March 20, 2016 By
March 13, 2016 By
“No one is more enslaved than a slave who doesnt think they’re enslave.” – Kate Beckinsale
This is the concluding part of the report on a groundbreaking book, “Beyond Massa: Sugar Management in the British Caribbean, 1770-1838”, by John Campbell. The author proposed that enslaved people (not “slaves”) seized much more agency that normally acknowledged by historians and those in skilled positions negotiated working relations that were forerunners of the modern Harvard Human Relations Management (HRM) techniques.
Campbell also pointed to the establishment of a female elite class of enslaved people. They formed their own network that acted as a support system for their fellow enslaved people. This support system “accommodated female identity creation, enslaved resistance, and also subversion of the white male power centre”. These women also practiced folk medicine and helped to heal their fellow enslaved so that the enslaved were not dependent of the plantation for healthcare. He used the Maroon leader Nanny as an example of “defining female leadership”.
Despite being placed into these elevated positions of power over their fellow enslaved, the elite of both sexes still identified strongly with their fellow enslaved, since they used their positions as “a means of securing rights for all enslaved people”. At times the elite were even moved to encourage their fellow enslaved to rise up to protect the interests of the plantations.
The elites were very astute and selective in how they wielded their power. They were careful to maintain their positions of power by collaborating with the white managers, but at the same time, they maintained close links with their fellow enslaved. They were concerned with improving the conditions of living and working for the enslaved, to change the tone of Caribbean slavery to more resemble the West African form of slavery.
Campbell proposes that the enslaved people had “ideological clarity”, which also influenced the degree to which they opposed or resisted the managerial class, since their underlying issue was not with the system of slavery itself, but instead with the chattel aspect of Caribbean slavery. More concerned with securing greater autonomy and rights for the enslaved people, Dr Campbell suggested: “Their move to resist seemed to be contradicted by some of their accommodationist tendencies”.
From the HRM perspective, what helped was that in Jamaica, like many other British colonies, most plantation owners were absentee owners, living in England while appointing managers to take charge of the day-to-day running of the plantation. The absence of the plantation owners gave much autonomy to the managers to innovate in ensuring high sugar production, given that there was no means of quick communication between the manager and the owner.
This fact is used to propose that worker-manager relations presaged the present Harvard framework of HRM which acknowledges the fact that the sugar managers had to make many day-to-day decisions that could crucially affect the production the plantation given contingencies such as “warfare, weather, and slave resistance”.
More to the point, they were forced to include stakeholders such as the enslaved elite and women in their decisions given the resistance and bargaining power of these groups at the time.
Additionally the managers were limited in their options to dramatically increase the numbers of enslaved people purchased and instead were forced to turn to HRM techniques to improve productivity (and to keep potential rebellions at bay) by providing managerial gifts and other appeasement strategies. Another HRM technique used to compensate for the inability of the estate to constantly buy increasing numbers of slaves was the renting of “Jobbing slaves”. The jobbing slaves “were often in a better condition than the estate’s own enslaved people”.
Overall however, it would appear that while the contingencies of the local West Indian factors forced managers to utilise some HRM techniques, the central tenet of the latter approach – to acknowledge workers as not simply means to accomplish ends – was missing.
A more tenable proposition might be that the techniques that evolved in the management of slaves on plantations might have led to those techniques being a forerunner of HRM in the following centuries. The Caribbean is therefore not only a forerunner of mass industrial production but also modern Human Relations.
March 6, 2016 By
“The Hindu religion is the only one of the world’s great faiths dedicated to the idea that the Cosmos itself undergoes an immense, indeed an infinite, number of deaths and rebirths. It is the only religion in which the time scales correspond, to those of modern scientific cosmology. ”
– Carl Sagan, Cosmologist
Tomorrow, Hindus all across Guyana will be celebrating Maha Shivaratri. Every month there is one day dedicated to worshipping Lord Shiva (“pradosh”) but “Maha Shivaratri is the yearly, ritual worship of this one of the three major ‘personalised’ forms of the ultimate reality or Brahman that Hindus worship.
