Thursday, July 03, 2008

From Belize

From The Publisher
Amandala Online - Belize City,Belize

Posted: 01/07/2008 - 01:16 PM
Author: Evan X

As we try to understand what is in place, what is the status quo, it is important to remember that there was a conquest. There was a time when the Europeans came into contact with African and Indian (indigenous Americans) peoples, and the Europeans conquered. That was five hundred plus years ago. That conquest has never been reversed. Yes, concessions have been made, under pressure, but the essential paradigm remains in place - Europeans on top, the rest of us underneath.

The European conquest was by means of violence, but over a period of time the Europeans convinced many of our people that their rule was justified by reason of their institutions, core values, intellects, and yes, their God, being superior to their equivalents among the native peoples. European supremacy, over a period of time, became accepted as part of the divine order of things among those of our people who were compliant and collaborationist. But, always, there were those of our people who resisted, and they would be punished for their resistance.

By the beginning of the twentieth century in British Honduras, the Europeans here were using native people to help run the public service, called the “civil service” in those days. It was not until the 1920’s, however, that natives were allowed to become heads of department. The question is – what kind of natives? For there were native families in British Honduras which were more British than the British in the way they thought and behaved.

Whatever the case, it is for sure that the Garifuna people (called “Caribs” in genteel circles in those days) were locked out of the civil service. The Garifuna people were discriminated against on the basis of their ethnicity. No matter how brilliant a Garifuna child showed himself or herself in school, his or her parents could not hope for such a child to be accepted into the privileged civil service. (I don’t believe there were women in the civil service in those days either, so there must have been institutionalized discrimination on the basis of gender.)

It appeared to me some years ago, after reading the late Francis “Frank” Arana’s important work, THE GARIFUNA TEACHERS, that it was in the early part of the twentieth century that the Roman Catholic priests here recruited bright young Garifuna men to teach in Catholic primary schools across the length and breadth of the colony.

The Catholic Church had only been established in British Honduras around the 1860’s, when Catholic refugees from the Caste War in the Yucatan began to settle in the northern districts (Corozal and Orange Walk). Previous to that time, the Anglicans had dominated the settlement of Belize. The Methodists and the Baptists came in the 1830’s, thereabouts.

In a matter of a half-century or less, following their recruitment of the Garinagu as their district teachers, the Roman Catholics became the most powerful force in Belizean education. There can be no doubt that Garifuna teaching pioneers played a powerful role in the rise of Catholic education. Personally, I think it was a very powerful role, because when you consider the situation in the first half of the twentieth century here, the Garifuna teachers were the only real difference between the Catholic system and the non-Catholic one.

Remember now, that when the Creoles (you know I dislike the word) were getting “a run” in the civil service, they had to be grateful to the British, because we were “subjects”- a conquered people. Our Creole people discriminated against the Caribs as a matter of routine and custom, but it was not we who had the power to make appointments in the civil service. We were beginning to benefit from those appointments, however, and we didn’t care who was left along the wayside, such as Caribs and Mestizos.

I suppose I am the most public critic of my own people. In most cases, parents do not beat their children because they hate them, but because they love them. I love myself, and I love my own people. The fact of the matter is that we, a certain clerical class of us, were used by the British to help them administrate the colony. The British did this all over their world-wide empire. The civil service appeared the only way upwards in those colonial days, and that’s just the way it was.

It is necessary to document the fact that the British divided us along class and ethnic lines, so that when Belizeans like Clinton Uh Luna voice their criticisms, we don’t take it personally. There was a small, privileged class of bureaucrats in British Honduras, dominated by middle class Creoles, at the time of the nationalist revolution in 1950. The Garinagu and the Mestizos who were discriminated against in the first part of the twentieth century, are justified in questioning whether some of our “patriotic” reminiscences are not colonial in character.

My thesis is that for Belize to survive, we must hold honest conversations with each other, no matter how painful those conversations may be. There should be no sacred cows when we consider the colonial era. And we should also reject all the obvious attempts to create sacred cows in the PUP time. Ethnic discrimination is injustice, and it will always come back to haunt those who are guilty of it.

All power to the people.