This video says about itself:
2 June 2018
This video series is called JAN CAREW – Black Seminoles, and The Columbian Era.
By Andy Croft in Britain:
Walking the streets of eternity with a Guyanese great
Wednesday 24th February 2016
The poems of Jan Carew which have just been published are testimony to a passionate engagement with the struggle for human liberation which transcends his life and times, says ANDY CROFT
With a cheque for £16,000 to spend but with no idea where to start, Carew contacted comrades in the Communist Party who helped him select the books and ship them out to Guyana.
It’s a tantalising story, told almost as an aside in Carew’s posthumously published Episodes From My Life (Peepal Tree, £19.99).
Following his earlier memoir Potaro Dreams, it’s an account of Carew’s wanderings from Guyana to Europe and in Africa and the US.
An extraordinary book about an extraordinary life, it’s moving, funny and vividly written and full of fascinating pen portraits of people like Malcolm X, Andrew Salkey, Jomo Kenyatta, Claudia Jones, Paul Robeson and Cheddi Jagan.
Born in a village in Guyana, Carew was educated in the US, then at Charles University in Prague and the Sorbonne in Paris. A prolific author of fiction, history, essays, children’s books, plays and poetry, his books include Black Midas and The Wild Coast, Rape of Paradise, Ghosts in our Blood, The Guyanese Wanderer and Grenada: The Hour Will Strike Again. In the 1950s, he was a regular broadcaster on the BBC’s Caribbean Voices series and in the 1960s edited The Magnet, London’s first Black newspaper.
He acted with Laurence Olivier and with Wole Soyinka, visited Moscow as a guest of the Union of Soviet Writers and was active in the campaign to free Paul Robeson. Sammy Davis Jr appeared in one of his television plays. Carew reported from inside Cuba for the Observer during the Cuban missile crisis, was working in Ghana at the time of the 1966 coup and lived in revolutionary Grenada.
He was the personal adviser to several heads of government, including Cheddi Jagan, Kwame Nkrumah and Michael Manley. Later he pioneered the teaching of Black studies in US higher education.
When the Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchov visited Harlem to meet Fidel Castro, Carew was there: “I remember a BBC team trying in vain to find someone in the huge crowd who would make an anti-Cuban statement. “One nameless brother in the crowd had been asked in front of the cameras, ‘Did you know that Fidel Castro nationalised one hundred million dollars of American property?’ “‘That don’t bother me none,’ the nameless man replied. ‘I don’t own no property… If them Cuban Cats took a hundred million from The Man, that don’t bother me none. The Man done ripped-off ten thousand times more than that from my folks…’”
In 1950 in Georgetown, Carew published his only book of poems, Streets of Eternity. But he was a prolific poet. Return to Streets of Eternity (Smokestack, £9.50), edited by Chris Searle and Carew’s widow Joy Gleason Carew, brings together for the first time poems written during a lifetime of passionate engagement in anti-colonial, civil rights, black power and liberation movements.
It’s a wonderful book, the record of half a century of revolutionary struggle in the “third world” seen through the eyes of a writer who shared the triumphs and the defeats of his time in Cuba, Guyana, Angola, Ghana, Sharpeville, Soweto and Grenada: “They say that Soufriere’s sleeping now/And Bishop’s lying in a nameless grave/But can volcanic fires die?/You can betray the revolution/for a moment/But you can never extinguish its fire.”
The book includes many previously unpublished tributes to 20th-century revolutionary leaders like Agostinho Neto, Patrice Lumumba, Che Guevara, Kwame Nkrumah, Malcolm X, Maurice Bishop and Claudia Jones and to radical writers like Martin Carter, Walter Rodney, Dennis Brutus, Andrew Salkey, Alejo Carpentier and Mumia Abu-Jamal.