We are all projected out of Brahman (making us and the rest of the universe part of God) – and we call that aspect “Lord Brahma”; we are all sustained by and within Brahman and we call this power “Lord Vishnu” and finally after billions of years we all return into Brahman as we call this attribute “Lord Shiva”. We are not ‘destroyed’ as some assert, but subsist in Brahman in ‘prayala’ until the next round of ‘projection’. We do not ever die – but are children of ‘immortal bliss’.
It is interesting that as modern science searches for explanations of newly observed phenomena such as “quantum entanglement” the theories of David Bohm of London University are experiencing a resurgence. He proposed an “implicate order” of the universe “unfolding” from a previous quiescent phase into which it had subsided to explain the paradox of “action at a distance” occurring faster than the speed of light.
Hindus offer special prayers to Lord Shiva on Shivratri. In Sanskrit, ‘ratri’ means night and thus, Shivaratri literally means ‘The Night of Shiva’. There are several traditions associated with the night: Lord Shiva performed the Tandava Nritya (the dance of dissolution); he appeared as the Lingam; or he married Mother Parvati. Maha Shivaratri is observed for one night but the preparations begin the preceding day.
The day before Shivaratri, the house would have been given a thorough cleaning – both inside and out. Hindus literally leave no stone unturned when sprucing up for Shivaratri (and other festivals) because symbolically God is welcomed into our house. Who would want God to enter a grubby house?
Traditionally, this sacred festival is observed by offering Abhishek or Dhar. This is the several types of liquid offerings that we make to the Shiva Lingam (literally the “sign” of Shiva as the formless Brahman) – milk, honey, ghee, dahee (yoghurt), ganga jal, coconut water, and cane juice. Each of these offerings have a symbolic significance but overall they represent a ‘cooling of the linga’ the desire of our souls to merge with God. So, in observance of Maha Shivaratri, we offer prayers and Abhishek to Lord Shiva.
Tomorrow, thousands will go to the Cove and John Ashram, go to their local Mandir or stay home to offer their Dhar and prayers. My Mom is a Shiva bhakta and Shiva Ratri is always a big occasion in our home.
A growing number of Hindus make time for Mandir even though they mightn’t always be regular attendees on Thursday night, or Sunday morning. So many Hindus coming together and praying together, putting aside whatever personal differences they might have, to worship the same deities. They also do not eat meat during the Shivaratri period. Some Hindus, like my Mom, even completely give up “salt” food completely, eating only fruits.
The whole point of Mandirs is for everyone, the entire Hindu community, to get involved: everyone has a part to play. Everyone can sing along God’s praises with the bhajans, everyone prays together with the mantras.
It helps Hindus to solidify their identities as Hindus. It helps us to feel that sense of pride and to share that feeling with fellow Hindus.
So I hope all Hindus proudly celebrate Shivaratri tomorrow, whether they observe the festival at home or at Mandir.
Happy Maha Shivaratri!
February 28, 2016 By
“You can’t hold a man down without staying down with him”?
– Booker T Washington
Last week I explored the proposition, from the book “Beyond Massa”, that during slavery, the seeds of our Republican values were planted as a two-way negotiated space where the enslaved people on the sugar plantations exercised more ‘agency’ than previous studies had accredited to them. I use “agency” in the sense of people being able to make choices.
I also mentioned three dominant approaches to “slave historiography” none of which gave much, if any, agency to slaves: they were simply objects on whose others inscribed their will at will. First was the European enslaving Africans to “save their souls”, followed by the British “humanitarian” impulse to “help” by ameliorating and ending slavery and finally Eric Williams” Marxian exposé of the economic imperative behind Britain’s abolition of slavery.
While Williams’ approach was subsequently challenged, it became part and parcel of a “vindicationist” approach favoured by West Indian historians in the later 20th Century. In a strategic move to counter the dominant perspectives on the post-slavery conditions of the descendants of slavery and of the need for the latter to “overcome”, this approach stressed the cruelties inflicted on the slaves by the planters and their ruling class that served to ground out the latter’s culture and sense of self which is necessary for progress. This approach was integral in the movement for independence (the final “overcoming”) in the British colonies and has remained the dominant paradigm in the local history textbooks.
