Thursday, October 23, 2014


“Zambia will be celebrating its 50th Anniversary on 24th October, 2014 enjoying 50 years of Peace, Stability and Prosperity.”
From the website of the “High Commission of the Republic of Zambia in Canada”
On Saturday October 24, 1964 Zambia became an independent country. Zambia today with a population of over 15 million is a landlocked country in Southern Africa with the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the north, Tanzania to the north-east, Malawi to the east, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia to the south and Angola to the west. Between Zambia and Zimbabwe is the Zambezi River from which the country is named. The “Mosi-oa-Tunya” meaning “The Smoke that Thunders” (Victoria Falls) is part of the Zambezi River. The Zambezi River is the fourth longest river in Africa, after the Nile, Congo, and Niger Rivers. It is the longest east flowing river in Africa flowing 2,700 kilometres through six countries from its source in northwestern Zambia to the Indian Ocean. The "Mosi-oa-Tunya" Falls are considered the boundary between the upper and middle Zambezi.
The history of Zambia goes back to the beginning of humanity with evidence of human habitation in the country presented by archaeologists. Information from the "Encyclopedia of African History and Culture: Ancient Africa (Prehistory to 500 CE), vol. 1." states that: “Archaeologists trace the origins of humanity to the Great Rift Valley, which extends to the Lower Zambezi River, in southern Zambia. Artifacts unearthed at sites in Zambia suggest that early humans lived there between 1 and 2 million years ago. The most significant of these sites are at Kalambo Falls in the north and "Mosi-oa-Tunya" Falls in the south. At Kabwe, north of Lusaka (the capital city of Zambia) archaeologists have found evidence of activities by humans that dates back 100,000 years. Early Iron Age peoples settled in the region with their agriculture and domestic animals about 2,000 years ago. By 350, copper came into use both for currency and for adornment. The Bantu-speaking ancestors of the present-day Tonga people reached the region between 800 and 1000 CE. These newcomers kept cattle, made pottery and metalwork, and lived in lathe and plaster houses.”
There are several ethnic groups living together in Zambia today because of the European colonization of the continent with arbitrary assignment of borders. The main ethnic groups are Bemba, Kaonde, Lozi, Luvale, Ngoni, and the Tonga with the Bemba the largest ethnic group in the country. Present day Zambia was colonized by the British beginning in 1840 when missionaries (including David Livingstone) descended quickly followed by colonizers (including Cecil Rhodes.) The countries that are now Zambia and Zimbabwe were at the time governed by the “British South Africa Company” which was owned by Rhodes. The White colonizers/settlers who accompanied the “British South Africa Company” took the best land and became farmers. Any African who protested the stealing of their land by the White colonizers/settlers were brutalized or killed by the “British South Africa Company” police. The stolen lands were named Southern and Northern Rhodesia to honour Rhodes. Today these countries are Zimbabwe and Zambia. In 1923 the British government took control of the territory. The administration of Northern Rhodesia was transferred to the British colonial office in 1924 as a protectorate. A legislative council was established with 5 members elected by the 4,000 White people while no African was consulted or had a vote.
During the 1920s and 1930s the discovery of copper saw the arrival of more Europeans in the area. By 1938 the mining of copper in the area produced 13% of the world's copper. Two large companies monopolized the industry the South African Anglo American Corporation (AAC, North-American) and the Rhodesian Selection Trust (RST, South African) with predominantly American shareholders; both controlled the sector un-till independence.
In 1953 Southern and Northern Rhodesia were combined with Nyasaland (now Malawi) to form the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Africans had resisted European colonization and after two wars (1914-1918 and 1939 to 1945) where Africans had been conscripted into fighting or at least fetching baggage and ammunition for White military personnel, White men no longer seemed invincible even with their “superior” weapons. They were just men some brave some cowardly and they died from bayonet wounds and gunshots. Africans began armed resistance in some instances and they also were demanding a say in the governing of their countries.
In 1955 Kenneth Kaunda and Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula who were leaders in the independence struggle in Zambia were imprisoned for two months with hard labour for distributing “subversive literature.” They were both members of the African National Congress (ANC) but Kaunda broke from the ANC and formed the Zambian African National Congress (ZANC) in October 1958. The ANC was willing to negotiate with the White minority on the issue of African majority rule. The White minority were advocating that only educated Africans who owned property should be allowed to vote instead of one man/woman one vote. Kaunda’s ZANC was banned in March 1959 by the British colonial regime.
