Paul H. Williams, Gleaner Writer
BLACK RIVER, St Elizabeth:
FROM NOVEMBER 29 to December 1, 1781, 133 Africans were thrown overboard from an overcrowded Liverpool slave ship named The Zong, sailing from Sao Tome, an island in the Gulf of Guinea.
It started its journey on September 6, should have stopped at Tobago to offload some of the Africans, but did not. Jamaica was misidentified as Hispaniola, a Spanish possession, and was also bypassed. By mid-November, disease and malnutrition had killed some crew members and about 62 Africans. The cargo holds where the Africans were stacked were now replete with the dead and the dying. This was a problem for the ship owners.
Should the Africans, who were insured as cargo, die a 'natural death' at sea, the owners could not claim insurance. Yet, if the sick ones were thrown overboard to save the others and the ship, then a claim could be made. The captain, Luke Collingwood, and his officers, then, over a three-day period threw 133 sick Africans, including women and children, into the sea.
On December 22, 1781, The Zong arrived at Black River with 208 slaves on-board. They were eventually sold in the Black River slave market. Captain Collingwood died three days after arriving in Jamaica. The subsequent insurance claim by the owners was to become a drawn-out legal matter known as Gregson v. Gilbert, one of the landmark cases of the anti-slavery movement in England.
The massacre of the Africans on The Zong is only one example of the great extent of the inhumanity of the slave trade, and, by extension, British slavery in the West Indies. Now, a group of people has been going around the world apologising for the atrocities of slavery on behalf of their ancestors.
Quest for atonement
Named The Lifeline Expedition, it said in a release titled, 'White People Will Walk in Yokes and Chains to Apologise for Slavery' that it is "an international Christian organisation, which brings a reconciliation message to heal the wounds of history". The white people who will march are from England, Scotland, and France, together with participants from Colombia, Grenada, the United States, and Jamaica.
But the white people are not alone in their quest for atonement. "The Africans will also bring an apology for their involvement in the slave trade, and the team are bringing with them an apology from Spain, and also a personal message from Lady Kate Dawson, a great-great-great-granddaughter of William Wilberforce," the release said. Wilberforce was a British politician and a leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade, among other things.
The project leader of the group is an African himself, from Cameroun, Joseph Zintseme. "We are also walking in chains as a symbolic way of saying that we take very seriously what happened and realise that enslaving people creates a legacy throughout the generations, which still leaves its mark today," Zintseme said.
Today, the group, which is a United Kingdom charity, will be walking in Black River, St Elizabeth, starting at Farquharson Wharf about 10 a.m, and ending at the Zong Massacre Monument which consists of a plaque mounted by the Institute of Jamaica and the Jamaica National Bicentenary Committee, "in honour of our 133 Africans ancestors who were massacred by drowning". The plaque was unveiled on December 28, 2007.
The Lifeline Expedition was slated to arrive Wednesday in Montego Bay, where they were to walk from lower Market Street to Burchell Baptist Church via Sam Sharp Square. The walk will continue in Mandeville, Manchester, tomorrow afternoon; Accompong Town, St Elizabeth, Monday; Falmouth and Spanish Town Tuesday; Kingston on Wednesday; Stony Gut to Morant Bay on Friday; in west Kingston on Saturday; and a 'Jubilee Walk' in Kingston on Independence Day.