Contradictions and Counterfactuals

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
February 08, 2018

“…a state could never have been born without surplus.” —Yanis Varoufakis


Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeV. I. Lenin, revolutionary and philosopher, believed that contradictions are inherent in everything we do. He argued: “Dialectics in the proper sense is the study of contradictions in the very essence of objects.

Consider this: At the same time a PNM government (read black government) gives out 14,492 acres of land to ex-Caroni Ltd., workers (mostly Indo-Trinidadians) at a cost of $5 billion (Guardian, January 27), Kamal Persad claims that over the last 48 years PNM’s policies and programs “were directed towards the advancement of the black supporters of the PNM. [Eric] Williams’s intention was to create a local black professional middle and upper class to effectively replace the whites” (Express, January 24).

Perhaps Persad lives in a different world but the principal objective of the decolonization movement of the 1950s was to remove the colonial leaders (read white leaders), who had conquered the lands of black and brown people, controlled their economies and ruled in the favor of their own. This was partially in response to a decision by the European powers in 1884, at the Treaty of Berlin, that carved up Africa to serve their interests.

When twenty-nine African and Asian countries, representing more than one half of the world’s population, met in Bandung, Indonesia in 1955, they opposed “colonialism in all of its manifestations.” The conference also accepted Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s Five Principles of “mutual respect” for other nations’ territorial integrity and sovereignty.”

Once black and brown peoples kicked Europeans out of their countries who did Mr. Persad feel should have replaced them?

Not content with Persad’s illogic, my fellow columnist, Ralph Maraj—in his histrionic style that becomes an actor and performer—called upon Keith Rowley to resign his prime ministerial position and then listed Rowley’s and the PNM’s faults. He accused Ellis Clarke, former president or Trinidad and Tobago (T&T), for choosing George Chambers to become the prime minister upon Williams’s death. He speculated: “Many [he doesn’t say who these many were] felt that had Clarke opted for either of the two other deputy leaders, Kammaluddin Mohammed or Errol Mahabir, worthy experienced individuals, things could have turned out vastly different for PNM and the country. The nation tragically remains in this debilitating ethnic trap after 56 years of independence” (Express, January 28).

The problem with this counterfactual is that it leads to a dead end for the simple reason that there is no way we can ever know how things would have turned out if either of these worthy individuals was selected.

While Ralph was declaiming against “this debilitating trap” in the country, he conveniently forgot that he left PNM after his sister, Occah Seepaul, was placed under house arrest by a PNM government and that together with Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj and Trevor Sudama, he formed National Team Unity proclaiming: “I am at home now!” I am sure race played no part in Ralph’s decision to leave the PNM nor influenced his description of what he considers home.

These are not the only manifestations of what we can call the Indian contradiction, T&T style. Persad has no problem with the massive land given mostly to Indians on the ground that they, rather than anyone else, could make the best use of these lands. No one stops to ponder that enslaved Africans worked those same lands long before Indo-Trinidadians arrived on the island. If one has any doubt about this, one only has to peruse the Slave Register of 1813 to find out the names of the Africans who worked upon those lands.

When slavery ended in 1834, Africans were thrown off the plantations and hunted down like dogs by the planter class for “squatting” on lands which they had cultivated previously and which was otherwise freely available to the whites of the island. The Trinidad planters received close to £1.8 million or £1.5 billion or $15 billion (TT) in today’s currency in compensation for enslaved Africans. Enslaved Africans did not receive “a red cent” as my mother would say. To be fair, the colored planters were also compensated for their slaves.

Apart from hunting down blacks for “squatting,” the government made the land so expensive that blacks could hardly afford to purchase it. Land was sold in parcels of 3 ½ acres until Governor Arthur Gordon (1866–70) made smaller plots available for sale. Black people then bought these plots, cultivated them as provision gardens, and planted them with sugarcane which they sold to the sugar estates.

Growing up in Tacarigua in the 1950s, I worked on our provision garden each morning before I went to school. Small sugarcane farmers such as the Watermans and the Ventours planted sugarcanes which they sold to Orange Grove Sugar Estates. Black people scarified to purchase these lands, possessed the self-discipline and self-reliance to keep their families together, the perspicacity to educate their children, and the wherewithal to develop a peasant class.

