Thursday, 26 July 2007

70th Anniversary of the 1937 Barbados Riots- What Future for the Island?

July 26th, 1937- today is 70 years since the Barbados riots. Compared to rebellions, riots and revolutions that have played out in various parts of the world throughout history, these riots were negligible in terms of size and scale. They however had a considerable impact on the modern history of Barbados and helped to shape the island as we know it today.

Barbados in 1937 was a country sharply divided along the lines of race, with a small white elite holding economic and political power and a majority black population largely employed in the agricultural sector and suffering from poverty, lack of opportunity, unemployment, dismal labour conditions and general social and economic malaise. The racial structure that permeated the social, economic and political landscape rigidly reinforced these conditions. The economy was dominated by sugar and land ownership policies and patterns that promoted peasant agriculture and made it impossible to address poverty. The same open economy also made it difficult to redress poverty through wages and employment-related benefits. Barbados was a country still dominated by the plantation a hundred years after the abolition of slavery.

In any situation where people are oppressed, courageous men and women speak out and agitate for change and it was no different in Barbados. Men like Clennel Wickham and Charles Duncan O’neal were followed by a Trinidadian of Barbadian parentage, Clement Payne, who stood up for the working people of Barbados and advocated labour reform and the formation of trade unions.

Payne was able to inspire the common man and such was his influence that the Barbadian authorities deported him to Trinidad on July 26th, 1937. Crowds gathered at the news of his deportation and the anger and frustration that had built up erupted into riots that lasted for four days. The immediate result of the riots was 14 dead, 47 wounded, 500 arrests and millions of dollars worth of damage. The long-term consequences were far reaching.

The British Royal Commission of Inquiry headed by Lord Moyne was appointed in 1938 to investigate disturbances and unrest in the British West Indies and it recommended in its 1939 report that Britain invest in development and provision of social services.

The years following the riots would witness significant social and political reform in Barbados as black Barbadians emerged to rule a country where they were a majority. Payne, who died in 1941, did not live to see his dreams realised but his bravery in rebelling against the status quo was not in vain as generations of Bajans have benefited from his actions. Payne along with O’Neal are National Heroes of Barbados, an honour many also believe should be accorded to Clennel Wickham.

70 years to the day the riots began, Barbados is at a crossroads, with a widening gap between the rich and poor, extremely high cost of living, dissatisfaction among the population over widespread sale of land to foreigners and the inability of normal Barbadians to afford land and a lack of opportunity for the youth. I often wonder what Barbados will look like in 10-15 years time and I think I have a clear picture. It saddens me. I cannot imagine what it will look like in 70 years!

7 comments:

Colonise This! said...

Really enjoyed this post. I'd say we're ripe for another riot.

Perhaps the weed wackers might come in handy after all.

individuality1977 said...

I hope not! I would hate to see a resort to violencce in Barbados. That being said Bajans are too passive and accepting but then they are also very materialistic and they think that having a car and wall house and gadgets (all bought with credit) is the ultimate success so many don't seem to mind the direction the island is heading in.

Anonymous said...

It is people like you that paint the negative picture of negros.I myself am a barbadian and i live there and I am insulted by what you say.But yes it is true the part about being materialistic but the way ou said it paints negros in a bad light.

andy said...

aahhahahah lolol i am a bajan and it has already started but its not that bad yet, what u said is very funny when i think of it

Anonymous said...

This issue needs to be revisited today...and that's because things have simply gotten more overwhelming.

Bajangal said...

i do not believe that barbadians can afford to have free education for children but politicians trying to save themselves from riots lol make us believe we can ...but we will see what happens in the long run...

individuality1977 said...

Re. the 3rd comment by "Anonymous": your use of the word "negro" demonstrates perfectly your idiocy.