Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"Colonizin' in Reverse"

Wat a joyful news, Miss Mattie, I feel like me heart gwine burs, Jamaica people colonizin Englan in reverse.
By de hundred, by de tousan, From country and from town, By de ship-load, by de plane-load Jamaica is Englan boun.
Dem a pour out a Jamaica, Everybody future plan Is fe get a big-time job An settle in de mother lan.
What a islan! What a people! Man an woman, old an young Jus a pack dem bag an baggage An tun history upside dung!
Some people doan like travel But fe show dem loyalty Dem all a open up cheap-fare- To-Englan agency.
An week by week dem shippin off Dem countryman like fire, Fe immigrate an populate De seat a de Empire.
Oonoo see how life is funny, Oonoo see de tunabout? Jamaica live fe box bread Out a English people mout'.
Wat a devilment a Englan! Dem face war an brave de worse, But me wonderin how dem gwine stan Colonizin in reverse."

Excerpt from "Colonizin' in Reverse" (1966) by The Honourable Louise Simone Bennett-Coverley (Miss Lou)

October is Black History Month in Britain and people from the Caribbean are a large part of that history. African people from the Caribbean first began to settle in Britain in large numbers after the Second World War. According to information from the exhibit From War To Windrush housed at the Imperial War Museum, in London, England until March 29 2009, approximately 16,000 men from the Caribbean volunteered to fight for Britain in the First World War, and over 10,000 servicemen and women answered the call of the ‘Mother Country’ during the Second World War. This exhibit marks the 60th anniversary of the arrival of the MV Empire Windrush in Britain on June 22nd, 1948. The Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury, Essex on 22 June 1948, carrying 492 passengers from Jamaica and Trinidad. The arrival of the passengers and the image of the Caribbean passengers disembarking has become an important landmark in the history of Britain, symbolising the beginning of modern multicultural relations which significantly changed British society over the past 60 years. In 1998, an area in Brixton was renamed Windrush Square to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the arrival of the Caribbean migrants.

The Empire Windrush had quite a checkered past. Built in Germany by the Hamburg firm Blohm and Voss, the 500ft vessel named the Monte Rosa and launched in December 1930 was designed as a passenger cruiser with the capacity to carry 1,372 people. It sailed the South American tourist route between Hamburg and Buenos Aires, Argentina before being used by the Germans as a troop ship and then a hospital ship during the Second World War. It was eventually seized at the German port of Kiel by British forces and refitted as a British troop carrier in 1947 when it was renamed Empire Windrush. The Empire Windrush would have disappeared from the pages of history if not for the historic voyage it undertook in 1948. Travelling from Australia to England, the ship docked in Kingston, Jamaica where an advertisement had appeared in Jamaica’s Daily Gleaner newspaper on April 13th, offering cheap fare to anyone who wanted to work in the United Kingdom. The fare was a bargain at £28 and 10 shillings. When the Empire Windrush left Jamaica on May 24th, 1948, there were 300 passengers below deck and 192 above, from the British colonies of Jamaica and Trinidad. Two of the passengers were Trinidadian calypsonians, Aldwyn “Lord Kitchener” Roberts and Egbert “Lord Beginner” Moore. Jamaicans and Trinidadians were British subjects and there was no immigration restrictions placed on them.

One month later, on June 22nd, the ship docked at Tilbury in Essex. Most of those who bought tickets were former members of the British armed forces from the Second World War. They were promised that jobs would be waiting for them and some looked forward to rejoining the Royal Air Force. When they first arrived, 202 of the passengers found employment right away. Many of them were employed by the National Health Service, some found work in factories and mills, but most were employed by London Transport. The SS Orbita, the SS Reina del Pacifico and the SS Georgic followed the Empire Windrush in transporting large numbers of Caribbean exodusters to Britain. Colonizing in reverse was in full swing. On Tuesday, August 2nd, 1955, the SS Auriga left Kingston, Jamaica with the previously unheard of number of 1,100 passengers. In less than a week, the SS Castle Verde followed with another full shipload.

Immigrants from Britain’s other Caribbean colonies joined the exodus and colonizing in reverse. In 1955, there were 27,550 migrants from the Caribbean arriving in Britain. By 1960, the numbers of Caribbean people migrating to Britain had risen to 49,650 and the rate had increased to 66,300 in 1961. The Commonwealth Immigrants Act was passed in 1962, limiting immigrant entry and the number decreased to 31,800. In 1963 there were only 3,241 Caribbean immigrants allowed into Britain and the numbers peaked at 14,848 in 1965 then began falling rapidly to less than 10,000 each year.

Although the passengers of the Empire Windrush have their place in history as the first large number of Africans travelling from the Caribbean to settle in Britain, they were not the first Africans who made Britain their home. There is documented African Presence in Britain from as early as the 2nd century A.D. (The Oxford Companion to Black British History by David Dabydeen, John Gilmore and Cecily Jones published in 2007.) Britain monopolised the Trans-Atlantic slave trade from the 16th century until slavery was finally abolished in the Caribbean in 1838.

Kidnapped and enslaved Africans were taken to Britain to provide unpaid labour and were amongst those who campaigned to end slavery. Ottobah Cugoano and Olaudah Equiano were two formerly enslaved Africans who on gaining their freedom became abolitionists. Africans were also involved in other areas of British life, including the arts and politics. Samuel Taylor Coleridge (October 21st 1772 –July 25th 1834) was a poet and composer whose work included The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Kubla Khan and Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast. Robert Wedderburn and William Davidson both born in Jamaica to enslaved African women and white slave holders suffered because of their political involvement. Wedderburn was jailed several times and Davidson was hung and quartered at Newgate Prison on May1st, 1820. Like many of the Caribbean people who migrated to the “Mother Land,” they found as Linton Kwesi Johnson, Jamaican born and British raised dub poet says, “Inglan is a bitch, dere´s no escapin it, Inglan is a bitch, a noh lie mi a tell, a true.”

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