Aaron Alexan­der on Eman­ci­pa­tion Day!

The Star (St. Lucia) - - FRONT PAGE - David Venn

These new plan­ta­tions by the sea; a slav­ery with­out chains, with no blood spilt—just chain-link fences and signs, the new degra­da­tions.” In his poem, ‘The Aca­cia Trees’, Derek Wal­cott’s rhyth­mic words pref­aced his opin­ion on tourism in Saint Lu­cia, that it is syn­ony­mous with slav­ery. The poet’s view is strongly sup­ported by ac­tivist Aaron Alexan­der, who is the chair­man of the Cul­ture and Mo­bi­liza­tion com­mit­tee of the Iyanola Coun­cil for the Ad­vance­ment of Rasta­fari (ICAR). He is no glee-rid­den, happy sap who puts his dread­locks up in a bow and kicks it back on Eman­ci­pa­tion Day with a Pi­ton, dream­ing of hav­ing ev­ery Wed­nes­day off. For Aaron Alexan­der, Eman­ci­pa­tion Day is an in­com­plete junc­tion of past and present; as well as be­ing a time to ac­knowl­edge and pay trib­ute to his an­ces­tors. It is im­por­tant to hon­our this day, Alexan­der points out, “but it should be a re­minder to be re­silient and re­flect on the mod­ern state.” The lib­er­a­tion of slaves and the achieve­ment of gain­ing semi-au­ton­omy is un­fin­ished busi­ness, ac­cord­ing to the Ras­ta­man.

Ac­cord­ing to Alexan­der, abol­ish­ing slav­ery and the es­tab­lish­ing of Saint Lu­cia’s in­de­pen­dence from Bri­tain in 1979 was not done with proper in­sight. Saint Lu­cia, along with the wider Caribbean and most of Africa, were left hol­lowed, un­ful­filled and en­trenched in their her­itage and lack of iden­tity. “Our ridicu­lous and stupid lead­ers at the time, Sir John and so on, who was called the fa­ther of the na­tion—not my fa­ther—ac­cepted this thing with­out any sort of com­pen­sa­tion. They didn’t see the need for that. If Sir John was the fa­ther of the na­tion, then he sold us out big time.” Not that Alexan­der was ever against In­de­pen­dence. He be­lieves Saint Lu­cia was short­changed. “It’s like you are wean­ing us from the breast but at the same time you are not giv­ing us any milk to go with.

“We are of­ten told that Eng­land is our Mother Coun­try, that we come from the bo­som of Eng­land. So isn’t the mother sup­posed to help her chil­dren? It goes with­out say­ing, a mother has to nur­ture her chil­dren. But yet we got In­de­pen­dence with­out repa­ra­tions; we got no kind of com­pen­sa­tion af­ter hun­dreds of years of bru­tal­iza­tion, abuse and op­pres­sion and all the atroc­i­ties com­mit­ted against us. And our gov­ern­ment, af­ter in­de­pen­dence, is sup­posed to start an econ­omy? With what?”

In 2013, lead­ers of gov­ern­ment from dif­fer­ent Caribbean states rose to­gether to cre­ate the CARICOM Repa­ra­tions Com­mit­tee (CRC), an or­gan­i­sa­tion founded on the his­tory of the en­slaved, and the ba­sic prin­ci­ples of hu­man rights. The CRC claims that of the coun­tries sub­jected to colo­nial­ism, their mod­ern strug­gle is a di­rect con­se­quence of just that. Since the CRC’s launch, a num­ber of other repa­ra­tions com­mit­tees have sprung up in Europe, Great Bri­tain and Canada. And in 2015, the In­ter­na­tional Repa­ra­tions Con­fer­ence was held in New York City, fea­tur­ing ad­vo­cates for the cause from around 22 coun­tries, ac­cord­ing to the CRC’s web­site.

Al­though there has been progress from this move­ment, the United Na­tions has not for­mally re­quested any repa­ra­tions from any colo­nial power. Nev­er­the­less, the or­gan­i­sa­tion has deemed 2015 to 2024 as the In­ter­na­tional Decade for Peo­ple of African De­scent. Their ob­jec­tives for the decade are to pro­mote re­spect and knowl­edge, and strengthen le­gal frame­works re­gard­ing racial dis­crim­i­na­tion.

