As we prepare for Camboulay let’s think seriously on the question ‘Are we celebrating slavery; or honouring our ancestors?’ The word Camboulay was coined from the French term Cannes Brulees,
which is translated to mean cane fire or burnt cane. This was one of the methods used during slavery
after harvest to clear and prepare plantations for another planting season.
What we must remember is that slavery was a form of forced labour where people were treated less than human beings. While here we focus on the African slaves, there is information that other people from different races were also sold into slavery for different reasons long before the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
Being sold into slavery, in most times to foreign lands, forced workers to create ways on their own to
survive. This was brought to light in a conversation with someone from Botswana who revealed that
while the Caribbean man seems similar to them they are different in many ways. He pointed out that in music in the Caribbean we use different instruments to what they use in Africa; but somehow the music sounds similar.
The life of someone sold into slavery was not an easy one. They even fused their languages to communicate since they came from different tribes. This week we are asking for prayers for our ancestors who survived to the end. When we read about their experiences in the Caribbean we should always be emulating their strength as they stood up against slavery. How many of us read the story of Nanny Town in Jamaica? It stands there as a beacon of hope to many who were enslaved and interestingly it started by a woman.
There are people who believe that the singing and dancing and seemingly merriment that went on in
Camboulay, were most likely encouraged in similar fashion that the Shebeen was introduced in South
America where alcohol was sold to take the focus from the problems that came with apartheid.
Unfortunately the overconsumption of alcohol in our little rum shops has found a place in our culture today even while that habit contributes to a lot of our social ills. Can we say for sure that this is an African thing? It may be more correct to see it as belonging to slavery which according to Bob Marley and other reggae artistes is lingering in our mentality.
On the issue of slavery how can there be anything to enjoy? We probably need to see more plays to depict the quality of life those people had to endure, in order to drive the point home that it was despicable. Even eating from Pey Trays is believed to have derived from Pet Trays for feeding animals in the colonial days. How can this be glorified?
Again people of African descent are asked to wear African wear in August. This in itself should be revisited because the time has come to see ourselves in the light that we are being seen by people from Africa. They make reference to us as Caribbean people and truth be told, that’s exactly who we are. So maybe more time should be spent on understanding who we are as a people; why we speak the way
we speak, why we look the way we look, our cuisine, habits and the many characteristics that make us
who we are as a Caribbean people. It may also be helpful to observe the common thread between the islands and the differences too. The time has come to focus on unity in the Caribbean as opposed to dividing races.
Many of us read the book called Our Heritage which is the first in the series of History of the West Indian Peoples by Carter, Digby and Murray. Wasn’t that book placed in the primary schools’ curricula to help us to understand ourselves? Unfortunately, when we speak of people from Africa, the reference is placed solely on the Negro race. But from that book we have learnt that Negroes are only one of the races in Africa. There are white, Black, Arabs, Moors and Ethiopians in the north. The Bantus of Central and East Africa are a mixed race. Negro is a Roman or Latin word which means black. But they are not the only people with black skin. For instance, Indians from the hot sunny south of India also have black skin, and there are brown people called Negroes as well. Isn’t it a fact that Indians form part of the landscape of people in the Caribbean? We must be careful in honouring our ancestors to avoid being seen like countries where they were glad to get rid of certain races. For example the Jews who have been driven from different lands
It must also be noted that during the days of Hitler, Jews were driven out of Germany and Poland;
millions were killed or put to slavery. Are we going to marginalize races here? The time has come to study more deeply the work of Professor and historian Hilary Beckles on how we were under educated in a bid to have a better approach to the colonization of the West Indies and understanding who are our ancestors. Let separating races be strange to us in the Caribbean.