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Friday 13 December 2019
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Letters to the Editor

World wars and C’bean identity

Photo courtesy Pixabay
Photo courtesy Pixabay

ASAD MOHAMMED Guest column

I passed by Memorial Park on my way to work last week and noticed the smartly dressed and organised assembly of our protective services. It was a rehearsal for the annual Memorial Day function that took place on Sunday.

I pondered the meaning of this day to the people of TT and the Caribbean. This ceremony largely remembers the sacrifices of those who served in the two great wars of the 20th century. I am sure many brave West Indians served and died in these wars. But why were they fought and why should we commemorate them?

At the time of these two world wars, the role given to Caribbean people was to support our colonial masters in their struggles. At no time were these the struggles of the majority of Caribbean people, though vested elites, tied into the colonial order, may have had cause in defending British interests in these wars.

A sad truth is that social class and colour determined the ways in which Caribbean people participated in these wars, reinforcing the colonial order of our society. That we mindlessly ape Britain and European countries in these Memorial Day celebrations is a symptom of the lack of thought we expend on examining who we are as TTand Caribbean peoples.

We no longer seem interested in understanding, or celebrating the events that reflect our struggles to gain independence from the colonial and imperial orders that negatively shaped our societies.

We do have national celebrations of two events that positively affect the majority populations of our society in Emancipation Day and Indian Arrival Day. Sadly, I feel these are not true national celebrations but are influenced by parochialism and racial polarisation fueled by our politics.

We do not need to have public holidays to celebrate events that marked our struggles to become our own conscious people, but we do need to think about them, discuss and reflect on their meaning and celebrate their contributions.

I will leave the selection of what those events should be to wider discourse in society but I would like to start with a few suggestions. I think all Caribbean people should remember and celebrate August 22, which was the beginning of the Haitian revolution against colonialism in the Caribbean in 1791.

The Morant Bay rebellion of October 11, 1865, in Jamaica, is significant because of the backward step of Crown Colony government that the British introduced in its wake to replace elected assemblies.

In TT itself, we have not properly commemorated the importance of October 30, 1884 when the Muharram Massacre or what the colonial government termed the “Hosay Riots,” to justify an assault on the legitimate quest for religious expression and freedom.

My reading of the history suggests these prosessions had greater significance than the celebration of a small Muslim festival and had wide participation by other Indians and African Trinidadians.

The more controversial commemoration I want to suggest is the 1970 Black Power Revolution. This was in fact a widespread national uprising, including the two major races, oil and sugar. It had widespread support as it questioned if any real transformation of the colonial order had taken place after 14 years of self-government and eight, of independence. Like the 1930s labour struggles. it helped start a process of rethinking what type of society we wanted.

It is important to reflect on major events that affected and shaped our history in a continuing quest to discover ourselves as TT and Caribbean peoples. While corruption and technical competence are important political issues, we need to move beyond this self-serving and narrow discourse foisted on us by the political elites and demand that those who want to lead us should understand the lessons from our history and seek a meaningful development agenda for our society.

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