175 years after 'full free'

175 years after 'full free'

By Michael Burke

Thursday, August 01, 2013

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According to the popular view, emancipation from slavery in Jamaica took place on August 1, 1834, which was 179 years ago today. But there was an apprenticeship period for four years. So "full free" as it was called took place on August 1, 1838, which is 175 years ago today.

What we have in Jamaica is an "Emancipendence" celebration which covers both our emancipation on August 1 and our political independence on August 6. This is similar to the Jews whose Passover is about liberation form slavery and political independence.

It seems that some people would like to bring back slavery. Today, the euphemism "human trafficking" is used, but it is nothing more than slavery, albeit in modern times. Many times when the list of missing persons is read on radio or TV some wonder if the missing persons have been enslaved.

This is a greater reason to celebrate the anniversary of our emancipation. Not only should we celebrate, but we should also be taking the steps necessary to protect our emancipation just as we should protect Jamaica's political independence.

Jamaica spent a lot of money last year for our 50th anniversary celebration of political independence. In these hard times we could not replicate that with an equally fantastic celebration of our 175th anniversary of 'full free'. But we should still be mindful of the gains made by our national heroes and others.

The good thing about our national heroes is that by knowing something about their lives we learn the history of Jamaica. Nanny represents the maroons who refused to be re-enslaved when the English captured Jamaica from the Spaniards. Nanny also represents the earliest struggles for freedom, especially when the Maroon Treaties were settled.

Sam Sharp represents that period near the end of slavery when the struggle for Emancipation was on. Sam Sharpe was a martyr for Emancipation; because the Christmas Rebellion of 1831, which was led by Sharpe, hastened the end of slavery. His famous statement from the gallows "I would rather die on yonder gallows than live in slavery," speaks volumes of his fervour and mission.

It is ironic that a blonde-haired German, Winfried Schäfer should be our new national coach for the reggae boys. After the Sam Sharpe rebellion, it was clear that slavery would come to an end. It was the governor who thought that the newly freed people of Jamaica should be shown the examples of an industrious peasantry.

For that reason German indentured labourers were brought here, most of which settled in Seaford Town in Westmoreland. Now we have a 63 years old German who has been brought here to make our team winnable. The fact that he is 63 years old should be motivation for many other Jamaicans to get physically fit.

Some may be asking how come I have not mentioned that Seaford Town is traditionally a Roman Catholic town, seeing that I always am so quick to mention the Roman Catholic Church. Well, see, I have now done so, and in so doing I have satisfied myself that I have mentioned it and I have satisfied both supporters and detractors who think that I am predictable.

Many Jamaicans of pure German origin have now migrated, and it is mostly those of German mixture with other ethnicities that remain. But up to the 1970s and 1980s one could see Jamaicans of full European stock with blonde hair and blue eyes who spoke the richest of the variety of patois that is spoken in the southwestern end of Jamaica.

It is also ironic that earlier this year there was the advertisement where white Americans spoke patios — albeit the evolved form which includes the Rastafarian contribution — to advertise a car that originated in Germany, the Volkswagen.

Paul Bogle and George William Gordon represent the first set of advancements after slavery. Gordon had spoken out about the conditions and for that he was not liked.

Worse yet, in those days the Anglicans did not like the Baptists, like Gordon and Bogle, because the Anglicans were the estate owners and the Baptists provided the church for the peasantry. Paul Bogle led the riot known as the Morant Bay Rebellion, but Gordon was hanged for it although he was nowhere in St Thomas when it occurred.

Some 970 people were rounded up and slaughtered after the Morant Bay Rebellion. There is a mass grave at the courthouse for all those who were ordered killed by the Governor Edward John Eyre. As a result there was a Royal Commission of enquiry. Eyre was sent back to England in disgrace, and the new governor made some important infrastructural changes that are still in use today.

The Kingston Public Hospital, the Bellevue Hospital (then known as the Asylum), the reservoir at Marescaux Road, and the Bog Walk Irrigation Scheme were the projects established by Sir John Peter Grant who succeeded Edward John Eyre as governor of Jamaica in 1866.

Marcus Garvey taught us to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery and Bob Marley would later put his words to music. He also sowed seeds for the social revolution for Universal Adult Suffrage, self-government and Independence.

Bustamante would provide the engine for the fight for independence. The worker's strikes of 1938 caused another royal commission, this time headed by Lord Moyne.

As a result of representations by Norman Manley, self-government and adult suffrage came in 1944. After an attempt at a Caribbean Federation, Jamaica opted to secede in 1961. Independence was planned, but Jamaica would have been part of an independent federation. So, as a result, a referendum was used to decide that Jamaica would head to Independence alone.

As I indicated earlier, knowledge of the national heroes is the history of Jamaica in a nutshell. Would that the rest of the honours system down the line was as clear-cut as that. Too often since 1969 — when our own honours system was introduced -- people have been getting honours and have left people wondering what did some of them do to get such honours.


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