In a letter published in other media, Eric Phillips of the African Reparation Committee and ACDA presents an interesting interpretation of “indigenous” and states that Africans came to Guyana before the Wai Wais and Wapishanas who arrived here in the 19th and 18th centuries respectively from Brazil. This, he says, gives Africans legal rights to land settlements like the Amerindians.
It’s an interesting argument. The First Peoples arrived in the Americas in pre-historic times and settled in areas that had no defined boundaries. The boundaries and naming of countries came with the European explorers and colonisers.
There has never been a dispute about the First Peoples’ rights to land, and their presence or non-presence in any particular area at any given time is a non-issue. No one can claim any arrival before them. The next people to arrive were the Europeans. Africans are third in line.
Phillips likes to write at length about the miles of canals dug and the mountains of earth moved by his forefathers. He boasts with a sense of prideful accomplishment as if it was his forefathers’ good intention to arrive here, clear and work the land and make this earth fruitful when that was the intention and plan of the European colonisers.
The African slaves were the tools and implements used to do the necessary work so any sense of accomplishment belongs to the Europeans.
The colonisers expended much capital to purchase the slaves from African kings and tribal leaders and to ship them across the Atlantic. They felt that feeding and housing them were enough “payment” since they had to recoup their capital and make a profit from the plantations. They did not feel there was any need for financial payments.
No one thinks this was fair. In fact, it was a savage business. However, when Phillips, on behalf of his African brethren, presents an indecent and odious proposal for “indigenous” status that attempts to place Africans on the same footing as the First Peoples, he opens himself to utter derogation and ridicule. Africans could even lose sympathy and support for their just claims for reparations.
The history of European exploration of Africa goes back to the 15th century and the earliest settlers arrived in the 17th century. When they arrived at specific locations, several tribes now present at these places were probably not there at the time. The Europeans, too, cleared, dug, planted and created.
According to Phillips’ reasoning, Europeans can now make legal claim on African lands because they arrived at particular places in Africa before certain African tribes.
Phillips has every right to indigenous claims – in Africa, from where his people came. In Guyana, Africans will have to buy land like everyone else, except for Amerindians.