It is primarily this latter account that “Beyond Massa” challenges by attempting to demonstrate the slaves had much more agency than the vindicationist approach claims. One example was the important distinction the study makes between the terms “slaves” and “enslaved people”, since by referring to them as enslaved people acknowledges that they were “people” who were acutely aware of their crucial importance to the plantation system.
Another important shift in perspective by Campbell is to re-evaluate the role of the house slaves and the skilled workers as an “elite”. This turns on its head the vindicationist perspective which saw these individuals as “betrayers” and “traitors” to the cause of the field slaves’ heroic struggle to free themselves. The “house slave” unfortunately has become a most damming insult in the modern Caribbean, even though the greatest slave rebellion, if not the greatest rebellion in the world, was led by a house slave, Toussaint L’Overture.
The production of sugar involves not only the agro-production field labour, but also skilled, technical labour involved in the refining and manufacturing process, such as the tasks of a boilerman. While the manual labour could probably be forced, however tasks requiring the enslaved person to use their judgment could not be forced.
Managers, such as Simon Taylor of Plantation Golden Grove, recognised they needed to implement incentives to appease these “selected workers and reward them in order to encourage a higher work ethic”. And it is in such accommodations that Campbell discerns elements of the Human Resource Management approach.
Thus, there was the establishment of an “enslaved elite group” as a means of collaborating with the enslaved for higher productivity in the sugar factory and also as a source of “insider information” about the enslaved to suppress potential revolts and rebellions. By rewarding the enslaved elite with a lighter workload and putting them into positions of power over their fellow enslaved (as “black sub-managers”), the white managers created a channel to gain an insight into the mood of the enslaved people and a means of controlling them through their fellow enslaved.
However, the elite were well aware of their importance to the white managerial class and they used this to the advantage of the enslaved. They “exploited the tension existing between the Crown (the governor) and the plantocracy for their own purposes”. Coming from West Africa with its established system of slavery, the enslaved already had an awareness of the political factors at work within the slavery system and how they might manipulate the system to their advantage. (To be continued)
February 14, 2016 By
“You can’t blame gravity for falling in love.” ― Albert Einstein
It’s that time of the year again and the quote above is so serendipitous since the last prediction from old Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity was just confirmed!! But, it’s felt like “that time” ever since February began, what with the plethora of posts and articles about Valentine’s in the lead up to Valentine’s.
I’ve noticed that there are approximately four types of reactions to Valentine’s Day on social media: (1) lovey-dovey declarations of love from those in relationships, (2) single-and-proud statuses, (3) statuses declaring that food is their one true love, and (4) people who just go about their day like it was any other.
This Sunday, florists and confectioners will triple or even quadruple their sales as most everyone rushes to buy last minute Valentine’s for their loved ones. Whether it’s a simple rose or diamond earrings, most everyone does something to show the special people on their life that they care on February 14. You don’t have to pull a Jay-z and send your wife 10,000 roses. I mean, you could… but you really don’t have to.
But February 14 doesn’t hold exclusive rights as the only date to show someone you care. It’s just a date chosen in honour of St Valentine and became associated with romantic love in the 14th Century. It could’ve been any other date or better yet, it doesn’t just have to be one date. Why can’t people show their love for the important people in their lives every day? Or rather, why don’t they? The persons you love should be important enough to you that you would have no problem with showing them that you love them every day – whether you want to show your love by just saying ‘I love you’ or by showering them with gifts, it’s your prerogative.
Be spontaneous, show your love every day in all of the little ways that count much, much more than an elaborate show on Valentine’s Day.
And love itself comes in so many, many forms – you could love your mom, your dad, brother, friends, boyfriend, girlfriend and all of the other people in your life. Why should only romantic love be exalted? But how many people consider all of those other people on Valentine’s Day? And if everyone did, there probably wouldn’t be enough flowers in the world to gift all of those people – so how are you going to show your love to all of them on Valentine’s Day? You don’t have to – not if you showed them that you love them on the other 364 days of the Calendar.
And that’s exactly what you should be doing. Let the people you care about always know and feel that you care about them. Sure, people aren’t perfect and someone is sure to step on your toes over time. But you don’t need to hold a grudge or put them in the doghouse – remember that you love them.
