It’s Not Only a Black Thing?

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
November 27, 2007

Trini PeopleThe main problem with Professor Hamid Ghany’s analysis (“Prepare for Constitutional Debate,” Guardian, Nov. 18, 2007) is that it fails to take the views of ordinary people into consideration and leaves East Indians out of the constitutional debate for which he wishes to prepare us. Professor Ghany extols the wisdom of Major Wood and argues that “the whole history of the African population of the West Indies inevitably drives them towards representative institutions fashioned after the British model.” If he wishes to cite historical examples to clarify African agency and the struggle for representative government there is no sound reasons why he could not go back to the Baptist War in Jamaica (1831); Daaga uprising in Trinidad (1837); or the Morant Bay Rebellion in Jamaica (1865). If he wanted to take an inter-racial perspective-after all we live in an interracial society-he could have gone back the major Indian panchayat in Tacarigua in 1899 when East Indians rescued the leadership of their group from John Morton and signaled their independence. Trinbagonians have always rejected authoritarian rule and spoke up for themselves.

Therefore to endorse the prescience of Major Woods as the epitome of constitutional wisdom is a bit strange especially when the former British territories Australia, New Zealand, Canada (whites), India, Pakistan, Bangladesh (Asians) also adopted the British model which suggests it a Commonwealth rather than a black thing.

It is also astonishing that Professor Ghany would argue that transplanted Africans lost “their social system, languages and traditions, and with the exception of some relics of obeah, whatever religion they may have had, they owe everything that they now have, and all that they are, to the British race that first enslaved them and subsequently to its honour restored to them their freedom” (my italics).

Am I hearing correctly? Do I have to thank the English for enslaving my ancestors and then praise them for restoring my freedom? Is this a sentiment he wants us to endorse in the year of the bicentennial of the European slave trade or to have us sing “I once was lost, but now I am found” like John Newton, the English slave trader, and thank William Wilberforce for setting me free?

Professor Ghany’s analysis allows nothing for African agency; presume Africans brought nothing of their social, political and spiritual culture to these shores; and are simply empty vessels waiting to be shaped and re-shaped in any which way their slave masters wanted to shape them.

Africans, like Indians, brought their religions and their cultures with them to the New World, many aspects of which still exist today: vodun; Santeria; Shango and candomble. In fact, in Black Atlantic Religion, J. Lorand Matory, a Harvard professor, has demonstrated the emergence of Candomble as a fully autonomous New World Religion that is related to its African counterpart but exist in its own right in Brazil. Although George Sampson (The Shango Cult in Trinidad) was concerned primarily with shango in Trinidad he makes a similar case for the integrity of this religion.

Obeah is not interchangeable with shango, candomble, santaria or vodun. My grandparents participated in the Shango feasts and bore the necessary reverence and fear of Obeah. As they said on so many occasions, “ingratitude is ‘wos than obeah!” I am my grandparents’ child.

Three questions. When Professor Ghany asserts that “constitutional development in the former British West Indies emerged on the basis of filling a void of identity for the African population of the region by assimilating the British model” does he mean to suggest that constitutional government filled an identity gap among Africans in the Caribbean?

When he asserts that “the African population of the British West Indies had no other choice of constitutional system but the British one, because of its superiority and the lack of knowledge about other systems” does the he believe there was other way to order our political lives, especially in our villages, than that which the British introduced? Am I wrong to assume that the constitutional system we have inherited was imposed on us from above and that the ordinary African had nothing whatsoever to do with its imposition?

Is it pertinent to ask how East Indians-they are citizens of Trinidad and Tobago too- fit into his model since they are also a part of the British West Indies? Also, can he tell where did they got their identity from?

One also wishes to contest Professor Ghany’s trajectory of constitutional development when he says there has been no deviation from the British constitutional model in the West Indies and states: “Whether that was because of the views of Major Wood, or because of the natural evolution of representative and responsible government from the old representation system, the Crown Colony system, the new representative system, cabinet government, full internal self-government, and, independence will remain a major debate.”

I prefer to read this political trajectory as a movement from the old representational system to the empowerment of people in their local communities. In my way of thinking the empowerment of people in their communities-fiscal federalism as one colleague calls it-is the logical outcome of the evolution of the on-going liberation project rather than the crowning of a monarch via the installation of an Executive President. The latter merely confirms the entrenchment of power at the top of the political ladder while the former empowers more ordinary persons and allows them to realize their fullness in and out of the election cycle.