In June 1959 Kaunda was sentenced to 9 months in prison. On February 3, 1960 British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan made his famous "There is a wind of change blowing through Africa" speech in South Africa. Speaking in the Houses of Parliament in Cape Town Macmillan said: “In the twentieth century, and especially since the end of the war, the processes which gave birth to the nation states of Europe have been repeated all over the world. We have seen the awakening of national consciousness in peoples who have for centuries lived in dependence upon some other power. Fifteen years ago this movement spread through Asia. Many countries there, of different races and civilisations, pressed their claim to an independent national life. Today the same thing is happening in Africa, and the most striking of all the impressions I have formed since I left London a month ago is of the strength of this African national consciousness. In different places it takes different forms, but it is happening everywhere. The wind of change is blowing through this continent, and whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact. We must all accept it as a fact, and our national policies must take account of it.” On December 31, 1963, the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was dissolved and Northern Rhodesia became the Republic of Zambia on October 24, 1964. Kenneth Kaunda became the country’s first president.
On Friday October 24, 2014 Zambians will be celebrating 50 years of independence from British colonial rule. The Zambian Canadian Association in Toronto is hosting a 50th Independence celebration on October 25th, 2014 at the North York Memorial Community Hall at 5110 Yonge Street. Tickets are $35 for adults and $10 for children. For more information contact the organization at or 416-880-6758 or visit their website at Happy 50th year of independence to all Zambians as they celebrate 50 years of peace, stability and prosperity!!

Friday, October 17, 2014


On Wednesday October 16, 1968 two African American athletes raised their fists in the Black Power salute as they stood on the podium to accept their Olympic medals and they remain icons of the Civil Rights struggle. The action of then 23 year old John Wesley Carlos and Tommie Smith then 24 years old was a protest against the oppression of African Americans who had been struggling to claim their rights as American citizens since the abolition of slavery in 1865. It is surprising that there were any African American athletes representing their country at the Olympics in Mexico City in 1968. The Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) organized by a then 25 year old African American professor Harry Edwards (now Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley) advocated a boycott by African American athletes of the 1968 Summer Olympics if the “Whites only” athletic teams from the White supremacist controlled African countries South Africa and Rhodesia were allowed to participate at the Olympics. The OPHR had four demands: “withdrawal of South Africa and Rhodesia from the games, restoration of Muhammad Ali’s world heavyweight boxing title, Avery Brundage to step down as president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the hiring of more African American assistant coaches.” After the IOC strategically withdrew invitations for South Africa and Rhodesia to attend games the boycott failed to achieve widespread support. However Carlos and Smith as members of the OPHR decided to stage a protest when they received medals. Many years later when asked if they had planned the protest at the 1968 Summer Olympic Games Tommie Smith reportedly replied: "It was in my head the whole year. We first tried to have a boycott but not everyone was down with that plan. A lot of athletes thought that winning medals would supercede or protect them from racism. But even if you won the medal, it ain't going to save your momma. It ain't going to save your sister or children. It might give you fifteen minutes of fame, but what about the rest of your life? I'm not saying that they didn't have the right to follow their dreams, but to me the medal was nothing but the carrot on a stick."
There was no doubt that these two athletes would be successful at the Olympic Games since Tommie Smith was one of the greatest sprinters in the world in 1968 (he is the only man in the history of track and field to hold 11 world records simultaneously and had equalled or broken 13 world records) and at the 1968 Olympic Trials, John Carlos won the 200-meter dash in 19.92 seconds surpassing the world-record of Tommie Smith by 0.3 seconds.
After finishing first (Smith) and third (Carlos) in the 200 meter dash at the Mexico City Olympics the two African American athletes chose to put their lives and livelihood on the line to make a profound political statement. Smith adorned with his gold medal and Carlos with his bronze medal bravely bowed their heads as the American national anthem played. Both African American athletes were shoeless as they stood on the podium only wearing black socks to represent the economic disadvantage of African Americans. The athletes also wore one black glove each; Smith wore his on his right hand, Carlos wore his on his left hand. Smith later said that his right handed demonstration was meant to represent Black Power in America while the glove on the left hand of Carlos represented unity among African Americans. After the protest there were boos and racist name calling from the White American spectators. When asked for a reaction to the abuse Carlos said: "When we arrived at the award stand there was a lot of applause. When we left there were many boos and thumbs down. Well, John Carlos and Tommie Smith want the people who booed to know that black people are not lower animals like roaches and rats. ... We're not like some sort of a show horse who does its job and then had some peanuts tossed at it. We'd like to tell all white people that if they don't care for things black people do, they should not go see black people perform." Speaking of the treatment they received during the 1968 Olympics Smith said: "It is very discouraging to be in a team with white athletes. On the track you are Tommie Smith, the fastest man in the world, but once you are in the dressing rooms you are nothing more than a dirty Negro.”
