Christmas in Hell by John Maxwell, December 29, 2007[/size]
Christmas in Jamaica is bad enough. One good thing about Christmas Day is that it means the end of weeks of aural assaults by mindless rhymesters perverting songs of worship to paeans of praise for hucksters of all kinds, from shopkeepers to banks, from auto parts dealers to purveyors of cheap, non-returnable, eminently breakable, non-biodegradable trash tricked out in plastic, tinsel and lead paint to lure innocent children and entrap their parents. And, as a bonus, there are the sound-system parties, which allow you to dance in your own home to music played two miles away.
An Alternative Scenario
If you think this is bad, consider another scenario.
Consider that you are a citizen of another land, one steeped in history – a history of resistance to oppression, a history which includes the first proclamation on Earth that all people were equal, including women and children.
This land, which for convenience we'll call Ayiti, was introduced to Christianity by a bunch of marauding savages bearing swords and caparisoned in the fierce colours of their leader, a Genoese adventurer named Cristobal Colon, aka Christopher Columbus. This character had induced Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, the monarchs of two Spanish kingdoms –Aragon and Castile – to bet their farms on the discovery of a new route to China, then as now, the fabulous land of magical herbs, spices and other goods which would make life bearable for the inhabitants of Europe, just emerging from the Dark Ages.
Our hero had managed to convince Ferdinand and Isabella on the basis of a map obtained from an African who claimed to know the way to China aka Cipangu. If the Spanish got to Cipangu before their European cousins, great wealth and power would be theirs; all the tea in China would be theirs for the asking, in addition to carpets, silks and luxuries only dreamt of in Europe.
When Columbus' "doom burdened caravels" hove to in Ayiti, the million or so people who welcomed him could never have guessed that they would soon be history. Within thirty years the populations of the West Indies had been so reduced that in the four larger islands now re-christened the Greater Antilles) less than a thousand remained alive in 1519. This is according to the testimony of Bartholomew de las Casas, a Spanish monk who came with the conquistadors and was an eyewitness to the Conquest. Another historian, Gonzalo Oviedo, estimated that of the one million Indians on Ayiti when the Spaniards arrived, less than five hundred remained half a century later– the "natives and … the progeny and lineage " of those who first occupied the land.
‘They died in heaps, like bedbugs …’
In the Caribbean and in Mexico, Peru and Colombia smallpox and other diseases introduced by the Spaniards killed the 'Indians' by the million. Relatively small Spanish expeditions were able to conquer huge empires because the native populations were swept away by diseases to which they had never been exposed and for which they had no immunity.
Toribio Motolina, another Spanish priest, wrote that in most provinces in Mexico "more than one half the population died; in others the proportion was a little less; they died in heaps, like bedbugs."
More than a hundred years after Motolina, a German missionary writing in 1699, said the so-called Indians "die so easily that the bare look and smell of a Spaniard causes them to give up the ghost."
The destruction of the 'American Indian' populations and cultures has meant an incalculable loss to human ethnic and cultural diversity. It was they who gave us words like barbecue, canoe, hammock and hurricane and crops like corn, potatoes, cassava and tomatoes. The people of ancient Egypt, the pyramid builders seem very far away in time; the Olmecs, Maya, Aztecs, and Incas, who also built pyramids and played games very much like basketball, soccer and Jai alai, seem much closer.
To Jamaicans and people of the Caribbean, the sense of loss is almost palpable in relation to the lost civilizations of Africa, destroyed by the slave trade, which, like globalization, set brother against brother, tribe against tribe and nation against nation.
Africa was targeted because the Europeans knew that their own people could not survive for long in the hot, humid, mosquito-ridden Indies and that sugar, replacing gold, as the commodity most likely to make men rich, was too hard a work for them.
Turning to Africa meant the devastation of many ancient civilizations – many disappearing almost without trace, further impoverishing mankind's cultural diversity and robbing Africa of the populations and skills it needed for its own development.
Although the Europeans found large quantities of gold, silver and copper in the "New World’, gold was never as lucrative as sugar and the cotton and rubber extracted from the plantations of the Americas. And nothing was as lucrative as the slave trade.
As Sybille Fischer remarks in her book Modernity Disavowed: "Colonialism in the Caribbean had produced societies where brutality combined with licentiousness in ways unknown in Europe. The sugar plantations in the new World were expanding rapidly and had an apparently limitless hunger for slaves."