When Used-Up Barbados Workers Were Tossed Aside After Digging The Panama Canal

Bajans On Their Way To Panama

Bajans arriving in Panama aboard the SS Ancon - September 2, 1909

“The Silver People Chronicle” Documents So Much Of Our History

Back in March of this year, we at Barbados Free Press delighted at our discovery of Roberto Reid’s blog The Silver People Chronicle – about the West Indians who built the Panama Canal. Until I found his blog and did a little more research, I didn’t know that the majority of the black workers who contructed the Panama Canal were Bajans.

In his latest series, Roberto tells about how unemployed, used-up, ill and injured workers were sent back to their original countries with cooperation and funding from the United States.

Well worth your time.

The Silver People Cronicle: Repatriation and Broken Promises

17 Comments

Filed under Barbados, History, Panama

17 responses to “When Used-Up Barbados Workers Were Tossed Aside After Digging The Panama Canal

  1. Actually, you’d be surprised how many “Brathwaite’s” and/or “Griffiths'” are there now and cannot speak a word of English – no joke! Buddy of mine visited close to a fortnight ago and told me about it…

  2. J

    I have in my possession an original Panama document. In 1951 my grandmother’s brother, the eldest son in the family went to the British Consulate in Colon and in the presence of the British Consul signed over the family house in Barbados to his youngest sister (my grandmother) I acquired this document 2 years ago, and until then I had no idea that it existed. It is in excellent condition since the document was done on good quality acid free paper and it had been stored in the dark for more than 50 years. If the University or the Archives is ever interested in acquiring Panama documents I’d be happy to give it to them.

    In 1951 my great uncle wrote that he had been living in Panama for more than 40 years and that he was unlikely to return to Barbados. I’ve since checked and there are still a dozen or more people with my family name living in Colon.

    Dear BFP: During the migration to build the Panama Canal 40% of Barbadian men between the ages of 18 and 40 went to Panama. During this period Barbados’ birth rate declined because there were just not enough men. In the early part of the 20th century there were no contraceptives (and happily for BFP *virtually no abortions) and yet my grandmother did not have her first child until after her 30th birthday.

    *If BFP is ever interested I’ll tell you another of the abortion methods used in early 20th century Barbados. An elder from that period told me about the method.

  3. John

    …. some Bajans ended up entering the US through Ellis Island after Panama.

    When I was looking at the records on ellisisland.org for the immigration of Eric Holder’s father I found that in all, about 80 Holders of West Indian origin, entered through Ellis Island, three of them came directly from Panama and one from Cuba.

    Bajans also sought work in Cuba, and also South America at the time and I have seen a few Bajans entering the Us at the time from Argentina.

    I have heard a figure of 60,000 quoted as the number of Bajans who went to Panama.

    I know the population of Barbados dropped as a result (don’t have the figures to hand) and I have come across one whole family of young females who left Barbados at the time for New York, I figured because their marriage prospects were slim due to the emigration of males or because they followed their significant others to the US.

    I know also the archives has records of those who went to Panama, in fact I have looked for an ancestor who disappeared from the face of this earth at the time in here with no luck.

    What struck me in going through the Panama Register was the young age of the Bajans who took the chance and went.

    Most I seem to remember were in their late teens or early twenties.

  4. The Scout

    It was not unusual for bajan young men to be shipped out to a foreign land between the age of 18-25yrs. At that time they were going to jobs that were there waiting for them, places like Panama, Cuba, Aruba and Curacao and British Guyana. Even to this day there is a bajan comunity in mort of these country. That’s why I’m not against legal immigrants coming here but this country CANNOT handle any and ever person just packing their bags and heading here.

  5. We’re happy you have been able to inform your readers about the plight of our forefathers- The Silver People of Panama. We are hoping that our efforts in saving the historic burial sites of the Silver People- in danger of disappearing due to deterioration, neglect and industrial encroachment- will not be in vain. This has been one of our main driving forces- to not allow our people and culture to be forgotten.

    These sites are still the repositories of historic and genealogical proofs that our people existed and gave their lives and those of their families for the welfare and economic development of the whole of humanity.

    Please contact your Panamanian embassies and/or consulates regarding this important issue vehemently opposing the disinterment and general abandonment of these precious burial sites.

    With best regards,
    Roberto A. Reid

    ******************

    BFP says,

    Thanks for stopping bye, Roberto. We would like to reprint a few stories from your blog maybe twice a month to keep the joint history of our two nations before the people.

  6. BFP,

    Please e mail us regarding your request.

  7. WOW! Ive been looking for information on my Great grandfather and stumbled upon this perodical, and I must say omg! My family name comes from my grandfather who worked on the canal for a time while in Panama with his mom. Passed on by a Bajan Man who was killed in-route to another island (we don’t know) by being pushed overboard! 3 separate elders of mine have told me the same story – the same way – and im struk to think Clarance Hines also worked on this project (had to be alive since 1890-1930’s) leading his son to work the same job in the same fashion! I thank you for some history and maybe more proof that my HINES name floated in the sea of history helping to build the Panama canal! The silver people chronicle… ty

  8. Mr.Miles

    BIG UP ALL BAJAN PANA MOST OF THEM BAJAN DEY LEFT PANAMA IN WENT TO AMERICA SOUTH CAROLINA

  9. 7 hours ago
    The Plight of Black Panamanians Today”
    Panama is a color coded society they have systematically excluded Black people based based on pigmentation. This practice continues today in 2012, and why ? We’ve never had a social revolution like the one in the US. We most definitley had brain power but the socio-lcontruct of the contry doesn’t allow freedom of democratic expression. It’s a totalitarian state run by elitist,racist “rabi blancos”-ie. white rats. Their lip service a mere rudimentary babble,a facade nevertheless. We’ve regressed as a peoples who’ve built the canal! Many of our gains have been circumscribed, diluted and forgotten. We’re “prouducts” of a powerful people who’ve endured possibly the worse treatment in the annals of modern history ,yet we still stride . Like a blade of grass we’ll permeate concrete and become the force in nature that’ll lead us to liberation. Wake up and smell reality !