Avery Brundage got his revenge on the two athletes who were members of the movement (OPHR) that had called for his removal as president of the IOC. The IOC decided to strip the 2 African American athletes of their medals and expel them from the Olympic village. As president of the IOC Brundage issued this statement: "The basic principle of the Olympic Games is that politics plays no part whatsoever in them. US athletes violated this universally accepted advertise domestic political views." Carlos and Smith were suspended by the American Olympic Committee and ordered to leave Mexico City.
When questioned during an interview about their reason for not wearing shoes when they stood on the podium to receive their medals on October 16, 1968 Carlos said: "We wanted the world to know that in Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, South Central Los Angeles, Chicago, that people were still walking back and forth in poverty without even the necessary clothes to live." Carlos speaking on the significance of the beads that were worn said: “The beads were for those individuals that were lynched, or killed that no-one said a prayer for, that were hung and tarred. It was for those thrown off the side of the boats in the middle passage. We were trying to wake the country up and wake the world up to.”
Their principled stance on October 16, 1968 in Mexico City took a toll on the lives of both Carlos and Smith. In his 2011 published book “The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World” Carlos writes about leaving the podium: “I was ready to get off that track, proud that we’d said our piece. But I had no idea the moment on the medal stand would be frozen for all time. I had no idea what we’d face. I didn’t know or appreciate at that precise moment, that the entire trajectory of our young lives had just irrevocably changed.” The abuse they had experienced in Mexico was nothing compared to what awaited them on their return to America. In the 2005 published book "What's My Name, Fool?: Sports and Resistance in the United States" White American sports writer David Zirin interviewed Carlos who spoke of the negative effect of the racist backlash on his and his family’s life which he partly blames for his wife’s suicide in 1977. Speaking of his struggle to support his family following the 1968 protest Carlos said: “We were under tremendous economic stress. I took any job I could find. I wasn't too proud. Menial jobs, security jobs, gardener, caretaker, whatever I could do to try to make ends meet. We had four children and some nights I would have to chop up our furniture and make a fire in the middle of our room just to stay warm.” His family was subjected to abuse from the CIA and the FBI including surveillance and emotional harassment. In an October 2011 interview with Amy Goodman of “Democracy Now” Carlos spoke of his phone being tapped, he, his wife and children followed by members of the FBI and CIA. His wife was sent anonymous letters accusing her husband of various types of misconduct until she suffered a breakdown and eventually committed suicide.
Both men survived the attacks and today Carlos and Smith are recognized as heroes of the Civil Rights movement and both have written autobiographies: “The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World” published 2011 and “Silent Gesture: The Autobiography of Tommie Smith” published 2008. Unfortunately you would have to search far and wide to find an African American athlete who would be willing to speak out or stand up against the abuse of fellow African Americans today. African American sports writer Shaun Powell addresses this in his 2007 published book: “Souled Out? How Blacks Are Winning and Losing in Sports” where he writes: “Every once in a while a lonely cry in the wilderness from the rare black athlete who chooses to speak out on issues. Otherwise muffled by wealth and softened by a fawning society black athletes today share a common role model and mentor. They’d rather not be like Tommie Smith and John Carlos. They’d rather be like Mike.”

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


October is Black History Month in the United Kingdom. There has been an African Presence in Britain for centuries although we are led to believe that Africans arrived in Britain as enslaved people during the dreadful Maafa when millions were kidnapped and dragged out of the African continent. Guyanese historian Dr. Ivan Van Sertima and African American historian Dr. Runoko Rashidi published "African Presence in Early Europe" in 1985.
The documented African presence in Britain according to White British author Peter Fryer goes back to the year 210. In his 1984 published book “Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain” Fryer wrote: “There were Africans in Britain before the English came here. They were soldiers in the Roman imperial army that occupied the southern part of our island for three and a half centuries. Though the earliest attested date for this unit’s presence here is 253-8, an African soldier is reputed to have reached Britain by the year 210.” African historian and anthropologist Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop in his 1974 published book “The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality” wrote about the megalithic culture of Africans which can be found replicated in Britain proving the presence of Africans in ancient Britain. Writing of the construction of megalithic structures Diop states: "These are found only in lands inhabited by Negroes or Negroids, or in places that they have frequented, the area that Speiser calls “the great megalithic civilization,” which extends from Africa to India, Australia, South America, Spain and Brittany. That megalithic civilization in Brittany belongs to the second millennium, the period when the Phoenicians frequented those regions. This combination of facts should leave no doubt on the southern and Negro origin of the megaliths in Brittany."
