Wed | Aug 23, 2017

A defining moment in Black history

Published:Sunday | April 30, 2017 | 4:00 AM
Returned Exile
Glenville Ashby
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Book: 'Returned Exile: A Biography of George James Christian of Dominica and the Gold Coast, 1869-1940'

Authors: Margaret D. Rouse-Jones and Estelle M. Appiah

Critic: Dr Glenville Ashby

The spirit of repatriation beckons the wounded soul; it is a spiritual call. It is the balm to a daunted spirit and the panacea for a deculturalised and marginalised people. To blacks in the United States, the Caribbean, and South America, the Motherland holds existential significance. It is a consanguineous relationship that is inseparable.

Driven by Pan African ideals, the tenor of repatriation resounds in multiple lands.

Paul Cuffee, Martin Delany, Marcus Garvey, Robert Campbell, and others, ignited the imagination of the diaspora as they offered a pathway to individuation. Still, not all back- to-Africa movements were monolithic. The Church responded to its evangelical need in Africa by recruiting many West Indian missionaries. This raised the spectre of identity clashes and the perennial debate on nationalism and race.

In Returned Exile we learn that "black West Indians [missionaries] rejected the homecoming idea and declared to be treated and perceived as foreigners," thus ruining "[the] missionary enterprise of employing West Indians to proselytise Africans."

George James Christian's decision to emigrate to the Gold Coast in 1902 was not emotionally charged. It was well planned as evidenced in his participation in London's African Association. And his attendance at the 1900 Pan-African Conference only sealed his commitment to the motherland. Christian internationalised the African problem and challenged insularity. His global outreach only strengthened the African cause.

Returned Exile is an exhaustive and enlightening biography of a brilliant West Indian who, after attaining academic excellence in the United Kingdom was moved to repatriate, a decision that not only raised the profile of the burgeoning African movement, but that of Dominica, his native land. Christian was a family man, a lawyer, a humanitarian, and an activist. Moreover, he was a visionary, a providential soul whose contribution to black history is incontrovertible.

Writers Margaret D. Rouse-Jones and Estelle M. Appiah offer an incisive look into the mind of a man, a driven man willing to venture into a new land and culture. He adapted admirably, excelling as he did in England.

That Christian's Antiguan-born father played an integral role in his personality and philosophy is an understatement.

Christian's pedagogical pursuits, his penchant for detail, his involvement in the Odd Fellows Fraternal Order, and his tailored approach to his future were culled from his father's handbook. He ably served as an educator and was deft at myriad literary assignments that augmented his finances and stature in society. Moreover, he displayed a prodigious business acumen that paved the way for his studies in England, where he graduated from Gray's Inn.

Steeped in Catholic lore and ethics, Christian diligently passed on his moral leanings to his children. And although racial prejudice jettisoned many a career during that period, Christian instilled the importance of education in his children and facilitated their professional advancement. Not unexpectedly, two of his children were barristers.

Christian's move to the Gold Coast did not signal disloyalty. He remained nationalistic and grounded in Caribbean culture. That his property bore the name of his birthplace is meaningful. "Throughout Christian's life in the Gold Coast," we read, "Dominica House was an outstanding feature of the Sekondi landscape and facilitated his career and lifestyle. [He] became well-known and respected in the society ... from the fact that he offered hospitality to many at his home."

Christian's loyalty extended to his family and friends. He "availed himself of every opportunity to assist his friends in a professional and personal capacity". He served as a criminal and concessions attorney and was made the legal counsel for Central Gold Mines Limited, where he used "his legal expertise and his political position [as member of the Legislative Council] to take action for the greater good". And for three decades, he served as Liberian consul, addressing the needs of Liberians living in the Gold Coast.

His accomplishments in the Gold Coast are internationally lauded, and his stature has only grown since his demise.

Interestingly, Christian fully embraced the role of the African father figure. In addition to his three children in Dominica, he "fathered another twelve children with six mothers" in the Gold Coast. Still, he never shirked his paternal responsibilities. He was "committed to the process of raising progeny who would be self-sufficient and useful to society".

Fatherhood, though, proved challenging as some of his offspring failed to emulate his success, while four of his children passed away during his lifetime. Notably, Christian expended every resource available towards the health of his ailing sons.

Arguably, Christian's work contributed to a surge in Pan African Thought after the Second World War. The Rastafari movement sought redemption in Shashamane in Ethiopia. By the turn of the 21st century, political figures in Benin and Gambia were calling for the diaspora to establish a physical presence on the continent. Moreover, the recent cultural thrust by Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, the Ooni of Ife, and the official recognition of the Black Diaspora as a 'sixth region' of the continent have undoubtedly proven Christian's visionary and pioneering reach.

Returned Exile: A Biography of George James Christian of Dominica and the Gold Coast, 1869-1940 by Margaret D. Rouse-Jones and Estelle M. Appiah

Publisher: UWI Press, Mona, Jamaica

ISBN: 978-976-640-587-5

Available: www.uwipress.com and Amazon

Ratings: Highly recommended

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