Lament of an Arawak Child by Pamela Mordecai
Once I played with the hummingbirds
and sang songs to the sea
I told my secrets to the waves
and they told theirs to me.
Now there are no more hummingbirds
the sea’s songs are all sad
for strange men came and took this land
and plundered all we had.
They made my people into slaves
they worked us to the bone
they battered us and tortured us
and laughed to hear us groan.
Today we’ll take a long canoe
and set sail on the sea
we’ll steer our journey by the stars
and find a new country.
When I read this poem by Pamela Mordecai, I didn’t know who the Arawak were but the poem moved me so I looked it up.
The Arawak where the people Columbus encountered on his first voyage to the Caribbean in 1492. The Spanish subsequently enslaved and then exterminated the Arawak people, By 1531, only 600 of the estimated 400,000 Arawak survived. In less than forty years, more than ninety-nine per cent of the population had died of disease, forced labour or execution under the Spanish Encomienda system.
This is a part of history my British education skipped over. It shows how the now-discredited economic theory of Mercantilism, linked to personal greed, can lead to horrifying cruelty.
It seems criminally insane now and morally indefensible.
It makes me wonder how our current economic system will be seen in a few hundred years and whether the descendants of those who most benefitted from it will ensure it is described only in sanitised terms to school children.