Thu | Dec 3, 2020

Carolyn Cooper | Those wicked white people!

Published:Friday | August 4, 2017 | 12:00 AM

If you've ever taken the time to read the 1833 act to abolish slavery in the British colonies, you will understand what I mean. The schemers who conceived it were well and truly wicked. The full title of the document is An Act for the Abolition of Slavery throughout the British Colonies; for promoting the Industry of the manumitted Slaves; and for compensating the Persons hitherto entitled to the Services of such Slaves. The 19th-century language of the entire act is obscure.

Translating the document into modern English, plain and simple, should be one of the first projects of the newly established Centre for Reparations Research at the University of the West Indies, directed by Professor Verene Shepherd. According to a press release issued last week on the eve of Emancipation Day, the centre "will lead the implementation of CARICOM's Reparatory Justice Programme, which broadly seeks to foster public awareness around the lasting and adverse consequences of European invasion of indigenous peoples' lands, African enslavement and colonialism in the Caribbean; and offer practical solutions towards halting and reversing the legacies of such acts".

The translated Abolition Act should be required reading for every single Jamaican politician. They need to fully understand the fundamental injustice on which 'emancipated' Jamaica was founded. Perhaps, enlightened politicians might be able to see that many of their colleagues are just as wicked as our colonial masters. They do not care about the well-being of the people they are supposed to serve. All they are interested in is using political office to make themselves richer and richer. As Kabaka Pyramid sarcastically puts it, "Well done, Mr Politician." And that includes the women.




The perverse act confirmed in its very title that 'Persons hitherto entitled to the Services of such Slaves' were to be compensated for loss of service. The amount paid out to enslavers in the Caribbean, Mauritius and the Cape was PS20 million. According to an article in the UK Independent newspaper, published on February 24, 2013, "This figure represented a staggering 40 per cent of the Treasury's annual spending budget and, in today's terms, calculated as wage values, equates to around PS16.5b."

The act carefully documents how the British Government intended to fund the payout and administer the compensation scheme. Approximately two-thirds of the 66 sections of the act focus on the complicated financial arrangements. This seems to be the primary concern of the act. As I understand it, the Treasury was going to borrow money and issue annuities to cover the cost of the compensation. And an army of commissioners was going to be employed to oversee operations.

Not one red cent of compensation was to be paid to the enslaved. No money, no land, not a cow, not a sheep, not a goat, nothing! Enslaved Jamaicans were going to be freed with nothing but their two long hands. Fortunately, they had their heads and could figure out how to survive. Since they had no land, they farmed on hillsides. Dem tun hand mek fashion.




What is even worse is that supposedly emancipated Jamaicans were going to be kept in slavery for another six years, under the guise of an 'Apprenticeship' scam. That would mean another £27 million of additional compensation to enslavers. The act declared that emancipated people needed to learn how to be free! So they had to be taught during a period of apprenticeship in which they would continue to work for nothing. What a piece of wickedness!

Now these were people who had relentlessly rebelled against slavery. Freedom was in their DNA. It couldn't be taught by the evil people who had enslaved them. Historians agree that one of the forces that propelled Emancipation was the 1831 Christmas Rebellion led by Sam Sharpe. Enslaved Jamaicans knew there was talk of Emancipation in Britain and rightly feared that they would be kept in slavery after its nominal abolition.

Sharpe seems to have assumed that slavery had already been abolished and led a peaceful general strike to protest working conditions. It soon got violent when plantation owners realised that the sugar crop was not going to be harvested. The striking workers burned the cane. The colonial government brought in the military to end the rebellion. More than 200 protesters were killed and 14 whites. In addition, the government tried, convicted and hanged more than 300 protesters.

Just before Sam Sharpe was executed in 1832, he made the triumphant declaration, "I would rather die among yonder gallows, than live in slavery." He was only 27 years old. Now this is the kind of hero that the unconscionable drafters of the Abolition Act were going to teach how to be free! The act was also concerned with "promoting the Industry of the manumitted Slaves". This was not industry to benefit emancipated Jamaicans. It was to prolong plantation slavery.

The act recognised that "it is also necessary, for the Preservation of Peace throughout the said Colonies, that proper Regulations should be framed and established for the Maintenance of Order and good Discipline amongst the said apprenticed Labourers, and for ensuring the punctual Discharge of the Services due by them to their respective Employers, and for the Prevention and Punishment of Indolence ...".

The Apprenticeship scheme had to be cut short by two years. Emancipated Jamaicans were not prepared to work out their soul case for nothing. Not then, not now!

- Carolyn Cooper is a consultant on culture and development. Email feedback to and