Devon Dick: IOJ’s negative portrayal of Paul Bogle and the Uprising
On Monday, I visited the Institute of Jamaica's (IOJ) exhibition which marks the 150th anniversary of the Morant Bay Uprising. The IOJ should be commended for recognising the importance of Paul Bogle and his followers in the development of Brand Jamaica. However, the exhibition is marred by the continued negative portrayal of Bogle and his motivation which led to the Morant Bay Uprising.
This negativity is not new. Historian Douglas Hall said Bogle was a 'dangerous man', and British scholar Gad Heuman argued in Killing Time (what a name!) that Bogle and his followers had 'murderous intentions'.
The exhibition outlines 'Rebel Offices' such as commander. Why are they called 'rebel offices' and not 'freedom fighter offices' or just plain 'offices'? 'Rebel' connotes something negative, evil and illegal. The offices of British forces are not so described although they engaged in murder. The exhibition has 'ringleaders', which is a pejorative term. In addition, there is 'armed with sticks' instead of 'carried sticks.' Since when have sticks become weapons of mass destruction?
The exhibition outlined that Myal was the antidote to Obeah. In other words, Myal is good and Obeah is negative. I heard an employee of the IOJ state that Arthur Wellington was an Obeah man and second in command of the Uprising. So I wonder which Myal man was the antidote to Wellington. Remarkably, the exhibition states that the Uprising had roots in both Obeah and Myal, which means that the movement had internal contradictions!
Bogle, in the exhibition, is correctly described as a deacon of the Native Baptist Church and leader of the chapel at Stony Gut. Yet, an employee was educating a viewer, saying that Bogle was not a real Christian but was a 'poco leader' and 'scientist'. The latter term does not mean one schooled in the sciences but rather skilled in charms and magic. The viewer even remarked that Bogle was not even a revivalist, which for her was not as bad as 'poco leader'.
The exhibition labelled the Bogle movement as a 'secret society'. Even if it had secrets it does not make it a secret society. Bogle and his followers were not engaged in nefarious activities and were transparent and accountable, with their Native Baptist Church having rules and regulations. Also, their church was actively engaged in operating schools.
The exhibition claimed that in the chapel, Bogle and his followers drank a mixture of 'gunpowder, rum and blood'. This is based on the testimony of one hostile witness, a Maroon policeman. In the Tacky rebellion of 1760, there was a ceremony involving the drinking of a mixture of rum, gunpowder, blood and grave dirt. However, Tacky, unlike Bogle, never claimed to be Christian. The policemen who went to arrest Bogle were sent packing; so when did this policeman observe the making and drinking of this concoction?
There was another hostile witness that claimed Negro women sat on the corpses and gashed them with broken glasses. "The men opened the skulls, scooped out the brains into calabashes, mixed them with rum and drank the mixture in the Baptist Chapel..." So are we to believe also that they were cannibals?
There are also some contradictions. The exhibition claims that George William Gordon was 'a Baptist Minister', but on another storyboard Gordon was 'a Native Baptist and a revivalist at heart'. Interestingly, the title 'minister' is never ascribed to Bogle. In addition, the exhibition should offer some basic facts. For example, it should state Gordon's parents as Ann Rattray, an enslaved mulatto, and Joseph Gordon, a Scottish planter. Do not let Gordon's mother remain nameless.
If the IOJ could get rid of the negativity, then the exhibition would be a fitting tribute to the legacy of Bogle and his protesters.
- Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of 'The Cross and the Machete', and 'Rebellion to Riot'. Send feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com.