The book’s editors have reproduced some of Carew’s news reports from Cuba (What the Cuban Revolution Means to Me), Ghana (Coup in Ghana: Season of Violent Change, and from the West Indian Gazette (What is a West Indian?) But, above all, it’s a book about Africa and the African diaspora, about exile and home and about liberation and imperialism:
“Wanted Dead or alive for a murder and a multitude of crimes A creature, armed, desperate, dangerous a creature wearing a humanoid disguise Usually carries a calling card touting freedom, democracy, free enterprise… Two thousand million are dying in twilight vales of starvation Where its surrogates Princes, Prelates, Pimp-Presidents, Buccaneers of profit are looting labour and life. Wanted Dead or alive for Murder, Ethnocide, Mayhem, Racism and the rape of continents, islands skies and seas Imperialism a creature armed, desperate, dangerous.”
This video says about itself:
Guyanese activist and Marxist scholar Walter Rodney emerged from these post-colonial struggles. Rodney advocated a class analysis based on multinational workers unity. Although he faced threats and repression throughout his life, Rodney fought for socialism as a respected historian, professor and most importantly, a dedicated political organizer.
It was his work as a political organizer that led to his assassination in his native Guyana on June 13, 1980.
These three videos are the sequels.
By James Tweedie:
Guyana: Rodney family calls for murder report
Monday 22nd February 2016
Information implicates ex-PM in assassination
THE family of Guyanese Marxist historian Walter Rodney have demanded the release of a report implicating a former prime minister in his 1980 assassination.
His daughter Asha Rodney and supporters of the family’s fight for justice urged the People’s National Congress (PNC) government on Saturday to release the long-awaited report.
The call came after several Guyanese media outlets reported that the commission of inquiry established in 2014 by former president Donald Ramotar had confirmed long-held suspicions that former PNC prime minister Forbes Burnham had ordered Mr Rodney’s murder.
President David Granger’s government was criticised for halting the commission’s work last November, even though it had requested two more weeks to interview important witnesses.
“This is not the end. The report needs to be read and reviewed because justice still needs to be done,” Ms Rodney said.
“This is a very, very important inquiry. There is a lot more to be done with these findings.”
Walter Rodney was born under British colonial rule in 1942 and studied at the University of the West Indies and the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) in London.
He lectured in Tanzania at the University of Dar es Salaam — a hotbed of anti-imperialist scholarship — from 1966 to 1967 and authored How Europe Underdeveloped Africa and other important works on colonialism.
In 1974, he returned to Guyana and founded the Working People’s Alliance party.
Mr Rodney was killed on June 13 1980 by a bomb hidden in a handheld two-way radio.
His brother Donald, who was injured in the blast and later convicted of his own brother’s murder, said Guyana Defence Force Sergeant Gregory Smith had given him the booby-trapped radio.
Sgt Smith fled to French Guiana, where he later died.
Mr Granger defeated People’s Progressive Party incumbent Mr Ramotar in May last year by less than 5,000 votes amid allegations of ballot-rigging.
He promptly awarded offshore exploration drilling rights in the western Essequibo province to Exxon-Mobil, sparking a diplomatic row with neighbouring Venezuela, which also claims the region.
This video says about itself:
In the Sky’s Wild Noise: A documentary on Dr. Walter Rodney
17 December 2014
A short documentary based on an interview by Dr Walter Rodney on politics and society in Guyana in the 1970s.
By Christine Lindey in Britain:
Revelatory view of black artistry
Saturday 14th November 2015
AMONG the immigrants to Britain from the Caribbean in the 1950s were Guyanese political activists Jessica and Eric Huntley and this fascinating exhibition at the Guildhall art gallery honours and explains their instrumental contribution to the African diaspora’s politics and culture in Britain from the late 1960s on.
No Colour Bar brings alive the experiences and issues faced by their community through a rich and diverse display of their archival material, along with the literature and art which they championed, among them artists’ groups such as the Caribbean Artists Movement and Black British Arts.
Named after the Jamaican and Haitian revolutionary leaders, from 1969 it published seminal texts, poetry, novels, posters and greeting cards asserting the African diaspora’s cultural identity and fostering resistance to the sociopolitical injustices which it faced.
That same year they opened their west London front room as a bookshop and meeting place to encourage interaction between the community and its cultural workers. The bookshop moved to commercial premises in 1975 but consciously retained its informal, homely ambiance, generating a vibrant forum for creative and political cross-fertilisations and activities such as poetry readings by Linton Kwesi Johnson and Valerie Bloom.
