divisions into the native population through the use of ethnic stratagems. At some point in the early 1960s, Mr. Price and his advisers decided that an emphasis on the Mayan history/heritage of Belize could assist in encouraging Belizean unity. That became a failed experiment, because Belize’s population was majority African and the British had left the Creoles almost hopelessly brainwashed.
When UBAD arrived in 1969, the PUP first reacted by accusing the group of trying to introduce American racial concepts into the Belizean system. Amandala, the UBAD newspaper organ which survived the dissolution of the organization in 1974, nevertheless, has become the most important Belizean media defender of Mayan rights in The Jewel. Amandala has sought to show African and Mayan-descent Belizeans just how similar their interests are, not only in a national sense, but in a regional and international one.
UBAD itself did more to promote Garifuna and Creole conversation and communality than any entity in Belize before, during, or since. The first such UBAD initiative was advocated by the one Charles X “Justice” Eagan, later known as Ibrahim Abdullah. An illiterate primary school dropout who had been converted to Hon. Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam while incarcerated in Atlanta State Penitentiary, Charles X Eagan, a so-called Creole, had developed an extraordinary love and admiration for the Garifuna people. Well, not so extraordinary when you think about how similar the DNAs of the two people are.
This editorial is written with an existential national referendum for Belize less than five months away. We urge Belizean thinkers to confront our ethnic differences during our ICJ conversations. We Belizeans need to be honest with each other now. This honesty must be based on the recognition/admission that bigotry and discrimination are still toxic aspects of our socio-economic reality. Because of said bigotry and discrimination, we Belizeans fear each other. For us to preserve our 8,867 wealth untold, we must learn to love each other before April 10, 2019.
A glorious Garifuna Settlement Day to us all, Belizeans.
Power to the people.