National heroes and history

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
May 24, 2021

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeA few weeks ago I listened to young Jamaican student Deane Weatherly talk about the importance of Queen Nanny of the Jamaican Maroons to her and Jamaican national life.

Queen Nanny, the leader of one of the country’s maroon groups, defeated the British in the 18th century, thereby establishing Nanny Town, a maroon town in the Blue Mountain region.

I read Carey Robinson’s The Fighting Maroons of Jamaica which spoke about the accomplishment of these valiant people in their struggle against British slavery. Years later while I was researching Resistance and Caribbean Literature, my first book, I visited Accompong, the historical village in which some Maroons had set up their sites of resistance to view the terrain where they fought and to understand the obstacles they had to overcome to gain their freedom.

Wheaterly noted that Nanny “incorporated many aspects of the various types of Jamaican people, reanimating folk traditions, histories of resistance, and feminist genealogies… Despite stories of her warrior capabilities, the most representations of Nanny reinterpret her as the caring mother figure of the Maroons rather than as their fierce ruler”.

As I listened to the pride this young woman took in Nanny’s achievements, I remembered the astonishment that I took in finding a young boy of about 13 years old who was researching Marcus Garvey’s life in an old dilapidated library in rural Jamaica several years later. These encounters alerted me to how much Jamaican history interested and inspired its young people.

Although Trinidad and Tobago does not have as deep a fount of historical knowledge as Jamaica, there is much in our history that we can be proud of and which we can use to inspire our young people. In this regard, we can draw much inspiration from the daring of our women during the 1849 rebellion against the British in front of Government House, Port of Spain.

During the latter part of 1849, the government specified that all who were imprisoned for a debt of under $50 would have their heads shaven, made to wear the felon’s dress (coarse, osnaburg canvas suits with black caps) and do the menial work of the prison.

The governmental authorities may have gotten away with these atrocities except that they did not reckon with the women’s response to the shaving of their hair. They did not recognise the pride that black women take in their hair and how integrally related it is to their sense of self. However, on October 1, one-twelfth of the population (that is, 5,000 of 60,000 people) surrounded Government House while the government was meeting, and demanded the regulations be withdrawn.

Warner, the attorney general, assured the population the offending piece of legislation would be deleted, but the damage had been done. By the end of the evening, the government building was on fire.

The rebellion was led mostly by the women. Felicite, one of female leaders, led her woman warriors with a baton in her hand. One police officer recalled: “I watched Filicite that day. I spoke to her, but to no avail. I said to her, ‘It’s a shame that a woman so lately married to a respectable man should behave in such a manner.’”

John MacWilliams, a marina, saw Felicite going up the street near the grass market. He testified: “Felicite had a flower in her hair. He asked her: ‘How are things going?’ She answered: ‘Things are not finished yet. We have not yet got the victory. If it don’t happen we are going to put fire directly.’”

Another policeman, Williams Gittens, testified that Felicite said with great passion: “Mettez du feu,” meaning they would resort to the use of fire if they did not achieve their objective. Felicite believed that all men were cowards.”

A week later, Lord Harris realised the error of his ways. He wrote to Lord Grey, the secretary of state: “I will here mention with regard to what has been called shaving, that a rule adopted about two years ago which required that the hair of the prisoners should be kept short, as in the case universal in England, but it appears that this was considered a great punishment, more particularly, by women.”

Such examples of resistance tend to give people a better understanding of themselves. Somehow these examples of heroism never reached our young people. But a country that neglects its history is a country without memory. It suffers from a sense of national pride.

In Dreams from my Father, Barack Obama related an important lesson he learned from Asante Moran, the leader of a mentorship programme in the Chicago public schools. He told Obama: “The first thing you have to realise is that the public school system is not about educating black children. Never has been. Inner-schools are about social control. Period. They’re operated as holding pens—miniature jails…

“Just think about what a real education for these children would involve. It would start by giving a child an understanding of himself, his world, his culture, his community. That’s the starting point of any educational process. That’s what makes a child hungry to learn—the promise of being part of something, of mastering his environment.”

The British described Queen Nanny as an obeah woman; Felicite was a fishmonger by trade. However, both of them had the welfare of their community at heart. While the former is honoured, the latter has been allowed to smoulder in the dust, few of us knowing anything about her life.