Sebastian Ventour, a distinguished judge, Neal Phillip, a professor at Bronx Community College (CCNY), and yours truly are products of these people. Incidentally, none of these families received any land when Orange Grove sold its estate in the 1970s.

22 thoughts on “Contradictions and Counterfactuals”

  1. The payment in land to the ex Caroni workers sir is a form of compensation. If someone loses their job it is the duty of the employer to provide some compensation to cushion the impact of such a traumatic experience.

    Under the black experience it is my understanding that they were offered land after emancipation, but the trauma of slavery saw them recant and move into the city.

    The nature of pluralistic society is one of jealousy and envy. The basis of such experiences is a power struggle for control over the nation. The black experience should be applauded because the control of the billion dollar treasury for 40 years out of 55 years of independence. Perks of national housing, government jobs, and all resources were the PNM portion. So why the feeling of alienation when people who slave in the hot sun under indentureship receiving land that they have worked since 1840 for pennies until Panday came and fought for better wages. I remember the day when Panday Marched and was attacked for that march. All was nervous and sadden when tear gas was used against the marchers. Yes indians were not given anything, they had to fight for it. Lest we forget.

  2. the Trinidad blacks did not get land because they didn’t persue it you are starting to sound like the American black waiting on the mule and 10 acres of land

    1. By 1844, 59,815 people lived in the island. The “General Return of the Population of the Island of Trinidad,” the first official census, showed there were 936 natives of Britain and Ireland,33, 128 natives of Trinidad,12,106 natives of the British colonies, 869 natives of Foreign Europe,7,287 natives of Africa, and 1,869 people who Martin Sorzano, Surveyor General, described as “Others” (The Anti-Slavery Reporter, October 16, 1844

      In 1844 there was 7,287 natives of Africa. One must not assume that there was a significant African population in TNT. The sense that all the land was cleared and planted by the slaves is a misnomer.

      Trinidad Afro population grew when Afros from the West Indies flooded this island in various waves throughout Trinidad history. Grenadians, St. Vincentians, Antiguans, and freed Afro Americans. Many of these immigrants came and savoured the fat of the land getting government jobs mainly in nursing and the police service. Thousands were employed in the oil fields enjoying the high end salaries. The government also gave them housing by the thousands. I remember the then Marilyn Gordon announcing the winning housing numbers on television. Such perks in return for votes. There was no loyalty to Trinidad, only loyalty to tribe.

      Indians on the other hand worked in the hot sun planting, rice, sugar cane and vegetables. Working and saving to educate their children to become lawyers and doctors.
      Indians focused on upward mobility whilst the African pocket was empty Monday morning after getting paid on Thursday and partying all weekend. Two totally diffrent set of values. Africans who lived amongst Indians learn to save their money, build houses and buy land. Those who gravitated towards Laventille, La Brea, Morvant, Beetham, became trapped in the cycle of poverty and destitution. Today it is not for a lack of opportunity rather it is simply the cultural ethos and family values that determine ones destiny or destination.

      But the future can be better if the African adopt the ways of the Indians and change their value system from gangster rap, ghettoes culture, promiscuity, and absent fathers. A strong family is the best way forward, instead of this incessant complaining of being victims.

  3. One can NEVER have Indians admit that they were/are given ‘favorable’ treatment by The PNM, it’s usless trying (look at Mamoo’s response)
    I think the creator of the original ‘Star Trek’ wanted to present ‘Spock’ as Indian (Spock had no emotion). These people even have a God for prostitutes. How can a people who values are based on ‘Gentle Jesus’ compete/survive with a culture that reveres a confrontational God Rama?

    It is a most powerful statement in ‘Hindu Ethics and Morality’.


    *We will have to answer these questions if we hope to understand “what dese Indians want” and if we are to avert the crisis that will soon entangle our society. Different religious systems offer different interpretations of these concepts. It is a conundrum that we in Trinidad and Tobago will have to answer now that the “victim” has become the “victor.”*

    1. RamK for your misled view of the world a normal reaction through your abnormal world view. 18% of Indians are Hindus down from 23%. Today 22% of Indians are not Hindus, many have embraced the Christian world view.

