A Cry for Social Justice

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
September 05, 2016

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeIn his article “Black Caucus, Black Humor,” Raymond Ramcharitar pours scorn on the BCM’s (Black Caucus Movement) demand for “land in Caroni for ‘Africans’ and saying it’s a love thing” (Guardian, August 17). He sought to reduce its position to “black humor” and to deride its claim for social justice it wishes to bring to the public’s attention.

Rather than speak to their claim of justice, Ramcharitar highlighted the misspellings and misuse of words in BCM’s statement and then intoned: “But till Saturday night, they were harmless and more than a little amusing. That’s changed with the ‘land in Caroni’ ejaculation [note the choice of the word], which is a pretty clear declaration of war-all protestations of peace and love notwithstanding.” Although he owns no land in Caroni, he advised: “I’ll encourage Caroni land-owners to respond to this.” He did not say how they should respond but his suggestions are obvious.

The BCM raises this point: Who or what gives sugar cane farmers of Caroni a priori rights to those lands which was legalized by a PNM government? It cannot be that they got these lands because they settled there after they arrived from India in 1845.

The question arises: If Caroni workers are being given first preference to these lands because they occupy them, is this a sufficient cause for the government to have made such a decision?

Africans settled on Caroni lands, planted sugar cane and cultivated cocoa and coffee there before East Indians arrived. Africans worked on plantations all over Trinidad. Drawing on the “Trinidad Slave Register of 1813” (it can be found at the British National Archives in London), I use the case of “the plantation called Wilderness in the quarter called Caroni, a cocoa and coffee plantation owned by Charles Melville of which the said Charles Melville is in possession” to make my point.

Sixty enslaved people lived on Plantation Wilderness. They included husbands, wives, children, and other workers. The family names of those who lived on the plantation were Duncan, Metabaw, Todd, Paul, Prince, Price, Louis, Landow, Sambo, Abole, Gonzales, Nicola, Araipita, and Turner.

While several of them were Trinidadians and others were West Indians (they were listed as “Creole from Trinidad” or “Creole from Grenada”), a majority of them came from Africa. Of the 60 enslaved persons, 35 were Africans. They were listed as African Congo, African Foula, African Ibo, African Adda, African Mocco, African Mandingo, African Chambra, African Pappa, African Samba, and African Coromantee. In 1836, a third of all apprentices were born in Africa.

Many of them were identified by their ethnic marks. The record reads: “Nanon Tood: African Congo, country marks on cheeks and body,” “Dianna Prince: country marks on the cheeks and bosom,” “Luca Sambo: African Foula, country marks on arms, breast and cheek” and other such descriptions.

Therefore, if the claim of the Caroni workers is derived from their occupancy of the land, then the Africans who worked on those lands, built the economy, and whose taxes were used to bring East Indians to Trinidad, would seem to have a priori claims to these lands.

The matter gets more outlandish. William Hardin Burnley, acquired this planation, the owner having mortgaged it to him. He also acquired Washington estate, “a sugar plantation, in the quarter Carony [sic]” on which there were 51 slaves. Burnley received £1,569 in compensation ($1,365,030 TT) for the enslaved on those two plantations and $8,056,200 TT for those in Orange Grove, his biggest plantation (UCL Legacies of British Slave-ownership.)

Africans worked on Caroni lands before the present occupants. When Emancipation arrived, the planters were compensated but Africans were not. Trinidad accounted for a higher proportion of compensation because of the higher value of its enslaved people. Therefore, planters did extraordinarily well.

BCM raises a fundamental question of natural and social justice. It asks: If one’s claim to a piece of land in Trinidad is derived from one’s indentureship; what happens to those whose previous condition was servitude and who lived on the same land prior to the coming of the East Indians?

They ask further: Do Africans have any claims to land and/or compensation in light of their past condition of servitude?

Ramcharitar only sees anger and rage in BCM’s claim. He argues that “the visible consequences” of all this displaced rage is a “whole [black] population walking around angry all the time, [with] stress and tension, increased crime and violence generally. The intangible consequences include increased mental illness, sociopathy in everyday transactions like the service industries, and civil and protective service inertia” (Guardian, August 24).

What Ramcharitar has not addressed, and what all our citizens must address, is this: Do Africans in Trinidad have the right to raise a cry for social justice?

