*This post is part of our roundtable on Dr. Quito Swan’s ‘Pauulu’s Diaspora.’ Dr. Swan will be in conversation with Dr. Keisha N. Blain today (July 2nd) on Clubhouse at 12noon Eastern. Click here for more details.
Pauulu’s Diaspora: Black Internationalism and Environmental Justice was written as a sweeping political narrative of the African Diaspora across the twentieth century. It unpacked the political life of Bermuda’s Pauulu Roosevelt Browne Kamarakafego, who was born into a Garveyite family in the 1930s. Kamarakafego’s travels spanned the world—Africa, the Caribbean, the Americas and Oceania. He wore several hats—global Black Power activist, ecological engineer, and Pan-Africanist organizer, and worked with Black communities from Cuba, to Liberia, to Papua New Guinea. As Kamarakafego built relationships with Black men and women across the world, he was harassed and placed under intense surveillance by state governments such as the United States, Bermuda, France, Britain, Australia, Jamaica, and St. Vincent.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading the four brilliant essays written in response to Pauulu’s Diaspora, which have been stimulating and generative. Each respondent raised rich questions about the book’s scope, archives, and directions of further study around Black Cartographies, Black Creoles, Black Power and Black Spaces.
Black Cartographies. A significant portion of Pauulu’s Diaspora’s eleven chapters focused on Pauulu Kamarakafego’s extensive involvement in movements for decolonization and Black Power in Oceania. Amanda Joyce Hall noted how Kamarakafego’s Pacific solidarity building expanded the cartography of the Black world for global Black Power and Pan-African activists of the Americas. This expansion of Black cartographies was also relative for my own research agenda, which included travel to some eight countries across the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Ocean worlds. In fact, when I first met Kamarakafego in the 1990s, he literally would unroll large maps and photographs to describe Oceania’s indigenous struggles and his experiences in both the Pacific and Indian oceans. His sense of Black political geography was buttressed by his long-term friendship with Howard University’s Joseph E. Harris, who founded the field of African Diaspora Studies with a pan-African focus on the Black Diaspora east of Africa.
One of the themes in Pauulu’s Diaspora is how Black internationalist activities like Kamarakafego intentionally built political relationships across the Black Diaspora. As Hall points out, solidarity building between Black Pacific activists and their African, Caribbean, and Afro-American counterparts was a “capricious process.” The book aimed to highlight what Black organizers were able to do at meetings such as Atlanta’s Congress of African Peoples (CAP), and Dar Es Salaam’s Sixth Pan African Congress (6PAC), despite the lingering ways in which slavery, colonialism, and imperialism had dislocated Black communities. I also hoped to demonstrate how these meetings involved years of organizing across the Diaspora, deserving far more attention than analyses of what was said or not said during the days or weeks in which such events actually occurred. By doing so, I was drawn to Black Australian activist Roberta Sykes’s presence in Jamaica at a pre-6PAC organizing meeting, also demonstrating how the routes to 6PAC were truly global, gendered, and transformative in and of themselves. While my lens for these Black Pacific discourses was largely Black Power and Pan-Africanism, there are other connections as well. Hall explores how the anti-apartheid movement’s possessed significance for Pacific peoples, including some of the activists that I reference, such as Australia’s Gary Foley and Sykes.
Black Creoles. Robbie Shilliam refers to Kamarakafego’s Diaspora as “an incredibly diverse yet interconnected world that has not one but multiple centers all of which constantly shift in constellations of struggle and creativity.” How does one chart such shifting constellations—Civil Rights in the United States, universal adult suffrage in Bermuda, pan-Africanism in Africa, Black Power and environmental justice in Oceania—with conceptual balance and archival rigor over eleven chapters? Concerned about the overbearing voice of the “imperial archive,” I also wanted to hold space in the text for the Afro-Caribbean soundscapes that embodied Kamarakafego’s life—radical archives, interviews, popular culture, science magazines and manuals. I was elated to note Shilliam’s engagement of my use of “Anansi creole,” particularly in my description of Black Power as being “a stepping razor that would have walked into Rome and started a fire.” He correctly notes that this is a reference to Peter Tosh 1977’s song “Stepping Razor,” and it is also an ode to Chronixx’s 2012 “Start a Fyah.” On the one hand, I do describe Black Power and Kamarakafego as an anthropomorphized Anansi and sharpened razor blade with the ability to walk. At the same time, these were also references also mark the soundtrack the accompanied my writing of this book. Shilliam’s poetical unpacking of the Rastafari cosmology inherent in that phrase is exactly the kind of fruitful discourse that I hoped Pauulu’s Diaspora would trigger; quite frankly this book was written in conversation with his own Black Pacific and its rich references to spiritual intersections between West Africa’s Elegba and Oceania’s Māui. As academia tends to encourage scholars to shy away from these kinds of Black creole conversations, it is refreshing to hold such groundings and discourses on decolonization.
