01 March 2009

500 Years’ Hard Labour

John Maxwell

As I looked at the photograph last Sunday, in this paper, I though they could be my relatives. The caption said "Anger, Despair at Long Pond" and their faces seemed very familiar.
I knew them. Not personally, but they were my kin.
Three people in desperate search for justice.
Knowing, after 500 years and 300 years and 100 years that no one is going to offer them justice. If there is to be justice they must make that justice themselves.
I was born just 4 miles away from Clarks Town, where the Observer's Ingrid Brown wrote her story. When I was a little boy you could often smell the Long Pond dunder in Duncans. Rum was so profitable then that a Canadian company built a new factory, Vale Royal, to produce rum – right next t Long Pond..
Like all the others, the Ewens, the Farquharsons, the Delgados, Sewells, Shirriffs, the O'Haras and even the Mussingtons, they are all gone, having made their fortunes, most of them, and left. They left behind them wounded communities, families broken by the refusal of the planters to even understand the idea of job tenure. Tenure! You must be joking. Want a job? Join the crowd in the cane yard and hope a 'driver' picks you.
I was much too young to understand what was happening in 1938 when a British 'seaplane' was used to overawe an unruly crowd in Duncans. The people were agitating for a dollar a day wage (four shillings, one fifth of £1 or about J$25 in today's money) They were a threat to the peace and prosperity of King George and his empire.
Perhaps the parents of Maud and Guy Campbell and their friend Mr Smith, were in that unruly crowd and their ancestors and mine would have been in Sam Sharpe's general strike and some of them, like my relatives from Trelawny Town and Accompong, were guerrilla warriors against the British and before them, the Spanish.
And yet, after all this time and all this struggle, after all this misery and oppression, after all this labour and all the years of going to bed hungry for days and weeks and years on end…after all these years, and all this blood and all these fortunes, Mr and Mrs Campbell and their friend Mr Smith are angry, not rockstone-throwing angry but the anger inherited from centuries of betrayal, of broken promises and blasted dreams.
These are the people who built capitalism, whose sweat raised Bristol and Marseilles, Liverpool and Rotterdam, and financed Versailles, the Titanic and Handel's Water Music.
And yet, after 500 years …

No duty to be poor
My father's circuit of churches included a quiet place called Refuge for reasons I am not clear about. It was a very important place during and after slavery because it offered some sort of sanctuary to the escaped slaves. That church, like Clarks Town, Duncans and Rio Bueno (Calabar) were all part of William Knibb's circuit a century before too. At one time Trelawny was the centre of Jamaican wealth, boasting at one time 88 sugar factories and Jamaica's first newspaper. It was that wealth that spawned the Georgian elegance of Falmouth now under attack by The Port Authority of Jamaica.
When Sam Sharpe's general strike began, the Trelawny planters plotted to kill William Knibb, who they thought was the brains behind Sharpe. They planned to descend on Knibb's house at Kettering, in Duncans and to set fire to the house with Knibb inside.
The slaves' intelligence network alerted them to the plot. Knibb and family were bundled off to Falmouth in a canoe from what is now Silver `Sands.
When the horsemen of the Anglican Church Union arrived in white robes they burned a cross on Knibb's lawn before setting the house on fire. These ancestors of the `Ku Klux Klan were misled by the slaves. They made dummies representing Knibb and his wife and posed them behind curtains next to the oil lamps. As the sun went down, Knibb and his wife were apparently to be seen taking their ease in their rocking chairs.
As a child I remember driving Trelawny's horse and buggy marl roads, through towering canefields broken by sudden cascades of elegant greensward, some graced by peacocks. The immaculate great houses frequently stood next to disused windmills, some of which had only recently ceased grinding sugar. Small farmers made their own 'wet sugar' ground in mills powered by oxen and boiled in the coppers to be found all over Trelawny then.
Trelawny was then, as now, always different to other parishes. Its small farmers were more independent, more self sufficient. Trelawny, the most warlike in the struggle against slavery was also the most peaceful, law-abiding parish.
~The people of Trelawny have always known that they made the parish, that they created the wealth
They worked for the sugar estates but they also worked for themselves. Up to the last, the most intricate and beautiful Jankunnu costumes, bands and music were products of Trelawny.

Sugar is officially dead
Some of us have been waiting for this day for a very long time. In 1964, the Sugar Manufacturers Research Chemist, Mr R.F. Innes, said that the industry should be producing 30 percent more sugar on the land it occupied. Some of us took that to mean that sugar could give up 30% of its acreage to small farmers to grow more food. And 1964/65 was Jamaica's best year ever for sugar, when the investments of the N. W. Manley government began to pay off. But Manley was no longer the leader, there was no follow through and it's been downhill from there ever since.
The people of Trelawny need to take charge of their own property. They need to get together to work out a plan to take into their ownership the remaining assets of the sugar industry in the parish. Those who labored in sugar should begin by allocating blocks of land – say in 2 hectare plots, to be assigned to be farmed by one family. Other plots could be farmed by larger groups. and the whole enterprise managed by cooperatives.
Naturally, everybody and his brother will want a piece of the action, and Jamaican governments are usually to be depended on to make the wrong decisions. We need the government to keep out of the way while helping organise advice and supplying skills.
All the assets include the great houses, and when the people reconstruct the great houses and put them back into operation as guesthouses, their chidren can train as guides to the history and culture of Trelawny.
We could use this as the first stage in an emergency food production programme for Jamaica. We could not only restore the old windmills but build some new ones, modern turbines, to provide power for the people of Trelawny.
If we could eliminate the imported corruption we could revolutionise Trelawny and the world.
Copyright©2009 John Maxwell

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