‘Smaddification’, Affirmation and Caribbeanity: Norman Girvan

Norman GirvanNorman Girvan is Professor Emeritus of the University of the West Indies. Until recently he was Professorial Research Fellow at the UWI Graduate Institute of International Relations. The link below connects to a transcript of an interview conducted with Girvan during the Havana Book Fair in February 2012. The full transcript is downloadable from his website as a PDF in English or Spanish.

Girvan’s interview reminds us of the centrality of Caribbean history to North and South America. Part of my mission with this blog is to remind my sisters and brothers in North America that our history constitutes a small part of the experiences of Afro-descendants in the Western Hemisphere. Many of us have grown up within an African American-centric view of the “black” experience that is false in its sense of totality and significance. For example, how many us of know that more enslaved Africans were shipped to Cuba and Jamaica than to the United States during the transatlantic slave trade? How many of us recognize the Caribbean also served as a half-way point for many enslaved Africans who eventually wound up in North America? How many of us realize many of the greatest “black” leaders in U.S. history have Caribbean roots?

A key point addressed by Girvan in the interview is the outsized influence of the Caribbean in world history. The impacts of both the Haitian and Cuban Revolutions furnish salient examples, but such influences are ongoing globally in literature, music, and sports. He also discusses the emergence of Caribbean identity in all its complexities as a process of struggle and resistance against slavery, colonialism, and neocolonialism. His remarks illuminate the work we must do to excavate and explicate this history and build bridges that reconnect us through our common experiences in the African Diaspora.

(Extract) What unites us is a common frame of reference of our historical experience. But what also unites us, in a context of diversity, has been the affirmation of what my old friend and colleague Rex Nettleford called “smaddification”…All the labor that was brought here was brought here in a condition of exploitation of one way or another and the process of creating a Caribbean identity out of those conditions is a process of resistance, of struggle and of affirmation of self, of the dignity of the human person and of the right to autonomy of our societies…

‘Smaddification’, Affirmation and Caribbeanity: The Caribbean That Unites Us, Norman Girvan: Norman Girvan.

Girvan’s writings and analysis of Caribbean political economy can be found on his website: normangirvan.info.


Egalite for All. Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian Revolution (PBS)

“It is Toussaint’s supreme merit that while he saw European civilisation as a valuable and necessary thing, and strove to lay its foundations among his people, he never had the illusion that it conferred any moral superiority. He knew French, British, and Spanish imperialists for the insatiable gangsters that they were, that there is no oath too sacred for them to break, no crime, deception, treachery, cruelty, destruction of human life and property which they would not commit against those who could not defend themselves.”
― C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution.

The Haitian Revolution was the most important freedom struggle in the history of the Americas. It culminated in the elimination of slavery from France’s most lucrative colonial possession. It led to the establishment of the first “black” republic. It provided a base from which Simon Bolivar launched his campaign to liberate Spain’s Latin American colonies from centuries of colonialism. It lasted for twelve years during which armies sent by three European imperial powers—Britain, France, and Spain—were soundly defeated. Toussaint Louverture, a man born into slavery circa 1743, led the rebellion that ultimately brought freedom and independence to the long-suffering people of Haiti. The PBS documentary featured below provides important insights into the life and career of the Great Liberator.