Anthony Richard Birley a White British historian has written about the African presence in ancient Britain in his 1971 published book “Septimius Severus: The African Emperor.” Britain had been invaded, conquered and was part of the Roman Empire from 54 BC to AD 409. Britain was part of the Roman Empire when the African Emperor Septimius Severus was in power (AD 193 to 211) and there were Africans living in Britain. Information from the UK National Archives state: “In Roman times, Black troops were sent to the remote and barbaric province of Britannia, and some of them stayed when the Roman legions left Britain. Africans have been present in Europe from classical times. In the 2nd and 3rd centuries Roman soldiers of African origin served in Britain, and some stayed after their military service ended.”
The 2012 published book “Black Salt: Seafarers of African Descent on British Ships” by Black British historian Dr. Ray Costello is a source of information about this group: “In this fascinating work, Dr. Ray Costello examines the work and experience of seamen of African descent in Britain's navy, from impressed slaves to free Africans, British West Indians, and British-born Black sailors. Seamen from the Caribbean and directly from Africa have contributed to both the British Royal Navy and Merchant Marine from at least the Tudor period and by the end of the period of the British Slave Trade at least three per-cent of all crewmen were black mariners. Black sailors signed off in British ports helped the steady growth of a black population.” In spite of such information about the African presence in Britain most of what is acknowledged when the history of Africans in Britain is recognized is the British enslavement of Africans and the aftermath of emancipation. The most recognized, acknowledged and documented group of Africans in Britain are the descendants of enslaved Africans from the Caribbean who immigrated to Britain on the MV Windrush (June 22, 1948) known as “The Windrush Generation.” According to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) “The arrival of the SS Empire Windrush in June 1948 at Tilbury Dock, Essex, in England, marked the beginning of post-war mass migration. The ship had made an 8,000 mile journey from the Caribbean to London with 492 passengers on board from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and other islands. Most of the passengers were ex-servicemen seeking work. This marked the beginning of post-war mass migration. When they walked down the gangplank onto British soil they could not have imagined that their journey would begin an important landmark in the history of London and the rest of country. The passengers on board the Windrush were invited to come to Britain after World War Two, to assist with labour shortages. Many of the passengers had fought for Britain during the war. They later became known as the 'Windrush Generation.’”
Jamaican poet and educator Louise Simone Bennett-Coverley (Miss Lou) immortalized that experience in her poem Colonization in Reverse In his poem Inglan is a Bitch UK based Jamaican dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson has addressed the plight of the Windrush Generation and those who followed.
Even though there has been an African presence in Britain for these many centuries there still remains a need for a British “Black History Month” because the history is not part of the curriculum and many British are not aware of that history.

Monday, October 6, 2014


On October 6, 1976 thirty eight years ago 11 Guyanese lost their lives in an act of terror committed by a United States trained agent Luis Clemente Faustino Posada Carriles. On October 6, 1976 Guyana lost several potential doctors, all of them 18 year olds on their way to Cuba on scholarship to pursue medical studies. The bombing of Cubana flight 455 on October 6, 1976 remains the worst act of terrorism aboard a commercial airline in the Americas in the 20th century. It was historically the worst act of terrorism aboard a commercial airline in the Americas until the plane that brought down the twin towers on September 11, 2001.
The United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) trained the terrorist Luis Clemente Faustino Posada Carriles who planted two toothpaste bombs on Cubana flight 455 which carried 78 people (73 passengers and 5 crew members) all of whom perished in the blast. Luis Clemente Faustino Posada Carriles who lives in Miami, Florida is the notorious terrorist who is responsible for the bombing of the Cubana Airlines Flight 455 in which 78 people including 11 Guyanese were killed on October 6, 1976.
With the USA declared "war on terror" which George W. Bush declared with much fanfare on September 20, 2001 one has to wonder why the American government is harbouring a known terrorist who is feted in the Miami Cuban community. In a speech on September 20, 2001, Bush said: “And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation in every region now has a decision to make: Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.”