And I’m not saying you need to go around loving everyone because no matter how many pink sunglasses we wear, we can’t fool ourselves that the world is as rosy as we would like it to be. There are always people who we will find decidedly unlovable, and that’s OK. You don’t need to love everyone and show everyone that you love them – that might be spreading yourself too thin (not to mention you’re also losing the plot of love being special and important).
You at least ought to show the important people in your life, the ones you care deeply about that you love them because hey, if you love them that much, that shouldn’t be much of a problem – right?
But OK, even though you should be showing your love every day, it IS a nice gesture to go that extra mile on Valentine’s Day.
And a shout out to my brother Abhi…who turned 16 yesterday!
February 7, 2016 By
“Prevention is better than cure.” – Desiderius Erasmus
The first Friday of every February is designated “National Wear Red Day” in the US. Heart disease is actually the number one killer of women in America. Attention has been brought to this since 2003 by wearing red to raise awareness about heart disease. I’m not big on picking up American practices (no Halloween, please!) but I’ll make an exception on this one.
There are so many decisions we can all make (not just women) about our lifestyle to reduce our risk of developing heart diseases. Things like checking your cholesterol levels regularly, and getting in a bit of exercise can go a long way in keeping you healthy.
A few semesters back we covered digestion and metabolism – all the chemical reactions that goes on inside us to keep us alive. As a part of that, we had to cover nutrition extensively. In addition to the “food” that comes to mind, our classes really emphasised how important the micronutrients like vitamins and minerals are, even though they’re required in much smaller quantities than rice and dhall – carbohydrates and proteins
Eating well is vital to staying healthy. And while that may sound like common sense, you might be surprised by how many people actually don’t eat that healthily. Eating well doesn’t just mean eating your three meals a day; it’s what you eat that’s really important. In primary school I learnt about the different food groups, the food pyramid and the importance of a balanced diet. Remember “Go” food, “Glow” food? and “Grow” food?!
And now I’m in Med School learning even more about all of that. So one would assume that with all of this knowledge about how I should be eating, that I’ve been taking the time to plan and eat balanced meals. But in truth, it took a horrible flu, and my mother flying in and stocking my room with fresh fruits for me to finally start eating fruits regularly. And I’ve finally started taking my multivitamins again – some of those pictures on our lecture slides of what vitamin-deficiencies can look like definitely scared me into keeping up with my vitamins. (Yes, Mom!)
What we need to eat varies according to our gender, our age, our occupations and other such factors. So take the time to do some reading, or visit a nutritionist to discuss what nutrients are particularly important for you. Girls for example, need a lot of iron in their diet to replace all in the blood we lose monthly.
It’s important to weigh the pros and cons of the foods that you’re choosing to include in your diet for particular nutrients. Lots of people eat liver for its high iron content, but liver also has a really high cholesterol content and that’s not that good for keeping your heart healthy. If you already have high cholesterol levels, it might be better for you to eat other iron-rich foods instead of liver. I love liver, incidentally.
Technology is also quickly advancing to make it easier for us to stay healthy. There are so many fitness apps that keep track of your meals to let you know whether you’ve eaten enough of each particular nutrient. There are apps that you can use to keep track of whether you’re drinking enough water.
Heart disease is very serious. The heart is responsible for pumping blood all over your body. If the heart is affected, the rest of your body gets affected as well. Ease up on the fast food that’s flooding our shores, now that the US declared them unhealthy. I just heard that we’ll be getting back the Colonel serving up his chicken with his famous herbs and spices at KFC. They don’t mention all the oil needed to get that wonderful fried taste! Not good for the heart though. Trinidad is one of the most obese societies in the world. They’ve had the fast food joints longer.
So let’s all try to live better, healthier lives. There’s so much useful information at our fingertips via the Internet, that we really can’t cite ignorance as an excuse for not knowing what constitutes a balanced meal.
Remember, prevention is better than cure.
January 31, 2016 By
“Parkinson’s is my toughest fight. No, it doesn’t hurt. It’s hard to explain. I’m being tested to see if I’ll keep praying, to see if I’ll keep my faith. All great people are tested by God.” – Muhammad Ali, Esquire, Feb 2012
My dad is a great boxing fan and interestingly, so is my Mom, even though she’s the gentlest person you could ever meet. Unless of course, you’re her daughter and dawdle in bed “after the sun rises”! My dad still recounts with awe, listening over a radio, back in the sixties, of the famous fights between “the Greatest” and his famous rival, “Smokin’ Joe Frazier”. My cognitive dissonance is palpable when I think of this man who “floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee” when I look at videos of him nowadays. That is the tragedy of Parkinson’s disease.
