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August 3, 2010
Change is coming

by Oscar Allen Tue, Aug 3, 2010

This last weekend was the birthday of most of our workers and peasants/farmers. Born on 1st August 1838, black people in the “British West Indies” broke out of the womb of slavery, taking back ownership of our bodies from Masa and Misis, from the local parliament, from the British parliament and from the British monarch. We owned ourselves.{{more}} Masa no longer had the power to command our enslaved parents on foreday-morning to line up and march off in gangs to work without pay until dusk with a whipman behind them. That law was broken. Workers could now say “Yes we workin today”, or “No we not working”. They could gang up and negotiate their pay for certain tasks. They could go off up into the hills and valleys to cultivate some crops for themselves. They could start to build families and homes far away from Masa’s control of their sex life, their yard and their sleeping quarters. They could sing: “Glory Hallelujah, thank God we free;” Masa Day Done”. The women chanted to themselves and to Misis: All Arwee ah ladies now”. The general theme of their birth song was “Uhuru Sasa” Freedom Now. Just like the Moses crew as presented in Exodus chapter 15 verses 1- 20. They sang, they danced, the partied but probably with greater fervor and determination.

Like every child, our freed worker parents were born naked in 1838; Stone naked; without a penny, without a plot of land as compensation, without a home of their own. Just with their independent labour power, their dreams and their resolve. On the other hand, the new employers – no longer salve owners – were born with their gold spoon in their mouth, full of milk and honey. They kept all their lands; they kept their families/works and animals and tools; they kept control of their own “great houses” and the barracks/houses for the workers; they kept control of the laws-making parliament; and more than that, they received back pay for each worker who had been a slave, and whom they had abused to enrich themselves. That last crime was as if a thief was caught after s/he had robbed a community and built a business for himself or herself, and the judge says: “Don’t thief no more. Keep your business and we will pay you to stop thiefing!”

It was that kind of birthday that our people enjoyed in 1838, but that did not stop them from making freedom work for themselves and for us. As we celebrate this birthday of a reborn Caribbean society and community, we must thank God, honour the pain, struggles and gains of our fore-parents, and like them, hold our dreams and our resolve high. For the occasion this weekend, I think we should “Dress Glad, Walk Tall, Give Thanks and Think Far”. We too have an Emancipation of our own to accomplish, a freedom to make, a bondage to break, another independence to declare.


Nearly 100 years after the workers-peasants were born- i.e in the 1930s – they disturbed the society ruled by the planters and the British colonial order. Uprisings took place throughout the region; and the Vincentian riot began on 21st October, 1935. At that time, only the richer section of the population could vote, workers could not. One result of the uprisings was that between 1944 and 1951, in the different Caribbean colonies, adults were permitted to vote. The workers and farmers – men and women used their vote to bring a new class of representatives into the Law making council, alongside the estate owners and British representatives. The seed of a new emancipation was planted.

In the 60 years since that freedom to vote, another bondage has overtaken us. We have trapped ourselves into playing a series of “Messiah games”. The anthem for the games is:

We will never let “messiah” fall

For we love him best of all

He will fight the fight

For our children’s rights

No! We will never let messiah fall

We have had 5 messiahs ride into the “palace” on our election victory. 3 of them have ruled since Independence. The game goes like this: On election results night and on the “bank” holiday after, the followers of the messiah dance and shout “hosanna, we win!” They sing “Our time now, all our troubles will be over”. Then for a few months, many faces are warm with smiles, while others from the losing side carry daggers in their eyes. After a while and occasional favours and moments of messiah worship, He is left to Rule over us. Messiah bakes a cake and shares it among his inner court of sponsors who grow fatter. The workers and farmers return to toil and the season comes around again for another messiah tournament.

We used to love these messiah games so, fooling ourselves and then that they- messiahs – alone know what is best and how to spend our money and design our future! But we are tired of seeing and bearing the cost of their mistakes. And when they do accomplish good things – which they do – it is as if that is something more than they are supposed to do. Nobody worships and praises the farmers when we produce fine bananas and yams. Nobody worships the women who give birth to a healthy squealing baby, but when Messiah produces, Praise and Party. We are tired of Messiah Games. A change is coming.

Yes, Messiah days are numbered. Son Mitchell is in eclipse, Ralph Gonsalves has lost it, Arnhim Eustace never had it. We are approaching a new political emancipation and, like our foremothers and fore fathers we have to break out of the womb this time, of Messiah bondage. What kind of freedom do we reach for, now that we are at the mouth of the womb? What passion must pulse through us as we labour for a different future? What kind of political community, unity and leadership must replace the messiah and his cheerleaders who beat up against the loser and his people?

“Messiah” is of course a Hebrew formulation adopted by Christians. “Christ” (from Christos) is the Greek word for messiah, so “Christians” are messiah people. It is therefore interesting and instructive to read that Jesus Christ reinvented or recombined leadership to be very unlike our messiahs. He took a child and told his followers: “Be like that and be great”. He could only have meant “be teachable, be simple, be direct, be built up by relationships which are not oppressive.” He washed others feet, he said “Be the best servant you can be to our people”. Can We AND our Leaders reach fervently to build these new structures and qualities in our politics: teachableness, tough tenderness, servant-hood, footwashing?