"In 1773 British imports from Jamaica were five times the combined imports from the bread colonies; British exports to Jamaica were nearly one-third larger than those to New England and only slightly less than those to New York and Pennsylvania combined."
When in 1783 the abolitionists began their campaign, Lord North, the Prime Minister, reminded them that "the slave trade had become a necessity to every European nation". Planters from Jamaica also told these humanitarians that between 1790 and 1791 Jamaica sugar alone added "at least £1,600,000 sterling to the balance of trade in favour of the parent state".10
The Westindian islands were central to the accumulation process in Europe, and while many economic historians today examine the Jamaican economy or the British economy as if they were entirely autonomous, European economists in the 18th and 19th centuries had no illusion about the interconnections between their 'national' economies and the world at large. England, the seat of the industrial revolution, was the chief beneficiary of this plunder, for the county of Lancashire was for a very long period the entry port for the slaves at the port of Liverpool. The economic advance from ship building and banking at the Port of Liverpool led to investments in the textile mills which used cotton planted by the slaves in Montserrat and Georgia.
Eric Williams showed some outstanding examples of traders, insurance brokers and iron foundries which boomed out of sugar and slaves. The Barclay family owned slave plantations in Jamaica and it was from this accumulation that they were able to set up Barclays Bank, one of the foremost trans-national banks in the 20th century. A similar economic foundation led to the development of Birmingham as an industrial centre. Probably the most outstanding contribution the slaves made to the world of science was to provide the capital to finance James Watt and the steam engine.
A similar path of development took place in the United States of America, where the Northern colonies had direct access to benefits from slavery in the American South, and in the British and French Westindies. As in Europe, the profits made from slavery went firstly to commercial ports and industrial areas, mainly the Northeastern areas of New England and New York. While the centre of capitalism boomed, the periphery of capitalism exuded forms of economic and intellectual backwardness which deformed the societies. The plantation society was fraught with debauchery, drunkenness and the kind of mental enslavement of those who kept blacks in bondage. Hence, the only source of creativity in the slave society were those who were supposed to be beasts of burden for Europe, the hewers of wood and drawers of water.
The slaves were fashioning a lifestyle of survival in the face of the bizarre mutilation which was meted out to them. A culture of resistance, which developed in a slow undramatic manner, exploded in massive slave revolts, and the planters were enslaved to the dread and terror that one night the slaves would organise to rid the world of racial slavery. Thus, two cultures were boiling in the Caribbean, one of domination and oppression which involved economic, political and racist subjugation, and a culture of resistance where the slave even transformed his personality to preserve his humanity, hiding the plans for open revolt. These two cultures struggled for dominance and it is only in the era of Rasta that the white culture is being beaten back. It is this resistance which links the revolt of the slaves to the present Rastafarian movement.
*Some of the forms of punishment for the slave included "Burning them by nailing them down on the ground with crooked sticks on every limb, then applying fire by degrees from the feet and hands, burning them gradually up to the head, whereby their pains are extravagant.... For crimes of lesser nature Gelding chopped off half of the foot with an ax ... For running away they put iron rings of great weight on their ankles, or Pottocks about their necks, which are Iron Rings with two long Necks rivetted to them, or a spur in the mouth... For negligence they are usually whipped by the overseer with Lance-Wood Switches, till they be bloody, and several of the Switches broken, being first tied up by the hands in the Mill Houses. After they are whipped till they are Raw, some put on their skins pepper and salt to make them smart; at other times their masters will drop melted wax on their skins and use several exquisite tortures...." Patterson, The Sociology of Slavery, pp 82-87.
Resistance to Slavery in Jamaica
"I would rather die upon yonder gallows than live in slavery"
Sam Sharpe, 1832.
The existence of a repressive culture which harmonised the economic exploitation of black people with the idea of white supremacy prevented the constitution of a Jamaican national consciousness, hence the black man's consciousness as an African constituted the centrepoint of his identity. It is this identification with Africa which laid the foundations for the doctrine of Rastafari - an ideology which combined the resistance against oppression with an underlying love for the freedom and emancipation of Africa and African peoples.
African resistance to slavery began on the slave ship and continued up to the present. It was the struggles on the slave ship which led to the chaining of the slaves. The restlessness of the slaves caused revolts to be endemic and the slaves broke tools, committed suicide, ran away*, and mothers preferred their children to die at birth rather than to grow up as slaves. As early as 1522 slave revolts were taking place in the Americas, long before the slave trade had become central to the triangular trade. The rebellious nature of the slaves differed according to the areas which they came from in Africa. The Gold Coast slaves - usually called Coromantees - were supposed to be the most fierce. These slaves, from the Ashanti-Fanti speaking peoples, were the most feared by the slave dealers, and they featured prominently in the revolts. It is from the ranks of these Gold Coast Africans that the Maroons emerged.
