Features — 18 September 2019
Stories to give the sense to pokonoh boy stick detractors

It is my firm belief that truths crushed to earth that don’t rise here will rise there, in the next world. One truth that the philistine bohgaz have been trying to crush to earth will not be suppressed here, no matter how hard they try. If you say you disapprove of the reason our slave ancestors got on those rafts with their pokonoh boy sticks and went out to the fray, I understand that. To say that they didn’t, when all the records show that they did, that I noh buy.

The slaves could have been paid, they could have been promised less harsh treatment, they could have bought into propaganda, they could have fallen under the spell of a dynamic leader, they could have been threatened, they could have decided “better the devil we know than the devil coming from Merida”: they had any number of reasons to defend the land that their offspring would inherit.

The story that they went out with pokonoh boy sticks to face men with cannons and swords is not farfetched. Alfred Lord Tennyson, in his poem “Charge of the Light Brigade”, said the soldiers knew that their leader had blundered, but “Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die…”  That story is about a British regiment that attacked Russian troops that had far more artillery than they had. The outcome was never in doubt, but the soldiers had their orders.

In Toledo Recollections, Bismarck Ranguy, Sr., told us what the Belizeans in Punta Gorda did when Sagastume and his band invaded through Jalacte. I don’t have the book beside me right now, but I think our folk could only muster one or two muskets, and the rest had sticks and machetes. In this world we defend turf with what we have, and we attack with we have.

In an article in last Friday’s Amandala, “The Mexican Grito”, an excerpt from Mexico: Biography of Power, by Enrique Krauze, we learned that the priest, Hidalgo, seduced his parishioners to “rise up in arms – even with stones, slings, sticks, or spears – in order to defend their religion against the ‘French heretics’ who had occupied Spain since 1808 and now threatened to come over to the Americas.”

In the “From the Publisher” column, in the same issue of the Amandala, we read of a story Belizean hero Antonio Soberanis told Anne McPherson, which she recorded in her book, Imagining The Colonial Nation: Race, Gender, and Middle-Class Politics in Belize. Soberanis told her there was an oral native tradition in Belize that “the Spaniards retreated when Africans on their ships mutinied after communicating by drum to Africans in the Bay Settlement their desire to escape.”

Hart Tillett, in his historical novel, Reef Afire, says the slaves came on board to defend the Settlement when the slave masters gave them back their drums. Our Scottish ancestors could not be separated from their bagpipes, and our African ancestors could not be separated from their drums.

Bob Marley sang, “David slew Goliath with a sling and a stone, and Samson slew the Philistines with a donkey jawbone.”

There is sufficient evidence that our slave ancestors participated in the Battle, and without their numbers the white element here would not have been able to mount a sufficient defense. There is sufficient evidence that our Maya ancestors, and our Mosquito Indian and Kriol brothers, also held strategic defensive and attacking positions.  Hip, hip! Hooray!

NEMO not doing enough

The organization, NEMO, should tap into human resources here to make an inventory of buildings in our country that would not be severely impacted by a Category Five hurricane. These recent Category Fives that have devastated Dominica, Barbuda, Puerto Rico, and the Bahamas, give a complete lesson on which buildings are hurricane-worthy, and which are not. If our engineers are hesitant to make the call, NEMO should hire a plane and take them to visit these countries. No matter how book-smart you are, you can do with some hands on.

If I lived on the coast I would hate to leave my home if it was sturdy enough to ride out a bad storm. Some stories are worth retelling. My paternal grandfather knew that the house he lived in could not withstand the 1961 hurricane because when he borrowed money and bought it the engineers who did the appraisal told him that the foundation of the house had been damaged in 1931, and the house would not stand up to another big one.

My grandfather’s family home, which I believe was built by his grandfather in the 1880’s, came through the 1931 hurricane only minus its roof. The house lost its roof when one of my grandfather’s cousins threw open a window to cool off, and the wind came in and lifted it. The engineers told my grandfather that his old family home was sound.

When Hattie blew in, in 1961, all my grandfather’s family who lived in the unsound house were out of the city. My grandfather’s old home was rented out and I don’t know if those families weathered Hattie there. What I know is that when Hattie was over and the water subsided, his old family home was still there, and the one he had bought was wrecked.

The pictures coming out of the Bahamas show that the small wooden houses that were built in the swamps and mud areas were destroyed. There were some big houses that were badly damaged too. Big does not necessarily mean strong. The house my grandfather bought was a three-storey, and his old family home had two flats.

Our educated people have to be fearless, like climatologist Ronald Gordon. From way back in the real dry season, Mr. Gordon predicted that there would be a dry, and that the rains would come in September, but some areas would still not be in the path of the rain. If you know your job you can say yes, no, and maybe so, without fear.

There are many buildings by the sea in Belize that look like fortresses. The engineers should check them and declare which ones are as sound as they appear.
NEMO is concerned firstly, rightly, about saving lives, but they are not giving enough thought to saving property. It is amazing the number of vehicles and boats you see damaged beyond repair in the aftermath of a hurricane. Refrigerators and other electrical appliances, and stoves, and mattresses also take a beating in a hurricane.

I would think that NEMO could provide very large, thick plastic bags for people to cover their household goods with. I would think NEMO could arrange for a secure public ground away from the coast, where people can park their vehicles.

I told you already how my paternal grandfather rode out the 1931 hurricane at sea, but I never told you all the reasons I particularly love the story. They are because he made it, his boat made it, and I couldn’t have done it. My grandfather anchored his vessel at four corners, and he slackened and tightened the ropes depending on the direction where the strong winds and waves were coming from.

When Hattie came he took his boat half mile up river, and he stayed with her until the storm subsided. If he hadn’t done that the boat would have sank and he had his engine to protect, and it would have been no easy task to float it if it had gone under. It is standard practice for people to sink small boats before a hurricane, but his was a 32-footer.

Many things bear repeating. You don’t have to be rich to survive a storm. I asked a Mayan brother in Old Mullins River Road if he knew what he would do if a storm that was threatening Belize came his way and he told me that he had his eyes on it. He said if it threatened the Stann Creek District he and his family would be leaving their home, but they would not be going to a hurricane shelter.

He took me to a low thatched structure he had made on a plateau sufficiently above the flood plain. The structure had two sturdy posts at the ends, and it was not more than five feet at the ridge. He told me it was a proven design from his ancestors. Our NEMO can do better. The fact is that we can always do better. I don’t see the leaders stepping beyond the basics.

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Deshawn Swasey

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