It was renamed in 1980 to commemorate Dr Walter Rodney, the Guyanese thinker-activist assassinated for anti-colonial resistance at the age of 38.
An interactive multimedia installation by the Afro-Caribbean scholar-artist Michael McMillan recreates the bookshop’s ambiance and provides multisensory information about the ideas, preoccupations and historical events which conditioned black British life in the 1970s and 1980s.
Imaginative touch screens, digital photo frames, books and sounds introduce a plethora of themes such as readings by activists and poets or the story of the 1970s racist and fascist attacks on the shop and other progressive outlets, which led to their joint resistance through the Bookshop Joint Action Group.
McMillan’s installation is surrounded by a comprehensive exhibition of paintings by artists, some of whom like Tam Joseph arrived in Britain as children only to be stigmatised and undervalued for their colour.
Joseph’s 1983 painting UK School Report is an uncompromising accusation of racial stereotyping suffered by black boys in British schools.
Three portrait heads of the same young man challenge our gaze. Unsmiling as in ID photographs, they increasingly fill three identically sized, rectangular frames which are underwritten with comments in different handwritings, as in school reports.
In the first, Good at Sports, the boy wears a neat uniform and European-style short hair with a parting. In the second, Likes Music, he sports Afro hair and more informal clothes.
But in the last, Needs Surveillance, he sports long dreadlocks and his head totally fills its frame as if resisting the constraints of typecasting, while its title refers both to school discipline and police harassment.
The faces painted in red, white and blue assert the boy’s Britishness yet this identity is undermined by his society’s racial prejudice.
Sonia Boyce’s She Ain’t Holding Them Up, She’s Holding On depicts a lone young woman somehow managing to physically support two adults and two children from her raised hands but whose expression mingles resolute defiance with hurt and vulnerability. This is a powerful, feminist statement about Afro-Caribbean women risking losing touch with their sense of self as they shoulder the demands of others.
Keith Piper, founder member of the 1980s BLK Art Group, explores colonialism’s dark legacy in paintings such as (You are now entering) Mau Mau Country.
Martyred but defiant Kenyan warriors — one with his lips stitched together with thread — are furiously painted, blood-red paint dripping on raw, unstretched and torn hessian. Angry slogans such as “No Barclaycards here” and “No little white lies” culminate in the triumphant, anti-colonial “We are all pagans.”
Other works such as Claudette Johnson’s sensitive but decisive black pastel drawings of strong black women, Paul Dash’s intense Self-Portrait and Denzil Forrester’s joyfully rebellious Witchdoctor celebrate their people’s beauty, intellect, energy and strength.
A display of book jackets, posters and greeting cards sold in the Bogle-L’Ouverture/Rodney bookshop includes original artwork such as Errol Lloyd’s painting of the poet Accabre Huntley.
Its reappearance on her poems’ book jacket exemplifies the curators’ welcome refusal to rigidly demarcate between “fine” art and illustration.
Such sensitive echoes and connections permeate the exhibition. We hear speeches and poetry readings in the installation by authors whose books we initially discovered through the display of book jackets.
The exhibition can be experienced on many levels, ranging from visceral responses to the arts to a scholarly study of unfamiliar topics. There is much to see, learn and enjoy in this energising testimony of the socio-political power of arts. It’s free — go if you can.
• No Colour Bar: Black British Art in Action 1960-1990 runs at the Guildhall Art Gallery, Guildhall Yard, London EC2 until January 24, opening times: cityoflondon.gov.uk/guildhallartgallery
This video says about itself:
Vampire bats nesting in a cave – Expedition Guyana – BBC
1 April 2010
From PTI news agency in India:
Pynurkba: A tiny hamlet in Meghalaya’s East Jaintia Hills district has dedicated its forest for the conservation of an extremely rare Wroughton’s free-tailed bats, considered to be a critically endangered species.
The decision in this regard was taken last month when the village elders were informed of the presence of these extremely rare bats, who are facing loss of habitat due to human encroachment, in their forests.
