What’s in a slave name?

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
June 20, 2022

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeThe controversy started when Camille Robinson-Regis called Kamla Persad-Bissessar out of her name. Kamla responded by casting aspersions on Camille’s “slave name”, which played right into a deep cultural fissure that exists within our fragile social structure. Whatever the merits of either argument, as my mother would have said, “Is de answer does bring the row.” Hopefully, in this case, the answers should allow us to see our cultural blindness.

Black people were not “stripped” of their culture and religion when they arrived on this land. People are literally their culture. They cannot exist without it. They are also culture carriers. They take their culture and religion with them wherever they go, and adapt them to the new land in which they find themselves.

In an illuminating documentary, Bigger Than Africa, African filmmaker Toyin Ibrahim Adekeye traces how the “Yoruba culture survived and transcended slavery beyond imagination to remain alive till this day in the New World” (Deadline, May 4, 2022). The documentary examines the practice of Yoruba in six countries (Brazil, the United States, Cuba, Nigeria, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Republic of Benin) and demonstrates how our people adapted themselves spiritually to those countries.

Therefore, it goes without saying that African people brought their religion and culture to Trinidad and Tobago, adapting their religion and culture to deal with the realities they encountered. It may be insulting to accuse an African person in the Americas of having a “slave name”; such an accusation can also be interpreted as meaningless drivel. It is not as profound or as thoughtful as the insulter might think it is.

When I grew up in Tacarigua, I resided within the bowels of Yoruba culture. My grandfather, Robert James, son of Jonathan and Amelia Cudjoe, was born on December 5, 1869. He married Delcina Moriah Bonas, born in Barbados in 1875, but migrated to Trinidad. Delcina, as all women are, was the major culture carrier of the family. Every November she faithfully cooked the saltless meals for the Shango festivity that took place at Mother Gerald’s palais. Mother Gerald was the major Yoruba priestess in the village. My grandmother also observed and passed on other Yoruba rituals and practices to her children and grandchildren.

This became evident to me five years ago when my cousin, Marva, and I visited Mislet, the eldest surviving member of my father’s line, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Once we arrived, she asked us to take her to the supermarket to buy some fish. We asked her why she wanted that fish so badly.

She said: “I want the fish to make my annual offering to our ancestors.” When asked about the offering, she said it was a meal that “consists of one slice of saltless fish, rice, dhal, and any kind of provision. When I am finished preparing the meal, I place a glass of water and a glass of white rum beside it. Then I begin to pray to our ancestors, calling them by their names, saying I brought you food and drink and ask them to guide us all. Then I leave the food overnight for them.”

I asked her who taught her this and how long she had done it. She replied: “I saw Ma [meaning our grandmother] doing it. When Ma died, I continued to do it.”

She confessed that we were the first people she had told this story to. At 88 years of age, she still resides in Fort Lauderdale and presumably still continues the practice of preparing annual meals for our ancestors.

I don’t know if Delcina Moriah is a slave name. Even if it is, the name has little effect on making black people who we are. As I have tried to explain, our culture is the primary factor in making us who we are. Our experiences during slavery, particularly in Trinidad and Tobago, are secondary factors in determining our identity.

Although it is meant to be insulting when one accuses an African-Trinbagonian of possessing a “slave name”, the observation is not as profound as it is supposed to be. It only means one has adopted a name that fits into the culture into which one had been deposited. It does not mean one is dispossessed of one’s culture because one had to adopt a new name in a new environment. It only means one had to make a “historic compromise” with one’s new environment.

A person’s name is not an indicator necessarily of how one lives one’s life or the degree to which one pays allegiance to one’s Africanness. Although CLR James, Walter Rodney or George Padmore (Malcolm Nurse before he adopted the later name) possessed “slave names”, it did not in any meaningful way affect their identity or a sense of who they were. They worked to better the lives of black people and produced tomes that help us to know and to understand who we are.

James, the son of an enslaved African, was willing to join the Ethiopian army when Italy invaded Abyssinia (or Ethiopia). Padmore, the author of The Life and Struggles of Negro Toilers, devoted his life to the liberation of black people throughout Africa and the diaspora. Rodney wrote the seminal work, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. He died at the hands of another black man who resented his devotion to African and Indian people alike. Their “slave names” were never an indication of who they were.

So that while Kamla wishes to preserve the sanctity of her name, she should be careful that she does not dishonour the lives and struggles of others in the process. It is something that she needs to think about carefully.

6 thoughts on “What’s in a slave name?”

  1. I draw the attention of Dr. Cudjoe to:

    https://archive.org/details/WhenceTheBlackIrishOfJamaica/page/n13/mode/2up

    The link is to the title, “Whence the Black Irish of Jamaica” by J. J. Williams (1932).

    The essential thesis of this book is that the English/Irish/Scottish names of Negro people of the Caribbean (also the U.S.) were NOT names put upon them by slave masters, rather names they brought with them from the British isles. As to Jamaica (also Barbados) many British names carried by the Negro correspond to no plantation owner whatsoever, as revealed by a search of the land and property registers.

