Hard-core royalists in Jamaica would have been up by 1:30 a.m. yesterday to watch coverage of the prolonged build-up to the coronation of King Charles III. Two hours and forty-five minutes later, it was time for the main event. Royalists must have revelled in the pomp and ceremony. There was the dazzling regalia: the silver maces carried before the king; the Swords of State, Temporal Justice, Spiritual Justice and Mercy; the Sovereign’s Ring made of a sapphire with a ruby cross set in diamonds; and the golden sceptres.
Most of all, the crowns! King Charles donned the St Edwards with its solid gold frame, decorated with rubies, amethysts, sapphires, garnet, topazes and tourmalines. The Queen Consort flaunted the resplendent Crown of Queen Mary. It should have been blinging with the infamous Kohinoor diamond. But the Indian government objected. Displaying the jewel would revive disturbing memories of British conquest.
Mined in India, the precious stone was presented to Queen Victoria in 1850 by the deputy chairman of the East India Company. In response to India’s protest, Buckingham Palace announced that the Kohinoor would be replaced with a less controversial stone. I suspect that the substitute is also tainted by greed. Blinkered royalists are not at all troubled by unsettling questions about how the monarchy accumulated the gross wealth that was so conspicuously displayed at the coronation.
CENTURIES OF ATROCITIES
For most Jamaicans, last Saturday was just another market day. In downtown Kingston, some shoppers went to Coronation Market. Like Jubilee Market, it was named in honour of Queen Victoria. The sidewalk markets on East and West Queen streets, Princess Street and King Street were in full swing. I am indebted to Mr Adolphus Depass, the reference librarian at the National Library of Jamaica, for reminding me of the degree to which colonial history is imprinted on Kingston’s street signs.
The city has been branded with the mark of royalty. Just as the bodies of enslaved Africans were disfigured with the beastly stamp of ‘ownership,’ administered by savage Europeans! As Jamaica slowly advances towards becoming a republic, the British monarchy must be held accountable for centuries of atrocities. The research has been done and the evidence is indisputable. For two hundred and seventy years, successive queens and kings of England were investors in, and beneficiaries of, the trade in enslaved Africans.
In 2004, historian Nick Hazlewood’s eye-opening book was published: The Queen’s Slave Trader: John Hawkyns, Elizabeth I, and the Trafficking in Human Souls. Hazlewood painstakingly documents the role of the “Virgin Queen” in the brutalisation of Africans. Elizabeth I entered into a heinous contract with the notorious pirate John Hawkins. She supplied a royal ship to transport human cargo in exchange for a share of the profit from the gruesome trade.
Almost two decades later, Britain’s The Guardian newspaper published a report on April 6, 2023 headlined, “King Charles signals first explicit support for research into monarchy’s slavery ties.” According to a spokesperson for Buckingham Palace quoted in the article, “Historic Royal Palaces is a partner in an independent research project, which began in October last year, that is exploring, among other issues, the links between the British monarchy and the transatlantic slave trade during the late 17th and 18th centuries.” This supposedly “independent” research project comes rather late in the day.
Camilla De Koning, a PhD candidate at the University of Manchester, is writing a dissertation entitled “Royal Enterprise: Reconsidering the Crown’s Engagement in Britain’s Emerging Empire, 1660-1775.” What is there to reconsider? The case is closed. One of the deadly enterprises in which the Crown was engaged was human trafficking. This ‘engagement’ cannot be reconceptualised in any other terms than as a classic manifestation of royal entitlement to brutality. I cannot resist pointing out that the student’s name is most unfortunate in this context. In Dutch, De Koning means ‘the king.’ And Camilla is the name of the Queen Consort. A remarkable coincidence!
RHETORIC OF SORROW
The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has outlined a ten-point plan for reparatory justice. First, there must a full formal apology. Next, the right of descendants of enslaved Africans to be repatriated must be acknowledged and enabled through all legal and diplomatic channels. Repatriation has long been the cry of Rastafari. A development programme for indigenous people must be implemented. Cultural institutions must be established to educate Caribbean citizens about crimes against humanity.
In addition, the public health crisis that has its roots in the poor diet of enslaved Africans must be addressed. Illiteracy must be eradicated. African knowledge systems must be validated. For instance, the value of the Creole languages, like Jamaican, created by Africans in the diaspora must be acknowledged. Rehabilitation for the psychological trauma inflicted upon African people and their descendants must be undertaken. Technology transfer, reversing some of Europe’s systematic exclusion of the Caribbean from global industrialisation, must be prioritised. Finally, debt cancellation must be recognised as an essential element of reparatory justice.
King Charles’ “explicit support” for research on “the links between the British monarchy and the transatlantic slave trade” may prove to be just as flaccid as his repeated declaration of “profound sorrow” for the trafficking in Africans that was enabled by the monarchy. Talk is, indeed, very cheap. Further research is nothing but impotent deferral of vigorous action. King Charles must translate the rhetoric of sorrow into the truly meaningful language of immediate reparations.
Reblogged this on Ned Hamson's Second Line View of the News.