Atrocity or Opportunity

The content originally appeared on: Amandala Newspaper

Sun. Apr. 3, 2022
The recent visit on Saturday, March 19, of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and his wife, Catherine, excited some strong words of protest from anti-colonialist activists in Belize, as elsewhere in their Commonwealth Caribbean “charm offensive” on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. Particularly noteworthy was the demonstration/protest conducted by some residents of the Mayan village of Indian Creek who, as explained in the Amandala front page story of Tuesday, March 22, held up placards telling the Duke to “land somewhere else.” The villagers were apparently aggrieved “because they learned that Prince William is the patron of Flora and Fauna International (FFI), the conservation organization which reportedly owns a disputed 12,000-acre tract of land which the village of Indian Creek is claiming as communal property, used traditionally by the villagers.” Despite a last-minute change of their itinerary due to the protest, however, the royal couple were met with a warm welcome throughout their many stops on their Belizean tour, during which they were treated to a generous dose of the traditional Belizean hospitality. Aside from the Indian Creek protest, there was one other local (and perhaps more strongly worded) protest of the royal visit, and it came from a press release by the UBAD Educational Foundation (UEF), which characterized the royal visit as “an atrocity”.

Throughout their week-long Belize tour, there was no visible groundswell of animosity or dismay expressed by Belizean citizens towards the royal couple, but UEF’s extreme reaction and attitude toward the visit of Queen Elizabeth II’s representatives may be regarded from two perspectives: an excessively harsh approach to a guest on a goodwill visit; or an intentionally abrasive wake-up call to a people largely still subjected to mental slavery resulting from the orchestrated historical ignorance of our colonial past. The charge of “atrocity” was apparently directed to the throne and its representatives at this time of “reparations” discussions, but the deeper meaning of the occasion and the sentiments unearthed suggests an opportunity to address a largely uninformed and unenlightened population still in need of historical empowerment.

While UEF’s release declared that “British colonizers visit to Belize in 2022 is an atrocity to our Afrikan ancestors, and Afrikan people living in Belize!” (a Jamaican group, the Advocates Network, later stated in anticipation of the royal couple’s visit that ‘We see no reason to celebrate 70 years of the ascension of your grandmother to the British throne because her leadership, and that of her predecessors, has perpetuated the greatest human rights tragedy in the history of humankind’), this declaration has enjoyed little resonance in the general population, whose systemic dislocation from their own historical legacy is exemplified by a childlike innocence and blissful ignorance that may have served our people well in times of tranquility and peace.

Ironically, it is this acknowledged innocence and the absence of a strong national response to any possible military aggression, that has likely led a wise Belizean elder from the West to declare the idiocy of any move to distance ourselves from the monarchy at this time, when the verdict of the ICJ still hangs in the balance and, even if it is all in our favor, enforcement might be a concern against any belligerent behavior from our western neighbor. And that is not necessarily farfetched, considering the tentative response of big brother to the north to the current Ukraine situation, and in light of the fact that a Belize-Guatemala amalgamation has always been Washington’s proposed solution to the dispute. (See “Webster’s Proposals.”)

The role of history is supposed to be so we can use our knowledge of the past to better prepare for the future. But as Bob Marley sang, “None but ourselves can free our minds!” So, “from colonialism to nationhood;” but where has our educational system taken our masses of former “colonial subjects” on the road to “emancipating ourselves”?

There is a story about a ladder, and trying to reach the top of a hill. But the foot of the ladder is not planted and secured on solid ground, so it keeps sliding down, and the climber cannot reach the destination.

Our “brainwash” education system finally made a small step towards opening the minds of our bright young population (previously they had been teaching only “World History” and “European History” in high schools), when suddenly, around 1968 they introduced “West Indian History” into the high school curriculum for 3rd formers at SJC. This was supposed to be great progress on the road to enlightenment; but it was not enough to release the enquiring young minds from “mental slavery.” They did learn about Christopher Columbus “discovering the New World,” and John Hawkins and other ship captains from European nations engaged in the trade of enslaved Africans in the West Indies, and the various conflicts among them as they fought for the control of the wealth to be gained from their various colonies. Yes, of course, they taught us about the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas, and how the Pope of Rome drew a line and shared the “discovered” lands of the “New World” (where the Aztecs, the Incas and the Maya had long inhabited), between Catholic nations Spain and Portugal. And some of us passed our GCEs in West Indian History. And we were supposed to be educated.

The “atrocity” that UEF is calling our attention to, is the web of ignorance that continues to stifle the growth and maturity of our nation, where enlightened citizens would no longer tolerate idiots and crooks to lead them, or feel that it is fine for the Duke to pay us a “charm” visit without first asking us to please accept his sincere apology for what was done to generations of our ancestors by his forebears, from which he is currently benefiting, and the negative effects of which are still haunting our masses of ignorant and poverty-stricken people in a land blessed with “wealth untold.” But then, “where ignorance is bliss,” there seems no urgent need for an apology in our present condition, which UEF characterizes as an atrocity.

In his visit and lecture at the then recently launched UEF Library back in the mid-1990s, Guyanese historian/anthropologist Dr. Ivan Van Sertima, who had authored the book They Came Before Columbus back in 1976, made reference to what he called, “The Colombian Room,” within which the colonial educational system had succeeded in enclosing and confining the minds of generations of “educated colonial subjects,” so that our vision of the world and of ourselves was limited and distorted. The “Colombian Room” to which our minds had been confined began in 1492 with the so-called “discovery of the New World by Colombus.” The ancestors of Belizeans of African descent entered that narrative as slaves, from the slave trade with Mother Africa. Going forward, it was all about the ups and downs of the logwood, sugar or mahogany business of the white slave masters, with little focus on the struggles for freedom of the black slaves. Religion was used as an effective tool to pacify the slaves, and keep them praying and waiting for that “pie in the sky” in the hereafter. And where religion was concerned in the colony of British Honduras (Belize), it was all about the Messiah, Jesus, whether Anglican or Catholic or Methodist. But to find our Lord Jesus, we had to skip our minds back to “the beginning of time” in the Christian era with the birth of Christ. So, from that first Christmas onwards to 1492, things were very fuzzy where the past history of our African ancestors was concerned. It was all about slavery after 1492 in the “Colombian Room,” and nothing about the great kings and kingdoms and universities in Africa that came before and preceded the rise of Europe from their Dark Ages.

Our revered “church-state” education system needs to dig a lot deeper, and at least close this massive, gaping historical hole in the minds of our youth, from Jesus and Christianity up to 1492, and that will have to involve a discussion of Muhammad and the rise of the religion of Islam, as well as the later appearance of Baha’u’llah and the Baha’i faith. But maybe that’s why it hasn’t happened. And that is an atrocity.