We should educate our children about Felicite and the other women warriors who participated in the 1849 rebellion. True education begins when we allow our students to fall in love with the glorious deeds of their ancestors.

31 thoughts on “National heroes and history”

  1. ““Just think about what a real education for these children would involve. It would start by giving a child an understanding of himself, his world, his culture, his community. ………………”
    i am not too sure what we are teaching our young in the elementary and secondary schools anymore, but I am sure if the intent is to ensure self-development, we need to examine who the educators are, to install that mentality in the young minds. Gone are the days when we had school inspectors like Wilfred D Best and others who dreamed and pursued an educated Trinidad and Tobago. Jamaicans have always taken pride in its blackness and history. But in Trinidad the approach to education is like looking for hatched eggs that would reflect the hens that layed them. Politics has a very heavy hand in what is taught and who teaches what is taught. The product of this policy leaves a population of semi literate students, where many of the graduating students do not know who they are and worse yet, a large failed group that do not see a value in education.

  2. Jamaican history is colourful filled with intrigue and resistance. Today we have a generation that is spineless in dealing with government “taunting”, “aphathy” “corruption “ and “political mischief”. All generations face challenges. However, this generation has been lulled into inactivity. The government could do whatever they want. The PNM view protest as a signal of people disliking them and therefore does everything to crush the human spirit. There was a UWI protest for a simple issue of better protection for young ladies walking into campus. The police stepped in and brutally assaulted a young man, effectively killing all forms of protest.

    History shows the effectiveness of standing up to tyranny. We applauded such efforts. The night before Martin Luther King made his final speech where he said “ I have seen the promise land but I am not get there with you”….. he knew the deal was sealed. Gandhi could have ended it with his last breath in a natural manner but a bullet cut short his life immortalizing him. That is the consequences of standing up to tyrants, Mandela jail time on Robin Island, or as Zimbabweans found out
    In the Gukurahundi of 1982–1987, Mugabe’s Fifth Brigade crushed ZAPU-linked opposition in Matabeleland in a campaign that killed at least 10,000 people, mostly Ndebele civilians.
    Blood is the price of resistance. Blood is the price of truth. The great Galilean was executed on a cross….he had healed so many….are you prepared to pay the price…most are not.

  3. From the comfort and safety of a faculty position in North America, Mr. Cudjoe is encouraging volatile, poorly educated Trinidadians to idolize those historical figures responsible for violence, arson and rebellion in the past.

    What values and mentality does that promote in the present?

    Does this man not understand that since independence, Trinidad has steadily descended into a cesspool of lawlessness, thuggery, and corruption? Why would he validate, encourage or condone impulses likely to aggravate this calamitous decline?

    Has not Jamaica’s deeper sense of its history of violence played a role in rekindling that violence in the last 50 years, so that Jamaica — a peaceful, orderly society when it achieved political independence in 1962 — is now the most murderous island in the Caribbean?

    Caribbean scholars like Mr. Cudjoe celebrate stories of the region’s resistance to and rejection of British colonial rule. But the British gave us honest government and high standards of public behaviour — standards 11that we ourselves are not capable of maintaining.

      1. Nationalism is a powerful force.

        I realize many Trinidadians prefer to live in a violent, lawless, and dysfunctional society — with inferior schools, inferior health care, inferior water and electricity services, and poorly managed businesses and farms– just as long as Trinidadians are running the show instead of foreigners.

        I have a different perspective. I want the best.

        1. Hey Chad Chadee, maybe you can wish yourself back into the good old days, back into the barracks with 20 people living in one room, with your nice kerosene lamp and outdoor latrine, no schools, water from the pond to drink; just don’t chop anybody neck off when you realize the foreign, white overseer visiting the barracks a little too much when you not there.

          1. I agree with you that British colonial governments insisted on balanced budgets and did far too little to relieve the hardship and suffering of the poor.

            But since independence, the focus by local politicians on buying votes from poor people has made life much worse for the middle class. Standards have fallen across the board, and dishonesty and corruption have become endemic. Unsuitable people (who have little integrity because they were not properly brought up) have been appointed or elected to important government positions.

