Is a Letter of Comfort needed from Daaga?

Candidate for Laventille West (N.J.A.C) Makandal Daaga

Candidate for Laventille West (N.J.A.C) Makandal Daaga

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
May 12, 2010

Dear Mr. Manning:

I was disappointed when you called upon Makandal Dagga to apologize to Christians for his having desecrated [your words] the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception during the Black Power Revolt of 1970. I was even more disturbed when you castigated him for wearing a dashiki in these post-Black Power Days although you wear African clothes on Emancipation Day, one of the few concessions that you make towards your African-ness.

In your speech, you reminded Christians that what happened in the past is likely to happen in the future so that they ought to be on their guard against Dagga. Therefore, you requested that the leadership of the R. C. Church demand “a letter of comfort” from Mr. Dagga to assuage their doubts and to ease their fears. Given Mr. Dagga’s busy schedule, I thought I would provide you with a letter of comfort since you display a misunderstanding of our history particularly when he is contributing to the national debate of healing and understanding.

As I listened to your remarks, I was tempted to remind you that the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church were used to enslave Africans in this land. As early as 1789 the governing authorities issued a Cedula which made every slave owner obligated to instruct his slaves in the principles of Roman Catholicism. It did not matter if the enslaved Africans were Igbo or Hausa and that they practiced Yoruba or Islam that believed in monotheism and an afterlife.

In 1797 when Ralph Abercromby captured Trinidad for the British, only the Roman Catholic Church was recognized by law and supported by the Government. After February 1797, every person landing in Trinidad had to become a Roman Catholic or be prevented from worshipping in any other church. Thank God, the Hindus hadn’t arrived on these shores yet.

From 1817 to 1824, the British Government asked the churches to assist them in preparing enslaved Africans for emancipation. An Order in Council of 1824 provided religious instructions for all the slaves and ordered the clergymen to deliver to the Commandant of each Quarter (something analogous to a county) the name and place of abode of every enslaved African who was instructed in the principles of religion. In 1834 when slavery was abolished the Home Government gave lots of money to instruct the newly-freed Africans in the Christian religion.

I cite these facts to let you know that the Roman Catholic and the other established churches played a large role in obliterating the religion of African peoples and contributing to our dispossession in this land. In 1848 Lord Harris was forced to affirm that “a race has been freed but a society has not been formed” and in 1970 at a special PNM Convention Eric Williams reminded us that Trinidad and Tobago was founded on the European colonial values of racism-the assumed superiority of white over black.

At that convention which I am sure you attended Dr. Williams asserted that “the most pernicious affect of colonialism…for the West Indies has been that many Black people have ‘internalized’ this [European] value system and have come to believe in the deepest recesses of their minds that black is in fact inferior to white. Black dignity in the Caribbean, as elsewhere in the New World, will be achieved only if [a] sense of worth is established [among Black people.]”

It was this revulsion against presumptions of white superiority that led the followers of Black Power to call for the elimination of all manifestations of whiteness from their systems and their accompanying symbols. I am sure you would remember that the promotion of African cultural values was an inescapably part of that revolution of values that took place among black Trinbagonians.

I do not know where you were when this revolution against the pernicious influences of whiteness was taking place but I know that the Church began to take a deeper look into its participation in a value system that was detrimental to the liberation of the African person. Out of this ferment came a theology of liberation.

Therefore, to the degree that the doctrines and symbols of the Roman Catholic Church contributed to the devaluation of the lives of Black people it is to that degree that the purveyors of Black power were correct to consider painting the entire church in black if such an action contributed to our spiritual reclamation.

You are fond of telling the story that when you first went up for screening Dr. Williams asked you if you read Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth. You would remember that Fanon talked about the cleansing nature of violence as a way to expunge the crippling psychological aspects that colonialism had upon the psyche of our people. While Dr. Williams may not have agreed with painting all of the symbols of the Roman Catholic Church black he would certainly have understood such a desire on the part of any progressive black man of the time was perfectly reasonable.

It is commendably that such an action did not take place but to ask Mr. Dagga to apologize for a gesture that spoke to the psychological cleansing of the wretched of this nation is to blaspheme against all that is best in our people. Unfortunately, it also demonstrates an ignorance of what we, as a people, had to overcome to get us where we are today.

