Submitted by Heather Cole
To date, the Haitian Revolution from 1791-1804, has been the only revolution in the Caribbean. What started as a slave rebellion in 1791 became a revolution because the former slaves of the French colony of Saint-Domingue; under the leadership of Toussaint L’Ouverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines were successful in ending slavery and winning their independence from France under the banner of liberty, equality and fraternity.
On April 14, 1816 a slave revolt started in Barbados. It was led by a slave named Bussa. History records it only as a rebellion because three day later the revolt was crushed by the British Militia and Bussa and his rebels were killed. It has been widely accepted that the revolt occurred because the slaves believed that the Imperial Registry Bill of 1815 was intended to grant them freedom which the local Legislature did not give. There are no written records what was Bussa’s plan, but we know it was a quest for freedom. History does not record that this rebellion failed because of the lack of detailed planning as was done for the Haitian Revolution or because there was a British Militia in Barbados.
My hypothesis is that revolt failed because of an epidemic in Barbados. The symptoms were evident 200 years ago and the disease is still full blown today. It is simply known as “waiting to see.” The Bussa Rebellion was localized and was only in the southern and Eastern part of the island. Accounts vary on the number of rebels that took part in the rebellion. One historian stated that there were only 400 rebels, another 800 and yet another 20,000. However, Bussa led the rebels in an attack against the establishment. The slaves from the other parishes did not join the rebellion because they were waiting to see what the outcome would be yet their wait determined the outcome. The rebel contingent was no match for the British Militia and so the rebellion was crushed and with it the spirit to fight in the psyche of the Barbadian people, they became a docile lot, lacking in taking initiatives, ruled by fear and unable to stand up for their rights. ‘Waiting to see’ played a significant role in Barbadian history. For all we know it may have changed the course of our history.
The year 2016 marks two hundred years after the Bussa Rebellion. The political climate that was ripe for change in 1816 is upon the island again. In 1816 the slaves believed that the Barbados Legislature was withholding their freedom. At 2015 comes to an end, the burden of 35 new taxes from Parliament, increase in VAT to 22% on cellphone usage, the rise in dictatorial practices by the government, a decline in the provision of social services, increase in unemployment, increase in poverty, increase in vagrancy, the virtual death of the Barbadian middle class, high inflation, unfulfilled manifesto promises, the Cahill Conspiracy, loss of their businesses, homes, pensions, non- receipt of their income taxes and NIS benefits and other austerity measures, paints a clear picture is of the Government withholding the people’s social, economic and political freedom.
My new year’s resolution is for a new year’s revolution not only under a banner of liberty, equality and fraternity but on a banner that includes:
1. constitutional changes to the electoral process including the right of the people to recall a government;
2. that elected governments will honour the promises made in their manifestoes; that the focus of labour parties should be pro-labour not anti-labour;
3. that information on the contents of the public purse is not only available but is also reliable;
4. that the requirement to pay finders fees is forever removed from the statutes;
5. that Trade Unions would not bend over to appease governments;
6. that the people exercise their constitutional rights to lobby against any government that goes outside or against the mandate given by the people;
7. that the economic policies of the government are not self- serving but to create economic opportunities for the people that all in Barbados will thrive and flourish not just a select few;
8. that as guardians of our heritage our focus will be on renewable and sustainable development that does not damage our fragile environment, not building incinerators that grass must be grown to feed;
9. that the delivery of social services will again rise to surpass the levels that were previously achieved;
10. that tertiary education is reclaimed again as ‘free” and the gateway to the middle class for the poor of this country;
11. that the hands of the acting Commissioner of Police become untied to carry out his duties reclaiming one Barbados and not two where not only the poor but the wealthy are prosecuted for they crimes they do;
12. That running water, the source that sustains human life is available in abundance not only to tourists but to people in every parish on the island and;
13. That Government does not stockpile empty houses when there is a demand for housing;
14. That the masses will never again be deceived into selling the franchise;
15. That the masses elect persons to hold political office who are not only qualified but have the ability to understand how a government must function and the functions of the roles they will hold.
16. That the masses will present the manifesto of their needs to political parties and;
17. Finally that the people organize and hold this DLP government accountable for the failure of the last seven years and call for them to step down or force them to go.
With a backdrop of the success of the Haitian Revolution, the hope of the Bussa Rebellion and the pleas of Bob Marley for change as he sang:
Get up stand up, stand up for your rights!
Get up stand up, don’t give up the fight!
One hopes that in the year 2016 the spirits of our ancestors will arise to empower us to fight to build a secure foundation for our children’s children. Will it be written in the annals of our history that in the year 2016 there was a revolution in Barbados? Or will history just note that it was just another year in the long tradition of waiting to see?