Mutabaruka’s public lecture, “Why Reparations?” was a call for reparations in the form of mental and tangible rehabilitation for Jamaica and its people.
The topical lecture was hosted by the African Caribbean Institute/Jamaica Memory Bank (ACIJ/JMB), a division of the Institute of Jamaica (IOJ) at Emancipation Park on Monday, February 10th 2014 in collaboration with the management of Emancipation Park. The event was also supported by the National Commission on Reparations. The Commission is committed to supporting public consultations with the aim of informing the public and guiding a national response to reparations.
Amina Blackwood Meeks, Director of the Culture in Education Programme in the Ministry of Education, chaired the event. Herbie Miller, Director/Curator of the Jamaica Music Museum (JaMM), also a division of the IOJ, moderated the post lecture discussion.
Professor Verene Shepherd, Chairperson of the National Commission on Reparations, urged Jamaicans to keep an open mind on the issue of Reparation, knowing that we can always learn more. “We intend to put back the ‘I’ and ‘We’ in the discourse on slavery,” she proposed, while suggesting that many have not connected the history of enslavement and the Middle Passage to Jamaica’s current socio-economic conditions.
Prof. Shepherd highlighted two current and connected lobbying campaigns geared at influencing the debate on reparations. The first campaign focuses on the need for an internal revision of the mentalities and legacies of enslavement that have become ingrained in Jamaican society. The second target involves external restitution on behalf of the former colonial governments of Spain and Britain from their present administrations through which our African ancestors were subjected to crimes against humanity and whose rights to an apology remain unacknowledged.
Mutabaruka recalled Barry Chevannes’ statement that, “Rastafari is the memory of the people,” recognizing the Rastafari call for reparation. He declared that Jamaicans were traumatized and disconnected from Africa, that that “amnesia of the people” needed repairing, and “reparation [was also a] repatriation because we cannot give up a continent for an island.” He maintained that Jamaicans needed to see Africa within themselves.
He noted that reparation also involves the acquisition of land – of land in Jamaica and land in Africa. Following the abolition of slavery, land occupied by former enslaved Africans was seen as ‘trespassing’ on land that belonged to a Backra Massa or the Crown. “The enslaved realised that land is power – that is why the majority of people in Jamaica are called squatters – the Coral Gardens incident started because of squatting. Pinnacle is the same thing,” affirmed Mutabaruka.
As one recommended outcome of reparation for Jamaica, Mutabaruka insisted that reparation means more than receiving money from the institutions and countries that benefitted from slavery. Prof. Shepherd concurred, that assessment of the damages sustained during enslavement and the trade in Africans allowed for a demand for needed resources to address illiteracy, the construction of additional schools among other social ills, she informed.
Lord Anthony Gifford, a long standing member of the National Commission on Reparations, underscored that Jamaica has a “clear, compelling legal case for reparation,” that will be brought before the International Court of Justice. He reinforced that under international law, when a crime against humanity is committed the legal remedy is reparations from the party that committed the crime or their descendants.
The reparations lecture was a part of the annual February programme of the ACIJ/JMB and will culminate with a Youth Forum on Reparations, on Thursday, February 20 in the IOJ Lecture Hall, commencing at 9 a.m.