NO LAUGHING MATTER: Native American and Bajan
History tells us that the Native American Indians were exploited and ill-treated, even killed, by the Europeans. There are writings of even attempted genocide by those who claimed that they discovered America although they found the land already inhabited. There is also the famous story of the island of Manhattan being bought for 60 guilders which at that time was the equivalent of $24.
Back then, that sum could buy much more than it could today. But a whole island? It suggests to me that the seller was not as wise as the buyer. It would appear that the Native American did not understand the value of what he had. This also encourages the question of intelligence and the lack thereof. If that transaction were to happen today, it would be interpreted as extremely poor business acumen on the part of the seller.
As bad, cruel, and unscrupulous as it might appear, it was just “business” as far as the European was concerned. The same exploitation and callous approach to life prevails today. Whether it is $24 or $24 million, the vile principle is the same. Greed and power are the goals and money is the vehicle.
After the Europeans controlled the land, the natives were at their mercy. The slavery that befell the Indians was 17th century slavery; slavery to suit the times. Most practices and adjustments to any practices are affected by “the times”.
The ownership of land gives one a feeling of pride and self-worth. It makes one feel as if one “belongs”. Our parents and foreparents endured great sacrifice in order to ensure that their children and grandchildren could experience the peace of mind and sense of power which ownership can bring. This must be seen as a remarkable achievement especially since they would have come here from Africa being the owner of “nothing”.
When I think about the economic dilemma that Barbados is in – and which we will be in for quite sometime – I see the poor landowners getting poorer. The older folk might use the land to feed themselves, but I fear that the young property owner, being out of work, might be tempted to sell for quick cash for he or she has not been conditioned for such arduous work.
When the older people age to the point when they can no longer handle the physical strain of working the land and the young generation is still not geared to working in the field, the aged folks might be forced to sell too. There we would be, back to square one.
Now, who will be the buyers ? Who will have the money to buy? Because of the prolonged economic deluge, and the unattraction to hard labour by the locals, foreigners will have a “field” day.
Surely they would have paid more than $24 (a mathematician calculated that $24 then would be worth US$951.08 today) but they would own the land and the sellers’ money would have disappeared by way of economic strain.
When these foreign buyers own enough of the land, they will be in control of the land (is-land). Then, we would be Bajan Manhattoes. We would be in the same boat as the Native American Indian, just in a different sea.
But how will we fare? Will we be exploited like the native Americans were? Will we be enslaved as they were? Will there be an attempt at genocide? Will we be walking the land looking for something to eat and somewhere to sleep? Will we have to wait on our foreign owners like our forefathers did 400 years ago?
I think we might be treated better because of “the times”. Remember, we now have human rights organisations. Maybe, there might be an arm of that body that deals with the “rights of slaves”. Twenty-first century slavery will be slavery to suit the times but still, it will be slavery.
Fortunately, this is not yet a reality and therefore it can be avoided. What happened to the Native American Indian is a historical fact. It cannot be changed. However, we are in control of the history of the future. We can learn from their horrific experience and institute appropriate and necessary forms of education.
It is imperative that we not only hold on to the land, but that we work the land. It is also essential that we teach our young people how to grow food. We must be as independent as we can be in this world of interdependence.
I shudder at the thought of losing this beautiful island which is truly blessed.
For the foreigner, rich is money; for us, rich is the way we live.
• Mac Fingall is an entertainer and retired secondary schoolteacher.