          2. “British colonial governments insisted on balanced budgets and did far too little to relieve the hardship and suffering of the poor.”

            Hey Chad Chadee, you must be living in a dream world, the objective of colonial governments was to extract as much wealth from the colony and send it back to the metropolitan, or colonial empires that it represented. They weren’t concerned about “balancing budgets”. The cost to indigenous peoples, slaves, or indentured servants was really not a factor in that calculation. The one requirement was that they could manage to get to the fields and work till they dropped. Colonial governments were involved in a project of plundering territory that they had seized, The less they spent on food, health, housing, education, etc, the more they could extract and send back to the metropolitan center. That was the simple economics of colonial society.

  4. Something is lost here. This should not be about the two Qweens Nanny and Felicite, it is about Africans standing for what is Just. From the dawn of Chattel in 1619 to the present, the journey have not been an Amiable one. Some have, and continue to ride to power on the backs of the African Wo/Man, in the Caribbean, and the Americas in general. Africans, the builders of Nations, have given their Life and Blood for Social Justice. Always the one to Initiate Change, the pointed guns are directed at Him/Her be it in Jamaica or Trinidad. As We speak, their are some in Trinidad willing to Write off the Africans History in the continued undermining of achievements. Time have shown, that the only people, able to speak on behalf of all the people Impartially, have been the Africans. Dr Cujoe, you did not mentioned Trinidad’ own hero T.U.B Butler, a Man of not to long ago who gave his ALL as the Leader of the early Oil workers. A winner of Trinidad’ colonial elections , but was refused the mantle by England, Trinidad creoles and well to do Africans and Indentured Indians, the reason? He was a rebel. This scenario played out with Dr Eric Williams’ PNM taking control of Trinidad for a continuous 25yrs, which have made the Nation what it has become. In jamaica, NANNY was executed for Speaking TRUTH to power, Colonial power. Trinidad, almost the same, in a different time for the “BUZZ”. Caribbean History is the pain and suffering of the African People for as long as 400yrs, which have left us not willing to accept being Subservient. The way thing are headed presently, taking a peek, OUR struggle will continue as we create path ways for Monkey to run on.

  5. “This scenario played out with Dr Eric Williams’ PNM taking control of Trinidad for a continuous 25yrs, which have made the Nation what it has become” (BOBBY COOPER)

    I would not be too quick to make this boast because look at what the nation has become.

    1. “i would not be too quick to make this boast because look at what the nation has become.” -Tman (Siewdath)

      Bobby, we know that boasting wasn’t what you intended, but i say BOAST!… and be damned with those who have a problem with that!
      The fact is, since 1986 after the original PNM was removed from office 33-3 by self loathing, neo-liberal coons and their UNC sidekicks (NAR), the anti-african racism, and drug/gun trafficking entered state power and began the unravelling and complete destruction of trinidad’s society. NAR according to it’s leader and former PM/ president ANR Robinson, admitted that NAR indians used state power to begin the process of disenfranchisement of african trinidadians, their vote and quality of life by smuggling rabidly racist indian guyanese into trinidad along with their toxic, immoral anti-african hate. ANR said the then rate of smuggling he discovered, was at least 70 per day( 490 per week, 24, 500+ per year) during NAR’s 1986-1991.This was on the heels of the same persons responsible for this gaining even more power in 1995-2001 and then again 2010-2015. One can only imagine how many “UNC supporters” were smuggled into T&T during the those terms! The UNC agenda and their supporters, destroyed trinidad’s moral and social infrastructure with their devious, insatiable quest for institutionalized religious and ethnic superiority over and subjugation of africans…their sickness! So i say BOAST! Trinidad was a much sweeter society for all, before the hindutva, narco and other indian white-supremacists underhandedly and illegally gained power.

  6. The comedian Trevor Noah, has a punchline that he famously uses in his opening routines to describing himself as a criminal, when he says “I was born a crime”. While the statement was meant to be funny, it is lawfully true. Being the product of white father and a black mother at the time he was born in South Africa that represented a serious crime under their laws. While the product of this situation is morally innocent, the white man’s law under that system makes him a criminal. An ordinary person born under the same circumstances, not having the notoriety as Trevor can and sometimes do end up imprisoned, maybe end up dead because the happen to be “victims” of the white man’s law.
    Just before writing this piece, there is a big headline on Yahoo news announcing that Naomi Osaka, the tennis great might be fined, why? Because of mental health concerns, she will not meet with the press after her game. While this may not make her a criminal, it certainly treats her as chattel.