The core of the Maroon community was the small band of slaves left behind by the Spaniards when the English captured Jamaica in 1655. These slaves formed the free communities which gave refuge to the runaway slaves. Major uprisings in 1673 and 1685, when the slaves rebelled in plantations in St. Ann and St. Catherine, increased the number of slaves living in the free communities in the hills. These slaves, called Maroons, carried out detailed studies of the soil, topography and climate which aided their strategy of guerilla warfare. This system of guerilla warfare, where the Maroons attacked the plantations at night, undermined the whole system of slavery.
The survival of the Maroon communities depended on the mode of social organisation of the villages. In order for the Maroons to survive they had to organise a system of production and exchange, superior to the plantation levels of co-operation, reminiscent of African communalism where they divided the tasks as they hunted, fished and gathered wild fruits.12 Their scouts carried out intelligence activities on the white plantations to learn the military movements of the white people's army; they never confronted the whites on the plains and blew the Abeng horn to forewarn their villages of the impending attacks. This Abeng horn was made from the horn of a cow; the top was cut off, leaving a small opening about 1½ inches from the top end. There was also another opening over which the blower placed his mouth. The sounds were controlled with the thumb, opening and closing the small hole at the top end of the horn.
This Abeng horn became the sound of warning, war, and battle among the first band of Africans whose struggles were recounted throughout the world of slavery. For fifty years the British tried to suppress these offspring of Africa who, like the Saramaka Maroons of Surinam and the Cimaroons of Santa Domingo, challenged the system of bondage. The major Maroon War in Jamaica, 1729-1739, was fought under the leadership of Cudjoe, the son of Nangua, a proud Ashanti. Cudjoe had sworn that he would never become a slave and waged war for ten years, co-ordinating his battles with the Maroon communities spread out over the island. They neutralised the superior weapons of the redcoats and lured them to mock villages where they would be surrounded and attacked from all sides. So successful were these blacks that the British army begged them to sign a peace treaty. Richard Hart quoted the desperate call by these whites, who called for more help from Britain in these words:
"We do ... apply to your majesty to implore your most gracious assistance in our present dangerous and distressed condition - the danger we are in proceeds from our slaves in rebellion against us ... our attempts against them having been in vain, only convinced us of our weakness; so great, that instead of having been able to reduce them, we are not in a condition to defend ourselves. The terror of them spreads itself everywhere ... The evil is daily increasing, and their success has had such influence on our slaves, that they are continually deserting to them in great numbers; and the insolent behaviour of others gives us but too much cause to fear a general defection; which without your majesty's aid and assistance must render us prey to them."13
It was against this fear of losing their lives and after spending £100,000 that Britain signed a peace treaty with Cudjoe in 1739. By the terms of this treaty, sealed with blood, the Maroon communities were guaranteed a level of autonomy and independence which was unthinkable for blacks in the 18th century. The four main terms of the treaty were:
(1) that the Maroons should govern themselves in their own communities in five main settlements - Moore Town, Nanny Town, Charles Town, Scotts Hall and Acompong Town;
(2) that the British should discontinue efforts to enslave the Maroons;
(3) the right of the Maroons to hunt and fish unmolested; and
(4) the continued ownership and occupation of Maroon lands.
It was over this final point that the British extracted a compromise from the Maroons not to give solace to runaway slaves. Britain hoped to use the ruse of taxation to force them to pay for the land, but they rightly asked why they should pay taxes or pay for the land when they were settled there before the British. So, while the British accepted that the Maroons could own the land, the Maroons promised never to give refuge to runaway slaves. This agreement paid dividends in 1865 when the Maroons saved the whites from being driven into the sea.
*This was the most widespread form of resistance, desertion from work. In Cuba the slave Esteban Montejo lived to tell his story of how he ran away from slavery. See Esteban Monteio, The Autobiography of a Runaway Slave, Penguin Books; London, 1970. Meanwhile, in the USA the runaway slave perfected desertion in the setting up of the 'underground railroad.' Harriet Tubman, herself a runaway slave, became the most renowned conductor in this struggle. For an analysis of the role of black women like Harriet Tubman, see Angela Davis, "Reflections on the Black Woman's role in the Community of Slaves", Black Scholar, No.4, 1971.
Going Back To Africa, Cause I'm Black
However, this treaty proved tenuous because the whites did not feel bound to honour the agreement, and in 1795 a second Maroon War broke out over the question of the flogging of two Trelawney Maroons in Falmouth. The British governor tried to enslave the Maroons, who insisted that by the 1739 treaty they should be tried in their own courts and any offence should be dealt with in their communities - they should not be whipped under the white man's law. With this provocation the Maroons resorted to guerilla warfare and inflicted serious losses on the local militia.
