Verene Shepherd on reparations, history education and honoring heroines of resistance

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A post by Peter Jordens.

Miranda La Rose of Newsday reports that Verene Shepherd, Professor of Social History at UWI, Mona, co-Chair of the Caricom Reparations Commission, and Chair of Jamaica’s National Commission on Reparation, recently was the feature speaker at the National Action Cultural Committee 32nd Annual Dinner at the Centre of Excellence, Macoya, to mark Emancipation Day in Trinidad and Tobago. […]

Speaking on the theme ‘In Their Name: Caribbean Women, Slavery and Reparation,’ Shepherd noted that year after year, when the anniversary of Emancipation is observed, tributes are paid to male anti-slavery activists and women are exempt. “We even name emancipation wars after our men despite women’s involvement in them,” she said, pointing out that it is widely known that enslaved and freed women slaves also resisted the systems of domination. Women who fought against the injustices of African slavery and Asian indentureship are heroines and the call for reparations is to honour them and generations to follow. Prof. Shepherd called on Caribbean Heads of Government to recognise these women as heroines. “We call on Caribbean governments to elevate more of these women to the status of national heroine. It is for them that we call for reparation, and repatriation and resettlement in their homeland for those who require it,” urged Shepherd.

Shepherd made specific reference to one woman who was in the forefront of the struggle in Trinidad and Tobago – Adelaide Dison, alias Buzotter, a free woman and Queen of the Macaque Regiment. Buzotter was brutally punished along with slave men Roo and Bastian for their role in the so-called Christmas plot of 1850 – a slave revolt that was to take place on Shands Estate in Diego Martin. Shepherd recounted that Adelaide was sentenced to work in chains for life with an iron ring of ten pounds weight affixed to one of her legs. […]

Noting that not much has been written for use in schools about the role enslaved women and men played in resisting capture, human trafficking, the middle passage, enslavement and centuries of racial apartheid that subsequently ushered in the movement of freedom for enslaved Africans and indentured Asians, Shepherd said the history of resistance would not be familiar to Caribbean students “…because history is not a compulsory subject in any of our schools across the Caribbean and that is a travesty,” she said. Shepherd said people of African descent should ensure that the history of resistance against colonial domination be taught in schools from the perspective of Caribbean peoples. […]

On the contribution by women slaves to the development of the Caribbean economy, Shepherd said women outnumbered men in every field gang. In the sugar factories, many lost fingers while feeding the cane in the mills, she added, noting too, their unwaged labour as nurses in the night houses, in the cotton, coffee and sugar industries and for supplying food especially to the urban communities. These are but a few reasons for reparations. Shepherd said. […] She noted that towards the end of slavery, slave owners were forced to admit that the female slaves were more unmanageable than men. “Women and girls may not have always been in the vanguard,” she said, “but their strategies of non-co-operation undermined the efficiencies of the system and played a key role in the abolishment of slavery.”

Shepherd noted that her own involvement in the reparations issue came out of her own upbringing in Jamaica and the writings of people like Jamaican historian Lucille Mathurin-Mair, Barbadian historian Professor Hilary Beckles, Guyanese historians Elsa Gouveia and Walter Rodney, TT first Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams, and her own experiences at the University of Cambridge in the UK.

The Caricom Reparation Commission Justice Programme (CRCJP) ten-point action plan, she said has been accepted by all Heads of Caricom countries including Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar. While the forms of reparation may differ, Shepherd said that first and foremost, Caricom was demanding a full apology, and repatriation and resettlement of those who desire it. “The healing process for victims and the descendants of the enslaved requires as a precondition the offer of a sincere formal apology by the governments of Europe,” she said. “I am sure that others will be open to dialogue,” she said and eventually include descendants of Indian indentureship and others whose ancestors were exploited by the European colonisers. She said a repatriation and resettlement programme must be established and all available channels of international law and diplomacy used to resettle those who wish to return. Other points in the plan include an indigenous peoples’ development programme, the establishment of cultural institutions, addressing the public health crisis, illiteracy eradication, the establishment of an African knowledge programme, psychological rehabilitation, technology transfer, and debt cancellation. The public health crisis of chronic diseases in the forms of hypertension and type two diabetes among the African descended population, Shepherd claimed, “is because of the diet they fed our ancestors. This pandemic is the direct result of the nutritional experience, physical and emotional brutality, and overall stress profiles associated with slavery, genocide, and apartheid,” she declared.

Over ten million Africans were imported into the Caribbean during the early 400 years of slavery. At the end of slavery in the late 19th century less than two million remained. Noting that financial compensation was not articulated by Caricom although it was on the minds of many, Shepherd said reparations was not only about money but a reparation package and that the case for reparations cannot be compiled without the experiences and contribution to industry and the region’s economy of enslaved African women and Indentured Asian woman. “Trinidad and Tobago must congratulate itself,” Shepherd said “for having been the first country in the world to declare Emancipation Day a national holiday.”

For the complete, original article, go to http://www.newsday.co.tt/news/0,199505.html.

Also see:

Verene Shepherd: “Get history back into schools”, http://www.trinidadexpress.com/featured-news/Get-history-back-into-schools-270828101.html;

Prof Shepherd: Public education necessary in fight for reparations, http://www.trinidadexpress.com/news/Prof-Shepherd-Public-education-necessary–in-fight-for-reparations-271002461.html.

Prof. Verene Shepherd will be delivering a lecture titled ‘Reparation, Psychological Rehabilitation, and Pedagogical Strategies’ on Tuesday, September 9, 2014 at the Bermuda Society of the Arts at City Hall, Church Street, Hamilton, Bermuda. The event, hosted by the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs, starts with a reception at 5.30 pm while the lecture commences at 6.00 pm. See

http://bernews.com/2014/08/upcoming-historical-heartbeats-lecture-series.

On Tuesday October 28, 2014 Prof. Verene Shepherd will be giving the Walter Rodney Memorial Lecture at the Yesu Persaud Centre for Caribbean Studies, University of Warwick, Coventry, England (UK). Her lecture is titled ‘War Memorials and Black Liberation: “Groundings” with Walter Rodney on History, Heritage and Activism.’ For more information, check the Webpage http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/ccs or contact Dr. David Lambert at d.lambert@warwick.ac.uk.

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