  10. Yes,my grandfather weas a Bajan man,we know nothing of his fmaily in Barbados.His sname is Fitz Bannister, the only think I know is he’s related to the great painter Edward Bannister who made a name fof himself in the US. He was actually th forst Black man in the US to gain recognition as an artist.He was born in Canada both of his paprents dioed an an early age,he and his brother was taken by a rich white family and he had th luxxury of studying art and later move to the US. Anyone with any in formation about my grand father Fitz Bannister please contac me .

  11. The Plight of Black Panamanians Today”
    Panama is a color coded society they have systematically excluded Black people based based on pigmentation. This practice continues today in 2012, and why ? We’ve never had a social revolution like the one in the US. We most definitley had brain power but the socio-lcontruct of the contry doesn’t allow freedom of democratic expression. It’s a totalitarian state run by elitist,racist “rabi blancos”-ie. white rats. Their lip service a mere rudimentary babble,a facade nevertheless. We’ve regressed as a peoples who’ve built the canal! Many of our gains have been circumscribed, diluted and forgotten. We’re “products” of a powerful people who’ve endured possibly the worse treatment in the annals of modern history ,yet we still stride . Like a blade of grass we’ll permeate concrete and become the force in nature that’ll lead us to liberation. Wake up and smell reality !
    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/general-article/panama-workers/

  12. We need to expose the beast in historical context ,show the world what the intentions of the demon is . Their actions is by design, bacterialogical warfare is a planned program by the elitist in science,who do you think orchestraterd the …Tuskegee expderiments of the African Amerikan population.This was not the work of simple minded inbred kkk reactionary crakas. These were higly educated people trained in science who used us as guinea pigs. We need to educate and expose future generations about the genocidal politiics of the institution of racism in this country and around the world.

  13. Racism is a a mental illness -it’s a social disease, i know for fact -biologicaL I doubt -a child could not be a born racist, it must be taught! They obviously teach this in the home, after centuries of dis crimination why is it still here ? The social construct of racism is eniviromental /cultural . This is by design, institutional barbarism.
    They pass laws outlawing discrimination but the mentality remains the same, evolution is slow process theyh simply have not evolved. When the French started teh diggin of the Panama Canal in the 1880s over 27,000 Bajans died in this genocidal scheme. They see the Black man as lesser than,and expendable,this explains his concept of you. They’ve edxploited us for centuries in the western hemispher with impunity. There has neer bene any shame in their game. The barbarism of white society should be documenited and compensations should be paid for workers who lost their lives in the process of building the canal. There is a provisions inthe UN charter that deals with this specifictly as a human rights violation. I’m currently in dicussion with an atorney con cerning this matter and hope he takes he plight of the canal workers and sue the “Americant” goverment and the French for their benign neglect og human rights in the construction of the Panama Canal. Bajans paid a heavy price more than any other nation. The people of Barbados and the other Islands should be educated about the history of and the atropcities that took place. We need to spreadn the gospel of truth about our siituation around the world! .Lets wake up and smell reality.

  14. The problem with Barbados, and other Island nations. You see when the when colonialist “left” – he set up puppets in order to rule from behind the scenes. Why is poverty rampant in these Island nationis with a billion dollar tourist industry? The wealth is not trickling down,pthe corrupticve state runs rampant and why,they took over a corrupt system and nothing chaniged, the politicos are bouth and sold like commodities on the stock exchange.
    If you want to institute change then you must take to the streets and demand it. As Frederick Douglass said” power concedes nothing without demand” -until you take to the streets and take your argument to a local and international plattforms nothing will change. You must exercise your political opinions and be ready to suffer what ever consequences may unsue. An idle populace is a dead one, you must take to the streets and use all media to educate and agitate people in to action. This is what constitute change,cursing the status quo is not suffice. You must put your word into action.

  15. The educational system has always reflected their bi-asses ! They teach constricted lies and manufactured jive and call it historical facts.When you dispute it they call it revisionist history as if to say everything they taught is the gospel of truth. Like Kenneth Henrik Clark said ” powerful people cannot afford to educate the people they oppress…Because once you’re truly educated you will not ask for power you will take it ”

    “Powerful people never teach powerless people how to take their power away from them. Education is one of the most sensitive arenas in the life of a people. Its role is to be honest and true: to tell a people where they have been and what t…hey have been, where they are and what they are. Most important, though, the role of education is to tell a people where they still must go and what they still must be. ” ~ Dr. John Henrik Clarke.See More

  16. Rosita Broome

    John can I have a copy of that document about panama? Thanks!

  17. Juan Enrique


    This is the story of the barbadian descendants that are actually living in Cuba, their customs and traditions, the emblematic places of the history between Barbados and Cuba are some of the topics that you can get to know through the documentary film “Lost Roots”, by testimonies, photos, music, paintings, sport, etc. you can know the tale of the real relation between these two countries.