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Religion & Culture | Dr Fred Kennedy talks slavery, reparations and culture in Jamaica Society (Part 2)

Published:Monday | July 30, 2018 | 12:00 AMDr Glenville Ashby
Performers in the Seville Emancipation Jubilee 2018 in St Ann last Wednesday.

This is the conclusion of an interview with educator and author Dr Fred Kennedy.

In your book 'Daddy Sharpe' there is confusion among slaves, particularly those born in Africa. When presented with Christianity they resisted, while other slaves (Creoles) became fervent apologists for a religion that arguably kept them oppressed. Were you trying to raise that little explored aspect of slavery, at least from a psychological perspective?

There was resistance by Africans to adopt Christianity. The mores and practices were so radically different from their own. The Maroon communities were able to preserve African customs, but many Creoles raised on the plantations, in many instances, lacked a deep knowledge or appreciation of their ancestors' religions. Christianity offered for them a new opportunity for organised resistance.

Arguably, central to 'Daddy Sharpe' is the role of religion to the slave experience. Some argue that Christianity served to weaken active resistance while others saw the liberating aspect of religion in the lives of the oppressed. Where do you stand on this?

I can see both sides of the argument. By the 1830s, Creole slaves, those born in the West Indies, were no longer able to use their African religious identity as a source of unification.

Years of separation from the 'Motherland' had alienated many from their heritage. The liberation theology of Christianity filled this vacuum.

Its teachings, 'no one can serve two masters', provided a set of beliefs with which the slaves could identify and use to their advantage to seek freedom. The liberating power of literacy was also powerful.

With conversion to Christianity came the opportunity to learn the language of the oppressor. This exposed the slaves to the writings of (William) Wilberforce and others who were lobbying for the abolition of slavery. The sectarians in the early 19th century, Baptists, Methodists, Wesleyans, were driven not only by a zeal to 'convert' slaves to Christianity, but also, by so doing, to lobby for their freedom to parliamentarians in England.

There were different brands of Christianity, however. The sectarian groups were considered to be rogues by the established Church of England, evidenced by actions that Anglican ministers took to burning Baptist churches after the Sam Sharpe Rebellion. The Sam Sharpe Rebellion was, after all, called 'The Baptist War'.

One can argue that more than ever, the horrors of past societies are still with us. There are still wars, state terrorism, human trafficking, injustice, and I can go on and on. Should we be optimistic about the future?

I have never subscribed to a philosophy of fatalism. I work that much harder to make sure I achieve what I want.

By reading the works of those, from centuries ago, it is clear to me that human consciousness has evolved leaps and bounds. Yes, we have wars, state terrorism, and other evils, but it is faith in the triumph of the human spirit, it is education and the sharing of knowledge which keep alive the resistance.

'Daddy Sharpe' is quite detailed. What kind of research went into this work?

People often think of writing as a solitary activity. Far from it, the Daddy Sharpe project entailed collaboration with historians, artists (including my own daughter, Sarah, who contributed illustrations), librarians, close friends and family, who assisted with research and field trips.

My work took five years to complete. I enjoyed every moment of the research, extending my knowledge of our heritage and of the heroes of the past who have helped shape our destiny.

With bated breath we await your next book, an undertaking I understand that will add another chapter to the history of the Maroons. Could you give us a preview?

My next book is about Montague James, leader of the Second Maroon War. I trace his origins to the land of the Asante in Africa, his capture into slavery and his travels across the Atlantic to Jamaica.

It is the story of how he and 500 other Maroons were transported to Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1796, and four years later sailed to Africa to settle Freetown, Sierra Leone. We are carried on an adventure narrated by an African prince, who once sold into slavery, fought against oppression to gain freedom for himself and his fellow Maroons.

Finally, you have been an educator all your life, what word of counsel do you have for students, parents, colleagues and policymakers in Jamaica?

Students, strive always to be your best, let no one tell you that you cannot succeed.

Parents, believe in your children, afford them every opportunity to better themselves.

Colleagues, treat every student with respect and fairness, be their surrogate parents.

Policymakers, continue to make education a priority, institute and implement policies that guarantee the human rights of every child, of free and equitable access to the resources of learning.

- Glenville Ashby is the award-winning author of 'Anam Cara: Your Soul Friend and Bridge to Enlightenment and Creativity'. His latest book:' In Search of Truth: A Course in Spiritual Psychology', is available on Amazon. Feedback: email: glenvilleashby@gmail or follow him on Twitter@glenvilleashby