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The Price of Memory: A case for reparations for slavery
Published on October 14, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

caribnewsnow's Price of Memory album on Photobucket

By Marcia Braveboy

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad -- There are tons of films about slavery, but how many films have you seen making a case for reparations for slavery?

Out of slavery itself film producer Karen Marks Mafundikwa of Jamaica has brought this prized and rare possession to the Caribbean and the world -- making a case for reparations for slavery through a film titled: The Price of Memory.

The film was shown last Sunday at MovieTowne at the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival.

Karen Marks Mafundikwa. Photo: Marcia Braveboy
Marks Mafundikwa took a decade to make this 100 percent Jamaican film a reality. Time she needed to allow the many layers of this broad picture about slavery in Jamaica to reveal themselves thoroughly.

“It took ten years because the story was evolving, I was doing research, there were money challenges, I was moving between New York and Jamaica to do shoot. I had to go to England to research… it was a lot of work.”

Slavery’s tentacles reach so deep and wide that the naming of this film: The Price of Memory was a no brainer. Slavery had left too many large footprints in too many pathways of Jamaica to not think the price of this memory left behind will not remain alive and troubling in the consciousness of some people who to this day demand answers for the enslavement.

“It was like calculating the memory; you could see the people were paying the price of memory.”

And it was easy to learn how plantation owners restricted ex-slaves access to land by overpricing it. Then 30 years after slavery ended, a group of labourers wrote Queen Victoria asking for social relief and land. “This was the first reparations request in Jamaica.” The Queen’s crude response was that laborers should work harder for the planters, “so the planters’ profits would increase, and allow them to pay higher wages” Marks Mafundikwa highlights in her film.

She told Woman’s Weekly, when she was producing this film, it was a lonely endeavour. She had to remain unceasingly determined even as she constantly asked herself, “Why am I doing this?”

Lucky for her, she may just have struck gold; this film has emerged when conversations about reparations are at present a hot topic among Caribbean leaders and other interest groups in the Caribbean region.

From the academic rooms of the University of the West Indies (UWI) out of Barbados, chairman of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Reparations Committee, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, in a presentation to the British House of Commons on July 16, outlined the injustices of slavery and the genocide that occurred because of European expansion. He said Great Britain and other European governments benefitted from slavery and have a case to answer. Beckles is optimistic that “this 21st century will be the century of global reparatory justice.”

At the 66th session of the UN General Assembly in 2011, St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves told the assembly: “The people of St Vincent and the Grenadines have a long and proud history of resistance to slavery, bigotry and genocide, dating back to the heroic resistance of the Garifuna peoples against British aggression in the late 1700s.”

Marks Mafundikwa is happy the film is ready to roll at this time when lots of talk about reparations is saturating the Caribbean atmosphere. The timing could not be more fortuitous than this.

“It’s good that it was coming out at a time when the topic is back on the agenda,” a visibly pleased Marks Mafundikwa said.

To be real, slavery has left centuries of trauma with its memories she noted. She wants Britain to pay for their contribution to these painful memories.

“Although no payment could be enough for the price of our memories, reparations is a bridge to healing. We can’t go back to who we could have been before slavery. We must evolve. Britain must also evolve from its state of denial and instead fund repatriation, development and education. It’s not a handout; it’s a debt it owes.”

If there was ever a story of daring to dream, this is it! With Marks Mafundikwa producing this documentary film over a decade, and with no hope in sight of what fortunes it will muster; in the end, “The Price of Memory” the movie ironically finds itself smack in the middle of a real life theatre being played out all over the Caribbean by politicians and academics making an appeal to those who benefitted from slavery to pay up: Great Britain in the main.

“The British drove the Spanish from the island in 1655 and claimed Jamaica as a British colony. The British would continue enslaving African people on sugar plantations for another 200 years,” Marks Mafundikwa narrated in her documentary film.

The slave era was a bad period but, with her capturing the actions of slave masters against the slaves, asking former colonial masters to pay up is a practical strategy, and for substantiated reasons.