In desperation, the Governor imported large hunting dogs from Cuba. The impending use of these dogs led the Maroons to propose a second treaty which was quickly accepted by the Governor; but in a proper British manner the Governor organised the illegal deportation of 556 of these Maroons - they were taken to Nova Scotia in Canada. Mindful of their military skills, they were called upon to fight in the Napoleonic Wars against the French. There they acquitted themselves well in battle and after the war agitated to be settled in Africa. Fearing another outbreak of violence, and at the urging of the abolitionists, these Maroons were returned to Sierra Leone in Africa. They were the first group of blacks in the New World to be resettled in Africa.14
Me No No Quashie
The majority of slaves never accepted the system of slavery, contrary to the historical accounts which referred to the slaves as docile, lazy and child-like in character. This slur on the character of the black and African person has become entrenched in European thought, and in the Caribbean it is taught in schools, in the history books written by Carlyle, Trollope and Froude. But what the chroniclers of slavery did not understand was that the peculiar personality trait of the slave was in itself a response to and a form of resistance to slavery.
The black man, knowing that the planter expected him to be a dumb beast, acted his part well. It is from this personality trait that the "smart-man" Anancy character emerged, where it was said that Anancy "play fool fe catch wise". The majority of slaves adopted an attitude of wooden stupidity before the planters, and if asked an indifferent question, he would seldom give a prompt reply - pretending not to understand what was said, forcing a repetition of the question so that he or she could have time to consider, not what the true answer was, but what was the most expedient one to give.
Unfortunately, even recent writers on slave society have misunderstood this form of resistance and sought to give some intellectual support to the concept of lazy Quashie*. Being owners of the means of production and controllers of the State, the planter class were in a position to pursue policies which shaped the society, seemingly to justify the stereotype Quashie. It was a pity, therefore, to see Orlando Patterson quoting from pro-slavery journals of the time and seeking to give an ambiguous account of Quashie without understanding how the African could change his very character to fight the unjust system*. Those who took the trouble to observe the slave outside the shadow of the whip were astounded at their dual personality. One white commentator, who gained the confidence of the slaves, remarked that:
"One has to hear with what warmth and volubility and at the same time with what precision of ideas and accuracy of judgement this creature, heavy and taciturn all day, how squatting before his friends tells stories, gesticulates, argues, passes opinions, approves and condemns both his master and those who surround him."15
The slaves were fond of mocking their masters. They could laugh and talk about anything reprehensible that their masters did; they could invent nicknames which were most appropriate and would stick. This so-called Quashie could laugh at himself, his master and others around him, and this stood high to his credit.
It was at these nocturnal sessions that African stories were told; there was the telling of folk tales and the use of oral history to solidify the consciousness of being an African. In these sessions the hero was none other than Anancy, and stories of his genius were told with such precision that it played a part in moulding the cunning and guile necessary to turn the tables on the oppressor. Anancy symbolised the possibility of the underdog emerging triumphantly against the strong. The tales of Brier Anancy and his son Brier Tacooma reinforced the influence of the Ashanti among the slaves, and provided the psychological release necessary to face the day-to-day task of providing surpluses for Europe.16
The retention of African culture and religious expressions in Jamaica was enhanced by the continuous flow of new slaves to Jamaica. As a result, there was always a large proportion of slaves who remembered Africa, and these Africans commanded great respect, especially those with a knowledge of African medicinal practices and religious rites. They were in the forefront of transmitting the tradition of oral history and restoring those African beliefs to slaves who were being creolised.* It was these slaves who generated and stimulated the practices which resisted the cultural and ideological domination of Europe, and their religious rites symbolised the struggle for self-expression and dignity.
In every sphere of life, in language, in the planting of his provision ground, and in the burial of the dead, the slave sought to preserve his dignity as an African person. This was so marked that in death the slave believed that they would once again return to Africa; consequently, their relatives and friends would leave rum and food at the graveside so that the departed one would not go hungry on his journey to Africa. Funeral rites were accompanied by music, dance, drumming and song. The jubilation at the return of the spirit to Africa was not tempered with grief; many slaves committed suicide rather than live in slavery. The songs and lamentations sung at the graveside were of hope. One popular song, sung by Africans throughout the New World and later featuring prominently as a Negro spiritual, said:
"Oh Freedom, Oh Freedom, Oh Freedom I love thee
And before I'll be a slave, I'll be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be Free."
