By Christopher Famous
“Didn’t my people before me slave for this country?” ~ Bob Marley
Over the course of the last 500 years of European colonial oppression, people throughout the Caribbean have taken up arms or, more recently, placards against unjust and inhumane policies.
History records rebellions in islands such as, but not limited to: Jamaica, Haiti and, yes, our own Virgin Islands.
First Black Republic
Without a doubt, the most successful rebellion against European tyranny took place between the years 1791-1804.
In the then French colony of Saint Domingue, thousands of our African relatives decided that they simply were no longer going to be shackled and beaten by plantation owners. In coordinated actions, they burned hundreds of plantations to the ground and exacted revenge upon those who had brutalized them for centuries.
Not only did they burn plantations, but they organized themselves as a disciplined military force led by the legendary Toussaint l’Overture. Within 13 years this army of Africans defeated Napoleon’s forces, then considered to be one of the best armies in the world.
This eventually led to Haiti becoming the first free Black republic in the western hemisphere.
On Christmas Day 1831, in the largest English Caribbean colony of Jamaica, a rebellion was staged to protest the brutal conditions of enslaved Africans on plantations. Led by Baptist preacher Samuel (Sam) Sharpe, as many as 60,000 or 20 percent of enslaved Africans were mobilized against the British.
Starting with work stoppage on plantations and culminating in armed resistance against the British Army.
Samuel “Sam” Sharpe is now one of Jamaica’s 7 National Heroes.
Closer to home in the Virgin Islands, there was yet another rebellion.
In October 1878 roughly 50 plantations, sugar mills and sugar fields on St Croix were burnt to the ground in what was to be labelled as the ‘Fireburn’. Three of our ancestors: Axeline Salomon, Mathilda Mcbean and Mary Thomas were the architects of those historic actions.
Most folks hail them as our very own Virgin Island Queens.
March on the British
In July 2014, the then British governor of Bermuda, George Fergusson, took it upon himself to block a decision made by the democratically elected parliament of Bermuda to create a commission of inquiry (COI) about historic land thefts.
Within one week, the then opposition, the Progressive Labour Party led by Honourable Marc Bean, mobilized 2,000 Bermudians to march on Government House to demand the recall of the governor.
The Progressive Labour Party is now the government of Bermuda.
On Thursday May 24, 2018, thousands upon thousands of residents of the British Virgin Islands gathered in Road Town, Tortola, to march from the House of Assembly onto the grounds of Government House, which is the direct representation of colonial rule in the BVI.
They protested not to burn down cane field or sugar mills but to stand up for their rights to economic survival, which is being threatened by recent actions of the British Parliament.
So strong was the sentiment against these actions that deputy premier, the Hon Dr Kedrick Pickering, was quoted as saying: “We need to ensure that we understand the real issue and where we stand here today, that we have declared open war on the UK with respect to this Sanction and Anti-Money Laundering Amendment Bill; we have declared war because we do not agree. So, we have to be prepared to fight.”
In the year 2018, we in the British Caribbean face unfair, unjust and unequal demands from the British Parliament.
Yes, the very same parliament that turned a blind eye to the suffering of millions of our ancestors, spread throughout the Caribbean for centuries. That very same parliament that allowed the enrichment of the British Empire on the backs and spilt blood of our forefathers and foremothers.
Does it come as any surprise to anyone that once again the British parliament is advocating the further enrichment of those in Jersey, Guernsey, Isle of Man and ironically, the City of London, by economically suffocating the Caribbean islands of Bermuda, BVI and Cayman Islands.
The key difference between the British Crown Dependencies and the British Overseas Dependent Territories would be that the populations of the Caribbean are the descendants of those enslaved Africans.
Yes, those very same Africans who toiled in the sun to fill the pockets of wealthy British aristocrats for centuries. Those same aristocrats whose descendants now sit in places such as the House of Commons and the House of Lords in the UK.
So, as it is clear our backs are against the wall, we must act beyond calling talk shows and or writing on blogs.
To those in the British Overseas Dependent Territories aka British colonies, we must, just as those in Jamaica, Haiti and the Virgin Islands, show that we will not bend over. We will; stand up, unite and work together as we clearly only have each other to depend on.
“Up yea mighty race, accomplish what you will.” ~ Rt Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey