Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Did the surge of water from Macal River dams cause loss of three lives?

Note on article

It's been sad to note the loss of several young persons due to drowning over the past couple of weeks in the Twin Towns of San Ignacio and Santa Elena. 

In this piece, George and Candy Gonzalez raise important questions that I believe have been at the back of many person's minds, especially in the community. 

One is puzzled as to why so many persons have drowned so often in the Town's *stream*. 

Rather than making a highly distasteful argument against the Dam Operatives, which they deserve, they suggest simple but effective recommendations that the Operatives should make to sensitize the community about when water is released from the dams. 

This is an critical issue that NGO's and CSO's need to push for. Perhaps, an online lobbying on social network's can be a start.


Did the surge of water from Macal River dams cause loss of three lives?
by George and Candy Gonzalez

It is sad that it takes dead bodies to bring attention to the potential for disaster created by the lack of a workable dam break early warning system for the Chalillo, Vaca and Mollejon Dams.

It only takes talking to people in the area to realize that there is no general knowledge of what to do if the dam breaks.

It took the deaths of two students from Corozal, Egar Puckand Anahi Zepeda, who “were swept off into depths” of the Macal and drowned, to learn that BECOL releases water from the dams, which causes a rise in the water levels in the area of the bridges connecting San Ignacio and Santa Elena.

According to Stephen Usher, BECOL's Vice President of Operations, interviewed after the death of the two students earlier this month, Vaca Dam releases water to generate electricity that reaches San Ignacio around 4:00 pm.  But why didn’t the public know that information?   Just prior to the death of the students, there were two other drownings, one in the Macal River and one a little downstream at Santa Familia where the Macal meets the Mopan River.

Over Easter, another drowning occurred in the Belize River, close to Santa Familia.

Johnatan Requena
And just this weekend, a young man, Johnatan Requena, drowned around 3:40 pm on Saturday, close to the time the two students drowned earlier this month.  According to a police press release, a friend who was with him saw, “when Requena jumped into the water and immediately saw him begin struggling and going under as he fought to stay above water.”

If we had an early warning system, it could be tested daily by warning people that there will be a rise in the river due to release of water from the dams.  This would serve the purpose of familiarizing the public about the siren and what it meant and regularly testing to make sure the sirens worked.

An education program could let people know that, for instance, a short blast of the siren means the water is approaching the populated area.  A long, steady blast of the siren means a major flood or dam break incident.

Something like that, which does not take a brain scientist to figure out, could effectively inform, sensitize and continually test a warning system that should have been in place since 2005 according to two Supreme Court decisions.  The Court’s directives about informing the public about eating the fish high in mercury and problems with drinking or being in the river have been discontinued as far as we know. 

Would the drownings have been prevented had there been a warning in place?  From police and news reports, we know that close to 4pm a strong current pulled at least 3 of those who died, under at the time Stephen Usher, BECOL's Vice President of Operations, when the water comes down from the dams.  Would they still be alive if these simple warning steps were taken?

by George and Candy Gonzalez
BELPO members and Cayo Residents

Sunday, April 27, 2014

I Mi Gawn Da Malanti: Reflections from a field-trip at Gales Point Manatee

Gales Point on Map
In March of 2011, I was a part of a field-trip to Gales Point Manatee along with colleagues from “Colonialism and Resistance in the Caribbean” (a history course at the University of Belize, then lectured by Ritamae Hyde). 

Manatee, Ambergriscaye.com
The field-trip gave us the opportunity to observe and experience the lifestyles of a community that was established by African freedom seekers in Belize - the ‘rebels’ to slavery.

Even though I had visited the village before (during primary school), I was not aware of the historical significance of the community. In fact, I do not remember ever being told that it was established by ‘runaways’. We had gone there to see the endangered manatees, which we never got to see.

*Click here for pdf version of this article. 

Historical connections
We now know that slavery in Belize was not a family affair, a perspective popularized by Emory King (refer to Iyo: 2000, 2012; Bolland: 2003).
"Story of resistance", NICH Exhibit, 2012

In Belize, resistance to enslavement came in various forms. For example, there were armed revolts (1765, 1768, 1773, 1820), abandonments from the settlement, and possibilities of seeking legal redress when possible. There were also less open forms of resistance: back-chatting, abortion, and working as little as possible.

Ritamae Hyde (2009) recently established that based on (textual and oral) evidence Gales Point Manatee was an early maroon community. -A maroon community is a settlement made by persons who resisted enslavement by fleeing the control of the colonial authorizes and ‘slave masters’ to live in self-sufficient communities in the hinterlands.

It is believed that Gales Point became one of such community where ‘ex-enslaved’ persons from “nearby areas such as Sibun River, Runaway Creek, Mullins River and Main River” established around the late 1700s and early 1800s (Hyde: 2009, p. 13, 16).

