Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Battle of St. George’s Cay Celebrations: Retracing Its Development

Battle of St. George's Cay Postal Stamp
There are many Belizeans, from a large cross section of our society, including teachers, government workers, organization leaders, etc., who do not have an evidence based understanding of the Battle of St. George's Cay and the developments of this celebration.

However, the historicity of the Battle of St. George’s Cay having took place or not is not in debate; rather, it is the diverse meanings that have been applied to this celebration which remains problematic. 

Assad Shoman, Anne Macpherson, Karen Judd, and Joseph Iyo are the most analytical scholars on this topic (Shoman 2000; Macpherson 2003, 2007; Judd 1989; Iyo, 2000). A familiar argument among these authors is that the celebration of the Battle was tied into an ideological myth which was used to harmonize the master-slave relations, as popularized in the notion that slaves and masters fought “shoulder to shoulder”. 

As early as 1823, the Battle was being used to project the idea of the “family affair of slavery in Belize” (Defense of the settlers).

There are many articles on the internet and Belize media which states that Simon Lamb initiated the Centennial Celebrations. At this juncture, the full extent of Simon Lamb's involvement is not crystal clear. This is because Simon Lamb had actually organized the Emancipation Jubilee which celebrated emancipation from slavery and not the Battle of St. George's Caye. Lamb had arranged a public parade on August 1st 1888. The Jubilee participants were also seeking to establish a "People's Hall", as a centre of education, which never came to fruition because the colonial authorities did not provide the finances.

The month after the Emancipation Jubilee some persons in Belize Town “reacted to the August Emancipation Jubilee by marking the battle anniversary a month later with a private evening entertainment”, that same year, 1888 (Macpherson, 2003, 116). Those in attendance and others in society subsequently formed the Centennial Committee to celebrate the Battle. 

In contrast, the members of Centennial Celebrations were in opposition to efforts by the Emancipation Jubilee. The first major celebration of the event occurred in 1898. This was one hundred years after the Battle took place and a decade after the Emancipation Jubilee. It was organized by middle-class "Creole" persons, such as merchants and clerks, who formed the Centenary Committee (Shoman 2000; Macpherson 2003). They argued that the Battle was a symbol of their contribution to the colonial society. The Committee was of the opinion that the Creoles were entitled to a special status in the society because their ancestors had fought in the Battle. It was a means for them to claim “native rights” and gain recognition in the society.

From the "Story of Resistance" Exhibit by ISCR/NICH
The pro-colonial class did not desire that slavery be remembered as they believed that memories of slavery could provoke unrest. An article in the newspaper of the time argued that ‘the slavery of British Honduras . . . was unlike that of the other British colonies in the New World, as [it was] slavery but in name’” (Macpherson 2003, 115).

The idea that Simon Lamb is the founder of the Centennial Celebrations appears to be heavily influenced two unpublished sources, one entitled "Simon Lamb" and the other "The life story of Simon Lamb" (available at the National Library of Belize) . The first contains no references and was likely drafted by librarians based on available information to provide the public with a short reference on Simon Lamb. The second is an unpublished manuscript by Ernest Cain. Ernest Cain was the brother of H. H. Cain, editor of the Belize Independent, which propagated the ‘shoulder to shoulder’ perspective of the Battle.  

However, Simon Lamb likely became active in the celebrations for this memory to have persisted up to today. The library''s biography points to the fact that celebrations  had dwindled after the first ten years and that Simon Lamb rekindled the celebration. Accordingly, it was during this point (circa 1908-1914) that Lamb, "took it upon himself" to organize the celebrations. 

This means that Lamb may have spear-headed the celebrations for a few years. A record at the Belize Archives Records and Services records his death in 1914 (also see Amandala, 2010).

It is very likely that Lamb become active in the Battle's celebration upon realizing that the Emancipation Jubilee which he had organized was not supported by the prominent members in the society. Interestingly, Emancipation Day continues to pass us by, year after year, without any celebrations.

Sep,10 - Public Holidaym 1898, BARS
For many years, the celebration march included the ritual of stopping at the Government House (now the House of Culture) and giving allegiance to “Great Britain”. There were changes to this tradition from about the 1930s and in the 1950s when the movement towards independence began gaining momentum. Some of the leaders of the movement said that it was irrational to continue celebrating the Battle which romanticized the master-slave relationship at time time when they were seeking to free themselves form colonialism. 

Interestingly, Rene Villanueva has said that some persons in the parade would sing the United States national anthem upon reaching near the Government House to taunt the Colonial authorities (Belize Watch, Sep, 08, 09, 2012). The Battle of St. George’s Cay was renamed “National Day” to mobilize unity for independence and nationalism (supposedly through the efforts of R. Hon. George Price).