I hope that you give a second thought to your utterances. Perhaps you may have the courage to apologize to our brother for your ignoble suggestions. As Dr. Williams understood only too well, we can only reconstruct our society if we understand where we were in the past; what we had to do to get where we are today; and the imperative that we honor those who helped us to see our condition particularly at moments when we tend to be blinded by our eyes and become tone deaf by our rhetoric.

7 Responses to “Is a Letter of Comfort needed from Daaga?”


  • I can’t wait for Mankandal Daaga UNCOP “Minister for African Repatriation”…….the PM makes a few election time jabs at these bankrupt anti-capitalist, pro state waste aka Caroni LTD idiots and he’s now anti-African?

    Anyone recall the Panday playing up “back to africa” nonsense with dictator Rawlins of Ghana?

  • Prof, let Daggasingh speak for himself nah.
    Let him try to reassure the Black population that we not going down the Guyana road… As a matter of fact, he should acknowledge his African Brothers in Guyana who are crying “Ethnic Cleansing” (as ‘his’ comrade Tim like to say).
    What a strange bunch of bedfellows.

  • Tony Fraser: The demonising of Daaga and Mc Leod
    Seeing the possibility of provoking holy consternation in the minds of Catholics about alleged desecration, and triggering fears within the business community of what he considers the toxicity of the UNC/COP-led coalition, the political leader of the PNM latched on to the strategy of demonising Makandal Daaga and Errol Mc Leod, making them, and the interests they represent, unfit to be in a party seeking to govern the country. By extension, what Manning did was to seek to undermine the black national consciousness movement of the 1970s and the historic and fundamental contribution of the labour movement to the development of T&T going back to Cipriani in 1919 and Butler in 1937.

  • Caribbean Catholic

    Maybe Dr Cudjoe’s politics is not that of the PNM’s. I am Ok with that, since I neither hate nor love Patrick Manning. Dr Cudjoe’s letter seems to give little consideration to black Catholics who then would have thought the action of desecrating the Cathedral as a bad thing.

    So, is Dr Cudjoe saying then, that every person who had an enslaved ancestor in Trinidad or anywhere in the world should go into any catholic church and desecrate it. NO! that should not happen DR Cudjoe.

    What about the North & East African Muslims who themselves had slaves? Should the Christians (Catholic, Ethiopian Orthodox, etc), defecate in their holy places? NO!

    Is it right then that every person who feels they have been wronged should take the law into their own hands? NO! DR Cudjoe.

    Come on Dr Cudjoe, Say it was wrong. Do not defend someone who
    is wrong. Do not encourage the politics of Hate.

  • Have the unholy catholic chunch apologize for their major rule in slavery and white world domination know as colonialism and imperialism.When u negroes will wake up and overstand that u are from African decendance for before u r some socall roman catholic. Self indentity is the KEY to mental liberation.
    Mr Daaga dont need to apologise to any product of the white colonial power structure.Negroes like manning are tools of slave masters and will say anything to stay in power. In physical slavery they were call house niggers, today they are politician, peacher and educated fools. KNOW THY SELF.

  • Shuh.. doh make no noise… leh we see if we cud pass and doh leh nobody see..

    I guess they tink they cud leh dis one pass jus-so… No, not so easy, this ‘brother’ was too much in the headline fuh we tuh tiptoe thru the tulips..

    Must be something in the water… The lions have turned pussycats..

    Diplomat Daaga
    PM: NJAC leader to get Caricom posting
    Nikita Braxton South Bureau
    Monday, May 31st 2010
    TWO days after naming her Cabinet, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday appointed National Joint Action Committee Chief Servant Makandal Daaga this country’s Caricom Cultural Ambassador Extraordinaire.

    Persad-Bissessar made the announcement during her speech at the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha’s (SDMS) Indian Arrival Day celebrations at the Parvati Girls’ College in Debe yesterday.

    In making the appointment, Persad-Bissessar described Daaga as a ’selfless patriot’.

    ’Chief Servant Daaga has spent decades working without recognition and help in the cause of promoting the ideals of poverty eradication and giving people, especially young people, a sense of purpose through sports and culture. He is a selfless patriot whose service we are so fortunate to still have among us today and, today, on Indian Arrival Day we salute him and his life’s work,’ Persad-Bissessar said.

    http://www.trinidadexpress.com/index.pl/nart?id=161684383&weba=NWSNews

  • T&T look at Guyana. That is your future. I will continue to make this argument, and when the realization takes hold of those who are yet to emancipate themselves from mental slavery, I will remind them of the pied pipers of hamlin that they followed like rats to their decimation

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