Yet on October 6, 2014 thirty eight years since the CIA terrorist Luis Clemente Faustino Posada Carriles destroyed the lives, the promising futures of 78 people including 11 Guyanese (several 18 year old potential doctors, a 9 year old and a young mother who left her 2 month old baby with the grandmother) there has been no offer of compensation to the families who lost their loved ones in what has been recognized as the most deadly terrorist airline attack in the western hemisphere in the 20th century.
On October 6, 1976 with the bombing of Cubana flight 455 irreparable damage was done to the people of Guyana by a terrorist trained by and harboured by the American government. Should Guyanese demand compensation from the American government for this act of terrorism? Guyana cannot kidnap the CIA trained terrorist Luis Clemente Faustino Posada Carriles from American soil and put him on trial for the brutal assassination of 11 Guyanese. Guyana cannot invade America for harbouring terrorists.


Since 1992 October has been designated Women’s History Month. October was selected to commemorate the “Persons Case” in which the British Privy Council (then Canada’s highest court of appeal) ruled in October 1929 that women were persons under the law, a decision that contradicted an earlier ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada. Five White Canadian women took the case to the British Privy Council and won the right to become members of the Senate. Even after that “victory” not all Canadian women were considered equal. A quote from the CBC website ( informs that: “Most women of colour - including Chinese women, "Hindu" or East Indian women, Japanese women - weren't allowed to vote at the provincial and federal level until the late 1940s. And under federal law, aboriginal women covered by the Indian Act couldn't vote for band councils until 1951, and couldn't vote in federal elections until 1960. So, there you go - it wasn't until 1960 that ALL Canadian women finally had the right to vote.” The article entitled “Women & The Right To Vote In Canada: An Important Clarification” was published on February 26, 2013. It is not surprising that the “Famous Five” led by Emily Murphy did not pay attention to the fact that there were groups of women in Canada who could not even vote much less hope to sit in the Senate. Emily Murphy in her 1922 published book “The Black Candle” made her disdain for racialized people very clear. In her book she attacks “Chinese, Hindus, Mexicans and Negroes” as people unfit to live in Canada. Some people have sought to excuse her White supremacist diatribe as being a product of her time. To give Emily Murphy her due she did fight for the rights of White Canadian women.
While planning to write about Women’s History Month I thought about the more than 200 schoolgirls who were kidnapped by a group of men in Nigeria who call themselves “Boko Haram” which supposedly means “Western education is a sin” in the Hausa language. Some scholars have argued that is not a literal translation. Whatever the two words mean the group that bears that name has done irreparable damage to parents, siblings, friends and community members of the kidnapped girls. Even the girls who managed to escape are traumatized. Following the April 15 kidnapping of the more than 200 girls from their school there was a flurry of activity including the “Bring Back Our Girls” publicity campaign. The campaign garnered international attention and participation. For a few weeks it seemed the fashionable thing to do was organize a “Bring Back Our Girls” event with much media hype and even politicians seeking publicity eagerly agreeing to address the crowds that gathered. Even the celebrities were out in numbers displaying their “Bring Back Our Girls” signs posing for the paparazzi. Social media lit up; facebook, twitter, hashtag, everything imaginable was used during the few short weeks that posing with a placard reading “Bring Back Our Girls” was fashionable. The First Lady of the United States was photographed somewhere in the White House with her placard reading “Bring Back Our Girls.”
On May 6 US President Barack Obama accompanied by US Secretary of State John Kerry held a press conference where it was announced that the US government would commit military resources in an effort to find the kidnapped girls. Kerry announced: "Our embassy in Abuja is prepared to form a coordination cell that could provide expertise on intelligence, investigations and hostage negotiations and to help facilitate information-sharing and victim assistance. And we are immediately engaging in order to implement this. We remain deeply concerned about the welfare of these young girls." Well here we are almost 5 months later and the girls have not been rescued plus the US government seems to have forgotten all about them including Kerry in spite of the “deep concern about the welfare of these young girls” that he expressed in May.
