MANDEVILLE, Manchester — David Pott, founder of the international Christian organisation Lifeline Expedition, whose members recently travelled around Jamaica apologising for the transatlantic slave trade, says while he and his companions are not "guilty" of the acts committed by their foreparents, they feel "accountable" and are working on reconciliation.
Pott was with a group of 16 people — mostly whites — who walked through Mandeville on July 29 in yokes and chains. The march preceded the 12th Mandeville Emancipation Celebration at Andrews Memorial United Church.
The English-born Pott was among those bearing the words "So Sorry" on the front of yellow T-shirts. Others came from Scotland, France, Brazil, Grenada, Colombia, Cameroon, Jamaica, and the United States of America.
The group congregated in the Mandeville park where some of its members took turns apologising, and then a member of the public removed the shackles. The act was repeated in front of the congregation at the church.
With voices breaking in some instances, one person going down on her knees, tears streaming down the face of another, the group sought forgiveness for the enslavement and economic exploitation of Africans and their descendants, as well as for the murder, rape, abduction, and break-up of families. They also sought forgiveness for the social consequence of stripping the enslaved of their dignity and identity.
The transatlantic slave trade took place from the 16th- to the 19th-centuries and involved the trafficking by Europeans of millions of abducted Africans to plantations in the Americas which were owned and controlled by white slave holders. A significant percentage of the captive Africans, chained to prevent resistance, are said to have died in the cramped, stifling holds of the sail-powered slave ships during the cross-Atlantic journey.
The slave trade was abolished by the British in 1807, while slavery itself finally ended in British colonies such as Jamaica in 1838. In non-British-controlled territories in the Americas, the enslavement of blacks continued for decades longer.
Reactions to the 'apology walk' in Mandeville were mixed. Some onlookers expressed ignorance of its meaning.
Winston McCook, a young high school graduate, was unimpressed.
"I haven't accepted the apology. This doesn't make any sense. I would like to see them suffer the way we did. It is just imitating slavery and bringing back bad memories we have already overcome," he told the Jamaica Observer Central.
The audience at the church was more forgiving and members of Pott's group later joined in the service.
Reverend Oliver Daley, a pastor from the Mandeville community who helped to release the shackles, was among those accepting the apology.
"I receive the apology on behalf of a search for healing and wholeness in the human family," he said.
Mayor of Mandeville Brenda Ramsay said: "I personally want to thank God that as Christians we can find the ability to truly forgive."
She added: "We need to tell our story. We need to tell it again and again and tell it very well so that all will understand the meaning of Emancipation, the meaning of Independence, so that we can truly celebrate.
"Our past is a colourful one, not just these 50 years. We have overcome struggles, which in a sense has strengthened us as a people and equipped us with the resolve and determination to overcome hardships. "This sets us in good stead for the difficulties and the challenges we now face and will no doubt face in the future. The Middle Passage experience was not all bad because, thank God, we are proud survivors."
She said Jamaicans should now endorse a future where they will experience, among other things, true freedom from crime, poverty, illiteracy and return to proper values, attitudes and true Christian principles.
Jamaica is said to be the 15th country visited by the 12-year-old group on its apology march mission.
"Sometimes it takes a little while for people to realise it is not a stunt. In Jamaica, what is important is that people always react. You get the full scope of reactions. If we reconcile and there is a true relationship we are better able to move forward," said Pott.