    Point here is, some of the writers on this blog sanctimoniously speak of black people as criminals, without regard to the history of brutality ingrained in ALL our minds towards black people. Read the stories of what lead up to most police killings in the US, and a common storyline is that “they were wanted on a warrant”, “they ran when they saw the police”, “they had drug on them”, “they were disorderly”, “they were trying to cash a false $20 bill”,
    “they were being held for child payment”, etc etc etc etc. Does this sound familiar? Well, it does for many many many black people and this is commonplace. The origin of this crime is ALWAYS the white man’s law affecting negatively on the black man . Those who are sanctimoniously attacking us as criminal, arrived on these shores with valid visas issued by the white man or contracts authored by the white man – no doubt they are so generous to him. We were captured, shackled, imprisoned and brought to these shores against our will and so, by the nature of the white man’s brutality the product might be good, bad or indifferent. Real history do not reside in books, it resides in our minds that we pass on to those that follow us. The white man NEVER intended to make it easy for us. We, through our ingenuity and skill sometimes make good out of our brutal past.
    That is what the professor is talking about, for those who are too dumb to understand the nature of human psychology and the toll evil deeds take on an enslaved mind and body. How many white men end up dead or in jail for the simplicity of those acts i mentioned? It would be safe to NONE! Yet there are those whose background classifies them as ONE TWO or three because their their holy books tell them so. There is not enough space and time for me to finish my thoughts but I will as is and follow up as need be. What might be intended to be written as sense, is actually nonsense when the objectivity of their purpose is explored.

    1. Like you, far too many black people have constructed an all-encompassing psychology of VICTIMOLOGY.

      You shamelessly DISTORT facts, blaming other racial groups for everything and blaming yourselves for nothing. You ignore the fact that slavery was abolished two hundred years ago, so you were never shackled or enslaved.

      DISTORTION (Trevor Noah): Apartheid South Africa banned racial miscegenation, but it did not punish or mistreat the children of interracial partners. Trevor Noah should get over himself, because he was never considered a criminal.

      IRRESPONSIBLE INGRATITUDE (Naomi Osaka): At 23 years of age, Naomi Osaka is not “chattel”. She is an independent businesswoman, one of the most privileged athletes on the planet. Because she can play tennis very well, she made US $55 million last year, and could retire tomorrow to a life of luxurious leisure. But she is complaining about having to do press conferences after tournament matches. Those press conferences were added to players’ responsibilities only because previous tennis players worked hard to make professional tennis a big, high-visibility sport — so that big prize money could be paid to tournament winners. Naomi pockets the big prize cheques, but does not want to do her part to sell the sport so organizers pull in enough revenue to make a profit.

      BLAMING OTHERS AND CALLING POLICE RACISTS: In North America, blacks commit violent crimes like murder and robbery at 5 to 10 times the per capita rates of Whites and Asians. But black commentators pretend that law enforcement officials arresting black youth are simply malicious racists who hate black people. If you don’t want a bad reputation, stop committing violent crimes!!!

      1. Chad.. I do think the Professor does a disservice be telling only half the story of Queen Nanny (and Toussaint Louverture).. Maybe he is too ‘educated’ to believe what Jamaicans told him bout the power in dem plant… which help kicked the hell out of the ‘Mighty British’ and Napoléon… Imagine dat Chad..
        And Rowley begging dem for vaccines.. look Chad…

        1. Throw RamK into the pile of suspects…he only addresses the clearly racist posters with encouragement and comradery.

          1. What is so encouraging and comradery, there? You won’t even give Chad a chance to reply… if he does. I know Chad’s type and am pretty amused with their utterances… You should not let them get to you, IT.

            Now… If only our PM would try this model… Chad and dem will have to chill…

            Covid-19: End of the lockdown on weekends for Antananarivo
            Monday, May 31, | Mandimbisoa R.

            The Tananarivian population will be able to breathe a sigh of relief. After six weeks of total lockdown on weekends, health restrictions will now be relaxed for the Analamanga region. During his speech on public audiovisual channels last night, Andry Rajoelina announced the end of the weekend lockdown from this week.