Now it is almost as if the world has forgotten about these unfortunate girls, even here in Canada as we prepare to “celebrate” Women’s History Month there is no mention of “Bring Back Our Girls” of whom approximately 200 remain missing. The group that kidnapped the girls may be considered a lunatic fringe of the society in which they dwell. Here in Canada there is no such lunatic fringe (that I am aware of.) Yet there are hundreds of missing Aboriginal women and not much of a public outcry by Canadians. The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) in a report “NWAC's response to the Special Committee on Violence Against Indigenous Women (SCVAIW)” released in March, 2014 wrote: “NWAC has been addressing the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls in Canada for many years and remains deeply concerned that this issue is far from being resolved. NWAC documented 582 cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls in Canada through the Sisters In Spirit project, which ended in 2010; however, we continue to hear of “new” cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls from various regions in Canada. Just recently, research carried out by an Ottawa University Doctoral candidate, revealed that number to be well over 800. NWAC is the only organization to have systemically collected data on this issue and in doing so, was able to identify the many factors and commonalities that put these women and girls at risk. ” The report also includes this statement from NWAC president, Michèle Audette: “This would have been an opportune time for the Government to demonstrate to all Canadians, and to our International colleagues as well, that it truly is committed to ending all forms of violence against Aboriginal women and girls. This report fails to show the needed commitment and resources to adequately address this ongoing tragedy – a tragedy that is a reflection on Canada as a whole.” On Friday March 7 the federal Conservatives rejected appeals for a national inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women.
In the United States where President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry promised to support the search and effort to rescue the kidnapped Nigerian school girls there are thousands of missing African American girls. According to the founders of the organization “Black and Missing” although African Americans are 12% of the population they account for 34% of people who are missing.
October is Women’s History Month and we should be concerned about all the women and girls who are missing. There should be an outcry and a campaign to find them all instead of creating a show for a few weeks about the kidnapped girls who do not live in North America or any developed nation and can quickly be forgotten. Every life is valuable and should be equally valued. Women’s History Month can be used as the starting point to put more effort into investigating and searching for all missing women.
In Toronto there will be a "Sisters in Spirit Week" held at the "Native Women's Resource Centre of Toronto" (NWRCT) which is located at 191 Gerrard Street East. The "Sisters in Spirit Week" includes a letter writing campaign with Amnesty International and Button Making with Native Youth Sexual Health Network from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm at NWRCT on Thursday, October 2. There is also an NWRCT presentation and teach-in: "Dispelling Stereotypes about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women" from 5:00 to 7:00 pm at NWRCT with Dr. Suzanne Stewart and Lee Maracle. On Friday, October 3 a "Social Media Campaign" to raise awareness about Sisters in Spirit and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women using twitter, Facebook, etc. The week's activities will culminate in a "Sisters in Spirit Vigil" on Saturday October 4 in Allan Gardens (Sherbourne and Gerrard Streets) from 6:30 to 8:30pm.

Friday, September 26, 2014


Guyana is an Amerindian word which means Land of many waters. September is Amerindian Heritage Month in Guyana and has been officially recognized as such since 1995. The word Amerindian is a combination of the words American Indian. This is the name that was given to the indigenous people of the Americas, the Caribbean and the Guianas by the European colonizers who arrived in this part of the world on the heels of “explorer” Christopher Columbus and others of his ilk. We know that Columbus did not “discover” any new lands when he arrived in this part of the world since these lands were already populated. What many people surprisingly still do not know is that Columbus was lost when he happened upon these shores. He was on his way to India and with the arrogance of Europeans, on landing and deciding that he was in India named the people he met “Indians.” The name obviously stuck and more than five hundred year later the indigenous people of the “Americas” remain “Indians.”
Guyana formerly “British Guiana” also fondly known as “BG” or sarcastically sometimes referred to as “Bookers Guiana” in days of yore is the only English speaking country on the South American continent. Guyana is also home to nine groups of Amerindians who mostly live in Guyana’s interior area of rainforests and savannah land. The Guyana census of 2002 puts the Amerindian population at 9% of the country’s inhabitants. The vast majority of other Guyanese (90%) live on the narrow coastland. Guyana’s 83,000 square miles is home to less than 800,000 people, the 2012 census puts the number at 795,369. The petroglyphs found near Kurupukari in the Iwokrama rainforest in Guyana prove that Guyana’s indigenous people (Arawaks, Arecunas, Akawaios, Caribs, Macushis, Patamonas, Wapisianas, Warraus and Wai-Wais) have lived on the South American continent since at least 5000 BCE.
As a child attending Primary School (Elementary/Grade School) in Guyana we read about the Arawaks in our “reading books.” Those “Caribbean Reader” books were a series which began from the Preparatory Division A (Grade one) with Mr. Joe a farmer and his animals Miss Tibs (a cat) Mother Hen and her chick Percy, Mr. Dan (a dog) Master Willy (a pig) Mr. Grumps (a goat) Miss Peg (a donkey) and Mrs. Cuddy (a cow.) In Book 2 which we read in Standard 2 (Grade 4) we read the story of Rainstorm – an Arawak story explaining the reasons for rainfall. The story told of an Arawak woman who became stuck between the sky and earth and when it rained she was crying because she could not return to the sky or come down to earth. In the series of Caribbean Readers there were other stories about some of the indigenous people of the Caribbean and South America (the Arawaks and Caribs.) These stories did not include the other native people of Guyana (Arecunas, Akawaios, Macushis, Patamonas, Wapisianas, Warraus and Wai-Wais) who I did not know about until my father (a police officer) was transferred to the Rupununi. In the Rupununi Savannahs where we lived for several years we met several groups of Amerindian people and learned of their culture and their history.
