Tue | Jun 22, 2021

Uprising - story of a nation in formation

Published:Friday | November 20, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Re-enactment of the burning of Morant Bay Courthouse at the ‘Uprising: Morant Bay, 1865 and its Afterlives’ exhibition at the Institute of Jamaica.
Jonathan Greenland, director, National Museum of Jamaica, expounds on the life and times of Paul Bogle.
Implements of slavery – a testimony to the atrocities meted out to fellow humans at the ‘Uprising, Morant Bay, 1865 and its Afterlives’ exhibition at the Institute of Jamaica.
Life as it was lived in the 19th century at the ‘Uprising: Morant Bay, 1865 and its Afterlives’ exhibition at the Institute of Jamaica.
Execution of the rebels at Morant Bay Courthouse.
The masters and their subjects – a photograph at the ‘Uprising: Morant Bay, 1865 and its Afterlives’ exhibition at the Institute of Jamaica.
‘My Dear Lucy’ – last letter of George William Gordon to his wife before being executed.
Paul Bogle
Amitabh Sharma

"When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw," said Nelson Mandela, which summarises the life and circumstances in post-Emancipation Jamaica, riddled in poverty, indifference from the ruling polity and stifled for breath and existence.

It was a simmering pot over high flame that was bound to overflow, with the people of the land, though freed from shackles of

slavery, perhaps more on paper, were feeling the heat ... and these emotions burst the banks of patience on a fateful October afternoon when Paul Bogle, a Baptist deacon in Stony Gut, a few miles north of Morant Bay, St Thomas, lead a protest march to the Morant Bay courthouse.

The protesters, comprising the black working class, were met with a barrage of bullets fired by the security personnel, killing seven people. This was a spark waiting to ignite the keg of explosives buried in the people ... October 11, 1865 turned out to be Jamaica's bloodiest day, and by sunset, scores of people had lost their lives and the courthouse reduced to rubble of burning embers.

"The history of Morant Bay uprising is a jigsaw of events, complicated and multilayered," said Jonathan Greenland, director, National Museum of Jamaica. "It started with the brutal encounter at the courthouse in Morant Bay that left a number of prominent citizens of the parish dead and possibly mutilated."

The retaliation by the government was brutal and barbaric, people hunted, targeted, and murdered blood, unfortunately, layers the path of freedom.

There is stillness in the dark expanse of the room, the entrance to 'Uprising: Morant Bay, 1865 and its Afterlives' at the Institute of Jamaica.

"Uprising explores the history of the events in St Thomas from the post-Emancipation period through the tragic events of October 1865," Greenland informed.




A walk down the lanes of history, the exhibition has original artefacts, newspapers, contemporary artwork, social media, and images from Princeton University giving a peek into life as it existed in that period of time, the implements and instruments used in the household, monochrome photographs, religious that transcends one in a time warp, centred around Bogle, who was captured and hanged on October 24, 1865, a day after George William Gordon, who encouraged the people to raise their voice against the injustice of the rulers.

"General Nelson has just been kind enough to inform me that the court-marshal of Saturday last has ordered me to be hung and that the sentence is to be executed in an hour hence; so that I shall be gone from this world of sin and sorrow," said Gordon's last letter to his wife.

Uprising extends the messages and questions from 18th century to the present throwing spotlight on poverty, justice and policing issues.

"Many of the core issues raised by the rebels of Morant Bay still resonate in Jamaica today," Greenland said.

This exhibition is the poignant reminder of a bloodstained chapter of Jamaica's history ... brought to life in the second quarter of the 21st century. The blood from the uprising may have long dried, but the spirits of those who lost their lives and the injustices still exist in some form.

'Uprising: Morant Bay, 1865 and its Afterlives', sponsored by The Tourism Enhancement Fund and The CHASE Fund, opened in October 2015 and runs to October 2016.

Uprising is a tale of Jamaica in metamorphosis and heroism and sacrifices of the people preserved in the yellowing pages of history, frail but still relevant. "Better to die fighting for freedom then be a prisoner all the days of your life," said Bob Marley. They died so that the future generations could live in independence.