    2. For the record, during the PNM days, I was mentored by leading Africans in my public service workplace, for which I wish to express my respect and appreciation.

  4. My dear Mamoo:

    “It is my understanding that Blacks were offered land after emancipation.” Do you have any shred of evidence to support your “understanding” of this point?

    And isn’t this the point. We say all kinds of crazy things because, presumably, it supports a point we want to make. Won’t if be nice to allow knowledge rather than ignorance to prevail. Is winning a point more important than creating understanding between the races based on the best-available facts?

    1. Dear Doc. Cudjoe
      You touch on the most salient of points. The question is after emancipation, were they offered land.
      Picture in your mind working in the hot Sun, getting up at 5:00 a.m. to go and work for Massa. No holidays, toiling everyday. On those fields you saw your father whipped, you saw your mother raped and your siblings force to take the sugar cane on their head long distances. Your hands had blisters, your feet with lesions and you could not make any excuses for staying away from the fields.

      One day a man comes and declare by the order of the crown, you no longer have to work these fields. Would you stick around or seek to get away from those fields as far as possible? The African did not want the land but ran from it. To him that land represented death, pain and sorrow. Even if they were offered plantation land some I assume would have accepted but the majority would have fled. And who could blame them?

      Indians on the other hand had a love for the land. I saw my parents work the land planting sugar cane and rice. Today none of their children would venture out in the hot sun to plant anything. It was back breaking work. They paid a heavy price, but they had iron will.

      1. I don’t think any one ethnic group has more “love for the land ” tnan another, just check some Paramin Tobago farmers and Syrian environmentalists if you’re in doubt.

        On another note, though, if African Trinidadians have been failed by their own leaders, I don’t see how that’s the Indians’ fault.

        1. Typo: meant “Paramin and Tobago farmers”. Not to mention African farmers in Chaguaramas, Mayaro and Deep South.

          1. Yes we know the iconic statement “love for land” could be misconstrued by you and others. Love for rice land and cane land might help you better.

      2. You still haven’t offered any source of evidence that the emancipated slaves were offered land. Professor Cudjoe is a specialist in the field of Afro-Caribbean heritage. In my understanding they moved to the city slums etc because they did not have anywhere else to go. However, your suggestion that they would be reluctant to continue working on the land after the treatment they had recieved does sound reasonable, as would be their justifiable feelings at the time.

  5. OH PROPAGANDA, this science have been used by the Indentures to undermine the majority peoples they met on the murderous colonial Island of Trinidad. Over a hundred yrs ago, this is what F.E.M.Hosein said in 1913. “If the East Indian showed that progressive increase in number which they had shown up to now, and taking into account their natural productivity, it was no mere hyperbolical statement that Indians would people the colony and drive out the the rest of the inhabitants. The African is not as productive as the East Indians: and if circumstances did not compel him to leave the colony, he would naturally die out.Such a thing had taken place in Mauritius. And Trinidad would be maintained and owned by the Indian in the field, the office and the shop”. Haven’t this statement come into fruition? what have been done to bring equilibrium? MAMOO and all the other Indian writers and commentators, are aware of all the plans that were put into place and agitated for, against the Africans they met on the Island. Me personally? had the shoe been on the other foot, the mindset might have been the same. The Indians, came to Trinidad, with the most Unifying Dictum of a people, Culture, they did not have to kneel to the White Man God, like the African, but used the whitman’s principles to capitalize on what the colony have to offer, with help from both the White man and the African. Yes, the African have help to dig his own grave, in most cases, because of sheer IGNORANCE. In Trinidad, and other Caribbean states, the African have occasionally intervened in the promotion of Indian Nationalism, an example, was the East Indian weekly (1928-32) owned by Leonard Fitzgerald Walcott, an African nationalist and Garveyite.Basdeo Pandey, can attest to that, the African led trade unions, played a most important part in the formation of his Union ALL Trinidad sugar workers. Garvey, one of, if not the greatest of African to live among the descendants of slaves, is hardly ever mentioned. The East Indian indentures, have played the game presented to them by their English Lords, with both perfection and precision, all because of their cultural unifying entity. The British colonial plan, was to leave none of the colonies entirely to the Africans, the Trinidad, Guyana experience have shown us what division on a colonial island and state land mass is all about, undermining the African in all aspects of life, be it on the job or politics. Remember, the presbyterian Canadians, also played a divisive role in undermining the African, Canadian missionaries would be trained in India, then sent to Trinidad, we also see that the Indian was never Christian indoctrinated, they attended the Christian School in the morn, and the Mandir in the evening. Let me make one thing clear, i’m not putting all Indians in that role, Trinidad, have over the years, produced some exemplars. Africa Trinidad, are too intuned into cutting down each other and self hating to see beyond their noses, Dr Cujoe, the Africans with Christian names mentioned at the end of your column, are our true enemies, these self benefiting men, if one should call them that, never spoke up or educate, they see class, part of the black 1% demagoguery that have aligned themselves with others to destroy their people perpetually.