Alexan­der says repa­ra­tions can man­i­fest in mon­e­tary value or with the place­ment of in­sti­tu­tions in Saint Lu­cia. “We need uni­ver­si­ties in Saint Lu­cia. We need the Bri­tish, the colo­nial pow­ers, our for­mer slave masters, to build proper in­sti­tu­tions in Saint Lu­cia,” Alexan­der says, with the idea of post-sec­ondary schools, a re­vamped ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem and proper health­care in mind. Sup­ple­men­tary to ed­u­ca­tion that will surely bet­ter the dis­tant fu­ture of Saint Lu­cia, he wants in­sti­tu­tions that can help the econ­omy sooner, rather than later.

The ac­tivist would like to see a re­fined agri­cul­tural in­dus­try among other in­dus­tries that could spawn di­ver­si­fied op­por­tu­ni­ties. “Give us these in­dus­tries so that we can take our raw, nat­u­ral re­sources and cre­ate things out of them. So our peo­ple will feel a sense of em­pow­er­ment; so they cre­ate things, in­stead of seek­ing work in ho­tels, ho­tels, ho­tels where they serve, serve, serve. This is 21st cen­tury slav­ery.”

Es­sen­tially, he wants to keep ev­ery­thing in-house; the bio­di­ver­sity, the nat­u­ral re­sources, all of it. Ac­cord­ing to Aaron Alexan­der, for­mer and cur­rent gov­ern­ment ad­min­is­tra­tions don’t hold the oblig­a­tory value he be­lieves agri­cul­ture should have. He says: “We need more au­ton­omy for our coun­try. We are ca­pa­ble of han­dling our af­fairs, if only the politi­cians re­al­ize the re­sources we have.” Be­sides, “it’s un­safe to build an econ­omy solely off tourism; let alone the un­der­ly­ing de­mor­al­iz­ing as­pects of serv­ing rich cit­i­zens of wealthy coun­tries.”

He is con­cerned about the coun­try’s ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem. He be­lieves Saint Lu­cia’s young peo­ple must learn about their her­itage so as to be em­pow­ered through iden­tity and op­por­tu­nity. ICAR has al­legedly had a num­ber of meet­ings with gov­ern­ment ask­ing it to in­tro­duce African-her­itage stud­ies into cur­ric­ula across the coun­try, but so far to no avail.

“All chil­dren will tell you about Christopher Colum­bus,” Alexan­der as­sured me. “They know the his­tory of the Euro­peans. But how much do they know about their own his­tory? And that is the power that the chil­dren need. Give them a sense of iden­tity as to who they are.” He says this will help solve prob­lems such as youth vi­o­lence and delin­quency. “We need peo­ple to know that there are op­por­tu­ni­ties out there for them. When the peo­ple feel that there are no op­por­tu­ni­ties and no hope, what do they do? We need to re­pair the dam­age to our cul­ture, our re­li­gion be­ing ripped from us and re­placed by a for­eign re­li­gion, a for­eign cul­ture.”

The ac­tivist would like to see Eman­ci­pa­tion Day be­ing op­er­ated by a spe­cific com­mit­tee, such as ICAR, so that it can be cel­e­brated with more dig­nity. “Ev­ery Eman­ci­pa­tion, it would be fit­ting for the gov­ern­ment to meet with the Rasta­fari be­cause they know that this is some­thing dear to our hearts,” he says while con­demn­ing the gov­ern­ment’s $3 mil­lion in­vest­ment into Car­ni­val when the day that rep­re­sents the end of slav­ery re­ceived noth­ing.

“It has of­ten been said by men be­fore our time that a peo­ple with no knowl­edge of their his­tory is like a tree with no roots,” Alexan­der tells me, for the sec­ond time. He be­lieves that Eman­ci­pa­tion Day should in­clude an ac­cu­mu­la­tion of events lead­ing up to August 1.

“In the spirit of Eman­ci­pa­tion, all these things we need to look at, my brother. Or else Saint Lu­cia is go­ing to be a lost cause.”

Aaron Alexan­der: The cul­tural ac­tivist is self­con­vinced that our lead­ers sold us out, that the wool was pulled over their eyes when they agreed to In­de­pen­dence with­out com­pen­sa­tion for what their peo­ple suf­fered at the hands of their for­mer colo­nial masters and ear­lier en­slavers. He be­lieves the na­tion needs to re­con­sider which is more im­por­tant: Car­ni­val or Eman­ci­pa­tion?

Aaron Alexan­der em­bod­ies the Caribbean’s peren­nial war­cry: We want it back!

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