A frightening implication of Professor Ghany’s position is the absence of the East Indian in his analysis. He talks about Africans; their creation through Britishness and then moves on to talk about “a raging debate about whether to move to an executive presidency away from a parliamentary model is part of an evolutionary process whether it is a deviation from the political culture of the country.” He does not tell us how the East Indians fall into this model and how their political culture, presuming it is different from that of the Africans, impacts upon the constitutional debate that he sees coming.

Ultimately, Professor Ghany’s has to reconcile a claim that denies Afro-Trinbagonians any agency and yet speak of a raging debate within the political culture of which each segment of the community must take part?

There are other questions but I await his response since I do not wish to impute a racial motive to his arguments.

16 thoughts on “It’s Not Only a Black Thing?”

  1. Much thanks for posting your article!
    I am Born Trinidadian, (Point Fortin area)
    I have lived in Canada and the US for almost
    40yrs. As some one of African Heritage of
    which I am very proud.
    I find your article pleasing, much thanks.

  2. Dr. Cudjoe, I did not read Prof. Ghany’s piece in the Guardian, but from an analysis of the comments you make quoting him extensively, I want to ask you one question, why are you arguing with an ass?

    Two hundred(almost) years ago, my family group was settled in Trinidad,in Williamsvile.We continued to do things the way “we” have always done them, including pouring a libation to the ancestors, and having a community group of elders make decisions. Of course, up to fifty years ago, we mostly married others who had not been enslaved. Ten years ago, I met some Igbo people, who, observing how I organize my business, immediately decided that I was Igbo.
    Reading Basil Davidson’s Africa In History, I see my families’ patterns of ebehaviour in the Igbo people. They are quite distinct from the Yoruba, Mandingo and other west Africans.The Igbo have always been democratic,and resisted both kingship and the British rule.

    Ghany’s eyes are those of a liberated son of indenture- nothing is wrong with that, per se, but it can make him blind to what was in Africa because of ancestral hatereds that go back a long time. I am willing to bet he reads no African history, but believes we were tabula raza,on which the British wrote. Yet, every slave rebellion in the Caribbean, is based on the memory of freedom handed down by the ancestors. No religion, my arse.(Sorry moderator, unladylike language sometimes makes the point better that all the high flown history I could talk.)

  3. Prepare for constitution debate

    Dr Hamid Ghany
    Sunday 18th November, 2007

    According to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, Major EFL Wood, MP (later Lord Halifax), in his report following his visit to the British West Indies in 1921-22 :

    “The whole history of the African population of the West Indies inevitably drives them towards representative institutions fashioned after the British model.

    “Transplanted by the slave trade or other circumstances to foreign soil, losing in the process their social system, language and traditions, and with the exception of some relics of obeah, whatever religion they may have had, they owe everything that they have now, and all that they are, to the British race that first enslaved them, and subsequently to its honour restored to them their freedom.

    “Small wonder if they look for political growth to the only source and pattern that they know, and aspire to share in what has been the peculiarly British gift of representative institutions.”
    Full Article :

  4. No religion indeed. Christianity was in practice in Ethiopia long before Constantine had his epiphany.

    That is why the education of African kids cannot be entrusted to these so called intellectuals whose inborn prejudice is impermeable to reason and balance. That they continue to use the history of Africans as a jack to elevate their macabre egos is all the proof we need to confirm that they are, like Linda rightly asserts, monumental asses.

  5. Ummm….anyone realized that the excerpt from NEWS is a quotation made by Dr Ghany and not his own words? They are those of a man long dead.

  6. Re-post

    Ummm….anyone realized that the excerpt from NEWS is a quotation made by Dr Ghany and not his own words? They are those of a man long dead and anyone who reads the full article will realise that Ghany doesn’t agree with the quotation.

  7. Pope Benedict was quoting an obscure Catholic cleric when he,in speaking at his old university, insulted all the Muslims. I blasted him for it. The quotes we choose to bring to light are very significant to our thinking.We, educated people, have choices.

    I am responsible for every word I choose to utter, in print or orally.

    That does not get him off the hook, my friend. Anyone daring to put Professor in front of his name in TnT professes to know something worth saying.He does not write for the Guardian because he is a vagrant. As I said in my Pope Benedict piece, if it was not your thnking, skip it over and go on to make your point.

    There is a lot of ignorance masquerading as knowledge about Africa and Africans, and a lot of it is quoted by “others”. “Me ent say that nuh,is da man over dere wey say it,” is just a nonsensical excuse.

