“None of the Caucasians understands completely what we were thinking on the 10th of September. Those that do suspect our intentions toward the white so-called ‘Baymen,’ intentionally distort history, erroneously claim slavery here was humane, and fallaciously state that we fought alongside the white Baymen as loyal slaves because they treated us nice.
“The historical facts are that we slew them in 1773 and did not attack in 1798. Quite a change.”
( — from pgs. 4, 5, KNOCKING OUR OWN TING, by Evan X Hyde, the Industrial Press, 1969)
“In 1949, Antonio Soberanis and Luke Kemp (the labor leaders of the 1930s) published a pamphlet that directly challenged the Battle of St. George’s Caye by positing Belize as a historically black and Indian nation.”
( — from pg. 17, FROM COLONY TO NATION, by Anne S. Macpherson, University of Nebraska Press, 2007)
The power structure in British Honduras/ Belize decided at some point that the events surrounding the Battle of St. George’s Caye in September of 1798 should be presented to the students of Belize in a specific way.
When Belize achieved political independence in 1981, it was the hope of “activist” academics like myself that there would be some freeing up of the education system, a nationalization of it, especially at the tertiary levels, so that we could look at this historic “Battle” in as comprehensive a way as possible.
As I look at the University of Belize and Galen University, I have not seen them invite any relevant scholar to address Belizean students on critical matters like the Caste War of Yucatan and the Battle of St. George’s Caye for more than a decade. (The University of Belize had brought Ivan Van Sertima to Belize during my tenure as UB chairman between 2000 and 2004, and the University College of Belize had brought Guatemala’s Mayan icon, Rigoberta Menchu, to Belize a couple years before UB was founded in 2000.)
Insofar as the Caste War of Yucatan is concerned, the first major research and publication on this event was done by Nelson Reed, in 1963 I believe, in THE CASTE WAR OF YUCATAN. Since then the Caste War has become a very big issue with academics in the United States, especially in places like Texas and Oklahoma.
We have a very accomplished Belizean scholar here by the name of Dr. Angel Cal, who knows a lot about the Caste War, but Dr. Cal is an academic, not an activist. There are issues in the Caste War history for which we would require an American scholar like Matthew Restall to confront.
The late British historian, Dr. Peter Ashdown, for whom I have great respect, described the arguments in my 1969 KNOCKING OUR OWN TING, from which I quoted at the top of this column, as “unconvincing.” My rebuttal would be that Dr. Ashdown, as a British Caucasian, could not understand the mindsets of the black people in the settlement of Belize in 1798 who supposedly fought to defend their slave masters.
Black people were keeping their options open in September of 1798 because this armed conflict was between two different European slave masters — the British and the Spanish. Had the Spanish prevailed in September of 1798, many of our people would have switched sides. That is the essence of my argument. The record shows that our ancestors had been fleeing British slavery in Belize for many years. Our ancestors ran to Bacalar and places farther north in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. (Our ancestors also ran west to the Peten in Guatemala. Check San Benito.)
You know, there were actually people of African descent in the invading Spanish ships in 1798. The Yucatan was one of the places (including Florida and Spain) where the King of Spain had sent those Haitians to start a new life who had fought for Spain against Toussaint L’Ouverture in the middle/late 1790s and were defeated. The village where the Haitians were based in Yucatan was called San Francisco de Ake, on or near the northern coast of the Yucatan. They married Mayan women, and their children became Mexican, fully Mexican.
As I said earlier, a tremendous amount of research has been done in American universities on the Caste War and the Yucatan. The Battle of St. George’s Caye has become more important to the Belizean power structure as a tourist attraction rather than as the socio-political myth it became with the introduction of Centenary in 1898.
There have been a lot of theories around as to why the sociology of black people in Belize began disintegrating after independence. What we have been watching happen in Afghanistan is vaguely similar to what happened to black Belizeans here. The British departed, and they took with them all the law and order which had kept Belize such an oasis of peace and apparent harmony. The question we have to ask ourselves now is simple: why is there no law and order in Belize? Another question: whose purpose does that serve?
I submit that our academics absolutely need to become activists. We need real knowledge of our history and our present situation.
Power to the people.