Caribana, Africville and jazz: tales of our stolen culture

By Lennox Farrell Thursday September 15 2011 in Caribana
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In each instance in which Black people lost the Montreal Jazz Festival, saw Toronto’s Caribana re-branded, and were forcibly removed from Nova Scotia’s Africville, members of a City council played the seminal role.


However, in two of these cases, Caribana and Africville, City officials were allied with Black people to effect their ends.


For example, in the case of Africville, among the 10 individuals chosen by the City council to ensure the receiving of recommendations that Africville be demolished, six were Black.


It is, as Dr. Odida Quamina in this context citing an African proverb would say, “when the trees saw the axe coming into the forest, some of them said, ‘its O.K., the handle is one of us’.”


Africville has had in its British Loyalists origins a similar history as have some villages in Trinidad. These villages, or “Company Towns”, were numbered 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th. The 2nd is reputed to have gone to Jamaica, but of this no one is certain.


What is certain is that these towns in Trinidad, all located in an area known today as Moruga, were settled by former enslaved Africans who, in the American war of Independence against Britain, had fought on the losing side of the British. For their efforts, they had been promised to be re-located outside of North America, and given both freedom and 16 acres of land per head of household.


The British, ‘perfidious Albion’ as the Irish most aptly described them, having not only lost this war for independence by a former colony, America, but subsequently seizing another colony from Spanish hidalgos in imperial decline, one held by the Spaniards for two centuries, made taking Trinidad easy pickings.


Thus were these former American slaves, who were referred to by the locals as “Merikins” after their manner of pronouncing ‘Americans’, were the only former slaves in Trinidad to receive land as compensation for enslavement.


A good place to look for more comprehensive research and writings on these “Company Towns” first occupied by former enslaved Americans, is in Michael Anthony’s, “Towns and Villages of Trinidad & Tobago”. His writings on this and on other matters pertaining to historical Trinidad & Tobago are excellent and more than worth the effort.


Also, is there a special story behind the offering of these 16 acres? Especially since former slaves, following their valiant contributions in the Civil war between the slave-opposed North and the slave-holding southern states, would be offered 40 acres and a mule as compensation or as reparations for their enslavement?


There were not only the ‘Merikins’ of these “Company Towns” in Trinidad, but there were also former American slaves who, too, had fought alongside the British and who for their efforts had also been promised land and freedom in British-controlled Nova Scotia, the area, by the way, wherein “Scotiabank” acquired its brand.


These former slaves, like those in Trinidad, were unceremoniously dumped by the British in inhospitable locations. However, in Nova Scotia, matters were very different. The former slaves were also dumped on bare rock. And so poverty-stricken was their subsequent plight, many of them voluntarily re-sold themselves into slavery.


Did Africville begin with the arrival of these British Loyalists? Or were there other Black people already living there for centuries before they arrived? And why did the descendants of former slaves have to occupy land that at various times was the City of Halifax’s garbage dump? The dumping ground for the city’s ‘night soil’? Its nightly load of sh*t? or put in Trinidadian creole, it’s ‘zeingeh tallalah’?!


And what of value which was lost to these residents that reminds Black Toronto of how Caribana, now seized, might also be put to profitable use by others inimical to our interests and future?


At least, the residents of Africville did not surrender to the status quo, but against vast and intransigent odds, put up one historic ‘helluva’ fight!


To be continued.

Farrell is a retired educator and a former board member and chair of the Caribbean Cultural Committee, the owners of Caribana.



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