After decolonization, Independence Day (September 21) was given much more recognition than September 10 by the state and general public. "National Day" was reverted to the title of "St. George's Cay Day" in 2009, but remained commonly known as "The Tenth" (News5).

The 1894 Riot, ISCR/NICH
Another event that goes unmentioned when discussing the Centennial Celebrations has been the fact that the 1894 Riot had recently occurred. The riot had racial elements to it. Rioters were attacking middle class merchants, many of whom would later become involved in the Centennial Committee. Thus, one can argue that one of the purposes of the Centennial Celebrations was to reinforce the values of a 'patriotic subject' and discourage future unrest. 

In recent years, two other rituals of the Tenth have been revitalized and developed. Since 2009, an annual procession has been organized to celebrate the life of Simon Lamb as the alleged founding member of Centennial Celebrations (Humes, 2011). There is also an annual Flowers Bank Festival which celebrates the lives of the “Flowers Bank 14” who reportedly tipped the scale in the decision to defend the settlement in 1779 (“Revival in Flowers Bank”, 2009). Like the Centennial Committee, the advocates of these rituals continue to dig the archives to establish a rational justification for its inclusion in the national narrative. 

The historical significance and symbolic meanings of celebrating the Tenth remains open to interpretation. As an ideology, it does not belong to one specific class, ethnic group, or political party and is celebrated despite the existence of contradictory evidence and perspectives. 

The white landowner elites used it to celebrate the triumph of Britain. The middle-class Creoles used it to celebrate the Baymen and the bravery of the slaves. The PUP and UDP used it to rally for political support. And the state currently employ’s it to build a nationalist narrative. 


It is articulated (i.e. joined) and re-articulated with an array of images, texts, songs, and symbols to meet the concerns of political, ethnic, and national identity in a multicultural and globalized Belize.  


We must continue to ask: What are the ideological underpinnings of celebrating the Battle? What are the political, economic, and social goals desired by its advocates? Or is it simply a day to “shake up wi body” (Vellos, 2013)?

Rolando Cocom


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*There are other important areas of the this discussion: the gendered dimensions of this celebration; the Mestizo-Maya-Creole ethnic relations, party politics, and the nature of the confrontation/battle.

Updated: 08, September, 2014


References (Note the online links):

Cain, Ernest. “The life story of Simon Lamb”. Excerpt from an unpublished manuscript. Retrieved from: http://amandala.com.bz/news/the-life-story-of-simon-lamb/
Defense of the Settlers of Honduras Against the Unjust and Unfounded Representations of Col. George Arthur, Late Superintendent of the Settlement (London: A. J. Valpy,1823). Retrieved from: http://books.google.com.bz/books/about/The_defence_of_the_settlers_of_Honduras.html?id=wsP68VpPgfUC&redir_esc=y
Encalada, Nigel and Awe, Jaime (Ed.). (2010). St. George's Caye: The Birthplace of a Nation. NICH: Belize.
Forbes, Stephen. (1991) The Baymen of Belize: And how they wrestled British Honduras from the Spaniards.  Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge: London.
Humes, Aaron. (2011). “UEF pays tribute to Simon lamb, “Centenary” founder”. In Amandala. Retrieved from: http://amandala.com.bz/news/uef-pays-tribute-to-simon-lamb-centenary-founder/
Iyo, Joseph. (2000). Towards Understanding Belize's Multi-cultural History and Identity. Belize: University of Belize.
Finnegan, Michael. (September, 2013). “How ‘The Tenth’ was won”. In Amandala. Retrieved from: http://amandala.com.bz/news/the-tenth-won/
King, Emory. (1991). Belize 1798: The Road to Glory, a novel history of Belize. Belize: Topical books.
Judd, Karen. (1989). "White Man, Black Man, Baymen, Creole Racial Harmony and Ethnic Identity in Belize". Paper presented at the 15th International Congress, Latin American Studies Association, San Juan, Puerto Rico. Retrieved from: http://lasa.international.pitt.edu/members/congress-papers/lasa1989/files/JuddKaren.pdf
Macpherson, Anne S. (2003). “Imagining the Colonial Nation: Race, Gender, and Middle-Class Politics in Belize, 1888–1898.” In Race and Nation in Modern Latin America, edited by Nancy Appelbaum, Anne S. Macpherson, and Karin Alejandra Rosemblatt, 108–31. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press
Macpherson, Anne S. (2007). From Colony to Nation: Women Activists and the Gendering of Politics in Belize, 1912-1982. USA: University of Nebraska. 
Metzgen, Monrad Sigfrid (ed.), 1928, Shoulder to Shoulder or The Battle of Saint George's Caye. Available at: https://docs.google.com/open?id=0BxhTSw46jsthandJN1BEUkx3LU0
Vellos, Russel. (2013). No apology. Amandala. Retrieved from: http://amandala.com.bz/news/apology/
Wilk, R. (1995). The Local and the Global in the Political Economy of Beauty: From Miss Belize to Miss World. Review of International Political Economy, 2(1), 117-134.
Shoman, Assad. (1994, Revised 2000). Thirteen chapters of a history of Belize. Belize: Angelus Press.
Vernon, Lawrence (1994) I Love to Tell The Story. Heritage Printers, Belize City.
Vasquez, Jules. (2009). “The Revival in Flower's Bank”. 7NewsBelize. Retrieved from: http://www.7newsbelize.com/sstory.php?nid=14241