In the Rupununi which was somewhat isolated from the mainland of Guyana, the Amerindian people frequently crossed the border which Guyana shares with Brazil because families lived in both countries and spoke English, Portuguese and their native languages. Amerindians and their culture thrived in the Rupununi where every year at Easter while Guyanese on the coastland celebrated with kite flying the Amerindians celebrated with a rodeo. The vaqueros (cowboys) who worked on the various ranches scattered across the Rupununi would display their skills at staying seated on a bucking bronco, fastening a lasso on a wild bull and riding same, milking wild cows, racing and subduing greasy pigs and many other entertaining activities. The Rupununi Rodeo was the highlight of the year for everyone living the region. The staple food for the Amerindians was farine and tasso. Farine is made from grated cassava the after the cassava juice has been squeezed out; what is left is sifted and then parched in a heated flat pan leaving grains which is eaten with tasso (dried beef.) The Amerindian culture was also expressed through dance performances and language. In 1977 African Guyanese linguist Dr. Walter F. Edwards now a professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, did a study of the Akawaio and Arecuna languages through the University of Guyana. Together with another African Guyanese linguist Dr. Kean Gibson who is now a professor of Linguistics and Anthropology at the University of the West Indies they published An introduction to the Akawaio and Arekuna peoples of Guyana.
Interest in Guyana’s indigenous people and their inclusion in the Guyanese society also led to the Guyana government including the Amerindian word Mashramani as the celebration of Guyana’s Republic Day on February 23. Mashramani means "the celebration of a job well done." Timehri which means “paintings and drawings on the rock” was the name of Guyana’s national airport (named by the then Guyanese government to honour the indigenous people of Guyana, changed from Atkinson in 1969) until 1997 when the new Guyana government elected in 1992 made another name change eliminating the Amerindian name.
In 1972 the Umana Yana which means "Meeting place of the people" was commissioned by then Prime Minister of Guyana Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham. The Umana Yana was built by a team of about 60 members of the Wai-Wai people. The famous benab which was modelled on the traditional home of the Wai-Wai people was located on Main Street, Kingston in Georgetown, Guyana’s capital city. This historic landmark stood 55 feet (16.78 metres) high and was made from thatched allibanna and manicole palm leaves and wallaba posts lashed together with mukru, turu and nibbi vines. There were no ladders, nails or hammers used in the construction of the Umana Yana and when it was finished it occupied an area of 460 square metres, which made it the largest benab in Guyana. The Umana Yana was specially constructed to serve as a V.I.P. lounge and recreation spot during the Non-Aligned Foreign Ministers Conference held in Georgetown in August 1972. Over the 42 years that the Umana Yana stood in majestic splendour and a testament to the skill and representing the recognition of Amerindian culture in Guyana, it was used as an exhibition and conference centre.
Unfortunately the historic Umana Yana is no longer standing in pride of place in Georgetown. In the midst of celebrating Amerindian Heritage Month in Guyana the historic building was which was a testament to the high regard in which Guyana’s Amerindian people and their culture are held, was destroyed by a mysterious fire. On September 9 the building burned reportedly with 15 minutes. There is of course great hope and anticipation that the Umana Yana will be rebuilt. Representatives from the Peoples National Congress Reform which is the political party of the late LFS Burnham who commissioned the construction of the Umana Yana issued a statement following the destruction of the historic building: “The PNCR has a proud association with this historic landmark, which was commissioned by our Founder Leader Forbes Burnham in 1972 and was erected by a team of about sixty Wai–Wai Amerindians, one of the nine indigenous tribes of Guyana. Everything must be done to ensure that this historic and iconic landmark is rebuilt as soon as possible.”
The Guyana government has promised to rebuild the Umana Yana. A representative speaking on behalf of the Guyana government is quoted as saying: “We are happy that no one was injured and we will be working along with the fire service to determine the cause of the fire…we have to include this in next year’s budget because this is an important heritage building for us and we would want to see it erected back as fast as possible.”


