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A Brek-UP, Brek-DOWN Society

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
May 29, 2017


Sooner rather than later I am going to ask Reggie Dumas to take the Trinidad and Tobago Government (T&T G) to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for their wanton destruction of historic sites in our country. In September of last year the ICC sentenced Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi to nine years in prison for "'intentionally directing' attacks on nine Timbuktu's mausoleums and the centuries-old door of its Sidi mosque in 2012." The judge hoped such a stiff punishment "will deter other attacks on heritage sites around the world." (London Guardian, September 27, 2016)

The T&T G, it seems, has little respect or concern for protecting our heritage sites. To them, they are places where some insane persons lived or foolish buildings housed inconsequential offices. In June 2015, Martin Terry Rondon, chairman of the Sangre Grande Regional Corporation, called on the T&T G to demolish the old Post Office and the old Fire Station in his borough. Two years later, they were demolished with Rondon's stern admonition: "Everyone wanted the historic buildings to be saved and restored, but not a single person offered a cent to make it happen despite years of talk." (Express, April 25, 2017)

It never occurred to him or his government that they have a responsibility to future citizens to preserve these historical and cultural treasures.

The national sacrilege gets worse.

Two weeks ago, as a part of its National Clean-Up Campaign, the T&T G demolished the house in Arouca where Sylvester Williams and George Padmore fathers of Pan-Africanism and African Emancipation respectively, lived. It hurt my soul to its core. There was not a murmur from the community. After all, who cares about these decrepit black men; what use are their memories to us.

But fate is a tricky thing.

On March 1, 2017 I received an invitation from the Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation Conference on "The Pan-African Pantheon" scheduled to take place at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa, from 16-18 June 2017. It read in part: "Thirty prominent African and Diaspora scholars from the continent, the Caribbean, the United States (US), and Europe have been invited to present papers...on carefully selected topics on the pioneers of Pan-Africanism."

It continued: "This conference represents a concrete initiative to contribute substantively to the University of Johannesburg and other South African universities' efforts to decolonize the academic curriculum, and to ensure that the epistemology of these universities' syllabi reflect their African contexts."

I was asked to make a 20-minute presentation and write a 5,000-word essay on C. L. R. James. I was delighted to participate. I will talk about James's enormous contribution to Pan-African intellectual thought. It then occurred to me that a year ago the owners of the house in which James wrote his famous Beyond a Boundary was demolished in the name of progress. No blame here on the T&T G but I wonder when we will understand the tremendous literary and cultural heritage that we have in our country and when we will make concrete plans to preserve and promote it.

I was lucky. I possess a photograph of that house. About three years ago I brought down Richard Howard, a documentary photographer from Boston, to Trinidad to photograph several historic cultural sites of the Tacarigua-Tunapuna-Arouca area. Howard, whose work has appeared in Smithsonian, Time, People, Der Spiegel and the New York Times Magazine, learned his craft under Gordon Parks, the famous African-American photographer. The ten days he spent in the area cost about $50,000, which I paid out of my own pocket.

When I heard that my namesake, Shamfa Cudjoe (she has to be family) and Daryl Smith had burned through $150,000 in six days, I realized how much I could have accomplished with that money in terms of documenting those sites and buildings. I have the photographs and have done the research. I couldn't help but wonder what a marvelous book I can produce with the funds they wasted and the boom it can be for our touristic, cultural and educational endeavors. After all, each year two million people visit the Louvre in France, the Vatican and the Coliseum in Rome.

Williams, Padmore and James can be of enormous value to our tourist industry. Williams convened the first Pan-African conference in London in 1900. At the height of his glory, Padmore joined Joseph Stalin, Vyacheslav Molotov and other Russians leaders as they reviewed the Soviet troops while James and Jamaican Dudley Thompson "put together the legal defense team that defended Kenya's Jomo Kenyatta from charges of being an instigator of the Mau Mau rebellion against British colonial rule in 1952" ("Concept Note" to Pan-African Conference.)

Modern T&T can show some respect for our homebred international heroes or we can continue to Brek-UP and Brek-DOWN our precious cultural jewels. In The Adventure of English Melvyn Bragg cautioned: "One way to destroy a personality is to cut out memory: one way to destroy a state is to cut out its history."

We must be careful. It might be "we time now" but the Brek-UP, Brek-DOWN crew is gaining ground rapidly.

Beware: The Barbarians are at our gates.

Professor Cudjoe's email address is He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.


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