EDITORIAL: Whither legacy of 1816?
Tue, 04/19/2016 - 12:00am
WITH little fanfare, the bicentennial anniversary of the 1816 Easter rebellion was recently celebrated. The most organised revolt at the time in Barbados, its significance led to the anointing of an African man, Bussa, as one of this country’s national heroes.
Around this time of year, we are reminded by local historians and activists of the movement for reparations. It is an uphill battle when we are told by no less an authority than British Prime Minister David Cameron during his visit to Jamaica late last year that he was not supporting the call for reparations or apologies. In fact, his visit was to deal with the future as opposed to “issues that are centuries old taken under a different government”.
This has been the position of the United Kingdom for many years on the matter. Caribbean Heads of Government, on the other hand, have made clear their stance, with the establishment of the CARICOM Reparations Commission in 2013. As for the populace, we too must cast a critical eye on ourselves. The focus on 1816 and other such rebellions must be more than just couching in the language of reparations. It should also focus on whether the descendants of Bussa and other national leaders have remembered the struggle of their forebears.
History is full of experiences that change the course of our lives. The forced removal and kidnapping of African peoples from West Africa changed the course of that continent and the “new world” forever. The revolt of 1816 is but a mere drop of rebellious expression where persons of African descent declared loudly they would tolerate no more enslavement at the hands of colonial plantation owners.
The experience of slavery is a foreign one to a people who have not had to endure hardships and struggles. Moreover, we have little physical connection to it, not when Barbados scarcely resembles those times and the only tangible representations are by way of former great houses and/or a few huts. How do we connect the experiences of 1816 to 2016, when the average person is more concerned about daily survival?
Have we failed to acknowledge, as our national anthem highlights, that our “brave forefathers sowed the seed/from which our pride is sprung”? The evolution of the slavery struggle to emancipation, apprenticeship, freedom and the labour movement have led to where we are today, a nation soon marking 50 years of Independence. We must never forget the contributions of those who came before us, particularly those who did not enjoy the rights we do today and struggled their entire lives for any semblance of decent conditions.
It is therefore incumbent on adults to educate our children – in this digital Information Age of cultural assimilation – about the strides made in education, health, social services and other inalienable rights; to educate them that while we have challenges, we enjoy far more than our forebears and continue to punch above our weight in developmental achievements for the whole country.
This then is a legacy of 1816. Let us use the knowledge of the past, combined with the direction of the future, to ensure the descendants of that rebellion strive for the best. This is not the time to rest on our laurels, but to move “upward and onward ... inspired, exulting, free”.