13 comments:

  1. Interesting! A couple questions: How did you conclude that just by being involved in the Emancipation Celebration, Lamb was not involved the Celebration a month later? I can't help but wonder if he wasn't involved in both. And wasn't Lamb, a clerk at BEC, also considered "middle class"?

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    1. S. Lamb has not been listed as a founding member neither by Shoman nor Macpherson(2000; 2003). Note the different timing of their research. In fact, Shoman did not delve into S. Lamb efforts in the Emancipation Jubilee as Macpherson did, which is not expected given the comprehensive nature of his work.

      Furthermore, Macpherson notes that it was in “In January 1891 the merchant-landowner elite, Gahne, two British doctors,and two Creoles, Benjamin Fairweather and C. M.Vernon, formed the People’s Committee... …Notably, the committee formed… when the Emancipation Jubilee Committee was laying the cornerstone of its People’s Hall. Only then did the leading British and Creole men of the community label themselves the ‘‘people’s” committee and claim to rely on ‘‘the sovereignty of the people,’’ as if they had been popularly elected" (2003, 118-119).

      The …Notably, the committee formed… when the Emancipation Jubilee Committee was laying the cornerstone of its People’s Hall. Only then did the leading British and Creole men of the community label themselves the ‘‘people’s” committee and claim to rely on ‘‘the sovereignty of the people,’’ as if they had been popularly elected.

      The probability of him being involved in both at time is greatly reduced given the fact that the Committee was critical of the committee Lamb was leading (at least at the time).

      Indeed, he could have been considered a middle class. At this point, I would want to believe that Lamb had a greater acknowledgement towards his Africaness that his counterparts. If you read the biographic notes, his parents are said to have only been recently manumitted from slavery (see above links). Perhaps, this experience would have certainly be one of his motives to organize the Emancipation parade, and push for the establishment of the "People's Hall" which was destroyed almost when it would have been completed (1893).

      The members of the People's Committee, even-though they could trace their African heritage particularly through their maternal lines, never attempted to highlight it. They rather highlighted the male lines which showed their Europeaness.

      I'm looking out for evidence as to when Lamb became involved in the 10th celebration. But the conflicting data in the Biography is difficult to resolve.

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  2. One other note: ten years after 1898 is 1908 not 1914. So it is possible that Lamb had 5 years or so where he could have taken up the torch after interest dwindled. Whether he died in 1913 or 1914 needs to verified - am sure your research will clear that up.

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    1. Thanks - that's right. I had made the observation before but then somehow mismatched my digits.

      Regarding the year he died, one is tempted to believe Amandala as a more credible source, considering their members been to the grave.

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    2. This observation is no longer visible in the post - I've corrected it. Thanks

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  3. I have a theory, that cannot be proved: His parents had been slaves. Perhaps they had oral history to pass to Lamb from their own grandparents, oral history about the role of the slaves during the time of the Battle. It would explain why a man who advocated for the celebration of Emancipation would go on to also advocate the celebrating of the 10th - evidently both events held significance to him. Good luck with your continued research!

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    1. I wouldn't say it cannot be proved. The biography note already states that his parents were manumitted some time before emancipation 1838. The biography suggest "manumission" and not as a direct result of the emancipation act. But indeed, both events would have held significance to him.

      Excellent observation.

