It seems established that a letter from Mr Colin Bobb-Semple published in the Stabroek News of February 5, 2009 (‘The Guyana constitution makes more adequate provision for indigenous communities than the US constitution does for Native Americans’) had a passage missing and that the missing passage appeared in the same letter by him as published in the Guyana Chronicle of February 5, 2009. Before I attempt to draw any conclusion may I ask for an explanation to the public why your paper deprived readers of what Mr Bobb-Semple said in a very short letter to support one of the points he set out to make. If the passage offends any of the high principles that govern your paper please tell us, and if the passage is found not to offend, it seems to me only fair to readers and to the trusting correspondent himself that you should let us see his letter in full.
(Editor: After being informed that the passage in question was historically inaccurate, Mr Kwayana sent a second letter which follows.)
Thank you for your response to my letter. I had in fact anticipated the reason. Is it not a better way to publish a brief statement like the one in question and then point just as briefly to anything problematic for the benefit of readers? As a staunch SN supporter I did not enjoy receiving the complaint. What took place borders on what we all dislike and since the passage libels no one, I regret the deletion without an explanation. Editorial discretion belongs where it belongs and it is not for others to dabble in its exercise. I just looked at the passage again. Clearly Mr Bobb-Semple wanted to share the information he accepted as historical. I hope that you can find the time to tell us what is not accurate about it. If it had been another editor, I would have copied this to Mr Bobb-Semple who runs a radio programme somewhere in the USA and who introduced himself to me some years ago. I think editors have too many sensitive decisions to make in the course of any one edition. I just heard the rough news of Josh Ramsammy’s passing. Yours faithfully, Eusi Kwayana
Mr Bobb-Semple’s excised paragraph reads as follows: “During the early years of colonisation in Guyana, colonial representatives signed trade and peace treaties with Amerindian leaders. Agreements were reached which included the supply of enslaved Amerindians who had been taken captive, and declared rights to use and occupy their ancestral land. From about the 17th century, there was large scale importation of enslaved Africans. Large numbers of Africans ran away from the plantations and formed free, autonomous, independent communities in the interior. They were referred to as ‘Maroons.’ These communities often comprised a diverse society of African, Amerindian and European heritage. Treaties were signed with the communities. An example was the peace treaty sealed in 1738 between the Dutch and the Creole Island community, which was established in the upper Cuyuni River in Essequibo.” There are no trade and peace agreements on record with the Amerindian “leaders” during the early years of colonization. There is a passing reference in Hartsinck to some Berbice Arawaks known as ‘Schotjes’ who were taken to Holland in the first half of the eighteenth century, but other than this group, the first treaties recorded are for Essequibo in 1778. There were clearly understandings, or conventions, that the Amerindians among whom the Dutch lived were exempt from enslavement – the so-called ‘free nations’ – as opposed to those which lived outside the Dutch sphere and were known as ‘slave nations.’ (The free nations were the Caribs, Arawaks, Akawaios and Warraus.) In addition, Amerindian slavery did not precede African slavery; it existed alongside it until 1793, when it was abolished. Africans arrived in this country at the same time as the Dutch. The date for Berbice is 1627, and while there is a reference to an African trading with the Amerindians on behalf of the Essequibo authorities in the 1620s, we cannot at the moment give a precise year for the first Africans in that part of Guyana. For almost a century and a half after the establishment of the Dutch colonies here, the Africans and Dutch were more or less heavily outnumbered by the free Amerindian population. In 1720, for example, Berbice had only 895 African enslaved, and forty years later the population was still under 4,000 amid an Amerindian complement estimated by the Moravian missionaries as around 5-6,000. Around 1700, Essequibo had approximately 644 enslaved, including both African and Amerindian, and in 1762 the total was 2,571. There were few plantations; Van Berkel gives the figure of 5 for Berbice in the first half of the 1670s. Contrary to popular supposition, the Amerindians did not retreat into the interior in the early period of colonization (they would retreat for the duration if there was an epidemic), and for a long time afterwards, because they had no need to. They began to move away from the plantations towards the end of the Dutch period, and this development is reflected in the 1778 and subsequent agreements, referred to above. The reason for their retreat was accelerated plantation development, particularly in the relatively new colony of Demerara from the end of the 1760s-beginning of the 1770s, and the dramatic expansion of the plantation population, all of which intruded on their world. Given the small numbers, there could not be any large maroon encampments before the period of the 1763 uprising, and in fact we know that there were not. As it was, before around 1770 (and for some time after) Essequibo (and later Demerara) runaways in general made for the Spanish held territory of the Orinoco, where maroons were sometimes allowed to settle if they converted to Catholicism. Enslaved Amerindians tended to escape there overland, while Africans preferred the sea route. Prior to 1764, there were no maroon camps in Berbice that survived any length of time. The large maroon encampments to which Mr Bobb-Semple refers, are undoubtedly those on the West Demerara which may possibly have had their origins in the Berbice escapees from 1764, whom the Dutch never managed to recapture after the uprising. They come to prominent notice in the 1790s, because they were regarded as a major threat to the plantations, and a war was prosecuted against them. Creole Island, which Mr Bobb-Semple cites, involved 36 maroons from a West India Company estate who had been hired out to a miner. They ran away in 1741 (not 1738, as Hartsinck says) and were offered a pardon and a promise they would not have to mine again if they handed themselves in to the authorities. Some elected to do this, but some did not. The latter were subsequently wiped out by the Waini Caribs.