            ‘Translate’ is golden…


          2. IT, take this one while I am at it… The picture of the Vaccination Tent seems ghastly there in Madagascar.. They are not coming, and the AstraZeneca is due to expire… Maybe Dr. Rowley can send a CAL to get that 200k expiring vaccine. TT seems to be a dumping ground for unwanted vaccines (St. Vincent). Imagine people like Chad want ‘us’ to take these vaccines soooo bad, IT.

            Wednesday, June 2, | Mandimbisoa R.

            The vaccination campaign against Covid-19 in Madagascar is clearly far from being a success. Of the first 250,000 doses of Covishield/Astrazeneca, which arrived around the beginning of the second week of May, only 30,000 vaccines were used. There would still be more than 200,000 doses available that will have to be destroyed if they are not used before June 18, according to the Ministry of Public Health.

            Translate is Nice…


      2. The more the hindutva maniacs like chad chen talk, the more they expose their sickness. Chadee Chen a caribbean non-african, is refuting the experiences of african people and their children. Ravi Ramsmearitall/Chad Chen is DEFENDING and doing public relations for the most notorious governance in the past century, the south african Afrikaner administration. Kian, Stop engaging this filth as a genuine debater, he is liar and a racism apologist.

  7. Just to follow up on my earlier comments about the British Empire:

    The Empire was designed to be an extractive enterprise, but by the 19th century it was technologically backward and no longer profitable. By the beginning of the 20th century, it had become a costly prestige project for the United Kingdom, with most colonies bleeding the Mother Country for financial assistance. All the Caribbean islands had their begging bowls out all the time, and after the British Government contracted huge debts of its own to pay for World War I and II, it had to dissolve the Empire as quickly as possible to avoid financial disaster.

    Nearly all of British wealth is, and has always been self-created. It did not come from slavery. It came from the Industrial Revolution that started in the UK and spread around the world.

    Black people are always trying to make themselves important by wildly exaggerating the profitability of the slave trade in the 17th and 18th centuries. But historical analysis of banking transactions shows that, even when slavery was profitable, it made very little contribution to the British economy.

    1. Hey Chad Chadee, the more you express your views the more you sound like an ignoramus. The wealth that was accumulated in Britain came about because of the accumulation of capital. That’s how capitalism works you know. The accumulation of capital came about because of the extraction of profit from colonial enterprises, so that after you have extracted and accumulated capital you don’t need the means by which you have extracted capital, you have what is essential to capitalism – the capital itself. And after seizing millions of sq miles of land, you had the virgin resources of that land to exploit resulting in more capital. And by the way those outdated conservative theories about black victimology, coming from outdated theorists like John McWhorter, Thomas Sowell, Shelby Steele, etc, are from decades ago and have been thrashed and discredited. Get with it.

      1. You are the ignoramus.

        Careful studies have been done to determine just how reliant Britain was on the Empire for its prosperity, and the best economic historians have concluded that British wealth was created almost entirely from British savings and British technological progress. I’m guessing you’re not an economist, or not properly trained in analyzing economic growth, but there is an academic literature that deals with these issues.

        1. Hey Chad Chadee, it’s clear now, you are just talking BS. You are a poser, posing like if you are an expert on economic history, etc. You are just an expert on BS. The economic history of Great Britain describes how at various time periods different economic ideologies came into favour. Mercantilism was the favoured economic ideology of empires and wannabe empires. Mercantilism was “an economic theory that stressed maximizing the trade outside the empire, and trying to weaken rival empires” But history is a story of change and adaption. At a later time colonies began to be expensive to run, the metropolis had extracted as much as it could from the hinterland. The capital acquired through mercantilism, helped fund the research and experimentation that led to the Industrial Revolution. The economic ideology of mercantilism was rejected because of the changing economics of the colonies, the expense they began to incur, and Adam Smith’s laissez faire capitalism came to dominate the economic landscape. But later on the great manufacturing plants of the Industrial Revolution became passé, finance capitalism and neoliberalism took over. The point is that any study of economic history shows that at different periods, different economic ideologies become more relevant and feasible. Britain moved from mercantilism to lassez faire capitalism because of the greater applicability of the later for that time. So economic history shows the development of the economic system as it responds to the historical environment. The capital extracted from each period was necessary to keep the system rolling. So a good analogy is the economic history of a mafia gang. In the beginning, they are involved in selling drugs, human trafficking, murder, robbery, etc. Then when they acquire enough money, they become legitimate, they start investing in legitimate companies; they become a multinational company with money to burn. But it all started off from the money they earned from drugs, human trafficking, murder, etc. They would like to put all of that behind them, to dissociate themselves from all of that. But that is what got them off the ground, that is what started financed it all.