  6. Duck, why is it almost all your articles make mention of race. Again I ask which political party has controlled the treasury, the police service, the armed forces, the civil service,the education system, the oil industry, the ebc board, etc, etc, for over 45 years of 56 years of independence? Don’t forget Cartey declared ” all ah we(pnmites) tief”.

  7. Nothing wrong with creating a Black middle and upper class if others aren’t excluded.
    The well-being and success of Africans and East Indians in T&T is not a zero-sum game. Taking Indians down a peg or two will not automatically uplift Africans nor vice versa.

  8. Let”s recall, the Caroni 1975 workers were giving one of the best deals comparative to any other separation package given in Trinidad and Tobago.The company was bankrupted and was being subsidized, hundreds of millions every year by the then P.N.M. Government. It,s pension plan was in shambles and was bailed out by a deposit of over 350 million dollars. The Manning Government write off its loans and debts to the tune of two billion dollars The VSEP package paid was over 700 Million dollars.Some sixty odd employee’s of Caroni green received $1,240,000.each, as part of their separation package.
    All employee,s were given special privileges to purchase vehicles and machinery by auction from the company.Some were offered training that cost the Government additional millions.They were also offered residential plots and acreage of agricultural land with access roads and utilities to over 9000 past employees.This land can be valued between five to ten billion T&T dollars.These are facts, that can be easily checked and verified. So lets be honest and draw fair conclusions.

    1. So wait nah, all of that Mr. Manning and the PNM did for ‘dem’ and when Sat said, “Mr Manning was a RACIST”, not even the Chairman on The PNM (Franklyn Khan) or the AG for the PNM government or, the minister of Agriculture (who is still giving ‘dem’ today).. Not ONE of the PNM Indians came out in defense of poor Mr. Manning’s honour.
      Maybe, if only ‘they’ knew about nurturing a creative spirit, if only ‘they’ could see that the African Trinbagonian is ‘the’ creative force in the society.. One that creates something out of nothing.. or even something out of ‘Trash’..

      But no, is ‘curry tabanka’ in we tail..

    2. There’s always 2 sides to a coin. Let’s remember in drawing up fair and honest conclusions we must be holistic in all points of view.

      Mr. Panday in seeking the interests of sugar workers would go down in history as a fighter in bringing some semblance of parity comparable to workers in the oil sector. Compare this to the mangers at the time for e.g., the Managing Director making 25 trips in one year to the UK in the name of negotiations. His colleagues enjoying chauffeur driven cars even for the non-employees (wives) to be chauffeured to the grocery etc.

      A government minister making a call to the CEO for some case of liquor to be given (under the umbrella of marketing and promotions) to the PM residence for a cocktail party to be hosted. That’s really funny because Caroni rum is no good for the retail market but is very good under an Angostura label. Limited profitably in bulk selling.

      The overseers given preference to the first choice of cut meats after the slaughter of an animal, same is said for the dairy sector. Daily paid workers were known to also bring produce for their bosses. More so, some women folks in the industry made themselves available to the overseers in Land Rovers in the cane field or in air-conditioned office say for e.g., BC.

