I was asked by several persons as to my relative silence on the St Patrick’s issue this year, as compared to years gone past. There is no silence on my part. However, it is noticeable, the many voices who over the years, have chosen to give true light and representation to the real meaning of what the St Patrick’s commemoration really ought to be about. Many more voices are speaking up today and that is a commendable thing.
I recall in March 2011 that I was on Montserrat at the time. I openly declared then that I would not be wearing green as a representation of any Black Irish promotion; nor for sure would I have been dressing in the attire of former colonial oppressors but instead, I would be wearing Red in observance and respect for the blood that ran from the bodies of those who so valiantly sought freedom and liberation from bondage, and were brutally massacred for it in 1768.
This representation undertaken by myself, and also by others who are speaking out today, is by no means new. Voices of consciousness towards the collective struggles of our people to be free from the trappings of former colonial masters, and to be aware of the allure of the modern day neo-colonials – these voices for many years have raised the matter of St Patrick’s and the slave rebellion loudly - for a nation to search its soul and for the reverence, to afford this history its rightful place upon the national psyche.
Chedmond 'Cheddy' Browne aka Mwongozi Shujaa is a man whom I have spoken about openly before, and will continue to do so, as a mark of my respect for him as a true Montserratian Hero.
Many within the “new Montserrat” may not know of “Cheddy”, and his immense contribution to the debates that have been focused on releasing the island from this docile colonial status acceptance.
This work Cheddy dedicated much of his life towards, in my estimation, has been one of the foremost, if not the most foremost historical/intellectual/social development activism that has shown true leadership towards absolving the island’s people of its very obvious colonial awe.
I remember Cheddy as a young man growing up on Montserrat. My Mom being Rastafarian, I was exposed and read widely Cheddy’s publication “The Pan-African Liberator.” This was a publication geared towards empowerment and upliftment of the people. It was also one that did not win many favours from the establishment of Montserrat who abhorred the explicit rejection of former colonial masters in favour of overt Black progress and Black focused economic, political and social development.
From this rejection of Cheddy’s views over 30 odd years ago, it still is striking that Montserrat in many ways bares an uncomfortable relationship with truths and facts. The manner in which Cheddy was hounded for daring to challenge the status quo is still very much in some ways the Montserrat of today - where truth and facts are nuisance utterings, in favour of blatant distortions and conformity.
Some may say that Montserrat in many ways is a land with a very proud but also a very pained people, who have endured historically, and in recent times, a deeply painful past - and it seems that the response equally is painful in seeking to both acknowledge, respect and give due regard to those elements of our island's evolution that many would love to have shoved under a rug. We are perhaps great disguisers of our collective pain.
It is this pain that Cheddy wanted us as a people to grapple with, discuss and redress. Speaking to a fellow Montserratian who worked closely with Cheddy in those pre-volcano years, Attorney-at-Law, Mr Owen Roach, he offered these comments in speaking about Cheddy, and what the man stood for and represented:
“I hosted the programme known as the conscious connection with Chedmond Browne whilst I was a radio broadcaster at ZJB between 1992-1994, when the programme was taken off the air by people at the citadel of the broadcasting chain in Montserrat who saw the upliftment of our people through meaningful information and positive music as a threat to the status of the so called Montserrat status quo.
Chedmond Browne in my view stands tall as a revolutionary protagonist, he is never unduly perturbed by the apparent weight of the counter-revolution. I remember on the night that I was told that the conscious connection was to be discontinued he told me the following words, Brother Ezad; “It is harder to release a nation from servitude then to enslave a free nation”.
The late Dr George Irish and Chedmond Browne are the only two Montserratians in the last 40 years whom have sought to educate our people about black consciousness openly. Both man have been castigated. However, like the great Marcus Gravey before them, their words will stand out in isolated brilliance with the passage of time.