“The village council decided to declare ‘sacred’ a small forest which is roughly about one square kilometer for the conservation of these bat species,” Pynurkba village secretary Phillip Rymbai told PTI.
The decision followed after a long negotiation with the elders of the village because the forest belongs to the community and not a protected area of the government.
Conservation agencies have lauded the decision of the village and urged the state government to recognize the importance of such an initiative and call for rewarding those at the village with conservation schemes and livelihood programmes.
Though there are three caves in Lakadong area that these bats have made them their homes, biologist and researcher D K B Mukhim said the bat clusters at Pynurkba is the largest with over 55 individual bats spotted lately.
First discovered in 1913, these bats are confined to the Western Ghats area of the country and in a remote part of Cambodia besides the colonies here which were discovered last year, according to the researcher.
The cave is located inside a forest here where another mystery shrouds two streams flows directly into the cave and then disappear.
Locals have it that the cave is haunted and hence left undisturbed for years but biologists believe it won’t be too long before the habitat is destroyed.
“Their haunted stories have in a way helped conservation of the cave and its bio-diversity including the Wroughton’s free-tailed bat species in their caves,” Mukhim said.
The Meghalaya Adventurers Association (MAA) which is organizing expeditions to identify new caves in the south-western parts of the Jaintia Hills is also pleading for conservation of these habitats which are also home to many other life forms.
MAA chairman Brian Dally said at least 1,540 caves have been recorded and surveys are being done every year to help discover more caves.
Cavers have surveyed and mapped over 411 km cave formations in the state, one of the longest in the Indian sub-continent.
First Published: Sunday, June 7, 2015 – 11:26
This video says about itself:
9 February 2014
The life of the great Guyanese scholar and revolutionary Walter Rodney burned with a rare intensity. The son of working class parents, Rodney showed great academic promise and was awarded scholarships to the University of the West Indies in Jamaica and the School of African and Oriental Studies in London. He received his PhD from the latter at the age of twenty-four, and his thesis was published as A History of the Upper Guinea Coast, now a classic of African history. His most famous work, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, is a mainstay of radical literature and anticipated the influential world systems theory of Immanuel Wallerstein.
Not content merely to study the world, Rodney turned to revolutionary politics in Jamaica, Tanzania, and in Guyana. In his homeland, he helped form the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) and was a consistent voice for the oppressed and exploited. As Rodney became more popular, the threat of his revolutionary message stirred fears among the powerful in Guyana and throughout the Caribbean, and he was assassinated in 1980.
From daily The Morning Star in Britain:
GUYANA: The government said today that it has scheduled the first hearings for an in-depth investigation into the 1980 assassination of local historian and black activist Walter Rodney.
The South American country’s police chief and its army chief of staff are scheduled to testify at a hearing which is starting tomorrow.
Rodney was involved in the Black Power movement in the US and the Caribbean.
The lyrics are:
People: white is white
What’s black ain’t clover
Together we’ll be
When the war is over.
You see the Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys
They ain’t gonna fight no wars
Cool is school
But the teachers beat yer
When they see
That they can’t reach yer.
You see the Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys
They ain’t gonna fight no wars
They ain’t got no country
They ain’t got no creed
People won’t be black or white
The world will be half-breed.
The world will be half-breed.
The world will be half-breed.
You see the Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys
they ain’t gonna fight no doggone wars.
They ain’t got no country…
It’s a brand new day
With brand new people
In one big world
We’re just one people.
You see the Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys
They ain’t gonna fight no wars. Oh
you know that we hate fighting.
A 7,000-year-old man whose bones were left behind in a Spanish cave had the dark skin of an African, but the blue eyes of a Scandinavian. He was a hunter-gatherer who ate a low-starch diet and couldn’t digest milk well — which meshes with the lifestyle that predated the rise of agriculture. But his immune system was already starting to adapt to a new lifestyle.
Europeans may have evolved lighter skin in past 5,000 years: here.
How Europeans evolved to have white skin, starting from around 8,000 years ago: here.
This video is the first part of a speech by Richard Hart, around his 90th birthday.
And this video is the second part.
