More than 177 years ago, a human hurricane hit the British colony of Jamaica in the form of a major slave rebellion resulting in the deaths of 14 white people, 544 enslaved Africans, and property damage worth over one million pounds sterling (about one billion £s in today’s currency).
According to Professor J. R. Kerr-Ritchie in his 2007 book, Rites of August First, “Soon thereafter, the British Parliament appointed an official investigation culminating in the legal abolition of colonial slavery on August 1, 1833 and triggering the final eradication of all forms of slave labor in the British Empire five years later in August 1838.” During 1823 there was a major rebellion in Demerara (British Guiana). Our African ancestors in the Caribbean were fighting for their own liberation and would stop at nothing to achieve it.
August First has had a particularly important impact on Jamaican ex-slaves who adapted the former Christmas ritual of Jonkonnu to commemorate liberation, while those in Trinidad and elsewhere similarly transformed carnival and other cultural festivals like crop-over and canboulay into annual festivals.
During the 1840s those annual events were small affairs largely organised in schoolhouses, debating halls, and churches. According to Kerr-Ritchie:
“Over subsequent decades, however, these annual meetings became much larger, more public, and communal affairs. Thousands of people of African descent would congregate in villages, towns, and city squares during the opening days of August to celebrate the ending of slavery elsewhere and organise for its overthrow in the United States. During the 1850s, these public meetings became breeding grounds for more militant opposition toward American slavery: through the attraction and participation of fugitive slaves; the parade of armed black militias; and, fiery speeches demanding the violent overthrow of American slavery. In British Canada, an older generation of black people, along with fugitives and more recent emigrants, also adapted August First as an important expression of their antislavery actions and political identities. In short, August First Day was to become the most important public commemorative event and popular form of mobilisation among people of African descent in the English-speaking Atlantic world between the 1830s and the 1860s.”
From the 1600s, African men and women in the Americas were denied the human right of living together with their children. Marriage was not permitted, and there was no family life for the following two hundred years. A child could be sold to another owner, and his parents could also suffer the same fate, because they had no rights to prevent the transactions as slaveowners and overseers ensured that their captives remain items of property. ‘LIBERATION 1838’ project will tell the stories of Africans in the Caribbean as they began new lives on August First 1838.
‘LIBERATION 1838’ is now at its development stage, which involves outreach work with community groups, state schools, supplementary schools, church groups, heritage organisations, youth groups, Black Elders, and others. Project Director Arthur Torrington CBE will contact them in due course with a view to exploring collaborations, etc. Also, he welcomes the interests of researchers, activities co-ordinators, volunteers, and others who would like to contribute their expertise and experience to the project. The project will plan events, etc for 2013 – the 175th anniversary of the birth of the African Caribbean family.
For further details, call or text: 077 3727 1437. email: firstname.lastname@example.org