Black Internationalism From Bermuda and Africa to the Oceanian Struggles

Contributors:

Published

Quito Swan’s forthcoming book Pasifika Black: Oceania, Anti-colonialism, and the African World (NYU Press, March 2022) beautifully encompasses the type of internationalist solidarity this issue would like to convey. As such, this interview about the struggles of liberation in Melanesia (in particular West Papua, Kanaky, and Vanuatu) constitutes a cornerstone of the issue, for which we are deeply grateful to Quito.

Swan Funambulist 2
Activists of the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS), outside of the settler village of Thio, Kanaky during the first few weeks of the 1984-1988 Kanak insurrection. / Photo by Bruce Connew (December 1984) to whom we are eternally grateful for his generous granting of the use of three photos to illustrate Quito’s words. The photo on the cover of Quito’s Pasifika Black is also by Bruce in Kanaky.

Léopold Lambert: Before we address your third book, which will come out in March 2022, could you please tell us about the two first ones and what you were trying to achieve through them?

Quito Swan: I’m a scholar of Black internationalism. My earlier concerns with the Black world were centered around Black power as a global phenomenon. I’m also from the island of Bermuda, and so I grew up interested in learning more about Black power’s impact on the island, where it was an anti colonial youth movement that really pushed back against British imperialism that emerged in the late 1960s. The island is still a British colony. At the apex of the movement, the British Governor to Bermuda British governor, his Aide-De-Camp and also the island’s British Police Commissioner were all assassinated between 1972-1973. A young activist named Erskine Buck Burrows was eventually caught and hung in 1977 for the assassinations. Uprisings occurred across the island in response. I was born in the 1970s. But given the British government’s attacks on and anti propaganda about Black Power, this entire intense Movement was relegated to “a crazed gunman shot the governor one night,” as opposed to it being an intersection of a global push for Black power that was impacting the entire world.

So I was trying to capture that story in the first book, Black Power in Bermuda: The Struggle for Decolonization (2009). One of the key architects of the movement was a young Roosevelt Brown, also known as Pauulu Kamarafego, who organized the first international Black Power conference in Bermuda in 1969. The Conference was attacked by the British, French, Canadian, and local white Bermuda governments. During the talks, Kamarakafego was invited to Australia by Black Power advocates in a group called the Aboriginal Advancement League, which was based in Melbourne. He traveled to Australia, and in that process, he got involved in Black liberation struggles for freedom in Oceania, largely Vanuatu.