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TT High Commission hosts Cudjoe talk on Caribbean Slavery

TT HC speaks

At the monthly Nationals’ Meeting held at the Trinidad and Tobago High Commission in London, UK on Wednesday 29th May, a packed audience listened with rapt attention as Professor Selwyn Cudjoe delivered a provocative lecture titled “Ignorant Negroes and Tyrannical Masters: William Burnley and Caribbean Slavery”.
The evening began with His Excellency Garvin Nicholas addressing the crowd. The High Commissioner, fresh off a hectic 2-day ceremonial visit to Liverpool, recounted his experience in the city. He mused on his visit to the International Slavery Museum earlier that day, where he had been impressed by the comprehensive detailing of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. The High Commissioner remarked to the crowd, “Seeing such a stark representation of what the slaves went through, and to still have survived the ordeal, to have overcome it, to have strived and to have excelled – this illustrates a very, very strong people. I am proud to be of mixed descent and I am also proud to be a product of African heritage”.

As Professor Cudjoe took to the floor, it was evident that this was a man brimming with knowledge of his country’s history. He delivered an impassioned analysis of slavery in Trinidad through the lens of William Burnley, one of the most prominent plantation owners in the Caribbean. Cudjoe explained the close links between Burnley and many eminent legislators in Britain, which resulted in his significant influence on the topic of Emancipation.  

According to Cudjoe, Burnley was a staunch antagonist of the abolition of slavery, leading the charge against the Emancipation Movement. “Burnley believed the enslaved Africans had not reached a proper state of civilisation,” declared Cudjoe. Professor Cudjoe also recounted that Burnley was a key proponent of East Indian indentureship. He spoke of Burnley’s letters to legislators, in which he emphasised the economic pressures brought on by newly-freed Africans’ demand for increased wages, and the benefits of a “docile” East Indian work force whose “caste prejudices” would deter them from mixing with Africans, hence eliminating the problem of wage disputes.

Professor Cudjoe explained that it was imperative that the people of Trinidad and Tobago be educated about their history, stating that citizens should “dare to know”. He added that Caribbean history is largely unexplored, although there is much to learn from an indigenous perspective. “We ought to know our history”, he asserted. “The only way we can move forward is by knowing and learning from our history”.

The High Commissioner commended Professor Cudjoe’s address, emphasising the importance of educating the citizenry to have pride in their heritage. “It is time that we stop seeing ourselves as ‘lesser than’”, stated Nicholas. “Understanding our history is pertinent to developing this sense of empowerment”.