      A willful, deliberate and wicked policy of keeping all production costs for the diversified industries under the single cost to produce sugar/ton. No separate satellite cost centers to be responsible and accountable. The call for a Bagasse complex BC, Fermentation complex; Caroni and the sugar complex USM discarded. The rice complex was supposed to be adjoined to the Fermentation complex because of the availability of the lees and slops that were rich in nitrates, phosphates and potash as a liquid irrigant fertilizer. Instead of the discharge into the Caroni river increasing BOD levels the reverse was taking place saving tons of money for fertilization literally reducing imports and stepping up rice production under a phased basis

      Interestingly, equipment and machinery that were purchased were re-sold at ridiculously low prices to a separate company (managers get together) and then leased to Caroni (1975) Ltd. During breakdowns or seldomly controlled maintenance this would then be repaired by, guess who? Yep! Caroni (19750 Ltd. We can go on and on with these litany of woes, but we do get the picture.
      These are facts but cannot in this case be checked and verified but was guided under the mantra ‘see but not see’.

      Therefore, in attributing $ to wantonness prevalent in those days it becomes a futile exercise in whipping a dead horse where excuses of failing to compete successfully in the international commodity markets, Lome convention, industrial relations etc.

      A point worth mentioning not every worker of Caroni received just remuneration upon the closure of the company.

      1. Errata (3rd.paragraph): should read ….some cases of liquor….
        Whilst at it, The Human Resources dept. was just a camouflage whereby the recruiting of staff for the company was done by a sub contractor who by the way was a relative of a director of the company. Corruption was the name of the game in the hay day of rape and plundering of a company that literally bled to death. Who would even think of destroying a plant that is known to be the best converter of solar energy to potential energy.
        The adage: who’s guarding the guard! or better still himself cussing himself!!!

  9. The pnm was established to ensure that the commercial interests of the British and their anglophile supporters would survive. They have done a sterling job of employing the technique of divide and rule as well. The salve of carnival and calypso, our opiate, has progressively become ineffective in keeping everyone under the illusion that all is well between the races, since material growth and it’s necessary competitiveness has taken over. The Indian tribe, while still Anglophiliac in nature, also draws upon the fact that it did not arise from an oppressed people. On the contrary, the independence of their motherland was already secure. Paradoxically, that meant they were less in the favour of the British when it came to Trinidad and Tobago, because they were already too big for their boots, and employing those who also identified with the African meant that the Indian could be kept in check, at least to some extent.

  10. No compensation for slaves

    By George Alleyne
    August 29, 2012 –

    The argument has often been put forward by politicians and would be politicians that persons of Indian descent own a far greater degree of property in Trinidad than people of African descent, because they had saved and used their money wisely. It is an attempt to create misunderstanding between the two major ethnic groups.

    What led to today’s disparity in land ownership is well documented and rooted in Trinidad’s colonial past. The end of slavery in 1838 and the movement by freed slaves to urban and suburban areas and away from the sugar estates, with which they had for so long identified with their suffering, meant that the sugar planters had to source new labour.

    Wages demanded by ex-slaves, who remained, were in the order of some 36 cents a day. Planters, with the example of Indian indentureship in Mauritius, looked to India for the restocking of their labour force.

    Lord John Russell, then United Kingdom Secretary of State for the Colonies, would refer to the proposition for the introduction of Indian labour to the West Indies in a letter to Sir Henry Light, Governor of British Guiana, dated February 15, 1840. “It is stated” Lord Russell wrote, “that the wages of a day labourer are in Guiana one shilling and six pence 36 cents per day and in Hindostan (India) not more than two pence.”

    While there had been a limited use of Indian indentured labourers in Guiana, between 1837 and 1839, indentureship had not been introduced in other areas of the West Indies. On July 25, 1842, Lord Howick moved a resolution in the British House of Commons: “That is the opinion of this Committee (the House of Commons Committee on the West Indian Colonies)” that, inter alia, “one obvious and desirable mode of endeavouring to compensate “for the diminished supply of labour,” is to promote the immigration of a fresh labouring population, to such an extent as to create competition for employment”.