15 thoughts on “A Cry for Social Justice”

  1. During my life time I have lived in over a dozen places. I left those places willingly and simply moved on to something better. It will be morally and ethically wrong for me to go back to the last house I sold and demand repatriation money for having left. Or to return to the first place I live and claim a deep emotional cultural connection demanding “my” place back.

    But after I die say some 180 years later one of my descendants came to understand that this is the place his ancestor lived and wanted to come back to that place, would it be morally and ethically right. Would it be justified to say my great, great, great pappy lived here and so it belongs to ME. The writer of the article if I am reading right is saying it is perfectly justified. A crooked argument at best.

    Emancipation saw a couple hundred (if at all) slaves leave the land willing, they were not forced out of it. Trinidad was not a huge slave colony like Jamaica.Tradition has it that they set fire to the plantation in an open act of liberation and walked the streets with lighted sugar cane symbolizing their freedom. No they left willingly and even if the land was offered for free they would not return. And who can blame them. I worked as a boy cutting cane on my family land. The blazing hot sun was a killer along with “corns” on my hands. I would not want to return to that even if the pay was great.

    The writer seem to argue that the Africans are entitled to this land after all they first work the land. I would differ on that argument because when the great mariner Don Christobal landed at Columbus Bay there were Carib and Arawaks waiting to greet him. They were here before all others. Can we use the writer logic and all move back to Africa and other parts of the world giving the indigenous culture their land. Chairman of the African Emancipation Committee Mr. Kambon recently poured scorn on the great Mariner Don Christobal and demanded his statue be removed.
    Would Kambon favour a mass movement back to Africa?

    Finally the land was not own by these slaves they were afforded living quarters, food and protection in exchange for their Labour. Many of their descendants have long moved back to the US or the Caribbean.

  2. http://www.trinidadexpress.com/

    Raynuka makes it back home…after public appeal for help to leave India.

    Firstly according to your logic: If you have left a Place so long ago (INDIA!), why would you of the INDIAN CAUCUS MOVEMENT want your descendants to return?

    Note well the African circumstance of return is of a different differential.

    Secondly, if left the land so willing an were Walking the streets so freely, how come we were the ones paying the taxes to finance the journey across the Kala Pani after the Monsoon for your and Raymond Ramcharitar’s indentured sould to come to Trinidad? From where came the sources of these official immigration/import taxes levied upon our foreparents to finance your and Ramcharitar’s indentured genealogical antecedents? Fron lighted canes?

    So to use your reverse logic; if you left INDIA and its lighted latrine torches ever so willingly, why would you return, only to discover, inspite of the Mahatma Ghandi Institute/Indian High Commission in Trinidad and Tobago, only to discover the same caste conditions you ran from in the first case. That is more then ejaculation. Even worse than Sadomachism. It is re-indenturship into the animal World of the underground caste system, re-incastement without being re-incarnated. This is even worse than Recalcitrance. All of this is penetrating evidence into the false and cowardly intellectual recalcitrance of a Raymond Ramcharitar. Why would the enslaved African NOT return to the PLANT-ATION freely, while the INDO HINDU returns WILLINGLY to the CASTE-NATION! The African Psyche is of Liberation and Struggle, while the INDO HINDU is one of non liberation, no struggle and self flagellation emanating from the indelible caste psyche. I will deal more with this fast forward indentured Ramcharitar boy. I said before, Raymond Ramcharitar has a NEGRO PROBLEM consisting of a freudian libido in the male Member. He looking for Wood.

    1. Awo… Don’t bother with she nah… She still going down by the Nagar and pray to the Rat and Elephant this ‘Ganesha Utsav’ … But complaining about rats in her hostel in India…

      Anyway, Professor, you always enlighten us with such detailed history… Even doh this should have been told during Carony’s (Caroni) VSEP.
      Maybe you can tell the history of Chaguaramas NOW (Timing is everything)… Cause like Kamla’s Syrians talking about, ‘Chaguaramas safari park owner: I’m not giving up one inch of land ‘


