There’s a story I know, it’s about how….de town of Curaren is one of de most ancient in Honduras. It was  who knows how many years old when de Spanish arrived from de sea. And that was – let me think – over four centuries ago. Today Curaren still stands, de home of a famous church. De hadithi of dis church bears telling.

Some years after the Conquest, the Curarenes were ordered by the Spanish governor to build a church in their kijiji. The townsfolk were quite concerned at the thought of a fine church. At de thought of constructing it-piling stone upon stone upon stone upon-they quite contentedly fell asleep.

Time after time they put off the construction. At last, in a fit of rage, the governor decreed that if the church were not completed within a week, inside and out, upside and down, the town would be destroyed-totally destroyed.

It was a distressful business. “An impossible task,” groaned de mayor. De members of de town council beat their heads against de ground. Without doubt it was farewell to Curaren-Curaren de anshient, de beautiful, Curaren their home. A pity!

There loomed one hope. Their Indian neighbours to de north informed de town that the Enemigo Malo,the Devil, had himself fashioned the Bridge of Slaves in Guatemala. Surely de Curarenes could reach an agreement with him to build their church?

De townsmen shuddered. But- a decree is a decree. The church – or destruction.

It was done. The Devil wrote the contract, and the mayor signed it with the blood of his veins. Both parties were committed. On the one hand, the Devil was to construct de church, even to applying a coat of plaster  both inside and out. On de other hand, as his tribute, he would be presented annually with a certain number of unbaptized babies.

During the night of construction the Curarenes were under strict orders to stay inside their homes; only de mayor and town council would remain on watch to make sure the work was well done. The walls would be of stone masonry en the stone would be unadorned. No carving. No embellishment. Even the Devil had his limits. Ofcourse the church must be completed before the most diligent cock could crow his morning song, “Christ is born”; otherwise the work was forfeit.

One councillor rubbed his hands together. “No one can build a church in one night,” he whispered. “Even de Enemigo Malo. We are quite safe.”

But de mayor was troubled. “He’s a shrewd one. You don’t often hear of him losing a bet. And if he wins….” The mayor shivered. “I’m afraid he’ll manage. And then what?”

The councillors were silent. The “then what?” was too horrible to consider.

On de agreed-on night the work began at dusk. Enormous stones were heard to roll down from de hills. The demon workers hammered and cracked and chipped and smashed, making an infernal racket. Pikin cried. Dogs howled. Womben wept. De uproar within nearly equalled the uproar without. The hours passed, as de stone was sandwiched on stone, with lime smeared in between.

The Devil stood by, grimly counting the minutes. The walls rose – but not too quickly. Impatiently the Enemy ordered that to save time larger stones could be used to complete the walls. On went the roof and belfry. Up swung the bell. Splash went the plaster as it was mixed.

The race was as good as lost. The number of industrious demons guaranteed that. Already the interior of the church was plastered. Only the outside walls remained.

Where was morning? Was it lost among de shadowy hills of night? The councillors trembled from skull to tarsus, thinking of the terrible promise they made. Better that the Spanish had razed the village.

But just when the workers began slapping the plaster on the outside stones, there sounded the loveliest and most welcome of songs, the “Quiquiriqui, Christ is born!” A moment later it was followed by a thunderous clap as the enraged Devil fled to the Inferno with his legions.

The Curarenes sighed with tremendous relief. Then they looked about “Why is it so dark?” whispered one.

Perplexed, the mayor answered, “I don’t understand it. Not one silver thread of dawn do I see. De east is as black as the west, and both are black as – well, as night.”

“So they are, so they are,” croaked a voice from nearby. “I always wanted the chance to outsmart that old rascal.”

Holding a candle, Tia Luisa hobbled into view. Between cackles of laughter she told of her trick.

In her hut, which stood close to de church, she had remained awake throughout the night.

In one hand she held a candle and in the other a cock. When, well before dawn, the swishing sound of paintbrushes reached her ears, Tia Luisa had lit the candle. Then, naturally, the rooster had crowed.

The gruff old governor, visiting Curaren, approved the church. (He was not informed of either the bargain or the builders.) His only objections were that the largest stones were set at the top of the wall rather than at the bottom, and the church was well painted inside but not out.

The mayor explained that they had tried to plaster the walls, but the plaster refused to adhere and peeled away. As for de large stones, de governor could understand – the labourers had been in a hurry, a fiendish hurry (de mayor winked slowly), so that some of de stones were set ovyo-ovyo, here instead of there. But so what, de church had resulted altogether well, no?

“Oh, altogether,” replied de governor. Surely de labourers had toiled night and day? The work had gone particularly quickly at night, de mayor admitted.

And that is de hadithi of de church of Curaren. Except that not long ago a bolt of lightning struck de church, singeing the image of St.Luke

“Ah,” exclaimed an old lady, chuckling, “Satan has never pardoned us for winning that bet.”

[hadithi kutoka Honduras: reposted from Best Loved Folktales of the World, as selected by Joanna Cole]

August 1 is Emancipation Day in Canada and other countries that were once British colonies. Africans who had been enslaved in Antigua, Canada and South Africa were freed on August 1, 1834.

