African slave owners in Trinidad and elsewhere
Photo : Kamal Persad
I wish to take issue with the attacks by Shabaka Kambon and Dr. Claudius Fergus on a fellow member of the Indian-Trinidadian intelligentsia who is also the editor of the free online Indo-Caribbean Diaspora Newsletter www.icdn.today.
In the Express of January 19, Dool Hanomansingh was accused by these two black power activists of being “most reckless with facts” and engaging in a “laughable,” “anti-African falsification” of “great magnitude” because Hanoomansingh stated that blacks in Trinidad enslaved some of the First Peoples.
Fergus also wrote in a blog that it was a “unique example set by Africans who, before Emancipation, were the only farmers who worked the land without slave labour” (wired868.com).
The British introduced sugarcane cultivation in the Caribbean which resulted in the mass transatlantic slave trade with Africa. But there were Africans in Trinidad before the arrival of the British in 1797. They were first brought by Spanish and French colonists as servants and slaves to work in the cotton, tobacco, cocoa and coffee fields. Some Africans and their Mixed children (Mulattos) were emancipated and became slave owners themselves.
Photo : Shabaka Kambon
Hanomansingh was certainly not peddling “fiction” when he wrote that Africans as well as the Spanish encomenderos [estate proprietors] in Trinidad were owners of Amerindian (Tainos) slaves. This is an historical fact documented by Francisco Morales Padrón, a researcher and university professor from Spain attached to the University of Seville.
In his book Spanish Trinidad (2012), Padrón stated that when Governor Sebastein de Roseta/Roteta assumed governorship of Trinidad in1688, he became concerned about the condition of the enslaved Amerindians in the colony. Roseta quickly decreed that all enslaved Amerindians, who had not yet been assigned to tribute labour, be granted their freedom.
Using Spanish archival documents, Padrón wrote: “There was yet a third social element that the governor dared not go against, the Africans” (page 132). Africans, Coloureds and Mixed were also owners of Amerindian slaves, but Roseta did not dare forbid Africans from exploiting these First Peoples as he had done to the Spaniards.
Roseta was careful not to upset members of the African community in Trinidad. He argued that they were one third of the island’s population and carried the responsibility of defending the island against foreign invaders.
If Amerindian slaves were to be taken away from their African masters, the latter would surely move to another island. Therefore, one had to “value (the Afro-Trinidadians) in whichever way possible, for without them, four white men would not be able to protect or defend the island.”
It is interesting to note that Padrón’s book was translated from Spanish to English by Dr Armando Garcia de la Torre, a lecturer at UWI. Is Fergus disagreeing with his colleague in the same department? Even with Professor Bridget Brereton?
In an article entitled “Enslavement in Trinidad: the beginnings,” Brereton wrote that “a few enslaved Africans, and a probably slightly larger group of free persons of African, African-Spanish, African-Amerindian or African-Spanish-Amerindian descent, formed part of the small population of Spanish Trinidad in the 17th and 18th centuries.”
About French immigrants to Trinidad from 1777, Brereton added: “Most were white, but a significant group were “free coloureds,” people of mixed African/European descent who were free and, in many cases, quite wealthy. Both groups brought with them their human “property,” their enslaved labourers, for the land grants offered by the Spanish government were proportionate to the number they introduced to the island” (Express 17/08/11).
Photo : Cladius Fergus
Dr. Claudius Fergus, the Kambons (father and son) and other Black Power activists are refusing to accept the fact that Africans were also slave owners of Africans.
The Cedula of Population of 1783 created a larger class of black and coloured slave owners. The edict gave incentives for persons - especially those from Grenada, Martinique, Guadeloupe and Dominica - to migrate to Trinidad. Free blacks and coloureds were given grants of land: 16 acres (65,000 m²) for each free man, woman and child and half of that for each slave brought.
We are not at all disappointed in the ethno-centrism of Kambon who refuses to believe that Africans in Trinidad were slave owners. He is merely a cross-road rabble rouser who was recently kicked out of UWI by the Principal who declared him persona non grata on November 30, 2017.
We are, however, very much disappointed in Dr. Claudius Fergus for turning a blind eye to this historical fact. We now question his objectivity as a spokesman, lecturer, writer and supervisor of theses.
This is not the first time that Fergus has been caught committing this academic crime. In an article subtitled “Baldeosingh knocks Fergus over ‘historical distortions,’” newspaper journalist Kevin Baldeosingh exposed Fergus’ Afro-centric bias (wired868.com). Baldeosingh showed that Africans were slave owners and slave traders in Africa, Egypt and the Middle East.
THE WRITER is coordinator of the research centre, The Indian Review
Kamal Persad (BA, MA, History, UWI)
Carapichaima, Trinidad and Tobago