In 1994 Chedmond Browne invited Stokely Carmichael, [ Kwame Ture] to Montserrat . This sums up the seriousness with which Browne saw the need to educate and uplift the mindset of Montserratians.
In the decade of the 1990’s Browne also wrote a weekly publication entitled , “ The Pan Afrikan Libertaor”. This publication focused on the upliftment of the black race and pertinent issues that were affecting Montserrat. Some of the contributors to this publication were former principal of the Montserrat Secondary School, Peter White, Sylvia Whyke, and the deceased Doris Piper a former festival queen of Montserrat, amd Man from Baker Hill, John Allen. Browne’s mantra has always been to educate our people to free our minds and develop an Afro-centric consciousness .
Chedmond Browne has done much through his writings , and lectures to educate and inspire Montserratians over the past 40 years.”
Owen Roach, Attorney at Law.
I recall the period in the early 90s with the issue regarding the Seamen and Waterfront workers impasse with a former Leader of Montserrat. I remember, and as I look back to how that situation was dealt with, it is clear that injustice is served cold on a platter by some politicians whose hearts beat not for all the people, but for some of the people, some of the times. I observed how Cheddy was treated mainly because of who he was, and what he represented on behalf of the common man.
Despite all these setbacks, Cheddy persevered. He has taught, and he has lectured. He has inspired, and he has empowered. He has served, and he has given to his country his greatest gift, which was the brilliance of his mind.
Speaking to another gentlemen who has worked closely with Cheddy and considers him a dear friend - James White Jr, News Editor and Presenter at the island’s lone radio station, ZJB Radio stated about Cheddy Browne:
"For me, Chedmond has been the man who has pioneered St Patrick's education over the years. He said to me some time ago that Montserratians have lost their identity, and therefore cannot see beyond what Massa has dictated.
I think he has created an awareness that many have failed to accomplish over the years because their vision has been obscured by commercialization.
He has been saying that the real significance of St Patrick's has disappeared.
He has posited that the sacrifice of many like the Willie Brambles, Marse Bob and the likes, should be celebrated at this time as our Heroes, rather than the hype around the so called Irish focus that we tout every year.
Chedmond is a man who wants to take us to our roots, and to educate our generations so that they know who they really are. His only intention is to tell people that they have not been told the truth. He has stated that the agenda of the British and those who force the Irish celebrations on us don't have our best interest at heart and we should aim to delve into the history of our forefathers with more purpose.”
James White Jr, News Editor and Presenter at ZJB Radio Montserrat.
Some years ago, in paying tribute to Chedmond Browne, I wrote these words, and for me they remain as relevant today as they did then and I offer them once more for Cheddy:
"The real conscious soldiers have gone." So said a friend of mine’s in recent times. Perhaps they may have, and all that is left is a land where many forego any acceptance that intercession with our ancestral origins cannot ever be ignored no matter how modernised and economically profound your land becomes. For the blood that was spilled to ensure freedom, and the deaths (murders) that were committed on those who dared for this freedom - those souls released into the universe are not dead souls. They see and they know, and they vibrate in a realm unknown and unseen.
Each man or woman must indeed find their own truth, and live within the mental and physical construct of that truth. So one can never tell another to accept their version of enlightenment, but can only share an alternative view for those with open minds to explore, and find their own truths, or not.
Cheddy Browne is a National Hero in my eyes. A man who fought for mental, social and economic liberation. A man who looked to inspire the national collective psyche to say NO to neo-colonialism, and instead to look within and develop Montserrat and its people firstly, before heading outside of ourselves.
Perhaps today that message is dead; lost in a crowd of Black Irish sentiment, colonial dreads, mendicancy, weak leadership, silent leadership, resistance to a new pathway, mental weakness, mental laziness, docile acceptance! Hey! I do not know. Time may yet one day reveal. But I understand why Cheddy laid down his arms. I truly do.”
Without a doubt, Cheddy, you are a true Montserratian, March 17th Hero!