Thursday, July 31, 2014


On June 29 the people of the Seychelles Islands, an African nation will celebrate 39 years of independence from Britain. The Republic of the Seychelles gained independence on June 29, 1976 and is a member of the African Union. The Seychellois people had lived under a British colonial government for 165 years from 1810 (when the British seized possession from the French) to June 29, 1976. Before the British the Seychelles Islands were colonised by the French. Like many former European colonies the fate of the Seychelles islands was determined by the whims of the European tribes that battled for possession. The islands were captured and “freed” several times during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, then officially bcame British under the 1814 Treaty of Paris. During this time of turmoil in Europe the enslaved Africans on the Seychelles islands never knew if they would wake up on any given day and have to speak English or French. With the British in control slavery flourished on the Seychelles islands. Under French colonization there were 2,759 enslaved Africans and by 1818 after less than 10 years of British colonization there were 6,638 enslaved Africans in the Seychelles.
As in every place where Africans were enslaved there was resistance. The history of the Seychelles includes a Maroon community led by an African who was a member of the Macondé people captured from Mozambique. This man is described in the Seychelles National Archives as: “a black from the Macondé tribe, aged around 44, with a height of 5.4 and a half feet and he had a tattoo on his face.” The information from the Seychelles National Archives also recognizes that: “The black maroons were hunted like wild animals. Very often they were killed and when caught, they were cruelly punished.” There is not much information about this Maroon leader whose name in some documents is given as “Castor” however Seychelles National Archives acknowledges his existence with this information: “There exists in the upper Anse Aux Pins, on Mahé, a place name Castor, a place with enormous boulders, better known as ‘cap de roches’ in Seychelles and to which access is extremely difficult. This name is linked with the history of maroons in Seychelles, as Castor was the name of a famous black maroon who took refuge in this place more than 150 years ago.” There were other Africans who were imprisoned in Mahé including members of the Ashanti royal family who the British colonial government kidnapped in Ghana and transported to the Seychelles.
Freedom from enslavement finally came to the African Seychellois in 1837 two years after it was declared in 1835. The National Archives informs that: “Slavery was abolished in 1835 but that was effectively implemented only two years later.” Following the final emancipation of enslaved Africans in the British Empire in 1838, the British became very self-righteous and began “liberating” the captive Africans from slave ships of other nations. These “liberated” Africans were usually transported to British colonies where they were forced to work on British owned plantations for very meagre wages. This was not much different from the system of chattel slavery which the British had “abolished.” Between 1861 and 1874 approximately 2,500 “liberated slaves” who were “rescued” by British ships patrolling the seas, were taken to provide labour on British owned plantations in the Seychelles.
When the French colonised the Seychelles in 1770 they took enslaved Africans to cultivate the islands. These enslaved Africans were forced to work building the plantation houses where the White slaveholders lived in relative luxury while the enslaved Africans laboured to enrich these human parasites. In an article published in the New African Magazine, Seychellois writer Tony Mathiot wrote: “In 1772, when the administrator of Mauritius and Reunion, Pierre Poivre, concocted his grandiose scheme to introduce cinnamon to Seychelles, it was slave labour that created the legendary Jardin du Roi, the spice garden at Anse Royal. Later, in May 1780, the ship that the French authorities mistook for a British vessel, where they consequently ordered the destruction of the spice garden, lest the precious spices should fall into enemy hands, was actually a French slave ship flying the British flag and bringing slaves to Mahe. Before the British occupation, slaves from Madagascar and mainland Africa were brought to Seychelles to work on cotton plantations which occupied around 1,600 acres of land on Mahé. In fact, cotton was the first crop to be exported from Seychelles in 1796, two years after the first capitulation of Seychelles to the British. In Seychelles, the Emancipation Act saw the freedom of 6,521 slaves from a total population of 7,500 inhabitants. So it is not a hyperbole to say that most of the inhabitants then, were slaves!”
After slavery was abolished in the British colonies the British continued to exploit Africans on the continent. In Ghana the Ashanti resisted the British efforts to colonise their country. In an effort to crush this resistance the British kidnapped members of the Asante royal family and transported them to Mahé in the Seychelles. In 1897 Nana Prempeh 1, King of the Asante, his mother Asantehemaa Yaa Akyaa, his broth¬ers, uncles and several other members of the royal household were taken to Mahé in the Seychelles and kept as prisoners until November 1924. This outrage led to the war led by Nana Yaa Asentewaa against the British. At approximately 70 years old this amazing African woman became leader and commander in chief of a resistance movement against the British. In the 2008 published “Encyclopedia of the African Diaspora: Origins, Experiences, and Culture” edited by African Trinidadian history professor Carol Boyce Davies, the history of that event and Yaa Asantewa’s role is written by Ghanaian scholar Ivor Agyemang-Duah: “She built a personal army of 4,000 and appointed field commanders. The war lasted from April 2, 1900 to March 1901.” Agyemang-Duah also writes that Yaa Asantewa became a prisoner of war after she was betrayed and captured on March 3, 1901. “A prisoner of war, she was taken to Kumase and eventually sent to Mahé in the Seychelles Islands, where she joined Nana Prempeh and other Asante exiles. She passed away in the Seychelles in 1922 at about 90 years of age.”