      Anyway thank you Trinicenter…

      *By 1812, there were 99 white settlers in Chaguaramas, and on the islands, 264 free people of colour, 1,323 slaves and 7 Amerindians. At that time 639 acres were under sugar cane, with 500 acres under cotton and 515 acres devoted to ground provisions and other food crops. Some cocoa was grown, and there were more than 100,000 plantain trees. Fishing was important and so was whaling.*


  3. Let’s provide some context to appreciate the nature of this debate.
    Indian immigration into Trinidad and Indentureship commenced in 1845 and did not come to an end until 1917. During this
    period, the Indian indentured workers were permitted to bring their families with them and it was not uncommon to place
    people from the same districts in India on the same estate in Trinidad.
    However, the Trinidad Government in allocating the immigrants made efforts to separate the different religious communities.
    The Muslims were settled generally on estates in the north while the Hindus were sent to the southern and central areas.
    The Christians intermingled with these.
    On completion of the five years of indenture, the Indians in Trinidad had a choice of remaining in the country with a ‘gift’ of ten acres of land or returning home. The majority decided to remain and take the free grant of land and in the 1860s and
    1870s, when Crown land was sold at cheap rates, some extended their land holdings.
    147,592 Indians’ names were registered as indentured workers in Trinidad between 1845 and 1917.

  4. Although a good argument can be made to justify compensation for slavery, just as the plantation owners were compensated for the emancipation of slaves, it would be very difficult to justify linking the Caroni lands as compensation for Africans.

  5. “Do Africans have any claims to land and/or compensation in light of their past condition of servitude?”

    The answer is a resounding ,”YES”, but the question is, who is responsible for such compensation?

    1. Hey TMan , your Siamese twin Mamboo, can get away with such grade school idiocy , not you. you know the answer.
      No, it ain’t the White , ex colonial Massa , who ensured that your people, got their land deeds to state lands, while Africans that looked like Papa Deffy Eric, THA- PNM big dog -Orville London, Castaria Kid,ANR Robinson, George Chambers, Patrick Manning , Ag PM Errol Mc Cloud,Ag PM Jack- FIFA -Warner,Chief African Makandal Dagga,UNC Valsayn North big fish , Wade -MBA -Mark, Dr and Keith Rowley, get’s Nada.
      The same people who ensured that your tribe, got their compensations- now that Caroni,and similar once colonial , now State enterprise projects are dead!
      I just hope deep in your twisted soul , you and others , didn’t naively believed ,that it was self serving political comedian basdeo , and his neo elitist protege Kamla, 12 weeks in political office , or worst yet , that fake religious , neo racist bum Sat Maraj ,who actually ensured,Indians in La Trinity thrived.
      As I’ve repeatedly told some of the cyber clowns , who galavant across dis here , Trini Center information Highway-‘ the rejected stone , will one day be the cornerstone.’
      You and fellow members of the ‘gemi gemi , dog with a bone , tribe ,can sit in your ivory towers and gloat , but in de words of my extremely wise , Tobago Granny – de longest rope , must have an end.
      Beware of a man with nada to loose!
      Make everyone Stake holders, and we all can evolve into winners.
      Stay fixated in your tribal – psychological prisons, and ….. well….even you, are smart enough, to decipher , what would inevitably be the end result.
      Stay vigilant T&T!

  6. Trinidad continues to be a country where colorization of one’s skin is the mark of identity and importance. As this question is raised, we MUST ponder not only on the contribution of the slaves in Caroni but MUST also look at what is still happening in the disputed lands of Chaguaramas. Our former masters, the British, leased a massive portion of land in Chaguaramas to the Americans in exchange for help in fighting their wars. Some of these lands were taken, YES taken away from black land owners without their consent and given NO compensation for their property. IN the late 1950’s the PNM government fought for the return of the lands to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago. Today, as the Trinidad and Tobago government holds legal tenure to the lands, those whose lands were forfeited by the British are all forgotten. The rich and powerful continue to hold sway in an effort to capture and re-take ownership, the same way that the British did, by applying for and getting first shot at occupation. As usual edging out the claims by the descendants of the legal land owners prior to the British lease to the Americans.