Colonial knowledge of maroonage in British Honduras dates to 1816 when Superintendent Col. George Arthur recorded that there was “a community ‘near Shiboon River, very difficult to discover’” outside the influence of the colonial authorities (quoted in Shoman: 2000, 51).

In 1820, Arthur again made reference to “‘two Slave Towns, which it appears have been long formed in the Blue Mountains to the Northward of Sibun’” (ibid).

Due to the geographic isolation of Gales Point Manatee from the rest of the country, some traditional African practices continue to be observable. The field-trip allowed us to experience such cultural traditions through the food, music and dance, language and folklore (also see Iyo, et.al. 2007).
Thatched Houses at Gales Point Manatee
Like many West African cultures, the people of Manatee were traditionally reliant on ground food and other locally planted crops for subsistence.

Fishing and hunting was also a much greater source of food for the community. Now, it has become increasingly common for the community to rely on processed goods. 

However, we were able to enjoy preparing the sere. The fish sere dish is essentially a coconut-milk soup of fish and ground foods (yam, coco, potato, etc.). It may also be served along white rice.
Preparing provisions, photo by colleague
Preparing provisions, photo by colleague
Adding fish to provisions in coconut milk, photo by colleague
Student squeezing coconut for Sere
Students enjoying the Sere
We also enjoyed Johnny Cakes and Creole Bread during other meals.

The people at Manatee are also well known for their homemade wines from local berries and cashews, amongst others fruits.

The Sambai was traditionally a fertility dance performed on a full moon night. The dance was customarily more spiritual and having a greater degree of socio-cultural significance than it now does. Some past beliefs links the dance with the selection of sexual partners and which assisted with pregnancy.

To do the dance, the dancers form a circle. Persons are selected to dance near the center of the circle, around a fire. In the past, it said that this was a way sexual partners were chosen (i.e. by identifying the person to dance with). Persons take turns, usually leaving one couple dancing at the center at a time. The dance has a distinct drum rhythm accompanied by call-and-response songs.

We were told that the drumming we heard that night was not played as it ought to have been played (as the drummers were still learning).
Drummers, photo by colleague
Even so, it was an enjoyable experience despite the rainy clouds that disallowed the moon light from appearing.

The songs contained subtle and sometimes open sensual/sexual content that one would expect since it is a traditional adult fertility dance.

Story telling
Alan Andrewin, the story teller, doing the sambai
The storytelling was an entertaining part of the experience. Mr. Alan Andrewin, the storyteller, has a great memory and creative capacity to tell stories.

The introductions always started with a bizarre exaggeration to make the crowd laugh such as “Back in the day when monkey use to chew tobacco” and ended with the classic Creole line “if the pin neva ben, di story neva end”.

Some of the stories are long and have morals that can only be captured if one pays keen attention.

The story may also change according to the mood of the teller, for example, the storyteller mentioned or integrated hurricane Richard in two of the stories, making the audience laugh at a recent disaster that affected the community.

I was able to hear bits of an interesting conversation that Mr. Anderson, the storyteller, and other community members had. I had heard him telling some of the villagers that he “ah try” stop the rain but cannot stop it.

Yet when he was asked to talk to us about “negromancy”, he smilingly said that he did not know much about it and asked his son to respond.

While this is not necessarily “negromancy”, it reflects a deep spiritualism among the elderly. “Negromancy” also referred to as “obeah” by some is the belief in a person’s spiritual ability to manipulate occurrences in the natural world; among other practices. It is connected to the religious beliefs of ‘obeah’ in West Africa (refer to Iyo et.al.: 2007; and Hyde: 2009).  

Outside influences
It is important to recognize that culture is always in a process of change due to both internal and external occurrences and influences. 

Gales Point is not in total isolation or unaffected by the broader Belizean cultural lifestyles and ‘Western culture’.

According to two community members, many things have changed in the community.
For example, the Sambai is no longer the same. There are more children participating in the dance than actual adults. In the past, no children were allowed to do the Sambai

People now live in concrete houses as opposed to thatched houses in the past.  Processed and canned foods are available in the village.  There is a local Christian church. Rastafarianism, or at least the growing of ‘locks’, is now quite common among the youth (for discussion on Rastafarianism in Belize, see Lawrence: 2012).
Lodging at Gales Point, photo by colleague
These modern influences at the same time have benefited the community. For example, they now have access to electricity and water.

There is little economic activity occurring in the village which leads people to migrate out of the community. 

According to statistics from the 2010 Census, a total of 296 persons were living in the village. Approximately 200 of these persons were below the age of 19, which signals their dependency and inability to migrate out of the village since it seems to be case as they get older they migrate out. 

