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Devon Dick| Jamaica needs a slave museum

Published:Thursday | August 4, 2016 | 8:09 AM

Recently, on a visit to the slave museum in Nassau, The Bahamas, courtesy of Rev Dr Timothy Stewart, pastor of the historic Bethel Baptist Church, there was the realisation that Jamaica needs a slave museum.

This Pompey Slave Museum is in honour of Pompey, an enslaved person, who, as a 32-year-old, led a rebellion in 1830 on the Exuma plantation. The Pompey Museum is small but effective. It displays powerful artifacts such as instruments of punishment, but it does not have even one hundredth of the artifacts that Jamaica has stored in Port Royal. The museum has books on sale but again could not compare in quantity to the books on Jamaica's slave history.

It is not just the Bahamas and Jamaica alone who have a story to tell about resistance. The book, The Cross and the Machete highlights a worldwide culture of resistance by oppressed persons to free themselves from degrading colonial slavery. In the sixteenth century there was a series of revolts by the enslaved in Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Panama, and Honduras. The Palmares, a government of escaped Africans on Brazilian soil, existed from 1605. In the 1770s and 1780s, there were peasant insurgencies against colonial oppression in Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. There were revolts also in the USA. The enslaved Haitian people overthrew the French colonialists and declared independence on January 1, 1804. In Barbados, there were aborted rebellions in 1649, 1675, 1692 and 1816.

Orlando Patterson, noted sociologist, claimed that Jamaica has an impressive record of revolts by the enslaved during slavery's 180-year existence. The first serious revolt in Jamaica was in 1684. The Africans in Jamaica confronted their experiences of dehumanisation through resistance. One of the most celebrated resistances in Jamaica was led by the Maroons. In 1738, Maroon Cudjoe, a leader of runaways, led a resistance which resulted in negotiations with English Colonel John Guthrie and Francis Sadler and the establishment of the first free settlement in the British West Indies for the formerly enslaved Africans.

 

A STORY ABOUT SLAVERY

 

Then there was the Tacky Rebellion of 1760 in St Mary. However, the most far-reaching resistance was the Baptist War of 1831 - so called because Baptist leaders and members were identified with this resistance to slavery, especially Sharpe.

This resistance was the catalyst that forced the British to pass the Emancipation Act in 1833 which conditionally freed thousands from slavery. This emancipation in Jamaica and the British West Indies occurred before the enslaved in the USA, Cuba, and Brazil got their freedom. We have a significant story to tell in a slave museum.

Museums are important teaching tools which in a snapshot can relate a story about slavery. Many Jamaicans still claim that slavery in Africa was comparable to what happened in the British West Indies and the implications for reparations would be due from Britain and Africa.

However, the Pompey museum made it clear that chattel slavery in the British West Indies was unique in that for the first time persons were owned and treated as property. There was slavery in Africa such as becoming temporarily enslaved to pay a debt or as prisoners as war or as punishment for a criminal offence.

Importantly, the Pompey museum ends with a display about human trafficking and a call to end this practice. Jamaica needs a slave museum to tell the story of resistance to slavery more accurately, and help build our identity as a people of resilience, develop loyalty to country and abhorrence to modern day slavery.

Note: Last week's article contained some errors such as claiming Ferncourt as a non-traditional High School and failing to recognise that Immaculate Preparatory is a single sex school.

- 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.