Today, Wednesday the 23rd day of the month of May, of this year 2007 the United Nations has declared that this is the third anniversary of Africa Day. Our local daily, The Panamá America, has dedicated a large article in their section, The Global Village, calling for this day to celebrate Africa. The reporter highlighted the belief that Africa is a continent in rapid deterioration.
Among her more salient points she emphasized the precarious economic condition suffered by the peoples of the region, a people who occupy the world’s largest desert landscape called the Sahara. She wished to make us aware of the great blight and darkness plaguing Africa as we live our daily lives. The most chilling point, however, in the article that most caught my interest was that poverty has gripped about 60% of the 900 million souls that make up the 54 states on the African continent, making this the poorest area of the planet earth.
For your host, then, who is a Panamanian West Indian of African descent, this is another occasion to pay an overdue homage to all our Black ancestors who were caught up in a world of dire spiritual poverty manifested in the enslavement of other human beings. Slavery to me has always symbolized a criminal, violent force, which pirated the humanity from countless numbers of fellow beings, vilifying them whether they were innocent or guilty, and then charging them with the crime of being themselves. Today, then, presents a grand opportunity for us to bring to light those brave souls of our ancestry. To edify the men and women who traveled far and wide just for the benefit of obtaining honest, gainful employment.
In their search those black people may never have considered that they were benefiting the world, as they gratefully accepted employment in often hostile environments. But, we who have survived and have seen the tenacity of that evil grip of avarice and vice upon working people of the world, see our Black ancestors as people who proved that freedom was worth the sacrifice.
I ask myself, what else does the world want of Africa, that raped motherland? Our ancestors launched the ship of virtue from this vantage point called the New World or America. Africa, through her diaspora, offered her children, just as Asia offered her children as a peace offering, challenged and thrown to the ground in gross disrespect for their humanity. However, it is recorded that these people did exist and did contribute their meager sacrifices to the best of their abilities.
Through this blog I have attempted to shed light on this singular group of Black people and their singular contribution to humanity. No one will be able to dispute that fact that our ancestors did not just offer themselves as some massive brute force of labor to satisfy mere personal desires. Nor did they, as Black people, presume to offer themselves for the gratification and delectation of affluent white men. The untold mental sufferings caused by their living with rejection and pariah like separation did make them resolve to demonstrate first their physical strength, and then that spirit of joy for which they would become known; that joy which they would later be chastised for by their angered children. To this writer, their strength and joy symbolize that Christian dole, those gifts, that have prevailed as a memorial to them as a people to this day. Some pundits might call it a work ethic and let the argument die. However, such immolation to me is an offering better than material riches.
In fact, the physical strength demonstrated by my ancestors was more than just bravado or some macho stunt designed to challenge sure death. In reality our country and its climate required a special gift, a gift from God akin to the Samson-like fortitude of biblical times. The inhospitable nature of the landscape of Central America, and Panama in particular, was destined to exhaust even the most willing of those who presented themselves for labor. Such self sacrifice is worthy of a different label; it is comparable to a sacred rite, a worship of God through work; an offertory to the new freedom they were enjoying at that moment in time.
It is now well known that even in the early years of construction, from the first railroad to the completion of all construction on the Canal Zone, most of the West Indian men and women were quietly admired for those qualities but poorly compensated for them. Remuneration in treatment and value of the person became the breaking point in relationships between the bosses of the economic empires and their high quality servants. Between 1850 and 1950 a steady and baneful pressure was kept on the West Indian people despite their remarkable qualities demonstrated on the American Canal Zone. To make matters worse, generation upon generation of their children have suffered rejection and disdain in the principal cities of Colon and Panama as well as in the banana plantation area of Bocas del Toro and Chiriqui Provinces.
Despite the mental and emotional strains upon these people, however, historians who have studied the matter have found a relatively low rates of mental health and crime problems among the people. Within their population, having been numbered at 12,000 to more than 20,000 at any time in the period mentioned above, the statistics did not produce the Black-on-Black crime so rampant in our present generation today. The statistics from our past point to something positive and inherent in our people which have been documented since the time of our grandparents and which continue to cause me to marvel even today. The virtues I have mentioned can be added to another aspect, the fact that these people managed, regularly and reliably, to send monies home to the West Indies to their relatives, despite the fact that in Panama, during the years mentioned, there was no banking system to speak of as we know it today.
The word temperance also came to mind as I wrote these lines as one of the qualities I have found in the men who today I term Westindian Panamanians. As any of the various researchers who have reported about our people can attest to, our West Indian people in Panama practiced Christian values despite the decades of deceptive acts perpetrated against them by fellow Christians of the white race. If I am completely wrong about this please, whoever our readers are, I invite you to leave your comments.
Leave your opinion as to who was practicing real Christianity. Further, can someone please explain to me “What are the fruits of the Spirit?” See Galatians 5:22-23. Thank you for helping to honor my African ancestors.
This story continues.