By Nekaelia Hutchinson
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (BGIS) -- Barbados has long been known by the moniker ‘Little England'; however, principal of the University of the West Indies (UWI) Cave Hill, Professor Hilary Beckles, believes the island also deserves the title of The First African Society in the Americas.
The professor will address this theme as the keynote speaker during the Ministry of Tourism's African Diaspora Heritage Trail (ADHT) Conference, which will be held this month.
The UWI principal explained, "Barbados occupies a very special place in the making of the African Diaspora. Reflections on its relation to Africa within the public imagination and historical discourses have revolved around geographic rather than its demographic factor.”
"This is rather surprising, given that so much is known about the historical development of African enslavement in Barbados and the impact this had had on the region and indeed the wider Americas. What is of special importance, however, is that Africa found in Barbados the first place where a society was constituted upon the majority principle," he remarked
By 1660, Beckles said, this island had emerged as the first society in the Americas with an African majority; and as the largest and leading African society in the 17th century, Barbados was first to express African cultural enrichment and diversity.
"The literature of the period speaks to the special African cultural features of Barbados, including its reputation as the blue print and template for building a slave system upon the model perfected by the English," he explained, while noting that the ‘Barbados model' was then exported to the region, Jamaica especially, and to the northern mainland, including South Carolina.
Adding that the unique elements of Barbados' history did not end there, the UWI principal stated that it was "...the only society in the Americas where African women were a majority during most of the slavery period and after. This demographic fact has had a striking social and economic impact on the making of Barbados as a society. Within the network of Africa's Diaspora, the entire island can thus be classified as a site of memory in the transatlantic slave trade."
He also intimated that it was here that Africans were first concentrated and, by extension, where the system of white supremacy colonisation matured.
"The cultural history of Africans on the island, then, has the deepest roots. This is significant because it was in Barbados that African cultural oppression was most brutal and persistent. In the face of the process of intended ‘culture-cide' Africans in Barbados buried their ontology and epistemology the best they could, Kamau Brathwaite tells us, where they awaited the day of excavation and liberation," he stated.
This ‘excavation', Professor Beckles observed, was currently in motion, taking the form of an "...African renaissance, a process of rediscovery and legitimisation that seeks to confront and uproot the inner plantation.
“The island society has a great deal to suggest to other parts of the African Diaspora about its special journey. From here many new missiles can be launched in the revival of African global legitimacy."
The ADHT Conference, which will examine Our Freedom, Our Identity: Uncover, Recover, Discover, will be held September 17 to 19.
Local, regional and international speakers will address myriad themes that speak to the experiences of the African Diaspora.