Keeping Faith with Our Future
(A Speech delivered at NAEAP's Annual Emancipation Dinner, Saturday 30th July 2005)
By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe, President of NAEAP
(Dedicated to Linda Edwards)
Seven years ago the National Association for the Empowerment of African People (NAEAP) began its journey along the road to our people's empowerment by dedicating ourselves to the welfare of Africans in this land and to deepen and strengthen our ties to our motherland, especially our people in West Africa from whence our ancestors came. In doing so, we were only continuing a freedom process that began from the very first day our ancestors arrived in this land. Apart from our vicious fights upon the slave ships, as early as 1823 the Yoruba people formed themselves into social leagues to take care of the needs of fellow Africans; then there was Jonas Mohammed Bath, founder of the Mandingo Freedom Society, a Muslim from Nigeria, the first African to set up a sou-sou to purchase the freedom of his African brethren; and then, in 1838 came the invincible Daaga who mutinied against the British to free his fellow Africans from enslavement, even at the cost of his own life. That is the mettle of which we, as a people, are made.
And so, over the years, the process of African liberation has continued in this land among my people. In 1854, Maxwell Philip, one of our elders and theorists observed in Emmanuel Appadocca, the first novel written by a Trinidadian or a person from the English-speaking Caribbean, had this to say about how Europe had treated African. He observed: "You forgot, in your social system, the wisdom of the race which you affect to despise, while you cherish the theological philosophy which you were eager to borrow from them...while they lived on the banks of the Nile." So that the freedom struggle that began under the leadership of the Yoruba Social Leagues, the Mandingo Freedom Society, and Dagga was taken up by other freedom fighters such as Maxwell Philip, JJ Thomas, Sylvester Williams, Uriah Buzz Butler, Marcus Garvey, George Padmore, C.L. R. James, Eric Williams, Makandal Daaga, and our own indefatigable, forward-looking and visionary leader, Patrick Augustus Mervyn Manning who is destined to join that illustrious body of freedom fighters, elders and priest who have sought to liberate our people in a land that seeks at all times to devaluate our worth. And while we are at it, let us today consecrate ourselves to our OLUWO, PATRICK MANNING, OUR SENIOR CHIEF AND PROTECTOR TO WHOM ALL THE MEMBERS OF OUR ORDER OUGHT TO PLEDGE THEIR DUTY OF LOYALTY AND OBEDIENCE.
This is, as I think it should be. In the land from which my people came and which today we find ourselves in the presence of the most distinguished of all of our OLUWOS, HIS EXCELLENCY, CHIEF OLUSEGUN OBASANJO, PRESIDENT AND COMMANDER IN CHIEF OF THE ARMED FORCES OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, who has come all this way from the continent to share our special day with us and in whose person and presence we know exist the qualities of spiritual leader, the elder and protector all embodied in one. In stretching out your hands to us, in a gesture of social, cultural and religious solidarity, our chief seeks to bind the ties that have kept us together as one people even as we are shaped in the crucible of another land. Today, symbolically, spiritually and socially, we reaffirm ourselves as one people as we bow in your presence; your having come from across the waters to say, be still and know the I AM THE I AM THAT IS WITHIN YOU; that I am part of you AND YOU ARE PART OF US.
It is this spiritual connection that Dr. Eric Williams, one of our most illustrious sons, tried to alert us to when in 1964, two years after our independence, he visited several African nations in West and North Africa as he sought to mend the relations where possible and strengthen the ties, where necessary between the land of our African ancestors and we in the diaspora. Some of those here who did not understand dismissed his visit derisively by calling it "an African safari." This is why, tonight, at our FIFTH ANNUAL DINNER & AWARDS CEREMONY we honor those amongst us: Makandal Daaga for his work in raising our consciousness with respect to our Africanness; the Elder, Chief Ifa Oje Wony Oni Abiodan (Le Roy Clarke) who I call our genius par excellence for delving into regions beyond the zero, as he would say; and Danielle Stewart, our promise of the future and an emblem of the quality of persons who we must produce if we are to continue the journey that the Yoruba League, the Mandingo Freedom Society, the invincible Dagga started and the wisdom of Maxwell Philip embodied. The Nigerian High Commission is located on Maxwell Philip Street. Perhaps it is a sign of where and how we ought to go if we are to be saved in this nation.
Tonight is an occasion that is filled with great significance for all of the people of Trinidad and Tobago; it is a night on which we call down the blessings of all our ancestors of whom we ask their protection; it is a night in which we search for guidance as sometimes we those amongst us who really have little respect for most of us; tonight we give thanks and offerings in celebration of our survival and our persistence in spite of all of our travails. It is a tremendous thing that we have survived the lash of the master, the bloodhounds, the rapes, the kidnappings and the brutality. While few of us remember the physical pain; most of us bear the psychological scars of the past which have whiten our souls.
Tonight, we pour libations to all of those who went before us as we greet our priests, our elders and our protectors, all wrapped into one. Tonight we give thanks for all that we are and for what we have become and, most of all we give thanks to the great spirit of our motherland that has given us the strength to withstand even in the evil days. Tonight we greet OUR GREAT CHIEF, OLUSEUN OBASANJO AND BOW IN REVERENCE TO OUR GREAT OLUWO, PATRICK AGUSTUS MERVYN MANNING. Tonight we say thanks for sharing your presence here with us and may the blessing of OLORUN, THE SUPREME DEITY OF THE YORUBAS, descend upon us as IFA, OBALATA, ODUDUWA, ORGUN AND THE GREAT SHANGO share in the blessedness of our evening.
CHIEF OLUSEGUN OBASANJO we feel blessed that you have agreed to share the first evening of your visit to Trinidad and Tobago with NAEAP and its friends. May your stay here be a joyous one as you participate in our observance of EMANCIPATION; a season of prayer, praise and thanksgiving.
Welcome home Dear Chief. You have simply come to among your long lost brothers and sisters for a few days. Remember always; your struggles will always be our struggle. We hope that our struggles in this land also become a part of your struggle.
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