University of Pennsylvania Anthropology and Africana Studies professor Deborah Thomas has collaborated with music director and master drummer Junior “Gabu” Wedderburn and a Jamaican liberation psychologist on a project, Tivoli Stories, which is a multi-media public art installation designed to provide a platform for members of Tivoli Gardens community to recount their experiences during the May and June 2010 unrest, name and publicly memorialize the loved ones they lost.
Those interviewed for the project include men who were taken from their homes by security forces, women who lost their sons and other male family members and spared families who spent five terrifying days hiding under tables.
Tivoli Gardens and other surrounding communities were under a state of emergency after supporters of Christopher “Dudus” Coke, who is serving time in a United States penitentiary after pleading guilty to federal racketeering charges in connection with drug trafficking and assault, attacked police stations and blockaded parts of the city.
Although the official death toll was given as 73 during the violence that erupted between Dudus supporters and Jamaica’s law enforcement, Thomas says that, based on conversations with area residents, almost 200 people lost their lives, the majority of them young men.
“While the security forces also took older men from the community, these elders weren’t physically terrorized to the extent that the young men were,” Thomas said during the inaugural Diana Massiah Lecture in Caribbean Studies last Friday night at York University. “This reflects the structural violence of the garrison system whereby young men’s options are limited to either legitimate work that they can obtain through their links to a ‘don’ because these opportunities are typically generated through state contracts that flow to the community from the Member of Parliament through the ‘don’.
“Illegitimate activists work for the ‘don’ himself or through self-employment like driving a taxi or running a shop. These latter opportunities however are also typically mediated in some way by the authority of the local ‘don’. I make these points not to demonize garrison ‘dons’ but to suggest that their leadership is exploited by elected politicians and therefore by a broader political system that, since its inception with universal adult suffrage in 1944, has tolerated a parallel political structure allowing elected representatives to avoid responsibility for partisan political violence and involvement in illicit international trade in drugs and guns.”
The three-year lecture series was established to celebrate Massiah’s 65th birthday last year. A graduate of Queen’s College in Barbados, she migrated in the mid-1980s and has been active in the Barbadian community in the Greater Toronto Area.
Massiah is a former Harrison-Queen’s College Alumni Association Toronto chapter president and Barbados Ball board director.
The lecture is co-sponsored by the York Centre for Education and Community and supported by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
“As a former Centre for Research on Latin America & the Caribbean (CERLAC) director, I am pleased to see the continuing growth of Caribbean scholarship in Canada and CERLAC’s role in that process,” said Dr. Andrea Davis who is an associate professor in York University’s department of Humanities where she teaches a course in Cultures of the Americas.
The David and Grace Taylor Graduate Scholarship in Caribbean Studies was officially launched prior to Thomas’ lecture.
Political science doctoral candidate Rachel O’Donnell is the first recipient of the $5,000 award that will be presented each year to support Ph.D. students whose research is related to Caribbean Studies. The winner is selected based on academic excellence, the significance of their research and financial need.
There were nine applicants for the inaugural award.
O’Donnell’s thesis is titled “Colonial Plants and Contemporary Bioprospecting: The Gendered History of Petiveria Alliacea.”
“This research is considered to be on the cutting edge of Caribbean scholarship and, more importantly, it has important implications for policy research in an area of the Caribbean notorious for its neglect of the exploration of our fauna and the commercial exploitation of that fauna as the basis of an indigenous pharmaceutical industry,” said York University associate professor Dr. David Trotman. “This research offers the possibility for contributing to that kind of development.”
Barbados consul general Haynesley Benn attended the event at York University’s Price Family Cinema.