Principal of the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles (FP)

Before sugar made us free, that industry, along with slavery, led to Barbados becoming England’s richest colony. This view was expressed by Pro-Via Chancellor and Principal of the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles this morning, as he delivered a keynote address at the 8th Annual African Diaspora Heritage Trail (ADHT) Conference, at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.

"The first description we have of Barbados by an African is…[cities a] slave, [who] tells the captain of a ship, that Barbados is a place worse than hell…because that is what was created.?? You move that now 200 years and we say Barbados is paradise on earth…Who created the paradise?

"Therein lies the dialectics of history. That the people who experienced the hell are the ones who, in turn, said we will create a paradise.?? We will now create out of our imagination the opposite of what we experienced…That is the African genius at work," he surmised.

Speaking further on those 200 years between paradise lost and found, the Professor discussed the history of sugar and slavery on the island, beginning with when the Dutch, in a commercial arrangement with the English, transferred plantation culture here from Brazil.??

He explained that Barbados became "the centre of the global sugar producing world and that sugar producing technology, the plantation, was based on African slavery…The reason why Barbados was attractive to the English in the first place was because there was no native population to deal with," he noted.??

Referring to documents from the Portuguese and the Spanish, Sir Hilary said this anomaly was due to the fact that the island was a site for slave raiding; thus, the surviving inhabitants immigrated to neighbouring countries.

"It was the one island where you [could] start from scratch. So, if you take the Western European entry into the Caribbean: the settlers in Antigua are being attacked by the native population; in Dominica they are being attacked, in St. Vincent, in Grenada, their settlements have been burnt to the ground because the natives are fighting a civil war against them…but here [there were] no natives," he said.

With this ideal model in hand, Professor Beckles pointed out: "All that remained to create a successful colony was a labour force, which was achieved through the importation of 60, 000 African slaves over a short period of time.?? This led to the creation of the first economy built entirely on African slavery, essentially rendering Barbados a site of memory of the global slave trade".

However, he said the rules of a slave society were yet to be determined, with a definition finally coming forth in the form of a slave code for Barbados. Addressing the content of this legislation, Professor Beckles revealed that the document stated: "All Africans coming here have to serve for life; [they] as well as their progeny and offspring…Whereas the Africans are not of the human family and ought to be, therefore, classified as property, real estate and chattel…"??

Known as the 1661 Act for the Good Governance of Africans, the law became the blueprint for other slave societies, such as Jamaica and South Carolina; and, rightfully so, Sir Hilary stated, noting that the system worked so efficiently and created such wealth for the settlers here that English Economist, Josaiah Child, referred to Barbados as ???the richest spot of earth under God’s sun’.??

This wealth, Professor Beckles observed, was still being enjoyed, generations later, by the offspring of the plantocracy; while some of the challenges being experienced by present-day Barbadians have their roots in the struggles which were birthed centuries ago.?? He stressed that "Barbados is not Little England.?? It is not Bimshire.?? Barbados is a site of African formulation and imagination.??

"And, all of the things that are important on this island today are emerging out of history to make sense where the African mind is at work trying to create peace, security, gender equality and a civilisation based on the fundamental values of African society.?? That is what the struggle is, it is ongoing."

This journey, he said, is being experienced throughout the diaspora and in Africa, and even extended to the terms of reference used to describe them. Sir Hilary declared that, contrary to the ???us’ and ???them’ notion suggested by the terms ???diaspora’ and ???Africa’, we now live in an era where a more holistic view should be taken and persons of African descent should be seen as one.??

He?? expounded that "the concept of Africa and diaspora has now become obsolete…The notion that Africa is a place and its offspring has been sent to other places and these other places have now spawned African societies and people…is mythology.?? Instead, what we need to look at is new global Africa…"


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