|Archbishop Buckle of Accra|
by Jean Lowrie-Chin
Observer column for 5 October 2015
To add some light – and hopefully little heat – to the current discussion on reparation for slavery, I would like to recall an address delivered by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Accra, Ghana Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckle, on Sunday, June 24, 2012 at Jamaica’s National Arena, as we celebrated 500 years of Catholic Witness in Jamaica, and Jamaica’s 50th Anniversary of Independence. We were awestruck by his introduction, and here I recall the experience described in my column the following week.
I wrote: “Little did we know that he himself would be making history on that stage – by making the first apology we had ever heard from an African leader.
“‘I apologise for the acts of my ancestors for selling your ancestors into slavery,’ he declared. ‘Please join me as we sing…’ At this point I expected to hear a song like “Amazing Grace.” But no! Archbishop Palmer-Buckle invited us to sing: ‘Redemption Song’! ‘How long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look?’ – his strong voice rang through the very National Arena where Bob Marley had lain in state 31 years before. We, his emotional congregation sang with him, ‘But my hand was made strong, by the hand of the Almighty. We forward in this generation – triumphantly!.. And as we ended with, ‘Redemption song – songs of freedom – redemption song ….’ the healing washed over us and the Archbishop announced, ‘Now we are connected.’”
This certainly does not exonerate the Europeans who bought those captives and enslaved them under the most inhumane conditions. At a National Holocaust Commemoration Event, on 27 January, 2015 (yes, this very year), British Prime Minister David Cameron seemed rightfully resolute in preserving the memory of the massacre of six million Jews.
“Britain will have a proper National Memorial to the Holocaust in Central London,” he said. “We will have a world-class Learning Centre that teaches every generation to fight hatred, prejudice and intolerance in all its forms. We will have an endowment fund – so that Holocaust education is secured forever. We will have an immediate project to finish the urgent task of auditing, recording and future-proofing testimony. So the memory of Holocaust survivors and liberators is faithfully preserved for generations to come.”However, while Mr Cameron said slavery was "abhorrent in all its forms" when he addressed our House of Parliament last Wednesday, he noted that "I do hope that, as friends who have gone through so much together since those darkest of times, we can move on from this painful legacy and continue to build for the future." Sorry slavery, no “future-proofing” of your history!
Six million Jews perished in the Holocaust, while historian Milton Meltzer who researched the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, estimates that over seven million Africans perished. Quoting his book, ‘Slavery: A World History’, Wikipedia states, “Around 2.2 million Africans died during these voyages [the Middle Passage] where they were packed into tight, unsanitary spaces on ships for months at a time.”
In addition to those lives lost on the high seas, some to suicide, Meltzer referred to the “seasoning camps” they were assigned to in the Caribbean. This was a brutal ‘boot camp’ for slaves, in which an estimated five million perished.
So we have the “old pirates” of Africa, the merchant ships and slave masters of past times. But in modern day Jamaica, there is the continued enslavement of garrison dwellers by some of the very MPs who sat importantly while Mr Cameron addressed them last Wednesday.
I am still reeling from the fact that only last year, a thug denied me entry in a yard to deliver Easter bun and cheese to orphans – children who had lost both parents in one brutal morning. He took the gifts from me and to this day I do not know if the children received them. There are hungry youths in such garrisons who can’t buy a patty, but who are toting expensive guns. People have been burnt out of their houses if they dare to mention that they sympathise with the wrong party.
Here is the sad fact: there is enough blame to go around, and reparation should be expected from all who have caused pain and suffering to their fellow man. The offer of a £25 million prison in return for housing deportees is a poor piece of messaging from Mr Cameron, especially since it was followed by a £300 million offer for community development projects. But what a great distraction Mr Cameron has provided for our politicians. While we quarrel with him, both sides can continue their garrison strengthening, more interested in frightening votes out of people rather than earning them.
Yes, there are still some credible people in politics, and hardworking, law abiding Jamaicans are appealing to them to condemn the practices that undermine our very democracy. Once again, this column is calling on CAFFE to set up a website to show the promises made and those delivered, and help us to know our candidates better. Let us unmask those “old pirates” who continue to “rob I”.