The exploitation and oppression of racialized people by White colonists and colonial governments in Africa, Asia, the Americas, the Caribbean and elsewhere is well documented. The resistance movements and struggles for independence went on for decades before colonized people were able to gain their independence from these colonizers. In the Seychelles Islands the White planter class owned most of the wealth, inherited from their slave owning ancestors and made sure that laws entitled them to continue as a privileged class. In 1939 the “Planters and Taxpayers Association” was founded by this group to protect the interests and the wealth of the White people who owned the plantations. After the 1939-1945 war, “they also benefited by being granted the vote, which was limited to literate property owners; just 2,000 in a population of 36,000. At the first elections in 1948, most of those elected to the Legislative Council were predictably members of the Planters and Taxpayers Association.” Two years before in 1937 The League of Coloured People was founded by those who did not benefit from or enjoy White skin privilege to demand a minimum wage, a wage tribunal and free health care for all. Malcolm James Coe wrote in the “Biogeography of the Seychelles Islands” published 1998: “1937 The League of Coloured People was created and laborers’ wages and health care were prominent items on the agenda.” It was this state of affairs that prompted the Seychellois struggle for independence in earnest. On June 29, 1976 when the Seychelles Islands gained their independence they were governed by a coalition and included a President and a Prime Minister. From a time of slavery to independence this African nation was home to Africans like Castor who was a Maroon leader and Nana Yaa Asantewa freedom fighter. Their fighting spirit must have in some way inspired the latter day activists who led their country to independence on June 29, 1976.


"The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere."
From "General Order No. 3" read by the Union Army’s Major-General Gordon Granger on June 19, 1865 as he stood on the balcony of Ashton Villa in Galveston, Texas.
Juneteenth is celebrated as Emancipation Day on June 19th by many African Americans across the United States and is recognized as a state holiday in 43 states and the District of Columbia. As of May 2013 the following states officially recognized Juneteenth: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
The celebration of Juneteenth by African Americans came about as a result of the Emancipation proclamation read on June 19, 1965 in Galveston, Texas and since then has spread with the migration of African Americans who left Texas in search of the freedom that eluded them in their home state. The Emancipation proclamation read on June 19, 1865 by the representative of the victorious Union army of the American Civil War brought an end to the enslavement (on paper) of Africans in Texas. The enslaved Africans in Texas were the last group to be given their freedom even though President Abraham Lincoln had signed an Emancipation proclamation on January 1, 1863. Lincoln's proclamation did not include those slave holding states that were part of the Union or those that remained neutral. The border states of Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland and Missouri were neutral and so exempt from Lincoln’s Emancipation proclamation. In reality Lincoln was not serious about emancipating enslaved Africans with his January 1, 1863 proclamation because the proclamation only included areas where he had no authority since those states had seceded from the Union. Slaveholders in the states that remained loyal to the Union remained in possession of those enslaved Africans.
The states that seceded from the United States were known as the Confederate States of America or the Confederacy. The Confederacy set up a separate government in 1861 with 7 states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas) following the November 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln as the President. Those seven states created their "confederacy" in February 1861 before Lincoln took office in March. After the Civil War began on April 12, 1861, four other states (Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia) declared their secession and were admitted to the Confederacy. The Confederacy later accepted two additional states as members (Kentucky and Missouri) although neither officially declared secession nor were ever controlled by Confederate forces.
On June 19, 1865 when the proclamation was read in Galveston, Texas that informed enslaved Africans that they were free and that there was: “an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor” those words did not make it so. In her 2006 published book “Lone Star Pasts: Memory and History in Texas” White American history professor Elizabeth Hayes Turner writes: “Soon after the declaration of emancipation on Galveston Island, the news spread quickly, but the official announcement did not result in the day of jubilee the slaves expected. The former Confederate mayor rounded up black ‘runaways’ and returned them to their owners. The Union army’s provost marshal went along with this action but did so for the purpose of holding them as laborers for the military. Freedmen who entered the town after that found themselves pressed into military service. Although the announcement had come, for many, freedom still seemed elusive.”