    It should be pointed out that as early as 1814, 24 years before the end of slavery, a planter in Trinidad, William Burnley, had proposed the bringing of free labour from India “on a large scale”, as Dr Eric Williams would note in From Columbus to Castro: The History of the Caribbean (Page 347). This proposal carried with it a sense of urgency as the abolition of the slave trade in 1807 had effectively blocked a traditional means of supplying labour to the sugar plantations.

    Sir Ralph Woodford, who was Governor of Trinidad at the time, would recommend to the Colonial Office “the introduction of East Indian immigrants” — Eric Williams. With the bringing into operation of indentureship, a crucial provision of the agreements between parties had been the repatriation of indentureds to India at the end of their contracted stays, with the expense to be borne by the planters. But because sugar planters had found the cost of passages of indentured labourers back to India to be expensive, they made offers to the labourers of either money or land in Trinidad in lieu of return passages.

    More than 100,000 accepted. Many of those who accepted cash, purchased land. The entire process would see some 100,000 indentureds becoming land owners. It would provide a financial jump-start and ladder that not even the calculated up to 1970 denial of commercial bank loans, in all too many cases, could negatively affect.

    Ironically, following on Emancipation, instead of former slaves being given money for their years of having been forcefully and brutally exploited, money which could have given them the same jump start, the sum of 973,442 pounds sterling was paid out by the British Government to the planters in Trinidad as compensation “for the loss of their slaves”! It was a dismissal of the former slaves and was a statement that only the interests of sugar planters really mattered.

    Indeed, the only freed slaves who received grants of land in Trinidad were those who had fought on the side of the British in the 1813 war in Virginia. They were given land in an area South of Princes Town known today as Fourth Company, Fifth Company and Sixth Company.

    Meanwhile, despite the efforts of some politicians, Indian and African descent Trinbagonians are committed, as other ethnic groups, to the development of their country.,165498.html

  11. Mamoo said:
    “The African did not want the land but ran from it. To him that land represented death, pain and sorrow. Even if they were offered plantation land some I assume would have accepted but the majority would have fled. And who could blame them?”

    “Under the black experience it is my understanding that they were offered land after emancipation, but the trauma of slavery saw them recant and move into the city.”

    This notion that Africans were offered land following Emancipation is incorrect. Likewise, the idea that land represented death and pain, and thus the Africans ran from the land.. is also false. Throughout the Caribbean following Emancipation some Africans left the plantation and established themselves as independent peasantry rooted in agriculture. Others stayed on the plantation, and cultivated provision grounds on the side. In both these experiences, land was important to Africans. It represented independence and the possibility of eking out an existence outside of the oppressive plantation structures. The plantocracy, needing labour and seeking new forms of control following slavery, created various land laws and policies in an attempt to tie Africans to the plantation. This included Anti squatting laws and laws and restricted land purchases under a certain acreage.

    All of this was part of amping up social control measures aimed at destabilizing the independent peasantry and dismantling African demands for better pay and working conditions. Under the crown colony system of governance, the legislative council, dominated by the planter/merchant class, initiated a range of laws and policies aimed at maintaining economic, political and cultural control in a society that had moved past the physical repression that had characterised the slave plantations. According to David Trotman in his book Crime in Trinidad: Conflict and Control in a Plantation Society, 1838-1900, they passed the Habitual Idlers Ordinance (1918) and the Vagrant Rogues and Vagabonds Ordinance amendments (1838) in an effort to regulate labour on the plantations (Trotman 1986). Also passed in this period was the Master and Servants Ordinance (1846) which set out harsh punishment for labourers who broke their contracts. Laws such as the Summary Convictions Ordinance (1868), the Peace Preservation Ordinance (1884) and the Shouter Ordinance Act (1917) aimed to restrict cultural and religious practices of freed Africans. The Summary Convictions Ordinance (1868) (as an extension of expired slave codes) had clauses that banned obeah while the Peace Preservation Ordinance banned drumming and stick-fighting.

    This history of the social, economic and religious assault which happened after emancipation is important given the common view (expressed earlier in this thread) that Africans spent money on short term gratification while Indians worked hard and saved. This is a distortion of the facts.

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