The heroes and martyrs of 1816
In this 50th anniversary year of Barbados’ political Independence, it is now a mere 23 days before Thursday, April 14 –– the date on which we Barbadians should be commemorating the 200th anniversary of the glorious Bussa Rebellion.
If we Barbadians wish to identify a tangible link between the events of Sunday, April 14, 1816 (the date of the commencement of the Bussa Rebellion) and the accomplishments of Wednesday, November 30, 1966 (the date of the attainment of political Independence), we need to look no further than Section 14 of the Constitution Of Barbados that provides as follows:
No person shall be held in slavery or servitude.
No person shall be required to perform forced labour.
But the significance of the Bussa Rebellion goes way beyond any formal constitutional provision. What Bussa and his fellow revolutionaries did some 200 years ago was to strike a formidable blow for freedom, and to set in train a “process of Emancipation” for our nation and its people. And this they did by the sacrifice of their own lives.
There can be little doubt that General Bussa and his heroic lieutenants would have known that their effort at revolution was virtually certain to be violently put down by the formidable troops of the British imperial army stationed at The Garrison, and that many of them would pay with the loss of their very lives.
But they were prepared to make that ultimate sacrifice for the benefit of future generations of black or African Barbadians. Indeed, they were so determined their children and grandchildren should live in a Barbados in which they would be able to claim for themselves their freedom and full human dignity, that they were prepared to sacrifice their very lives in order to put that Emancipatory process in train.
And it is so very important that we always keep in mind that Emancipation is not an event, but a process –– a process that is still unfolding up to today.
It is important we understand that “Emancipation” did not “take place” on August 1, 1834, as the traditional history textbooks would have us believe.
What I mean by this is that the racist oppression of black or African people did not end with the formal abolition of slavery in 1834 or even in 1838 when the so-called “apprenticeship system” ended. Indeed, after the passage of the Slavery Abolition Act in 1834, our historical oppressors did everything possible to keep our ancestors in a condition as close as possible to slavery.
As our ancestors commenced their post-1834 supposedly post-slavery journey, our historical oppressors deliberately entrapped them in economic, political and social arrangements designed to handicap them and to serve the interests of the former enslavers –– arrangements that have persisted (in modified form) down to the present day.
The overriding mission of our present-day generation of Barbadians must therefore be to expose and put an end to such debilitating and racist arrangements, and to complete the Emancipation “process” that was set in train 200 years ago by Bussa and his fellow freedom fighters.
Our sacred, historic mission as a people is to live up to and honour the struggles and sacrifices of our ancestors by claiming and appropriating our full human dignity. And so, by engaging in actions that are very deliberately and consciously aimed at celebrating an anniversary as significant as the bicentenary of the Bussa Rebellion, we keep that sacred, historic mission
And, of course, an integral part of our bicentenary commemoration should be a national effort to record and acknowledge the many great Barbadian heroes and martyrs who participated
in the rebellion.
Let me therefore conclude by making a short (and incomplete) list of the heroic leaders of the glorious Bussa Rebellion of 1816, and the various plantations on which they exercised their leadership, as follows:
1. Bayleys Plantation –– General Bussa (or Bussoe), the ranger of the plantation; King Wiltshire, a carpenter; Dick Bailey, a mason; Johnny Cooper, a cooper; and Johnny, the standard bearer of the rebel army.
2. Simmons Plantation –– Jackey, the driver at the plantation; John, the ranger; and Nanny Grigg, a domestic slave.
3. Congo Road Plantation –– William Green and Thomas.
4. Sunbury Plantation –– King William.
5. Chapel Plantation –– Toby.
6. Grove Plantation –– Prince William.
7. Sandford Estate –– Charles.
8. Byde Mill Plantation –– Mingo, the ranger of the plantation.
9. Adventure Plantation –– Little Sambo.
10. Haynes’ Field Plantation –– Jack Groom.
11. Sturges Plantation –– William.
12. Fisher Pond Plantation –– Sandy Waterman.
And in addition to the enslaved Blacks or Africans on the plantations of Barbados, there were revolutionaries who were drawn from the free coloured community: Roach, Cain Davis, John Richard Sergeant and Joseph Pitt Washington Franklin.
These are the imperishable names of 23 Barbadian heroes whom we should lift up and honour as we count down the remaining days to the bicentenary of the Bussa Rebellion!
(David Comissiong, attorney-at-law, is president of the Clement Payne Movement.)