Editorial: Something askew

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It was the enthusiastic manner in which we were sharing the names and recollections and exploits of our great brothers and sisters from the past that was so instructive. Further, it was the fact that so many of us were hearing the names and exploits of our great Antiguans and Barbudans for the first time. What a shame! Seems, we can expound at length on the peccadilloes of Christopher Columbus and the idiosyncracies of Francis Drake. We can wax ad nauseam about Captain Kidd, Henry Morgan, Edward Teach and the notorious John Roberts (pirates) and how they looted and plundered the Spanish Main and wreaked havoc on shipping in the West Indies, but we know little or nothing about Mama Africa, a female slave who slipped her restraints here in Antigua and escaped to the Shekerley Mountains where she pillaged and plundered the neighbouring estates. So much so that, a bounty was placed on her head by the Antiguan planters.

Ah yes, we can recite the nonsensical “Sixteen men on a dead man’s chest . . .” but we cannot recite Mary Prince’s vow that she would rather die than return to Antigua to once again become a slave. Mary Prince was a slave born in Bermuda, who eventually came to Antigua and Wood’s Estate (site of the Epicurean Supermarket and Wood’s Mall). Her master was a cruel planter named John Wood, who took her to London where she became free (by virtue of the no- slavery-in-Britain laws). Anyway, when Wood decided to return to Antigua, he wanted Mary to return with him, but she pointedly refused, insisting that “She would rather die!”  Her gripping account can be found in the Penguin-published book, A HISTORY OF MARY PRINCE – the first black woman-narrated book ever published in Britain (1831). It ought to be required reading in our schools. Heck, it ought to be required reading in and out of schools, and everywhere. Sadly, it is not.

Meanwhile, we know everything about Guy Fawkes’ plot to blow up the British parliament, but very little about Papa Will, an Antiguan slave who plotted a revolt at Coconut Hall estate, which at that time (1729) was owned by another cruel planter named Nathaniel Crump. Not a word about Papa Will’s bravery and vision of freedom from slavery in our history books. What a crying shame!

Look, we can write about the great freedom fighters and gifted orators from the British parliament; we can write about William Wilberforce, Pitt, Clarkson and Cowper, British abolitionists, but we can only vaguely recall, “Luther George, Reginald Stevens, J. Oliver Davis, Leonard Benjamin, F.O. Benjamin, Griffith Matthews, Thomas Martin, Stanley Walter, James Jarvis, C. A. Perry, Thomas Brookes, Lionel Hurst, Denfield Hurst, Hugh Pratt, Bradley Carrot, Edward Mathurin, Berkeley Richards, A.A. Williams, Randall Lockhart, John Allen, and a score of other brave men and women whose names have regrettably disappeared from history’s pages.” LUTHER GEORGE: The Barack Obama of Antigua and Barbuda by Ambassador Lionel Hurst, now government Chief of Staff). What a thing, eh?

Ask every school child in Antigua and Barbuda who were the first, second and third black men to sit in our parliament as elected members and they will more than likely give you a blank stare. Only a handful would know that Luther George, Sir Vere C. Bird and J. Oliver Davis were the first, second and third black men (in that order) to sit in our parliament as elected representatives. If this lack of knowledge of ourselves and our history is not an indictment of our history curriculum, then nothing else is.

We mean, is there not something askew when our children know of Rosa Park’s heroic refusal to give up her seat on a bus for a white man, but have no knowledge of the fact that our very own Griffith Matthew, laid across the road in front of an Antigua Sugar Factory bus that was shuttling white children to school and refused to move until black children were allowed on that bus? By any measure, this was a monumental victory for equal rights, justice and a breaking of racial barriers here in our fair state, much like barriers were broken by Park’s bravery, and Matthew should be revered and celebrated here, much as Parks is in the United States.

Which begs the obvious question: What the hell are we teaching our children, apart from Eurocentric praise and worship? According to the Mighty Sparrow (tongue in cheek, mind you) they are teaching us about “Twisty and Twirly,“and “Dan, the man in the van” and “A pig dancing a jig for a fig,” and a whole bunch of rhymes, that while good for developing an appreciation for phonics, still leave a lot to be desired. Of course, that was then, under Colonial rule. Today, under our very own supposedly enlightened, independent and progressive rule, we submit that there is still a lot to be desired, especially as it pertains to our African/black history. As per the good Sparrow, “The things they are teaching in school . . . we will be damn fools . . .” Because we know not our own history!

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