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From the Publisher

PublisherFrom the Publisher

When he was at the peak of his career as an American balladeer (in the 1940s, I would guess), Frank Sinatra left his wife for a stunningly beautiful actress by the name of Ava Gardner. When Gardner broke his heart, one of the albums he cut was entitled, “When no one cares”. I don’t believe Sinatra was getting a lot of sympathy from the Italian community when he had the Gardner blues, because Italians generally hold marriage in very high regard.

In any case, when the Ministry of Police here, in apparent desperation, recently declared yet another State of Emergency, I thought of the title of that Sinatra album. And then, by mere accident, I ran into the manuscript of Said Musa’s book in my dusty archives. There is an essay in that book entitled, ”Why study Maya and African History”. I would think the essay was written in 2003, because that is when Mr. Musa was re-elected as prime minister, and that is when he personally took over the African and Maya history project. 

Today, after almost 55 years since the initiative was introduced in 1969 by UBAD and PAC, the African and Maya history project, except for a program at St. John’s College, is like, dead in the water.

After Mr. Musa’s two terms as prime minister ended in 2008, he was succeeded by a Belizean whom most of our people would consider black. So, the question would be: what then happened between 2008 and 2020?

Personally, I think that this 35-year-old suicidal civil war going on amongst our youth in Belize City is, on one level, a direct result of generations of non-education and mis-education. This is because of those Belizean elite who matter, but who don’t care. They are the anonymous power structure which tells politicians what to do if they want to succeed and survive. They matter, big time, but they don’t care about the youth, Jack.

Not only that, they have contacts in the underworld, and they have proven themselves capable of strategic violence over the last five decades. But, I have written about these things many times over the decades, to no avail. When no one cares.

I decided to use my column today to reproduce Mr. Musa’s speech, which follows in italics:

         Why study Maya and African History

by Said W. Musa

It is unbelievable, after half a century of consciousness-raising following the wave of anti-colonialism, that today people can ask why should we study Maya and African history. They do not question the study of history as such, but of Maya and African history! But the fact that the question is asked alerts us to the terrible effects of imperialist propaganda, going back 500 years, on the minds of our people even today, which results in self-hatred and diminishes the confidence our people must have to build a better future.

Today we hear so much about globalization, but we of the Caribbean know too of the first globalization, depicted in the imperial histories we were taught as times of romance and glory, with Columbus as the star of the movie. But the other side of the picture is not revealed; that, for example, before Columbus landed in Hispaniola the population is estimated to have been 8 million; that by 1508 it was less than 100,000, and by 1518 just 28,000. Surely this must be one of the most horrible acts of genocide in history, but we have not been taught this in our schools.

As the noted Caribbean author Jan Carew has said: “Modern Caribbean history begins with two holocausts — one against the Amerindian and the other against the African during three ignoble centuries of the slave trade.”

He notes, however, that oppression and slavery breed resistance, and that as early as 1502, a date we should really remember and celebrate more than 1492, Africans and Amerindians joined forces in a slave rebellion.   

Indeed, we have a duty to know and remember. This year has been designated by the United Nations as the International Year to Commemorate the Struggle against Slavery and its Abolition. We recall that at the Durban World Conference Against Racism, where Belize was actively represented, slavery was condemned as a crime against humanity. And on the other side of the coin (oppression/resistance), we also celebrate the 200th anniversary of the establishment of the first Black republic, Haiti, an event that shook colonialism and slavery to its roots and led to the later liberation of the Caribbean and Latin America. In his message in relation to this commemoration of the struggle against slavery, the Director General of the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation referred to the liberation of Haiti as a “major milestone in the liberation of peoples and the emergence of the States of the Americas and the Caribbean which should be better known and recognised.”

Allow me to quote further from the message, and as you hear his words, you may remember that this is a Japanese person talking: “By institutionalising memory, resisting the onset of oblivion, recalling the memory of a tragedy that for long years remained hidden or unrecognised, and by assigning its proper place in the human conscience, we respond to our duty to remember. To that end, we must promote the history of the slave trade and slavery, and make it known to the general public… As a matter of urgency this major episode in the history of humanity, whose consequences are permanently imprinted in the world’s geography and economy, should take its full place in the school books and curricula of every country in the world.”  

And with how much more reason and urgency, in a country which shows the undeniable “imprint” of that history! Some 85 percent of our people can directly trace their roots to African or Maya civilizations, or both. It is preponderantly the African and Maya peoples who built and continue to build Belize. Yet we have been taught for centuries that African and Maya peoples are inferior or backward! Clearly we have a duty to our children to open their eyes to the truth about the history of the peoples who made them. And at an early age, when peoples’ sense of self is formed, and when they must be taught to be proud of their forbears and of themselves. The widespread blight of the lack of self-esteem in so many of our youth is in no small part due to the failure of the school system to tell them the truth about themselves, about their past.

I know that there are those in our society who believe that we should not teach our people about the great African and Maya civilizations and about the terrible holocausts inflicted on them by Europe, arguing that this will only breed division and hatred. But they are wrong, and all the nations of the world, in the United Nations system and otherwise, now recognise, as the Director General of UNESCO so eloquently put it, the duty to remember. They realise that only so can we come to terms with our past and ourselves, and that this will indeed help to stop the hate that has been brewing for so many centuries of oppression and resistance, and help to foster more meaningful dialogue among cultures.

My government is determined to fulfil this duty, and that is why we have developed this programme to train primary school teachers and include Maya and African studies in the social studies curriculum for standards five and six.

For those who complain that there is already too much for these students to learn, I point out that it will only represent two percent of the curriculum. The subject will be included in the PSE beginning in 2005.

Dr. Angel Cal and Dr. Joseph Iyo, both of the Multicultural Studies Centre of the University of Belize, head the programme, which will later be extended to high schools and to tertiary institutions.

Today we launch the programme and present some relevant books to teachers. Let us begin on this noble road of at last abiding, in this crucial matter, to the demand made by Bob Marley, tell the children the truth! 

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