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Book Review - The Cross and the Machete: Timely and accurate

Published:Sunday | March 20, 2011 | 12:00 AM

  • Title: The Cross and the Machete: Native Baptist-Identity, Ministry and Legacy
  • Written by: Devon Dick
  • Reviewed by: Garnett Roper
  • Publisher: Ian Randle Publishers

Baptist Pastor and Gleaner columnist Devon Dick has written a second work The Cross and The Machete: Native Baptist-Identity, Ministry and Legacy which is as important as it is timely.

As is the case with his earlier work, Rebellion to Riot the focus is on what has been known in Jamaican history as the Morant Bay Rebellion, 1865. Dick insists that the appropriate name for the uprising should be The Native Baptist War. What makes the work timely is that it has come out at a time of what may be argued as contrived and superficial interest, but nonetheless, a renewed interest in National Hero Paul Bogle.

The renewed interest in Paul Bogle surrounds the refurbishing of the sculpture in front of the courthouse in Morant Bay that memorialises his struggles. There seems to be some orchestrated voices claiming that the statue does not accurately depict the physical appearance of Paul Bogle and, is quite arguable, uncomplimentary to him. Paul Bogle is not just important historically, but is of enormous importance to how Jamaica sees itself and how it struggles for justice delayed and denied to the underclass.

Dick uses the sculpture such as it is as his point of departure. The title of the book reflects the elements depicted in the sculpture. The sculpture captures the unmistakable frame of an African-Jamaican with elbows pointing horizontally across, clasping with both hands in front of his chest the handle of a cutlass pointing towards the ground. Dick attributes the idea for the title to Eric Downie, but as he himself acknowledges, the birth of the idea of the cross and the machete must certainly have come from the Edna Manley's sculpture itself. Dick appears to rise above the fluff and superficiality with a work of historical pedigree.

What makes the work important is the courage and diligence of its historiography. The first thing to be said about this work, that deserves to be read with relish, is that it is the telling of our own story. There is not enough Caribbean and for that matter, Jamaican historiography. Dick is a Baptist from St Thomas and he has written a work of immense importance about the first work among the enslaved population which is to be attributed to Native Baptists.

The second reason for the importance of the work is the quality of its historical research. Sentiments are important, but it is the scholarship of Dick that gives the work its pedigree. This work grew out of his master's thesis and the lecture he gave at Jamaica Historical Society in May 2000 titled, 'The Cross and the Cutlass: Paul Bogle a Man of Peace and Justice'.

Challenge opinion

The title then of 'Man of Peace' and this work now are a direct challenge to opinion of popular scholarship including works by Hogg and Heuman that attributed to Bogle and his followers murderous intentions. Dick is not prepared to respond to their mischaracterisation merely with force of argument. Rather, he relies upon the historical records and adduces historical evidence to challenge those popular claims. Furthermore, Dick suggests that the activism of Paul Bogle and George William Gordon can only be properly understood by first understanding "the origin, development, influences, beliefs and practice of Native Baptist".

Indeed, Dick asserts, "Bogle and his movement were intricately linked to the Native Baptists." Dick has mastered the documents that have survived, made use of the record letters, sermons and releases. He has paid attention to the parliaments in Jamaica and England and to the findings of the court. He is both detailed and diligent in coming to his conclusions.

Third, the work by Dick is useful in the service of public theology and public policy. The post-9/11 world has to take the lesson that we ignore religion to our peril.

What Dick has done is to document the ways in which the approach to the Bible of the recently emancipated people provided a social ethic and a commitment to social justice, which were the pressure from below that laid the foundation upon which the political movement, and eventually, self-government and political independence were built.

Dick has interpreted the history correctly and in a manner that can facilitate further historical research and assist public policy in national development. As a historian and church man he has crossed over the dividing wall between church and society, and his work is a must-read for all branches of the academy, both seminaries and universities.