    This does not mean that the Kunta Kinte –> Toby modality did not happen. It just means that in point of FACT, the British names of the West Indian (and U.S.) Negro came in great part direct from Britain.

    This is explained by the ethnic cleansing of the Negro out of Britain starting at about the time of Cromwell, and his regicide of the Jacobite (= Negro) king Charles I.

    In that context it must clearly be understood that the Negro was not an interloper upon the British Isles, but rather the aboriginal people. This is scripturally corroborated by 2 Esdras 13:41 wherein it is stated that the ethnic cleansing of the northern tribes (Negro in fact) out of Israel saw them to go to lands where never before mankind dwelt.

    That is why the Negro (note: I do not say “African”, neither do I say “black”) became the aboriginal peoples of far-flung places including northern and western Europe, the Americas in general, the Far East, the far South Pacific, and those parts of Africa where Ham had not penetrated and dwelt.

    This understanding is corroborated when one looks at the relevant ship manifests listing and describing the people that came to the West Indies from the British Isles (some as slaves, some as indentured servants). See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5s7xWcdesU , also https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQdz61k0Txs .

    That is just a start to the rectification of a historical lie that we have all been taught.

    As to the KPB vs CRR matter, KPB was in my opinion irredeemably and even casually racist, and therefore out of order. The issue is not at all whether she was factually correct or incorrect as to where the Negro names came from. We certainly ought not to accept such casual disrespect, and KCR was right to respond in the manner that he did, even though the facts of the matter are more than might be assumed from the Kunta Kinte/Toby fable.

  2. Post Script to my earlier on Negro names:

    See also: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5s7xWcdesU
    and
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ByMOzgqiz3A

    The interesting twist that emerges from all this is that British names were originally NEGRO.

    For example, the quintessentially Scottish name, “Douglas” is Negro in origin and includes a reference to dark skin. The city of Dublin also includes a color reference to the swarthy skin color of the aboriginal inhabitants who were a Negro people (Note: they did not come out of Africa, nor were they “black” but swarthy, or dub).

    So the white British of today got their names from the NEGRO, not the other way ’round.

  3. PPS Re Negro names and their British origins:

    The relevant facts have clearly been hidden to advance the lie that the British were a white people from the beginning. Hence we today assume that King James and his (Jacobite) line of the House of Stewart were a white people. This is not so. They went so far as to paint over the original images to advance the lie. See:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wjEeC60K_G8
    and
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wjEeC60K_G8

    Our scholars ought to know these things. Sadly it falls to amateurs such as the posters of the videos above, to reveal truth to out people.

  4. You were forced to back track Dr C. The ball have been bowled and like Kamla, you don’t seem to know very much about your past. Your Afrikanism have been on the shelf as you mix up, mix up. No Dr Cujoe. Vast numbers like yourself, don’t see themselves as Afrikans, history tells us, that the Europeans created the Americas in their very own image. While all the WAHALA is directed towards the Afrikan with English names, what about those with French, Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese names? are they not also slave handles? Kamla need to be put in her place, COCKROACH don’t get infant of chickens, and certain words should never emanate from her mouth. Kamla’ age group have historically dealt with hidden division. NAR, Mr Panday, and Kamla herself, have taken it to a different high. Our so-called Yoruba’ after all they gave to the Trinidad’ make-up Culture, are a diminish people, With vast numbers of their children languishing in the Prisons created by the historical oppressors of the Afrikan. killing a goat or fowl in ritual sacrifices, is all that remains.Yoruba Divinity was never widely taught , giving the Children names with true meanings never existed, not even the middle name. Afrikan Proverbs? no no. Christianity saw to that . Today. an indoctrinated mixed up people exist, Afrikan/Indo , with some saying DEH have all kinda blood in them. We should not be too concerned about Slave names, Mental Shackling must get higher priority. Self Hate in all aspects of Trinidad’ black society have placed the baton in Kamla’ circle. Cloaked behind the FAKE UNC smile, is projected Darkness , Deceit, Graft and Hypocrisy. Those with EYES sees it daily.

  5. LONG LIVE FRANCIA MARQUEZ. The Afrikan Queen elected Vice President of Columbia, long live. Our own Maya Angelu tells us, regardless of the Hate seen in the EYES of lesser peoples, The Afrikan keeps on rising, leaving none behind. In Columbia, just like all the other States of the Western Hemisphere, the Afrikan is always at the forefront for change. Justice and equality it seems, keeps on resting on the shoulders of the MIGHTY RACE that i was graced to be a member of. The Black Afrikan/Dravidian Melanin Divinities of glorious times past, continue to fortify our SPIRIT/SOUL. While Kamla continue to RUM TALK, MIA, Camille, Francia and lots more are on the International stage speaking TRUTH. On the there hand, Kamla is missing in action as she squirms in the DARKNESS she has placed herself. The SAFFRON Dame , like her predecessor Mr Panday, have committed IMMORAL crimes against themselves through division and hidden HATE. The VARNAS of concrete division doesn’t have a place or space in the wider Caribbean, but it can be found in the flooded districts of Trinidad and Guyana. Do not be surprised if CAMILLE becomes the first Afrikan Woman Prime minister of this here Country, Nature always tend to work towards Justice for all, not some. Eh Eh! ah wonder whey Francia get she surname Marquez form?. Cartagena is SMILING as we speak.