Many persons hoped that our visit and popularization of the community would increase tourist arrivals and economic activities.

The trip was a pleasant experience. I was able to taste the sere for the first time, partake in the sambai (even if I did it wrongly), and hear stories from a Creole storyteller.
Walking out in the Lagoon

As one of my colleague mentioned, it was also an experience to walk on the land where brave men and women had once threaded in their pursuit to establish an autonomous community against all the challenges.

It was their ingenuity and survival strategies along with a strong sense of community that perhaps allowed them to lead lives as free persons instead of oppressed in Belize Town.

This is not to suggest that the community was a socialist-heaven. There would have likely had their own internal conflicts and problems as well (politically, socially, economically, religiously, etc.).

Much remains to be done for the broader Belizean community to become more aware of the historical legacy of the people at Manatee. There is also the possibility for further documentation on the history and socio-cultural changes of the community. 

And if the pin neva ben, di story neva end... 

Short documentary video on Gales Point by a Youtube Uploader: 



Click here for pdf version of this article. 

Bolland, Nigel. Colonialism and Resistance in Belize: Essays in Historical Sociology. 1988. Mexico:                Cubola, 2003. Print.
Hyde, Ritamae. "Stoan Baas” people: An Ethnohistorical study of the Gales Point Manatee community of Belize. The University of the West Indies, 2009. Master of Arts. Refer to: http://books.google.com.fj/books/about/Stoan_Baas_People.html?id=kVunnQEACAAJ&redir_esc=y
---. “Stoan Baas” people: An Ethnohistorical study of the Gales Point Manatee community of Belize. Journal of Belizean Studies 31.2 (2012). Refer to: http://edition.channel5belize.com/archives/65370
Iyo, Aondofe. "Flight from enslavement in the Bay of Honduras to Freedom in Petén, Guatemala: Preliminary Findings." Belize Archeology and Anthropology Conference. 2012. Refer to: https://www.academia.edu/5268501/ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Iyo, Aondofe, Tzalam Froyla, and Francis Humphreys. Belize New Vision: African and Maya Civilizations, Heritage of a New Nation. Belize: Factory Books, 2007. Print.
Iyo, Joesph. Towards Understanding Belize's Multi-Cultural History and Identity. Belize: University of Belize, 2000. Print.
Lawrence, V. (2012). Dreadlock displaced: Stereotyping Rastafarians in Belize Journal of Belizean Studies, 31(2). Refer to: http://edition.channel5belize.com/archives/65370

** All field-trip photos are from colleagues 

Cocom, Rolando. "I Mi Gawn Da Malanti: Reflections from a Field-Trip at Gales Point Manatee." Blogger 2014. Web. 2014.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Response to "Kerosene and Water", Fiji's Racisms

There are many discussions on the issues of race, ethnicity, and nationalism in Fiji. Many politicians, activists, and scholars are concerned about the cultural differences and social relations between the two demographically numerous ‘ethnic groups’ - the iTaukei and the Indo-Fijians. This is especially so because of the series of coup d’états (1987, 2000, 2006) which have occurred since Fiji’s independence in 1970.

We are now observing more discussions on these issues as the nation-state prepares for elections in September, 2014. Indeed, my own work is caught up into the discourse by seeking to (re)present perspectives and experiences from ‘Part Indian-Fijians’.  

The below is actually a response to an article (click here for article) by one of Fiji’s brilliant and ardent scholar Wadan Narsey:

On MIDA’s Hate Speech Announcement: 
"Kerosene and Water"

I uphold the positives of their “hate speech” statement. Whereas I am sure Ashwin Raj is conscious of the fact that claiming ‘hate speech’ tends to politicize issues more, it sends a clear message to the media and politicians to be careful about their words and (re)presentations.

As I had indicated in a previous discussion, I am surprised that the kerosene metaphor is becoming so popular to describe the cultural relations between 'Indians' and the iTaukei. On Friday, I had spoken to an iTaukei (native) taxi driver, asking for his opinions on the term Fijian being used for everyone. He then said: “Kerosene and water don’t mix”. “It’s an old person saying” he said. He expressed discontent for Bainimarama and says Bainimarama will lose. If he does not lose, he said, there will be another coup. I just listened…

At the time, I did not know that there had been a controversy over this metaphor. I realized this until later after I had seen a number of discussions about this issue on Facebook and the news.

The words deemed hate speech are translated by MIDA as follows:

“From the past experiences, this group of people, known in Tebara as the Vasu (referring to Indo-Fijians) will try to pacify you, and assuage you just to have their aspirations met. These people do not want you to lead them. They only want a constitution and other investment initiatives done. Let me warn you that the upcoming elections will be a tough one. Because even though we have lived together for a long time, we can’t mix water with kerosene.”

