By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
February 06, 2023
Jonathan Smith (not his real name) is one of my dearest friends. Last Sunday, after reading my column, he sent me the following note: “Dr Cudjoe, I can’t remember when last you wrote so much unrealistic and unadulterated crap. I never heard your good friend Sat Maharaj or any Hindu leader pleading the case for the poor, dispossessed African community. Why not make the case for the Orisas or the Shouter Baptists or the Rastas? Which society in the world has woven all their cultural and racial/ethnic strands into the perfect tapestry you seem to want to yoke the government with? The US, France, Brazil?”
Jonathan is sincere in his beliefs but I disagree with him on this particular issue. I also disagree with him on matters such as homosexuality, same-sex marriages, or a person using preferred pronouns such as him, her and them. “What is this,” he would say, “I ain’t calling no hard-back man ‘they’!”
But I digress. I want to get back to why I urged that we named someone of the Hindu religion as our president. I believe we must keep in mind what it takes to construct a multicultural and multi-religious society.
You cannot know a person unless you spend time studying his/her Holy Books and what s/he believes in. I have lived among Indians all my life. Kumar Dabooram, a Hindu, was one of my best friends when I attended Tacarigua EC School. We sat side by side in class and shared our meals. Roy Sobers, another schoolmate, and I, protected Kumar when others wanted to harm him.
When my mother died in 2003, my Indian neighbour, Rajo Basdeo, in full Hindu attire, came over to our house and sat silently at the side of my mother’s corpse for about three hours. In January when her son-in-law, Roopnarine Ramphal, died, I attended his wake on Saturday night (January 14) and the funeral services on the following Sunday morning.
I believe I was the first Trinidadian to do a full-length study on Naipaul’s work: VS Naipaul: A Materialist Reading (1988). It was described as one of the best critical books on Naipaul’s oeuvre up until that time. It remains one of my most widely-regarded books. It is held at 1,834 libraries worldwide. I argued that A House for Mr Biswas is nothing more than a retelling of the Ramayana, the legend of Prince Rama, living in the wilderness of Trinidad.
After examining about 18 critical studies written on Naipaul’s work then, John Clement Ball, professor of English at the University of New Brunswick, Canada, wrote: “Selwyn Cudjoe’s VS Naipaul: A Materialist Reading (1988) does an admirable job of articulating ideological and historical contexts… Scholars looking for a more balanced approach to Naipaul can either read [Timothy] Weiss and [Rod] Nixon together, or, preferably look up Cudjoe’s Materialist Reading. Of all the recent studies, Cudjoe’s offers the best combination of original readings informed by respect for Naipaul’s achievement and a historicised accounting for his limitations.”
In 2003, in Beyond Boundaries, I devoted ten pages to the contributions to Trinidad’s intellectual culture of Charles Assee and E Bernard Acham. They were distinguished poets of Chinese descent at the end of the 19th century. The Trinidad Reviewer (1900) described Acham, who later changed his name to Eugene Chen, as “the first lawyer of pure Chinese extraction who has ever practised law in any British Colony other than Hong Kong”.
Chen, the subject of Walton Look Lai’s recent publication, West Meets East, became the right-hand man of Sun Yat-Sen, the first president of China and his foreign minister. In 1921, the US Consul General in Shanghai, called Chen “one of the ablest, if not the most able, of Chinese political writers” (West Meets East).
In 1983, in a lecture, “Cultural policy and social development”, that I delivered at Port of Spain’s Public Library, I argued that T&T should develop a national cultural policy. I also bemoaned the absence of a well-developed and articulated political ideology to achieve this objective.
I asked, if we want to create a more homogeneous society, “Do we begin by teaching all our students the Hindu language, do we make the Ramayana and the Bhagavad Gita mandatory at all schools; do we make John Mbiti’s African Religions and Philosophy and Janheinz Jahn’s Muntu: African Culture and the Western World mandatory for all our children? It is only by possessing full knowledge of one another’s culture that we can begin to aspire towards a truly homogeneous Trinbagonian culture. The same would be true to some degree for the culture of the Chinese and other groups.” (See “Multiculturalism and Its Challenges in T&T,” trinicenter.com, March 9, 2011.)
I have been pushing the gospel of inclusion for a long time. At the same time I maintain that we cannot lose sight of the plight of black people in this country. I do not see these two objectives as being contradictory. Even though the central thrust of the Haitian Revolution was about the liberation of black people, “It was the first time that the emancipatory logic of the Declaration of the Rights of Man was seen through to its revolutionary conclusion” (Kenan Malik, “Pandaemonium: CLR James, Frantz Fanon and the meaning of liberation”). Needless to say, the Declaration of the Rights of Man was first articulated in France in 1789.
We either stand together or perish collectively bashing one another needlessly. We cannot do this continuously. It may be difficult to weave our cultural and ethnic strands into a unified whole even as we respect the unique gifts that each group brings to the national table. However, we owe it to ourselves to give it a try.
3 thoughts on “‘Stand Together, ye Damned of the Earth’”
“We either stand together or perish collectively bashing one another needlessly”.
Your ethnicity is the divine gift from God your creator. As such it behooves me to treat everyone as my brother or sister. Through the years I have sought to build bridges rather than walls. Some of my best friends don’t look like me, and some of my worst enemies look like. Yes at times I am hard on issues but it is of the best of intentions.
Standing together does not mean that we agree on all things. You can disagree without being disagreeable. But there are things we must stand together for a better society. Justice, righteousness, equality, FairPlay, etc are intangibles to a progressive society.
Pluralistic societies have to work harder at constructive nation building. Perception is the enemy of the masses. In Shri Lanka a 20 year civil war yielded nothing but death and carnage here is Lee views on it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-gvAzDF3p4
A government must understand a pluralistic society in order for it to survive.
If you were born in a pluralistic nation, it is important to either understand and work with your fellow citizens or get on board a boat, plane, dingy and head back to your ancestral birthplace.
“When Ghana declared 2019 ‘’The Year of the Return,’’ it opened the floodgates for African-Americans, descendants of slaves captured and shipped out of Africa, to move back not just to Ghana, but to Africa.
Ghana holds a significant place in the lives of African-Americans because it was and has preserved to date, one of the largest slaveholding ports on the West Coast of Africa.” East African news. https://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/tea/magazine/the-african-americans-who-chose-to-return-to-africa-3737922
Some people are not suited to a pluralistic society and therefore lead lives of hatred, ignorance and pain. In our world today millions of people uproot each year and move to other nations. “After a pause in European immigration during the U.S. Civil War, more than 20 million immigrants arrived—primarily from Southern and Eastern Europe—between 1880 and 1920”. Think about the millions more than came and keep on coming.
Africa is the richest continent on this planet. Western media will go and find some poor Africans or Indians and make it headline news. But the truth is colonialist nations could not survive without Africa. They pillage these nations and still do.
Doubling down on racism. How to take a statement and exploit it as a PNM calypsonian, deliver it to a PNM audience and revel in division, a common anti -UNC practice at carnival time.
Is calypso a national cultural art form? Or is it a PNM artform designed to stimulate the supporters?
True. Kamla’s statement was ridiculous and reactive but is this artistic reaction helpful ?
The calypsonian ignores the initial ridicule of the Opposition leader’s name by a PNM government Minister.
Is the calypsonian cognisant of the established fact that Indian names, customs and habits have been objects of mocking and ridicule for decades?
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