It speaks to the resiliency of Africans that in spite of being denied their freedom for generations and having freedom denied even after a declaration from the President of the USA that they still found something to celebrate and persevered throughout the decades and centuries until the celebration is now almost a national holiday. In “Lone Star Pasts: Memory and History in Texas” after writing about the brutal suppression that African Americans endured from their White compatriots in Texas including: “In Texas either violence or continued slavery met many slaves as they learned of their freedom. There is much evidence to suggest that southern whites – especially Confederate parolees – perpetrated more acts of violence against newly freed bondspeople in Texas than any other state. The Joint Committee on Reconstruction in hearings held from February to April 1866, discovered from military observers that between the Brazos and Nueces rivers former slave owners, disappointed by lack of compensation for their lost ‘property,’ used violence even murder against freedpeople” the author comments on the perseverance of African Americans to ensure the recognition of Juneteenth: “Juneteenth has survived- a living energetic testimony to subversion. And while Texas legislators are now planning to build a monument to Juneteenth, there is the event itself, an anniversary and official state holiday that reminds Texans and the nation that freedom from slavery is a memory never to be eclipsed. Juneteenth is part of African American commemorative culture. Historically it punctured an oppositional perspective, produced a community of celebrants and observers and offered a counter-memory to those who could not and would not bow to power represented by white memories and commemorations.”
It is not surprising that Juneteenth celebrations were not welcome by White Texans who would not allow African Americans to use public spaces for the celebration and resorted to violence against the celebrants. In order to celebrate Juneteenth in safety from White violence African Americans had to buy land, or "emancipation grounds" in several areas of Texas. The land for Emancipation Park in Houston was purchased in 1872, the Booker T. Washington Park in Mexia was purchased in 1898 and Emancipation Park in East Austin was purchased in 1909. During the Great Depression and the Great Migration (when African Americans left Southern states seeking better jobs and life experiences in Northern states) the Juneteenth celebrations were not as popular. In 1979 African-American state representative from Houston, Albert Edwards, sponsored two legislative bills urging the state of Texas to make Juneteenth an official state holiday. The legislation passed, and as of January 1, 1980, Texas became the first state to observe Juneteenth as a holiday.
On Thursday, June 19, 2014 the Juneteenth celebration in Texas will include a concert at the Jack Johnson Park in Galveston (Jack Johnson who was born on March 31, 1878 in Galveston became the first African American to win the world Heavyweight Boxing Championship in 1908.) The continued celebration of Juneteenth in the 21st century is a testament to the African survival spirit.


There's a man at my house he's so big and strong He goes to work each day, stays all day long He comes home each night looking tired and beat He sits down at the dinner table and has a bite to eat Never a frown always a smile When he says to me how's my child I've been studying hard all day in school Tryin' to understand the golden rule Think I'll color this man father I think I'll color him love Said I'm gonna color him father I think I'll color the man love, yes I will
Excerpt from “Color him father” by African American group “The Winstons” released 1969
The Winstons won a Grammy Award for Best R&B song in 1970 for their hit song “Color him father” about a man who married a widow with 7 children and was a loving father to those children. At the height of the Vietnam War this song resonated with Americans because the lyrics included: “My real old man he got killed in the war and she knows she and seven kids couldn't of got very far.” As Fathers Day approaches there are plans to honour fathers and father figures who have advised, cared for, nurtured and loved their biological children and children who were not blood relatives.
We all have fathers and we exist because a male contributed sperm/DNA to make up half of who we are together with the female egg/DNA. “Humans normally carry 23 pairs of chromosomes: 22 autosomal pairs and one pair of sex chromosomes, either two copies of the X for a female or an X and a Y in the case of males. By Mendel’s law of segregation we receive one copy of each pair from our mother and one copy from our father.” However all fathers are not created equal. Some take their responsibility seriously and support their children emotionally, physically and financially. Some fathers are in their children’s lives physically and support them financially but are absent emotionally. Some fathers are absent from their children’s lives in every way while others do great harm by their very presence in their children’s lives. A biological contribution to a child’s existence is not enough to be a father.
