Damian E. Greaves,
for Community Development,
Local Government and Cooperatives
the Occasion of
DAY, AUGUST 01ST, 2001
Barbados in 1640, just over ten years after slavery had been introduced on the
island, the slaves revolted.
Richard Ligon, an Englishman who had been present on the island at the time, and
who recorded the event, wrote:
little before I came from thence, there was such a combination amongst them, as
the like was never seen there before. Their
sufferings being grown to a great height, and their daily complaining to one
another (of the intolerable burdens they laboured under) being spread through
the island; at the last, some amongst them, whose spirits were not able to
endure such slavery, resolved to break through it, or die in the act; and so
conspired with some others of their acquaintance, whose sufferings were equal,
if not above theirs; and their spirits no way inferior, resolved to draw as many
of the discontented party into this plot, as possibly they could; and those of
this persuasion, were the greatest numbers of servants in the island.
So that a day was appointed to fall upon their masters, and cut all
throats, and by that means, to make themselves not only freemen, but masters of
must recognise that as the beginning of West Indian history. These people
wanted not only their freedom, but to get rid of their masters, and to make
themselves masters of the island, and masters of their own destiny.
one hundred and fifty years later the same thing happened in Haiti.
That is also what happened in Cuba in 1958.
They got rid of their masters and oppressors and made themselves masters
of the island.
and liberty mean something very special and precious to us west Indians.
slavery is nothing new in the world; it has existed for thousands of years.
In Africa, also, there was a kind of slavery, but those slaves were
people captured in war. It
was a great battle in traditional Africa when six or ten warriors were killed.
The warriors who were not killed in battle, and were captured, were made
slaves and became an integral part of the society. They were not exploited or ill-treated.
The same as in ancient Greece and Rome.
Slaves there were the artisans, scholars, teachers and traders; they
worked as such in the new societies to which they had been introduced.
world’s first economist, Adam smith, in his monumental work, “the
wealth of nations” and in a chapter entitled ‘motives
for new colonies’ tells us that, in the roman colonies:
trades and manufactures too even the retails trade, were carried on by the
slaves of the rich for the benefit of their masters, whose wealth, authority and
protection made it difficult for a poor freeman to maintain the competition
was not the case in the West Indian slave society.
When the Africans were captured in Africa and were transported to the
West Indies, they went straight into a modern industrial society – the sugar
plantations. There they
discovered that to be a slave was the result of their being black.
A white man, whatever his limitations, was not a slave, and those new
arrivals from Africa, those who had survived the middle passage, had never been
accustomed to that kind of slavery…
we will find, throughout West Indian history, there has always been this fact;
that overwhelming desire for freedom and liberty. However expressed, that desire has always been dominant
in the West Indian people – that desire for freedom, to make themselves
masters of their own destiny.
burning desire has made west Indians the most rebellious people in the history
of mankind. It was the
awareness, the knowledge that, being black, they had been made slaves, and the
European was never a slave; he was a free subject, a man able to do whatever he
wanted to in the islands. That
was what made our ancestors such fierce fighters against injustice.
repeat, that is our history.
to illustrate further that determination of our ancestors to fight, to die,
even, for their freedom, let us go back to Barbados.
Ligon tells us that the plot by the slaves to overthrow their masters and to
gain their freedom had been well planned.
The plot failed, and Ligon tells us why, and it was for this reason:
of them (that is, one of the slaves), either by the failings of his courage, or
some new obligation from the love of his master, revealed this long-plotted
conspiracy; and so by this timely advertisement, the masters were saved. Justice heathers all (whose servant this was) sending
letters to all his friends, and they to theirs, and so to one another till they
were all secured; and by examination, found out the greatest part of them”.
kind of betrayal is also part of our historical experience.
That type is usually the house-slave.
Working in the house of his master, he has acquired what he thinks is a
certain kind of respect; he becomes subservient to his master.
fact that the slaves’ plot to gain their freedom had been betrayed, and the
conspirators captured, did not mean that the masters were thus able to sleep in
comfort and safety. No.
The threat of rebellion was always there.
So what did the masters do? Eighteen of the principal slaves involved in
the plot had to be put to death, Ligon tells us, “as
example to the rest”.
The masters had to do that because they knew that the slaves would rise
again in revolt. In fact,
Ligon goes on to tell us that:
reason why they made examples of so many, was they
found these so haughty in their resolutions, and so
incorrigible, as they were liked enough to become actors in a second plot, and
so they thought good to secure them; and for the rest to have a special eye over
black, our ancestors, wanted and fought for their freedom.
They had not been able to enjoy true freedom.
They were not even permitted to speak their African languages, and Ligon
tell us how the masters accomplished that.
They could not marry, and even when they brought forth children, the
children did not belong to the parents, but to the owners of the plantations.
They could do nothing, except what their European masters allowed them to
we are celebrating, therefore, is the anniversary of the end of one of the most
outrageous experiments that any race of human beings had ever been forced to
all our celebrations, therefore, we must never lose sight of the meaning and
significance of the end of that historical experience.
we are today, what we think, and how we think, our entire political, social,
economic and cultural life, the very way we view the world about us; our
relationship with one another and with the rest of mankind, have been shaped by
that historical experience.
We have been reduced to one single purpose – the creating of wealth for another race of people to enjoy.
have had no time, during those four hundred years of slavery, to create anything
for ourselves – neither painters, poets, theorists nor intellectuals.
We had been reduced to beasts of burden.
was left to the descendants of those ancestors of ours who had survived, to
articulate what those ancestors of ours had experienced.
So when we hear one of our poets reminding us that:
whip disputed with the buzzing flies for the sugary dew of our wounds”
can appreciate the horror, the depth of violence that had been found necessary
to maintain our slave ancestors in that state of abject subjection, which they
had been forced to endure.
must be very clear in our minds, therefore, about the significance of this day,
this freedom, which we are celebrating.
it is a day for rejoicing, but it must also be the occasion for serious
reflection, to take stock, as it were of where we are, who we are, and the long
road along which we have travelled since emancipation.
be free of certain historical and social experiences is not enough.
We need to know, to understand, and to appreciate what freedom means, and
to exercise that freedom intelligently and meaningfully.
ancestors survived the ordeal and travail of slavery, and “survival” as our Noble Laureate, Hon. Derek Walcott has
reminded us “is the triumph of
stubbornness”. The freedom,
which we enjoy today, was not handed to our ancestors on a platter, was not a
gift from the former slave masters. It
was the result of the constant revolt and rebellion by our enslaved and
oppressed ancestors. It was due to
Whatever the renowned philosophers in Europe at the time might have meant or intended in their philosophical doctrines, liberty and freedom meant something completely different to our West Indian slave ancestors.
and rebellions might have failed from time to time, but we must recognise that
the slaves, our ancestors, in raising the banners of rebellion, had taken the
first steps on that long road which eventually led to their freedom.
died in the process, but when they died, they sacrificed their lives so that we,
their descendants, would one day enjoy the fruits of freedom.
To celebrate freedom therefore, is to honour those millions who had
fought, and had given up their lives.
the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we should remember them.
a happy and reflective emancipation day!
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