by Dr. Quito Swan
Pauulu Roosevelt Nelson Osiris Browne Kamarakafego is a legendary figure. Born in Bermuda on November 28, 1932 to parents from St. Nevis and St. Kitts, Dr Kamarakafego would traverse the world as a freedom fighter, ecological engineer, father, and beloved citizen of the Global South.
In a world ravaged by racism, colonialism, and capitalist exploitation, his commitment to defending the powerless and the marginalized led him to join the political struggles of Black people across the Caribbean, the United States, Africa, and Oceania.
As such, to honour Dr Pauulu Kamarakafego is to also pay tribute to the liberation struggles of black people throughout the Atlantic, South Pacific and Indian Ocean realms.
Navigating through Caribbean sugarcane fields, Liberian rubber plantations, and Papua New Guinean rainforests, Dr Kamarakafego’s global political sojourn reads like a pan-African epic; a long, often perilous, ever moving trek toward freedom.
Raised by a family of Garveyites, Roosevelt Brown was aware of the effects of colonialism and the international scope of racism and segregation at an early age. His engagement with Africa began with tales from his family’s visits to Kpelle relatives in Liberia; where he would later visit and adapt the native Kpelle name, Pauulu Kamarakafego.
In 1951, during a trip to visit an uncle who worked as a sugar cane labourer in Cuba, he was wounded by gunfire in a protest against the ruthless dictatorship of Juan Batista; an experience that gave shape to his innate instinct to fight power and exploitation at every turn.
While a student at New York University (1951- 1954), he was reacquainted with pan-Africanist icon CLR James in Harlem. James, a renowned historian and author of the seminal ‘The Black Jacobins’ (1938), would become Pauulu’s lifelong friend and political mentor.
By the mid-1950s he had joined the African American freedom struggle as a student at South Carolina State College. Here he survived many battles with the Ku Klux Klan; encouraging students to arm themselves in defence against white supremacist violence and constructing ideologies with NAACP stalwarts like Septima Clark.
After pursuing graduate studies in ecological engineering from the California Institute of Technology, in 1959, he and his wife, Betty Browne, moved to Liberia where he taught Biological Science at Cuttington College. During this time, he also helped to organize Bermuda’s Committee for Universal Adult Suffrage, clashing with members of Bermuda’s white oligarchy, colonial administrators, and a group that would later form the United Bermuda Party.
After witnessing the exploitation of rubber workers in Liberia, Dr Kamarakafego helped to organize a major national strike in 1961. He subsequently fled to Ghana, joining a community of “diasporic Africans” such as Nelson Mandela and W.E.B and Shirley Graham Du Bois. At the suggestion of Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, Pauulu continued on to Kenya in 1962 to assist Jomo Kenyatta’s new government on a number of educational programs, including the establishment of a science teacher’s college.
Until 1966, he taught in the area of environmental studies at the University of East Africa. While there his international reputation as a scientist grew rapidly as he pioneered the sustainable development movement as a UNESCO consultant; he also published his first manual on how to build water tanks using bamboo plants.
In Kenya he also met Malcolm X—these kinds of experiences in Africa during its years of modern political independence immensely informed Dr Kamarakafego’s political thinking in the area of Black Power as a global phenomenon that called for political, social and ecological self-determination.
Upon his return home, Dr Kamarakafego was elected to Parliament as a member of the Progressive Labour Party during Bermuda’s first ever free elections (1968), and he agitated for political independence for Bermuda at the United Nations. He also played a key role in the maturing global Black Power Movement during those years.
Dr Kamarakafego coordinated the First International Black Power Conference in Bermuda (1969), co-organized the Congress of African Peoples (CAP, Atlanta, 1970) and Sixth Pan-African Congress of Tanzania (6PAC, 1974). The Bermuda Conference was a critical moment for the growth of Black Power in Bermuda and beyond, despite the collective attempts of the United States, British and local UBP governments to thwart the event.
In the midst of intense government surveillance and harassment by organizations such as the FBI, CIA, Bermuda Police Special Branch, and Britain’s Foreign Commonwealth Office, Dr Kamarakafego continued to advise groups such as the Progressive Labor Party’s Youth Wing and Bermuda’s Black Beret Cadre; steadfast and fearless to the core.
It was through the scope of the Black Power and Pan-African Movements that Dr Kamarakafego built lasting relationships with Black political movements in Oceania. In 1969 he travelled to Australia to assist Melbourne’s Aborigine Advancement League in its budding Black Power Movement, and brought those activists to Atlanta’s CAP in turn.
After inviting members from the Vanua’aku National Party to Tanzania’s 6PAC, he travelled to New Hebrides in 1975 to assist the Party in its fight against British and French colonialism. His initiatives in the Pacific aimed to empower indigenous women and youth with skills for self-sufficiency, countering dependency on Australian and British commodities.
Dr Kamarakafego launched rural projects across countries like Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea. His most enduring innovation was the harnessing of bamboo to build low-cost sustainable homes and water tanks in Africa and Oceania in the 1970s. His cache of innovations, manuals, and proposals on renewable energy, rising sea levels, solar power, desertification in Africa, women and appropriate technology, reparations, and climate change continue to inform contemporary discussions on race and environmental justice to this day.
Dr Pauulu Kamarakafego was loved by countless global citizens; he built a vast network of iconic Black organizers that included figures like Dr Acklyn Lynch, Queen Mother Audley Moore, Sonia Sanchez, Sylvia Hill, Vanessa Griffen, Kwame Ture, and Walter Lini. He touched the hearts and minds of generations of Bermudians, and was survived by thirteen children on his departure from this realm in 2007, when he succumbed to cancer. Dr Pauulu Kamarakafego is missed, but not forgotten by all who had the great fortune to meet and call him a teacher, comrade, brother, and friend. Me One.