  8. Seems to me somebody in this blog said that there is a plot among the intellecuals of Indian diaspora against Africans. Maybe the same can be said of African intellectuals against Indians. Everybody here is attacking Ghany for a quotation he make and the illiterates here don’t want to read the actual article to see that Hamid Ghany is actually opposing the opening quote made. Linda, your stubborness to always prove you are rtight is once again here showing it’s head. There is something called context and if you cannot understand the context in which something is quoted or said then you are truly lost and it is a disgrace that you consider yourself a teacher.

  9. Nonsense,AT. I am right. If in presenting to some oil execs. who were coming to work in TnT recently, I had presented all the negative things said about Indians in TnT by others, then said I was opposed to those ideas, these intelligent, world travelled engineers would have heard something from listening to what I said that I had not saidovertly, but which I did say byimplication, through my choice of quotes.
    Do you understand?

    Based on your piece, I am anti the following people, whose work I have criticized in this forum: The Pope, Tony Blair(Mr. Blair Regrets), President Bush, former Secretary of State Powell,(Powell and Little Bro Should Stay Home) all Indians, including those in India and in my family,Raffique Shah in particular, Former Chief Justice Sharma, and a host of others too numerous to mention.

    In fact, I am against child rapists and murderers, wife beaters and murderers,petty criminals and big one who never get caught, incompetent teachers, people who waste company time playing the fool on the internet, people who do not think for themselves, and people who are quick to talk race where reason may be needed, and newspapers who assign my work to others to pass off as their own, and who get blasted vex when I point it out. I am against bullying in playground or office, inappropriate sex jokes made by empty-headed people.Repressive regimes that abuse women in the name of their saint/s,founders and the racist western system that continues to critize Zimbabwe’s land reform program, while secretly funding opposition to the government, and organizing people to overthrow Mugabe, particularly get my bile going.

    That is pretty much it. As for my teaching credentials, well they won’t do any good to tell you them, but they have stood up to rigorous examination by all kinds of competent people whose confidence in their assersions allow them to use their names, not initials.
    I continue to maintain that these comments annoy because they are made by a proud woman, strong minded and unafraid OK?I know you will not be satisfied with this, but, I am moving on.

  10. For someone who admits that they haven;t read the piece by Hamid Ghany, Linda is very adamant in her ramblings. Purposly misinterperating what I write will not make what you say any more correct than it was before to anyone with half a brain and can read.
    And please, lay off on the “proud woman” and “strong minded woman” routine…your persecution complex and baseless accusations are getting really old.

  11. The initials wrote:
    For someone who admits that they haven;t read the piece by Hamid Ghany, Linda is very adamant in her ramblings.

    Maybe you should go back and read it rather than running interference to stem black outrage.

    The first question I have is, if Ghany gave no credence to the gist of Wood’s theory, why did he feel it necessary to cite it in his quest for illumination on Manning’s moves to tweak the political system in Trinidad and Tobago? In Ghany’s own words, quote, ” If Prime Minister Manning wants to accomplish the introduction of a presidential system for T&T, he will have to find advisers who support the idea philosophically. If he fails to do that, he will get nowhere with it.

    In many respects, he is seeking to break the trend that was described by Major Wood in his report some 85 years ago. His proposed reform to move away from a parliamentary system and to embrace a presidential one is a deviation from the view expressed by Major Wood in 1922″end quote.

    How can Ghany be critical of Wood’s theory while at the same time connecting it to Manning’s motivations for pursuing a tweaking of the parliamentary system?

    In addition, like all of those who seem to get a thrill from culling information to suit their predispositions of Africans, Ghany ignores an important nuance in Wood’s comments. For example Wood’s assertions faults slavery for the disconnection between Africans and their social traditions. Quote, ” “Transplanted by the slave trade or other circumstances to foreign soil, LOSING IN THE PROCESS THEIR SOCIAL SYSTEM, LANGUAGE AND TRADITIONS”end quote. If Ghany was interested in balanced critique of Woods assertions or theory or whatever, and sought to provide a balanced explanation for Africans relationship with the political system fostered upon them post colonialism, the path to such findings are as identifiable as A,B,C.

    Africans come from a tradition of communal leadership that predates the melting of the ice cap and the cognitive liberation of those trapped within its intellectual darkness for centuries. This predisposition towards order explain post oppression transistions by Africans that differ from many of their ethnic counterparts. There are no replicas or antecedents in history for the kind of forgive and forget concessions made by Africans consequent to 300 years of the Atlantic slave trade, and hundreds of years of Apartheid systems in their indigenous environments in South Africa.

