The Devonshire plot
After reading Christopher Famous’s column published on December 1, titled “They are us, we are them”, I take that to be his justification for why we need to become full members of Caricom.
Thank God, the world of information and means of communication have bridged the gap over time by making research far easier. During the days of Cyril Packwood, researchers took years to find source materials by scratching through archives, often ending up with insufficient data that led to gaps in people’s understanding. Today, through data storage and intertwining networks, much more information is available to give background, provide context and show a greater picture of the past, making it easier for researchers such as Clarence Maxwell.
Mr Famous picked the 1600s, precisely the wrong years to nail down his theory of the West Indian roots of Black Bermudians. Historical facts point to the opposite, indicating that all but two individuals brought in as pearl divers from somewhere off the coast of Venezuela were born to Africans transported from the motherland.
Bermuda grew its colony out of a pool of Africans who came directly from the Congo and multiplied rapidly. But Mr Famous’s story was only to buttress why we need to become full members of Caricom; he would argue that is who we are, right from the beginning. His point is to neuter the thought we could not be anything other than from the Caribbean.
They are us, we are them.
Imagine future generations of Bermudian children being taught that. It would mean they have no native identity and would need to look to the Caribbean to get it — that is the summary of Mr Famous’s opinion. Imagine that narrative backed by the power of the Bermuda Government and compounded by the region of Caricom.
Why does Mr Famous have a problem with accepting or acknowledging Bermuda’s own history? His type of thinking is reminiscent of the struggle that Black people had endured for centuries in trying to regain the history and knowledge of themselves. This can only be called neo-imperialism or neocolonialism, where you replace a people’s identity with your own. Nothing says that more implicitly than his opinion. Had Mr Famous said that we all came from the continent of Africa, he would have some true currency. But he isn’t saying that; he is saying we came from the Caribbean.
If we were to stretch that theory, as he does, and say some came from Africa and were transported through the Caribbean — not the case here — how would that make them West Indian? If I leave Bermuda to travel to the United States and stay for six months or a year, does that make me an American? Back in the 1600s, there were no passports or citizenships awarded to enslaved persons; in fact, there weren’t even governments.
Jamaica was controlled by the Spanish until a boat contingent from the British, mainly privateers from places such as Bermuda, took it over. Trinidad went through the hands of various European colonisers about five times, and it was not until the late 17th century that there was any political stability. So when Mr Famous talks about the settlement of Bermuda in the early 1600s regarding African or Black enslaved persons, what he refers to as the Caribbean at that time were African slave camps. They weren’t enjoying culture and playing Calypso music or even had a distinct culture. Then, if in any year four or five were brought to Bermuda on board small ships, these would be Africans — not Jamaicans, who did not exist, or Trinidadians, who also did not exist.
Mr Famous’s frame for the movement of enslaved persons is characterised by the West Indian history of boatloads of slave ships being transported to Havana and other plantocracies in the region. Bermuda, on the other hand, would have smaller boats with families transiting from places such as Virginia and the Carolinas carrying their goods and personal helpers who were enslaved. That would be the intermittent inclusion of others while the main Black or enslaved population increase was driven by births — 100 a year by 1656.
This type of misdirection, unfortunately, flavours the Caricom agenda by the Progressive Labour Party government, which has over 20-plus years demonstrated clearly its disdain for Black Bermudians and deference towards Portuguese or Jamaicans.
For evidence, take one look at the construction industry from 1998: during the greatest boon driven by government capital projects, we saw the biggest decline in Black Bermudian construction companies and construction workers. During Ewart Brown’s premiership, Portuguese machinery and workers were “on steroids” while Black machinery was going rusty. Under David Burt, Black Bermudian contractors have all but disappeared. It happened in waves over the 50 years.
I can recall when we could hardly find a Portuguese tradesman or company, only to see in a short 25 years nothing but. Today, if you see any government work awarded, it has been awarded to Jamaicans. The only consistent factor is the Minister of Public Works, Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, who has a legacy of destroying Black Bermudian heritage.
There is some benefit of being associated with Caricom, the greatest of which is regional acceptance, which would allow for greater access and smoother diplomacy. The pitfalls, if we license the type of environment Mr Famous would engender, is it would further disintegrate Bermudian identity in every imaginable way.
Can you imagine, given the proclivity of the Premier, if Mr Famous has a considerable role in any future Caricom involvement? In the past, I would extract an implication of what he says, but in his last column it is clear without doubt what he means. In particular, coming not too far off the heels of an op-ed I wrote about “native or Indigenous Bermudians”, one cannot help but see his latest op-ed as something of a response.
For Mr Famous, this is more than Bermuda joining Caricom as a full member; rather, it’s the immersion of Black Bermudians, in particular, in the Caribbean. He also mentioned Bermudian names such as Astwood in the context that there are Astwoods in the Caribbean. OK, but did he know how the Astwoods first became introduced to the region? Robert Rich, who purchased the estate of the Earl of Warwick, was arguably the richest man in England, certainly one of the wealthiest investors in the Virginia Company and Somers Isle. He brought in a tutor from England to teach, from whom the descendants are Astwood. They inherited a lot of the property from Mr Rich; hence Warwick Park is called Astwood Park, all from the former Earl of Warwick's estate.
You see, the number of times Pocahontas visited the Queen is more germane to Bermuda’s history than the Sam Sharpe rebellion in Jamaica or what the government seat at Trench Town means. If you cannot see the connection, it is because of lack of Bermuda history. Not that Caribbean history isn’t important because it is. But why teach us that as a matter of importance when there is so much to our Bermudian history that we have not been taught and need to know?
Unfortunately, today we can have a Member of Parliament such as Christopher Famous stand in the House of Assembly and cavalierly “punch” a Bermudian in the nose without reprimand. Who is going to reprimand him?
Unless you are pro-West Indian and anti-Bermudian, the likelihood of representing the PLP is impossible. The 1965 plot worked, and the Devonshire and Pembroke ploy worked when the party’s central committee left Dame Lois Browne-Evans, a first-generation Bermudian, as the sole MP in Parliament and later as the leader of the party. She ensured the party stayed on a trajectory that underpins why we are where we are today.