“France, Spain, Holland and Britain set up colonies across the Caribbean with plantations worked by enslaved African people. But Britain was the biggest enslaver; it shipped the most slaves and enslaved the most people.”

It meant reading lots and lots of narratives about slavery and the ex-slaves and images of slavery. Engrossed in this work, she resurrected dormant interests to help build this film to perfection. Those connections she made with people who had a sense of history and of slavery taught her a lot.

“I was witnessing a rare moment in my homeland; a small group of people confronting our painful history, in their small way. This brought back memories of my childhood fear of Sam Sharpe Square and the chance meeting would push me to record everything I could about the legacy of slavery in Jamaica.”

She was encouraged because in the process of doing the work, she told this reporter she hadn’t seen a film like the one she was producing and she felt there was a need for it.

Driven by stories her grandmother told her as a child, her passion for making the film reality was cut from that background of what stories are made of.

“My grandmother was born in 1905 and used to tell me stories as a child; grandmother was born into memory. She made everything so real, so my interest was built on my grandmother’s stories.”

What brought Marks Mafundikwa’s passion to boiling point was the history of a Jamaican slave named Sam Sharpe, who led a rebellion during the slave era and was hanged for it.

“When I was growing up in Montego Bay in the 1980s, I was here in this square at the ceremony to rename it Sam Sharpe Square. Sam Sharpe was a 31-year old man who led Jamaica's last slave rebellion in 1831. Sharpe and 500 other slaves were hanged here as punishment. But their rebellion led to the end of slavery across the British Empire three years later in 1834.”

The Jamaican film maker is haunted by the presence of Sharpe Square. But she has a good idea as to why she wants to run away when she passes by that square.

“When I learned that this building named The Cage is where runaway slaves were jailed. Every time I passed here after that, I felt haunted. It was as if the building was alive with memories of the people it once held.”

When slaves refused to work because their request for higher wages was rejected by plantation owners, there were consequences.

The first set of slaves, the Tainos, died from diseases and overwork. They were enslaved by the Spaniards, the first set of Europeans to put down their anchor on the shores of Jamaica in 1494, and begin a legacy of slavery that was continued by Britain for another 200 years.

What is ironic about all this abuse is that the Queen of England remained the head of state of Jamaica through her appointed governor general.

Her visit to Jamaica in the post slavery era saw the people of Jamaica and heads of government bowing to her in respect. For others, like the Rastafarian community, who remain conscious of what Queen Elizabeth II represents to them, they presented a petition asking her to consider repatriation and reparations for the people of Jamaica who were enslaved for hundreds of years.

Many questions about slavery are still burning alive in the souls of the ancestors. “How do you free a batch of people, and yet not make it possible for them to earn a living?” asked UWI professor, Verene Shepherd.

Marks Mafundikwa sees no value whatsoever is remaining silent or indifferent about slavery days. She has recorded this film for posterity for future generations.

Politicians may be in the same choir with her at this time, making a plea for reparations to pay for the effects of slavery; but she is no politician. She is an artist who felt the need to tell this story and told it without waiting a moment longer. After all, she did take ten years to produce this film, and ten years is a long time. Marks Mafundikwa sees a disconnect between our history, many gaps that breed ignorance about the slavery days; a lack she believes needs mending.

“If you talk about Jewish reparations, they did it and they figured a way to do it. So we can figure a way to do it, there is the issue of repatriation as well,” she insists.

Republished by permission of Newsday
Reads: 9065

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bruce :

Slavery was morally wrong and no one can argue that point but the people responsible for reparations are as dead as the slaves that deserved
these reparations, so who would pay these monetary
reparation? As well as where would this money come from? Obviously we can't expect the common man of today to come up with money for descendants of slaves of yesteryear. That would be like asking the people of Germany to pay the decedents of 6 million Jews; billions for the next 3 centuries. In other words it's a noble thought but highly impractical!


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