Black Power. A central thread in Pauulu’s Diaspora is its exploration of Black Power as a global phenomenon, and, as Adam Ewing points out, expansion of our conceptual borders and boundaries of Black Power. My first book, Black Power in Bermuda: The Struggle for Decolonization (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010) explored Kamarakafego’s involvement in Bermuda’s Black Power Movement and the island’s 1969 Black Conference. That project also focused on the Britain Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCO) intense surveillance of Black Power in Bermuda and the Caribbean. As a graduate student I combed through hundreds of pages of FCO surveillance of the movement across the Caribbean—ranging from countries like Jamaica, Belize, and Antigua. This process was very generative in terms of my mapping of Black Power in the Americas, reflecting in the book’s two chapters of Black Power in Caribbean and the Americas. Yet, the field of Black Power Studies is in need of scholarship that explore this dynamic in the Caribbean from the grassroots, non-state sponsored perspectives. This is also the case for the Movement’s impact in Africa, which impact reached beyond the experiences of the Black Panther Party in Algeria and Tanzania. Ewing argues that Black Power politically sought to create liberated physical, spiritual and intellectual geographies free from anti-Black colonial landscapes. This is true, and one of the key reasons that the Movement was connected to global movements for decolonization. As I argue in Pauulu’s Diaspora in the Caribbean and Africa was often a response to the unfulfilled promises of political independence; in colonial Bermuda it was a direct response to British imperialism.
Black Spaces. Ewing’s description of Black Power as being a struggle over space is related to Nicole Bourbonnais’s reference to Pauulu’s Diaspora as linking “small spaces of global struggle” and “global microhistory.” This is compelling. Bourbonnais raises several wonderful questions about Black internationalism’s reach in “smaller islands” like Bermuda and Vanuatu which were, respectively speaking, geographical, political, and social hubs of the United States, European, Melanesia, and Caribbean worlds. She asks, “Did this positioning lend itself more naturally to an internationalist vision or transnational connections?” The easy but by no means uncomplicated answer is “yes.” At the same time, if we reference Hall’s ““capricious solidarities,” Kamarakafego’s story speaks to the intentionality of Black internationalism; he forges relationships with political movements, Black women, and marginalized communities across the world. In other words, if he (and others of his ilk) did not intentionally invoke themselves as conduits of Black Pacific via travel and community, would a delegation from Vanuatu have attended 6PAC? Beyond that, I am quite appreciative of Bourbonnais keen attention to “the investment in the journey” that writing a book of this nature required. Bourbonnais raises pertinent questions about Kamarakafego, intimate small spaces and “gender praxis” in his own life. She is absolute correct about how boundaries set by interviewees limited the books attention on some of these issues. As I was writing Pauulu’s Diaspora, I shared her thoughts about the thrilling possibilities of a sequel that takes Black women in the book as starting points. This actually helped to stimulate my next project, Pasifika Black: Black Internationalism & Oceania (New York University Press, 2022) which is focused on a number Pasifika women who Kamarakafego worked with such as Fiji’s Griffen and Claire Slatter, Australia’s Patricia Korowa, Vanuatu’s Hilda Lini and Papua New Guinea’s Nora Vargi Brash.
Pauulu’s Diaspora was a labor of love that took some seven years and numerous fellowships. My own understanding on how we study, think about and write the African Diaspora has grown tremendously in the process, and I am grateful that it was able to receive such insightful engagement by such incredible respondents.