has a hard way of reminding us that our passage in this world is
not permanent. This lesson, while known to us is reinforced when
we lose our family, friends or love ones. Their loss is often a
difficult transition to make. We get caught up in the wonderful
and joyful memories we have of them, and then have to come to the
hard reality that their physical presence will forever be gone.
This is generally a difficult emotional void and transition to make.
For many family members, friends and love ones of Eugene Godfried
– his departure creates a disbelief we have to reconcile.
Eugene was an internationalist by his spiritual and political practices,
many family members, friends and love ones were unable to participate
and say their last goodbyes and salute Eugene in his final rites
of passage, his transitioning into the spiritual world of the ancestors.
I was fortunate to be in Curacao to pay my respects and give a final
salute to my friend, brother and comrade Eugene Godfried.
hearing of his death, I cried every day until we laid him to rest
in peace on April 4th, the anniversary day of Dr. Martin Luther
King, Jr.’s assassination. Eugene’s send off was very much
in the tradition of African descendents customs and cultural practices
of Curacao. Like the customs and cultural practices of my
family in Suriname, another “former” Dutch colony, family members
host a private mourning time so that they can speak with the departed
and release their spirit. Often family members take pictures and
pose by the decease. I was invited to be with the immediate family,
to mourn with them and to say my final goodbye, to salute Brother
Eugene’s physical form. The family also selected me to be
one of comrade Eugene’s pall-bearers, helping to carry Brother Eugene’s
casket to the church service and to his final resting place.
the church service, the governor of Curacao, along with many former
and current elected officials came to pay their last respects. This
was very important to the family, especially his Aunt Crisma and
Wife Angela. Eugene left Curacao because of differences with political
officials who were in power. Those differences casted a negative
shadow over Eugene’s work and presence in Curacao. Both his
Aunt and Wife, were also very pleased that Eugene was able to come
back and spend the last couple of years in Curacao. They were so
proud, along with his daughters Yomini and Nohraya of Eugene when
he was honored with full protocol in January at the Governors place.
It was a victory that will be marked in history and overshadows
the negative shade that forced his departure from Curacao many years
ago. According to his Aunt and advisor, Crisma, Eugene was proud
as well. He was excited that his country had honored him, a humble
grassroots man whose sacrifices his family had to endure.
I could hear his proud Caribbean accented voice and his laughter
and see his smile when his Aunt told me how they stayed up to 3
o’clock in the morning discussing the occasion.
some way, the trip to Curacao was like a reunion. While I had seen
Eugene’s Aunt Crisma in Havana in 2001, I had not seen Betty, his
Uncle Omalie and Dr. Claude Makouke from Guadeloupe since 2003 when
all of us were in Santiago de Cuba for the christening of his daughter
Krisjocelyn. Betty who resides in Holland and Dr. Makouke stood
in as godparents. Betty told me that she had recently been in Santiago
and spent time with Krisjocelyn, her mother Josefa, as well as her
grandmother and neighbors. Betty showed me pictures and I could
see how tall Eugene’s daughter has grown. Unfortunately, Eugene
never saw those photos of his beautiful daughter – but I was absolutely
positive that he was happy that Betty was on the case in her role
as Godmother. This is exactly why Eugene chose her as he expressed
it to me in Santiago.
was able to spend time with his daughters – Nohraya who I hadn’t
seen since 2000 after her visit to Boston and Yomini who I last
saw in Havana in 2005 after Eugene’s leg was amputated. Both of
them held up well and stood strong knowing that their father left
a proud and rich legacy of international struggle for equality,
humanity and social justice. As usual, whenever I would visit Eugene,
I ended up with new friends and another assignment. I got to meet
with some of Eugene’s childhood friends and seasoned comrades Rudy
Lampe, a member of parliament in Aruba, and Claudio Martina, Vice
President of a new movement Eugene was President of, Plataforma
Agrario Nashonal (PAN). I also had some time to talk with
the Former Prime Minister of Curacao Don Martina; Pablo Cova, President
of one the major unions in Curacao with 10,000 members; Navin
Chandarpal of Guyana an Adviser to the President on Sustainable
Development and the Honorable Selmon Walters, Minister for
Rural Transformation, who was in Curacao to officially represent
the Prime Minister of St. Vincent. I also got to met Eugene’s cousin
Rutger who worked very hard making sure friends and family visiting
the house to pay their condolences was comfortable.
Chandarpal, the Honorable Selmon Walters and Rudy Lampe all gave
wonderful and comforting talks about the significance of Eugene’s
sacrifice and work. I also spoke briefly and brought greetings and
condolences to the family from friends and comrades in the United
States as well as special friends in Boyeros and Guantanamo Cuba.
Eugene’s daughter Yomini spoke of what she learned from assisting
her father in his work in Cuba.
reflecting on all of this, it is also hard to think about some of
the people who were family to him in Cuba and the United States
– people who supported and looked after him. Eugene was a major
presence in their lives. In Havana, my good friend and sister Rosa
and her son Alexandro; Niyurca and her daughters Glenda and
Glevies, her mother and brothers Bobby and Julio; Martha and many
other who lived in the Boyeros community. In the United States exile
community, I thought of Sister Assata, Nehanda and Brother Charles,
and without doubt, his many comrades and co-workers at Radio Progresso
Santiago, Eugene’s daughter and her mother Josefa comes to mind
along with her aunts, cousins, the neighbors next door and Rene,
who was very fond of Eugene. I think about Rudulfo who is the President
of the National Union of Cuban Writers and Artist (UNEAC) in Santiago,
and Aberto Lescay, a member of the People’s Power and one of Cuba’s
national artists who designed and built the wonderfully huge monument
of General Antonio Maceo in the center of Santiago de Cuba, both
respected friends of Eugene.