By JACQUELINE MCKENZIE and KEN FULLER in Britain:
Richard Hart: Caribbean activist and writer
Friday 3rd January 2013
JACQUELINE MCKENZIE and KEN FULLER remember Richard Hart who passed away aged 96 on December 21
Richard Hart, one of the Caribbean’s foremost political thinkers and authors, passed away at his home in Bristol on December 21 aged 96.
He was born Ansell Richard Hart on August 13 1917 in Kingston, Jamaica, the youngest of four children.
His father Ansell Hart was a solicitor and renowned author. Educated in both Jamaica and Britain, it is perhaps no coincidence that a man born in the year of the Bolshevik revolution would forgo his position of privilege to become a champion of the causes of working people and human rights.
Hart was first and foremost a political activist and one of the founders of the People’s National Party (PNP) of Jamaica in 1938, the party which forms Jamaica’s incumbent centre-left government.
In 1942 his political activism brought him to the attention of the British colonial government which ordered his imprisonment without trial for his political activities.
Later as cold war anti-communist sentiment reached the Caribbean, the PNP expelled Hart as part of the group of “four Hs” – Richard Hart, Arthur Henry, Frank Hill and Ken Hill – in 1952.
Hart’s expulsion led him to join other more radical thinkers and activists to form the People’s Freedom Movement, later renamed the Socialist Party of Jamaica, which campaigned fervently for better rights for all Jamaicans until it ceased to operate in 1962.
Hart engaged labour and trade union struggles in tandem with his political activism throughout the 1940s and ’50s.
He campaigned for better conditions for both agricultural and industrial workers and served as general secretary of the Caribbean Labour Congress (CLC) from 1947-53.
Succumbing to pressure from the United States, several Caribbean leaders conspired to have Hart removed as CLC leader because of his militancy and pro-labour stance.
Hart also played a pivotal role in Jamaica‘s struggle for independence and in the pan-Caribbean discussions of the ’50s and ’60s on the need for a federation of Caribbean states, led by Grenada‘s Theophilus Albert Marryshow.
In 1962, following the folding of the Socialist Party of Jamaica and in the year of Jamaica’s independence, Hart moved to Guyana to work with his friend Cheddi Jagan of the People’s Progressive Party, who in 1961 had been reinstated as chief minister of Guyana.
Hart served as the editor of the party paper, The Mirror, writing about the lives of one of the country’s indigenous groups, the Arawak people.
In the mid-’60s, Hart moved to London, where he worked as a solicitor until 1982.
He was a founding member of Caribbean Labour Solidarity (CLS), remaining an honorary president up to the time of his death.
CLS was set up in 1974 to provide support and solidarity to the struggles of workers in the Caribbean.
In 1982 Hart was invited by the people’s revolutionary government of Grenada to provide assistance on law reform and was instrumental in assisting that country with the drafting of laws to aid the country’s economic and social transformation, including the maternity leave law which provided for rights and the fair treatment of pregnant women.
In 1983 he was appointed attorney general, a post he held until the US invasion of Grenada on October 25 that year.
Following the invasion he immediately set about placing the discourse in an anti-imperialist context and campaigning for a fair trial for the group known as the Grenada 17.
Throughout Hart’s career he was a prolific researcher and writer.
He wrote a number of significant historical works over the years including The Grenada Trial: A Travesty of Justice (1996) which exposed the fundamental flaws in the trial of the former Grenada revolutionaries.
Hart’s scholarship extended to works on Marcus Garvey, Cuba, Grenada and workers’ struggles throughout the Caribbean.
Of particular note was Slaves Who Abolished Slavery, published in 2002, which demonstrated that rather than the result merely of activity by British abolitionists, the end of Caribbean slavery was brought about by the struggles of the slaves themselves.
Hart, throughout his long political career, defined by principle, stoicism and struggle, never retreated from his Marxist views.
Even when he was readmitted to the PNP in 2001, he remained steadfast to the very political philosophy which had caused his earlier expulsion.
Hart was not interested in honours or personal gain but was delighted to be awarded an honorary degree by the University of the West of England in 2004, a Gold Musgrave Medal from the Institute of Jamaica for his work in the field of historical research both in Jamaica and the Caribbean in 2005 and an honorary doctorate by the University of the West Indies in the same year.