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  4. Interesting:

    Sept 10th: from National Day to St. George’s Caye Day
    Last week cabinet approved changes to the traditional formatting of the September celebrations, which is, that official ceremonies for Independence Day on September twenty-first would now be held in Belmopan and not in Belize City. Well, at its regular session today Cabinet approved another change. September tenth celebrations, previously known as National Day, will revert to St George’s Caye Day. This has been a grey area between the two political parties in Belize. The P.U.P., in the pre-independence period, renamed what was known as St George’s Caye Day to National Day. At the time the reason given was that it was to foster nationalism but the followers of the then loyal opposition considered it to be a dilution of the significance of the battle of St George’s Caye. Many, however, have continued to refer to the day as September tenth. And to drive home its point, this year, the government is also taking the opening of the celebrations to Saint Georges Caye.
    Be Sociable, Share! - http://edition.channel5belize.com/archives/792

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    1. I never liked "National Day". I agree with the opinion that it detracts from the significance of the Battle itself. However, I also am not too keen about "St. George's Caye Day" either. St. George's Caye Day sounds too much as if it's a celebration about the Caye. I like, simply, 10th September or, September 10th. To me, this zeroes in right to the heart of it - that definitive date in history, that moment in time. As the hymn proclaims: "It was the 10th Day of September when history was made...". To draw a comparison, the Americans have chosen to refer to the attacks on the Twin Towers as '9/11' thereby forever engraving that date in the memories of their people. One only needs to say 9/11 and that short name conveys everything of that moment in their history. It's the same when we say the 10th of September - every Belizean knows we are referring to The Battle of St. George's Caye.

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  5. The Celebration of Emancipation in Belize, 1888 (An Excerpt)

    On 1 August 1888 those Belizeans who identified themselves as descendants of slaves celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of emancipation, presenting themselves to the governor as representative of ‘‘the coloured population of this Colony.’’ Organized by an all-male committee headed by laborer Simon Lamb, along with ‘‘a considerable number of women’’ and several schoolteachers, the Emancipation Jubilee indicated the capacity for black-identified self-organization involving black and mixed-race women and made no mention of 1798 as a date of any significance for black Belizeans….

    Although there were gestures of racial humility and even empire loyalty in the speeches presented to the governor, they also defied dominant biologized racism by linking improvement through education to ancestral values and Creole pride… Grateful that fifty years of enlightenment had enabled ‘‘the majority of Creoles of this town, though not highly educated,’’ to read the Bible, the committee thanked the governor for his aid in starting an emancipation institute. The ‘‘schoolchildren’s’’ speech, undoubtedly written by the teachers who signed it, differed in describing slavery as ‘‘misery . . . cruelty . . . [a] galling yoke . . . humiliation . . . degradation,’’ a memory that the middle class would consistently deny…

    On 1 August 1889 Lamb’s committee and a group of women wearing the red and white costumes of 1888 marched to an empty lot in the center of Belize Town where the governor granted ownership to the group. Here the promised emancipation institute, now dubbed the People’s Hall, was to be built by private donations. Little progress had been made by early 1892, when Gahne [writer in the Colonial Guardian newspaper] called for the return of the lot to the government for a general colonial museum...

    The People’s Hall was partially complete by March 1893, when Moloney withdrew support, now advocating Gahne’s idea of a general museum that would ‘‘recognize no distinctions of class or colour’’ and would not ‘‘keep alive the memory of those atrocities.’’

    By July 1893 the People’s Hall was almost complete when a severe tropical storm razed it. The committee held a final fund-raiser at Christmastime in 1893 and then vanished. Middle-class Creoles, lacking any desire to commemorate slavery and emancipation, or to identify with their black ancestry, made no effort to revive the project…

    In 1888, however, expatriates reacted to the August Emancipation Jubilee by marking the battle anniversary a month later with a private evening entertainment, possibly portraying it as a British victory. A year later, members of the whites-only Colonial Club worked up an entertainment depicting the 1798 battle, which they performed for club members and as a free entertainment for the public...


    The “Tenth” as the battle anniversary came to be known, was not marked again in the 1890-96 period, with the exception of an editorial by Gahne in 1893. Here he praised the ‘‘”nominal” slaves’ “self-abnegation” as the most heroic aspect of the battle and suggested that the approaching centennial should be a public holiday. What began as a reassuring entertainment for affluent British expatriates in 1888 would become a deeply serious ritual for middle-class Creoles a decade later…

    Excerpts from: Macpherson, Anne S. “Imagining the Colonial Nation: Race, Gender, and Middle-Class Politics in Belize, 1888–1898.” In Race and Nation in Modern Latin America, edited by Nancy Appelbaum, Anne S. Macpherson, and Karin Alejandra Rosemblatt, 108–31. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003. Pp. 114-117.

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