Having very recently been exposed to social realities in some foreign geographical locations in the world has been somewhat of an eye opener with regard to the question of land, its people and its uses. These issues are of current concern to us in South Africa.
The Women’s World Day of Prayer, a worldwide movement started in 1887 each year brings thousands of women in various women’s groups in over 170 countries together to pray with a focus on a particular country on the 1st Friday in March and has great potential for information sharing, conversion and community building. This year’s focus was on Suriname a small country in the Caribbean region. Calling it a former Dutch colony displays a bias in thinking. Calling it a poor underdeveloped country does too. Those promoting it as a tourist destination would describe its natural beauty, forests, rivers and the sea turtles. Economically there is mining of gold and bauxite.
In the WWDP programme women from different historical and cultural backgrounds shared their stories. They were indigenous people, former slaves, indentured labourers or migrants and home-grown Creoles of mixed race. They spoke of being disadvantaged by colonisation, of poverty but also how they coped with their daily lives. One could ask what about the rich notably absent?
With a view to including some resources in MARFAM’s April-June THOUGHTS FOR THE DAY booklet I was at the same time looking into the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity held between Ascension and Pentecost. Interestingly the 2018 theme focuses on the same but wider geographical area, namely the Caribbean.
My antennae leapt up on reading up a little about this region. Historically indigenous people lived a simple subsistence lifestyle. Colonisation by the Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, English, French and Americans from 15th century on resulted in local communities being dispossessed of land ownership and being drawn into working for colonisers’ agricultural developments and plantations. Slaves were brought in from Africa, other labourers from China, Indonesia and India. Sexual relations across groups and intermarriage happened and the current population is a mixture of races. To some extent groups do have their own areas and culture
In Suriname 60 % of population of just over half a million live below the poverty line. The Caribbean region made up of islands and some mainland countries overall has a similar reality. Hurricanes and earthquakes have created awareness too. Urbanisation has resulted in moves to cities, but poverty exists equally with a rural and an urban face. Some richer landowners are mainly descended from the colonisers.
Social and family structures have largely broken. Many children live with a single parent struggling to survive and educate them. Others are orphaned. Economic growth resulting from mining, forestry or developmental programmes has not significantly benefited local families. The population is largely Christian. It is reported that the current ecumenical movement of mainline and more recent Pentecostal churches has contributed to development and combating the effects of slavery, exploitation of land and resources and poverty. However over time religions were complicit in the whole colonisation endeavour.
It has struck me how similar realities are in so many locations world-wide. The web can provide much more and much greater detail. My reflection point is that although we have the www and access to any information at the click of a mouse our vision tends to remain narrow and local.
There are variations, not all countries instituted apartheid as law, but the overall reality itself is not dissimilar with racial division common. Discontent simmers everywhere. It should also be born in mind that what we call colonisation in our age is in some form an age-old phenomenon. Present-day society, including the Catholic Church has over time woken up to the injustice of what was historically even supported. Having come to this realisation of the grave injustices committed against most nations and peoples is in my view one of the major social growth areas of the late 20th century. Although this move towards decolonisation and independence for all these former colonies started earlier it is thanks in part to access to information through the world wide web that a healthy and growing sense of justice at least exists across the wide world. Pope Francis is certainly a champion of this challenging new realisation that calls everyone to look back with sadness, anger, guilt and the need for retribution and forward with hope yet concern. It does depend on which side of the fence one resides. The upcoming 4th Sunday of Lent instituted as a day of penance and mercy during the Jubilee year of Mercy could continue to be observed.
The potential of the world wide web in this regard is clearly not yet fully realised. With its positives and negatives it has enormous potential to inform, challenge and support the peoples of the world. They in a sense are the creatures who populate this web.
Such thoughts as these are contained and developed in MARFAM’s THOUGHTS FOR THE DAY reflection booklets and other publications as we reflect on social issues from a family perspective. The 2018 theme of Ubuntu – FAMILIES DO MATTER can certainly be applied more comprehensively in a world-wide manner. TR FAMILY WEEKLY 7 MARCH 2018