In 2011 he was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Hull. These awards were a testimony of the extent of his scholarship, posited within a radical Marxist interpretation of history, and will contribute to the rich legacy of Caribbean history and writings that he bestows.
Hart was a serious man who believed in setting the record straight and campaigning for the rights of humanity was his passion.
But Hart, who excelled in chess, also had a keen penchant for music, including the music of Paul Robeson, Jamaican folk music and the works of Bob Marley, and could often be seen dancing away at the many socials which accompanied his political work.
Hart leaves to mourn his wife Avis, four children including Gordon and Robin from a first marriage and Andrew and Siu-Ming, eight grandchildren, two grandchildren and his extended family in Jamaica and comrades and friends around the world.
Hart will be cremated following a humanist ceremony in Bristol today.
The struggle to build Caribbean solidarity
It was 1974 when I first met Richard “Dick” Hart, during a visit to Jamaica.
The People’s National Party government of Michael Manley, in office since 1972, was not exactly in a progressive phase at that time – although this would change dramatically within a matter of months.
In 1974, a purpose-built “gun court,” ostensibly set up to crack down on gun crime, was in fact casting its net rather wider and imposing draconian penalties on those unfortunate enough to fall within its broad remit.
At the same time, the government was planning to hold the trade union movement in check with a bill modelled on the Heath government’s Industrial Relations Act.
Back in London, I contacted Hart again and he arranged a meeting at the Highbury home of Lionel “Jeff” Jeffrey, a Guyanese activist.
Also present was Cleston “Chris” Taylor, formerly a Jamaican trade unionist and a veteran of a sugar workers’ strike in Jamaica and the building workers’ struggles on London’s Barbican site.
While others would join us soon enough, I believe it was just the four of us at that initial meeting, at which we decided to organise a Jamaica Trade Union Defence Committee.
This swiftly evolved, given the leftward trajectory of Manley’s government, into Caribbean Labour Solidarity.
This period saw the first real resurgence of the Jamaican left since Hart and others had been expelled from the People’s National Party in 1952, and Hart was one of the few from the old generation who retained his beliefs.
I last saw Hart in 2003, when I invited him to speak to a meeting of black and white bus workers in north London on the development of the labour movement in Jamaica.
The aim was to demonstrate that the histories of the working people of the Caribbean and Britain are linked and that their struggles have been remarkably similar.
Hart, then a chipper 85, travelled up from Bristol, where he had made his home in latter years, and made a deep impression on the regretfully modest audience.
Like Nelson Mandela and William Pomeroy, Dick Hart died in his nineties. Of course we will miss him. But when someone has lived such a long and meaningful life, it is more appropriate that we celebrate that life rather than mourn its end.
This video from Suriname says about itself:
Monique Pool, CI partner and founder of the Green Heritage Fund Suriname, finds herself “slothified” after an area of forest in Paramaribo, Suriname, is cut down. Monique rescued more than 200 animals, mostly sloths, and brought them to an emergency shelter, which also happens to be her home. Watch how Monique manages to feed, house, and release the sloths back into the wild.
3 Conservation Champions Who Rocked Our World in 2013
During the course of 2013, we were fortunate to have met and worked with three amazing conservation champions who are important friends and partners to CI.
1. Monique Pool, from the greenest country on earth — Suriname — became “slothified” when she rescued over 200 sloths out of a patch of forest that was being cleared for cattle pasture. All animals were brought to her house and eventually released back into a protected forest. Her drive and passion for these animals is so inspiring to us.
2. Nan Hauser from the Cook Islands in the South Pacific seduced us with her contagious strength and spirit. Her whale research and deep passion and understanding for these amazing marine mammals have helped create one of the largest marine parks in the world.
3. And finally, Sydney Allicock from Guyana. Indigenous leader, member of parliament, ecotourism pioneer, charismatic storyteller — these are just a few words to describe how this conservation champion has conserved his people’s traditional ways of life, protected their forests and biodiversity, and thus improved his people’s livelihoods.
