Time to end silence on the oppression of Africans


You stole my history destroyed my culture

Cut out my tongue so I can’t communicate

Then you mediate and you separate

Hide my whole way of life so my self I should hate

Took away my name put me to shame

Made me a disgrace as the world’s laughing stock

Think of me as show you jeer and to mock

But your time is at hand

From the shores of Africa to the mainland of Haiti

Caribbean and the Pacific, Central and South America

Brother what a price I’ve paid Sister what a price I’ve paid

Mother what a price I’ve paid Father what a price I’ve paid

Excerpt from ‘Price of Peace’ by Jimmy Cliff from the album Unlimited (released August, 1973).

Jimmy Cliff was born James Chambers on April 1, 1948 at Adelphi Land, a village in the District of Somerton in the parish of St. James, Jamaica. He is currently the only living musician to hold the Order of Merit, the highest honour that can be granted by the Jamaican government for achievement in the arts and sciences. The Jamaican government under Prime Minister P.J. Patterson honoured Cliff on October 20, 2003, by awarding him the Order of Merit, the nation's third-highest honour, in recognition of his contributions to the film and music of Jamaica. 

Professor Ralston Milton “Rex” Nettleford used the lyrics of Jimmy Cliff’s ‘Price of Peace’ as part of his address on the occasion of the United Nations Observance of the Commemoration of the 200th Anniversary of the Abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, at the UN Headquarters in New York, on March 26, 2007.

Nettleford, an African Caribbean griot and scholar, was born on February 3, 1933 at Falmouth, Trelawny, Jamaica and transitioned to join the ancestors on February 2, 2010, the day before his 77th birthday.

In his address Nettleford said: “I come from that part of the Americas, the Caribbean, which is arguably the living laboratory of the dynamism of the encounters between Africa and Europe on foreign soil, and of both the Native American who had inhabited the real estate of the Americas, time out of mind, during periods of conquest and dehumanization, along with the corresponding process of struggle and resistance.”

In 2007, when Nettleford spoke about the African presence in the Caribbean, he included the lyrics of Cliff’s ‘Price of Peace’ to illustrate the harm that was done to Africans during the 400 years of enslavement, which manifests itself in self-destructive behaviour today.

This is the kind of behaviour that results from what African-American Professor Dr. Joy DeGruy Leary terms “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome”. All Africans were affected by the slave trade, not only those who were kidnapped and dragged out of the African continent. The forced removal of millions of Africans who were transported across the Atlantic and enslaved caused the debilitation and destruction of African societies and civilizations and led to the eventual colonization of the African continent by European nations. As Guyanese historian Dr. Walter Rodney documented in his book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, this also led to the impoverishment of Africa as the European nations parasitically accumulated wealth.

Nettleford also acknowledged that there was exploitation of indentured labourers who arrived in the Caribbean after slavery was abolished and their experience of labour exploitation which, although oppressive, did not strip them of their language and culture.

Although exploited, the indentured labourers were not bought and sold as chattel as the enslaved Africans who had been treated as if they were not human.

Nettleford said: “The advent of later arrivants to the Caribbean after the abolition, first, of the trade in the enslaved Africans and, later, of slavery itself, did not save them from labour exploitation. But those new arrivants did enter as free men and women into a society which by then had the promise of decency and civility informing human, if not an altogether humane, existence. This has been made distinctive by the catalytic role played by the African Presence in social formation within a psychic universe, a great part of which has been plunged, wittingly and unwittingly, into subterranean and submarine silence, to mix a metaphor.”

The subterranean and submarine silence which existed for centuries after slavery was abolished was lifted somewhat at the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in 2001 when African descendants voiced the demand for reparations. Although it was not the first instance of Africans mentioning reparations for the centuries of inhumane treatment of their enslaved ancestors and the free labour that they were forced to provide which enriched Europeans and their descendants, it was the first global outcry.

In the USA, formerly enslaved African-Americans had been demanding reparations since they were freed. The Johnson v. McAdoo cotton tax lawsuit is the first documented African-American reparations litigation on the federal level in the United States. In 1915, the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty and Pension Association filed the class action lawsuit in federal court for $68 million against the U.S. Treasury.

The lawsuit claimed that this amount which was collected between 1862 and 1868 as a tax on cotton was owed to the appellants because the cotton had been produced by them and their ancestors during their “involuntary servitude”. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia denied their claim based on governmental immunity and the U.S. Supreme Court, on appeal, sided with the lower court decision.

We are still suffering the effects of the centuries of enslavement of our ancestors and reparations are overdue. As we approach the year 2011, which has been designated the “International Year for People of African Descent” by a proclamation from the United Nations General Assembly, we need to remember the words of Professor Rex Nettleford and shatter the “subterranean and submarine silence” of the continued oppression of Africans.


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