Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.(iWN file photo)

By *Jomo Sanga Thomas 

(Plain Talk, Aug. 30, 2019)

“Look how long: 400 years, (400 years, 400 years) –

Way too long! 

That’s the reason my people (wo-o-o-o) – my people can’t see.

Said, it’s four hundred long years – (400 years, 400 years. Wo-o-o-o)

Give me patience (wo-o-o-o) – same philosophy.

It’s been 400 years, (400 years, 400 years)

Wait so long! Wo-o-o-o, wo-o-o-o.

How long? 400 long, long years.” — Bob Marley 

“We no know how we and dem a-go work this out, oy!

We no know how we and dem a-go work it out.

But someone will ‘ave to pay

For the innocent blood

That they shed every day,

Oh, children, mark my word;

It’s what the Bible say, yeah! yeah!

Oh, we no know how we and dem a-go work this out;

We no know how we and dem a-go work it out.” — Bob Marley

August is an important month. It is a month that should not be sullied or played with. August represents the month of enslavement as well as the month of emancipation. For African people transported across the Atlantic, August signifies both darkness and light.

The record shows that 400 years ago this month, captured and enslaved Africans landed at Virginia, even before the United States of America was born, and even before slavery as an institution was legalised. It was not until 1661 that White property owners gained legal and constitutional cover to own and work enslaved Africans to death in the mad rush to make a profit. The kill rate was as much as 70%, as death outstripped births. This deadly trade in African bodies is nothing short of crimes against humanity. In fact, the United Nations at its Conference against Racism in 2001 at Durban, South Africa, declared that “slavery always was and always should have been crimes against humanity”.

In America, the story of slavery began in August 1619, but it certainly had an earlier genesis in the Caribbean. The record shows that most enslaved Africans who journeyed across the Atlantic in chains then into bondage, landed first in the Caribbean. Some were taken up the eastern seaboard of the United States and sold to eager plantation owners. 

In the Caribbean, Britain colonised St. Kitts and Barbados in 1623 and 1627 respectively, and later Jamaica in 1655. Before the turn of the century, most of the other islands became important enslavement outposts that brought in huge profits for the slave owners and the British Crown and Treasury.  

So significant was the Caribbean to the economic wellbeing of the British economy that the enslavement enterprise allowed for the region to be labelled the “most important piece of real estate in the world”. Evidence of the importance of the Caribbean’s slave project to the British industrial rise can be gleaned from the fact that the 20 million pounds the British state borrowed to pay the slave owners at emancipation amounted to 40% of the economic value of Britain. So huge was the debt borrowed in 1833, which in today’s currency amounts to about 200 billion pounds, it was not repaid until 2015, a mere four years ago.

This money, which was ploughed back into the British economy, helped fuel the industrial revolution and the economic take off that allowed Britain to rule the waves and control the world. It was not until WW11 that Britain lost to the United States its status as the economic workhorse of the world.

Apart from the pillage and destruction of African societies and the centuries over which millions of Africans were transplanted from their homes to perform free labour, there was rape, torture, blood, tears, murder and dehumanisation of the African body and the denuding of the African mind.

Almost 200 years after the abolition of slavery in the Caribbean, the region by any indices of life: economic wealth, health, education, industrial or infrastructural development, remains at the bottom of the societal ladder. 

The same holds true for Africans living in the United States or, for that matter, wherever African people reside.

Therefore, any celebration that marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of enslaved Africans into the “New World” without the issue of reparations placed at the top of the agenda, is bound to ring hollow. This year and beyond should not just be a historical marker. It must not just be another teaching moment. All talk about 400 years will be fundamentally meaningless unless a meaningful dialogue is encouraged about ways to make former enslaved Africans whole again. The enslaving European powers have a case to answer and must be made to pay.

The post traumatic slave syndrome which results in mal-adopted minds, depressed and under developed Caribbean societies and a poisonous white supremacist, Euro-centric domination of our people and societies must be resisted and broken. 

As Dr Ibram Kenti, writing in the Atlantic magazine recently, emphasised, “to be opposed to reparations is to be objectively racist. Today, many [persons] who oppose reparations stand on this middle ground. They self-identify as ‘not racist,’ but do nothing in the face of the racial wealth gap that grows as white people are compensated by past and present racist policies. Or they support small-scale solutions that barely keep up with this growth. Or they support class-based solutions that are bound to partially fail in solving this class- and race-based problem. Or they oppose reparations because they’ve consumed the racist idea that black people will waste the ‘handouts,’ that the reparations bill will be too expensive, or that black America is not too big to fail.”