On a personal note, two members of my Nana’s family are also afflicted as was a very famous religious figure in my community, who had been one of the most active individuals during his earlier life. So I’m sure most of us have also heard of Parkinson’s disease before, or “Parkinson’s” as we’re more likely to call it. But what exactly is Parkinson’s?
Well, it’s a movement disorder. It’s due to degeneration of specific cells in the Central Nervous System (our “nerves”) concerned with movement. You might’ve noticed that Parkinson’s patients tend to move slowly, have a tremor and are very rigid. Well that’s because the degeneration of those cells results in our levels of dopamine (a chemical messenger) becoming too low. This leads to a disjunction (a “dysregulation” they call it) in our movement controls. Instead of the normal balance between our “stop” and “go” pathways, the “stop” pathway is working on overdrive, so our brain keeps hitting the brakes even when we’re meant to move.
With something as devastating as Parkinson’s, I’m sure we’d all like to be aware of some of its early warning signs. Well, tremors or shaking while you’re just sitting around relaxing, your handwriting suddenly getting smaller than normal, trouble walking (stiffness, your feet kind of dragging – “shuffling gait”), stooping, hunching over or a loss of smell might be some early warning signs. Of course, all of these things could be caused by any number of things – a tremor might be due to medicine you’re currently on and a change in handwriting might be expected if you’ve been doing more typing than writing (I think everyone forgets how to write when school reopens after that 2-month break). But if you’ve noticed a combination of all of these things, it’ll probably be best to consult your doctor to be on the safe side.
While at this time there’s no cure for Parkinson’s, there are some drug treatments used to control its symptoms. These aim to increase the level of dopamine that reaches the brain and stimulate the parts of the brain where dopamine works.
Studies have shown that aerobic exercise could be beneficial in slowing the progression of Parkinson’s. Aerobic exercise — like running, jogging and cycling — anything to get the heart racing, really. Aerobic exercise is supposed to release trophic “growth” factors in the brain that help to counter the degeneration of Parkinson’s. Actually, it’s supposed to counter the normal brain shrinkage that happens to us as we get older as well.
Research into Parkinson’s is ongoing and they’re continuously pushing to make new breakthroughs in understanding the disease — and thereby come up with better strategies on how to treat it.
Just this week, The Gladstone Institutes discovered that those “go” and “stop” pathways control movement via a group of nerves in the brainstem that connects the brain to the spinal cord. Those brainstem nerve cells could overpower the stop signals from the “stop” pathway.
Hopefully this discovery and the others that are sure to follow will pave the way towards better treatment options! Keep the faith!
January 10, 2016 By
“Anyone who thinks that they are too small to make a difference has never tried to fall asleep with a mosquito in the room.” – Christine Todd Whitman
In life, everything is context. Here we were in New York City, hoping to enjoy the best of both worlds in what was a record warm spell during a New York winter. But within a couple of days, in the midst of checking out the joys of Manhattan – Sephora anyone?! – both my parents began complaining of feeling cold and having aches and pains.
My brother and I thought it was time and tide taking its toll and insisted we hit all our favourite haunts. Like that picturesque Italian “family” restaurant on 45th Street, Bucca de Beppo. With no sign of relief, they went to a doctor …but were told it was just “a flu”. Back in Guyana, the doctor quickly diagnosed –Dengue!! Context!! New York doctors probably never heard of Dengue. Well, my parents are both back in the swing…but the rest of us should be on the lookout for the flu and many of its medical cousins sweeping our region.
Normally when we think about people getting the flu, it’s an infection with the influenza virus – you really can’t spell influenza without the ‘flu’, it would become ‘inenza’ which sounds like some kind of exotic foreign word. But there are so many other viruses that cause diseases with symptoms resembling the flu. Recently, the Zika Virus has been in the news a lot – and with good reason. Up until now, the virus was mostly contained in Asia and Africa. But now it’s spread to our neighbour Brazil and the Caribbean. It’s only a matter of time it reaches Guyana.
