To be or not to be a national hero
By Dr Kwame Nantambu
December 22, 2022
As a new year approaches, it is indeed a sine qua non to delve deeper into history in order to ascertain what it really takes to be a real national hero of T&T. At the outset, a review of the literature indicates that one of the most fundamental, basic inherent qualities/criteria of any nation's hero is that person's overt ability to be a dynamic, forceful agent for radical, structural, even violent change in an imposed oppressive system.
Moreover, as a most relevant, pivotal historical background check, it is vital to recall that our first nation's peoples in the BC era never called themselves Amerindians, period and full stop. Indeed, the historical record shows that the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean were known as Kalinagos/Kalinas and Lokonos/Tainos, later to be called Amerindians of North and Central America.
When the Euro-Spaniards came to these shores in the 15th century AD, they re-named the Kalinagos "Caribs", which means cannibals, and the Lokonos were re-named "Arawaks".
Now, the historical record reveals/asserts/proves that the most famous Kalinago is Chief Hyarima, who was the leader of the Nepuyo people. He was a Chieftain/cacique who established villages throughout northeast Trinidad.
Truth be told: Hyarima is this country's first original, authentic, revolutionary, anti-colonial national hero, period and full stop. Why? Because he masterminded the violent destruction/burning-down of Trinidad's old colonial capital, St Joseph, on October 14, 1637. Most specifically, Hyarima sought to totally destroy Euro-Spanish colonialism "by any means necessary". Ergo, he fits the ultimate criteria of a genuine national hero.
And this poignant, significant, historical anti-colonial action was to be later aptly described by Frantz Fanon in his magnum opus, titled The Wretched of the Earth (1968), in these words: "decolonisation is always a violent phenomenon".
Therefore, to put it in simple historical terms/perspective, all of T&T's subsequent putative national heroes are of the neo-colonialist genre. As Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah elucidates in his Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism (1965): "The essence of neo-colonialism is that the State which is subject to it is independent and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty. In reality, its economic system and thus its political policy are (invisibly) directed from outside."
For example, since August 31, 1962, and September 24, 1976, T&T's streets, parks, squares, entertainment and sporting arenas still bear/reflect Euro-British names, period and full stop. Furthermore, the Euro-British Privy Council is still the legal decision-maker of last resort even though the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) is located in Port of Spain.
Indeed, no neo-colonial political leaders of T&T have even attempted to change these Euro-British colonial replicas. In reality, then, this neo-colonial republic has successfully graduated with first-class degree honours from Euro-British colonialism to Euro-American re-colonisation, period and full stop.
Thus, it is only logically fitting and historically accurate that a statue of Hyarima should replace the current statute of Captain Arthur Andrew Cipriani on Independence Square.
Truth be told: Cipriani is not a national hero of the colony/country of Trinidad and Tobago, period. He was and still is only a national hero of the Euro-British colonial government. He fought on behalf of the Euro-British Crown.
As Dr Hollis "Chalkdust" Liverpool points out in his epic treatise, titled God, The Press and Uriah Butler (2020), Cipriani wanted a reformed Trinidad "as is done in Britain", for "if it is good in Britain" then "it is good for Trinidad as well" and the colonised in the entire Caribbean.
Put another way, what Dr Liverpool is asserting historically is that Captain Cipriani was determined to transform/re-construct the colony of Trinidad into the image and likeness of his Euro-British beloved modus vivendi and governance. And that is certainly NOT one of the criteria/qualities of a national hero of this country, period and full stop.
The historical record reveals that Cipriani never organised or led not one anti-British colonial march/protest in the tumultuous heydays of the 1930s, period. He was, by definition, Euro-British "to de bone" and then some.
In the final analysis, the historical reality is that Cipriani was fiercely adamant that the imposed Euro-British system must remain intact, whereas the Kalinago revolutionary leader/chieftain Hyarima sought to violently destroy the imposed Euro-Spanish colonial system. He is this country's maximum national hero, period and full stop.
Author Kwame Nantambu is professor emeritus, Kent State University.
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