During the Western campaign to illegalise the trans-Atlantic Trade of Africans in the 19th century, traders and their allies argued that African commercial and political interests were their business partners.
Professor Hilary Beckles, vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI) and chair of the CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC), said that: “since then, this perspective has gained global traction, becoming the dominant narrative, particularly in the Caribbean and the Americas.
Though the evidence to debunk this narrative, and to contextualize its significance is considerable, it has not gained anywhere near the level of advocacy and academic representation.”
The UWI and its centre for Reparation Research and PJ Patterson Institute for Africa-Caribbean Advocacy held an all-day symposium themed ” Reparations and Royalty, Africa and Europe: Exploding Myths and Empowering Truths” at its regional headquarters on Thursday (March 2) and a Youth Forum titled “Wha Gwaan Africa?! at the Mona Campus on Friday (March 3).
Among the featured speakers at the events, was a high-level delegation of royal African traditional leaders hosted by the CRC, who led conversations on the roles of African and European Royalties in the trans-Atlantic trafficking of enslaved Africans.
Vice-chancellor Beckles noted that the UWI was “honoured as a university community to take this responsibility for the reuniting of the Royal Highnesses with the African people of the Caribbean.”
Beckles provided historical context on the relationship between Europeans and Africans during the first session (March 2) and emphasized that it is critical to examine the two sides of the equation.
“While the royal families of Europe were organising their armies, building their corporations and establishing structures for the destruction of societies in Africa, so as to secure enchained and enslaved labour, the royal families of Africa were on the receiving end of that violence,” he said.
Beckles also underscored that “no group of people have been more denigrated by the historians of Europe than the Kings and Queens and nobles of Africa within the context of colonization.”
Professor Verene Shepherd, director of the Centre for Reparation Research (CRR) at UWI, vice-chair of the CRC and member of the National Council on Reparation (NCR), asserted that the discussions are significant as knowledge exchange to fill a knowledge gap “…Because as Marcus Mosiah Garvey stated, a people without knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots, and we are looking to reconnect with those roots today” she said.
“The reasons for the shortfall in academic and public awareness are many, but the time is now for the matter to be successfully re-addressed,” she added.
His Royal Highness Paul Jones Eganda, global chief and president of Ateker International Development Organization (AIDO) Network stated, “We are greatly honoured to be invited by Professor Sir Hilary Beckles.”
“We work as a team. We have approximately 657 kingdoms and cultural institutions that are affiliated with us. These groups constitute what we call the AIDO Royal Community.”
Highlighting the purpose of the mission, he said “this royal delegation here today has travelled to Jamaica with one objective, to demonstrate to you, our dear family of Africa in the Caribbean, that we are not a race created as slaves. The fact is that we have a rich, proud, living history of royalty in Africa that still exists today which we represent here.” He affirmed, “Reparations justice has to take place, and Africa has to join in.”
The forum saw not just UWI students attending, but other tertiary students along with associations and groups from across Jamaica in person, and others across the region who joined online.
The forum examined the significance of royal traditional leaders and other royals in Africa, including their responsibilities and their roles, the importance of reconnecting the Caribbean and Jamaica with African culture and traditions, the need for reparatory justice for people of African descent, and how young people could contribute to that process.