The accepted norm of a father’s interaction with his children has changed over the years (due in large part to American television images.) There were the images of the White men who were heads of their households in the early television sitcoms who worked and came home to solve the family’s problems. Father knew best and was large and in charge of his household and everyone in the household knew and respected his position. The African American father figure was mostly absent from television with the first sitcom featuring an African American family (“Julia” 1968-1971) having a widowed single mother (husband and father killed in Vietnam) and her 6 year old son. Americans were then introduced to African American fathers via television in the form of Fred Sanford (“Sanford and Son” 1972-1977) James Evans Snr. (“Good Times” 1974-1979) George Jefferson (“The Jeffersons” 1975-1985) Lester Jenkins (“227” 1985-1990.) Then came Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable, his lawyer wife Clair Huxtable and their 5 children. With this sitcom Americans were treated to a new kind of African American father via television. This father was not a “blue collar” worker struggling to make ends meet. African American father character Dr. Huxtable did not “move on up” as an “uneducated” businessman who tried too hard to fit in with his hard won wealth. All Americans were being treated to the image of a professional, educated upper middle class African American father an image that had been missing from popular American culture.
The image of the professional and involved Dr. Huxtable was so powerful that one writer credited that image with helping Barack Hussain Obama gain the vote of some White people who came of age during the “Cosby years.” In an article headlined “The Huxtable Effect and Obama” journalist Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez wrote in November 2008: “There are no accidents of public consciousness, and there is no better tool for changing perceptions of social roles than popular culture. So it is, I believe, that Barack Obama's successful candidacy and likely presidency were heralded with the arrival of The Cosby Show in 1984. On the air for eight seasons, The Cosby Show featured Bill Cosby as Cliff Huxtable, an all-American father, medical doctor, and love husband, in the lead role. Never before in American TV had there been such a character. But the impact of Cosby's weekly presence in America's family rooms, as the fair-minded, fun, quirky Dr. Huxtable, cannot be underestimated in its affect upon the consciousness of Americans who were children and young adults at the time.” The Huxtable father as powerful as it is or was, is just that, a character. The fathers who will be celebrated/honoured on Sunday June 15 are not characters on the small or large screen. The fathers whose children (biological and others) will be taking them out to breakfast/brunch/lunch/dinner, presenting gifts, sending them on trips etc., will show their appreciation to men who while they may not be perfect their children believe they deserve the honour.
There are some people whose fathers have transitioned and all they have are memories (fond or otherwise) of their father. I am fortunate that my Papa is still here although we did have a few scary moments two years ago when he suffered a devastating stroke. Papa has made amazing progress since then and has travelled to Guyana where he seems to prefer to live most of the time. Not surprising especially in light of the past winter which thankfully he did not have to endure. One of my fondest memories of my childhood is my father trying unsuccessfully to comb and braid my hair. I was not a fan of his braiding skills at the time but it is amazing how time changes our perception. My mother was spending time with her sister in McKenzie after the birth of Dale, baby number 6 of 9. My brothers Dale and Ingvar (born in Lethem, Rupununi) are the only two members of our family who were not born in Berbice. My father was a police officer stationed at Eve Leary (police headquarters) in Georgetown and we lived in Agricola (one of the more than 100 villages established by Africans freed from slavery on August 1, 1834) on the East Bank of the Demerara River. As an adult I wonder how my father was able to take care of 5 children (with minimal domestic help) and go to work. At the time I just cared about clean, well pressed school clothes, nicely braided hair and the fabulous food my father cooked. My father is an amazing cook of all things Guyanese!
As Father’s Day 2014 approaches I wish all the fathers and those mothers doing double duty as father and mother “Happy Fathers Day” and a very happy Fathers Day to my Papa who thankfully lives to see another Fathers Day. Color him father, color him love!


You may write me down in history With your bitter, twisted lies, You may tread me in the very dirt But still, like dust, I'll rise. Does my sassiness upset you? Why are you beset with gloom? 'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells Pumping in my living room. Out of the huts of history's shame I rise Up from a past that's rooted in pain I rise I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide, Welling and swelling I bear in the tide. Leaving behind nights of terror and fear I rise Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear I rise Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise I rise I rise.
Excerpt from "And Still I Rise" published 1978 by Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou, actor, author, calypsonian, journalist, poet and writer was born Marguerite Annie Johnson on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri and transitioned on May 28, 2014 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Angelou is best known for her inspiring poetry including "Caged Bird" "And Still I Rise" "Phenomenal Woman" and "Equality." And then there is "Coleridge Jackson" a poem that Angelou wrote which describes the devastating effects of White supremacy on an African American family. Angelou's extraordinary life is chronicled/detailed in seven autobiographies beginning with "I know why the caged bird sings" published in 1969 and ending with "Mom & Me & Mom" published in 2013 when Angelou was 85 years old.
