Paul H. Williams, Gleaner Writer
BLACK RIVER, St Elizabeth:
ONE HUNDRED and seventy-seven years ago, enslaved Africans on the estates, pens and plantations of Jamaica were freed from the shackles of British slavery.
Wednesday was a day of the national commemoration of their emancipation. And though they are long dead, images of the atrocities that were meted out to them are still etched in the minds of some of their descendants. The inherited emotional wounds are still wide open.
To 'heal' the wounds of history, a United Kingdom-based group named The Lifeline Expedition, operating under the theme 'Healing the Past, Transforming the Future', is travelling the world apologising for slavery in the West Indies. The group, some of its members in yoke and chains, is now walking across the island apologising.
But this gesture is not going down well with some people, as was seen in Black River, St Elizabeth, last Saturday.
The group started its walk at Farquharson Wharf, escorted by a lone policeman on motorcycle.
The entourage included five white men in chains, two yoked together, led by a black Colombian, who carried a rod with a colourful fake serpent tied to it. There were also Jamaicans dressed in the national colours.
The project leader, Joseph Zintseme, from Cameroon, dressed in traditional African attire, carried a drum.
After a brief march through the town, the members of the entourage stopped at The Zong Massacre Monument, erected in honour of 133 sick Africans who were thrown overboard the slave ship called The Zong.
The ceremony started with project director, David Pott, from London, telling the very small gathering the story of The Zong Massacre. A few minutes into his talk, a Rastaman came along on bicycle calling out for reparation instead of an apology. His voice rose above Pott's, and moments of unease ensued as the man, who called himself Briggs, was not going to be silenced.
CALLING FOR REPARATION
"Wi waan wi reparation money! The Jews get fi him, the Chinese get fi him, the Japanese get fi him. Wha happ'n to wi? We waan wi reparation money! That's what we need. Sorry fah can't help black people now … . A long time dem a talk bout sorry fah!" Briggs shouted.
Potts proposed to speak with him afterwards, but Briggs kept on heckling. So Potts continued his storytelling, while The Gleaner briefly spoke with Briggs about the idea of white people walking around in chains and yoke.
"This is nonsense, man, walking around apologising … . That a cartoon thing. That's a joke. A mockery that … . If you nuh feel a thing, yuh can't know it … . This is a mockery against black people. This is a reproach," he said.
IDENTIFYING WITH HUMILIATION
When The Gleaner spoke with Pott afterwards, he said walking around in yoke and chain for an hour is uncomfortable, and he knows it is a fraction of what the enslaved Africans went through.
Zintseme was also asked why the black members of the entourage were not put in yokes and chains since they were there to apologise for the part that their forefathers played in perpetuating slavery.
Zintseme said Africans in yokes and chains is the image of humiliation that we are accustomed to, and that white people walking in yokes and chains was "to identify with the humiliation" that enslaved Africans went through.
The group carried out a brief ritual, praying and asking for forgiveness. One member even went down on his knees. On behalf of black people, the apology was accepted by a Jamaican woman, then the chains and yoke were removed.
The walks for the white people in chain and yoke and their African and Jamaican counterparts were slated to continue around the country until Independence Day.