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Paul Bogle: A Leader In The Struggle For The Re-Definition Of Post-Slavery Society

Published:Tuesday | June 30, 2015 | 6:00 AM
Paul Bogle

Clinton Hutton

Contributor

Paul Bogle was born in slavery in the early 1820s. By the time slavery ended in Jamaica in 1838, Bogle was about 16 years old. The abolition of slavery never meant the abolition of the rule of those who held Africans and their descendants in enslavement for more than 300 years. They ruled Jamaica in post-slavery with the beliefs, mentality, psychology, and culture they developed maintaining slavery. They were hostile to any semblance of freedom for black people and did everything to maintain a regime as close to slavery as possible.

Led by the cane sugar planter elites, these ex-slave owners and their allies did everything, including the use of coercion, to prevent the former enslaved Africans and their descendants from developing their capacity to make their own living as free sovereign human beings. The words of Thomas Carlyle became the manifesto for developing Jamaican society after slavery: "No black man, who will not work according to what ability the gods have given him for working, has the smallest right to eat pumpkin, or to any fraction of land that will grow pumpkin, however plentiful such land may be, but has an indisputable and perpetual right to be compelled, by the real proprietors of said land, to do competent work for his living."

a man of substance

It was within this context that Paul Bogle emerged as one of the principal leaders of the formerly enslaved people and their descendants. Bogle, who was referred to as 'General Bogle', or 'Lord Bogle', by people in St Thomas-in-the-East, was said to be regarded as a kind of Jamaican king by his followers. Sidney Levien, the proprietor of the County Union newspaper in Montego Bay, who was detained and taken to Morant Bay to be tried by martial law forces following the clash on October 11, 1865, described Paul Bogle as a man of substance.

Bogle belonged to the emerging black middle-class or freeholders - persons who earned their living primarily on their own account. Some members of this class hired labour. Paul Bogle was a landowner and was engaged in farming and other businesses. He owned horses and was said to have had money in the bank. He was married and had at least three grown children.

He was one of the few persons in St Thomas-in-the-East who was in the economic category that gave him the right to vote. Paul Bogle played a leading role in getting George William Gordon elected to the House of Assembly, representing the people of St Thomas-in-the-East.

Bogle resided in the community of Stony Gut, where he opened a Native Baptist chapel in 1864. The guest speaker at the opening of the chapel was the Reverend Richard Warren, an African American man who escaped slavery in the United States of America and eventually came to Jamaica. Bogle was baptised in George William Gordon's tabernacle in Kingston by Warren, who, like Gordon, was a leader of the Native Baptist Communion.

Native Baptist Church

Bogle was a deacon in the Native Baptist Church and was, to a certain extent, affiliated to the Native Baptist Communion. It was in his chapel that publications of the British Anti-Slavery Society were circulated and copies of the Watchman newspapers sold. It was also used as a meeting place for a political organisation in Stony Gut, while an archaeological dig at the site of the chapel indicated that it was possibly used as a school house as well. This chapel also served as a site for several oath-taking ceremonies leading up to the bloody confrontation at Morant Bay.

Policeman James Foster, who, along with some of his colleagues, was sent to Stony Gut to arrest Bogle and others, witnessed one of these oath-taking ceremonies. Foster said he saw "seven men go into Paul Bogle's room. They all had cutlasses. Paul Bogle spoke to the men in a language I did not understand. The men all took the oath. They kissed a large book, the Bible. Paul Bogle gave each of them a dram of rum and gun powder, which they drank. I saw the rum and powder mixed myself in a large bottle."

Foster's description gave us an important peep into Bogle's identity. The language Bogle used in the oath-taking ceremony was in all likelihood Ki-Kongo, which he appeared to have learned from 'old Africans (indentured labourers) who were buried at Stony Gut'.

oath-taking ceremonies

The consumption of gun powder and rum was done to invoke a warrior spirit in the realm of Ogun/Archangel Michael, etc, who was also symbolised by the cutlass. In the early 1760s, the gun powder and rum, along with blood and grave earth, were used in oath-taking ceremonies around the Taki/post-Taki anti-slavery insurrection.

The Bible was not included in the pre-insurrection oath-taking ceremonies in the early 1760s because at that time, Christianity had not yet been introduced to Africans enslaved on Jamaican soil.

In Bogle's time, Christianity was 80 years circulating among blacks. It was in response to this that the Bible came to be employed in the oath-taking ceremonies initiated in the movement led by Paul Bogle. This began after Governor Edward Eyre refused to meet a delegation including Bogle, which went to Spanish Town to deliver 11 petitions from the people of St Thomas-in-the-East.

The oath-taking ceremony was a form of political mobilisation in which the use of violence was a clear possibility. It incorporated Myalist traditions of the Taki war, with elements of Christianity and Kumina and perhaps elements of the aggressive Indian spirit Kali, the result of the of the Great Revival of the early 1860s, which led to the emergence of two expressions of post-slavery spirituality called Revival - Zion and Poko.

The oath-taking ceremony presided over by Bogle had the features of Revival, especially Poko. When several hundred persons marched down to Morant Bay on that mid-afternoon on October 11, 1865, most of them had already spent the night at a set-up in Stony Gut. Before they entered Morant Bay, they stopped and congregated under a huge silk cotton tree likely in the Myalist tradition of communion with the ancestral spirits.

Paul Bogle was a major leader who led masses of people to confront and undermine the post-slavery regime, which former slaveholders were constructing to protect the privileges they amassed in more than 300 years of enslavement. The struggle that he led was for the re-definition of post-slavery society in the interest of the black majority.