The 38th Annual Caribbean Studies Association Conference in Grand Anse, Grenada (June 3-7, 2013) did not disappoint. As many of my colleagues commented, Grenada was a venue that inspired much in the way of food for thought and drew mixed, but deep, emotions because 2013 marks 30 years since the invasion of Grenada (and Operation Urgent Fury) in 1983.
Although I was greatly disappointed to have missed some presentations by some of my respected colleagues from the wider Caribbean—because of the sheer volume of speeches, sessions, and simultaneous, related activities (sorry, Francio, Andrea, Samuel, José, Humberto, Yari, Keithley, Ifeona, Kim, Leah. . .)—I felt privileged to have the opportunity to listen to many others. Since I cannot comment on all the fascinating plenary sessions, keynotes, and public lectures, I will give a brief description of three: the keynote speech at the opening ceremony by Grenadian-born Eudine Barriteau (Professor of Gender and Public Policy and Deputy Principal of the University of the West Indies-Cave Hill, Barbados) and public lectures by Merle Collins (Grenadian author and professor of literature) and Sir Hilary Beckles (internationally renowned historian and Principal/Pro Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies-Cave Hill, Barbados).
In her opening keynote speech Professor Eudine Barriteau made a call to the CSA participants—scholars, educators, creative practitioners, and students—to avoid the pitfalls of intellectual tourism and to participate fully in the ethics of development. She spoke of how academics and thinkers have been scrutinizing the Caribbean, identifying problems and discussing, writing, and publishing about them, using the Caribbean region as an incubator for ideas and products. She intrepidly called for intellectual players to take their work a step further—to engage in an ethical articulation of philosophical quandaries and ideas to be able to implement change through policy and practice—in order to avoid intellectual exploitation of the region. Barriteau stressed the need for an ethics of engagement, a re-examination of values, and sharing of intellectual property and resources, to expand options and choices (economic, political, and social), to take on leadership roles in a productive, praxis-based, and ethical manner.
Professor Merle Collins (author the novels Angel and The Colour of Forgetting; short story collections such as Rain Darling and The Ladies Are Upstairs; and several collections of poetry: Because the Dawn Breaks, Rotten Pomerack, and Lady in a Boat) had the audience in tears with her moving keynote speech and public lecture, “A Caribbean Story: The Grenada Journey—Possibilities, Contradictions, Lessons”, delivered at St. George’s University. I suppose I expected something more akin to storytelling—and storytelling it was, but the story was the painful history before, during, and after the Grenada Revolution. It was a deeply moving personal account of the sociopolitical forces that led up to Maurice Bishop’s rise and tragic fall; of the heartbreaking failures, impotence, and aftereffects of the Revolution; of its repercussions in the Caribbean and Latin America; of the initial hopes and lessons learned through engaged activism; of the trauma (at an individual and collective level) and the subsequent silence surrounding this critical historical moment. Collins’ eloquent address and invitation to dialogue—for which she received a standing ovation from the entire audience—was continued at the closing plenary session “The Grenada Revolution in Retrospect: Lessons for the Contemporary Caribbean,” with Dessima Williams, Didicus Jules, David Hinds, and Rupert Lewis. [If Professor Collins reads this—I must say that my offer stands—to translate this stirring, essential lecture into French and Spanish.]
Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, a leading voice on reparations issues who led the Barbados National Delegation and coordinated Caribbean actions at the 2001 UN Conference on Race in Durban, spoke about his latest book—Britain’s Black Debt: Reparation for Caribbean Slavery and Native Genocide—and the ongoing struggle to seek reparations for the crime of native genocide and African enslavement for the purpose of Europe’s exponential levels of enrichment through the centuries. Dr. Beckles traced the development of a prosperous plantation economy and slavery in the colonial British Caribbean, along with a discussion of legal principles and the politics of postcolonialism, showing how the British slave owners made their fortunes. He offered detailed information about the trajectory of slavery in the Anglophone Caribbean; the decimation of native populations; the massacres and extinguishing of slave rebellions; the compensations given to slave-owning families after abolition; the wealth and power gained by slave-holding families, still in power in Britain today; and the development of the Caribbean Reparations Movement; among other important evidence to substantiate a call for reparations.
For more information on Eudine Barriteau, see http://sta.uwi.edu/crgs/april2007/eudinebarriteau.asp
For more information on Merle Collins, see http://www.peepaltreepress.com/author_display.asp?au_id=116 and http://www.sgu.edu/news-events/news-archives04-DrMerleCollinsGrenadian.html
For more information on Sir Hilary McD. Beckles, see http://www.cavehill.uwi.edu/principal/biography.asp