Over the last few weeks I spoke with two groups of over 100 students each about next year’s 250th anniversary of the 1763 Berbice Slave Rebellion. To my surprise, many of the students had very little knowledge of what transpired in 1763, although they were aware of Philip Moore and the 1763 National Monument at the Square of the Revolution.
More disconcerting was that few of them were aware of the 1823 Demerara Slave Rebellion, despite the fact that a monument to this historic event will soon be erected by the Ministry of Culture Youth and Sport.
It was the Great Marcus Garvey who said “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” For Guyana to truly achieve its motto of ‘One People, One Nation, One Destiny,‘ there needs to be a common body of historical knowledge and a common ground of shared experiences among our six races. During the United Nations International Year of People of African Descent in 2011, Guyana missed a unique opportunity to share our common history; all primary and secondary schools could have had class sessions on our history.
For the thousands of school children who are unaware of the 1823 Demerara Slave Rebellion, hopefully the few paragraphs below will add to their knowledge of Guyana’s evolution.
History will recall the Demerara Slave Rebellion was one of the largest in the Caribbean. It involved 11,000 to 12,000 slaves and spread to 55 plantations. The slaves were fighting for their God-given human rights and their natural desire for freedom, their hatred of an increasingly severe slave system, religious considerations and a misunderstanding about their freedom being granted by England. The slaves were armed with cutlasses and other minor weapons and were confronted by 300 well-armed troops. This was one of the most cruel and gruesome slaughters in the British Empire at the time.
As Wallbridge, an Englishman wrote: “No mercy, however was shown to the Negro. With regard to them, there was a tremendous slaughter under the influence…of an ill-judged and unwarrantable severity, it was deemed necessary to make terrifying examples of not a few, by killing them on the spot. Many were wantonly shot by the militia soldiers for mere sport.”
Over 200 Africans were hanged, some of whom were then beheaded and their heads placed on stakes. On September 16, Quamina was shot in the back at Plantation Chateau Margot. John Smith, another player in this historic event, died in prison from an illness.
I have always believed our school system is the most critical institution in nurturing social cohesion and social inclusion in Guyana. We need a course in Comparative Religion similar to the one Pryor Jonas taught at Queen‘s College in the ’60s and we need a concise text of key events in Guyanese history taught from age 8 to 16.