This video from Brritain says about itself:
Classified British Colonial papers made public
19 Apr 2012
The UK Foreign Office has made public the first batch of thousands of “lost” colonial era files which were believed to have been destroyed. The classified papers reveal instructions that sensitive material relating to potential abuses should be burned before handing over to local governments.
The “migrated” archives came to light in January last year after four elderly Kenyans brought a High Court case against the UK Government over the alleged torture of Kenyan Mau Mau rebels in British camps in the 1950s.
Edward Hampshire at the National Archives explained what kind of things were in the records.
David also revealed that the name of Barack Hussein Obama, father of the US President was also on a document relating to the named of Kenyan students who were studying in the US in 1959. In a strange twist of irony, the US government said, they believed Kenyan students to be anti-American and anti-white.
And if you are interested in seeing a part of history with your own eyes, then go to the National Archives at Kew to see 1,300 records displayed.
Written and Presented by Ann Salter
From daily The Guardian in Britain:
Revealed: the bonfire of papers at the end of Empire
DG was a code word to indicate papers were for British officers of European descent only
Friday 29 November 2013
The full extent of the destruction of Britain’s colonial government records during the retreat from empire was disclosed on Thursday with the declassification of a small part of the Foreign Office’s vast secret archive.
Fifty-year-old documents that have finally been transferred to the National Archive show that bonfires were built behind diplomatic missions across the globe as the purge – codenamed Operation Legacy – accompanied the handover of each colony.
The declassified documents include copies of an instruction issued in 1961 by Iain Macleod, colonial secretary, that post-independence governments should not be handed any material that “might embarrass Her Majesty’s [the] government”, that could “embarrass members of the police, military forces, public servants or others eg police informers”, that might betray intelligence sources, or that might “be used unethically by ministers in the successor government”.
In Northern Rhodesia, colonial officials were issued with further orders to destroy “all papers which are likely to be interpreted, either reasonably or by malice, as indicating racial prejudice or religious bias on the part of Her Majesty’s government”.
Detailed instructions were issued over methods of destruction, in order to erase all evidence of the purge. When documents were burned, “the waste should be reduced to ash and the ashes broken up”, while any that were being dumped at sea must be “packed in weighted crates and dumped in very deep and current-free water at maximum practicable distance from the coast”.
Also among the documents declassified on Friday are “destruction certificates” sent to London by colonial officials as proof that they were performing their duties, and letters and memoranda that showed that some were struggling to complete their huge task before the colonies gained their independence. Officials in more than one colony warned London that they feared they would be “celebrating Independence Day with smoke”.
An elaborate and at times confusing classification system was introduced, in addition to the secret/top secret classifications, to protect papers that were to be destroyed or shipped to the UK. Officials were often granted or refused security clearance on the grounds of ethnicity.
Documents marked “Guard”, for example, could be disclosed to non-British officials as long as if they were from the “Old Commonwealth” – Australia, New Zealand, South Africa or Canada.
Those classified as “Watch”, and stamped with a red letter W, were to be removed from the country or destroyed. Steps were taken to ensure post-colonial governments would not learn that such files had ever existed, with one instruction stating: “The legacy files must leave no reference to watch material. Indeed, the very existence of the watch series, though it may be guessed at, should never be revealed.” Officials were warned to keep their W stamps locked away.
The marking “DG” was said to be an abbreviation of deputy governor, but in fact was a protective code word to indicate that papers so marked were for sight by “British officers of European descent only”.
As colonies passed into a transitional phase before full independence, with British civil servants working for local government ministers, an entire parallel series of documents marked Personal were created. “Personal” files could be seen only by British governors and their British aides, a system that appears to have been employed in every territory from which the British withdrew after 1961. “The existence of the ‘Personal’ series of correspondence must of course be scrupulously protected and no documents in this series should be transferred to ministers,” colonial officials were warned.
While thousands of files were returned to London during the process of decolonisation, it is now clear that countless numbers of documents were destroyed. “Emphasis is placed upon destruction,” colonial officials in Kenya were told.
Officials in Aden were told to start burning in 1966, a full 12 months before the eventual British withdrawal. “It may seem a bit early to start talking about the disposal of documents prior to independence, but the sifting of documents is a considerable task and you may like to start thinking about it now.”
