By Keith Noel
When the European countries 'divided' Africa among themselves, it was with complete disregard for those who lived on that continent. People who lived in cohesive groups with common systems of government, of worship, of social relationships and who shared a common language, all of a sudden found their world torn apart.
So during the time of European conquest a Yoruba villager could discover that he belonged to a new country called 'Nigeria'. He then would also discover that some of the rival Igbo people were now also 'Nigerians' and his countrymen. They both had to adopt English as their 'official' language and accept British law. To make matters worse, his cousin who lived a few miles away was now a foreigner because he now belonged to a land called Dahomey, whose language was French!
The terrible thing was that the European rulers would use differences within these nations that they had carved out to 'divide and rule'. Rivalries were played upon until they built to hatred. In this way, the conflict deflected attention away from the fact that all were being exploited.
Africa suffered tremendously from this. And so did India. Eventually, after the countries became independent, the mistrust, hatred and jealousy that had been fostered over the years erupted into bitter 'tribal' wars among the newly independent people.
Education: the real weapon
But the real weapon used to perpetuate colonial rule was education. Mastery of the language of the ruling class became an indicator of intelligence among the ruled. Religion, too, was a tool used and any vestige of 'native' religion was seen as backward and primitive.
As a result of centuries of this 'education' there are people in the Caribbean who believe that, terrible though slavery was, it had its benefits. Because of slavery, "we were brought out of the 'darkness' of 'primitive' Africa". No argument, no historical facts, no number of documentaries about the reality of ancient Africa, its civilisations, its science, its art, can convince them otherwise. When you show that it was Europeans who, as some historians put it, 'underdeveloped' Africa by their greedy exploitation of its resources with no thought of sustainability, no concern for the environment, they refuse to hear. When you explain why the internecine wars in Africa and India were inevitable, they claim that you are making an excuse for 'wicked' uncivilised, savage people.
The British also developed a method that was amazing in its effects. Whenever the struggle of the people brought them to the realisation that they had to relinquish some of their power, they manipulated things in such a way that some people eventually believed that what they had fought for and won was actually being given to them by the ruling class as a gift. Out of the goodness of their hearts!
A chilling reality
I recently heard a cut from a CD by Errol Bean, Jamaican educator, poet and musician called 'Recall the Emancipation War', in which he reminds us of the hundreds of men and women who were hanged, imprisoned or flogged mercilessly for the part they played in that 'rebellion' against slavery that was led by Sam Sharpe. It is chilling. Some years later, the British realised that with people like these, slavery was untenable, and they decided upon emancipation. Then they went to work on us.
Not only is this reality now underplayed in our education system, but we still teach our children that the main catalysts of emancipation were Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect. But then, remember the Machiavellian brilliance of the oratory that prepared the Jamaican slaves for 'full free' and the wording of the proclamation itself.
People, some of them acquain-tances of the 600 executed, imprisoned or flogged with Sam Sharpe in 1831, celebrated their final freedom by singing, "Queen Victoria set we free!"
An a nuh nutten. In 2012, our prime minister still has to tread carefully when speaking of removing the queen of England as our sovereign. We all seem to still love 'Missus Queen'. We are still convinced that having been captured, packed like sardines and transported, enslaved and brutalised, and then educated into subservience was such a good thing that we should be careful not to offend our erstwhile rulers.
Wat a ting!
Keith Noel is an educator. Email feedback to email@example.com.