What is not as well known is her writing and singing calypso as a young woman before she became the famous author/poet. In 1957 Angelou recorded a calypso album "Miss Calypso" and she also sang and danced to calypso music in a movie which was filmed on one of Columbia Pictures soundstages decorated to give the appearance of a Caribbean island. The movie "Calypso Heat Wave" features Angelou as "Miss Calypso" a name she used during her musical performances when she sang calypso. In her second autobiography "Gather together in my name" published in 1974 Angelou wrote about the role of music in her life: "Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness." In her third autobiography "Singin’ and Swingin’ and getting’ merry like Christmas" published in 1976 Angelou details her days of performing on stage as she made her living singing and dancing.
It is not surprising that Angelou was attracted to calypso music because her maternal grandfather was Trinidadian. In her 7th autobiography "Mom & Me & Mom" published last year Angelou wrote about her mother's father: "Her father, a Trinidadian with a heavy Caribbean accent had jumped from a banana boat in Tampa, Florida and evaded immigration agents successfully all his life." Angelou acknowledged the interconnectedness of Africans in the Diaspora when she spoke with African Trinidadian journalist Renee Cummings during an interview published in the Trinidad Express newspaper: "West Indians and African-Americans are more alike than we are different. Culturally, we also share the same experience; the way we use music, literature and lyrics; and that feeling for family is very tight in African-American and Caribbean communities. We both love telling these long tales with no documents to back them up. The black man in the Caribbean and in America has had to fight, every step of the way, for his own dignity.”
In 1957 when Angelou was performing calypso in American clubs the genre was enjoying great popularity. In the Spring 2004 newsletter for the “Institute for studies in American music” White American professor Stephen Stuempfle under the heading “Documenting Calypso in New York and the Atlantic World” described this “calypso craze” that swept through the USA in the 1950s: “During the calypso craze, numerous nightclubs in cities across the U.S. shifted to an all-calypso format. Among the best-known venues were the Calypso Room and Le Cupidon in New York, the Blue Angel in Chicago, and the Malayan Lounge in Miami. Typically, calypso clubs created an imaginary Caribbean atmosphere with fishnets, palm fronds, and other trappings. Performers often wore straw hats and striped and floral outfits, unlike the dress suits worn by calypsonians in Trinidad. Among the many artists who worked the clubs were Lord Flea, Calypso Eddie, the dance team of Scoogie Brown and Leo Ryers, and the singer Maya Angelou, before embarking on a literary career. In spring 1957 Angelou and Flea appeared in Caribbean Calypso Festival, a short-lived revue produced by Trinidadian dancer/painter Geoffrey Holder at Loew’s Metropolitan Theatre in Brooklyn. The show also featured Latin bandleader/percussionist Tito Puente and Lord Kitchener, a top Trinidadian calypsonian based in England.”
Maya Angelou as a calypsonian was honouring her African ancestry like generations of Africans in the Diaspora who used music and words like the storytelling/historian griots of Africa. Her writing describing her experience living in a White supremacist culture beginning with “I know why the caged bird sings” was an extension of her talent as a storyteller. In his 1972 published book “The Trinidad Carnival” African Trinidadian Errol Gaston Hill wrote: “The antecedents of the calypso were the praise songs and songs of derision of West African natives captured as slaves and brought to the West Indies.” African Trinidadian historian Dr. Hollis Urban Lester “Chalkdust” Liverpool in his 2001 published “Rituals of Power & Rebellion: The Carnival Tradition in Trinidad & Tobago, 1763-1962” expands on this as he compares the calypsonians to the griots of Africa: “The history of the griot tradition show that in West Africa, in all the areas from which the enslaved Africans in Trinidad were taken, griots as praise singers and storytellers can be found. Among the Africans enslaved in Trinidad, there were inevitably many praise singing griots whose main role it was to praise and deride their leaders in their homelands during official ceremonies and masquerades.”
As we celebrate another Black Music Month it is important to remember that our music began on the African continent with the drums, the poets, the griots etc., before those sounds were transported on the slave ships with our enslaved ancestors. Since then we have been improvising and giving voice to our joys and sorrows in whatever language our enslavers and oppressors forced on us. Africans have revolutionized the music and language of the world. Dr. Maya Angelou from humble beginnings overcame adversities that would have destroyed a lesser woman and she contributed to the literary genre with her 7 autobiographies and other inspirational writing including more than 100 poems. Truly she was a “Phenomenal Woman” who was confident in her skin even though she was “not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size.” Angelou’s life mirrored her poem “And Still I Rise” where she wrote
“I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide, Welling and swelling I bear in the tide. Leaving behind nights of terror and fear I rise Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear I rise Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise I rise I rise.”