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Loving the African skin

News day / For her, it is about “throwing away the bleaching creams,” other false notions of beauty and the negative stereotypes that have undermined peoples of African origin for longer than she cared to remember.

A poet, playwright, cultural activist and national award recipient, Springer has been at the forefront of initiatives to enlighten and inspire African descendants in this country for decades.

And while she acknowledged that there has been a heightened consciousness, over the years, about the struggles Africans endured during the era of slavery, Springer insisted that more still needed to be done in relation to cultivating greater self-love among its peoples.

Springer suggested that an understanding of the history of enslaved African peoples was critical in this regard and lauded Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s plan to expand the teaching of history in the nation’s schools to this end.

“I am so pleased with his emphasis on history,” she said in a Sunday Newsday interview on Wednesday. “If you don’t know where you have come from, you do not know where you are going and a lot of people have no sense of their history at all.” For example, Springer revealed that in her youth, she had written “a glowing essay” about late 16th century Spanish historian and social reformer, Bartolome de las Casas, only to find out later that he had written to the then King and Queen of Spain, requesting that Africans be enslaved to supplement the decline of Indians in the region.

In fact, de las Casas was wellknown for his contributions to extending the African slave trade in the region. By the year 1516, de las Casas had begun to advocate for the importation of African slaves to compensate for the decreasing indigenous Amerindian population at the time.

Springer said if young men in Trinidad and Tobago truly understood their history, the crime situation, particularly in Laventille, would be far less frightening than it is today.

There also would not be the focus on elaborate outfits “but something that has a deep impact on one’s consciousness, a time to reflect,” she said.

As this year’s Emancipation celebration draws to a close, Springer, who is credited with establishing the National Heritage Library in Port-of-Spain, contended that many pivotal moments in African history still were not known among many young people.

And she is hoping that her play, Freedom Morning Come, which is being run tomorrow (Emancipation Day), at around 6 am in the heart of the capital city, will again provide some much needed insight about the enslavement of African peoples.

A major part of tomorrow’s events, the play, Springer said was essentially an imagined conversation among a group of African ancestors who would have come to hear the proclamation of Emancipation on August 1, 1834.

It is being staged in front of the Treasury Building on Independence Square in Port-of- Spain and comprises a stellar cast, including veteran actress Eunice Alleyne, a stalwart member of Derek Walcott’s Trinidad Theatre Workshop, as well as acclaimed choreographers Dara Healy (Springer’s daughter) and Christopher Sheppard.

Saying that the play was filled with historical tit-bits, Springer said the members of the cast also were “deliberately chosen.” Alleyne portrays Ma Sandrine, a virgin of fairly sound social standing (her parents owned business) who is captured from her African homeland and sexually exploited by the authorities.

Ma Sandrine’s story is depicted in Guinea’s Other Suns, a book authored by Prof Maureen Warner-Lewis, a lecturer of African-Caribbean languages at the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies.

Then there’s an old priestess, Ma Tity, played by actress/singer Camille Quamina, whose character also is a victim of sexual exploitation.

Spoken word artiste and actor Muhummad Muwakil plays a Haitian voodoo man, Francois Tomby, while Brendon La Caille, a musician and lecturer in theatre arts portrays Governor George Hill.

Making up the cast are Dara Healy (Juliet); Shaniah Springer (Evelyn); Christopher Sheppard (Cudjoe); and Makesi Algernon (Mr Jackson).

Springer said she was willing to take the play to primary and secondary school students.

“Building more police stations and jails will not help,” she opined.

The play, though, will be preceded by a ritual of remembrance to African ancestors at the All Stars Pan Yard, Duke Street, beginning at 4 am.

The panyard and its environs was the site of the Canboulay Riots of 1881, which was led by descendants of freed slaves in Trinidad and Tobago, who had resisted attempts by the British police to crack down on aspects of Carnival.

Following the ritual, Springer said there will be a procession through the streets of Port-of- Spain, which will stop at the Yoruba Village (for a period of prayer), before making its way to the Treasury Building for the play Freedom Morning Come.

The procession will then journey, through, Kambule, to the Lidj Yasu Omowale Emancipation Village at the Queen’s Park Savannah.

There, participants and spectators alike will be part of grand cultural show featuring a stellar line-up of local and foreign entertainers.

At the cultural show, Springer told Sunday Newsday that much attention will be paid to this year’s theme: Emancipation: Celebrating The Resilience Of A People.

The activist argued that although African descendants were subjected to harsh treatment during the era of slavery, many did not accept their lot but resisted in various forms.

She said of all the enslaved groups in the region, Africans had the highest rates of marronage, with Tobago alone recording four slave revolutions.

Springer said in Trinidad, African slaves were located in Savonetta, Paramin and Tamana estates.

She said certain foods, language and kaiso have all reflected the African people’s efforts to retain their indigenous identity.

Springer said Warner-Lewis, former prime minister Dr Eric Williams, late cultural researcher Dr Jacob Delwworth Elder, author Earl Lovelace and Dr Claudius Fergus, head of the Department of History at the St Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies, also have written extensively about the attempts of diasporic peoples to resist slavery.

“We fought to come out of enslavement by marronage, open revolution and keeping the manifestations of our culture.

We have experienced resilience at all levels,” she said.

Springer lamented, however, that negative notions about African people and their spirituality were still perpetuated among some in the society.

“Imagine, in this day and age, people (via social media) were still saying that Dr (Keith) Rowley was too black to be Prime Minister (after the September 2015 general election),” she said.

“Many of us are still wallowing the self-hate that was prevalent during enslavement.”

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