    1. My brother, Allow me to take issue with self-identifying our people as “Afrikan” or “African” or “african”. That is incorrect as a matter of FACT.

      As a people, we the NEGRO are of the seedline of SHEM through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob of Scripture. That continent today called Africa was peopled first by the sons of HAM. These were KUSH and MIZRAIM (Egypt) who took up residence in the Nile Valley and north-east Africa region, plus PHUT who took up residence to the west of Mizraim in today Libya, and CANAAN, who took up (wrongful) residence in today Palestine/Israel area. (I say wrongful because that area among others had been allotted to SHEM. Recall that after the Flood, NOAH and his three sons — SHEM, HAM and JAPHETH — all came off the Ark in that area between the two rivers, Tigris and Euphrates. They were all dark-skinned except for NOAH who was depigmented due to albinism. The nearby areas were divided up amongst the three sons. Japheth went north, Ham went south, and Shem got the middle and eastern lands. To make a long story short the children of Jacob sojourned for about 350 years in Egypt where Jacob’s son Joseph became viceroy for a time in the beginning. Later the children of Jacob were enslaved. Moses was raised up to free them after which they went back up to where Canaan wrongfully dwelt, and took and settled that land. Note: the children of Jacob and the children of Egypt looked alike for the most part in terms of darkness of pigmentation and wooliness of hair texture. (How the children of Japheth gradually lost pigmentation and wooliness of hair is an intensely interesting question that I leave to one side.)

      Later on the children of Jacob raised up a king named DAVID of the tribe of Judah, the 4th son of Jacob. He was styled NEGA David. The word NEGA means literally the one watched over by The Most High, or the “apple of His eye”. That word NEGA came to mean king. It also gave rise to the word NEGRO/NIGGER/NAGAR/NEGARA etc and all such cognates. It means literally one of the tribal root of the NEGA. So that’s who we are. We are not of the line of Ham, though we had a 350-year sojourn in the land of Ham, in Egypt.

      Later the tribes of Jacob divided between the northern tribes (collectively “Israel”) and the southern tribes (collectively “Judah”). Still later the northern tribes went into the Assyrian captivity (ca 720 BC), as part of which many also scattered to all the far-flung lands where “never before mankind dwelt.” (2 Esdras 13:40-45). That is why the Negro became the aboriginal people everywhere. Some went also into inner (sub-Saharan in effect) Africa. Very few settled among the Hamites of north-east Africa where today they are still called “Falasha” meaning “stranger”. But most of our people settled new lands where we were known as Negro/Bantu and distinct from the Hamites of Africa.

      My point: not every dark-skinned, woolly haired people are “African”. For example, the Negro people of Fiji are sons of Jacob like us here in the Americas. But they are not “African”. Another example: those Negro who were aboriginal Britons (includes the Jacobite kings such as King James VI of Scotland and I of England, Charles I who was beheaded and Charles II) also were not “African”, rather Negro sons of Jacob and Judah.

      The Negro/Bantu of Africa are having a sojourn in that continent. That is all. Their origin too is outside of that continent. In any case one’s true identity is conferred not by a landmass of sojourn but by bloodline inheritance.

      By the way, it is relevant to note that Africa got its name from one Epher (Genesis 25:4) of the (Shemitic) line of Midian who took up residence in North Africa somewhere to the west of Phut, i.e. around todayTunisia/Algeria area. We are certainly not descended from Midian!

      The scriptural hostories are true history, well supported by archaeological, linguistic, and phenotypic evidence including DNA in some cases. On that factual basis it is simply incorrect to ASSUME that every Negro-looking people are essentially or necessarily “Afrikan” or “African”. We are however sons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (and Judah here in the former British colonies of the West). We have suffered the curses of prophecy and now stand poised to inherit the blessings! The whole earth is to be our inheritance; Psalms 2:6-8.

      For a reference on these and related matters including the afore-mentioned riddle of how pale skin arose and white supremacy and varna along with it, see the book “The Coming of David Messiah” by Malachi Yahya ben Yah’min. Search the web and Amazon.

      Note: As one of proud Yoruba heritage I have no problem with Africa or African heritage. But I am even more proud to be of the people of the book. All other nationalities have stolen identity from US, not the other way ’round, including our names. They have indeed sought to beat us down, but still, like dust, we indeed rise, as the poet has said.

      Shalom.

      Jeremiah 16:19.
      O IYE-HAWAH, my strength, and my fortress, and my refuge in the day of affliction, the Gentiles shall come unto thee from the ends of the earth, and shall say, Surely our fathers have inherited lies, vanity, and things wherein there is no profit.

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