Everyone committed to the fight for the development of our societies and the liberation of our people, must understand that the struggle for reparations is a struggle for power. Our societies will not get a chance to develop, and our people will never begin to really enjoy the fruits of their labour until or unless there is a radical restructuring of the international economic, financial and trading architecture.

As we mark 400 years since our African ancestors were forcibly brought to this part of the world, let us remember that freedom is not free and everything worthwhile is worth fighting for.

*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to news.iwitness@gmail.com.

21 replies on “400 years in bondage”

  1. Not all all black people here in the Caribbean are from slaves descendants . lets speaks the truth on this matter of slavery.

  2. Jomo as a self declared supporter of reparations, could you explain in what format should reparations be made? Whether or not the colonial masters should or the families that benefied from slavery should be the payee. I can surely bet you if reparations are made in monetary terms, the receipints would be broken in less than 10 years. We are not good stewarts over our own finances, we lack financial management wisdom . Some will die from over eating because a lot of us are gluttonous.

  3. Well said. Thanks for giving us your eye opening perspective on reparations. Thank you for giving our people the proper terminology of; Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome which is not acknowledged as mental health diagnosis and should be. The impact is seen and felt all over the world.

  4. A book is about to be published which tells the truth about the ending of slavery. I am waiting for an opportunity to review it via a friend of a friend.

    It blows the reparations claims and such nonsense as this column by Jomo Thomas clean out of the water reveals the fraud being played on the minds of Caribbean people.

    I am told it is mainly written from public records from more than one country.

    These old school Marxist-Leninists will stop at nothing to control the Black people of the Caribbean and the Americas.

    Even Jomo is under the spell of a white mans dynasty and seeks to join with them to install a one party state in SVG, using the reparations call as a smoke screen for their real intentions.

    I am also told it is shortly to be released in more than one language.

  5. I personally do not think the reparations agenda is what e should be doing. It just serves to put a jacket on us as weak, dependent crybabies. Maybe the hundreds of times misjustice has occured to any group of peoples we should all be sueing eachother. This far only the jews have been successful in such an endeavour. The Armenians against the Turks has not worked. The Hawaiians against the US Government has not worked and there are hundreds of others that have happened after Slavery ended. Today the world does nothing as the Israelis attack and kill anyone they wish in the mideast or anywhere in the world, whether they are Arab, Muslims or even those they hate most, the Christians. In fact, Christians help the Zionist Israelis to undermine Christianity to continue to be subservient to Judaism.
    Along with this, I do not think it is fair to make this generation of whites pay for what thier forefathers did over two hundred years ago. That is the most anti-Christian behavior possible. I suppose that when it comes to reparations blacks can conveniently and , temporarily be un-Christian until the next Sunday roles around and then we can temporarily while in church follow Jesus when he said something like:
    “Do not punish the children for the crimes of the parents.”
    I am not so greatly in favor of religion to control everything but I know what is right and what is wrong. In this case Jomo Thomas and his master should adopt the advice of Christ instead of following the anti-Christ teachings of the Pharisees and teaching the doltish as if that is the right thing to do.

  6. julius jeffers says:

    so why we the people are still brainwash, why as a lawyer instead of an article why we can’t come together and do something about it the white people still rule and still buying people here in St Vincent, and what people are still underpaid under feed under stress St Vincent is just going under and alot can be fix if we the people work hand in hand together.. Julius jeffers

    1. We certainly are brainwashed Julius. I care not what the color of someones skin may be or from what country they come. If I did, I would certainly be a racist, (then I could move to Israel or the Ukraine, two racist countries). It works the same when we continually base our criticism on someone because thier skin is white. We seek to disadvantage and take something from them. The truth is that practically all people on this earth are brainwashed, or indoctrinated. (We have a PM that believes taking as much tax from the people as possible makes the country prosperous). We answer racism with more, or, “reverse” racism. If we want to lead, we have to ignore skin color and instead see the content of a person’s character and stop being obsessed with skin color like Jomo. It only serves to keep a particular “race” down, wallowing in complaining, self-pity and inferiority. Walking the world with an inferiority complex brings one down. It does not elevate.
      Jomo may be an agent for his master who may wish to keep us where we are.

      1. Dear Jamal, I agree with most of what you wrote but I cannot agree with this “We have a PM that believes taking as much tax from the people as possible makes the country prosperous” who else is easier to extract money from than the Vincentian citizenship. He knows it doesn’t make the country rich, the purpose is to enrich the dynasty by keeping the people down and hungry.

        Its called ‘The Political Economy of Fear’. By keeping the population in a state of artificially heightened apprehension, the government prepares the ground for planting specific measures of taxation, regulation, surveillance, police brutality, and other invasions of the people’s wealth, privacy, and freedoms.