          1. You get a grade of F for British economic history.

            Britain did not finance its Industrial Revolution with capital acquired from its global “hinterland,” or specifically from trading in slaves or anything else. Any “financing” and “capital” requirements were minimal, and came from the domestic surpluses of British agriculture, as Britain was becoming a more prosperous agricultural society in the run up to the technological breakthroughs of the Industrial Revolution.

            To repeat for emphasis, the Industrial Revolution was a unique technological event that required little “capital”. It was created by technological ingenuity, and the new, productivity-boosting machines were simple and cheap.

            The greatest mercantilist nations of Europe at the time of the British Industrial Revolution were Spain, Italy and Portugal. They were awash with “capital” from their trading and imperial “hinterlands”, but that “capital” did not lead to the technological breakthoughs that instead occurred in Britain.

            There is an enormous scholarly literature on each of these points.

          2. Hey Chad Chadee you are getting an F- on economic history, you really need to do some more research. Facts don’t make themselves up. There is indeed an enormous scholarly literature that you can make use of when you comment that may give your input more credibility.

    2. “Nearly all of British wealth is, and has always been self-created. It did not come from slavery.” – Chad Chen

      “Black people are always trying to make themselves important…”
      – Chad Chen

      I warned all of you about this diseased racist. Stop chasing his gobar. He is trash…just like his hero Ravi Ramsmearitall. As i explained, this troll was brestfed with a hatred for african people and cannot be reasoned with. He is an ideological racist, and weaponises literacy and certification to warp reality to mirror his sick mind. Mamoo, tman, chadee chen are all apples from the same poisoned tree.

  8. Slavery was extremely profitable on the plantations of the Southern United States. Slavery created a staggering amount of wealth for the economy. Generations of White plantation owners even today are still lamenting the loss of slavery as a revenue generator. Many have explained the lingering hostility against blacks by Whites in the US as a continuing reaction to the loss of their White privilege, wealth and free slave labor.
    Others have explained that Trump tapped into this hostility and captured many votes by exploitation and the promise of the return of some semblance of a White America.

  9. In my many years on this blog I have argued with many whose view are divergent in contrast to mine but we respected facts and reality. This is the first time we had someone so dogmatic and self indulgent as Chadee Chad or whatever he calls himself. He is boldfacedly arrogant and only has regards to only what he sees as facts.
    I find him uninformed. There is no reason even consider him an opponent. He is ignorant of the topics and changes the conversation to suit his own fancy. This is my final goodbye to his stupidity.

  10. VS Naipaul was hero of chadee chen, ravi ramsmearitall and the indian caribbean community. He mocked, ridiculed and denigrated african people globally and was pedastalized because he did it with mastery of the coloniser’s language.How sick is that? CLR James said that naipaul voiced what whites wanted to say but couldn’t (and stay hidden in the racist closet) Let’s take a look at what non-africans around the globe, including indians have to say about him.The fact that generations of trinidadians like chadee chen and ravi ramsmearitall were raised to see him as someone to be proud of speaks volumes.

    V. S. Naipaul: Casteist. Communalist. Racist. And Now, A Nobel Laureate

    The toxic legacy of VS Naipaul | Middle East Eye

    VS Naipaul: Colonialism in fact, fiction, and the flesh | Arts and Culture | Al Jazeera

    1. Whose interests does Naipaul represent. Not the African, not the Indian, not the Pakistani, certainly not the Trinidadian. He is the perfect catalyst for European colonialism. He says the things the white supremacists want to say without regard to its consequence. Maybe it’s the reason he was elevated to Nobel status. This way white journalism can always provide us with a point of reference.

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