August recalls Indentured slavery imposed on Lanka to shape the very basis of our economy…
Solid English Irons
August 1st, Emancipation Day is celebrated (or lamented – if one dreams of being a slave owner) in many ‘former’ English colonies in the Caribbean.
England’s Slavery Abolition Act allegedly ended slavery throughout its empire in 1834, even as it continued in the USA (still legal today in their prisons) and other European colonies. The English nostalgically reserve leashes only for their dogs – though the US retains leashes for humans in Guantanamo.
This ‘abolition’ affected us immensely ensuring our underdevelopment: All of Lanka had been claimed by the white man for the first time, after 300 years of unrelenting warfare. Montane Sinhale’s lands – crucial and continuing base of resistance – were stolen and sold to become coffee (and later, tea) plantations.
‘Terroristic’ paramilitary work brigades, known as the ‘Pioneer Force,’ composed of Indian and African mercenaries, first set up by colonial governor Edward Barnes, kept building roads inwards, and the first mass of Indian workers were ‘indentured’ onto the country.
Indentured slavery imposed on Lanka still pivots our economy, profiting off unfree labor, imported and insecure. This has blotted the progress of the country: Instead of honoring the dignity of our hands, applying the best in technology (yes, the real science and arts!), and enjoying its fruits (and nuts!) – Innovations being the very material basis of human progress.
Wives, Mistresses & Underdevelopment
The Caribbean, crucial crucible of capitalism, composed a central corner in the triangular slave trade. Its plantation sugar was manufactured into alcohol in England. The alcohol then sold in Africa to buy slaves. Those slaves then taken to the Caribbean to grow sugar. Almost every European country – England, Holland, France, Sweden, Denmark, Spain and Portugal – engorged on the slave trade.
Yet, just as Nelson Mandel was freed after white South Africa’s army was defeated by Africans and Cubans in Cuito Carnevale in 1988, ‘abolition’ arrived due to the continued insurrectionary power of African people united inside the prison cage of their enslavement, the plantation. In 1831, Nat Turner led a famed rebellion in a major seat of slave power, Virginia (Cigarette packages still claim “Fine Virginia Tobacco” – nostalgia for what their tobacco industry first thrived on).
Europe’s Rothschilds bankers then funded compensation to English slave owners, setting up Barclay’s Bank, while enslaved Africans who rebuilt a continent received nothing. With typical English hypocrisy, African ‘chattel’ slavery continued under an ‘apprentice’ system, until the equally pernicious ‘indentured’ system enslaved Asian and Pacifican people.
Chattel slaves, like serfs before, had to be looked after lifelong; indentured workers were ‘contracted’ for a period; their continued ‘voluntary’ enslavement ensured by debt bondage. Like the difference between a lifelong wife and a mistress one uses and throws away.
Abolition helped England move into a more stable lucrative capitalism (mercantile to industrial, from serf to ‘free’ waged worker). They also wished to undermine other European powers (and the US) who still depended on chattel slave power.
East India Co. Triangles
1833 is also when the English East India Company lost its ‘monopoly’ over trade in Asia. The English government then backed new English companies (later multinationals like Unilever) to wage war on China to force opium on them. A new triangle trade ensued: Destroying Indian industry they forced English textiles on India, Indian-grown opium on Asia, Chinese tea and cotton to England.
The slavery now moved from African ‘chattel’ slavery to indentured Asian slavery, with Indian, Malay and Chinese workers dispersed around the world. The English families who promoted this trade – the Gladstones, etc., the kanganies of kanganies – rose to become English rulers, Prime Ministers, etc.
‘Abolition’ was when the poison of white supremacy was physically injected into our midst, to justify using unfree human beings in plantation labor. 1833 unleashed stereotypes practiced on Africans: ‘Lazy, untrustworthy and insurrectionary,’ were applied to resident Sinhala workers, even as they cleared lands for plantations, yet refused to work under slave conditions, and continued armed resistance to the white man.
Lanka has opened diplomatic offices in more African countries, but international relationships should not be defined only by short-term merchants and stipendiary wonks. Africans are far different from their portrayal by a white BBC. A new relationship to the world, to help us all overcome underdevelopment, is of utmost importance, especially from where we sit, a crucial node between Africa and China,
Despite the so-called anti-apartheid struggle, our English-language-marooned Colombo liberals proudly persist in calling Sri Lankans of African descent, ‘Kaffir,’ and even as a term of endearment for darker or curlier-haired friends! They remain comatose to the so-called anti-apartheid struggle, where “Kaffir” was white supremacist abuse. Equally retrograde remains their view of China via the white man’s bifocals: ‘Yellow Peril and Red Menace’.
Our bond to Africa and Africans, China and Chinese, as creative human beings, is more ancient and enduring, measured in thousands and ten thousand years, no matter the vile nonsense repeated by colonialism, its media and schools.
Running Beyond London
Emancipation Day is remembered wherever people from the English Caribbean were forced to migrate as second-class citizens, as in London’s Notting Hill and Canada’s Caribana. First organized by famed Caribbean communist Claudia Jones (now lying beside Karl Marx at Highgate cemetery), Carnival recals resistance to white attacks on Black people in 1950s England.
Notwithstanding its dynamic resistance over 500 years since Columbus, the Caribbean is now a US lake blocking the Panama Canal, underdeveloped into dozens of islands with dozens of powerless parliaments, attendant maces and pageboys. Imperialism even suggests, Caribbean islands be further separated within: into (east) Indians and Africans!
Our world yearns for unity: Lankika, Asian, African and real American liberation.
Caribbean women and men usually are the fastest in the world over short distances. Yaka salutes the day we all long leave England’s crippling legacies behind. Fast.