LargeUp Interview: Director Karen Marks Mafundikwa on “The Price of Memory”

December 5, 2014

Photo: Saki Mafundikwa

LU: What work had you been doing up until 2002 that made you see this film as necessary to make?

KMM:ย If you mean was I working on reparations before, no. I had read a lot about it because I am interested in the world around me, and particularly in issues of African people. I had also lived in the US and seen how its legacy plays out there. I had read a lot of African and African diaspora history. Jamaica was a slave colony. The visible ruins of the almost 400 years of slavery are scattered all over the island with plantation houses, slave prisons, names of places like Runaway Bay, Lovers Leap, where enslaved people who were in love leaped to their death rather be separated. The vast majority of people are descendants of enslaved Africans. We were enslaved in the Americas for much longer than we have been โ€œfree.โ€ For anyone living in Jamaica who is vaguely aware, it is hard to miss how much of the legacy of slavery affects our interactions and the society in general. So having grown up and reached adulthood there, and being an artist and a storyteller, and having been exposed to all I had, it was natural for me to make this film. Seeing people coming to petition Queen Elizabeth in front of me, at her own celebration — it was like a spark went off to tell that story.

LU: Are you trying to send a message with the film, or simply show the progression of the struggle for reparations in the Caribbean? If you are trying to send a message, what message do you hope to get across to viewers?

KMM:ย As a filmmaker, my first job is to tell a compelling story, not to preach, just to let the story speak for itself. ย Just our knowing our own story is important. So just telling the story is an end in itself. There is power in knowing your story. I wanted to record the history and our actions for reparations for posterity, and for ourselves. Anyone who watches can see the clear case for reparations.

LU: In the film, The Rastafari involvement is central….

KMM:ย Calls for reparations started in Jamaica soon after slavery. However, given the colonial climate, that transitioned into the trade union movement. Rastafari have been pursuing reparations for decades, when very few other people were talking about it. The Rastamen in the film who pursued reparations in the 1960s were young men then. Today they are in their 80s. Filmore Alvaranga just passed away at 91.

To understand why Rasta is at the center of the movement, you would have to understand the impact Rasta has had on Jamaica. Rastafari is centered around African consciousness and also justice. It has brought to Jamaica a sense of identity when previously, Jamaicans, the majority of whom are of African descent, were taught that everything African was inferior. The Rastafari movement’s focus on Africa as a promised land to which one should return when others claimed it was a “dark continent” has infused a sense of value on African identity which was lacking before the Rastafari movement emerged in Jamaica in the 1930s, and became popular in the 1960s. The movement has enabled many Jamaicans to claim Africa and their African identity, as it should since over 90-percent of Jamaicans are of African descent. The first thing you need in building anything is a sense of your own value.

Intellectuals, artists and other people have since embraced reparations, but Rastafari were at the core, pushing it for decades. Hence Rastafari remains central to the movement in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean.