The South African Author Who Found Freedom In Jamaica

Peter Henry Abrahams Deras (Peter Abrahams) was born in Vrededorp, Johannesburg’s largest Asian slum in March 1919.

Abrahams was classified as a “coloured” South African.

His father was from Ethiopia, a son of landowners and slave-owners. His father passed away when Abrahams was young and he was sent to live in a rural village called Elsburg, with distant family, Aunt Liza and Uncle Sam.

  

At 15, Abrahams was forced to leave school when his aunt Mattie was arrested for selling skokiaan (an ‘illegal’ home brew). He moved in with his sister Maggie and her husband Charles. One day, he saw a man reading the newspaper Bantu World. He was intrigued as he had never seen a paper with black men on the cover.

The Black man reading the paper was surprised to find that Abrahams could read and had aspirations of becoming an author so offered to help him find a job at the Bantu Men’s Social Centre.

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In later years, he travelled to London and became acquainted with George Padmore. Padmore was a Black Trinidadian who dedicated his life to giving voice to Black grievances.

He became a member of a small circle of African students and intellectuals that included Kwame Nkrumah(the first president and prime minister of Ghana) and Jomo Kenyatta (who later served as the first prime minister and president of Kenya).

Abrahams returned to South Africa in 1952. Abrahams concluded upon his trip to South Africa that the ‘colour bar’ was most definitely in place. When going to visit his mother he was forced to travel on a bus specifically for ‘Coloured’ persons.

In 1955 Abrahams was sent to Jamaica by the Colonial Office to write a popular history of the Island. He found Jamaica closest to his ideal and moved there with his family in 1959. In Jamaica, Abrahams believed he had discovered a near nonracial society, a place where his mixed race family could feel at home.

His home in Jamaica was the first piece of land that his family owned; he bought the land in 1955 when it was pure bush. Abrahams explained: “Jamaica is Africa to me and this particular piece of Jamaica is my home”.

Peter and his wife Daphne live in Kingston. Daphne is the daughter of a Scottish colonial plantation manager. Peter writes: “I often had the sense, up here, of being in communion with other people and creatures who had inhabited this place in other centuries . . .We are, always, silently grateful that Jamaica and those who inherited it have allowed us to come here . . . I can think of no other place on earth where we could have received this kind of welcome.”

“An extraordinary people, these Jamaicans,” he said. INDEED!!

Curated from SA History Online

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