This is an important issue, if language and discourses, as I believe it is, are what shapes our perspectives on issues. Our notions and stereotypes of the Indian and Fijian are shaped by our interactive use of these forms of phrases and also by the hegemonic representations popularized by politicians, activists, and the media.

See in this light, the taxi’s driver common sense phrase is not simply ‘common sense’ thinking.  It is informed by ideological underpinnings. Remember the statement “Fiji for Fijians” in 1987.

On the issue of indignity: 

As a person who has been critical of colonial projects after studying history, I am also now critical of the indigenous movements.

The post-colonial perspective tends to say that what was before colonialism was better. There is nostalgia to reclaim rights and culture. However, these claims to ‘roots’ are also claims to ‘routes’.

Missing in this discussion is the need to reflect upon the ‘articulators’ of cultural identity. We need to question the power relationship and interests that are involved in the indigenous movements (as well as among any political party in Fiji/Belize).

Moreover, many scholars of indigenous philosophy have become too functionalist, -theoretically supporting the status quo. In Fiji, they say Fijians are born to do this or that; and that to know your place in society is the way things should be. This is a very essentialist form of identity which promotes the status quo. In order words, one’s behavior should follow some inner core or cultural identity that one presumably inherits.

For example, Nabobo-Baba in her book Knowing and learning: An indigenous Fijian approach (2006) gives us descriptions of those iTaukei who have the right to speak about issues (as they are born into particular clans); about how important traditional knowledge is for the wellbeing of the native; of not challenging elders; of respecting the chief’s authority; and of the vitality of understanding one’s place in society. Such forms of treatises promote a romanticist views of ‘indignity’ limiting the practices of inequality within the social order; dis-acknowledging the expressions of resistance by the ‘under-class’, and thus in a sense supporting the status quo.

I take note you cited the UN’s Declaration on Indigenousness, I would say that discussions of power and inequality within indigenous populations and movements are also absent from that discourse. There is a need to re-examine the supposed universality of that declaration in face of Fiji's context or the Muslim Rohingya of Myanmar. 

On the issue of Indo-Fijian racism: 

You said that internal racism is more pervasive among Indo-Fijians. We really cannot gauge the degree of internal racisms. Also, as I am sure you would agree, overt racism is a much greater a concern and problem than covert racism.  

Now, do not get me wrong, I am not convinced that Bainimarama is a social radical. I actually think his claim of “We are all Fijians” is a cultural/ideological argument for his hegemony (along with his guns [military]).

We are dealing here with “ideologies without guarantees” (Stuart Hall, 1985). This is to say that while there is a moral vision or rhetoric to end racism, there is no necessary correspondence that this is a good practice, or will be interpreted as a good practice, or that it translates into better social relations among citizens (which we hope it would). 

You are also very right that realities of these groups i.e. “Indian” and “Fijian” are much more complex and heterogeneous than we tend to take them. There are many subtle social boundaries among persons within these ‘two groups’ by: religion, color, class, language, and location, among others.

Just as scholars have interrogated the ethno-nationalist ideology of past politicians; we must also interrogate Bainimarama’s rhetoric of ending racism as an ideology to win power. This is where your writings and activities have been quite positive and commendable.  

Friday, April 4, 2014

Ethnic and National Identification in Fiji Sociology Seminar

In this presentation, I discussed some key components of a sociological research on identification. It is a work in progress towards a degree in sociology, at the University of the South Pacific.

Project title: Exploring ethnic and national identification: An interpretive inquiry among persons of iTaukei and Indo-Fijian descent



This is a research design of an explorative study to be conducted in Fiji on 'mixed race' persons of iTaukei and Indo-Fijian parentage. The study seeks to render an interpretive understanding of 'mixed race' ethnic and national identification based on interviews with participants in Suva, Fiji. The research questions are (a) how do persons of mixed parentage (iTaukei and Indo-Fijian) identify themselves with an ethnic label or labels? (b) what are the perspectives on the institutionalization of the term "Fijian" as a national identity label? (c) what do such experiences tells us about the racialization and politicization of ethnicity? This study is interesting and significant in light of the increasing number of 'multiracial' movements in Anglo-America; the small number of inter-marriages between iTaukei and Indo-Fijian citizens; and the recent policy change to identify all Fijian citizens with the term Fijian. The presentation covers the central aspects of research designs: the literature review (on Anglo-America & Fiji), conceptual framework, methodology, and the modest implications of the study.

This paper can be read with Power Point Presentation available at: 

Discussion Paper: 

NOTE: No part of this presentation is to be used, redistributed, or cited without the author's consent. Just drop me a line and I’ll let you know. Contact Me Here.