      2. You all keep knocking our ancestors; unlike you bunch of morons who come here to agree with this dreadful communist man, a man who has seriously damaged our democracy by his inadequacy as speaker of the house by knowingly or unknowingly making partisan decisions and rulings, our ancestors were strong mentally and physically. He is a disgrace to our parliamentary tradition.

        Our ancestors were strong and had become amazing farmers, tradesmen, and family builders within a very short time after abolition saw their release as free men. The hang-ups that are talked of today have been fabricated in the hope or getting reparation payments from our previous colonizers. It’s demanding money with menaces they would love to get their hands on such a pot of gold.

        1833 – 1858, Antigua: By 1838 there were 26 free villages established in Antigua. With the sanction of the British in Antigua, 67 free villages with 5,187 houses and 15,644 [Black] inhabitants were established [in just 25 years] between 1833 and 1858.

        Between 1841 and 1856 there were on two free villages established in Barbados. In Barbados, where land was scarcer and prices higher, freeholders of less than 2 hectares each increased from 1,110 in 1844 to 3,537 in 1859.

        The concept of free villages was initiated by English missionaries, who raised funds in Great Britain to buy land to be granted to freedmen after emancipation. The Free Villages were often founded around a Baptist church, and missionaries worked to found schools as well in these settlements. Although the concept of Free Villages proved an immediate success, and many were set up, their establishment depended partly upon success in raising money in England through the Baptists, the Quaker Joseph Sturge, and other Christian or abolitionist circles. It all happened quite quickly.

        In Jamaica, black freeholders increased from 2,014 in 1838 to more than 7,800 in 1840 and more than 50,000 in 1859.

        In St. Vincent, about 8,209 persons built their own homes and bought and brought under cultivation over 5,000 hectares between 1838 and 1857.

        In Antigua, 67 free villages with 5,187 houses and 15,644 inhabitants were established between 1833 and 1858.

        The free villages produced new crops such as coconuts, rice, bananas, arrowroot, honey, and beeswax, as well as the familiar plantation crops of sugarcane, tobacco, coffee, cacao, citrus limes, and ground provisions.

        It was happening in all the islands; the emancipated had thrown off slavery, both physical and mental slavery. They were getting on with their lives, working and feeding their families. Many worked their own land, and some worked for others.

        Unlike today’s Vincentian wimps our ancestors picked themselves up, dusted themselves off and got on with life.

        For God sake try and be as strong and as brave as our ancestors, stop these nasty people from trying to convince you that you all you are mentally ill, affected by the past, it’s ridicules. They must be shuddering in there graves at todays Vincentians being so ably fooled by just a handful.

  7. Slave Clan is still with us. ( Ancestry)
    Jomo, thanks for your lectureship on Slavery.
    400yr ago our fore parents did not have the educational system as today, even our colonist did invited us to such.

    Today, we are still parcel of slave mind.

    Our Polical Leader is decedent of Slave Masters who brought and sold our fore parents in this hemisphere, less we forget we made the same head of Government SVG.

    Jomo , instead of emancipating our self we are be coming another type of slaves, such as mental slaves, yardboy slaves, spying Slaves, watchman slave, poor relief slaves,
    Economic slaves, Dependent slave pick up that which is falling from Master’s table. Fighting slaves (brothers fighting against each other) devide and conquer.

    When you slaves Masters cut off our main economic strength, and left to linger in the sun, when we Connot bear it anymore we to those who may shelter us, and so exploitation in all form is metted out to us.

    In this Education Revolution song bits, and reality is not the same, in stead of electing of same of African decedences, and understand our history ,we still like the slave mentality to rule us.
    When remarks was to former Leader about his blackness and standing with the President of Us, did you condemn such , or you one of the privilege yardboy? Just asking: This separate a free man from slave mentality.
    Your actions in House of Parliment is very questionable to the fairness of ruling, so be mindful of that seems to be you the one fighting against your black brothers for the Slaves masters.
    DNA never change. papa Doc, mini Doc, cousin Doc, all others are on the plantations.

    Jomo, you did study this before becoming part of the slave clan. I hope you will rectify and speak out that we the people need an apology from those slave master.

  8. Let us not forget Jomo, that another of Bob’s song is “Who The Cap Fit” with the lines about both hypocrites and parasites, the lyrics of which are; Man to man is so unjust, children. You don’t know who to trust. Your worst enemy could be your best friend. And your best friend your worst enemy. Some will eat and drink with you. Then behind them su-su ‘pon you. Only your friend know your secrets. So only he could reveal it. And who the cap fit. Let them wear it! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wE4TpnYIsW4

    In the circumstance Jumo, should you not be looking closer to home for reparation while giving us this glimpse into our recent past?