This song depicted freedom in a promised land, in this case consistent with the promise of freedom in the life hereafter of the Christian religion. In Jamaica, the religion of the slaves was distinct from the religion of the masters until the end of the 18th century when Baptist missionaries began to be active among the slaves.
Formerly the planters were opposed to any religious instruction being given to the slave, and when the Moravians and Baptists insisted that by Christianising the slaves they could make them better slaves, the masters refused to countenance the possibility of any religious teaching which could make the slaves literate. Even so, the blacks resisted the Christian religion and only a section of those exposed to free black ministers, like the ex-slaves George Lisle and Moses Baker, were responsive to the European version of Christianity. In the main African religious expression held sway in the hills.
*Quashie is the Akan name for a male child born on Sunday. It is used in Jamaica to refer to someone who is foolish or stupid.
*This line of reasoning, which gives a seemingly critical account of Quashie, is pursued by Ken Post in Arise Ye Starvelings.
*This word, creole, has been handed down in Caribbean literature to depict the mulatto culture of ambivalence.
Of the Spiritual World and the Material World
The era of the renaissance and enlightenment in Europe led to a sharp division between the spiritual and the material worlds. The philosophy of mechanistic materialism, which was consistent with the rise of capitalism, separated matters of the soul from matters of science and technology. The ideology of enlightenment postulated that science and technology, by their 'progress', determined every sphere of life, transforming social relations in the process. Feudal ideas which said that progress was guided by God were superseded by the notion that this function was fulfilled by the 'laws of nature'.
In this way, religion was retailored to conform to the reproduction of alienation and to justify capital exploitation of labour. The Christian religion, like all other religions, then settled the problems of relations between people and nature and the relations among people (social classes). In the process, myths concerning the European variant of Christianity were developed to justify the plunder of the globe. The European mode of social organisation and concomitant ideological (religious) formulations, claimed universal validity in that the capitalist system was the first global system. Thus as a universally valid religion, the ideological organs in the form of the established churches, whether the Dutch Reformed, the Anglican or the Catholic Church, rationalised and blessed the plunderers of the globe.
It was therefore not surprising that for three centuries the slaves resisted this ideology, and the European religion was practised only by those slaves who were creolised. For those Africans who held on to the vision of Africa and the religion of their ancestors, their ceremonies were carried out in the hills and slave huts, out of the reach of the masters and their mulatto underlings. In the eyes of the established church, where the debauchery, rape and kidnapping was sanctioned, the religious rites of the slaves could only be pagan and cultist.
This ideation has been handed down and reshaped by modern anthropologists and sociologists, who term African religious practices which they cannot control 'cultist' or 'millenarian'. Laws were passed against African religious expressions such as Cumina and Shango, and the use of the drum, the main instrument in the outpouring of emotions which went with these ceremonies, was banned. This attempt at legal extermination forced the most overt African expressions underground, and it is not surprising that they only emerged in the revival of 1860-61, and the more African form, called Bongo cult, was not observed until the 1950s.17 The Bongo men were slaves who defied authority and recognised no authority higher than themselves.
Europeans denigrated African religion both in the New World and in Africa. A barrage of derogatory treatises were written in Europe which called African religion ancestor worship, superstition, magic, fetishism and paganism. But the Bongo men who resurfaced were the product of African religion, the product of centuries of development and the accumulated experiences and ideas of generations. These religious and cultural experiences (developing independently according to region) were interwoven with religious ceremonies, rituals and beliefs, and guided the evolution of customs.
Because the crude materialism of capitalism did not exist in Africa, the spiritual world was not separated from other spheres of human endeavour. All things, material and immaterial, were linked to the spiritual needs of the society. Hence, various foodstuffs, tools, utensils, clothing, shelter, art objects, the drum, and collective monuments were all linked to the spiritual needs of the society so that these objects served as use-values, while at the same time being the means of expressing scientific ideas and beliefs, and satisfying emotional needs. An African utensil was not just a utensil, it was a work of art and an expression of religious emotion as well.
This is why all over Africa scientific achievements, such as the building of pyramids in Egypt, the acropolis in Zimbabwe, or the Axum temples in Ethiopia, were linked to religious expression. There was no need to separate science from religion, and religious leaders had high standing in the communities. This is not to say that there was no social differentiation, for myths concerning natural phenomena and the means of placing them at the service of the community were integrated in a broad philosophy to justify the social order.
This was most pronounced in those areas where the State had emerged (particularly in the great Kingdoms of Axum, Egypt, Nubia, Mali, Songay and Zimbabwe). In these States religious ideology functioned to justify the paying of tribute by the toiling masses. Like the great religions of the East - Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism - African religions served the reproduction of social hierarchy, and the more developed the society, the more important religion was in stabilising the system.