As in many colonies, a three-man committee – comprising two senior administrators and one police special branch officer – decided what would be destroyed and what would be removed to London. The paucity of Aden documentation so far declassified may suggest that the committee decided that most files should be destroyed.
In Belize, colonial administrators officials told London in October 1962 that a visiting MI5 officer had decided that all sensitive files should be destroyed by fire: “In this he was assisted by the Royal Navy and several gallons of petrol.”
In British Guiana, a shortage of “British officers of European descent” resulted in the “hot and heavy” task falling to two secretaries, using a fire in an oil drum in the grounds of Government House. Eventually the army agreed to lend a hand.
The declassified papers show colonial officials asking for further advice about what should and should not be destroyed. In 1963, for example, an official in Malta asked London for advice about which files should be “spirited away out of the country”, and warned that while some documents could be handed over to the new government: “There may again be others which could be given to them if they were doctored first; and there may be files which cannot be given to them under any circumstances.”
In June 1966, Max Webber, the high commissioner in Brunei, asked Bernard Cheeseman, chief librarian at the Commonwealth Relations Office, for advice about 60 boxes of files. “My Dear Cheese,” he wrote, “can I, off my own bat, destroy some of these papers, or should the whole lot be sent home for weeding or retention in your records?”
Not all sensitive documents were destroyed. Large amounts were transferred to London, and held in Foreign Office archives. Colonial officials were told that crates of documents sent back to the UK by sea could be entrusted only to the “care of a British ship’s master on a British ship”.
For example, Robert Turner, the chief secretary of the British protectorate of North Borneo, wrote to the Colonial Office library in August 1963, a few weeks before independence, saying his subordinate’s monthly reports – “which would be unsuitable for the eyes of local ministers” – would be saved and sent to London, rather than destroyed. “I … have been prevailed upon to do so on the grounds that some at least of their contents may come in handy when some future Gibbon is doing research work for his ‘Decline and Fall of the British Empire’.”
Those papers that were returned to London were not open to historians, however. The declassified documents made available Friday at the National Archives at Kew, south-west London, are from a cache of 8,800 of colonial-era files that the Foreign Office held for decades, in breach of the 30-years rule of the Public Records Acts and in effect beyond the reach of the Freedom of Information Act. They were stored behind barbed-wire fences at Hanslope Park, Buckinghamshire, a government communications research centre north of London, a facility that it operates along with MI6 and MI5.
The Foreign Office was forced eventually to admit to the existence of the hidden files during high court proceedings brought by a group of elderly Kenyans who were suing the government over the mistreatment they suffered while imprisoned during the 1950s Mau Mau insurgency.
Even then, however, the Foreign Office failed to acknowledge that the 8,800 colonial files were just a small part of a secret archive of 1.2m files that it called the Special Collections, and which it had held unlawfully at Hanslope Park.
The Foreign Office is understood to have presented a plan to the National Archive earlier this month for the belated transfer of the Special Collections into the public domain. On Thursday it declined to disclose details of that plan.
The newly declassified documents show that the practice of destroying papers rather than allowing them to fall into the hands of post-independence governments pre-dated Macleod’s 1961 instructions.
A British colonial official in Malaya reported that in August 1957, for example, “five lorry loads of papers … were driven down to the naval base at Singapore, and destroyed in the Navy’s splendid incinerator there. The Army supplied the lorries (civilian type) and laid on Field Security Personnel to move the files. Considerable pains were nevertheless taken to carry out the operations discreetly, partly to avoid exacerbating relationships between the British government and those Malayans who might not have been so understanding … and partly to avoid comment by the press (who I understand greatly enjoyed themselves with the pall of smoke which hung over Delhi during the mass destruction of documents in 1947).”
A few years later, colonial officials in Kenya were urged not to follow the Malayan example: “It is better for too much, rather than too little, to be sent home – the wholesale destruction, as in Malaya, should not be repeated.”
• This article was amended on 29 November 2013 to replace part of a sentence that had been accidentally deleted during the editing process.