Mr Frankson's account of his life and work in the Colonial Service is not what one
expects from the pen of a former District Officer, but it is well written and gives
us a valuable record, not so much for what he did as a civil servant but on account of his
unusual background. He was first appointed to a post in the education field in British
Honduras, later renamed Belize. After a while, when he showed his competence, Frankson transferred to the Administrative Service where he worked first in the field as a
District Commissioner and later at headquarters in the Secretariat. However unlike most
of his colleagues he was not a Briton but a Jamaican, born and bred. He thus had a
privileged personal view of the Service, observing colonial rule through the eyes of the
ruled as well as of the rulers so as to achieve a kind of binocular vision which has
enabled him to write tellingly about it, to give top marks to British Colonial Service, and
to discount the popular concept that colonial rule is always bad.
The Second Edition of his book, now with a new title, starts with a useful Preface
about the author and his ancestors in Jamaica, a tale told in the third person but
strangely failing to mention who wrote the Preface. However the author's first chapter,
with the title Who am /?, gives a vivid picture of his origins and their surprising
variety, not only of blood lines including slaves as well as slave-owners, but of
language and culture. He seeks to make clear the differences from such a wide palette
of colours - Spanish, Dutch, French, British, Portuguese and all the varieties of nonwhite
from Carib, Maya, African and many others - yet also to warn about the
assumption that 'black' implies 'African'.
He shows splendid erudition about the multiple 'tribal' groupings which have emerged
from conquests, whether military or economic, from abroad or domestic, many of them
now with their own distinct languages, like the Garifuna.
The author emphasises the difference between blood and culture and, in his own case,
concludes that, though his skin is black, "I am a Westerner, since it is our culture, not the
blood in our veins, that indicates who we are." One is led to wonder how Barack Obama
would react to this.
Turning to his own career, the author joined the Colonial Service as an Education
Officer, having trained as a teacher, and his writing shows a compelling mastery of
language. Unlike most officers of HMOCS he was recruited in Jamaica and assigned to
work in British Honduras where education had fallen badly behind, having no local
teacher-training establishment. The author then tells in some detail how he managed to
get about the country, by bicycle, boat, or on foot, and his narrative has strange overtones
of George Borrow's wanderings in Spain 150 years ago.
After a training assignment in London the author was posted as District
Commissioner to Toledo District in the south adjoining the Guatemalan border, where
the Ketchi branch of the ancient Maya people still live with their own language and
culture. Frankson's arrival in Toledo was greeted initially with overt hostility by the
local people, apparently because of his Jamaican origin. He seems to have overcome
this and was later posted to work in the Ministry as an Assistant Secretary where his
duties followed a fairly normal course.
On the approach to independence the author became indirectly involved with
briefing Ministers on constitutional and related matters, but he seems to have been
little concerned with the public fear that independence might provoke the Guatemalans
to invade as they had long threatened to do. This was a real fear in Belize and loomed
large in the efforts of Mr Price to win popular support for independence by seeking a defence agreement with Britain which London at first declined to give. It was only
when the Guatemalans made the mistake of complaining at the UN about British forces
in Belize, and getting hopelessly outvoted, that independence with security became
possible. (Mr Frankson's book does not cover that development but I have told that
story in my own book: The Scent of Eucalyptus)
When the author finally retired from the Colonial Service he was offered an interesting
task with the US Peace Corps, about which he has some amusing points to make before
his final summing up and Epilogue. If the reader gets this far he will have enjoyed some
well-told tales about the Colonial Service and the Caribbean Identity.