    Africans do not have to be grateful to any group in this world, much less those who enslaved them and forcibly disconnected them from their roots. The fact that we adapted to systems that replaced those that were traditional to us is a process of commonsensical adaptabilty rather than a gleeful and open arm acceptance of a replacement of what we have lost.

    People like Ghany scurry around the periphery of African History, most often finding greater comity with the myths and insane notions that served to rationalize our oppression, than with revisions of those vile accounts being put forth by learned African Scholars and historians. The none white none black world have always exhibited great comfort with his-story, riding it piggy backed to egotistical fulfillment.

  12. In Ruel’s Quote of Ghany’s piece, explain what is inaccurate about it….of course if Manning wants to change the system, he will need the support of others….Trinidad is not a Dictatorship. And the way I see it, further along, Ghany is applauding Manning for breaking the trend that supports Woods statements.

    But of couse people like you and Linda always want ot make africans look like victims so that you can spread youe hato of non africans…you are like Black Sat Mahraj’s who are mayby not as prominant in the local media.

    Your second quote of Ghany’s piece is irrelevant because Ghany’s article was dealing with constitutional reform and you cannot use the fact that he didn’t touch on every aspect of the Woods’ words to make him sound like an opressor of black people. If he went into the level of detail you want, then he would write a book and not a one page article.
    As someone who sees black and indian peopel agure in Trinidad from the outside, I find both sides just a ridiculous and sometimes one side more than the other.

  13. Ruel:I give you the high red hat of an Igbo chief, who is also a spiritual leader of his people,full of charity and is entitled to be called Ichie. The British could not destroy this sort of chieftaincy, democratically assigned by The People of Ndigbo. It annoyed the Brits no end, but endures to this day.

  14. Man you can be very obtuse. No one said that Ghany is an oppressor of black people.

    Try as you might, you cannot revise a pattern of history to convert us into Sat Maharajs whose perspective is haped by their belief in a caste system. Ours have never had that history. We are from a land and culture that has traditionally opened its arms to all and sundry, and we are the inheritors of that predisposition.

    You claimed that Ghany was taking issue with the views of Woods. I posted a comment from him in which he used the views of Woods to explain Mannings motivations for seeking to tweak the parliamentary system.

    Like all good and conscientious racist philanderers, you jump all over the place without rhyme or reason in pursuit of something to vent your umbrage over black people daring to address any issue involving an Indian. That illiteracy charge you are quick to level at others clearly impacts you to a greater degree you think.

    People like you are the most fraudulent of analyst, because you preen yourself and beat on your chest in order to convince bystanders of an objectivity that is as alien to you as snow is to the desert. Again, your puny hypocrisy will not silence us from analyzing commentary that feeds your ego but is insulting to Africans. We recognize that relationship, and are not obligated to contribute to your damn ethnic ego fulfillment.

  15. Ruel Daniels…I wonder if you write without thinking or just pick acguements that have no basis just so that you can sound intelligent… and then you accuse me of “jumpung all over the place”. You are the embodyment of the saying “you can’t win an arguement with a fool.” You are so full of it…you talk about Africans having a history of “opening their arms to all and sundry” but yet tribes in Africa hack one another to death as recently as the late 90’s…what’s the dirrefece there betewwn a caste system and tribalism to that extent? Call me a “racist philanderer” all you want but to borrow one of your expressions….I have no trouble calling a shovel a shovel.

  16. talk about Africans having a history of “opening their arms to all and sundry” but yet tribes in Africa hack one another to death as recently as the late 90’s…what’s the dirrefece there betewwn a caste system and tribalism to that extent? Call me a “racist philanderer” all you want but to borrow one of your expressions….I have no trouble calling a shovel a shovel.

    It is this kind idiotic rant that establishes the slant with which you perceive things. What you ascribe as a behaviour of Africans is not unique to Africa. Indians hack each other to death, blow up each other, and do unto each other every thing that Africans do to one another. In Kasmir, in Sri Lanka, in Gudgarat etc. And so too do all other groups in this world. My point is that it is easier for others to progress in majority African Communities than other wise. And those facts speak for themselves.

    The difference between tribalism and the Race/caste system based on race, ethnicity and color, is that one was formulated through institutionalization and the other is a general feature of historical human interaction across all groups. All groups have histories and presents of tribal inter conflict. Not all groups come from cultures with historical and institutionalized preferential systems based on natural and unchangeable human characteristics.

    You are not full of anything. You are simply empty of anything that does not comport with your ego serving and inverse proportional views about Africans. Anything that removes them from the special compartment in your mind becomes offensive. But that is what me and others are here for. To remove our people from that special psychic compartment where that provides a sense of supremacy to some.

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