By Devon Dick
At the recent Baptist World Alliance Annual Gathering in Jamaica, the Reverend Dr Garnett Roper, president of the Jamaica Theological Seminary, delivered a paper, 'Sam Sharpe: Paradigm and Peace', in which he explored the methodology Sharpe utilised to undermine slavery and the plantation system and how that paradigm in our context could make a transformative impact on Jamaica.
In this paper, the issue of Sharpe's blameworthiness was raised concerning the burning of estates. Is it legitimate to inquire whether Sharpe was a violent man and whether our other national heroes were violent as well?
Roper said, "Sharpe, born into the wretchedness of slavery and exposed only to the attendant violence and savagery, became something other than what was around him. Nothing in the environment of Sam Sharpe could have predicted that he would not have internalised the violence and hopelessness of his time or become another savage."
In addition, Roper asserted that scriptures appeared to have awakened in Sharpe a non-violent methodology to overthrow slavery and win the freedom of the enslaved. These statements would suggest that Sharpe was a student of non-violent protest.
However, Roper questions my position that Sharpe was adamant that a strike could work without resorting to violence, stating, "I do not share Dick's desire to absolve Sharpe from any blameworthiness for the burning of the estates. What I would say is that the violence that resulted was the second action; the first was the just demand. I believe in a just-war theory and I believe that Sharpe's actions are along that line."
Roper's comment, however, of blaming Sharpe for the burning of the estates seems a paradox because if he engaged in a just-war methodology, his actions should not be blamed. And if Sharpe used violence as a strategy to gain freedom, how can Sharpe be a paradigm to help stop the frequent killing of males? This issue of use of violence needs to be settled because it affects Sharpe's paradigm.
It is necessary to do research on our national heroes to ascertain whether their paradigm can inspire loyalty to nation and commitment to Jamaica as a preferred place to live, work, worship, study, do business, and raise a family. The paradigm of our national heroes should be able to motivate us to transform our nation from murders to peace and from poverty to prosperity.
However, ascribing violence to them is dangerous. How then could we condemn young males who are using violence as a means of survival, revenge and empowerment?
Did Nanny of the Maroons, national heroine, use violence as a means of establishing limited sovereignty for Maroons in Jamaica, or was she acting in self-defence?
British historian Gad Heuman, in Killing Time, claimed that National Hero Paul Bogle had murderous intentions. I disagreed and outlined my reasons in The Cross and the Machete. Was National Hero George William Gordon advocating violence when he warned the governor that there might be a second Maroon War? Did National Heroes Alexander Bustamante and Norman Manley lay the foundation for garrison politics?
As we develop Brand Jamaica, we should not glamorise violence since it is condemned in the Bible. Violence is usually premeditated, aggressive, and excessive action with the intention to hurt. Violence is also illegal, illegitimate and unjust. Our brand should be marked by resolving issues through non-violent means.
As we celebrate 51 years as an independent nation, we should get a group of historians and scholars together on a committee to come up with comprehensive work on our national heroes to settle these issues once and for all.
The Rev Devon Dick is an author and Baptist pastor. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.