    Moreover Jomo, why have you neglected to remind us that it was indeed the Portuguese who initiated the hideous Slave Trade in the first place, and this after their first excursion into the kidnaping of the African people. So much so that at one time there were grossly more enslaved Africans in Brazil than any other people who were there.

    Why are you not looking to the Governments in Arabia and Africa for reparation Jomo? After all, did not those two continents profited from the trade in enslaved people?

    Above all, who among us Caribbean mongrels are to receive these reparation moneys as you seek to separate the pedigree/thoroughbred Europeans (the exploiters), from the pedigree/thoroughbred Africans, (the exploited).

    How will you do that Jomo, as you seek to extract reparation moneys from today’s people for the actions of their ancestors? How far should the guilt trip extend? Should the Tax moneys of Black and mixed Britons or African Americans be extracted and given to incompetent or corrupt governments by way of reparation Jomo? https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/zy7fr82/revision/1

    A reply from you would be good!

  9. Hey Jomo, nice article, however we (Vincentians and black people) continue to keep ourselves in bondage. We behave like we’re the only ethnic group that was suppressed. Other groups were able to find innovative way to overcome their challenges but we seem to be whining too much about our past instead of trying to find the fortune in misfortune. Just look and the rampant killings, political divisions, the passive mindset of our people, and always blaming the White man.

    Look at the mentally of the Asian people. The Japanese and South Koreans have turn their economies around with discipline and innovative thinking. China is seeking global domination and has pretty much cannibalized Africa, with its eyes on the commodity rich countries in Latin America and some Caribbean countries.

    When we start to appreciate our differences and embrace and capitalize on our strength, only then we’ll own our destiny and become the true leaders we were meant to be.

    1. Good comment Gus. You talk about both sides of the issue, so does Jomo but Jomo has already decided according to what he wants but obviously not according to what is needed. I love the fact that you mentioned Asia and thier success. People like those in our government do not want us to look at Asia because then they would have to craft working policy instead of continuing to exploit us for thier own gain by distracting us with talk of reparations.
      They are running thier own slavery program.

  10. I think it’s important to understand the effects of colonialism on our country before making such a comment Julius. I totally agree that there is much to be done in St Vincent in terms of the structure and power in which the country functions. However, it is going to take years to rejuvenate such a country that suffers from colonial bondage. In terms of coming together, we have to become aware and I guess that is the sole purpose of the article. As Julius Jeffers stated, let’s hope that we can come together and work as a collective to help better our country.

      1. I am sur you do AL, “Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.”

  11. One contributor to the forum spoke about a book that is written about reparations . However, one should bear in mind the the contents of a book is a function of the authors’a own bias and knowledge. Was it well researched? Where did the author got his information? All these are factors that should be taken into consideration when makes a reference to a particular publication.

    1. Well JB, I now have the book, its absolutely amazing, every sentence or paragraph that is stated as a fact has the actual place reference it can be found, not a number and index, the reference and place of deposit right there.

      I am led to understand it will be published as an ebook because it is huge around 500,000 words. Its the most complete historical research ever undertaken on the subject. I don’t know the price, I just hope people can afford it because it took ten years to write.

      Its more of a reference book, a compilation of facts and figures, some from international public records, very little personal commentary or opinions.

      But for sure it is kind of contradictory to what people like Beccles and Gonsalves have written regarding reparations, in some ways the truth is destructive of that. It exposes the way in which Black people have been misled into believing what may be proven to be hogwash to embarrass Britain into making payments against threats and menaces.

    2. Dear Jomo, most of us if not all of us are not pureblood ex-slave stock. Perhaps your ancestry coming exclusively from the Feckarewe Tribe are purebred, you look purebred.

      For those readers who are already lost and wonder what I am rattling on about. There is a tribe in Africa called the Feckarewe Tribe. Called that because being Pigmies and living in areas where tall elephant grass grows, they can be heard when approaching because they repeat over and over again, “where the feck are we.”

      You may decide this is offensive, but I also find offensive what you wrote: “our African ancestors were forcibly brought to this part of the world.” Yours were perhaps Jomo, but a large number of Vincentians Black, white, and some colors in between were not. My ancestor, for instance, came to Saint Vincent as a free man, an African immigrant of the Kru Tribe.

      There are many here with as much right to call themselves Vincentians as you, who are white [like the prime minister when he is washed]. Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish, Syrians, English, Scots, even east Europeans, all colors all cultures.
      Some of these people have mingled with the Vincentian Blacks and produced some beautiful rainbow colors. But they are all Vincentians now, and I am sure are fed up with the rhetoric you keep producing to please your boss.

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