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Paul Bogle and violence

Published:Thursday | March 18, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Last Saturday, at a meeting of Corporate Area Baptist churches, Rev Doreen Wynter congratulated me on the publication of the book, The Cross and Machete: The Native Baptists of Jamaican - Identity, Ministry and Legacy. She, the pastor of the Jones Town Baptist, a location not unfamiliar with violence, wished that I would produce a book on Paul Bogle, national hero, with insights to deal with violence. I informed her and the meeting that this book was intended to offer a paradigm to deal with violence and other problems. Sadly, many persons do not believe the lifestyle of Bogle is worthy of emulation. In fact, after the meeting, a leader of mature age said Bogle was the one who incited violence at Morant Bay.

The book tries to correct that popular opinion which casts Bogle as a violent person. It is ironic that politicians who might have more than a passing acquaintance with political violence will have the history written in which they will be portrayed as having nothing to do with Jamaica developing into one of the most violent countries of the world, while Bogle, who eschewed violence and was a victim of violence will, along with his followers, be declared violent.

Celebrated historians such as Gad Heuman and Douglas Hall perceived Bogle et al as violent. Also in 1965, Rev Earl Thames said that the emphasis on the Morant Bay rebellion has "elevated violence to a new status in our history", and we "have tacitly supported the use of violence as against more constitutional methods, in obtaining redress for grievances. We have elevated Bogle above Gordon, Malcolm X above Martin Luther King." (Cross and Machete pages 34-35).

Seven years ago, Martin Henry, respected columnist, suggested that there was a "smattering of truth" to the claim "Negro women sat on the corpses and gashed them with broken glasses. The men opened the skulls, scooped out the brains into calabashes mixed them with rum and drank the mixture in the Baptist Chapel."

Victim of violence

However, there is the statue of Paul Bogle done by Edna Manley, which evokes comparison of Bogle with Jesus on the Cross, thereby hinting that Bogle was a victim of violence rather than a perpetuator of violence. And my book, The Cross and the Machete, reflecting meticulous examination of 19th century documentation, showed that Edna Manley's artistic interpretation of the events was spot on. The carrying of sticks and machetes was not synonymous with weapons of mass destruction but were agricultural tools for the peasants.

Paul Bogle and his followers were not motivated by violence but rather their Christian faith - an understanding which was largely different from that of the European missionaries and expressed as a Native Baptist faith with an emphasis on justice and equality and the desire for the liberation of the oppressed and oppressors. "Liberation of the oppressed and oppressors" is a term Neville Callam, now general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, first used to describe the goal of another National Hero, Sam Sharpe, and his followers.

Fortuitously, Callam will be in Jamaica for the Caribbean Baptist Fellowship (CBF) meeting from March 18-21 in Montego Bay, at which conference the Rev Everton Jackson, chairman of the Western Peace Management Initiative, will be inducted as the new general secretary of the CBF. With Jamaica having its worst year in terms of the number of murders and other Caribbean territories struggling with violence, it can be anticipated that leaders such as Callam and Jackson will be exploring the issue of violence in Caribbean society.

And then Wynter's dream might be realised, with Bogle's lifestyle and paradigm becoming a catalyst in the fight against violence.

Devon Dick is pastor of Boulevard Baptist Church and author of 'The Cross and the Machete: Native Baptists of Jamaica - Identity, Ministry and Legacy'. Feedback may be sent to