Round Table with Oscar
October 18, 2016

Another look at Independence

What we call “Independence” is really a state of tug-o-war between subjugation and sovereignty. In other words, when we celebrate 37 years of national independence as though it were something that we already have safe in our pockets, that is an illusion. We are accepting blindly an ideological deception and we must push that aside vigorously. Some people have said that “the payment for freedom is eternal vigilance.” Well, I would say that independence has a price of constant and active suspicion.{{more}}

Before the gold hunting adventures from Europe stumbled on our Caribbean hemisphere and forced themselves on our territory, varieties of People’s Independence were the order of the day. It was different from the neocolonial independence that we inhabit today. What was it like? For one thing, the whole population was involved in some meaningful way in reproducing the well-being of the community – all were included, while different groups did different “work” in the community, like farming, making pottery dishes, farming tools or weapons, and artwork, and hunting; these differences did not cause antagonism, grudge and conflict – all seemed to find their dignity and identity through the culture that they shared. People’s unity was a foundation of their independence and when any special event or challenge confronted the community, everyone became mobilized. Our First Hero, Joseph Chatoyer, and the leaders before him, maintained the independence of our country for decades and centuries through an active suspicion of the Europeans and their outstanding People War against the British. Pre-colonial independence was therefore the fruit of unity, suspicion and strategic war; that was their recipe. The forces which Chatoyer led explicitly and implicitly comprised Callinago, Garifuna, African and French masses united in the patriotic war for our homeland’s independence. There were no material divisions.

When the British Crown imposed its occupation of our territory – land and sea – and subjugated the people – enslaved and free, the main objective was to extort wealth from the labour pwer and the other resources here and imported from Africa. The people’s independence struggle was first of all to win the right to the sovereignty of freedom of their own bodies, to crush colonial slavery; this was a divisive struggle, a kind of class struggle. The enslaved section of the people had one aim, to be free, while the minority estate owners and the British Crown resolves to keep slaves subjugated under various levels of severity. Naturally, because the white population was a minority of about one to 20, brutal force, ideological/racist force, and population/slave division were weapons of control by the minority. The independence of the labour force emancipation, in 1838, was a result of Caribbean region-wide resistance, revolt and ‘war’ by the slaves and an alliance of reform and anti-slavery movements in Britain, as well as a drop in the rate of extortion and profit that colonial slavery was earning. That first victory was therefore a class victory in a context of business failures and social movements.

The independence that we celebrate this month is the result of a second part of the struggle against colonialism. Emancipation was part one of our independence. Constitutional or neo-colonial independence dated 27.10.79 was a second step in the march to our people’s sovereignty and nationhood in SVG. Just about 140 years after Emancipation, or about 250 years after the Callinago leaders signed a document with the British Crown and military, another document was deposited as a colonial prize. It came from 140 years of uneasy peace and periodic uprising. It resulted from two sections of unsettled sections of the colonized people in SVG: the exploited and impoverished working people, and the educated, rising black professionals, who feel the frustrations of a colonial ceiling keeping them down. Could these two groups become a nationalist movement with a people’s independence platform to take SVG forward or not? This second part of the people’s independence struggle is what Round Table will explore next time.