On September 25, 1992 several newspapers scattered across US cities (including Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia and Washington) carried articles about a movie portraying the African experience in apartheid South Africa. Even Roger Ebert America’s best known film critic had an article published in the “Chicago Sun-Times” on September 25, 1992 about the movie “Sarafina.” The movie was an adaptation of the musical based on the lived experience of an African school girl, “Sarafina” during the brutal apartheid era. Sarafina is set in Soweto a township in South Africa which became internationally known on June 16, 1976 when White police opened fire on a group of African students during a demonstration. The demonstration was organized to protest the decision of the apartheid regime to force African students to learn Afrikaans. The compulsory teaching of Afrikaans which was the Dutch derived dialect used as the language of choice of the descendants of the Dutch settler/colonizer class living in South Africa was resisted by the African students. Africans already forced to speak a European language (English) did not look kindly on being forced to speak a European dialect (not surprisingly Afrikaans is now considered a language) borrowed from Dutch with a sprinkling of German and Portuguese.
The result of the Soweto demonstration/protest of African students was brutal police retaliation with reportedly two African students killed and many injured. The photograph of a wounded and dying 13 year old Hector Pieterson carried in the arms of another student Mbuyisa Makhubo as Hector's obviously distressed 17 year old sister Antoinette Sithole ran alongside them went viral. That photograph became the symbol of the White police brutality against African students in South Africa in much the same way as the brutally beaten and disfigured body of 14 year old Emmett Till became the image of White supremacy and brutality during the Civil Rights era in the USA. Today the body of Michael Brown lying uncovered for hours on a street in Ferguson, Missouri after being killed by a White police officer stands right alongside that of Emmett Till.
The deadly savagery of the White police attack against demonstrating African students in Soweto gave rise to more protests from African students and international condemnation of the White minority apartheid regime. The brutal crackdown including the killing and injuring of African school children by White police led to more protests across South Africa which resulted in approximately 1,000 African students killed by White police. The “Bantu education” sought to not only force African students to learn Afrikaans but also to mis-educate African students so that they could only aspire to work in menial jobs that would benefit White people living in South Africa. The “Bantu Education Act No 47” authored by Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd (then Minister of Native Affairs, later Prime Minister) is described on the South African History Online (SAHO) website: “Its stated aim was to prevent Africans receiving an education that would lead them to aspire to positions they wouldn't be allowed to hold in society. Instead Africans were to receive an education designed to provide them with skills to serve their own people in the Bantustan ‘homelands’ or to work in manual labour jobs under white control. This legislation was condemned and rejected as inferior from the time of its introduction. This cornerstone of apartheid ideology-in-practice wreaked havoc on the education of black people in South Africa, and deprived and disadvantaged millions for decades. Its devastating personal, political and economic effects continue to be felt and wrestled with today.” The Act is also described as: “A pillar of the apartheid project, this legislation was intended to separate black South Africans from the main, comparatively very well-resourced education system for whites.”
The musical “Sarafina” was first presented in June 1987 at “The Market Theatre” in Johannesburg, South Africa. Sarafina premiered on Broadway on January 28, 1989 at the Cort Theatre and closed on 2 July 1989 following 597 performances and 11 previews. The movie Sarafina starring Whoopi Goldberg as an African teacher in Soweto opened in American cinemas in September 1992. The movie brought the South African student protests of 1976 to Americans in 1992 the same year Nelson Mandela was negotiating with Frederik Willem de Klerk in an attempt to steer South Africa into becoming a democracy where the African majority would for the first time have the right to vote and enjoy other Human rights.
On September 26, 1992 a “Record of Understanding” was signed at a meeting between F W de Klerk the “State President of the Republic of South Africa” and Nelson Mandela the President of the African National Congress (ANC) held at the Kempton Park World Trade Centre in South Africa. The signing of this important document resulted in a commitment to a multiparty system of government and to the writing of a new Constitution for a democratic South Africa. Almost 2 years later over a 4 day period from April 26-29, 1944 South Africa held its first democratic elections where all citizens 18 and older regardless of race had an opportunity to vote. The ANC with Mandela as its leader won the election and South Africa had its first democratically elected government and President (Mandela.)
On September 25, South Africa's parliament elected Kgalema Motlanthe a former trade unionist, freedom fighter and deputy leader of the ANC as interim President when South Africa’s second democratically elected President Thabo Mbeki resigned just 9 months before the end of his presidency. In 2014 as South Africa celebrates 20 years of democracy there is an entire generation of African students for whom the term “Bantu education” are words in their history or social studies/social science books.