Love a Donkey: Besson’s Independence Fables – Pt 3

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
September 18, 2017

PART 1PART 2 – PART 3

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeBesson argues that Trinidad and Tobago’s independence venture failed because more than 30 percent of the African population left the country since1962. “These emigrants,” he says, “were mostly urban, secondary school educated, more or less middle class….At the same time, about the same amount of people or more than that of those who left, have come from the islands of the Caribbean.” He elaborates: “Those immigrants’ background were mostly rural and primary school educated. This unique demographic transformation has impacted on Trinidad and Tobago politically, socially and culturally, and has significantly diminished the identity of the AfroCreole [read black] sector.”

I don’t know how the addition of Grenadians and Vincentians diminishes the identity of black people in T&T. Identity cannot be defined as a quantitative phenomenon (as in ten pounds of sugar.) Rather, it ought to be seen as a qualitative phenomenon in which the addition of peoples, possessing different traditions, adds to the richness of our society. The United States of America, a multicultural society, has not been diminished by the rich amalgam of people who entered its borders since the beginning of the 19th century. Immigrants brought their rich cultural traditions to their adopted society thereby enriching the latter. However, things are always different when we speak of black people or, as Besson would have it, AfroCreoles.

Besson is not content to utter such banalities. He continues: “More than a ‘brain drain,’ it [the exodus of T&T’s middle class] was a deep cultural alteration within the context of the local AfroCreole culture. The fruit of that culture, produced throughout the 19th and first half of the 20th century, have emigrated taking their legacy with them.”

When I immigrated to the United States in 1964, I didn’t know I depleted T&T’s black cultural capital by taking the black cultural legacy that was cultivated throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. It is true that the immigration of large numbers of black people removed a rich source of leadership, skills and talents from the country. Immigration, however, is the social subtext of the 20th century, something that is accelerating in the 21st century.

Besson claims that the Indian-descended segment of the population prospered during the independence years whereas the African segment, for whom independence was crafted (his words), wasn’t so fortunate. I do not know how independence was crafted for one group against another. I always thought colonial peoples, back or white, always wanted to control their political affairs that led to the creation of independence movements.

It is possible that the achievements of the Indian segment during independence reflected the openness of the society that allowed all groups to pursue their passions and inclinations. There is no doubt the “primitive” accumulation of capital and the religious orientation of the Indian community, particularly the Hindus, assisted greatly in their economic and social advancement. Sat Maraj would argue that Indian-Trinbagonians succeed not because of but in spite of independence. I don’t think he would say that independence “was crafted mainly for the advancement of the AfroCreole sector.”

Just when you think things couldn’t get worse, Besson declares: “The second fact that has negatively impacted our collective identity as a people, certainly on discipline and on productivity, was the end of agriculture….One of the effects of the loss of the agricultural sector is that we have become a compassionless society.”

Why?

During the boom years of agricultural production (1953-54) all of us devoted our lives to “the bringing up of livestock, market gardening, vegetable planting, cocoa and coffee cultivation and so on. [Then] you [had] a people who have a lot of love for their animals and for their plants.”

How do we recover that lost paradise? Well, you simply “have to love your donkey.”

And then comes the splendid philosophical deduction from his abundance of wisdom: “When things lose their relevance, their meanings change.”

That’s it. That is all this erudite gentleman can propose.

Besson summarizes his offering in the following way: “The social transformation caused by emigration and immigration with the Afro-Creole segment, in combination with the destruction of the agricultural economy as well as other factors, created a profound dissonance in the body politic and in commonly held ideas of identity and a shared understanding of legacy.”

Tamas Szentes in The Political Economy of Underdevelopment, the book that Walter Rodney used to develop his basic thesis of How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, suggested: “History, after all, is the most important yardstick and test for the validity of the theories of social sciences.” In other words, if one gets one’s history wrong, it invalidates any grandiose explanation of society that one might offer.

Szentes also argued: “The logical consistency of a theory can be measured exactly by the logical extending of thought in both directions.” Besson’s analysis of our social history does not help us to get a better grasp of our past condition neither does it point where we ought to go in the future.

Loving a donkey will not make us a better or more compassionate society. We transform our social condition when we offer a more rigorous and sophisticated readings of T&T’s story. In this regard Besson has failed miserably.