Dengue’s been around for a while, but there’s recently been a disturbing increase in the prevalence of mosquito-borne diseases – Chikungunya, and now Zika, all spread by the Aedes mosquito. I always hated mosquitoes because they’re annoying, but now they’re establishing themselves as much more than just a nuisance. One hypothesis that has been proposed for the increased prevalence of these diseases is that the warmer temperatures (due to global warming) are making it easier for mosquitoes to survive and thus infect more people.
The worst symptoms of Dengue and Chikungunya seem to be the severe pains in the joints – and the latter name literally means “that which bends up”. Many people infected with the Zika Virus seem to recover without any further complications, but there seems to be a link between infection with the virus and pregnant mothers giving birth to babies with small skulls (microcephaly). So pregnant mothers are definitely advised to avoid travelling to areas with confirmed cases of the virus.
With this sort of viruses, prevention is definitely better than cure, seeing as there really isn’t a cure – just management of symptoms and allowing your body to fight off the virus. So you know, get those cans of insect repellent out, make sure your homes have been sprayed with Baygon or whatever bug spray you swear by and make sure there’re no stagnant bodies of water around your home. All of these things they tried to teach us in primary school.
As Mad-Eye Moody from the Harry Potter books would say, “Constant vigilance!” Sure, he was referring to being wary of Death Eaters practising the dark arts, but in our world if there were ever creatures that were completely pointless and evil, it would be mosquitoes.
So be wary of mosquitoes and take care if you start having flu-like symptoms because it mightn’t be just the flu. Check in with your doctor…here they know about our medical threats.
Stay safe, Guyana!
January 3, 2016 By
“Of all sound of all bells… most solemn and touching is the peal which rings out the Old Year.” – Charles Lamb
On Friday, we officially kicked off the New Year with music and good food, family and friends. Interestingly, though the “New Year” was celebrated more than 4000 years ago, in Western cultures it was only celebrated from about 400 hundred years ago. For instance, in India, New Year is celebrated in the Hindu month of Chaithra (Mid April) and it’s been observed for more than 5100 years – of the present Kali Yuga.
In fact, the current date celebrated as “New Year’s” day was chosen in 153 BC by Julius Caesar. If you’re a fan of Roman and Greek mythology, you’ll be interested to know that the month January was named after the God of Doorways – Janus. He was given two faces – one which looked ahead to see what the new year would bring, and the other looked backward to see what happened during the past year. This is symbolic since you can never move forward if you completely ignore what happened in your past.
There is the caution that “those that forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them!” I guess in the case of Janus, being ‘two-faced’ wasn’t a bad thing!
They’re so many different traditions and superstitions concerning New Year’s Day in every country, it’s impossible to keep track of all of them. From the Dutch tradition of eating a donut (representing completing a year’s cycle) for luck or to the Scottish belief that it’s especially lucky if a tall, dark and handsome man is the first person to enter your house, it’s clear that different cultures have very different ideas about what makes you lucky!
But what is common in all cultures, is the fact that the New Year represents a new beginning – a chance to start afresh with new resolutions for the New Year (unfortunately, I’m as guilty as anyone else of conveniently forgetting those resolutions by the next week!).
Of course, we won’t be hoping for only ourselves to change for the better this New Year, we’ll be wishing for other things as well. Maybe for West Indies to become the number one Test team again (please?)
New Year’s Eve truly is a magical time. When we were very young (and still naïve) my father insisted that we be up and outside to see the “Old Year Clouds” move over and be replaced by the “New Year Clouds”. Do others also have this tradition? There’s a special joy in counting down those last few seconds until you light off the fireworks to usher in the New Year. And then the invariable hugs, shouting and general pandemonium as everyone celebrates making it through yet another year – another year full of possibilities and dreams.
But the New Year doesn’t just have to mean moving on, the New Year is also a time to strengthen bonds with those you love, keeping in mind that January 1, 2016 isn’t the end, in fact, it may only be the end of the beginning.
Happy New Year (or as they say in Greece, “Eutychismenos o kainourgios chromos!”)!
December 20, 2015 By