Africans who had been enslaved by the British in several Caribbean islands including Barbados, Dominica, Trinidad and Jamaica, in British Guiana (Britain’s sole South American colony) and in British Honduras (Britain’s sole colony in Central America) were subjected to a system of “apprenticeship” which lasted from 1834 to August 1, 1838.

Africans were forced to continue living on the plantations of the people who had enslaved them and worked 40 hours a week without pay (paid a pittance for work over 40 hours) as “apprentices.” They were forced to pay taxes and rent for the dreadful hovels in which they dwelled on the plantations. In 1838 two British men Thomas Harvey and Joseph Sturge documented the brutality of the “apprenticeship” system when they published The West Indies in 1837: Being the Journal of a Visit to Antigua, Montserrat, Dominica, St Lucia, Barbados and Jamaica, Undertaken for the Purpose of Ascertaining the Actual Conditions of the Negro Population of Those Islands. Harvey and Sturge wrote;

“A new kind of slavery under the name Apprenticeship; an anomalous condition, in which the negroes were continued, under a system of coerced and unrequited labour.” They also observed that “the planters have since succeeded in moulding the Apprenticeship into an almost perfect likeness of the system they so unwillingly relinquished.

An equal, if not greater amount, of uncompensated labor, is now extorted from the negros; while, as their owners have no longer the same interest in their health and lives, their condition, and particularly that of mothers and young children, is in many respects worse than during slavery.”

While the Africans were suffering in slave like conditions under the apprenticeship system, white people in Britain were in self congratulatory mode. The Guardian, a British newspaper, published the following piece dated Saturday August 2, 1834:

“Throughout the British dominions the sun no longer rises on a slave. Yesterday was the day from which the emancipation of all our slave population commences; and we trust the great change by which they are elevated to the rank of freemen will be found to have passed into effect in the manner most accordant with the benevolent spirit in which it was decreed, most consistent with the interests of those for whose benefit it was primarily intended, and most calculated to put an end to the apprehensions under which it was hardly to be expected that the planters could fail to labour as the moment of its consummation approaches. We shall await anxiously the arrivals from the West Indies that will bring advices to a date subsequent to the present time.”
Meanwhile on Saturday August 2, 1834, a group of Africans were on their second day of demonstrations in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad because they were furious that complete freedom was still 6 years away. Africans in the Caribbean had learned that those who worked in the fields would be apprenticed until 1840 and those who worked in the homes of the slave holders or were skilled tradesmen would be apprenticed until 1938. It is hardly surprising that on August 1, 1834 a group of angry Africans had gathered at Government House in Port of Spain. Governor George Fitzgerald Hill sent the militia out to intimidate the group but the furious Africans stood their ground recognizing that the “apprenticeship” system was a scam used by the white plantation owners and the government representatives in the Caribbean to use free African labour for a further 6 years. In spite of the presence of the militia, the protest continued until nightfall when the protesters strategically withdrew because they were not allowed to be in the town during the night.

On Saturday August 2nd, when the group of protesters returned to Government House, Hill gave the order to arrest them. There were scuffles with the militia and some of the protesting Africans were arrested, tried, sentenced to hard labour and flogging and taken to the Royal Jail. Their incensed compatriots were forced to flee but returned on the Monday to continue the protest. The numbers had swollen by Monday and there were more clashes with the militia. Some of those who were arrested on the Monday were publicly flogged in Marine Square. The protests continued the entire week before it was quelled, but several of the Africans refused to return to the plantations and instead “squatted” in districts known today as Belmont and East Dry River.

On July 25th, 1838, Governor Hill called an emergency session of the Council of Government to seek approval of a special proclamation he had drafted which ended the apprenticeship period for Africans in Trinidad on August 1, 1838 whether they worked in the fields, homes or were skilled workers. Africans throughout the region protested their continued enslavement under the Apprenticeship system and on August 1, 1838 slavery was abolished in all the British colonies.

Since the abolition of slavery Africans have celebrated August 1st as Emancipation Day or August Monday. British author J.R. Kerr-Ritchie in his 2007 published Rites of August First: Emancipation Day in the Black Atlantic World: Antislavery, Abolition, and the Atlantic World has written about the global impact of August 1.

In her 2010 published Emancipation Day: Celebrating Freedom in Canada, African Canadian author Natasha Henry has researched and written about the history of August 1 celebrations throughout Canada including the connection of Caribana (modeled on Trinidad’s carnival) to Emancipation Day.

The government of Trinidad and Tobago was the first of the former British Caribbean countries to declare August 1 a National holiday in 1985.

In 1997 the Caribbean Historical Society (CHS) of Trinidad and Tobago, supported by the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) advocated for global recognition of August 1st as Emancipation Day.

The OBHS has been successful in gaining recognition of August 1st as Emancipation Day at the Municipal and Provincial level and close to gaining recognition at the Federal level.

On August 1st the OBHS will host an Emancipation Day event at Nathan Philips Square.

Betwixt en between the lines are our true (true) stories, retold in (a video diary of) the ‘Q[/t]’ werd….

we’ve said it before, in other places, and [most  symbolically] here….


we’re doing the best we can with what we got to entertain, and re-educate not only ourselves but others, in the practice of freedom.

(re)building coalitions

 and (re)building solidarity with our people…

hadithi? hadithi?

nipe mji…….