10 Responses to “Love a Donkey: Besson’s Independence Fables – Pt 3”


  • Although it could be argued that Independence was perceived by some as an expression of African freedom, it was much more than that.Dr Williams was very careful to ensure that it was not “crafted” for Africans only.
    Dr. Williams in his Independence Day message to the nation 31 August 1962 called on citizens to protect democracy.
    “Democracy means equality for all in education, in the public service and in private employment- I repeat, and in private employment.
    “Democracy means the protection of the weak against the strong. Democracy means the obligation of the minority to recognize the right of the majority. Democracy means responsibility of the government to its citizens, the protection of the citizen from the exercise of arbitrary power and the violation of human and freedoms and individual rights of expression.
    “Democracy means the freedom of worship for all and the subordination of the right of any race to the overriding right of the human race. Democracy means freedom of expression and assemble organization.”

  • “It is true that the immigration of large numbers of black people removed a rich source of leadership, skills and talents from the country”.(CUDJOE)

    Is it not also true that the void created by the emigration of this group was filled by a rising professional Indian group which began to change the balance of power in T&T?

    Is it not also true that the influx of immigrants , legal and illegal, from other Caribbean islands created ghettos which eventually led to the rise in criminal activities in many communities?

  • There is some validity in Besson’s assertion that the rejection of agricultural pursuits by a significant segment of the population resulted in a “compassionless society”. The rejection of the simplicity of pastoral life and the classic cultural traits which distinguished us were replaced by the chase for foreign products, customs, music and other fads which had and is having a negative impact on society.

  • codge Boy….AH born in 1950 high in d Cascades overlooking P.O.S, and without being Cruel to Bage and Vincy, i was witness to jumping ship in the Beetham and run up the hill and build a shack.some not even bother to cross d Road even.What came with them was first class labourers and “small island Crimes”.We used to worry even back then of the changing Hillside and new wave of a different type of crimes, especially against women…..Mr. Besson probably experienced what I did.HE has a valid point there.

  • It is possible to question the motives of Dr Williams if one carefully examines this part of his Independence day speech:

    “Democracy means the obligation of the minority to recognize the right of the majority”.

    Most world leaders including President Obama usually emphasize the obligation of the majority to “recognize the rights of the minorities.”
    The latest world leader to call for majority rights was Donald Trump.
    Since the Indians were the minority at the time, one must ask: What was Williams motive?

  • Selwyn R. Cudjoe, Professor, Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts

    Dear TMan

    Dr. Williams’ motive was simply as he stated it. The essence of any democracy (perhaps the highest form of any democracy) is the obligation of the majority to recognize the rights of the minorities. Whatever his faults, it speaks to Dr. Williams’ egalitarian vision and his recognition that democracy is a continuing exercise in discipline, production and tolerance. In these desires, he was years ahead of his time. We should honor him for his humanitarian instincts.

    • True, but if you examine Dr. Williams’ statement: “Democracy means the obligation of the minority to recognize the right of the majority”, one must wonder why he reversed these two groups.
      Was it intentional?

  • Tman, the minority that Williams was talking about was the local white merchant/planter class, not Indians. The population of T&T in the 1950s–60s was about 800,000. From 1950 and 1959, 4,300 people emigrated. we saw 110,000 leave, from 1960 to 1969,you can say that these were the people that independence was for, 94,700 left from 1970 to 1979,the first oil boom was in 1973. Why did they go?. 75,000 from 1980 to 1989. that is 279,700 people gone, This meant about third of the population emigrated. This is why carnivals appeared in Brooklyn, Toronto, London

    • Thanks for the clarification. Some further research supports your statement and in the context of the era of Independence, his statement was called for.

  • BINGO!!!!…Just look at how some of us can clarify,with decent dialogue nah.On the other hand ,some of us can make our personal,philosophical deductions from our abundance of Wisdom,even though we are Erudite gentlemen…….Reminds me of an old saying i often heard from Dad, “common sense make before Book”, for even though we quote historic and factual dates to back up ouy opinions, it is after all just that. OUR OPINION ONLY>. Using “common Sense”to read whats not written between the lines, paint a truer picture.Some of us delve in repeated Diatribe to push our points.One don’t see Mr Besson writing in this Mire.I imagine a Book form, or a class in some U.S college is a better forum for some things.WE should use our vast knowledge of where we came from to put forward some constructive suggestions on where we going, not the opposite.

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