Tag Archives: Caribbean history

History Matters

“The Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) has established a regional committee that will be tasked with recommending ways in which the syllabus for Caribbean History could be revived to make it more attractive to students.

This is in an effort to address the falling numbers of students sitting the exam each year, which the regional examination body highlighted as a major concern in 2016. Myrick Smith, the CXC registrar for Antigua and Barbuda, said, on the weekend, that Alan Cobley, vice chancellor at the University of the West Indies (UWI), received the mandate in December during a meeting of CXC’s council in St. Kitts.

He said delegates at that meeting made several recommendations to improve the syllabus and it is now up to Cobley and his team to determine the next course of action. The recommendations include: making Caribbean History compulsory, pushing governments and education ministries into taking history more seriously and placing more emphasis on training for history teachers.” Read more.

I found this article troubling when I read it today because I think history matters; I especially think it matters if you are from – as we are primarily in the Caribbean – the descendants of people who were enslaved for hundreds of years, for generations, in this Caribbean. I think we need to know who we were before that i.e. our African history, how our journey shapes or was shaped by others i.e. World history, and how we became who we are today i.e. our Caribbean history. I think knowing your history informs not only the decisions you make today but the passions that fire you. I frankly didn’t learn much beyond plantation society during my secondary school days but I remain to this day a student of World, African, and Caribbean history. On the point of Caribbean history though, if we only knew. I question, for instance, how quick we would be to fritter away land rights if we understood how hard-earned it was, how tightly we would hold workers’ rights if we understood its role in building the institutions that hold up our society today, how much more we would understand our potential if we could see the men and women who emerged from our humble societies to greatness, how much more certain would we be of who we are if we understood who we have been (community, culture, character, values, identity, all of that). Our history tells us about ourselves and there is so much about ourselves we still don’t know. My two cents about ways to make history more engaging include field trips and tours to historically relevant sites (I’ve done it in writing and media workshops and seen how the participants’ curiosity opens up as they look at somewhere they’ve never seen or somewhere they are seeing with new eyes),


One of my youth media workshops included a field trip to former plantation Betty’s Hope…but there is so much more to explore.

introduce audio-visual presentations (if there isn’t local media content and there should be options include youtube or creating content as class projects), creating content as class projects (have the students engage with the material in tactile, interactive, and imaginative ways), getting creative (Brenda Lee Browne’s Just Write held a workshop last year about building creative content from our historical reality, something like that); in fact, on that last point, I’m considering making our next Wadadli Pen Challenge a historical fiction challenge with the double challenge that it be experimental (to break with the obvious clichés). I’m thinking on it and will probably discuss with my partners. Bottom line though, history is important but it’s not just dates to be remembered; it’s lives that were lived and as far as Caribbean history is concerned, it’s lives with a direct link to our own. If we agree that we matter then surely our history does too.


As with all content on Wadadli Pen, except otherwise noted, this is written by Antiguan and Barbudan writer Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Oh Gad!, Musical Youth, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight 10th Anniversary Edition and Other Writings, Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure, and With Grace; also a freelance writer, editor, writing coach and workshop facilitator). All Rights Reserved. If you like the content here follow or recommend the blog, also, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen and my books. Thank you.


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Do we know our full history or only his-story?

If you’ve studied Caribbean history, are you familiar with Nanny, Dutty Boukman, King Court, Hercules, Tomboy, Mary Prince, Baby and Limerick?… I am with all but Baby and Limerick (so, homework for me) but those are just a handful of names dropped in an article I read recently, an article which, within the discourse on Black History Month (and the unspoken why it’s necessary to observe it in a majority black part of the world) made the point that we often learn very little of the story of us even in classes that purport to be about the story of us. Unfortunately true, to this day; one of the stains of colonialism.
I couldn’t find a link to the entire article to share, so I decided to type up a section of it and excerpt it (excerpt only, for copyright reasons), because I think it’s an important part of the narrative of us – and certainly for me a reframing of a word (niggeritis) that, in retrospect, we use entirely too casually to this day. The article’s writer is Paul Quinn, writing in his column Eden’s Compass in the March 2nd 2016 edition of the Daily Observer.

I hope he wouldn’t mind me sharing for all the reasons stated. Also, as it references additional reading material, it is consistent with what we do here – nurturing and showcasing the literary arts in Antigua and Barbuda:

“Where do you think the pejorative word ‘niggeritis’ came from? It was coined by white folks from the South who claimed that every time black folks ate, we became sluggish and sleepy. Never mind that sluggishness after a meal is a biological fact not limited black folks. What actually happens is that blood rushes from the brain to the stomach to aid in the digestion process, hence the drowsiness. The same thing happens to us during sex where blood rushes from the brain to the, er ‘male appendage’ to facilitate an erection. After ’doing the do’, we become quite drowsy and resistant to ‘lovey dovey’ pillow talk and cuddling in favour of zzzzs!

The point is that we have been the victims of ‘the single narrative’. The true story of who we are as a people and our resistance to slavery has never fully been told. At least, not in the European telling! We have allowed others to define us. Consider John Locke who described us as beasts with weird body features. Or consider Rudyard Kipling who spoke of us as ‘half-devil and half-child’.

These stereotypes of Africans shaped the way that Europeans thought of black people for centuries. And for a while, even shaped the way we thought of ourselves; that we were somehow inferior; that ‘cuss ‘pon black people!’ Thank God for literary works like To Shoot Hard Labour: the Life and Times of Samuel Smith by Keithlyn Smith; The Struggle and the Conquest by Novelle Richards; Bethesda and Christian Hill: Our History and Culture by Joy Lawrence;  Sugar: A Bittersweet History by Elizabeth Abbott (related to our Antiguan Abbott family); The History of Mary Prince by Susanna Strickland and Sara Salih; Icon and Myth in a Caribbean Polity: V. C. Bird and Antiguan Political Culture by Douglas Midgett; and the recently published, Troubling Freedom by Natasha Lightfoot. These masterpieces should all be required reading because they fill huge gaps in the story of ‘us’.”

The article goes on to talk about things like Sparrow’s “facetious” treatment of nursery rhymes – a point on which I disagree slightly. Because the author says, explaining his descriptor of Sparrow’s Dan is the Man as facetious, “After all, nursery rhymes and phonics are an integral part of the learning process”. But I think the point we can extrapolate from Sparrow’s references to the fairytales and nursery rhymes we grew up on, at least in part, is why not our nursery rhymes, why not our fairytales. Having written won of the latter recently, it hit me that they are almost uniformly European, so that the foundation of our imagining is already outside of ourselves. I think that’s the larger point. – All portions in italics, except direct quotes, written by JCH All else written by Paul Quinn and  excerpted here for informational/educational purposes; with neither I nor Wadadli Pen profiting from it.

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