Seeing the statue of Edward Colston removed in such a dramatic way, last week, felt like poetic justice though I would normally disapprove of daubing, let alone pulling down statues adorning the British landscape. Images of black children, men and women being dumped in the sea during the middle Passage from Africa because they were ill, dying or pregnant, on their way to the greater hell of British slave plantations, are haunting. Once there branded, set to work from sun-up to sun-down. In earlier times chains wrapped round Colston’s neck had created a better narrative.
I was reminded of our trip to Jamaica, August 2013. We were trying to finalise the sale of my parents’ home in Montego Bay.
Dawn comes suddenly in the tropics, like a light being switched on at 6am and switched off again 6.00 pm. A pint of water and a cup of tea is the only way to start the day. The irony of forgetting to bring sugar had not escaped me. I would learn to drink tea without sugar. Showered, mozzy-prepped, we sat to eat a fresh fruit-salad of pineapple, mangoes and guava, followed by toast and coffee on the kitchen veranda. Perfect timing for a pair of iridescent green parrots to swoop across our vista and set up a chat room in the Bread-fruit tree, opposite.
Our appointment with the solicitor would be at 11 am. Dishwasher loaded, water -bottles filled we set off. We would have a look at the town centre, visit the Sam Sharpe memorial.
A pristine sky, turquoise sea glistening between the houses. The warm–bath-air made us scuttle for shelter in the air-conditioned car. From Coral gardens, on down through lush vegetation, past pastel coloured mansions with sweeping verandas, waving to Mum and Dad’s friends sitting on their verandas, shopping villages, private beaches, we followed the signs to Sam Sharpe square. Flowers, benches Georgian buildings and in the middle, seemingly ignored by the locals, 3 figurines cast in bronze. One, Sam Sharpe, holding a bible preaching to an audience. This was supposed to be a hero, a freedom-fighter yet he looked so ordinary. Sham trial followed by execution in the square and buried in obscurity. There would be no hero worship. Fourteen whites were killed; five hundred slaves died. This was the man who led the Christmas Rebellion of 1831, precipitating the end of slavery. The British were fighting abolitionists at home and regular uprisings on the plantations. The promise of massive compensation for the slave-owners finally (completed in 2015) secured freedom.
1838 saw emancipation. British rule continued until 1962. Jamaican Independence arrived Sam Sharpe was remembered. I still think about that low-key image and I wonder why the Jamaican people have not made more of their heroes, like they have with Bob Marley. Maybe surviving the atrocities is its own tribute. Massive outcry for a man who made a fortune from slavery; apathy and shame for a freedom fighter.
Powerful and evocative writing Myrna. This is not the history taught in our school days but should be.
A really powerful piece. I had not heard of Sam Sharpe until I read this. Leaves a lot of questions for the reader.
Thank you Terry. Too much is hidden especially ‘uncomfortable’ subjects. As writers or poets it is important to shine a light in the dark places.
A brilliant evocation of the Jamaican landscape, but more importantly it’s dark history. I too had not heard of Sam Sharpe. I suppose, like many others, he would not feature in British colonial history as taught in British schools, much to Britain’s shame.