    Why is there so much injustice to the black man? Bhoe Tewarie, while holding the portfolio to the Planning ministry was very secretive in making known, the distribution of said lands to friends and relatives of the PP government. He even went to court to protect the publication of the deals he made. As we speak, there is controversy over the process used to share the Chaguaramas lands during his tenure as Minister of Planning. The million dollar question is WHO SPEAKS FOR THE descendants of the deceased land OWNERS? while the rich and powerful squabble over “taking back their lands”. In all of this, the losers are still the black man. We need the Selwyn Cudjoe and Theadore Lewis’s to continue exposing these injustices that continues to be done to the black man. It is time the black man in Trinidad and Tobago re-learn his history and carve out for himself and those who comes after, his true identity and contributions that made this country what it is today.

    1. IT is not enough to only expose these “injustices”. It is also not enough to carve out “true identity” and “contributions made”.
      Action and initiative must be taken if any group feels so aggrieved.
      Litigation in the courts of law is an avenue open to any group or person. Organize, agitate and make your demands in the courts of T&T.

  7. To Mamoo & TMan

    Please know the facts & learn your history.

    It’s a simple proposition; one that you and many try to evade: if the workers of Caroni are entitled to Caroni lands; why aren’t the previous tenants entitled to same?

    1. As a citizen of the nation, the rights of citizenship entitles people to the right of ownership and enjoyment of property as guaranteed under the Constitution. All citizens can and should have access to property. Caroni lands belong to all, however one may argue that taking prime agricultural land and earmarketing it for housing is not in the best interest of the nation. A nation must observe strict land use when it comes to utalization of the land for the purpose of housing. The UNC gave away land to squatters more than anyone else. And it started with Humprey who was in favour of giving land to the poor more than anyone else. Also the plot sale of land to those who could build their own.

      One just need to pass through Golconda and see the massive set of housing as prime agricultural land is forever devoured up never to be used again for farming. With a growing food import bill well into the billions and no strong Agricultural agenda in terms of proper sale and marketing of produce and consistent plan for proper land use, we could be closely following the Venezuelan model. This is the time to designate land use as per future protection of our scarce limited resource.

      Instead of just focusing on housing, industrial land must be set aside along with land designated for agriculture. The government must lease or create large scale farming areas that uses heavy farming equipment to produce food for the nation. Just as they did with Caroni lands.

      To not do so is risking the nation future. It must be noted industrial nations are embracing climate change and moving away from fossil fuel. The future is not good for an oil base economy…..

    2. Identify the previous tenants, organize, challenge the matter in court and move forward.
      The Caroni lands consist of 77,000 acres.
      Remember the Caroni workers presented a legal challenge in court to demand their claims.

  8. Africans have savoured the fat of the land and have had the good fortune of leading TnT for over 40 years since independence. Forty out of 54 years in one of the richest Caribbean nation (second richest after Bahamas).

    I remember as a boy watching on television as the NHA drew lottery for housing under the then minister Marilyn Gordon. Thousands of houses were distributed in one draw. Who do you think were the recipients of those houses? In those days they may as well have place a sign over NHA stating “Indians need not apply”. I know because that is what poor Indian families were told.

    Two massive oil booms and billions of dollars swept through the nation, housing being one of the prime beneficiaries of government largesse. Today housing is strategically set to keep the PNM in power as various areas in marginal constituencies are targeted for housing. These houses will be filled with PNM supporters. Vasant Bharat the blue eye boy of the UNC decided he was going to run in St. Joseph, a constituency that has gone back and forth. He campaigned hard, shook hands across the constituency hoping for the run away vote. As Mount D’or votes came in on election night Vasant future was condemn to the political dustbin of discarded and wounded warriors. Yes, when Dr. Rowley was Minister of Housing, he built the Mount D’or housing estate. So in all fairness the people rewarded his hard work.

    The PNM as a party will continue to hold the “baton” of power handed down by the slaves. That baton is now in the hands of a new generation of balisier juice drinkers. And one can expect strategic housing in areas that they perceive to be winnable well into the future. Whatever the rationale, land repatriation, slave entitlements, social justice, all coded to ensure the balisier plant does not become extinct….

  9. So Cudjoe boy ,Why is it now you decide..Now is the time!…for you and your bredren to reclaim ‘the’ land.
    And Doh tell me this nothing to do what the ‘new’ prime minister of Guyana is also trying to do –reclaim land from the Indians in guyana.Indians own blacks nothing!they work hard for what they have.


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