Learn from the past

Professor Welch delivering the lecture.

Barbadians should not allow their circumstances to destroy their sense of self.

That was the advice of historian, Professor Pedro Welch after delivering a lecture this morning to the Barbados Association of Retired Persons on Our Women in the Emancipation Era: Countering Patriarchal Domination.

During his lecture, Welch noted that women such as the popular Rachel Pringle, the lesser known Susanna Ostrehan, Nancy Clarke and Mary Settle were all women who accumulated tremendous property and possessions because they knew how to work the system to their benefit.

Through women such as these and others, he said, there was evidence that more than 400 slaves were set free in the country. Then, he suggested that women knew how to use the art of “bedroom diplomacy” to their benefit.

He had stated as well that contrary to popular belief, all whites in Barbadian society during Emancipation times were not rich, but rather some were extremely poor and relied on blacks, freed or otherwise, for assistance.

By the 1930s, he remarked, there was significant expansion of free coloured women in the country; and told several attendees after the lecture that unlike many other countries in the region, Barbados’ population did not receive continued injections from Africa, but rather grew from what would have been transported here. He made the comparison to places like Haiti where slaves did not last long and therefore had to be replaced regularly.

Welch said: “There are several lessons to be learnt. This teaches us that we do not have to permit our circumstances to destroy our sense of who we are.

“In a lot of cases people assume that their circumstances represent all there is to life. Circumstances may be difficult, we should not deny that, but they represent an opportunity to reflect and work with our circumstances and these black women in that period, they looked at society and they made the decision that they were going to overcome it,” he said.

Making reference to the lecture, he added that women then faced the challenges of being black/non-white and also of being female.

“So there were two disabilities and one of those in a sense was enough of a challenge but there are two challenges. They recognised that they could not necessarily defeat the system by what we call a frontal attack. So the way we defeated the system was to undermine it from within and you undermine the system by what I call strategic alliances.

“So I would say for women and men of today that perhaps the way forward requires us to look for strategic alliances with others like ourselves… and others outside our groups — those who have influence, and to use those linkages to build the kind of synergies that we want to accomplish the kind of freedom that we want,” he stated. (LB)

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