Guantanamo, Vivian and her family, Luis Bennett, Jorge George and
members of the British West Indian Welfare Center and Carmen, the
former Minister of Culture in Guantanamo, and of course members
of the Guantanamo radio station. There are so many others whose
names I can’t recall now, but who will miss Eugene dearly.
Even in his passing, Eugene has made some good friends. Eugene
made friends very easily. Some of my students who stayed up
with me late in the night for three days putting together a short
documentary of photos and video I have taken of Eugene since 2001
were so moved by the experience that one of them said “I love Eugene,
he’s the man!”
excitement of my students reminds me of what Eugene’s wife Angela
told me about him when they were in Grenada and met with Prime Minister
Maurice Bishop, I think in 1980 or so. While in Grenada Eugene had
wanted to meet with the Cubans and finally got the chance. Angela
said that Eugene was so excited that he stayed up talking with them
all-night. She said that was it for him – and it was Cuba every
since. Make no mistake, he loved his native home Curacao,
but as his long time childhood friend Rudy Lampe said at Eugene’s
Funeral, Curacao was too small for Eugene’s ideas.
loved Cuba. He knew that society very well. He carried the banner
of the Cuban revolution to his death. Wherever he traveled he would
educate people about the proud history of the Cuban people as a
sovereign nation. I will never forget during the 2004 National
Democratic Convention in Boston when Eugene tried to interview Jesse
Jackson about Cuba. The expression on Jesse Jackson’s face was priceless
as Eugene, with just a cell phone in his hand tried to get Jackson
to comment on the U.S. Blockade against Cuba. It was because of
Eugene that I visited Cuba to get an understanding for myself. As
Eugene took me around to see various places and meet the many people
I did, Eugene would say, “Brother Tony you have to understand this
reality for yourself, you have to see the good and the bad.” Eugene
dedicated his life to the Cuban revolution.
many ways, Eugene reminds me of something Queen Mother Moore said
to me: “You have to enjoy struggle, you have to make it fun.” Queen
Mother Moore is the one who publicly on WILD Radio Station in Boston,
1979 gave me the name Menelik. Queen Mother Moore was a very active
and influential force in the Black Liberation Movement in the United
States, who passed away at the age of 97 in 1998. Although Eugene
had some difficult times in his life, he enjoyed struggle and had
fun doing it. Eugene was a multidimensional person. While he was
serious and focused on the work at hand, he made sure that it had
life, reflective of the joy and not just the agony, the victories
and not just the losses and the smiles, not just the tears.
was not born with such a perspective – it was something that developed
over a period of time. I find it interesting that Eugene wanted
to be a catholic priest. It seems to me that his spiritual passion
for humanity was something that stayed with him in his quest as
a developing revolutionary. While Eugene missed many years with
his children and wife as a family man, he made extended family where
he was. Yet, he was nostalgic about his direct family. From what
I observed of him, music helped him cherish, reflect and recapture
those special moments.
process of working with my students and their getting excited about
putting together our documentary project was also something I’m
sure Eugene is happy about – it engaged my students with informal
work they enjoyed and they were able to learn about the struggle
for equality, humanity and social justice from their own engagement.
It was also a lesson for them on using their talents and skills
to promote what Dr. King calls a “people oriented society and not
a thing oriented society,” an idea Eugene also believed dearly in.
was constantly growing and changing from his experiences. He was
able to absorb so much so rapidly and synthesize, internalize and
apply it. He had a brilliant mind, but while he knew about a lot
of things, whenever a new perspective was introduced on something,
he would say “oh! You made think of something I hadn’t thought
about, now I have to think about these things and start to apply
it.” Eugene reminds me of what Mary Catherine Bateson, said in her
book Full Circles, Overlapping lives: Culture and Generations
in Transition: “Learning, I become something new. Now we need
a new definition of the self: I am not what I know but what I am
willing to learn. Mystery waits in the mirror. Curiosity and
learning begin before breakfast. Growing, we move through worlds
of difference, the cycles and circles of a life, fulfilled by overlapping
with the lives of others.”
the sacred text of Ifa there is a story that also reflects Eugene’s
life journey. In a story in Odu Ifa: Ofun Meji, chanted by Dr. Wande
Abimbola, one of the foremost Ifa scholars and practitioners states:
person we are looking for
sometimes we may meet on the way
Divination was performed for Orangun of the City
Divination was also performed for Orangun of the Village.
have found good fortune
have found good fortune.
Orangun, King of the city of Ila
good fortune which has been lost has now arrived.
as this Odu speaks of a person living between two Kingdoms looking
for someone or something, Eugene’s life was also divided between
Curacao and Cuba. He was searching for the Ideas that can make a
better society to live in. Besides the ideas he found in Cuba, the
Caribbean and throughout the world, his family was always his good
fortune. Fortunately, in his last years he rediscovered the good
fortune in his family and began to say so. While Eugene was materially
a poor man, he was substantively very wealthy. His experiences,
work and all of us in his life made him a man of good fortune. Therefore,
he too is our good fortune we are looking for.
am fortunate that Eugene and I have met on the way. There are few
people in life that you get to share the warmth, love and camaraderie
in struggle. Eugene makes me appreciate more, those that I found
on my way - as a young man who was a member of the African People’s
Party over 30 years ago and met comrades who I love dearly and have
been able to stay in touch and work with.
Comrade, Brother Eugene is gone. We will miss him dearly. We salute
his contribution to the struggle for equality, humanity, and social
justice. We will learn from his dedication and experience so that
we can continue the struggle for a new society. Until we meet again,
A Luta Continua!
Guest Commentator, Tony Menelik Van Der Meer (Awo Alakisa) is a
Lecturer at the University of Massachusetts Boston, Africana Studies
Department. Click here
to contact Mr. Van Der Meer.